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.
I am Gene Geralde Gonzales, I was born on May 2, 1971 at Baguio City, Philippines. We are seven siblings in the family. I am the seventh child. My mother’s name is Fe Geralde Gonzales, she is from Cebu City and my father’s name is Mario Dy Gonzales, he is from Legaspi, Albay. I took my elementary education as well as my secondary education at Saint Louis School of Campo Filipino located at Naguilian Road Baguio City. I have a happy childhood living with my parents and with my siblings. During weekends, we usually spend our day in the park. And we help each other in our daily activities. My family is a happy and a loving family.
During my high school days, I usually spend my free time in the library together with my friends. Our school is exclusively for girls and because of that I find it hard to communicate with the opposite sex. We usually spend our summer vacation in the hometown of my mother, which is located at Minglanilla Cebu City. My hobbies are reading books, biking, watching movies and also cross stitching. I also spend my free time hanging out with my friends. My dream was to become a nurse. I was able to pass the entrance examination given at Saint Louis University and I had my first year as a nursing student. I wasn’t able to pass one of the major subjects. I have to transfer to another school. I had to take a summer class for my back subject at Pines City Educational Center and from that time I continued my studies and graduated in the year 1992 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After graduation, I have my self review and took the exam for Civil Service Professional Level, wherein I was able to pass the exam. By the year 1993, together with my college friends we went to Manila to have our review and took our board exam for nursing. While waiting for the result of the board exam, I worked as a volunteer nurse at Antamok Mines.
My interpersonal skills and nursing skills were developed during my stay at Antamok Mines Hospital. After I passed the Board Exam for Nurses, by the year 1994, I worked as a private duty nurse employed by Miss Cheen Tan, wherein I took care of her father, who is 82 years of age and with Parkinson’s disease. I assisted him with his daily activities, give him bath and feed him, and also I make sure to take all his medications in time. My salary as a private duty nurse is not enough to support my family financially so I decided to apply as a caretaker in Taiwan. By March 1996, I went to work in Taiwan. It was my first time to live away from my family. I had a hard time in adjusting to a new environment, with different culture and dialect as well. After six months, I can communicate with the family members of my employer in Mandarin, their native language and also I can do well with my daily activities especially cooking their Chinese dishes. I worked as a domestic helper and as a caretaker. My employer has seven family members. I took care of my employer’s mother who is a stroke patient, 87 years of age and a hemiplegic.
I assist her to sit in the wheel chair and also give her daily bath. I worked there for three years. My employer wanted me to extend my contract, but unfortunately that time only three years is the maximum unless I changed my passport and use another name. I enjoyed working in Taiwan because my employer treated me not as a domestic helper but as one of their family members. I went back home to Philippines. By January 2001, I applied in Dubai as a private duty nurse, employed by Sheikh Marwan Maktoum Bin Al Maktoum. I worked in a royal family where in I took care of their first child. We are three people looking after her, two registered nurses and one registered midwife. I worked there until December 2004. By February 2005, I was hired to work as trainer at Philippine Caretaker Training Center. It is a training center for females who want to work in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore as a domestic helper.
I worked there until June 2006. By July 2006, I took a month course of reflexology at AKSEM Homes Foundation and by August 2006 I worked there as a reflexology therapist until December 2006. On January 1, 2007 I was employed as a trainer at Cebu Asia Training Specialist Inc. located at Dian, Makati City. It was a training center for females who wants to work as a domestic helper for Hong Kong. By September 16, 2007 until October 25, 2011, I worked as a staff nurse in Dar Elhekma Clinic located in Salihia Street, Riyadh Saudi Arabia. After working in Saudi Arabia for 4 years I decided to go home since both of my parents passed away in the same year. I spend my whole life working for my family especially for my parents, because they are sick and they need to take medication for their maintenance. After I came home from Saudi Arabia, with my savings my family house was renovated.
I have to work to support myself and my two sisters; by August 13, 2012, I was re-hired as a trainer in Philippine Caretaker Training and Assessment Center Inc. I worked there until June 29, 2013. I resigned because of the poor management; the manager tends to bring down the staff instead of encouraging them to grow professionally. My plan is to save for my future since I have no family and I am single.