Your grade point average is, as they say, what it is. There is really nothing you can do at this point to improve it. If you have a substantially better G.P.A. in your major courses or over your junior and senior years, you may want to mention that in your statement of intent. A high or low GPA is not a final determinant, just one factor.
Standardized tests are important because they provide admissions committees with an opportunity to evaluate candidates on exactly the same ground. Do the very best you can on the GRE. If you struggle with standardized tests, you might want to take a prep course. At the very least, you should purchase an updated GRE prep book with sample tests and study it carefully. The program has no minimum required GRE score. Your score will simply be added into the mix. There is no need to worry about the quantitative score.
3 Letters of Recommendation
Select your recommenders carefully from among your professors–those who can write authoritatively about your scholarly abilities in the study of English or closely related disciplines. Ecclesiastical leaders have already commented on your character in another part of the application, so their insights are not helpful here. Also former employers usually have few significant insights into your ability to do competent graduate work in English.
Stick to recommenders who know you and your scholarly work well. If you are returning to school after an absence that makes it difficult to get recommendations from former professors, do your best to find good alternate recommenders and address this issue in your statement of intent. Make sure you provide your recommenders with sufficient supporting documents–such as unofficial transcripts, writing samples, and resumes–so they can write about you and your work in some detail. Make it easy for them to write a strong letter.
MA Writing Sample
The best writing sample to submit is still a well-researched scholarly paper of about ten pages, the usual length for papers presented at scholarly conferences, preferably in your proposed area of emphasis. Usually candidates select one of their best undergraduate papers and do some additional revision to improve its quality. The writing sample should demonstrate clearly that you can do the work that will be required of you in the program, specifically that you can integrate theory and/or criticism into your own arguments.
MFA Writing Sample (Creative Portfolio)
If you are applying to the MFA Creative Writing program, you should ALSO submit a portfolio of your creative work. The portfolio should consist of literary writing of a single genre–poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. Submit twenty double-spaced pages of prose or ten pages of poetry. Please specify the genre at the top of your submission. Submissions which exceed the page limit will not be considered.Creative writers, of course, should also submit their best work–a group of poems, a short story, a novel chapter, or whatever. The writing sample should demonstrate clearly that you can do the work that will be required of you in the program, specifically that you can integrate theory and/or criticism into your own arguments.
Applicants who have not yet completed all the required prerequisites can be admitted into the program provisionally. Still, it is best to complete these requirements before applying or starting your program in the fall. Finishing up these prerequisites during your program will make it hard for you to finish your degree on time. Making the effort to take the prerequisites before applying demonstrates your commitment to the program.
Personal Statement (Statement of Intent)
A personal statement is often called a letter of intent. While it is really more an essay than a letter in form and format, it is like a job application letter in that it describes your interests and qualifications for graduate study. But you don’t need to begin it with “Dear Admissions Committee” and close with “Sincerely yours.”
What should you write? To answer that, let’s think first about what you don’t need to say. A personal statement is usually accompanied by the following:
By the time you write your personal statement, each of the above is pretty well determined. You can’t change your GPA or test scores. You can’t write your own letters of recommendation. Your writing sample is complete. And you don’t need to say things the admissions committee will already know as a result of looking over your application form. This means that the personal statement should tell the committee what they don’t know about you. The personal statement could well be the most important part of the application package because it is the only part you still have some control over as the deadline looms.
In your personal statement you can—and should—say things about yourself that will not otherwise be apparent to the committee. A strong personal statement can sometimes salvage an application that isn’t distinguished by a sterling GPA or high exam scores. A poor statement, on the other hand, may undermine an otherwise competitive application. When the other indicators for success are strong, a highly effective personal statement may make your application even more competitive or bring a bonus beyond mere admission. For example, it may help you get a scholarship, a stipend, or assistantship.
A good personal statement often has a narrative structure. Like a good narrative, it should have thematic unity. What do people always say about you as a student? What words do you use to describe yourself and your intellectual development? Your statement should reveal you as a unique individual, and it should describe your strengths in such a way that the committee members will want to admit you because they hope to see how you will build on your strengths through graduate coursework and the writing of a thesis.
But more than that, a personal statement should show that you have thought carefully about why you want to go to graduate school. It should identify an area or areas of interest that you want to study more deeply. It may identify professors with whom you want to study and tell why those professors’ work attracts you. It may even state a possible research topic you want to pursue. In short, it must do more than simply claim that you have always loved reading fiction, poetry, or drama and then writing those genres or writing about them. Your personal statement should describe concretely what has compelled you to seek higher learning and outline a vision of what you want to do and be with your graduate credentials. It should distinguish you from the dozens of other students competing for a place in the graduate program.
Take time to write two or three drafts of your statement and show them to trusted advisors—especially professors from your undergraduate courses. They can coach you on the best way to present your character and your accomplishments as qualifications for graduate school.