Here’s an example of a common prompt: ”A personal statement of 1,000 words or less from the nominee describing his or her background, interests, plans for graduate study and career aspirations. The statement should include a discussion of some experiences and ideas that have shaped those interests, plans and aspirations.”
As Mary Tolar has noted, “If you are applying for nationally competitive scholarships, for graduate school, or for a number of post-graduate service or employment opportunities, you have seen the vaguely phrased request; in one form or another, it comes down to “tell us something about yourself… You are asked to share your “academic and other interests. A clearer charge might be: compose an essay that reveals who you are, what you care about, and what you intend to do in this life. Tell this story in a compelling manner, and do so in less than a thousand words. What’s so hard about that? Simply make sense of your life. (right.) But what does that mean?”
The personal statement is more like a genre than a rubric; there are set of constraints, but no formulas. This means that we need to triangulate our understanding of what it will be with more than one piece of advice rather than a single definition.
For that reason, I recommend you begin by printing out Mary Tolar’s advice. Highlight the phrases that strike you as helpful. Chances are, these are the phrases that surprise you or confirm what was a hunch. Noticing what stands out will help reveal assumptions you may not have even known you had. (This is a stage in the process that should not be overlooked in your rush to master the personal statement. The more you notice what you are learning, the easier the process will become.)
The main idea or a thesis statement is clearly defined. There may be more than one key point. Appropriate relevant information and details are shared from a variety of sources including personal experiences, observations, and prior knowledge. Supporting details are accurate, relevant, and helpful in clarifying the main idea(s).
The main idea can be identified. The writer shares relevant information, facts and experiences. There is a clear distinction between general observations and specifics. Supporting details are relevant and explain the main idea.
The main idea can be identified. The writer shares some information, facts and experiences, but may show problems going from general observations to specifics. Stronger support and greater attention to details would strengthen this paper.
More than one of the following problems may be evident: The main idea is not identifiable. The writer shares some information, but it is limited or unclear. Details are missing or repetitious.
Writer’s Voice, Audience Awareness,
The paper is honest and enthusiastic. The language is natural yet thought-provoking. It brings the topic to life. The reader feels a strong sense of interaction with the writer and senses the person behind the words.
Writing is smooth, skillful, and coherent. Sentences are strong and expressive with varied structure
Writer's voice is consistent and strong. The writer is aware of an audience. The reader is informed and remains engaged. Sentences have varied structure.
Writer's voice may emerge strongly on occasion, then retreat behind general, vague, tentative, or abstract language. The writer is aware of an audience. The reader is informed, but must work at remaining engaged. Sentence structure shows some variety.
Writing is confusing, hard to follow. Language is vague. No audience awareness. No variety in sentence structure.
Spelling, punctuation, capitalization
Punctuation, spelling, capitalization are correct. No errors.
Punctuation, spelling, capitalization are generally correct, with few errors. (1-2)
A few errors in punctuation, spelling, capitalization. (3-4)
Distracting errors in punctuation, spelling, capitalization.