Have you been struggling to write your personal statement or SOP? Reading some good statement of purpose examples and MFA personal statement samples can make your application season easier and less stressful. Also, it helps to read practical advice by professors who have sat on MFA in Creative Writing Admissions Committees, particularly professors who know what makes a good MFA personal statement.
This article will take you through the process of writing an SOP. Attached, herein, are 10 statement of purpose examples (or 10 MFA Personal Statement examples, if you like), contributed by writers who gained admission into fully-funded MFA in Creative Writing programs. We’ve also shared tips from creative writing professors on how to write a personal statement.
The purpose of this article is to help you write a personal statement that will wow the admission committee members in the English, Literature and Creative Writing programs you’re applying to.
What is a Statement of Purpose or a Personal Statement?
A statement of purpose, in the context of applying to a graduate writing program, tells an admission committee about who you are, what your work focuses on, why you are applying to their program, and what you will do in the future.
Writing a statement of purpose is akin to attending an audition or an interview or a workshop. You need to stamp your suitability and prospects as best as you can.
Owing to this, a statement of purpose or personal statement should do more than what it is called. It has to show your purpose.
Before you start the process of writing your graduate school essay, take note of the following:
Focus on your Interest.
Know what you are interested in as a creative person, or what your work focuses on. For example, if you are interested in Memoir writing, Travel writing, or Speculative Fiction, or Historical fiction or Ancient Greek poetry, you should be able to write a few words regarding your approach to that area.
Many writers cannot really point a finger to what they are interested in because of their fecundity. And that’s okay.
In fact, writing tutor, Daniel Galef, with his untrammeled imagination wrote in his SOP:
“It’s difficult to describe what kind of fiction I write, because I’m not sure there is a kind of fiction I write. No two stories I’ve written have been alike. One of them is alike, but none of the others are.”
Research the Programs you are Applying to.
Read widely about the programs you are applying to and note your findings systematically. There is no escaping from this exercise because you need to know about the schools of your interest. In turn, that knowledge needs to reflect on the pages of your SOP.
This will tell the admission committee that you care about their creative writing program and that your SOP is not generic.
- Who is on the faculty of XYZ arts program?
- What are their specializations?
- Have the faculty members published any books or stories or poetry collections?
- If yes, what works have they published?
- What fascinates you about their English and creative writing program?
- What are their acceptance rates of this MFA or PhD in Creative Writing Program?
- How does their funding work? Does the MFA or PhD program provide full-funding for students who want to study creative writing?
- How many years will it take to complete the MFA program? Do they allow students to run an MFA and PhD joint program?
- What is the workload like?
- Where are they located?
- What are your general thoughts of their Creative Writing program?
Knowing these will help you decide whether a grad school program is best for you.
This article has been broken into four parts with headings of no consequence.
(Note: The headings mean nothing. They are just to stimulate understanding. You should not break your SOP into headings. Very few, if any, creative writing programs will be impressed with a segmented statement of purpose or personal statement.)
We’ll Call The First Part ‘The Open Window’
The initial part of your SOP should make a commanding entry with the essence of your being. It should offer little windows into you, and reveal profoundly what you are about as a person, and as a creative, taking into consideration where you are from.
This is that place you afford the admission committee a brief uncensored moment about your ‘who’. It should be so transparent that they can look through it and see your world.
One of the most transparent “window” statements I think I have heard about oneself is from Shane Patton in the movie ‘Lone Survivor’. At the tail end of his speech, Shane, while trying to join a band of war brothers, says with gusto,
Pardon the asterisks. Your SOP does not have to be Shane-Pattonesque. However, it has to have some art-mosphere. It must be written in a style and voice that are unique to you. However, your SOP should employ the ‘story approach’.
Important Questions These Statement Of Purpose Samples Address.
This guide will help you to address the following questions in your personal statement or letter of intent:
- What kind of a storyteller or poet are you?
- Where are you coming from?
- How has your socialization/environment/formative years/job experience informed the way you view the world?
- What are your motivations?
- Also, what feeds your imaginations?
- More importantly, what inspired you to start writing in the first place?
- What has sustained it?
Here, Okwudili Nebolisa gives us a perfect window statement in this sample statement of purpose. Here’s how he opens his grad school essay:
It’s one of the most insightful MFA personal statement examples I’ve read in a while.
From the foregoing, Okwudili created a short background of himself and gave an idea why he had first chosen a path outside the art. It’s one detail many Creative Writing admission committees would be interested in.
He went further (though, not included in this article) to tell the committee how he found his way into the arms of poetry.
Here is another statement of purpose example that has a compelling window ‘personal’ statement:
Simply put, this MFA applicant talks about her approach to writing fiction, speaks of how it has become a tool in her hand against societal norms, mentions her writing influences, and states what draws her to them.
Note: You should be able to say who and what influences you, and clearly express the ways in which they do.
This sample statement of purpose opens with a vivid and memorable story.
Here’s another opening statement from another MFA personal statement example or letter of intent. It also exemplifies the important point I was trying to make. It says:
We’ll call the second part ‘the Briefcase’
Here, you supply the gist of your educational experience. You may add your professional interest and inform the admission committee about relevant activities you have been engaged with recently.
Assuming you work as a content writer/creator, how has it helped your craft? The same thing applies if you work in any other endeavor outside the literary sphere.
For example, an applicant says in this MFA in creative writing personal statement sample:
Note: Non-writing related jobs and experiences are important. Think about the many ways they can give you insight about your craft. They are worth the mention in the sense that they set you apart because of the experience you must have had, and add to what your craft can gain.
Here’s how a teacher explained her experience in her MFA statement of purpose example. It can also work in a teaching statement:
Going further, you may emphasize on your literary achievement and recognition here. Here’s another good example of a statement of purpose. Here’s how this MFAyer stated his/her literary achievement:
Note: you may say one or two things about your publishing history.
Let’s call the third part “the Knock”
You must exemplify clear-headedness here in talking about why you are seeking this degree now.
In one of the grad school statement of purpose examples we received , one MFA in Creative Writing applicant wrote:
Another sample statement of purpose for an MFA in Creative Writing Application put it this way:
Write About Your Dreams, Hope and Intentions
Next is to inform the graduate committee on why you are knocking on their doors.
Are there members of the faculty you want to work with? If yes, state why. Is it something about their academic tradition or vision? Does the school’s location appeal to you? Or is it about their commitment to diversity?
You should end this part of the statement of purpose with an idea of the project you hope to write during your time on the program. This will inform the professors that you already have an idea of what kind of book your thesis will be.
It shows seriousness. Also it shows that you’re more likely to begin once you arrive. We have more statement of purpose examples to illustrate how this can be done in your MFA portfolio.
Note: Your intended project should contain the promise of presenting something fundamentally new and important to the literary world.
For example, in her statement of purpose, this MFA in Creative Writing applicant wrote:
Here’s an excerpt from another sample statement of purpose for a graduate school (MFA) application:
We’ll Call The Last Part The Telescope
Here you have to be futuristic. Talk about the big picture. What do you intend to do with the knowledge and network you would have acquired in the MFA program?
What other career plans do you have? Do you want to go back to your job? (If yes, how would the degree help in making you better at your job?)
Note: Ensure you close your grad school statement of purpose on a hopeful note. Show preparedness to start. Exude confidence. Express anticipation on getting in.
Hopefully, these statement of purpose examples have given you a clear idea of what a successful personal statement looks like.
But that’s not all. Some MFA Admission Committee members have shared a couple of tips on Twitter. So we’ll share more of them alongside tips sent in by some generous past and current MFA students..
Tips For Writing A Good Statement of Purpose or Letter Of Intent .
If you’re applying to graduate creative writing programs, pay attention to your writing samples first. But also, craft your SOP with the following tips in mind.
There Are No Hard and Fast Rules To Writing An SOP.
There is no hard and fast rule in writing an SOP. Just ensure that yours is well-knit, with flowing ideas and a fantastic rhythm. Keep it organized and clear. Stick to the manuscript formatting guidelines. As with everything else, make your submissions error free.
Here’s what MFA Admission committee member has to say:
Now, on to our next point.
Ensure That Your Writing Samples and SOPs Are Creative, Well-written and Workshopped.
Your writing sample largely pre-determines the success of your SOP. The admission committee may not open your SOP if your samples aren’t any good.
And if you’re lucky, the MFA App Review might match you with a reviewer who will send you more unique statement of purpose examples.
More from Elizabeth McCracken who, if you don’t already know, has been a longstanding member of the admission committee at the University of Texas’ MFA in Creative Writing program.
Resist the temptation to copy other writers’ personal statements or statement of purpose examples and samples you might find online.
Trust your story, your style and voice. The adcoms can tell when everyone sounds the same. And they don’t like it. Here’s a quote from Elizabeth McCracken’s Twitter page:
Consider Starting With a Story
“While your personal statement can’t be wildly creative, it is important to show your storytelling skills if you want to get into a creative writing program,” advises Elyse Hauser.
“One way to do this is to open with a story, giving you a chance to “show, not tell” your writing abilities. This also helps your personal statement stand out from the rest. [Also] admissions staff are likely to keep reading a statement of purpose that has a unique and exciting beginning.”
Don’t Be Afraid To Assert Yourself. In Your Statement Of Purpose.
MFA programs are avant-garde compared with other university grad school and undergrad programs so feel free to assert yourself even if you feel you are without the “right” credential and publishing history.
Another tip from Matt Bell Of making your statement of purpose stellar.
What you think serve as your ‘shortcomings’ can work for you if you stir them properly. It matters so much that you have the right motive and that you show promise. Do not play small. Play confident.
More from Matt Bell.
Employ A Memorable Tone.
“The standard Personal Essay Voice, like the droning and soporific Poetry Reading Voice, is forgettable and undermines its own content,” says Daniel Galef. “Trying for a different tone is a gamble—nothing is so unfunny as someone trying to be funny and failing—but if you can pull it off it makes you stand out.”
Comply With The Creative Writing Program’s Submission Guidelines.
Check for specific information required by the English and creative writing program you are applying to and ensure you stay within the shores of their requirement.
Get Feedback From Current and Past Students.
It is important to get feedback from people who may be on writing programs or who have extensive knowledge of graduate school application processes.
A couple of MFA groups on Facebook offer beneficial company. For example, join the MFA Draft ’21 if you intend to apply this Fall. This Facebook group offers support and advice to anyone applying to get into a writing program next year.
Wrap Up On Statement of Purpose Examples, Samples and Tips:
At this point, you’re no longer asking questions like: what is a statement of purpose? How can I write a good MFA or PhD statement of purpose that will earn me a spot in that fully-funded Creative Writing program.
The aforementioned grad school statement of purpose examples will guide you in your journey. As one of the professors advised, take a deep breath.
The next step is to start writing that personal statement or letter of intent, because quite frankly, it won’t write itself. You can always edit your SOP.
Please edit it. Remember, the admission committee members are also accomplished writers and writing teachers. They’re primed for spotting and frowning at grammatical errors.
While writing and editing your personal statement, take note of the admission committee’s advice above. What are they often looking for in a good statement of purpose for graduate school? If in doubt, you can always return to the great statement of purpose examples we’ve published above.
Have you written a successful statement of purpose for a creatIve writing program? Please leave a comment below. We are open to adding more tips and samples that readers might find helpful.
Tega Oghenechovwen has published work in Longreads, The Rumpus, Black Sun Lit, Litro UK, and other venues. He tweets @tega_chovwen.
Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam is a lecturer in Cornell University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Mukana Press Anthology of African Writing, MTLS, Fiction 365, Asterix Journal and elsewhere. She tweets at @chiomaiwunze_