Daniel Carranza '12
I found applying for a competitive fellowship valuable for ulterior reasons. The application process in itself was very useful; it entailed a great deal of self-reflection about my past and about the reasons underlying my desires for the future. There is no formula for how to write an honest personal statement that also happens to be compelling and economical, and I by no means reached that ideal, but I found that I inched a bit closer the more hours I put into the document.
The personal statement is a bizarre genre in which one has to write a portrait of oneself that also exemplifies one's abilities in writing and thinking, that defends one's failures while not sounding defensive, that asks for the award without making an overt request, and that demonstrates one's worth without making an untactful attempt at direct or aggressive persuasion. The readers are judges, yet anonymous in their tastes but for a list of ineffable criteria, and they also want to be entertained, at the very least. I came to think of it as a strange exercise in maintaining social grace with a stranger I took along for a short walk and that's a lot to balance, so I would just be honest and try to make the statement as lively as possible. Just going through this process made applying valuable for me, whether I had gotten the fellowship or not.