4 Tips for Writing a Successful Personal Statement

A promising creative manuscript is the key to a successful MFA program application. But, as the admissions committee reads applications, they know they are selecting more than good writers: they are also selecting members of the program community.

Your personal statement plays a critical role in showing the admissions committee who you are and how you’d fit into that community. So, how best to tackle it?

Kyle G. Dargan is the director of the MFA program in creative writing at AU, and he has read stacks of personal statements over the years. Below, he offers his top four tips for crafting a personal statement that stands out.


Advice from Kyle G. Dargan:

Tip #1: Tell us what or who you are currently reading or have read in the past. How has your reading influenced what you are attempting to, or what you want to, write?

Writers are readers first and foremost. One comes to an MFA program seeking a literary community, and one of the clearest ways of assessing what kind of literary community member an applicant will be is to get a sense of how and why she or he reads. Don’t worry if you have not read “the classics.” We aren’t interested in assembling a group of budding writers who have all read the same canon. We want to know what sincerely inspires and challenges you as a unique voice.


Tip #2: Articulate what it is that you want to do with the MFA degree.

An MFA is not a plug-and-play degree with a select set of professional outcomes. The opportunities are wide open, but one needs to be proactive about curating an MFA experience that will lead to opportunities to satisfy her or his own interests (as well as earning a living to support one’s writing). Even if your plans are not firm, throwing out some ideas will help us develop a sense of how we can guide you and allow us to begin considering you for certain opportunities.


Tip #3. Avoid telling us about how you’ve wanted to be a novelist since you were three years old (which many applicants actually do).

Even if you’re being sincere, telling us about your kindergarten stories and poems won’t particularly endear us to your application. You are likely a much different person now than you were as a child. We are particularly interested in what is bringing you to apply for an MFA at this point in time. That may, of course, include some of your personal history, but tell us what specifically is motivating you at this moment.


Tip #4. Convey that you know us.

We’re becoming familiar with your work via your writing sample. You should consider taking some time to familiarize yourself with our faculty—specifically those writers with whom you want to, or will likely be, in workshop. We want to know that you want to work with us. One’s experiences in writing workshops are very sensitive to the dynamic between the writer and the workshop leader. It helps to be familiar with the work of an MFA program’s faculty.


Ready to tell us about yourself? Get started with your application for the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.

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