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Personal Essay

What's the point? 

From the moment we apply for college, we are constantly coaxed into offering some one- or two-page version of ourselves. “They have the resume already,” we think.  “They have seen the GPA, the evidence of copious acts of community engagement and research." So what’s the point? Why must we narrate ourselves?

The point is this: if you are unable to tell convincing and lively and detailed stories about who you are and what you've done, you appear to others as mere bundles of random facts and abstract values.  The personal essay puts you in control of how you are perceived; it allows you to write yourself into the world.

Almost all nationally competitive award applications as well as applications to graduate and professional schools require a personal essay. This essay is narrative in nature and requires a great deal of reflection and attention. A candidate for an award should expect to write multiple drafts over a period of two to three months in consultation with staff members in the Office of National Competitive Awards.

In the pages that follow, you will find some useful tools and information that will help you to develop set of relevant rhetorical skills that you can adapt and mobilize when you face the very different persuasive contexts of, say, a personal narrative used for a grad-school application, a study abroad scholarship, or an application for a Marshall, Rhodes, or Fulbright. Specifically, these pages cover three distinct, though crucially inter-animating areas: