A Successful MFA Personal Statement

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I recently received great news, that I’ve been admitted to the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Tampa. I spent a lot of time scouring the web for examples of successful personal statements, those all-important pieces of the application process. After a full day of agonizing over what to say in my personal statement, I finally gave up in exhaustion and submitted the following statement.

I’m posting this for anyone who may be on the lookout for samples that have worked for others. This one helped get me into the program I wanted, and is very much targeted for that specific program, which I think is key. Do some research. Find out what they’re looking for. I hope this is helpful to someone, and if you’re applying to MFA programs next year, I wish you the best.

(Holy Masochistic Manatees, Batman. Now I have to prove myself worthy of this thing.)

My grandmother rolled cigars in the HAV-A-TAMPA factory during World War II. She
tells a story I’ve heard hundreds of times about a young lady working beside her who
became so distracted by the smooth baritone of the lector’s reading that she lopped off
the end of a finger with her cigar trimmer. Blood flowed, tobacco was ruined, and the
woman lost her job. “But the worst thing,” Granny says, “is the poor girl never got to
hear the end of that story.”

I am applying to the University of Tampa MFA in Creative Writing program to acquire
the skills to produce consistently successful fiction. My goal is to publish novels and
short stories for the rest of my life. I hope to find mentors in the program to lead me
toward mastery of the craft of writing fiction. I seek to become a strong addition to a
mutually supportive community of writers. During the next two years I intend to find my
literary voice and establish myself as a serious writer. I am encouraged by having
recently sold a short story for the first time.

The U.S. Army has a way of writing a soldier’s life story chapter by chapter. The
constant uncertainty is exhilarating, but thankfully doesn’t last forever. Now that military
retirement is upon me, I have new creative license to write my own next chapter. This
MFA program is the logical next step toward achieving my long-term goals. It’s the right
fit for my needs as an emerging writer, and I believe I will be an asset to the program.

This is a program with deep roots in the multicultural community I call home. As I return
to Tampa for good, I find no writing program better suited to facilitate my transition from
soldier to professional writer. Adding value in any way I could to the creative writing
program at UT would be a tremendous enhancement to my sense of homecoming and
assimilating back into the community and civilian life.

Writing fiction is my calling, and anything else I do is a means to that end. However,
while working toward an MFA, I plan to teach. I am pursuing a high-school teaching
position in the Tampa Bay Area through Troops to Teachers, a U.S. Department of
Defense program that helps eligible military personnel begin new careers as public
school teachers. Regardless of the position I find, UT’s low-residency program allows
the flexibility to live anywhere and structure an effective writing schedule around daily
work requirements.

I am eager to get to work participating in all the UT program has to offer graduate
writing students. I am particularly interested in the Tampa Review Online. The possibility
of gaining editing experience while learning what is involved in running a great online
journal appeals to me. I look forward to UT’s Lectores public readings of MFA students’
work. I’m excited at the prospect of hearing my own work read there. Gathering together
to tell stories is such a fundamental social activity. It fills a hard-wired need we all have
as human beings.

My ability to perform independently has been tested and proven in the classroom, the
boardroom, and on the battlefield. Each and every one of my performance evaluations
attest to it. Hand picked to represent the Army at the U.S. Naval War College, I earned
a fully accredited MA in National Security and Strategic Studies during a grueling oneyear
residence.

Certain aspects of my education and experience do not appear on a transcript. I left
home at the age of nineteen with no financial support from my then single mother. The
first member of my family to attend university, I lacked money, direction, and maturity.
I worked multiple jobs, tutored beginning Spanish, and coached international students
preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Despite my full work
schedule, only the desperate measure of enlisting in the National Guard allowed me to
continue funding my education. Military life suited me, so I earned an R.O.T.C.
commission. Having found direction in life and solved the financial challenges, I soon
paid off my student loan and embarked on a military career. Maturity came later.
I started writing at the age of twenty-eight, while on my first deployment at Guantanamo
Bay Naval Base during the Cuban/Haitian refugee crisis of 1994. I witnessed people
reduced to their core natures, many whose loved ones had been taken by sharks,
drowned, or simply disappeared. Those stories and others must be told, and only fiction
will serve to convey the kind of truth worth a fingertip in the cigar trimmer.

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19 responses to “A Successful MFA Personal Statement

  1. I am currently awaiting college decisions, but came across you blog and noted the date was almost a year ago. It made me wonder, How is it being back in school? How did your first semester go?

    Natali

    • Hi, Natali. Being back in school is the greatest. It’s a challenge to balance with family responsibilities, but It’s working out well. I’m reading great books and piling up the pages of fiction each month. It’s something I’ve dreamed about doing for years. If all goes as planned, I’ll have a completed novel to show for my efforts by the summer of 2015.
      Best of luck on your applications, and thanks for stopping by. By the way, your website is beautiful.

      Steve

  2. Hello There, thanks for posting this! I am also leaving military life (Coast Guard) to pursue an MFA. Nice to see someone else did the same. Best of luck with your novel.

  3. Thanks for your post, Steven. So glad to read that you’re enjoying school. I’m applying to MFA programs after working as a family therapist since 1982.

  4. Thanks a million for doing what you did! It is of incredible value to me as I try to apply for an MFA from the shadows of the African continent. All the best in your writing! Matrida.

  5. Hey Steven,
    Thanks for sharing this. I’m applying to several programs this year, so this is a helpful reference in writing the personal statement. Thank you for your service as well. It sounds like the stories of all you’ve experienced and encountered will have a great impact.
    Zak

  6. Dear Steven,

    Namaste from India!

    Thank you so much for sharing your statement. It really was helpful. God bless you. Best of luck with your writing and well college.

    -Nikita (Shanaya)

  7. Your PS is well written. You weave a story within a story within a story. Love it! Thanks for the example… this helps me to focus my PS for the screenwriting program for which I am applying.

  8. Thank you for sharing your Personal Statement. This is very helpful. I am considering applying for an MFA and am scouring the internet to get some ideas on how to write a good PS. The last time I wrote one was fifteen years ago and it was for Chemistry!

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