University of Southern Indiana

Tips for a Fantastic Essay

There are two main types of essays you might be asked to write: a personal statement and a proposal/statement of intent. These two essays should complement each other and give a holistic picture of both you and the work you want to do. Let each essay speak for itself and combine to show why you're a great candidate. 

Personal Statement

A personal statement is a narrative describing you as an individual. You'll write about your personal history and background, your intellectual development and influences, and your opportunities and how those have shaped you. You might include your special interests and abilities, your career plans, your life goals, etc. 

  • Aim for concise and specific language, enthusiasm, and honesty. 
  • You can't talk about everything and personal statements are generally short. Think about 3-4 points you want to develop. Your personal statement is a chance for you to show what sets YOU apart from everyone else. 
  • Your personal statement should be a pleasure to read. Take out all the filler. Start with a great hook and take the reader to the heart of your essay right away. 
  • Stay focused and establish a consistent story line. Use anecdotes and personal stories to help the readers understand who you are. 
  • Make sure you highlight the intelligence, passion, and skills you'll bring to the work. 
  • You are going to need to write MULTIPLE DRAFTS. Start early! You'll want to revise and rework until you have a solid, intriguing essay.

Don't know where to start? Think about these questions:

  • What books, ideas, courses, or events have had a profound impact on you? How so?
  • What are your most strongly-held values? How do those relate to your activities, your academics, and your future plans?
  • Think about a turning point in your life. Consider yourself before and after. How did you change and what does that change mean? 
  • What makes you feel most fulfilled? Why? 

Proposal or Statement of Interest

This essay is a more formal description of your course of study or project and may include your research focus, your degree goals, your methodology, and your timeline. 

  • Why have you chosen to apply for this award? (This course of study, at this particular institution, in this particular country/location.)
  • How do your plans relate to your preparation, your academic qualifications, and your long-range goals? 
  • Why have you chosen this area of study? What makes your project timely or appropriate? 
  • Make sure to address any specific points asked for by the award. 
  • You are going to need to write MULTIPLE DRAFTS. Start early! You'll want to revise and rework until you have a solid, intriguing essay.


Free, online 5-chapter book Writing Personal Statements Online available through Penn State's e-Education Institute. 

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