We know what you’re going through. You’re looking at the tab on the application that says “Statement of Purpose” and that one that says “Statement of Personal History” and you’re trying to figure out what you’re supposed to write. You’re looking at the tab for the creative sample and you’re trying to figure out if you need to turn in exactly 25 pages or if you’ll be marked down for sending in 24 pages or 26 pages. You’re wondering what the people writing your letters of recommendation will say and you’re wondering if there’s anything anyone can tell you that will make this process easier. And you’re probably wondering what you need to avoid doing, saying, writing. See: We know what you’re going through. The simple answer is that if this were an emotionally easy process, we wouldn’t be writers, would we? We obsess over words, it’s what we do. So we’ve compiled 10 easy tips to get you through the application process, along with some pitfalls to avoid.
1. Don’t be afraid to write creatively in your two entrance essays. Your statement of purpose should give us a clear idea as to why you feel you need an MFA in creative writing. Your statement of personal history should give us a clear idea of who you are as a human being. Neither needs to sound like the Lifetime movie of your life. We don’t mind reading about the happy things that have happened to you in addition to the tragic things. We want to know what it might be like to spend two years with you, the person, in addition to you, the creative writer. If you’re funny, for instance, don’t be afraid to show us your sense of humor. Above all, these essays should reveal what you are most passionate about and why, but also should reveal to us another side of your writing ability that perhaps your creative sample doesn’t.
2. Don’t wait until the last minute. This is probably true for most things in life, but as it relates to filling out the paperwork required for an application to graduate school, give yourself some time. Waiting until 11:59pm on the deadline day to submit your online application is a recipe for problems. Trust us. Every year, people miss the deadline because they try to apply at 11:59. Our watches are not synchronized. Apply early.
3. Send your best creative work. We know what you’re asking: What constitutes our best? It’s hard to say — but what we can tell you is what we’re looking for: a series of words that make us sit up in our seat and say, “Oh, this person is talented.” Those words might just be a single sentence, some insight that challenges us as readers. It can be a conversation. A couplet. An image. It might be a new angle to an old topic, or it might be a personal experience that we can’t stop thinking about. This is a good time to get a little ego: take a look at your work, think about what piece you like the best, think about why you like it, have someone else read it and see what they think. And then don’t think too much…just attach it to your application and hit send.
4. Okay, you’ve sent your best work, will we like it? Maybe. Remember that your work is being read by other writers and we each have our own peculiar tastes. It is a highly subjective process and what we might like, another MFA program might not, and vice-versa. Don’t send work just because you think one of us will like it because it reminds us of ourselves — as in, if you’re writing nonfiction, don’t feel like you need to write like Emily Rapp or David Ulin or Deanne Stillman. Rather, send the work that you think best represents your own creative aims, even if you’ve not yet hit them. And if your best work happens to have a zombie or a vampire in it, don’t be afraid to send it. If you’re writing genre and that’s what you want to write, we’ll never stop you from doing so. In fact, we’ll try to help you write the best genre fiction possible. We believe writers should write whatever they want to write. It’s our job to help you make it publishable or production-ready.
5. Your phone might ring. We like to talk to the applicants we’re interested in. This means we might call you.
6. Ask to talk to current students. We are defined by the success of our students and we are proud of all they have accomplished. You want to know what life is like in the program? They’ll tell you.
7. Understand the philosophy of the program and make sure it lines up with your own ambitions. This is true of all graduate programs, really. Our philosophy can be boiled down to this: We are looking for writers who want to publish and produce. If you’re interested in writing work that sits in your drawer, we’re not the right program for you. If you’re interested in a professional immersion in publishing and Hollywood, we are the right program for you.
8. Be ready for a life-altering experience. You can expect that if you’re accepted into the program, your day-to-day life is going to change. You’re going to be doing a tremendous amount of reading and writing. You’re going to meet interesting people. You’re going to spend 10 days, twice a year, at a really lovely resort. You’re going to learn that this whole “hottest MFA” thing has a practical component during the summer residencies. Most of all, we’re going to help you achieve your goals. You’re going to receive a top flight education from the University of California, Riverside and you’re also going to learn what the real world of writing has in store for you.
9. Yes, you really get to go to school at a resort. That wasn’t a typo above.
10. Don’t worry. (Yes, you can turn in 26 pages if you need to. Yes, you can turn in 24 pages if you need to. And if you have a question, call or email us: 760-834-0926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.) To apply: http://palmdesertmfa.ucr.edu/