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8. Combine two or more sentences and omit unnecessary repetition—“John went to the store on Saturday to buy eggs and milk” instead of “John went to the store on Saturday. He bought eggs and milk.” Whenever possible, use the active voice—for example, “The attorney won the court case”, not “The court case was won by the attorney.” Your tone should be genuine and convey sincerity and honesty. If you “sound” inauthentic or insincere, readers may make more general assumptions about your character and integrity.
Because the personal statement focuses on you, use the first person singular pronoun, “I,” but keep it to a minimum, particularly at the beginning of sentences. And eliminate the “I thinks,” “I believes,” and the “I feels.” Vary sentence length and types: Simple sentences with one independent clause; Compound sentences with two or more independent clauses; or more Complex sentences with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
Ohio Wesleyan University Writing Center © 2011 Page 6 Complete Statements In the following sections, we offer examples of several complete Fulbright personal statements (the first two followed by critical commentary).
Essay One During the summer of tenth grade, I took a number theory course at Johns Hopkins University with students from Alaska, California, and Bogota, Colombia. My attendance of the New Jersey Governor's School in the Sciences is another accomplishment that exemplifies my dedication to knowledge. During the summer following eleventh grade, I took courses in molecular orbital theory, special relativity, cognitive psychology, and I participated in an astrophysics research project. For my independent research project, I used a telescope to find the angular velocity of Pluto. With the angular velocity determined, I used Einstein's field equations and Kepler's laws to place an upper bound on the magnitude of the cosmological constant, which describes the curvature of space and the rate of the universe's expansion.
In addition to learning science, I recently lectured physics classes on special relativity at the request of my physics teacher. After lecturing one class for 45 minutes, one student bought many books on both general and special relativity to read during his study hall. Inspiring other students to search for knowledge kindles my own quest to understand the world and the people around me.
Also, as president of the National Honor Society, I tutor students with difficulties in various subject areas. Moreover, I am ranked number one in my class, and I am the leading member of the Math Team, the Academic Team, and the Model Congress Team. In the area of leadership, I have recently received the Rotary Youth Leadership Award from a local rotary club and have been asked to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum on Law and the Constitution in Washington D.C. Currently enrolled in Spanish 6, I am a member of both the Spanish Club and the Spanish Honor Society.
As student council president, I have begun a biweekly publication of student council activities and opinions. Also, the executive board under my direction has opened the school store for the first time in nearly a decade and is finding speakers to speak at a series of colloquia on topics ranging from physics to politics. Directing fund raisers and charity drives also consumes much of my time. For instance, I recently organized a charity drive that netted about $1,500 for the family of a local girl in need of a heart transplant.
Consistent with my love of freedom and my belief in democracy, which is best summarized by Hayek's Road to Serfdom, I have recently initiated an application to become the liaison to the local board of education. Also, in keeping with my belief that individuals develop strong principles and ideology, I teach Sunday school three months a year and have chaperoned for a local Christian school.
Outside pure academics and leadership roles, I lift weights five times a week for an hour each day. In addition, I play singles for my school's varsity tennis team. Because I find extraordinary satisfaction in nature and have dedicated my life to its understanding, I enjoy mountain climbing. Among the notable peaks I have reached are Mt. Washington, Mt Jefferson, Mt. Madison, Mt. Marcy and Mt. Katahdin.
Unquestionably, my life's aim is to dramatically raise the height of the mountain of knowledge so that my successors may have a more accurate view of the universe around them.
Overall, the essay lacks a central theme, a meaningful organizational pattern, and, perhaps most important, self-reflection and thoughtful insights about his experiences. Readers want to know what you have done, of course, but they also want to know what you have learned—about yourself, about others, about the world.
The author conveys, as well, a number of unintended negative messages. The list of experiences and accomplishments, coupled with the use of “I,” may be interpreted as selfcongratulatory, perhaps even egocentric, when the writing occasion calls for selfconfidence tempered by modesty and restraint. Specific self-references, such as “I am number one in my class” and “I am the leading member of the Math Team,” further emphasize this point and suggest, perhaps unintentionally, an annoying arrogance—to this reader, anyway—that the concluding statement underscores: “Unquestionably, my life‟s aim is to dramatically raise the height of the mountain of knowledge so that my successors may have a more accurate view of the universe around them.” The author intends to illustrate his altruism—his wish to serve and help others—when he identifies that he has tutored students, organized a charity drive, and taught Sunday school for three months a year. He undermines his intentions, however, when he lists these experiences as additional accomplishments and demonstrates no genuine caring, concern, or empathy for others.
Essay Two I lived until the age of 18 in Lacey, Washington, a small town made up mostly of the strip malls and fast food restaurants that line Interstate 5 from Portland to Seattle. Very few of my high school classmates left this town, and instead moved back into the service industries and lower rungs of state bureaucracy where their parents had worked before them. For those of us who wanted to leave, the only routes, at the time, seemed to be the military or higher education. Since, by middle school, I had been tracked into college prep courses, I assumed that I would go to college but did not know where or what to study.
In our garage, my grandfather kept back issues of National Geographic dating to the 1920's. The summer before starting high school, he paid me to dust them and it was then that I discovered something called "Anthropology" which, when studied, appeared to lead to a more interesting life in a more interesting place. For my Freshman Physical Science course's "SCIENCE CAREERS DAY," I wrote "Anthropology" down as my career goal, though I knew nothing at the time about the discipline besides the name.
I likewise chose a college which I knew nothing about - Lewis and Clark in Oregon - because the brochure mentioned that there were several dozen overseas programs available through the school.
Though I could have gone to India, Indonesia, Ecuador, Australia, Korea or many other countries, I decided to apply for Kenya because the year before I had read a book about nomads and the program included a unit on nomadic pastoralism and ecology.
Ohio Wesleyan University Writing Center © 2011 Page 8 After rereading this book much later, I discovered it to be an incredibly sappy, melodramatic and condescending account of the lives of indigenous Australians and other nomadic peoples. When I was seventeen, though, the plot of the book - mainly, that humans have an innate desire to wander the earth, in the same manner the Aborigines retrace the paths which their ancestors sung into existence at the beginning of time - seemed quite compelling and true. I was fixated on nomads for the rest of my undergraduate career; however after my stay in Kenya for 7 months in 1990, the nature of my interest changed.
The event that both altered my perspective on nomads, and also led to an eventual decision to pursue a graduate degree in Anthropology occurred while driving north past Mt. Kenya with an American instructor who had lived in Africa for 25 years. After descending from the rich, green highlands into a hot arid plain of acacia trees, scrub, and dry river beds, from the car window there appeared cattle kraals made of thin branches and thorn bush, small boys herding goats, sheep and cattle, and the squat, dungwalled, oval houses belonging to the Samburu communities who occupied the area. The instructor stopped the truck, took in the view, and then announced quite dramatically, "These people have lived like this for 6000 years."
Everything about that statement was false. The communities currently occupying that area had not been there 600 years, let alone 6000. Additionally, the people who I met in Northern Kenya, though definitely poor, had fully "modem" lives. They wore jewelry reconstructed from 35 mm film canisters and shoes from old tire treads. They voted in elections and kept up with national news. I had watched men mix vats of fluorescent green chemicals with which to vaccinate their cattle. I had seen women cook with tin pots and tea kettles and kids on their way to school with exercise books and soccer balls made from plastic bags.
At that moment, I was confronted with a glaring contradiction between what I observed - that is, an encounter with modernity as complex and confusing as that which I had witnessed in my own culture and what I, along with many other of my fellow travelers to Africa, often want to believe - that somewhere out in the world there are people who represent what humans beings were meant to be, what we used to be, and what we have lost. What I gained from that moment was ultimately an appreciation, instead, for what people really do with their lives - how they manage the economic, political and social transformations that are occurring, and have always occurred, in their local communities. Moreover, I developed an interest in how groups of people are made to stand for something else, like a concept, an ideal or, perhaps, a fear. This interest has switched over time from a focus on how Europeans and Americans use images of African communities representationally (the idea of the 'noble savage,' for instance) to, as I explain in my proposal, a concern about how communities use debates over children to represent conflicts in other areas of social life.
In the summer of 1994, I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania on an SSRC Predissertation Grant to begin to establish affiliation, research clearance and possible field sites. I have also made contacts at the district level with officials and academics in the area. Though I already speak Kiswahili, the national language of Tanzania, I also have made arrangements to study Maa, the language of the Kisongo Maasai and WaArusha who live in the district in which I will be working. I am looking forward to working in Tanzania not only because of its political stability and unique history as a nation, but also because of the opportunity to generate information about children and education in pastoral communities there, a topic which is still under-researched despite the restructuring of national curriculum in recent years.
Annotations: Essay Two In the narrative-like opening paragraph, the author sketches a brief but vivid portrait of Lacey,
The essay includes a thematic focus and a narrative thread—her interest in anthropology and nomadic people, which begins in paragraph two and ends in the last paragraph with a reference to her proposal.
Though the author writes about her experiences, she minimizes the focus on herself by describing and understanding nomadic peoples from a perspective that transcends the customary romanticism and ethnocentrism exhibited by the American instructor identified in paragraph five. More specifically, the author reveals the wisdom gleaned from her experiences: “how groups of people are made to stand for something else, like a concept, an ideal or, perhaps, a fear.” The concluding paragraph illustrates the candidate‟s careful preparation and conveys that she would adapt to the culture of her host country and complete the program.
Overall, the essay focuses on a number of topics, issues, and experiences that her readers will be targeting, including travel experience, language proficiency, preparation for living in her host country, and appreciation of other peoples and cultures.
Essay Three The life of an urban dweller is a patchwork of sorts. You may live in one square of the quilt but be unaware of surrounding swatches. My patch was Brooklyn—a patch buried within the dense urban quilt of New York City.
Nature was never immediately outside my door; it was something my family had to consciously make a day of. We would pile into the subway and ride for hours to finally arrive at a tiny piece of nature, only it was neatly quarantined within the limits of the surrounding urban landscape. While many people remember recesses filled with playgrounds and grass, my memories are of a parking lot bordered by a two-story tall chain link fence. These stark, well-defined boundaries ruled my daily existence. Nature, to me, was always enclosed by a fence, a wall, or a sidewalk; it existed only tucked between folds of concrete. Longing for more natural areas, I developed a distaste for the rigidity of my urban habitat.