As deadlines for applying to an MFA program approach, I want to share tips that will save you time when writing your Statement of Purpose, using my own SOP as an example. This is the time to show off your dynamic creative range outside of your specialized craft. My SOP was geared towards a creative writing MFA, but a lot of the concepts can be applied to any program you apply to. Check out my breakdown below:
Most SOPs are 700 words or less, so brevity is very important. In two sentences, I gave a general understanding of my life before applying to the MFA program. In the next three sentences, I tied that story to writing and how writing has transformed my life to what it is now, which, in turn, explains why I am investing time and energy into getting an MFA. Poet and Creative Writing professor at Mississippi University for Women, Kendall Dunkelburg says: “Keep it brief and to the point but do give some information about where you’re coming from. Remember that your focus should always be to convince the program that you are ready to take on graduate work in creative writing.”
One technique I personally chose to include was selecting a theme that would permeate throughout the whole SOP. The theme I centered around was community.
Tips for writing your opening paragraph
- Keep the description of your past brief. Only include the parts that inspired you to write.
- Remember to tie in your purpose for applying for an MFA.
- Don’t talking about how, as a child, you loved to write (Cathy Day, Author and Creative Writing professor at Ball State University).
In the second paragraph, I delved deeper into the theme that I chose. In the first sentence, I spoke authentically about what community is to me and why I value it. I then transitioned into the kind of writing I want to pursue in the program by introducing a novel idea I had. If you do not have a novel idea, short story idea, poetry collection idea, etc., you do not have to come up with one on the fly. You could use this section to talk about the writing you are interested in doing. I only added my novel idea because (1) it was pre-thought out before applying to grad school and (2) because I wanted to give the admissions committee some insight into my writing, the genre I was interested in, and my creative depth as a writer.
In the third paragraph, I introduced a fallacy that I identified within myself as it pertains to writing: thoughts of inadequacy. My intent was to show humility as well as reaffirm my reasons for continuing to pursue writing as a career. Although I introduced a flaw unveiled from my own insecurities, I have a practice that aids with censoring those thoughts, unlocking my potential onto the page. My purpose for adding this was to show the admissions committee that I know I am not perfect, in fact, I have doubts about how my writing is perceived by others, but I am still willing to persevere, even when faced with these thoughts of inadequacy.
The fourth paragraph was probably the most important paragraph for me because it delved into the writers that inspired me as well as a faculty member I’ve acknowledged I wanted to study under. Kyle G. Dargan, director of the MFA program in creative writing at American University, states: “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.”
In conjunction with the writers who’ve inspired me, I added a TENURED professor whose work I’ve read and intrigued me enough to want to apply to the program. I emphasized “tenured” because those are the professors that are most likely on admissions committee. Ideally, the professor you’ve reached out to and spoke one-on-one with is the professor you want to choose to write about in your SOP. Reading the work of the professor is important because it will allow you to speak articulately about it in your SOP.
Tips for writing your fourth paragraph
- Have a reason for the authors you chose as inspiration. Try not to choose a generic reason why. Be as specific as possible.
- Use that same philosophy when writing about the professor you would like to work with at the university. If I could go back, I would have chosen two professors and written about them both.
- Bring it back to what you want to gain from the program. Having that clear vision will translate well to the admissions committee.
- Try not to choose authors that are widely known. It shows you are more widely read when choosing authors that were not born a century before you were.
This is it: the conclusion paragraph. The crescendo. The au revoir. This section should tie together everything you’ve talked about in the previous paragraphs. For me, I brought back the idea of community and how certain characters/authors growing up played a major part in my love for literature and writing. Personally, I like to make my conclusion paragraph very metaphorical like. I also leaned on my unique identity as it pertains to an MFA program (as you should as well). Most people in a creative writing program are usually white, heterosexual, men, which makes sense because that demographic of people dominate the writing industry. If you have even the slightest deviation from this, you should include it in the introduction paragraph and then reinforce it in the conclusion paragraph.
Tips for writing your conclusion paragraph (from DLA Editors & Proofers)
- Avoid stating that it is your conclusion.
- Avoid introducing an entirely new concept.
- Be specific in details.