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How to Win a Scholarship to University, part 3


How to Win a Scholarship to University, part 3

Recap of previous posts on how to win a scholarship 

In the previous two posts here on JC Economics Essays on how to successfully attain an undergraduate scholarship to university, I blogged about being prepared and ready for opportunities by starting early, studying hard, being polite and professional to teachers, tutors, and school administrators, and taking on leadership and volunteer or community positions, and how to plan for a scholarship to university. There were many questions that students would have to consider before applying for any scholarship (for a full recap, read this post on planning for a scholarship). 

Now, the next step is to craft a perfect personal statement, often in response to an essay prompt or some guidelines or guiding questions.  

Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement

How do we craft the perfect personal statement that would help a student gain entry into a prestigious university? 

This post here on my JC Economics Essays website will share some tips and techniques for drafting an excellent personal statement. 

In this post, we will refer to a personal essay, a statement of intent, and other forms of writing as a personal statement (to me, that is the most common way of referring to this specific type of writing). 

While no one can guarantee that a student's personal statement would be the best (naturally), and it often depends on what the student had done earlier in his academic life (remember what I said about getting strong grades, leadership positions, and volunteer or community work experience), one can always make the best personal statement one can - and hopefully that would be able to impress the assessors. 

In other words, write as best as you can - and hope for the best. The work that you have done will be able to help you. Your essay will hopefully be lit up by the brilliance of your achievements and contributions. 

First and foremost, before you start writing your personal statement - have a plan. 

This is similar to my previous post. 

Have a plan. 

And as I said before, if students fail to plan, then they plan to fail. 

Determine what the question is asking, and then outline your answer. What do you need to include in the response? What do you plan to argue, explain, and give examples for? 

If the question is asking about defining moments in your life, reflect on a few defining moments and lay them out on paper. 

If the prompt is asking about your experiences and knowledge of PPE - Politics, Philosophy, and Economics - then focus your thoughts and ideas on Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. 

If the guiding questions are more general, and asking you to focus on some ideas that have intrigued you, think about what books or articles you have read that really impressed you, impacted you, motivated you, or affected you. If the topic is on economics books - be sure that you start reflecting on economics books or journals that you have read. 

Second, be sure to bring in your strengths and knowledge into your response. 

This is a point worth repeating. 

The whole point of the personal statement is for you to show or demonstrate your strengths and knowledge into your response. The administrators and assessors cannot read your mind, so you will have to show them your strengths and knowledge. 

One way is to do it through citing your experiences, such as internships you have attended, relevant courses that you have taken, or volunteer work in a related field that you have done. 

If you are applying for law school, writing about the strengths you found in yourself while working at an intern in a fast-paced law firm would be useful; if you are applying for an economics undergraduate degree, then write about the online learning you have done on Keynesian economics, and what you have learnt about the difference between Monetarism, Classical Economics, and Keynesian Economics; and if you are applying for a social policy or sociology degree, be sure to write about your extensive volunteer work and how that taught you about income inequality or inequity in society. 

Through these examples, bring out your strengths, your good points, and the areas of knowledge or expertise that you may have. 

Notice that this really depends on the preparation work that you should have done before planning for universities and scholarships - please refer to parts 1 and 2 which I wrote earlier. The useful materials there will help you. 

Third, edit relentlessly. 

I have had former students write their personal statement once, and then they wanted me to have a look. Much of their writing was woefully inadequate for entry to university. Edit, edit, and edit again. 

If you have written a first draft, just be sure that you know that it can be better. 

Remember: that which is written without much care is seldom read with pleasure. 

The greater the pleasure you get from reading something, the greater the effort that went into it. 

When editing, there are many things to take note of:

Did you write in the right tone and register? Are you being too informal, or overly formal? 

How accurate are the terms and phrases you are using in the personal statement? Were you the Chairman, or the Assistant Chairman? Did you win the Gold Award or the Silver Award? 

Did you clear all the typos and spelling mistakes? 

Have you ensured that there is consistency in the terms used? 

And a common point often missed out is - have you used the right language? 

If you are applying for a college degree in the USA, please write in American English. 

If you are writing a personal statement meant for a UK university, please write in British English. 

If you are writing a personal statement for the University Scholars Programme in Singapore - whether the NUS or the NTU one - then be sure to use British English as well, as that is what we use in Singapore. 

Remember the Biblical phrase: Those who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great things. Essentially, if you have not used terms consistently, and cannot even write properly, how can the reader or assessor trust you? 

Fourth, emphasise meaning and significance, but be sure not to overstate your case.

This is important. 

Many students do not know how to emphasise the meaning and significance of what they have done. 

Consider the following examples of weak sentences (from actual students):

I was Chairperson of ABC committee, I was Vice President of XYZ sport, and I participated in the JJJ seminar in YYYY year. 

I was selected class Chairperson and I was tasked to do many activities. 

I am deeply interested in accountancy and want to change the world. 

The first sentence is a pure listing - where is the meaning and significance? A stronger way of writing would be: 

I was Chairperson of ABC committee, which I established in YYYY year. Even though I spent a lot of time starting up that new committee, I also played football and eventually rose through the ranks to become VP of the XYZ sporting team, which won three gold medals under my leadership. I headed the team in the JJJ seminar in YYYY, and we won third place for the first time in school history. 

The second sentence is weak because it comes across as passive and insignificant. Consider this instead: 

I was chosen to be class Chairperson in recognition of my contributions to the class, and I led many activities and initiatives, such as ... 

The third is just interesting... but could be stronger and better. In the end, I rewrote my student's entire personal statement:

I am deeply interested in studying accountancy at university because my father is an accountant and I want to follow in his footsteps. He once told me that accountancy could change the world. I was intrigued by his unusual comment. How could accountancy be as important or relevant as economics or finance? And my father said to me... 

Fourth, ask people who know to help you - but take their advice with caution. 

Always remember that there is great value in asking people to help you. 

They can share their advice and knowledge. They can point out areas for improvement. They can share ideas and pointers. And if they have applied to the same scholarship before, or the same university course, they can help you. Do your research and interview people; ask them for tips and tricks; and learn from others. 

But do take all advice with caution. 

Some students told me that they were told to use big words and fancy phrases. While that may work with some US universities, it does not work with UK universities as the British are often more understated and subtle. 

Yet others have told me that the personal statement should be full of sob stories and problems that one had to overcome. Yes, there is some value in showing good values of resilience and strength. 

However, do not overdo this. Also, if many people write like this, how do you differentiate yourself from the rest of them? 

What is your unique selling point if you are another one of the sob stories? 

Fifth, respect convention, but be unique and differentiated

Also, while it is convention to write in the conclusion "I would appreciate the opportunity to study at your fine institution", and some coaches and trainers even use similar phrases to coach and train their students, consider other ways of writing. 

There is nothing wrong with convention. However, be unique even while you are conventional. 

"Studying in London is a dream come true, and I hope to be given a chance to do so" could be reframed as "London is an exciting city - studying at the London School of Economics would be a double-win for me", which is more unique and edgy. 

Or perhaps "at your fine institution" could be phrased as "As the famous economist Keynes studied in this college and benefited from a first-rate education, it would be my privilege to have this same honour". 

You get what I mean - yes, by all means stick to convention, but what is your unique selling point? 

What is your unique way of writing and communicating? What is "you" about this? 

It is also convention to say that you are reading Economics because you are interested in it. I think everyone would say that (some are actually telling the truth). 

Do not write "I am interested in economics". A better and stronger way of saying it is "Reading Milton Friedman's book on XYZ opened my eyes to some economics topics, and sparked my interest in the subject". 

More information will be coming in future posts. 

For more tips and techniques on how to raise your chances of getting a top scholarship to university, stay tuned for more. Thank you for reading, and cheers! 


JC Economics Essays -- I am currently writing on how to win a scholarship to university, for young and budding scholars to read undergraduate degrees. Thank you for reading and I hope these materials help you. 

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