6 Tips for Getting Successfully Accepted into an MFA Program
by UTEP Connect
You love writing fiction or poetry and want to earn an advanced degree, but how do you put together a successful application to a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program? We chatted with Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny, MH, MFA, Director for UTEP’s Online MFA, and she helped us answer six (6) of the most frequently asked questions about getting successfully accepted into a competitive master’s in creative writing. Read on to learn more about creating a strong statement of purpose and a writing sample that demonstrates literary quality.
What is a Statement of Purpose for an MFA in Creative Writing?
The statement of purpose introduces you to the admissions committee. This is your opportunity to let them know who you are, your interests and background, and why you are pursuing an MFA.
Specifically, be sure to address why you want to be considered for that particular MFA program. Highlight what you will contribute.
The statement of purpose is not a resume or bio, but rather the qualifications you bring to the program as well as the reasons why you want to earn your degree from this program.
Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny, MH, MFA, Associate Professor of Instruction and Director of The University of Texas at El Paso’s fully online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing recommends doing your homework and learning about the faculty. If there is a specific faculty member that you are looking forward to working with, highlight why you are interested in working with them.
What determines literary quality in the writing sample?
A piece with literary quality inspires the reader to keep reading. That may be through captivating storytelling. Or words that paint intriguing images. Or perhaps an engaging plot where the reader must find out how the story ends.
In short, the words are chosen carefully, capturing attention from the very first sentence.
Since you’re applying to a master’s program in creative writing, you already know that you can benefit from additional education, mentoring, and practice. Your writing sample should demonstrate knowledge of the craft and will provide clues to your potential as a poet or fiction or nonfiction writer.
Resist the temptation to submit a writing sample that crosses several genres. Instead, focus on the one genre in which you feel most comfortable writing and create a strong piece that stands on its own merits. A strong MFA program will give you the opportunity to explore a variety of genres and writing styles under the guidance of experienced writers.
What genre is best for the MFA application writing sample?
Research the application requirements for each MFA in Creative Writing program before submitting your writing sample. Make sure that you are delivering a piece that aligns with that specific program’s stated goals.
For example, UTEP’s online MFA in Creative Writing is looking for fiction, nonfiction, or poetry that brings attention to social issues and the human condition. They do not work with genre-literature such as fantasy, vampires, and sci-fi unless it’s used to address social, political, or cultural issues.
If you cannot find detailed guidelines on the program website, reach out to the program contact. The more information you have as you put your application together, the better you can position yourself for consideration.
What considerations affect the committee’s decision?
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programs accept a limited number of applicants. With multiple applicants for each spot, selection committees can afford to be choosy.
Formatting doesn’t necessarily matter, but whatever you submit should be well-edited and proofread. Don’t submit something that is clearly still undergoing revisions.
Make sure that your statement of purpose and writing sample speak to something that aligns with what the program offers. If you are applying to more than one program, it may be tempting to use the same writing sample and statement of purpose. This can severely impact your chance for being selected. In fact, your application will be more competitive if it is tailored to specific program requirements.
For letters of recommendation, ask people who know your writing, capabilities, and sense of responsibility. This may include your colleagues, former professors, and supervisors. Recommendation letters and other credentials may be used to determine whether the candidate will be able to find a balance between work, life, and the online program.
How can you increase the likelihood your application will be accepted?
UTEP’s Director for the Online MFA, Professor Aguilar-Zéleny, offers these top suggestions for MFA in Creative Writing candidates:
- Start your application early.
- Ask questions.
- Read the curriculum.
- Read the faculty bios and look for a mentor.
- If your application is not accepted, reach out and ask for feedback.
“A student who is willing to improve–that is the type of student I want in our program,” says Professor Aguilar-Zéleny. She goes on to recommend her favorite revising tool: “Share and read the statement of purpose and the writing sample out loud.”
What should you consider when choosing an MFA in Creative Writing program?
UTEP’s fully online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing lets you earn your graduate degree from anywhere in the world. The curriculum has a strong emphasis on workshops, but there’s no residency requirement, so you can earn your master’s in creative writing from Texas without ever leaving home. And UTEP’s program is the only bilingual MFA in Creative Writing in the U.S. Classes and discussions are held in English, but creative assignments may be submitted in Spanish, allowing you to write in your native language or expand your ability.
Students come from a variety of fields, but they all share a common passion – an interest in improving their writing ability. Whether you are interested in establishing yourself as a writer or advancing your teaching career, UTEP’s online creative writing program lets you gain essential credentials without uprooting your life.
We invite you to explore our online program and see what it will take to make that next step into your profession. If you are interested in learning more, reach out and an enrollment counselor will contact you directly.