Many scholarship applications – like most college applications – require an autobiographical essay, which is basically a personal statement that describes who you are. It gives the judges an idea of your background, your personality, your character – details about you that you can only describe in an essay (unless you have an interview).
Oftentimes, the prompts for these personal statements are worded like this: “Tell us a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.” To write a powerful and effective autobiographical essay, there are several key ideas to keep in mind.
Choose a Convincing Story and Focus on a Theme
When you choose the story to write about, think about unique experiences that make you who you are. If you’re thinking about writing about your short-term mission trip to Mexico or how you became your school’s student body president, keep in mind that students from all around the United States will be submitting unique and individual stories. Instead of writing about topics that are cliché or canned (like canned goods that are ready to be opened and used), think deeply into your experiences — what events throughout your life have shaped how you think and act today.
Ask yourself, “If there’s something about me that others would not know through my academics, extracurricular activities, and resume, what would that be?” Imagine sitting down with a scholarship judge or admissions counselor who asks, “If there is one thing you want me to know about you, what would that be?” You want your story to make sense and to capture your reader’s attention. Choose an aspect of your life that you want to focus on and shape your essay to reflect that theme. For example, if you have overcome tremendous hardship that has shaped your character, then focus on how your adversity helped build your character. Specifically, relate this event to the broader lessons of life so that the reader can better understand your development.
Capture the Reader’s Attention
The first step in actually writing the essay is to begin with a creative way of capturing the reader’s attention. Write in a style that you are most comfortable with. Some ways of writing your intro are by narrating a specific event from a first person point of view that reflects the theme of your essay or by describing a certain scenario from a third person point of view. Regardless of your approach, remember to end your intro with a sentence that leaves the reader excited to continue reading and learn more about you.
Strengthening the Body
After a strong intro, the body of the essay continues to tell the story of your experiences. It takes the snapshot you present in the intro and supports it with necessary and specific detail. Don’t overwrite and include information that is irrelevant or wordy. Keep it simple and straightforward. The body of the essay should show – not tell – the story, meaning you should demonstrate your own personal growth and development through relevant examples. As you write, make sure to share how you felt so the reader can really see your character development. Emotions matter. Keep organization and logical sequence in mind as well. Judges take notice of your conventions and organization. As you move toward your conclusion, the tone of your writing should become more positive and optimistic. It should lead right into your conclusion.
Conclusions That Circle Back
If you want a nicely balanced essay, the beginning of your conclusion should put the cap on the story portion of your essay. It should emphasize a sense of hope in the context of your writing and demonstrate a positive change that continues into today. Following that, you might want to restate that it was “through this specific (you want to state it explicitly) experience” that you learned the specific lessons. Regardless of how, make sure to state specifically the lessons you learned and tie them into a big picture outlook. I have found it effective to use a powerful quote that relates to your theme and content, but this is, of course, a personal choice. Use the writing tips from Writer’s Block to craft a conclusion that resonates with the reader.
To complete the essay, tie back to the opening lines/event/experience in the intro to create a more cohesive and well-rounded essay. Your last sentence should reflect and state the most profound lesson you have learned throughout your experience and give the reader a sense of empowerment and awe. It should leave them thinking and pondering about their own lives, experiences, and struggles; yet, provide them with hope and optimism. A scholarship is an organization’s financial investment in you, so your essay should reflect why they would be investing their money wisely by awarding you the scholarship.
Tips to Keep in Mind
It is natural to want to use large vocabulary words to flex your intellectual muscles; but, when you’re writing a personal statement about your life, it’s best to stay simple and straightforward. Avoid using five words where three will do. If you have to use a thesaurus, chances are the reader’s not going to know exactly what the words mean so stick with simple vocab. Just be yourself, not who you think the judges want you to be. Your personal statement is an autobiography that speaks about your life, your experiences, and your reflections, so remember to tell the truth. You don’t have to make up situations or add fluff to tell a poignant story. Remember, the essay is a marketing piece that tells judges why the scholarship organization should invest their money in you.
With that said, maintain a certain level of sophistication in your writing so that the judges recognize your skills. Don’t fall into a casual conversational tone, but keep in mind that your writing should reflect your voice. The reader should be able to see your personality in the essay through your style, tone, and voice. After you’ve written your autobiographical essay, remember to edit and revise your essay several times. Have your teachers, peers, and family read over it and give you feedback and suggestions for improvement. As always, feel free to email us through the For Students page if you’d like some help brainstorming or if you’d like a Scholarship Junkie to read over your essay and give you comments and feedback.
How to Write an Autobiography for Scholarship
When writing your autobiography, focus on what your grade sheets, letters of recommendation, and other additional documents you have given for your admission do not focus on. This is your chance to prove your suitability for a scholarship. Your transcripts already reflect your GPA, and your letters of recommendation already show what others believe you are capable of. In an autobiography, you can show what you believe you are capable of. Unless relevant, don't mention where you grew up, which school you went to, or how your friends changed your life. Only mention experiences as relevant as they can get to your cause and directly improve your chances of getting the scholarship. After taking a look at the example provided below, you should be able to get an idea of how you would like to go about writing your own.
Throughout school, I was never sure what I would do with my life, or what I would study once I graduated. I always believed that time would help me decide what I should do. I also believed that my interests would guide my choice of education. In my opinion, education without interest is futile, solely because without interest one can never excel in any field. On the other hand, only interest cannot suffice as aptitude is necessary to be able to do well in a field. However, I do feel that if you have the interest, you are bound to work hard enough to make yourself better at anything you do. Talent can definitely be developed and honed to a point where it is at its best.
Fortunately, I have always been an above average student, and am the kind who can get good at something if I really want it (perhaps that is where my belief in interest and excellence stems from). This is why, finally making a decision about what I wanted to do in college was difficult. I have however, always had a great affinity towards art and sketching, and have found myself to be good at it. I then spoke to my teachers, who have always given me appropriate guidance, and began contemplating careers in art. They suggested that I speak to various professionals in the field. After doing so, I finally realized that interior design would be the perfect career choice for me.
Ever since I decided that this is the field I wish to be a part of, I have made an attempt to pay closer attention to design detail in various spaces such as homes and commercial areas. I understand that interior design is not just a field where a professional is required to choose the color of a wall and the type of a lampshade that needs to be kept in a room. Interior design tends to go much beyond its supposed perception, and can impact a person's life in more ways than one. The way a room is designed and decorated changes the way a person feels. You would understand if you moved from a room that is messy to a room that is well-organized, how you seem to find clarity of thought. Similarly, simply by adding a dash of color, or changing the position of a table, your room can be given a whole new life, without altering its basic identity. My sole focus as an interior designer would be to design a space in a manner that brings out the best in the person residing in that room, be it a home or a commercial space. I have also noticed that the need for green and eco-friendly design is vastly increasing. I intend to focus my design abilities in this direction so that I can help everyone do their bit for the environment, by doing my bit. Yes, I understand speaking about it is much easier than implementing it, but I do have full faith in my abilities as an interior designer.
In my attached portfolio, you will be able to see a glimpse of my capabilities, which I intend to hone after attaining admission into the interior design course at your college.
Should I attain the scholarship you are providing, I will be able to complete my education uninterrupted, and will be able to focus better on my ultimate career goal. I will not have to take a semester off to save enough money for tuition and then come back to continue it. Further, a little additional funding and a lesser educational debt by attaining a scholarship is always beneficial. It reduces the stress that a graduate has to undergo in order to repay educational loans, when the real focus should lie on developing a strong foothold in the industry and moving ahead towards the real goal.
I hope you will consider me for the scholarship you are offering for this course. As of now, all I can give you is my word that I will make every penny of the scholarship provided to me well worth its value.
As you can see, the sample focuses on the person's belief in herself and what she would do with the education that would be funded with the scholarship. Similarly, ideally even you should focus on the same subject and ensure that you definitely are a worthy candidate for the scholarship. As long as you do your best, you can leave the rest to the discretion of the scholarship committee. Good luck!