A personal statement for PhD scholarship sample can only help so much, as doctorate-level scholarships have varying, non-universal application requirements. Some scholarships may not even ask for a personal statement, while others will ask you to write a statement based on a very particular prompt or topic that goes beyond the standard “why do you want to do a PhD?”. The variety and diversity of scholarships available to PhD applicants mean that your creativity, writing skills, and self-reflection ability matter more than your academic background or achievements.
This article presents a personal statement for PhD scholarship sample, written based on a specific scholarship, the Rhodes Scholarship, along with a few general tips that you should follow to make your own personal statement stand out.
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Note: The following personal statement was written according to the requirements of the Rhodes Trust, which awards the internationally renowned Rhodes Scholarship. This scholarship was chosen because it has global reach, and applicants from anywhere entering a program (undergraduate and graduate) at the University of Oxford can apply. It was also chosen because the personal statement is a crucial component of your application. All applicants must write a 750-word personal statement that addresses all three of the following specific prompts:
- 'Which Rhodes Scholar quality do you display most strongly, and how are other contexts and people helping you to develop the others?'
- 'What would you like to learn from the Rhodes and wider community in Oxford?'
- 'From your place in the world, what is humanity’s greatest need?'
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Personal Statement for PhD Scholarship Sample
V.S. Naipaul hated Oxford. 'I hate those degrees and I hate all those ideas of universities', he said in an interview with The Paris Review. Naipaul graduated with a bachelor’s degree – Upper Second Class Honours, not the First Class Honours he wanted – but I don’t believe his ire can be explained by his failing the oral exam to complete the B.Litt. post-graduate degree he was seeking.
While his words are unambiguous and forceful, I think Naipaul’s work, and actions, betray a more complicated relationship with his alma mater and the overarching culture and identity of Britishness Oxford represents. Let’s not forget that Naipaul, born in Trinidad, took the extraordinary step of leaving his home to study in England, and in that remarkable action, I think we can infer a deep-rooted, visceral and intense desire to belong.
I was also born in Trinidad, not far from Naipaul’s birthplace. And, like Naipaul, my grandparents were transplants from another sector of the British Empire, Hong Kong. I too grew up in an environment never feeling like I belonged. I struggled for a long time to create an idea of myself that represented all the aspects of my past and present. I believe the rootlessness and alienation I felt ultimately led me to become post-national.
I also adopted my 'post-national' identity because my compassion, the Rhodes Scholar quality I exemplify the most, could not stomach the way people who have left behind any vestige of national identity and citizenship to seek refuge or asylum are treated. Migrants and refugees being vilified, physically attacked and denied even their basic humanity motivated me to find kinship with them by casting off all pretence of nation and citizenship.
When I did that, it was a symbolic act. I did not renounce my Trinidadian citizenship or tear up my passport. But my undergraduate political science professor, Prof. Keith Persaud, encouraged me to explore the idea intellectually. Prof. Persaud was intrigued by what it would mean to be stateless but still have the rights afforded me by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
It was then that my personal search for identity intersected with my intellectual curiosity. From that moment on, I saw myself helping to create an inclusive, comprehensive, international citizenship built on shared humanity, rather than archaic notions of citizenship built around place of birth, blood, language and mono-cultures.
I found a suitable place to further develop my post-national identity when I moved to Toronto to pursue my master’s in public policy at the University of Toronto. I followed in Naipaul’s footsteps somewhat, but studying in the country that most embodies post-nationalism motivated me to reframe my academic pursuits as not only an issue involving citizenship, identity and nationality.
During my master’s, I realized that the assembly of nation-states comprising the international order (G7, G20, the United Nations) are confronting global issues with an antiquated mindset based on national interests, which is the entirely wrong approach. Climate change, economic inequality and migration are global issues that are being dealt with, if at all, in a piecemeal fashion, again, because no country wants to sacrifice the comfort and security of its citizens.
I believe this inaction in adopting a more global identity is hampering progress on these urgent issues. I hope that my research can create the intellectual, legal and historical basis for a post-national nation that not only confers universal citizenship to all humans regardless of where they are born and permits them free movement and residency anywhere, but leads to greater action on other pressing issues.
I feel the Oxford global community of students, the extensive literature and esteemed scholars localized here can provide the requisite knowledge I would need to create a framework by which no human being could ever be rejected or marginalized simply because of where they were born. I want to delve into the pre-history of nation-states and examine how empires of the Romans, Ottomans, Hapsburgs and British were, in some ways, more respectful and welcoming than 21st century democratic, pluralist nation-states.
I do not want to revive the British Empire. Nor do I want to bring back imperialism, but I do want to explore how the imperial model can be scrubbed of its more problematic tendencies and reworked to be inclusive, protective and indiscriminate. A project of this scope and magnitude is something I feel can only be moved forward at Oxford within the DPhil in International Relations program.
What Is Different about a PhD Scholarship Personal Statement?
Writing a personal statement for a PhD scholarship is different from writing a research interest statement, a grad school career goals statement, or a school or program specific personal statement, like the Harvard graduate school personal statement. The main difference, of course, is the reason for writing the statement, which is to win a scholarship to pay for graduate school, not entry into a program or university. This difference matters because you may be asked to write about something totally unrelated to your academic achievements or research plans, which may be difficult at first.
As you can see from the prompts given above, scholarship selection committees look for very specific answers on topics that are the opposite of what you would write in a typical Oxford personal statement, graduate school cover letter or PhD motivation letter. Scholarship selection committees are also bound by the stipulations set forth by the founder or benefactor of the scholarship since they are the ones funding the award. The people who establish academic and non-academic scholarships do so for a variety of reasons.
In the case of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the Rhodes Scholarship, it was to 'promote unity among English-speaking nations'. The original motivation for the scholarship, which was founded at the turn of the 20th century, has evolved to be more inclusive of international students, but its core mission to reward scholars who show essential qualities, like an instinct to lead and devotion to duty is unchanged.
The scope of many scholarships means it is difficult to recommend what exactly to write and what to mention since it is the scholarship administrators who determine that, and it can be different for every scholarship. The requirements can be either open-ended, or, in the case of the Rhodes Scholarships, quite precise.
For an example of an open-ended personal statement for PhD scholarship, the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program, administered by the Canadian government, asks for a two-page Personal Leadership Statement, with the main requirement being that you 'outline how you have gone above and beyond the expected norms' in a leadership capacity. Yet another example of how tricky it can be to navigate all the different requirements scholarships ask for is that the Vanier CGS program also asks for you to expound on much more than your leadership. You are encouraged to write about any personal obstacles you overcame to pursue your studies, what led you to pursue this particular field of study and how you will achieve your particular goals at the institution which has nominated you for the scholarship (you must be nominated; you cannot apply yourself). Therefore, the Vanier CGS resembles a typical personal statement in some ways (writing about overcoming obstacles, answering the 'tell me about yourself' PhD interview question), but there is much more you need to write about, as it is a PhD-level scholarship which has a myriad of opportunities attached to it.
What Should I Include in my Personal Statement for a PhD Scholarship?
What you include in your personal statement for a PhD scholarship depends on the scholarship you are applying to. Fortunately, many of these scholarships tell you directly what you need to include, whether it be, like the Rhodes Scholarship, how you exemplify certain characteristics, or what you would do to address a certain problem, or how the school or program you want to enter can help you in achieving your academic and career goals.
There are thousands of different scholarship opportunities out there for eligible students, and their eligibility requirements also differ. The scholarship could be academically based, meaning you must meet certain academic requirements. It could be based around your program and only available to students within that program.
Other scholarships are specifically for a certain demographic, such as students who identify as Black, Indigenous or another ethnicity. These students may be asked to write a totally different personal statement than someone who applies for an academic or merit-based scholarship. Other funding opportunities may be based solely on financial need and do not require you to submit any supporting documentation other than financial records.
But there are a few general tips that you can modify accordingly, so that you have some idea of what you need to write about.
1. Don’t Stray from the Requirements
Writing a personal statement for a PhD scholarship is, in some ways, a bit easier than learning how to write a CV for grad school, mainly because (in some cases, not all) you are given a specific set of requirements that can help you formulate and structure your statement, rather than having to do it yourself. The Rhodes Scholarship is only one example of this, but there are many others.
Since these scholarships are explicit about their requirements, you must adhere to them faithfully. These requirements apply not only to the content of your statement, but to the formatting as well. The Vanier GSC program has very strict formatting requirements which, if not followed, will reflect poorly on your overall application: maximum of 2 pages (2.5 pages for essays written in French), 12-point font size, six lines per inch.
2. Write Multiple Drafts
A good piece of writing only becomes great after you’ve combed through it and ensured its narrative flow, conciseness and clarity. You should proofread, edit and rewrite multiple times to also ensure you are adhering to the requirements and not writing off topic. Given that many PhD scholarships have stated word lengths, you should be careful not to write more than what’s required.
On the other hand, in your early drafts, you can write a lengthy statement to brainstorm ideas and narrative structure and then whittle it down until you are happy with the result. Free writing is a good technique to help you generate ideas, jog your memory and get words on the page. Later, you can organize everything in a more cogent way that reflects your knowledge, expertise and writing ability.
3. Start Early
The strength of your application is the key step in how to get into grad school and how to win a PhD scholarship, which is why it is important to start organizing and preparing your application as soon as possible. A hastily organized application with poorly written essays will hurt your chances and ultimately defeat the purpose of applying for a scholarship.
You should be aware of all the pertinent deadlines and be certain to secure other elements of the application if they are required. The Rhodes Scholarship gives applicants almost four months to prepare their entire application, which also requires that you submit a letter of recommendation from the president of your college or university, a graduate school statement of purpose, official transcripts, a CV and a colour photograph.
That’s a lot of material to collect in four months, but if you start right away (the application window opens on June 1st), you can give yourself time to write multiple drafts of your personal statement and statement of purpose, as well as time for your endorsement letter to be written.
Should you pursue a master’s or PhD, you should know that doctorate programs have fluctuating costs, but they usually enter the six-figure range, so figuring out how to fund your education is essential. If you are unsure about how to find a job after grad school, then applying for a full scholarship like the Rhodes or Vanier can help you shoulder the costs so that you are not burdened with student debt.
The Rhodes and Vanier scholarships are only two examples of scholarships that cover all costs associated with a PhD, but not all of them do. Some have limited funds to disburse, and availability depends on various factors, so you should research which scholarships apply to your particular program or whether you fit the eligibility requirements.
1. What is a personal statement for PhD scholarship?
Many scholarship programs regardless of the school, program of study or discipline, ask applicants to submit a short essay or statement about either a specific topic or something more general. Usually, but not always, the topic or prompt is based around the reasons the scholarship was created in the first place (to promote a specific ideal or discipline, to help underprivileged students get into graduate school, etc.). But it could also be a general letter about why you want to pursue your PhD.
2. Do I have to write a personal statement for a PhD scholarship?
Whether or not you write a personal statement for a PhD scholarship depends on what scholarship you are applying for, as they do not all require them. You should check the requirements carefully to find out for sure.
3. What is the difference between a regular personal statement and a personal statement for a PhD scholarship?
The differences are that a personal statement for a PhD scholarship may require you to write in response to a very specific topic, whereas a regular personal statement usually does not. A regular personal statement is where you outline various autobiographical details and how they relate to your overall academic and professional goals. A personal statement for a PhD scholarship may or may not ask for those same details. They may ask you to write about something else, which is the main difference between the two.
4. What should I include in my personal statement for a PhD scholarship?
What you include in your personal statement for a PhD scholarship depends on the stipulations of the scholarship founder and committee.
5. Will my personal statement help me win a scholarship?
Yes, it very well might. Writing an excellent personal statement (if you are asked to write one) is an important part of winning a scholarship, and it can tip the scales in your favour if it helps you stand out in a field of similarly bright and capable applicants. You should put as much time and effort into writing it as you would for any personal statement requirement.
6. What else do I have to write or submit for a PhD scholarship?
It depends on the scholarship which you are applying to. The examples given above, Rhodes and Vanier, have many different requirements and ask you to submit other documentation like your research resume, statement of purpose and grad school letters of recommendation. You may have to meet other academic and non-academic requirements, like having a master’s degree or a specific GPA score.
7. What’s the difference between a regular scholarship and a PhD scholarship?
Scholarships are not specific to PhDs or graduate students, as they can be used by anyone who needs the appropriate funding and resources to complete their education, regardless of the level. A PhD scholarship is a bit different in that it can afford you other opportunities besides money for tuition and living expenses. Winning a Rhodes Scholarship grants you access to several professional development opportunities, an international alumni network and entrance into a hallowed legacy. But other PhD scholarships' benefits may not be as far-reaching and involve only helping you pay for your education.
8. How much money does a PhD scholarship award?
Award amounts vary between different scholarships and are not always made public since the prize can be disbursed over several years or all at once, depending on the scholarship. Other scholarships are one-time, non-renewable prizes which cover only one year of study or one semester, and you are told upfront how much money is available. But, again, even those amounts can change, depending on how many applicants apply and how many scholarships are awarded.
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