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jaywalke


Dec 20, 2006, 10:06 AM

Post #101 of 329 (7415 views)
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Re: [Banyon] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I'm afraid that I didn't show my statement to enough people and get enough feedback... my experience was similar to the author's: everyone I talked to gave me different and often conflicting feedback. I felt like my only choice was to try and pick and choose what the best advice was, but how could I know?


Virginia Tech puts some guidelines around the personal essay section. They ask you to address the following three points:
1. Why do you want to undertake graduate work?
2. Why in this field?
3. If you have a concentration in mind, briefly putline your interests in this area.

This straightforward approach kept me from overthinking it. I mulled it over for a week or two then wrote it in one night and had my lovely-and-brilliant spouse look it over. She's a prof, so I figured she speaks fluent grad schoolese. I changed the two words she suggested and off it went.

My essay was not as flip as this reply, but I did try to keep it simple and truthful, trying to hit a mark between self-deprecation and egomania.

I still think it's all about the writing sample. If my top story is dead on the page, the essay won't even see the light of day.


Arkinese


Jan 2, 2007, 8:20 AM

Post #102 of 329 (7286 views)
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Re: [jdybka] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Long time reader, first time poster.

Thanks for posting the link, jdybka. It helped me make some final sense of my personal statement as I finish editing it for the last few applications. I spent four whole days procrastinating before I wrote the first draft last month. Everything else was completely done but I just couldn't make myself sit down and write the damn thing.

It's just this horrible paradoxical...mess of trying not to suck up but still saying what fits within the buzzword guidelines but not dropping a bunch of names but still explaining why their program is the program for you. I was talking to a friend of mine who wrote one for a biochemistry program and he said that even though his statement was much more concrete (since he could discuss research and reference specific professors he'd already met) he still hated the final product because it felt like he was sucking up and being fake when that was the exact opposite of what he was trying to do.

I agree with Banyon about taking the GREs five times instead of writing a SOP...(POS is more like it for me).


LateApplicant


Jan 8, 2007, 9:22 PM

Post #103 of 329 (7198 views)
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Hopkins self-critique in lieu of SoP--Help !!! [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi all,

In lieu of the Statement of Purpose, Johns Hopkins wants applicants to send, I'm quoting, "an introduction and critique of" the writing sample, which should give the faculty "a view to the scope and thoughtfulness of the work submitted and a sense of the student's ability to contribute in the writing workshops."

Argh !!! What are we supposed to do? "Workshop" our own stories with ourselves as the other workshoppers? Being harsh critics of them? Wouldn't this be shooting ourselves on the foot? What other alternatives are there? Anything different might sound like you're "explaining" your writing, which doesn't sound good...

HELP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


renapoo


Jan 8, 2007, 11:46 PM

Post #104 of 329 (7182 views)
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Re: [LateApplicant] Hopkins self-critique in lieu of SoP--Help !!! [In reply to] Can't Post

This has been discussed elsewhere on the board (maybe in the Hopkins thread, if not this one). You can do a search of "hopkins" and "statement" (or something like that) to see what different people's approaches were. For me, I tried to briefly mention what I felt my strengths and weakness were and how the stories I sent to them fitted into the larger scope of my writing. Not sure if that's what they wanted, but that's what they got.


LateApplicant


Jan 9, 2007, 12:56 AM

Post #105 of 329 (7173 views)
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Re: [renapoo] Hopkins self-critique in lieu of SoP--Help !!! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Renapoo. That helps. And I'll certainly do the "hopkins" + "statement" search...


tlelah


Jan 9, 2007, 2:06 PM

Post #106 of 329 (7116 views)
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Re: [Arkinese] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm in the same boat - I have my analytical essay in the bag, just needs some editing. My manuscript has long been ready, but this personal statement stuff is just killing me. I have spent the last two months procrasting even though I have already been in touch with the faculty at my dream program.

I'm considering taking a picture of myself with a "For Sale" sign stuck to my forehead and sending it as my personal essay. All in jest of course. I know that there are certain questions they ask - but I feel I could answer all of those in short statements. It's this "I'm wonderful, but not too wonderful" pull of writing a personal statement that just has me lost!

Has anyone done anything incredibly creative that they can suggest to get away from this "about me" jazz??


Arkinese


Jan 9, 2007, 4:12 PM

Post #107 of 329 (7094 views)
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Re: [tlelah] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

For Cal-Irvine's autobiographical "sketch" about your background as a writer, I revamped an interview-style "application" I wrote when applying to write for my undergrad school's newspaper. I put in a bunch of questions about writing, authors, profs, etc. but it also includes queries like "Favorite Beatle," "Zodiac sign," and "Lifelong dream." The lifelong dream bit finishing up the "sketch" and goes something like this:

Lifelong dream: To be the Mariners' starting pitcher in the seventh game of the World Series.
Lifelong dream you could actually achieve without delusions of grandeur: To marry a major-league pitcher. It's the perfect relationship because I have all sorts of alone time to write whenever I want while he's on the road.
You are so shallow. Seriously, come on. A real lifelong dream:
OK, fine. To at least date a minor-league pitc—
All right, I think we'll stop there.
I hear Cal-Irvine has some good prospe—
No, really. That's enough. Thanks.

It's not the PoS but it's still something the program will read and judge me on (ooh, end preposition). I figured it was the thing with which to push the envelope. There's a book called "Perfect Personal Statements" which you can check out from the library. It talks about what risks you can take.

(This post was edited by Arkinese on Jan 9, 2007, 4:15 PM)


HopperFu


Jan 9, 2007, 4:45 PM

Post #108 of 329 (7080 views)
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Re: [tlelah] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Has anyone done anything incredibly creative that they can suggest to get away from this "about me" jazz??

I'd actually disagree with going creative. I think the place to be creative in your application is the writing sample. Of course, I wrote a rather dull SOP. [edited to add: I think my concern is that going creative is a high-risk strategy for your SOP. There are lots of examples of it working, but you stand a much better chance of putting them off then you do of tipping the balance in your favor, especially since so much weight is givin to the writing sample]


(This post was edited by HopperFu on Jan 9, 2007, 4:47 PM)


hamholio


Jan 9, 2007, 5:08 PM

Post #109 of 329 (7073 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with HopperFu's post. These programs aren't writing retreats, they are graduate level programs, usually under the English Department, and if I were choosing people I'd be looking for people that are not only strong writers, but also capable of performing at the graduate level.

That said, I've heard that some strange stuff does get accepted as a reasonable statement of purpose at MFA programs. It is an art degree, so I doubt they'd pass up a great writer who chose to write their SOP on menstrual blood and the moon.


tlelah


Jan 9, 2007, 5:46 PM

Post #110 of 329 (7059 views)
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Re: [hamholio] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

The program I am looking into is a low-residency one and I am just really iffy as to whether a stale SOP will make them jump up and down at my application ... but at the same time I need to show them I am dedicated. Our correspondence will be done in writing. The manuscript shows I have talent (fingers crossed, hopefully it does), the analytical essay shows that I can academically perform, and the SOP is supposed to say "yeah, I have time to dedicate to this program." But I need an extra pull ... this is the only program that has thrilled me so far; despite big names, etc etc. at other places. I looked at which writers had a style/voice I wanted to glean from. So, here I am attempting the perfect application for the one perfect school and my odds are down - any suggestions?? I love the interview idea that Arkinese had but not sure if I could pull it off ... I mean there's no baseball in low-residency ;) ...


HopperFu


Jan 9, 2007, 6:13 PM

Post #111 of 329 (7053 views)
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Re: [tlelah] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, my thought on this is that your writing sample is what makes them jump up and down, and the statement of purpose is to make sure, more than anything, that you a) aren't obviously crazy, and b) that you are capable of writing some sort of cogent argument / essay and can communicate your thoughts properly.
Some of the innovative SOPs are really cool, but they are sort of like trying to do a triple backflip off a diving board: great if it works, but if not, it's a big, fat belly flop.
I think that you let the writing sample speak for your creative impulse and then answer the questions honestly - and profesionally - on the SOP.

I understand your anxiety about the application. For what it is worth, if you don't get in, please try again next year. It's such a subjective process that sometimes you get a "no" and it is not indicative of your actual talent, particularly when you have your heart set on only one place....


renapoo


Jan 10, 2007, 12:40 AM

Post #112 of 329 (6999 views)
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Re: [tlelah] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Maybe you can talk about WHY you think this program is perfect for you? If it's genuine, it'll probably come off as such. I think out of all the SOPs I did UVA was probably the best because I'm really excited about their program, even though I avoided mentioning specifically why I was excited (Ann Beattie). Enthusiasm is always good.

But yeah, I'd err on the side of "sane and committed" rather than "insane and committed...at an institution." Not that crazy people shouldn't get an MFA. But probably not the best aspect of one's personality to highlight.


Arkinese


Jan 10, 2007, 4:43 AM

Post #113 of 329 (6982 views)
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Re: [tlelah] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
So, here I am attempting the perfect application for the one perfect school and my odds are down - any suggestions?? I love the interview idea that Arkinese had but not sure if I could pull it off ... I mean there's no baseball in low-residency ;) ...


And that was for the autobiographical sketch Cal wanted, which they said was specifically NOT the SOP (in big capital letters). For my actual statement for them and every other school, I was honest—like HopperFu said. I explained that I used to write a lot and then moved onto other things but came back to writing because it was what I was most passionate about. (Clearly in better form than what I'm writing here.) There were some other things but that was the co-theme.

I would argue that you almost *can't* look phony if you're simply honest in your SOP. People can sense insincere buzzwords and saying what you "think they want to hear." Because, in theory, being honest is speaking truthfully and people connect to someone who they know isn't just balderdashing them, so to speak.




wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Jan 10, 2007, 7:48 AM

Post #114 of 329 (6972 views)
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Re: [Arkinese] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Greetings from Bennington - I'm just catching up with a lot of posts here - I've been busy finishing my thesis and getting my graduate lecture and reading squared away, which I'm proud to report are now done. Waiting for the sheepskin on Saturday.

People might be overstressing a bit over the personal statement and trying to do too much with it. The manuscript is the place to be creative. The statement is the place to be informational, to give a few good reasons why you want an MFA and why the particular program is right for you. Plain, conversational prose is probably safest. Faculty also look at the statement as a way of verifying basic writing skill - it's a check to make sure the writer isn't turning in a manuscript that's been edited past the point of ownership by the applicant, which is a central problem with MFA admissions. So if you're going creative with your statement, make sure it's just as good as your sample.


JKicker
Jonathan

Jan 29, 2007, 7:16 PM

Post #115 of 329 (6844 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Somewhere on this forum people were talking about typos in the SOP...I'm dialup at the moment so I can't very well read all of the pages within this decade...anway..

After I read about people catching typos in the SOP's I told myself I would never read over them once they were out...but unfortunately since I reuse a lot of the SOP I didn't have much choice. With three schools left (out of 15) I found two glaring typos. The word "of" was omitted from "one of the best" and IN MY FREAKING SIGN-OFF "Thank you for your consideration" I left the letter "r" off of your... So if i actually get in anywhere this will be a testament to not killing yourselves over typos....if I don't get in then please, by all means continue freaking out.

This is after I had read the SOP probably 40 times, and had 3 other people read it multiple times...ugh.


afkasmhop


Jan 29, 2007, 8:11 PM

Post #116 of 329 (6827 views)
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Re: [JKicker] Statement of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Dont sweat the TYPOS. I am doing an online application right now that actually has a typo in it! I was shocked!


malber


Jan 30, 2007, 11:32 PM

Post #117 of 329 (6764 views)
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would it help anyone [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm happy to post my SOP if anyone wants to take a look. I know most people probably have already sent them out, but if anyone wants to take a look at mine, it's very different from the previous ones on this thread.


Arkinese


Jan 31, 2007, 12:48 AM

Post #118 of 329 (6748 views)
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Re: [malber] would it help anyone [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd be interested to see, malber. I thought mine might be different from what a lot of other applicants write since I talk about some issues that most people don't usually have to deal with in college (health stuff mostly -- ugh). I'd like to see what made yours different as well. And if you don't want to post the whole thing, you can just post an excerpt of what you thought was most different.


malber


Jan 31, 2007, 12:54 AM

Post #119 of 329 (6744 views)
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Re: [Arkinese] would it help anyone [In reply to] Can't Post

well, here's a very generalized draft. mine was shorter than some, i think. i went for 2 pages (-ish), but double-spaced. these poor people read enough. and it couldn't have been too bad... i'm in at Ohio State as of a few days ago.

hope this proves enlightening (of course, please only use this for educational purposes):


Statement of Purpose

I’ve taken a very unusual path to get to this point. In fact, for most of my life, I thought I was going to be a doctor. The passion for writing and the creative process was always with me, but growing up in a very low-income household, it seemed that salary and job-security were the most important things in a career. But medically speaking, I was miserable after just a few weeks in med school. I found myself not caring if I learned the various pathways of muscle innervation or not and I decided to leave. I tested out the job market, but I always knew I would return to writing eventually. Without sinking further into the well-worn clichés of “soul searching” and “zeal for life,” it will suffice to say that writing is my career now, it is what drives me. I used to come home from school, drop my scrubs on the floor, and turn on the television. I’d complain for hours about embryology. Now without the scrubs and smell of formaldehyde, I sit down and write; I complain about not having better sentences.
Being premed, my time for undergraduate English was limited. However, since coming to Eastern Michigan’s M.A. program, my horizons have broadened considerably. I’ve had several writing workshops and now I have a much clearer sense of the state of modern fiction. My reading list, once the sole territory of mass-market paperbacks, now includes both modernists and postmodernists. The point is exposure. That’s why I jumped at the chance to study writing in St. Petersburg, Russia, this past summer. Working with such great writers as Sam Lipsyte and George Saunders, I got to improve my own writing as well as witnessing first-hand all the amazing things fiction can do. These experiences, along with editing our graduate literary journal and in helping to establish the reading series at EMU, are just the first steps in a long process – a process that I hope continues with entrance into your M.F.A. program.
I have also spent the last two years as a graduate assistant, teaching introductory composition courses at EMU. It may be trite to say that I’ve already learned more about writing than I’ve taught, but I believe it’s true. The freshmen in my classes are so unsure of themselves, so caught up in their five-paragraph paradigms, that they fall all over themselves trying to find the secret language of good writers. In more ways than I’d like to admit, I was in a very similar situation not so long ago. And while I now recognize that no “secret decoder” exists, I believe that time spent dedicated to my writing, especially at a prestigious program like yours, will provide a measure of subtlety and craftsmanship that is the hallmark of great fiction.
I am grateful for my time in med school. There is no doubt that had I pursued my early interest in writing without trying the medical track, I would have been left wondering. Now, with an additional load of student loans and all the perspective I could hope for, I can honestly say that I know what I love. More importantly, I know what it takes to seriously pursue it. An admission to your program is the next step.


Arkinese


Jan 31, 2007, 2:05 AM

Post #120 of 329 (6734 views)
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Re: [malber] would it help anyone [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Without sinking further into the well-worn clichés of “soul searching” and “zeal for life,” it will suffice to say that writing is my career now, it is what drives me. I used to come home from school, drop my scrubs on the floor, and turn on the television. I’d complain for hours about embryology. Now without the scrubs and smell of formaldehyde, I sit down and write; I complain about not having better sentences.


This was such a great section. I mean, it was all really good and I could tell that you were being straightforward and genuine but I liked the "smell of formaldehyde" juxtaposing the clichés (I remember 10th grade anatomy and even that little bit of smell was awful!).

Here's a generalized draft of mine (which was edited for each school depending on the length required, issues addressed, etc.):

I never thought years of chronic illness would have a beneficial impact on my career. I never thought chronic illness would do much for me at all. It began with a bad case of mononucleosis followed by clinical depression, both of which I tried to brush off. Though I had to take a year off between graduating from high school and attending college, I pretended I wasn't concerned about my health because I had to go to college.

Of course, my first semester was disastrous because chronic illness isn't conducive to the college lifestyle. I often slept twenty hours a day and I ached constantly. This frustrated me not only because I was near-functionless but because school had always been "easy" for me. I had relished attending classes in high school and had been excited about working toward an English degree in college where I could focus more on the reading and writing aspects I loved. After all, I'd been reading and telling stories since I was four years old. Only now with the depression, I couldn't focus and I had no motivation to read or write anything. I was failing not only my classes but my life expectations. Because almost everyone in my extended family had attended college, it was a given that I would too.

When I left college for the second time in as many years, I accepted this failure and was more depressed than ever. While in college, my major had changed from English literature to theater and then to psychology and, each time I left, I became more angry at myself for not finding the right career choice, even though I loved studying all three subjects. After a year of nothing but doctor appointments, I decide to give college one more tentative try and started a distance psychology course. It felt odd to plod along instead of taking eighteen credits a semester, but I started 2004 with determination to succeed in this one class.

That spring, my best friend started a weblog. I'd vaguely heard of "blogs" and had the impression they were mostly used by computer programmers. My friend explained how it was more of a journal where one could post entries electronically—and I realized the scribbled-in-the-back-of-the-psychology-notebook essays I was always writing had suddenly found an audience.

The blog writing began extracting me from my depression and pain and by the time I'd been "blogging" for six months, I was back in college, continuing work on my psychology degree. But even more than studying psychology, I loved writing my daily posts. When I discovered my school now offered creative writing, I had a quarterlife crisis. I wanted a career change.

*****

Then the statement becomes more "normal" because I talk about how much I enjoyed my writing classes and how I want to continue working in a creative writing atmosphere. The whole thing ends with the line: "If writing can sustain me through years of chronic illness, then it deserves the best training and nurturing to sustain me through a lifelong career."

It's hard for me to talk about my college issues and not come off as sounding a bit cheesy because there's that whole "I FINALLY made it!" movie-ending shtick with my eight-year undergraduate career (good work, me...). When I tried to come up with a way to work that theme into my statement, though, I figured it was better to be genuine and work with the "finally made it" cliché than to work against the issue, glossing over it as though it wasn't a big deal ("it just took me eight calendar years to finish because I was lazy...")

I've only written a couple of "personal statement"-type things before when applying for scholarship stuff but I always thought it was a good idea to just be yourself and be genuine. I think if anyone does that, regardless of what they actually say, readers can sense it.


__________



Jan 31, 2007, 2:18 AM

Post #121 of 329 (6731 views)
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Re: [Arkinese] would it help anyone [In reply to] Can't Post

Say, malber, you didn't happen to write that story in FENCE about a war at a shopping mall, did you? Because if so, that was pretty swell. Did your SLS story double as your application package?


[EDIT for admins: ...and how 'bout those statements of purpose, eh?]


six five four three two one 0 ->

(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Jan 31, 2007, 2:19 AM)


malber


Jan 31, 2007, 10:29 AM

Post #122 of 329 (6681 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] would it help anyone [In reply to] Can't Post

Junior: nope, that wasn't me. I wish, though. As a general rule, I really like Fence. War in a shopping mall, eh? SOunds like a cool idea :) why? was the style reminiscent?

As for my SLS workshopped stuff: I used one of the stories from SLS in my packet, the other was a piece i'd workshopped in a class and was subsequently picked up by a little press.


seemingmeaning

e-mail user

Mar 29, 2007, 12:35 PM

Post #123 of 329 (6559 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Spacing? [In reply to] Can't Post


Hi Sibyline,

Hope your days in Cornell are treating you well. Although slightly off-topic, I want to chime in and say I enjoyed reading your sample SOP a lot. As a child reared from Haitian immigrants I, too, have interest in exploring a immigrant fiction through the lens (oh, Christ, here goes my lingo from taking too many critical theory courses during undergrad) of Haitian men living in contemporary America through a variety of different situations.

What I'm curious to know is whether a MFA program like Cornell (my 2nd choice, 1st is UW-Madison) usually accept students from state universities? I attended LSU and I get a vibe that Cornell mostly accepts students from other ivy-league institution. Or is that simply a fallacious argument on my part?

Also, has the program accepted students with GPA's under 3.0? Sorry for the excessive (and multiple) questions, Sibyline, but just curious to know. Thanks again!

btw, have you yet taken a class with Alison Lurie or Ernesto Quinonez (sp)?



hamlet3145


Mar 29, 2007, 1:34 PM

Post #124 of 329 (6528 views)
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Re: [seemingmeaning] Spacing? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
What I'm curious to know is whether a MFA program like Cornell (my 2nd choice, 1st is UW-Madison) usually accept students from state universities? I attended LSU and I get a vibe that Cornell mostly accepts students from other ivy-league institution. Or is that simply a fallacious argument on my part?



I'd be more than a little horrified if MFA programs gave more emphasis to one's undergrad pedigree than one's writing sample. Going to Yale doesn't automatically translate into being able to write an effective line of prose. I can't speak for Cornell but I know here at Montana the students run the undergrad gamut from community college to Harvard. I suspect that a graduate program in literature would weight a student's undergrad experience much more heavily.


seemingmeaning

e-mail user

Mar 29, 2007, 1:46 PM

Post #125 of 329 (6520 views)
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Re: [Hamlet3145] Spacing? [In reply to] Can't Post

I thought so, Hamlet3145. As you pointed out, a graduate committee for a MA in literature/Comp Lit would definitely look at which institution the prospective student attended. My guess is most MFA programs strictly (and simply) care about your writing, regardless of a top-tier or third-tier academic institution.

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