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The application process for graduate school is extremely stressful. I know this; I have done it before; it’s intense. Especially, if like I did, you are applying to multiple programs. Each program has their own intricate list of requirements, each with its own list of requirements. It’s a lot to wrap your head around.
I was recently asked by a prospective student about two things: What do I include in my Work Sample and what do I include in my Self-Assessment Essay?
The Work Sample is tricky. Not everyone writes the same, and Columbia ‘s Nonfiction Program is pretty diverse, accepting applicants from various backgrounds (Journalism, Poetry, Technology, Fiction, English Education, Marketing, Religious Studies—the list goes on and on.) Diverse educational backgrounds make for very different work samples. My Work Sample was a segmented memoir and a series of prose poems. With the exception of the segmented memoir, I had never written Nonfiction, so I submitted my most prose-like poetry. You can view part of my submission here.
The important thing to remember about your work sample is that it should be your best work, something that you received good comments on as an undergraduate, something that you have spent some time with, something that you have received feedback on. You should also put your very best work at the top of your writing sample. Don’t leave it until the end. You want the best work to be the first thing that the Admissions Committee sees.
For the Self-Assessment Essay I have polled some of my classmates for what they included in their essays, as well as what I put in mine. I think it’s a pretty helpful list.
- Educational background and any key moments in your educational background that have inspired your writing or your choice to pursue an MFA in Nonfiction.
- Influential writers. Who has inspired your writing? Your decision to come to Graduate School?
- What will you do with your MFA from Columbia College? Post-MFA, how will you use it to help you achieve your professional and/or personal goals?
- Show your enthusiasm and knowledge for the program.
- Show your knowledge of the faculty. This is good advice not only for being accepted, but researching the faculty will let you know if Columbia is really the place for you. Chances are that if you are drawn to a faculty member’s work, they will be a good reader of your work.
- What will you provide the program with? What sets you apart from other candidates and how will you be a dynamic contribution to the program?
This is not to say that you have to answer all of these questions, but rather to give you an idea of what you can include and what worked for people who were admitted into the program. This is what worked for my first-year colleagues, and my hope is that with a little insider information, the stress of the application process will be lessened.