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hapworth


Oct 1, 2005, 8:04 PM

Post #1 of 329 (18959 views)
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Statement of Purpose Can't Post

Hey all,

Oddly, I'm no newbie to grad school. I started off in the MFA program at Bama, but left to do an MA at Ohio University. I've written statements of purposes before, but since they were for Master's level programs, I didn't sweat them too much (though I did put plenty of effort into them).

Anyhoo, now I'm getting materials in order of Ph.D programs in creative writing, and the statement of purpose (SOP) is scaring me a bit. Any tips? I'm thinking of writing an introduction, one body paragraph that focuses on my literature interests (after all, the Ph.D will be lit-intensive) and one body paragraph that focuses, obviously on my writing interests, but it still seems scary. If I were a pure lit student, I wouldn't worry so much. I'd just tell readers that I wish to study eco-feminist representations of poultry in the poems of Emily Dickinson :-) Just kidding. Seriously, any general tips? I'm a fiction writer.

Hapworth


grimson
Justin Bryant
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Nov 26, 2004, 6:32 PM

Post #2 of 329 (18879 views)
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too many publication credits? [In reply to] Can't Post

I met with the director of one of the programs I'm going to apply to. She was extremely nice, and spent much more than the scheduled half-hour talking to me, which was great. But she did suggest that my very modest publication record might make me appear 'less teachable' than the typical MFA student to some faculty members (who read the apps), and suggested I spend a lot of time in my personal statement stressing just how much I do want to be taught.

For the record, I had my first novel published last year by a very small independent press, and have had 6 stories published in relatively small mags such as Thin Air and The Chiron Review. This is hardly big-time stuff, but I see her point. Anyone else dealing with this, and have any suggestions about how to broach it in my statement? I'd already written it, but am going to revise it based on her recommendation.


pongo
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Nov 26, 2004, 7:34 PM

Post #3 of 329 (18876 views)
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Re: [grimson] too many publication credits? [In reply to] Can't Post

I had a page or two of credits when I applied to my MFA program, and had no trouble getting in. Of course, my personal statement was all about how achieving those credits had shown me how much I had to learn.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


gymnick


Nov 24, 2005, 8:32 PM

Post #4 of 329 (18960 views)
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Statements of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm done with the writing samples, I have good recs and I'm getting the GRE over with tomorrow. Now, I'm back to focusing on the statements of purpose and I'm looking for some guidance.
I'm having difficulty with the goal part. I'm not sure, "writing a book and being published" is what they want to hear for my career goals. Nor do I think my incredibly self-deprecating tone will impress.
Also, how tailored to each school did you make your essays- was it a generic essay with certain parts thrown in for the school or was each one specific to the school?

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. This board has been such an incredible resource for me. Thanks guys.


pongo
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Nov 24, 2005, 9:06 PM

Post #5 of 329 (18957 views)
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Re: [gymnick] Statements of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, I only applied to one place, so I can't talk about tailoring my response, but my statement wasn't really about careerist goals. It was about what I wanted to do in my writing, how I wanted to change that and how I thought getting an MFA might help me to do that. Actually, it was an essay discussing my historical relationship with text and fiction, stretching into the future.

And it must have been all right; I was accepted within a couple of weeks of sending in the packet (rolling admissions program, of course).

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


Kaytie
Kaytie M. Lee

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Nov 25, 2005, 1:08 AM

Post #6 of 329 (18947 views)
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Re: [gymnick] Statements of Purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

Probably best to discuss how you plan to grow as a writer in the MFA program. It's a school, after all--they're interested in what you can do for them (what talents and skills you'll bring to them) and what they can do for you (what you hope to learn while there).

No MFA program guarantees publishing opportunities that I'm aware of, so the statement of purpose is not the place to discuss that--it's a given. They want to know what you hope to get while enrolled with them, which is a very good reason why you should tailor your statement of purpose. It's a chance to show how much you researched their program. Many applicants (and writers) blindly submit to schools (and to agents/lit mags/editors). Show why you think you're a good match for the program. It's more work, but MFA programs want students who aren't afraid of the work it takes to be a writer.

Once you've written the first SoP you can easily alter it for the others. I applied to five schools and got into three, and I suspect that my statement of purpose had much to do with that since my writing samples, while clean and polished, were amateurish subject-wise.

Keep in mind: Those reading your application are writers, and sometimes even professors--they can tell a generic statement of purpose from a tailored one.

(Self-deprecating can work in your favor if it shows your personality--my SoP began with admitting that I failed my high school writing competency test. Granted, in my next sentence I mentioned how my English teacher waived the requirement to take it again since I'd always received As on essays. Still, it's a great story. I keep the card showing my "deficiencies" on my desk. As a creative writer you don't get many opportunities to show the "real" you. Your SoP is your chance to show your personality--take it!!!)


Kaytie M. Lee Last Updated November 2008

(This post was edited by Kaytie on Nov 25, 2005, 1:11 AM)


Onyx


Jan 24, 2006, 9:58 PM

Post #7 of 329 (18854 views)
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Personal Essays for low res programs [In reply to] Can't Post

I have been reading all of the low res threads and found them to be very very helpful (and I made it all the way through the super long thread!). I am looking at applying for winter of 2007, (so Sept. of this year), and doing a great deal of research. My big question for now is on the personal essays they ask for. I know they want information on your background and goals and all that, but they also ask if there are any possible problems you might have, or challenges. I was assuming that you shouldn't mention any possible issues, but will they assume that pretty much every applicant will have challenges and they want to know how you would deal with them? What is the best way to deal with this question?

Thanks in advance.


pongo
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Jan 24, 2006, 10:11 PM

Post #8 of 329 (18852 views)
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Re: [Onyx] Personal Essays for low res programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Depends on what kinds of issues you mean. If your issues include "I am currently serving time for killing my last writing tutor," that's one thing. If they are more along the lines of "I'm writing two different kinds of fiction and need to decide which to specialize in," include it. They want to know about your artistic issues, and possibly if they'll need to provide accomodations for learning or physical disabilities (although physical stuff belongs in a separate letter, after you're accepted; some schools just aren't set up for people with learning disabilities, though).

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


emillikan


Feb 16, 2006, 12:47 PM

Post #9 of 329 (18857 views)
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last-minute statement of purpose--help? [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi all! It's been three years since I graduated from Indiana Wesleyan U. with Writing/English, have been working full-time, trying to decide when to quit and what to do after. About three weeks ago I realized that, of many options, I DO actually want to go to grad school--specifically, for creative non-fiction. I'm in the middle of last-minute applications to MFA programs at Seattle Pacific U. and Pacific Lutheran U. SPU is my first choice, app. due March 1st. I'm hoping to spend the next two days holed away somewhere working on the statement of purpose ("development as a writer and person of faith") and the portfolio, etc., as well as the statement and a short book review for PLU.
So, question: Does anyone on here have any suggestions for websites, etc. with (free) sample essays, especially to writing programs, and/or some practical advice about grad essays? I've already checked the info on about.com, and I'm interested in some things I can save, print out, and use as references or springboards while I'm ignoring the internet for a couple of days. Any links to old threads on this topic would be great too. I've searched and browsed some, but under this kind of a deadline I'm trying not to spend too many hours surfing. I have a LOT of ideas, but I'm not sure how to address them or put them together...
Thanks to anyone willing to help!
Emily


hapworth


Feb 16, 2006, 7:19 PM

Post #10 of 329 (18828 views)
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Re: [emillikan] last-minute statement of purpose--help? [In reply to] Can't Post

Emily,

It's very difficult to find worthwhile SOPs online. I know. I've tried. I found this site the most useful, a Live Journal forum devoted to grad school: http://community.livejournal.com/applyingtograd/

The only problem is that the SOP discussion is pretty much over, but it was really hopping a couple months back. I learned a lot about SOPs just from peeking at the samples posted. The LJ forum is open to anyone, not just English majors, but plenty of English majors posted samples for feedback. You might visit this place and see if the archives go back pretty far. I believe that they do.

Hapworth


emillikan


Feb 16, 2006, 9:20 PM

Post #11 of 329 (18808 views)
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Re: [hapworth] last-minute statement of purpose--help? [In reply to] Can't Post

Great, thanks! I'll check that out. Looks like the Archives go back quite a ways.
Emily


lytonyawename



Apr 27, 2006, 9:42 PM

Post #12 of 329 (18810 views)
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Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post

Been finishing my MA thesis and school and work weighing me down.

final tally:

In: UNLV (Douglas Unger wrote me a really nice email) and Alabama (accepted the Alabama offer)

Rejected: Oregon, Brown, Indiana, Michener, Iowa, and Arkansas (came last week).

The two places where I put the most work into my statement of prupose are the two places where I got accepted. They also happen to be the places I have the most connection to and the two places that "pulled" me the most.

Congrats to everyone who got in, and for those who didn't: i do think it is a little random, a little fate, a little luck, and a little sweat... so i know you should try again if this is really what you want to do.

out.


(This post was edited by lytonyawename on Apr 27, 2006, 9:43 PM)


__________



Apr 27, 2006, 10:09 PM

Post #13 of 329 (18804 views)
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Re: [lytonyawename] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post

Oh no...does everyone have a different statement of purpose for each school? Wouldn't your true aim or purpose be the same at each one? Or do you have to tailor it to what certain faculty want to hear?


six five four three two one 0 ->


gussy

e-mail user

Apr 28, 2006, 1:28 AM

Post #14 of 329 (18780 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey, congrats to everyone !!

Hi again, Amy: worry not -- I'd dare say that the statement of purpose is, basically, the same one for all schools. BUT you do have to tinker a little with it once you have your basic piece down. However, getting the main thing is the toughest task. Once you're there, introducing minor changes to each statement in order to make it sound more appealing to each target-school is a piece of cake. And this doesn't necessarily mean "pleasing" each faculty member. You just have to try to to show that you're acquainted with the "philosophy" of the department, and that you think you'd be a good fit.

I'd recommend that you go check out Tom Kealey's blog; look for his post on S of P; I found his suggestions very helpful. Also, his book has good tips on the S of P.


lytonyawename



Apr 28, 2006, 3:19 AM

Post #15 of 329 (18772 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post

Oh, Las Vegas gives assistantships to everyone. teaching two classes or teaching one class and helping out at the writing center.


Junior Maas: actually, i say you should have a skeleton SOP and then adjust it... but take the adjusting for each school really seriously... talk about why you want to go there... really... for alabama, i talked about how the South is important to me, the whether (seriously), my family connections, how it relates to my writing, interrupting a comfort zone i've created where i am, etc, etc. for vegas i talked about the study abroad requirement and what i thought that would mean for my writing, how i'm intrigued by the very odd vibe i always get from vegas (not the gambling... that's mostly boring--but the things around it), etc, etc. i talked about my life experiences and my job too... teaching... the point is i think to be personal. i had a hard time writing that into an essay (oddly).

or not... like i said, maybe it's just luck too.

good luck


HopperFu


Apr 28, 2006, 8:24 AM

Post #16 of 329 (18761 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Oh no...does everyone have a different statement of purpose for each school? Wouldn't your true aim or purpose be the same at each one? Or do you have to tailor it to what certain faculty want to hear?



Well, the actual questions are slightly different at each school. They really do want you to answer the questions. My statements of purpose were not radically different, but I did change them depending on the school.
For example, in my statement of purpose for Cornell, I stated some of the reasons Cornell appealed to me was because of the small program size, the balance between studio and lit classes, and the academically rigorous nature of the program.
That would NOT have been appropriate in my statement for Iowa (which is geared very much to studio work and admits 25 people per year).
I think my skeleton statement of purpose was very strong, but I did tailor it for each school (for the school, not the faculty). For the most part, I talked about why I thought an MFA program would be good for me, what I would do with the degree, and what I had done to prepare myself as a writer. I didn't, at any point, use the phrase, "I've always known that I was going to be a writer," or any variation thereof. :)
It's interesting to note that the most detailed and specific statement was for Wash U, which was the only school that outright rejected me.


sibyline


Apr 28, 2006, 9:26 AM

Post #17 of 329 (18748 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post

For better or for worse, I didn't tailor my statements at all. If I were to do it over again, I would have probably done some tailoring. Although in my opinion, any tailoring I would have done would have been along the lines of emphasizing my strengths specific to each program, rather than talking about what aspects of the program appeal to me. This is from having a professor boyfriend who complained about students writing all these great things about his school, and him knowing that they're doing the same thing for all the other schools the students are applying to.


bullscheidt


Apr 28, 2006, 10:50 AM

Post #18 of 329 (18724 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post

One school, one that accepted me, said that they appreicated that I noted the diversity in their faculty in my SoP. I did it only in passing, but it made me think that the programs enjoy being recognized for what makes them unique.


HopperFu


Apr 28, 2006, 12:09 PM

Post #19 of 329 (18700 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Final Tally [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
For better or for worse, I didn't tailor my statements at all. If I were to do it over again, I would have probably done some tailoring. Although in my opinion, any tailoring I would have done would have been along the lines of emphasizing my strengths specific to each program, rather than talking about what aspects of the program appeal to me. This is from having a professor boyfriend who complained about students writing all these great things about his school, and him knowing that they're doing the same thing for all the other schools the students are applying to.



I think that statements are worth looking at in general. My statements were about 1 1/4 single spaced pages. Probably two sentences, at most, were specifically about the school, with almost the rest explaining what I hoped to gain from an MFA, etc.
I guess there were some instances - and this would qualify as tailoring - where I would talk about how an aspect of the program (say, the academically rigorous nature of the affiliated English Dept) dovetailed with my goals and needs.
But really, a good statement of purpose does one thing first and foremost: it answers the question that the department has asked you to answer.
Of course, if your writing sample isn't good enough, it doesn't matter what your statement looks like.


commanda
Amanda

Jun 12, 2006, 10:06 AM

Post #20 of 329 (18536 views)
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Statement of Purpose and Past Rejections [In reply to] Can't Post

So, this year it was nine applications, nine rejections, and a black, black two-week rejection hangover where no hope lived. But I'm resilient! And young! And earnest! And dedicated! And don't want to do anything else with the next 2 to 3 years of my life! So I persevered.

I'm writing even more than before, experimenting with style, playing with content, and reading about intentionality and the nature of writing, (not to mention devouring books and periodicals by the handful). I've submitted truckloads of manuscripts, tracked down fellow writers in my area, pursued freelance copywriting, and am happily going into debt for a week of workshop-bliss at UMass at the end of June.

Do I tell 'em about my trials in this year's personal statements? Do they even care? Is it even worth noting? I imagine faculty reading about my past rejections and thinking that, even if they like my application and portfolio, there must be something wrong with me if the other schools said "thanks, but no thanks."

And what if I'm applying to a few of the same schools that said nuh-uh last year? Might they remember me and hope that I address my previous application process? Am I just flattering myself?


sibyline


Jun 12, 2006, 12:40 PM

Post #21 of 329 (18519 views)
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Re: [commanda] Statement of Purpose and Past Rejections [In reply to] Can't Post

personally, i wouldn't devote precious space to your application travails in your SoP, since many people are in the same boat. i would focus on your work and how it's been developing and what you've been doing. i wouldn't even address the application process thing. and it's totally normal for people to apply more than once so i don't think committees would hold that against you.


rooblue


Jun 12, 2006, 12:48 PM

Post #22 of 329 (18516 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Statement of Purpose and Past Rejections [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree totally with Sybiline here. It's all about the work. And the fact that you're re-applying doesn't matter unless a program suggested specifically that you do so. In that case I'd say something like, "I'm re-applying to this program at the suggestion of _____," blah blah. But I never heard of a program saying that, so maybe they don't.


commanda
Amanda

Jun 12, 2006, 12:50 PM

Post #23 of 329 (18516 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Statement of Purpose and Past Rejections [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the advice. I suspected as much. Plus, thinking about writing about my efforts was just making me tired. It wouldn't really be a Statement of Purpose, or Intent...just something the committees have read a million times before. It's true, too, that proof is in the pudding and I know that writing samples count the most.

Thanks again!


Art
Arthur J. Stewart
e-mail user

Jun 12, 2006, 6:52 PM

Post #24 of 329 (18482 views)
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Re: [commanda] Statement of Purpose and Past Rejections [In reply to] Can't Post

Now, THIS is the type of attitude that will for for you! Keep it up! You'll start racking up successes.


Banyon


Sep 4, 2006, 11:45 AM

Post #25 of 329 (18329 views)
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Favorite Authors Statement? [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi all,

I'm working on my statements of purpose (and all the other statements different schools ask for). Purdue's website states:

"Please include a brief written statement responding to these questions; Whose work do you admire? What collection of poetry and/or works of fiction read in the last year have been important to you, and why?"

What is brief? 300-500 words? I would just e-mail them and ask, but all the people they say you can contact are general graduate admissions people (not people involved with the MFA or even the English Department).

Thanks,
Banyon

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