So, I’ve decided to get myself an MFA in creative writing. I’m applying to four different universities and I’ve been killing myself for the past few weeks trying to write my personal statement. I’ve been scouring the web, reading books, talking to people and doing everything possible. I’ve done over a dozen drafts and here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1) Like all writing, you’ve got to catch the reader’s attention. The professors who search through the hundreds (or thousands) of grad school applications, and personal statements, are going to need something to remember you. It’s easier to remember a grad school applicant who stands out than someone who doesn’t. And sometimes it can be what you write, the way you write, or what you don’t write. I read a story about a grad school applicant whose entire personal statement consisted of: I want to go to your school because I want to learn from the best and be the best. He got accepted into a program at Stanford. But even if you just pepper in some casual, but interesting, information, it’d work just as well. Tell them about that 400lb fish you caught. Tell them about your year backpacking across Europe. It’s best to not only focus on your academics, but also do something, anything that catch’s their attention and makes you stand out.
2) A grad school application and personal statement should be flawlessly written. You’re not writing a blog post or an essay for freshman English. You’ve already got a degree, and now they’re expecting perfection. This could be one of the most important essays that you ever write. The difference between a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s is huge, so put in the effort.
3) Don’t come off as a braggart. The application and personal statement is about selling you, but it still has to be done in an unobtrusive manner. Don’t just tell them how great you are; show them by explaining your accomplishments and sharing personal stories…which brings us to…
4) Put yourself in the essay. Don’t try to make it sound too academic. The people who are going to be looking through the essays want to know who you are. As stated in above, add in little tidbits about yourself and make them personal. Don’t just mention the award you won or the paper you published, talk about how your father influenced your writing or how you mother believed in you.
5) As always, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite.
Deadlines aren’t for another few weeks, but as soon as I find out I’ll give an update on whether or not my techniques worked.
Update: Just to let you know, I got accepted into every grad school program that I applied to. So the techniques work!
Related Article: Is it worth it to get an MFA in creative writing?