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In addressing the Times article, students scrutinized how the most prestigious educational institutions virtually guarantee social advantage, conferring symbolic titles legitimizing dominance.  The Clark article and the Times article juxtaposed opened students to the idea that merit is structured like a game, and also how players must develop a “feel” for the game by either receiving expensive coaching or uncovering the game through critical engagement and reflection.  Such readings and the ensuing discussions which resulted from pairings paved the way for the academic autobiography (perhaps even auto-ethnography), which for the majority of my students existed in the guise of the “personal statement.”  The statement included their interests, academic background, extra-curricular activities, and long-range and immediate goals and plans.  According to the advice offered as a supplement by our college’s Office of Honors and Scholarships, the

personal statement is perhaps the single most important element in the scholarship application. Different types of scholarships will make specific requests of applicants in terms of focusing the personal statement. For example, a travel grant may ask you to contextualize your experiences in terms of how a travel award will help you further your academic goals. Others awards may ask you to discuss your academic and career goals and to describe how the scholarship will enable you to realize these. In writing the statement, consider the audience implied through the application materials and the reading you have done on the granting agency. The personal statement should address this audience directly while creating a full picture of who you are, as a student, an intellectual and an individual. The personal statement should not be a resume in narrative form. You can, however, use the statement to explain or contextualize any gaps or weaknesses in the academic record, and do so in ways that makes these appear either as inevitable or as strengths. A good personal statement will make the committee members want to meet you; it should also induce the scholarship selectors to think of you as the perfect recipient for their award. (http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/scholar/tips.html)

Rightly so, the advice points out that students must do research into whom exactly they are writing for, whom they attempt to induce with a sense of charisma.  In a few double-spaced pages, students should be “creating a full picture” of themselves so that their intended audiences can appreciate them as students, intellectuals, and individuals—students should be able to synthesize their ambitions and goals into a few paragraphs that charm in such a way as to seem a “naturally” qualified candidate.  Students able to accomplish this do so by shrewdly positioning themselves as good candidates emphasizing and minimizing certain aspects for presentation.  At the same time students must also understand the levels of formality necessary for their addresses.  While charming committee members so as to seem likeable, they must also maintain a respectable distance.  In strategizing their rhetorical productions, students must be aware of the major criteria of importance and should do research into what the scholarship looks for in terms of requirements.  With all this, it is plain to see a great deal of critical work goes into writing these “statements,” or short academic, paraprofessional autobios (hence why some have the luxury of paying “academic consultants” to do this for their children).  This I think warranted assigning the essay for the course.

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