Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tips on the Statement of Purpose

Samara wrote:

How about approaches to the statement of purpose? I know you shouldn't talk about your childhood love of books, but I'm having a hard time coming up with concrete things to say. One of my mentors said think about your influences, think about formative events, think about what you want to accomplish, but I think I'm seriously psyching myself out on this one. Any other tips?

Hi Samara,

Tom addresses the statement of purpose in the MFA Handbook, and if you read the section that deals with that, you'll find he has a lot of suggestions re: things to address... in fact so many it'll be impossible to address them in 500 words, but it's worth a look if you're short on ideas. And I'm sure many others on this blog would be able to provide you with good advice.

As for my own advice--I've written a couple of successful personal statements that got me the creative writing fellowships I was asking for, and here's what has always been my approach. Once, when I attended a statement of purpose workshop, the big secret given to participants was this: a statement of purpose is not a resume in narrative form; it is a plan that outlines the relationship between the candidate's past, present, and future.

You have to convey two things: (1) How the past has brought you to where you are now; i.e. what literary influences and formative events have led you to decide, "Yeah, I want to get an MFA!"; what prior qualifications (academic, professional, extracurricular, voluntary, etc.) are going to serve you well in the program. (2) How your experience in the program is going to help you accomplish what you want to accomplish in the future; i.e. how will the MFA experience impact your career as a writer, and what do you expect to learn or gain from the program that will help you in whatever you choose to pursue after the MFA? Remember to consider both your short- and long-term goals.

In a nutshell, you've got to show how the past helped you to grow into someone ready, at present, for an MFA, and you've also got to show how you think the MFA experience will help you in your plans for the future. Hope this isn't too formulaic, but it's always worked wonders for me. Just make that your answers to the above questions are specific and concrete.


Vince said... is it okay to talk about your childhood love of books, or whatever?

Bolivia Red said...

Talk about your love of books and/or writing only if you can get particular about it--that is, if you have a moment that illustrates what started that love, or if a particular experience with a book or story set you on fire (either literally or figuratively, the literal fire story would be unique and interesting). Don't mention a generalised love of reading/writing because almost all of us had that.

If that moment you decided you had to write came a little later in life for you, then focus on that instead. Maybe you could include half a line like, "Though I've always been a big reader, I decided I must be a writer when...." (That stinks, but you get the idea.)

Samara said...

Hey, thanks! This is valuable advice.

Anne said...

it is a plan that outlines the relationship between the candidate's past, present, and future.

This is a fabulous summary of what a statement should do (or at least, of one way it can be written). Thank you!

Emily said...

Is there a big difference between a Statement of Purpose and a Personal Statement? I've heard many different answers to this question.

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