4 Tips for Writing a Successful Personal Statement
A promising creative manuscript is the key to a successful MFA program application. But, as the admissions committee reads applications, they know they are selecting more than good writers: they are also selecting members of the program community.
Your personal statement plays a critical role in showing the admissions committee who you are and how you’d fit into that community. So, how best to tackle it?
Kyle G. Dargan is the director of the MFA program in creative writing at AU, and he has read stacks of personal statements over the years. Below, he offers his top four tips for crafting a personal statement that stands out.
Advice from Kyle G. Dargan:
Tip #1: Tell us what or who you are currently reading or have read in the past. How has your reading influenced what you are attempting to, or what you want to, write?
Writers are readers first and foremost. One comes to an MFA program seeking a literary community, and one of the clearest ways of assessing what kind of literary community member an applicant will be is to get a sense of how and why she or he reads. Don’t worry if you have not read “the classics.” We aren’t interested in assembling a group of budding writers who have all read the same canon. We want to know what sincerely inspires and challenges you as a unique voice.
Tip #2: Articulate what it is that you want to do with the MFA degree.
An MFA is not a plug-and-play degree with a select set of professional outcomes. The opportunities are wide open, but one needs to be proactive about curating an MFA experience that will lead to opportunities to satisfy her or his own interests (as well as earning a living to support one’s writing). Even if your plans are not firm, throwing out some ideas will help us develop a sense of how we can guide you and allow us to begin considering you for certain opportunities.
Tip #3. Avoid telling us about how you’ve wanted to be a novelist since you were three years old (which many applicants actually do).
Even if you’re being sincere, telling us about your kindergarten stories and poems won’t particularly endear us to your application. You are likely a much different person now than you were as a child. We are particularly interested in what is bringing you to apply for an MFA at this point in time. That may, of course, include some of your personal history, but tell us what specifically is motivating you at this moment.
Tip #4. Convey that you know us.
We’re becoming familiar with your work via your writing sample. You should consider taking some time to familiarize yourself with our faculty—specifically those writers with whom you want to, or will likely be, in workshop. We want to know that you want to work with us. One’s experiences in writing workshops are very sensitive to the dynamic between the writer and the workshop leader. It helps to be familiar with the work of an MFA program’s faculty.
Ready to tell us about yourself? Get started with your application for the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.
Creative Writing Personal Statement Example 1
Writing gives me the freedom to create a world where I set the rules, where the characters act the way I want them to, a world where everything is exactly how I want it to be and I know that I am the one who controls everything. Given the fact that I live in a country where consistency is a bad joke and no one can tell what the next day will bring, this feeling of absolute control brings a sense of balance in my life and motivates me to persevere.
As a writer, I focus solely on prose; I began writing in Greek at a young age, taking part in a variety of competitions and I received a commendation from Kathimerini newspaper at the age of thirteen in their 2002 contest for young writers. I switched to English when I was accepted at the English language and literature programme of the Kapodistrian University of Athens. I find that writing in a foreign language, namely English, gives me a sense of freedom my mother tongue never did. Though I once aspired to become a film director, viewing writing as a hobby, I came to realise that words and not images were meant to be the medium I would use to introduce what’s inside me to the world. I’ve been writing seriously for the past couple of years and I’m now working on the second draft of my novel, while a story of mine was recently featured in Litro magazine.
I’m quite taken with books that centre on the complexities of family relations and dynamics, the juxtaposition of the characters standing alone and the way they function within the family web. Eugenides’s Middlesex is my favourite book and a great source of inspiration for my work, as I, too, focus on family sagas, with themes like gender, power struggles, revenge and the relations within different households concerning me most. However, I usually employ a much different setting: I’ve been told I have a talent for “world weaving” and a wild imagination to boot, with the majority of my stories dedicated to the multiverse theory, looking up to the works of great English authors Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman.
My mother is a professor of Ancient Greek, so I was raised with the great Greek tragedies, making it my mission to read them all; I think it’s only natural that I developed an interest in the theme of the tragic hero and the quadriptych of ates – hubris – tisis – nemesis. I particularly enjoy the first act because I believe it mirrors our every day lives: arrogance, youth and foolishness blinds the protagonist who overreaches, showing total disregard for all limits. His actions are his undoing, seen in ancient Greek mythology in the form of divine retribution, until he bitterly regrets his hubris, completing the tragic cycle with the loss of something he held dear. The timeless and brilliant plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides combined with the Greek mythology have taught me much and I believe them to be some of the most complex and compelling stories ever told.
It intrigues me how much power the first person narrative has over the reader, no matter what the character’s qualities are. Books like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Burgess’s Clockwork Orange and Ellis’s American Psycho introduce characters that range from unlikable to plain psychopathic and they are the reason I find this point of view fascinating, employing it in the majority of my work, as they have helped me realize you don’t have to like a character to love him.
Since 2011 I’ve been teaching Greek and English literature during the summer months as part of a voluntary work programme; I’ve travelled extensively and I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent quite some time outside the Greek borders. I believe that teaching as well as my work as a translator, an occupation I thoroughly enjoy, has enriched my vocabulary and deepened my knowledge of the English language. I look forward to the challenge this degree will pose for me; I’m sure this course will be a deeply fulfilling experience, as I wish to develop my skills as a writer and build confidence in my abilities through sharing my work with others. I know this University will offer me the chance to explore possibilities I would never be able to unless I was accepted in this programme.
This personal statement was written by Odile for application in 2014.
Odile’s university choices
The University of Kent
University of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Green : offer made
Red : no offer made
MA Creative Writing at University of Southampton
Everything i write is in English now so i felt i needed to stress the fact that i am Greek . I hope i succeeded, more or less.
Creative Writing Personal Statement Example 2
To me, fiction is like the magic carpet of Aladdin. It takes me to travel through time and space and explore the slices of human experience. In the wonderful trips, I am guided by the author and accompanied by the characters. As I immerse myself in the life of the protagonists, I also get the chance to ponder over important issues in my own life. I am always eager to know what would the characters do in the face of a certain event and what are the results of their reactions. Although I cannot speak to the characters directly, I would always think about why the characters choose to do this rather than that. Is it because of their personalities, their family or the social background? I would also think about what should I do if I meet the similar situation in life. In this way, fiction helps people to gain wisdom; thereby it has won a place among the most significant art forms in the human society. This is also the reason why I have determined to dedicate my life to providing spiritual guidance and entertainment alike as a fiction writer.
Although I have been an avid reader since childhood, it was not until I took the creative writing courses in the U.S.A that I finally decided to make fiction writing as my life-long career. In the third year of college, I went to the United States as an exchange student and the creative writing courses there struck me as amazing. Each course was finely structured with lectures and workshops in light with different themes, such as characterisation, point of view, style, voice, etc. In weekly seminars we discussed our reading assignments (usually writings by reputable authors) about things we could draw on in our own writing and the confusion we had in the reading process, while in workshops we talked about strengths and weaknesses of each other’s writings and we made suggestions for revision on a friendly and cogent basis. In addition there were a whole abundance of resources such as books about fiction writing and free on-line workshops available to students.
In high school, my fantasy for college life used to be about the same with this. However, when I went to B University, one of the top universities in China, to get my bachelor’s degree, I was quite disappointed. There was only one writing course throughout the four years and I did not feel motivated taking it. During the course, we were given lectures on essay writing, prose appreciation and we were even shown an excellent movie near the end of the semester, but we never got much practice on writing. The only written work we did for the course was assigned in the middle of the semester. It accounted for 30% of our total grade since we did not have a mid-term exam. We were told to write an article in two weeks with no restrictions on either the contents or the number of words. I submitted a short story and was praised and asked to read aloud in front of the whole class. Unfortunately, the other 70% of our grade depended on the final exam, where we were told to do the exact same thing with what we did for the mid-term writing assignment, the only difference was this time we had to do it within 110 minutes. I ended up by coming up with the first half of a short story and got only 68 out of 100 for the total score. I fell into frustration but later it was replaced by disorientation when I found there was neither major nor minor about writing creatively in Chinese universities, not even in the best institutions such as Peking and Tsinghua University. Although I could often feel my tendency to work for publishing and the media as a writer, I had no clues about exactly how. In China, not many writers undertook writing seriously for the sake of literature. Best-selling fiction books were often composed by amateur writers and were of limited literary value. Therefore, the creative writing courses in America had shown me an effective pathway to make more accomplishments in this field and I eventually made up my mind to become a fiction writer, one could produce high-quality stories that offer leisure as well as enlightenment to the readers.
In America, for the first time I was introduced to a string of short stories written by prominent authors, such as Raymond Carver, Flannery O’connor, Joyce Carol Oates and Tim O’brien. In my spare time I also read Earnest Hemingway and Theodore Dreiser. I found myself fascinated by the world and the characters they created in the stories and I began to realise that I was trying to bond with English, another beautiful language despite my mother tongue Chinese, which I usually took pride in. The idea of furthering my education in Britain gradually emerged in my mind. First of all , Britain is the place where English-speaking culture originated. Secondly, the U.K is part of Europe, which is the hometown of my favourite authors, including Balzac, Chekhov, William Makepeace Thackeray and Jane Austin. It would be so exciting just to think that I may have the chance to study in the culture they had grown up and established their careers. Last but not least, similar to the U.S, fiction writing in the U.K is also prosperous with distinguished writing programmes running at institutions. Among those, the MA Writing Programme at W University is the one that I want to join most. In spite of the well-organized courses instructed by an outstanding staff, there are also a series of stimulating activities and events taking place regularly on campus. I like the Writer’s Room in particular. For me it is always pleasant to concentrate on writing whole-heartedly and the opportunity of doing this with someone sharing similar interests and goals in a place specially built for the promoting of it makes this a fantastic experience. Meanwhile, in my observation, writers tend to be introvert and sensitive. They may have a colourful world inside but many of them are not good at expressing it in speeches. The Writer’s lunch provides a chance that the writers can meet casually and communicate with each other. Finally, the broad range of publishing houses, literary journals and organizations that keep links with Warwick University allow the students to know more about the industry and thus increase their competence in employment upon graduation.
All of the above makes W my first choice in application for MA degrees and I believe my background also makes me a good choice for the MA Writing Programme at W. To begin with, I have a strong ambition to become an eminent fiction writer and I wish to work through any hardship to achieve my goals. Moreover, I have a miscellany of work experiences as an editor, writer and volunteer. Some of the experiences are international, which enables me to provide a multi-cultural perspective to the programme. Out of class, I am a keen reader and an industrious writer. I always bring my note book with me wherever I go so that I can write immediately when inspiration drops by. Furthermore, I have a wide interest in creative things, for example, dancing, painting and photography. I have sought professional training for each so that I could deepen my understanding of them and eventually develop them into my hobbies.
My creative writing professor used to ask me, “Do you ultimately want to write in Chinese or in English?” I said “Chinese”, because I wanted to create more valuable stories for my motherland, where fiction has been despised and suppressed for centuries. But now I would say I will ultimately write in both languages, for I want to portray the life of my people in this special and meaningful period of time as the country marches on the way towards the next “super power” and I want to display its people’s life to the world.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Now I am ready to pay my effort and I am confident that I will be a prominent fiction writer someday, but before that I still need to develop myself in many aspects, and I hope I could develop myself at W University.
This personal statement was written by Jing for application in 2012.
Jing’s university choices
The University of Durham
University College London
University of Exeter
The University of Edinburgh
University of Glasgow