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Statement of purpose mfa creative writing

How to Write Your MFA Statement of Purpose: A Success Story

Though they may not realize it, Fine Arts students are cursed. (Believe me, I know, I was one.) Not only are they more stubborn than engineers, but often they suffer the misfortune of being shackled to creative self-expression. Of course, unbounded creativity is a necessary and glorious aspect of their existence. But when it comes time to write an MFA statement of purpose, this same creativity can be a kiss of death.

It doesn’t matter that we’re applying for a somewhat non-academic degree. It doesn’t matter that we’re being judged on our ability to produce meaningful art. All that matters is that this one aspect of the application – the SOP – is NOT the same as a portfolio, in which we unleash our most potent creative juices. Instead, the SOP is a test for how clearly we can articulate our goals.

The funny thing is, these difficulties apply to ALL kinds of MFA applicants, from creative writing to visual arts to theater. (Creative writing students might be the worst.) Though the art differs, all seem to have trouble articulating their goals and inspirations without resorting to artful prose gimmicks. In fact, they face the exact same obstacles that ALL graduate applicants face.

That’s why I was so impressed by Yuxuan.

A color-blind graphic designer and painter, and non-native English speaker, Yuxuan wrote an SOP that puts many creative writing students to shame. And it earned admission to 5 fully funded MFA programs.

But before we read Yuxuan’s amazing essay, let’s examine how he started planning, so we can help you achieve the same wild success.

Getting Started

When he looked back on his applications, Yuxuan expressed his anxieties this way:

“I think the pandemic was a huge disadvantage. It increased the number of applicants and also reduced schools’ funds. This was a big challenge for me since I mainly applied for fully funded MFAs. At the same time, the pandemic reduced available studio time, and I had to complete a lot of my projects at home. The lack of space and equipment gave me a lot of concerns about my portfolio, so I knew I needed a statement of purpose that showed I could be better than other applicants.”

Luckily, Yuxuan was a willing student. When he read the Structure is Magic template, he understood immediately that the SOP isn’t a work of creativity, but a job application. His portfolio would reveal his artistic potential. But the essay had to reveal his potential as a clear thinker who knew exactly why he was applying to each program.

What did he want to convey?

  1. The over-arching theme of his work; the artistic problems that really motivate him.
  2. Why each individual school was a perfect place for him to develop those themes.
  3. How his past successes prove he’s ready to succeed as an artist (and maybe…teacher).

What’s Great About This SOP?

Yuxuan followed Structure is Magic as if it were a paint-by-numbers exercise, and the results were spectacular.

  • Two paragraphs in the Introductory Frame Narrative
  • One paragraph for Why This Program
  • Two paragraphs for Why I’m (Overly) Qualified
  • One resounding frame narrative conclusion paragraph

Amazingly, this paragraph-by-paragraph structure is almost exactly the same as that used by uber-successful Neuroscience PhDs. (When I tell you these narrative structures are universal and timeless, I ain’t lying!)

The frame narrative starts with the compelling story of how color-blindness makes Yuxuan a truly unique artist. It’s funny, humble, and it teaches us something. Quickly, this evolves into a description of the techniques he obsesses over in his pursuit of barrier-free art, and how this defines his goals.

Next, it goes into great detail to explain why two professors at his target school are the absolute perfect mentors for Yuxuan: they share the same artistic obsessions, and have much to teach him. Then, he gives a “highlight reel” of his artistic and academic achievements, proving that he’s ready to continue succeeding in graduate school.

Finally, the SOP ends with a clear rearticulation of Yuxuan’s goals, proving that his “genetic color weakness is actually an invaluable lens for viewing the world.”

This essay is beautiful. After reading, we walk away knowing we’ve encountered a true and talented artist, one with a uniquely powerful mind. Let’s read it and find inspiration for your own writing.

A Brilliant MFA Statement of Purpose

I have a red-green color weakness, one most people know as color-blindness. Most people think this means I see the world without green and red. Actually, in my world, reds and greens are grey shades with variegating shadows. I also have difficulty distinguishing pink from grey, and purple from blue. Curiously, this makes me think of animals. Dolphins are dichromats. They can see only two colors. Humans are trichromats. We see red, blue and yellow. Pigeons are tetrachromats. They see the world in a way people cannot even imagine. All creatures see the world through the heteronomy of their colors, and I exist somewhere between humans and dolphins. This fascinates me deeply.

Because of this, in college, I have largely worked with chiaroscuro and high-contrast color. Chiaroscuro has always been provocative, as my insensitivity to color only increases my sensitivity to light and shadow. No shadow is a single shade of darkness, and I have found high-contrast color offers the same points of inquiry, especially blue, which is as bright as red in the eyes of people with color weakness. Color is thus an expression of self-identity. In most of my work, it is not an emotional expression, but a rational guide in a metaphysical dialogue that often alters over time.

For this reason, I am particularly inspired by the work of Professor T. Banksy. His work often deals with underserved public interest issues, echoing my own pursuit of barrier-free visual experiences. As I create designs for people with achromatopsia, color disorders, and others with visual impairment who are often overlooked in social services, I believe Professor Banksy will be a great mentor. I also feel inspired by Professor Annabelle Prieto, whose research focuses on historical and cultural influence in graphic design. As a Chinese artist, I often explore design themes idiosyncratic to Asian culture in my work. I experimented with this in my contribution to “Kaleidoscope Narratives,” a recent anthology which sought to examine Eurocentric design and typographic cultures. My pieced discussed Cuban graphic design and its similarities to communist iconography from China, themes quite similar to those examined in Professor Prieto’s work, “Island Globe.” Therefore, I think Professor Prieto will be an ideal mentor as I grow my international, multicultural vision for design.

As I consider working with these ideas in the College of Fine Arts at Gotham University, my academic experiences give me confidence. At Empire State University, I have excelled as a Graphic Design major, earning a 3.8 GPA even as I took graduate-level coursework in design and computational thinking. These latter courses allowed me to explore philosophy of art, particularly regarding deep fakes and artificial intelligence, as I combined critical reviews of important texts with coding experiments. By studying our emerging culture of disinformation selectively deployed as media manipulation, I learned how new modes of thinking are required to critically and artistically engage with computer culture in the public realm. This use of technology is also an area I hope to explore at Gotham University. At the same time, I have interned for one year at the Metropolis Center for Arts and Technology, where among other tasks I serve as a teaching assistant for students from low-income families. Teaching these students, many of whom work part-time to fund their art tuition, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It has taught me new degrees of empathy, inspiring even more my desire to study barrier-free visual experience, and sparking my a desire to become an educator.

This is why I apply to Gotham University: to study barrier-free visual experiences, to contemplate art in a multicultural and technological world, and to prepare to become a teacher myself. If given the chance to pursue these goals, I will work hard to be a credit to the university, and prove that my genetic color weakness is actually an invaluable lens for viewing the world.

Professional, Powerful, Persuasive

I admit that Yuxuan has a unique background that not everyone can match. A colorblind artist?! C’mon. But either way, it’s easy to see how everyone can model his essay and speak to program directors in a professional, powerful, and persuasive way.

  1. Start with a compelling Frame Narrative

What is it about your art that makes you unique? What are you trying to accomplish? What stories are you trying to tell? Which aspects of humanity are you trying to draw out and explore? Most importantly, how are these inspired by your own life and experiences?

Don’t devolve into hackneyed proclamations about social issues. I assure you, every MFA program receives 500 essays a year about social inequalities and art-as-activism. Instead, focus on the things that make you and your art different from everyone else’s.

  1. Explain “Why This School” is perfect for you

Once you’ve established the goals for your art, it’s time to explain how this school will help you achieve those goals. Look at the studios and resources available. Look at the faculty. Look at their work. See which courses and workshops you can take under them. Make sure they’re actually teaching next semester! Draw connections between your own themes, obsessions, and questions, and those in the work of your hopeful professors.

A warning, however: don’t claim that a school is perfect because they have a famous professor. Fame is not a good reason to want to work with someone. You need to find real connections between their work and yours. If the connection isn’t there, you’ll only look immature. Remember: if a school has a famous professor, everyone who applies will mention them in their MFA statement of purpose.

  1. Prove that you’re ready to succeed

You’re applying to be a graduate student. Here, give them proof that you’ve been a good student in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Remember, your portfolio proves how good an artist you are. This section shows that you take everything else seriously as well.

Good GPA. Awards you’ve won. Unique design internships you’ve held. Whatever constitutes your “Greatest Hits List,” include it here.

In the beginning, you showed how your life has been unique, and how this gave you unique artistic goals. Now, restate those goals. Remind us of them. Be circular. Take us back to the beginning. Give us a feeling of harmony as we finish your essay.

Conclusion

I’m grateful to Yuxuan for allowing me to republish his work and brag about his success. I originally met him through BosonEd in Philadelphia, a fantastic organization that helps internationals study in elite universities in America. Right from the start, I knew Yuxuan would be an artist of true consequence one day, and I hope his writing is an inspiration for you.

As you craft your MFA statement of purpose, do exactly what Yuxuan did: follow the Structure is Magic template or the SOP Starter Kit. Use the timeless, universal lessons of narrative structure to compose an essay that actively persuades programs to choose you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking: “Oh, I’m an artist, I’m a creative writer, I know how to do this.” Chances are, you don’t. The SOP isn’t a short story. It’s not a film script nor a personal memoir. It is, however, the easiest part of the application to screw up. But if you treat it properly, as a clear, mature, professional statement of your plans for the future, then I’m sure you too can achieve wild success, and I wish you all the luck in the world!

Statement of purpose mfa creative writing

How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose

Vince Gotera
English Language and Literature
University of Northern Iowa

The Statement of Purpose required by grad schools is probably the hardest thing you will ever write. (Incidentally, the statement of purpose may also be called an Application Essay, Objectives for Graduate Study, Personal Background, Cover Letter, or some comparable title.)

I would guess virtually all grad-school applicants, when they write their first draft of the statement of purpose, will get it wrong. Much of what you have learned about writing and also about how to present yourself will lead you astray. For example, here’s an opening to a typical first draft:

I am applying to the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of Okoboji because I believe my writing will blossom at your program since it is a place where I will be challenged and I can hone my writing skills.

How’s that? It’s clear, it’s direct, and it “strokes” the MFA program, right? Wrong. All of it is obvious and extraneous.

The admissions committee knows you are applying to their MFA program because everyone in the stacks of applications they are reading is applying for the same thing. The admissions committee will also know that your writing will “blossom” there since they feel they have a strong program. Of course you will be challenged — all undergrads going on to a grad program will be challenged, no matter how well-prepared they think they are. And of course the new grad student will “hone [her] writing skills” — isn’t that the main purpose of the MFA program?

Let’s assume the required length of this particular program’s statement of purpose is 300 words. Well, with this opening you will have used up 15% of your space saying virtually nothing. 15%!

In fact, not only is this opening paragraph obvious, extraneous, and space-stealing, it’s boring! Imagine who’s reading this and where: five professors “locked” in a room with 500 applications. Do you think this opening paragraph will command their attention? Will they read the rest of this statement of purpose with an open mind that this applicant is the kind of student they want? Will they remember this application later? You be the judge.

Remember what you learned in first-year composition? You need a “hook.”

A former student of mine applying to enter a master’s program in library science had a great hook. I don’t remember Susan’s exact words, but the opening paragraph of her statement of purpose went something like this:

When I was eleven, my great-aunt Gretchen passed away and left me something that changed my life: a library of about five thousand books. Some of my best days were spent arranging and reading her books. Since then, I have wanted to be a librarian.

Okay . it’s clear, it’s direct, it’s 45 words, and, most important, it tells the admissions committee about Susan’s almost life-long passion not just for books but for taking care of books. When the committee starts to discuss their “best picks,” don’t you think they’ll remember her as “the young woman who had her own library”? Of course they will, because having had their own library when they were eleven would probably be a cherished fantasy for each of them!

Suppose Susan had written this opening paragraph instead:

I am honored to apply for the Master of Library Science program at the University of Okoboji because as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven I have known I wanted to be a librarian.

That’s 45 words too. Do you think the admissions committee will remember this application among the 500 applications they are wading through? Probably more than half of the applications, maybe a lot more than half, will open with something very similar. Many will say they “have had a love affair with books” — that phrase may sound passionate until you’ve read it a couple of hundred times.

All of us have had some event, some experience, like my student’s personal library at eleven, which drives us toward the discipline(s) we inhabit. I was speaking to a group of students recently about this. One student — let’s call her Jennifer — said she wanted to get a master’s degree in speech therapy. When I asked her why, Jennifer said she had taken a class in it for fun and really loved it. But then I pressed her: was there some personal reason she found that field significant enough to spend her whole life doing it? At first Jennifer said no, but after more questioning she revealed that her brother had speech problems. This was a discovery to her; she had not entered the field with that connection in mind — at least not consciously. But there it was; Jennifer now had her hook.

You have to really dig. Be introspective. Don’t settle for “I love this field.” Why do you love this field? Why do you want to work in this field for the rest of your life? Why does it complete you? Cut through the bull you tell your parents and relatives and friends. What is your truth? Find it and then find a memorable way to say it. Grad schools require the statement of purpose not only because they want to find about you as an applicant, they want you to really think about why you are taking such a life-changing step — truly and profoundly why.

Okay, back to the scene of the five professors surrounded by stacks of applications, maybe more than 500. Do you know who they are? What they want? What they like to eat? Obviously, no. Conversely, do they know you? Well, no. But . the statement of purpose is your chance to help them get to know you! Your statement of purpose should portray you as a person, not just an application among hundreds of others. Not just paper and ink.

Here’s one way to do it. When I was an undergrad senior first applying for grad schools, I knew a grad student — I’ll call him Nigel — who told me he had written a three-sentence statement of purpose to get into Stanford:

I want to teach English at the university level. To do this, I need a PhD. That is why I am applying.

That was the whole thing. That’s only half of 45 words. It certainly portrays Nigel as brash, risk-taking, no-nonsense, even arrogant. If this is how you want to portray yourself, then by all means do this. But you should also know that Nigel’s statement of purpose is an all-or-nothing proposition. You can bet there will be members of probably any admissions committee who will find Nigel’s statement of purpose offensive, even disrespectful. And they might not want such a student at their school. But then I suppose Nigel wouldn’t want to be a student at that school, either.

Try to make your paper-and-ink self come alive. Don’t just say, “I used to work on an assembly line in a television factory, and one day I decided that I had to get out of there, so I went to college to save my own life.” How about this: “One Thursday, I had soldered the 112th green wire on the same place on the 112th TV remote, and I realized the solder fumes were rotting my brain. I decided college would be my salvation.” Both 35 words. Which narrative do you think will keep the admissions committee reading?

Tell stories (briefly). Use vivid language. Be specific. Be dynamic. Liven up a moment in the lives of those five professors trapped with those 500 applications. Maybe 600. Maybe more.

At the same time, be careful not to be glib. Don’t be slick. Don’t write your application in a sequence of haiku. Don’t put in photos. Just be yourself, but a more heightened version of yourself in words (since face-to-face nuance and gestures won’t be there to help).

Remember your statement of purpose should portray you as interested in the field; academically and personally; to take on the challenges of grad school; to have rapport with professors and fellow grad students — in other words, collegial; to finish the graduate degree in a timely fashion; and potentially outstanding representative of that grad school in your future career.

That’s a lot to cover in a few hundred words (the length of a statement purpose, as required by different schools, tends to be around 300 to 1000 words). “Passionate interest in the field” will be covered by the kind of hook I have described above. “Intelligence” will be conveyed by the overall writing, organization, expression, etc. of your statement. Being “well-prepared” can be demonstrated by using the lingo of the field (theory, craft, etc.), describing the specific kinds of coursework and other accomplishments you have in the field. Ability “to take on the challenges of grad school” can be shown by describing the rigor of the work you have done. “Collegiality” is not particularly important but is nevertheless a factor — if you can show yourself as a generally nice and cooperative person, that will do — just be true to your own style. Ability “to finish the graduate program” can be conveyed implicitly by your success thus far and more explicitly if you can tell some (brief) story about adverse obstacles you have overcome. Being a “future outstanding representative” can be implied by your being an outstanding representative of your undergraduate school — for example, don’t “bad-mouth” your current college or professors.

Often, grad schools will ask you to address other or similar qualities as I’ve listed above. Just use common sense in focusing on each. Don’t address them in the same order as the grad school has listed. Combine them; rearrange them; do whatever you need to do to show yourself as an imaginative person, not a parrot following a line of Brazil nuts to crack.

If you have some problematic academic background, address that as well to reassure the admissions committee. For example, let’s say that you got all C’s one semester. Take a (brief) paragraph to explain that you had some emotional setback that semester but then demonstrate how your grades have been sterling since then, and that you now have a 3.83 grade-point average in the discipline. If you spin this well, your story will enhance the admissions committee’s image of you as someone with the abilities to “take on challenges” and “to finish on time.”

Here’s an organization I would recommend: (1) passionate hook; (2) segué to your background in the field; (3) specific classes by title and professors you have had (especially if well-known in the field); (4) related extracurricular activities (especially if they hint at some personal quality you want to convey); (5) any publications or other professional accomplishments in the field (perhaps conference presentations or public readings); (6) explanations about problems in your background (if needed); and (7) why you have chosen this grad school (name one or two professors and what you know of their specific areas or some feature of the program which specifically attracts you).

I should probably expand on item 7. This is a practical issue as well. If you are applying to ten grad schools, it’s a mismanagement of time to write ten separate, tailored statements of purpose. Items 1 through 6 above can be exactly the same for all the statements. Then when you get to item 7, put in a different paragraph for each school. Remember this means the ten statements will all be as long, in terms of word count, as the shortest required length among the ten schools. If the shortest length is 300 words, probably that length will be okay for the 500-word school (in fact the admissions committee at the 500-word place may see you as savvy for not going on and on). But those 300 words will clearly not work for the 1200-word school, so you’ll need to expand that one. Don’t pad. Find other engaging material in your background.

About mentioning professors at each grad school: doing this will portray you as someone “who has done her homework,” as someone who is genuinely interested in the field, enough to have done some prefatory work in that area. Don’t just mention their names (anyone who can browse a web site can do that). Say something of substance about each professor by name, something that reveals you know and appreciate that person’s work. Don’t necessarily pick the most famous professor at the grad school; chances are many other applicants will do the same, and the admissions committee members will soon be unconsciously filtering those mentions out. (Besides, the most famous professor doesn’t always work with all graduate students or may be out of town half the year, and you may come off as naive if you say you’re looking forward to working with her.) Find a lesser-known professor whose work truly intrigues you (and truly is the operational word here). Then say something about what you know of that professor’s work — remember that person may be on the admissions committee. Don’t suck up — don’t be a sycophant. Be fair and honest.

Be sure to show your statement of purpose to several professors. Remember they will have different ideas about what constitutes an appropriate and effective statement of purpose. If one of your professors has a connection with a specific grad school, she may have some inside knowledge about what kind of statement of purpose will work best at that school. Make your final editing decisions based on what will convey you most accurately as you see it. Again, be specific, be dynamic, come alive on paper. Continue to get advice from your professors on later drafts.

Proofread your statement of purpose. Copyedit for consistency, accuracy, and style. Ask your friends to copyedit and proofread your statement; perhaps you can do the same for them if they are also applying for grad school.

Remember that style in writing can be parallel to style in dress: the second affects your image in person while the first affects your image when you may not be present. Leaving in typos and misplaced commas is like dressing in your grubbies for a dress event. Being too wordy is comparable to dressing in an evening gown or a tuxedo for a casual get-together. Being too glib, too mannered, may be like wearing a furry rabbit costume to a party which turns out not to be a Halloween bash. Be careful. Be a perfectionist.

Keep working on your statement of purpose even after you have sent it to the school(s) with the earlier deadline(s). You might have a later epiphany about your personal and academic background, your motives for applying for grad school, your long-term plans, and this epiphany may be just the thing that gets you into the school(s) with the later deadline(s).

To close, the statement of purpose, in the eyes of Department Heads, Program Chairs, and Admissions Committee members, can be the most important document in the application. Other parts of your graduate-school application — test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, writing samples — do not say as much about you as a person as the statement of purpose can: your proudest accomplishments alongside your fondest hopes and dreams.

Checklist for Writing a Statement of Purpose
Vince Gotera | University of Northern Iowa

What to say in your Statement of Purpose? (for an MFA Creative Writing)

Okay, so you’ve decided to apply to an MFA program in creative writing, and you are saddled with the unenviable task of writing a “statement of purpose” or “letter of intent” as I decided to call it in our new low-residency MFA program‘s application requirements. You’re undoubtedly flummoxed, thinking what the heck do I say, and where do I begin?

This is a kind of writing we’re not used to doing, and it’s a difficult tightrope to walk between bragging about yourself (which of course you need to do, at least a little) and sounding like a blowhard and an egotist; between describing your past and your imagined future, and boring your audience to tears. And there’s a lot riding on this statement or letter. It has to represent you to someone you probably don’t know, whose decision may decide your fate.

So I get it; you’re nervous. So was I when I wrote my first truly awful first draft of a statement of purpose. I showed it to a kind professor, who told me it was terrible and gave me some advice on what to write. Here, after many years of giving similar advice to students applying to graduate programs, and as I contemplate the letters of intent I’m about to receive for our new program, is my best advice for how to proceed, if you’re applying to a program like ours.

Tell about your past

Keep it brief and to the point, but do give some information about where you’re coming from. Remember that your main focus should always be to convince the program that you are ready to take on graduate work in creative writing. We don’t care that you’ve always loved to write (well, we do, but we kind of assume that), or that you only recently discovered your love of writing (if so, how ready are you for grad school?). What we really care about is how you’ve prepared yourself as a writer. That might mean discussing your English major and the kind of reading you like best (in and out of class). Or if you didn’t major in English in college, then you may want to say something about your major, why it led you to creative writing, and what kind of literature background you do have. Bear in mind that writers need to be avid readers, and that an MFA can be a qualification to teach literature. You’ll need to be able to pull your weight in a graduate literature class, so you need some background in literature, and you’ll need good research skills.

If you’re applying to my program, then I’ll see your transcripts eventually, but I’ll see your letter of intent first. We don’t ask for the full application until after we’ve evaluated your letter and writing sample, so we need to know something about your educational background up front. But we’ll get more detail when we see your transcripts.

Tell about your present

If you’re applying to grad school straight out of college, this may not be much different than telling about your educational background. But if you’ve been out of school for awhile, then I’d be interested to know what you’re doing now. Even if you’re in school now, tell some about recent accomplishments and activities. Since my program is a low-residency program, I expect that most students will be working or doing something while they’re in grad school. Let me know a little about what that is. Also, if you’ve published your writing recently, it’s good to let me know about that. I’m also curious about where people live (or plan to live when they’re in our program), since you don’t have to relocate to Columbus, MS.

Tell about your writing

If I could I’d make that heading double-bold, I would. The most important thing you can do in your statement of purpose is to give a clear and concise description of the kind of writing you do. This might mean listing some of your influences, or it might mean describing your style. You can talk about what you want to write, as well as what you have written. And by all means, tell me what genre(s) you’re interested in. Our program doesn’t require that you apply in one genre only, and cross-genre work is encouraged. But remember that I’m thinking about filling classes and putting people together who will work well together. Sure, I want to pick the best writers, but I also have to be pragmatic and pick a range or writers working in different genres and styles. Your writing sample will tell me a lot, but it is likely one piece or one genre, so here you can describe your interests as a writer. There is no ‘right’ answer here, so just be as honest and as clear about your writing as you can be.

Tell about our program

Okay, we know our program, so tell what interests you in our program. What makes you want want to spend a couple years of your life in it? Be honest, but also tailor what you say to the program you’re applying to. I tell my students all the time that it isn’t lying to say you want to do different things at different places. You’re just omitting the obvious part of the equation: “[If I’m accepted to your program], I want to do X” Chart out your life if it takes the path to the program you’re applying to. What makes you excited about that path? Tell me that. And be as specific as possible. Everyone wants to enter an MFA program to learn to write better. Why is this program the one where you can do that? Why does it meet your needs? Essentially, you want to show me that you know what you’re getting into. You want me to see that you can set realistic goals and goals that my program can fulfill.

Other things you might mention

There are lots of other details about yourself that might be useful to mention in a statement of purpose. They won’t be your main emphasis, probably, but could be worth including. Your family background could be interesting, especially if it relates to your writing goals. Certainly mention it if you have had publications or work experience in writing-related fields. Volunteer work, especially if it is related to writing or literature, can be an asset. And other work experience, especially if you write about it, is worth a mention. Give a little sense of who you are, in other words, but don’t feel like you have to give your life story. Include only the most important details that are relevant to your writing or your education.

How to write the statement/letter

So far I’ve concentrated on what to write in your statement of purpose or letter of intent. But what about how to write it? I’m looking for a somewhat formal letter (which is one reason I like calling it a letter of intent). It doesn’t have to sound as stiff as a formal business letter or an academic essay, but it should sound more formal than an email or post on social media. I don’t mind if you sound excited (I might even like it, unless it feels like you’re overdoing it), but I do want to see your analytical writing skills on display. Your letter should be well organized, and it should contain no grammatical errors (or very few, but do your best to make it as perfect as possible). Your letter should be concise —don’t say in 10 words what could be said in 5.

But maybe the best advice I can give you is to relax and be yourself (or your slightly formal self). After all, I want to accept you into the program. I’m looking for the most exciting and interesting and competent writers I can find. Let me know who you are and what you write (and what your background is), and let me judge whether you seem like a good fit for the program.

How to make your statement/letter better

The best way to improve your statement is to revise it several times before you submit. If you’re a writer, that’s a rule you should live by for any writing. Even better than revising on your own is if you can let someone else read your letter and give you feedback. If possible, give it to someone who knows you and knows what a letter like this should include. I often ask students to let me see their statements of purpose or letters of intent if they want me to write a recommendation letter for them. I want to be able to give advice, but I also want to know what they’ve told the schools they’re applying to. That way, I can pitch my recommendation letter in a way the complements their letter. So don’t feel like you’re burdening your recommenders if you ask them to review your letter. You may be helping them to write a better letter for you!