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Applying to MFA

Updated on September 24, 2012

How to Apply for an MFA in Poetry

Ew. Graduate applications are long and they are daunting. Every university wants something different, mailed to two different places, and all at different times. Applying for an MFA in Creative Writing is a great idea if you are a stellar (or nearly stellar) writer looking for a community that can foster a writing environment to help you achieve your career goals....teaching, writing, editing, law school....whatever.

This lens will give you all the tips and tidbits that you need to put together an admirable MFA application.

Good Luck!

The Creative Writing MFA Checklist

Here are the things that you will need to complete, preferably before December 1st:

- 3 Letters of Recommendation by professors that can account for your ability to succeed as a graduate student and as a writer.

- 1 Statement of Purpose. Length always varies from 500 words to Three pages.

- Personal History Statement


- Creative Manuscript: for Prose it is usually 15-40 pages and for poetry it falls within 10-25 pages.

-Resume or CV


-Application fee

-TA application

The Most Important Thing

While the Statement of Purpose, CV, Resume, Critical Essays, and so forth are important to the application, remember that the Portfolio is the single most important component of the application. Everything is merely administrative...I know this, I have spoken to professors who sit on Graduate Admissions Committees and I can tell you that they have a checklist for these though they are just there for the sake of being an application.

The Portfolio

I cannot stress enough HOW important this is....most schools look at everything else as administrative.

For Poetry:

The portfolio needs to show your voice and stance in a number of formats. Aim to do three-quarters of the poetry in your preferred method and make the rest a show as to how much variance you can offer. If you are, like myself, a confessional poet, then you will want to put your best poem on page 1 and then intersperse the off-voice poems (maybe a sonnet type or more lyrical or nature poem) in between that one and your second best poem. By doing this, you will give the readers a chance to understand your purpose in poetry.

Professor Greg Glazner, a poet that I know well told me that most committees are looking for 6 of your 10-15 poems to be ROCK HARD AWESOME and the rest to be as best as you can get them, but there is an understanding that we are still learning to write and find our voice. Put FIVE of those in front and leave one of your best for the very last page....leave an impression. Don't make them turn back.

The Guide to MFA in Creative Writing

Creative Writing Mfa Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students (Revised & Updated)
Creative Writing Mfa Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students (Revised & Updated)

I used this book as the reference book when completing all of the applications. It really helps to have this in front of you when selecting your schools and preparing the applications.


Statement of Purpose

Be prepared to write two or three statement of purpose pieces as many graduate schools require a different length.

Write a 300 word statement of purpose to appease all of the 1 page or less people.

Write a 3 page statement of purpose to appease the masses.

Your statement of purpose should include:

- WHY you are applying

-WHY you want to write/inspirations

- WHY that school is right for you

This is not a time to get sarcastic or lame. Be straightforward and include ONE personal story (see depending on the length, this may be one sentence or a paragraph, so think hard!)

Show that you know what you want. DO you desire to teach? DO you desire to write only....who in the faculty has inspired yo to write. Name drop if you can. Not a lot, but maybe twice.

Explain your Poetic....if you know what it is.

What critically you would like to do why you are there.

What you have already done that shows that you are a great candidate...internships, journal editing, publication.....

Checklist for Writing a Statement of Purpose:

[ ] Organization. Don't make it a mess.

[ ] A "hook" that grabs your reader to show why you deserve to there and what drives you to continue writing

[ ] Transition into your background in the field

[ ] Describe your academic background in the field

[ ] Talk about the specific classes you have taken, given by name

[ ] Mention the specific professors you have had, especially if well-known in that field

[ ]If you have any, mention the extracurricular activities in the field

[ ] Describe your roles in publications or other accomplishments in the field

[ ] Why you have chosen the specific grad school?

[ ] Mention one or two professors in that school and what you know of and appreciate about their work to demonstrate your aesthetics

[ ] Proofread and copyedit


Research the locations of the potential grad schools and make sure that you want to LIVE there!!!

MFA Guidebook

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing
The Portable MFA in Creative Writing

I know that you can do the MFA on your own, but it doesn't hurt to get some help from well-known professionals. This guide will help you through the research process to the submit button. Get advice on the statement of purpose and the portfolio too!!!


Personal History Statement

You are probably wondering, "what is the difference between the statement of purpose and the personal history statement?" Trust me, I know this... I was confused too.

The statement of purpose purports as to why you are applying....what makes you the writer that deserves that spot in that MFA program....the personal history statement is an autobiographical sketch that highlights your academic and professional skills. What about your life makes you valuable to that graduate program.

Here are some tips:

"The Personal History Statement is about the applicant’s personal background. Applicants may include information about their upbringing, family, culture, socio-economic background, or any personal experiences and challenges." According to UCI

Thus, you should take your life and demonstrate how all of those things have inspired you to become a poet.

Feel free to use this portion as a place to elaborate on the fiction/poetry that has inspired you and the poets that you have worked under.

Why does your history serve you as a great writer?

Ask, write, edit, submit


Moleskine Classic Notebook, Large, Ruled, Black, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25) (Classic Notebooks)
Moleskine Classic Notebook, Large, Ruled, Black, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25) (Classic Notebooks)

These are my favorite notebooks.

Before I applied to an MFA, my goal was to fill three moleskin notebooks full of poems, short stories, and mini-plays. These notebooks should become your life if you want to apply and GET INTO an MFA school.


The CV for the MFA

So you may have just graduated from a four-year (or this impending doom is rapidly approaching) and you are probably freaking out about submitting an empty piece of paper for your CV/resume in the MFA application...yeah. that's how you feel.

Thankfully, you have been writing, submitting, and interning throughout your four years of college and will be able to create a writer's resume to submit for the MFA application.


John Smith

Street, City, State, Zip

Phone: 555-555-5555

Cell: 555-666-6666




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Excellent references available upon request.

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