WAT?
July 19, 2010 1:23 AM   Subscribe

UCLA Graduate School app's Statement of Purpose: WAT?

I'm applying to UCLA's MFA program in Screenwriting, and I'm starting my app now. Today, I came across the Statement of Purpose form, and am somewhat puzzled by it.

A couple questions:
- I've taken two college classes in screenwriting and written two screenplays, which I've not submitted to anyone or anything. Naturally, I have no relevant awards, publication, or distinctions, and being a sub teacher, I don't have any employment relevant to my graduate goals. Do I (egads!) just leave the entire first page blank?
- Page 2: is UCLA looking for answers to the question, or ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION? For an extreme example, "my plan for my future profession: world peace."
- Is it wrong to describe growing up in [multicultural] Hawaii and living in [bicultural] West Philadelphia as pertaining to "add[ing] to the diversity of the graduate group?"

Any advice is appreciated. (But bonus points are in order if you're a UCLA grad o.O)

Thanks, MeFites.
posted by the NATURAL to Education (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
can you link to the form in question?
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:29 AM on July 19, 2010


form in question
posted by the NATURAL at 1:31 AM on July 19, 2010


Part 1: You may unfortunately have to leave it blank. That doesn't necessarily sink you for a master's application though; it looks like this form is for PhDs as well and the bar is higher for them.

Part 2: UCLA is looking for evidence that you are going to show up in this program and succeed. That's what Part 1 was for as well. If the evidence points to success they will admit you if they can. If the evidence is equivocal, they will not admit you.

What makes a successful grad student? Some combination of the following (though an MFA may have its own indicators that I don't know about):
- Experience in the field
- Quick learner
- Intellectual curiosity
- Self-motivated
- Hard-working
- Very interested in the field
- Able to finish projects, even when it's painful
- Communication skills (interpersonal: prof, student)
- Communication skills (written, transmitting ideas)
- Comfortable in the program's academic environment
- Good at working with teams
- Brings new ideas
- Knows what they want out of the degree
- Has at least a vague idea of what they want to work on


What makes an unsuccessful grad student?
- Overly flighty; jumps around too much and can't stick with a topic
- No real reason for being in grad school, not sure why they're there
- Unwilling/unable to put the time in when needed
- Too shy to interact with peers and advisors
- Too inexperienced in the discipline's methods, or unable to master them

Your task: assume a skeptical reader, who fears you possess all of the bad qualities and none of the good ones. Convince them, using as much practical evidence as you can, that you possess all of the good qualities and none of the bad ones. That basically hits all of the questions they've asked.

By all means bring up whatever you can to aid your case, including your upbringing. Just make sure everything is well-balanced though, don't make it the central feature of your statement.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:55 AM on July 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


I'm a UCLA graduate student, although not in screenwriting. I recommend you don't leave the first page blank - it'll look like you didn't bother to fill it out. Can you think a bit more broadly and find something to list? Your awards and achievements don't have to be directly relevant to your program. Did you win any awards or scholarships in high school or college? Also, it asks about "employment or activities," so I think it would be reasonable to list your classes (even if they're also on a transcript) and independent writing projects there.
For the diversity question, I'd list your experience, but don't overstate it, especially if you don't actually belong to any groups that are underrepresented in higher ed. In fact, my general advice is to put something for every section, but don't go anywhere near blowing it out of proportion, or it will seem like BS. You're going for modest but confident.
posted by synchronia at 1:58 AM on July 19, 2010


If you were ever on the Dean's/President's list, or if you ever received a merit-based scholarship as an undergrad, you can put those in the first section. It's not like the awards and honors have to be, like, screenwriting awards awards and honors.

Also, I don't really know how screenwriting programs (or MFA programs in general, really) work, but that Publications section is really there for disciplines which focus on the publication of results in academic journals, like, say, biochemistry or anthropology (who apparently apply using the same form). As a candidate for an MFA in screenwriting, there may not be as much emphasis on having (co)authored an article which was accepted by an academic journal in your discipline. That said, many applicants to Master's programs in the sciences will only have their name on a single paper, or will be leaving that section blank, too. Don't stress too much about this.
posted by pullayup at 5:16 AM on July 19, 2010


Should have been "...candidate for an MFA program..." or something.
Sorry!
posted by pullayup at 5:18 AM on July 19, 2010


If you have taken two classes and written two screenplays, it sounds like you do have a lot to offer for relevant experience.

When I was applying to grad school, the best advice I got for the application and subsequent interview process was, "In every answer to every question, include the reason why "X" university is the best fit for you." UCLA may have 10 or 1000 applicants (I have no idea), but they want to know why you decided their program is the perfect match for you. There are a hundred other programs, why UCLA? And the worst answer is, "It's close to my house."

Small example answer to the professional goals question:

I have a fervent desire to create films that exemplify the plight of the lower class Hawaiian. This population is especially relevant to my upbringing and I look forward to learning how to further translate their experiences onto paper. After speaking with Dr. "Y", I fully believe the training and rigorous demands of UCLA's MFA program are exactly what I need to reach my potential.

Hope this helps!
Brian
posted by WhiteWhale at 5:27 AM on July 19, 2010


I haven't read all the way through it, but this looks like a decent primer on the genre of the personal statement. This might be helpful too.

I've taken two college classes in screenwriting and written two screenplays, which I've not submitted to anyone or anything. Naturally, I have no relevant awards, publication, or distinctions, and being a sub teacher, I don't have any employment relevant to my graduate goals. Do I (egads!) just leave the entire first page blank?

As others have already said, you need to think harder and more broadly about what, in your history, might count as "relevant" awards and experience. Dean's list, competitive prizes or scholarships, any kind of recognition or distinction--even if it's in a field unconnected with screenwriting. Your work experience as a sub teacher is a lot more "pertinent" to grad school than, say, a retail job at the mall, especially if students in the MFA screenwriting program teach undergraduate courses. (Even if they don't, being a substitute teacher shows that you're dependable, organized, and capable of collaboration and communication, all of which are traits of employable screenwriters.)

is UCLA looking for answers to the question, or ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION? For an extreme example, "my plan for my future profession: world peace."

The admissions committee is looking for answers to two questions: 1. Why should YOU go to their program? 2. Why should you go to THEIR program? On the one hand, what makes you a strong candidate and distinguishes you from everybody else who says they want to be a screenwriter? On the other hand, why is it important for you to be admitted to the UCLA graduate program rather than any other--what's distinctive about UCLA that matches up with your strengths and interests? (As WhiteWhale says, geographic convenience is not a very good answer. Neither is "this is the best program and I need to be in the best program.")

The admissions committee is also looking for signs of your potential for success in the program and as a graduate of the program. Are you applying for the MFA because you have a romanticized idea of what the profession involves and you can't think of anything better to do with your time? Or are you committed to success in the profession, and have you been doing everything you can to learn about the realities of the job and develop your skills in the craft of screenwriting? Do you have the ability to formulate a screenwriting project? Do you know what you want to do with the degree, after you finish it? Somebody who sees the MFA as an essential step, but not the only one, on the way to a career goal is a better candidate than somebody who just wants to "go back to school" and hopes that the degree will magically open doors for them on its own.
posted by Orinda at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2010


P.s. Can you get in touch with your undergraduate screenwriting instructor(s)? If you did well in class and showed enthusiasm, they may be willing to help you, and they might have more discipline-specific advice on how to frame the personal statement.
posted by Orinda at 8:36 AM on July 19, 2010


For the record, the first question does not ask for RELEVANT awards, distinctions, etc. but ANY awards, distinctions, etc. Sooooo, do you have any of those? Were you in a honor society? Did you enter a contest and get an honorable mention? Make the Dean's List? Anything?
posted by magnetsphere at 10:41 AM on July 19, 2010


@ magnetsphere -- not in college :( my above-average work in-major (Poli.Sci) was thoroughly undermined by my "finding myself" period during freshman and sophomore years.

@ orinda -- great idea. My instructors were brilliant, yet flighty, but getting in touch with them would be well worth the effort.

Thank you all for your recommendations!
posted by the NATURAL at 3:15 PM on July 19, 2010


@ magnetsphere -- not in college :( my above-average work in-major (Poli.Sci) was thoroughly undermined by my "finding myself" period during freshman and sophomore years.

Dean's Lists tend to go per term; did you not make the Dean's List at all during your junior or senior years? You may still have some hope there, but it's possible you may just have to leave it blank.
posted by asciident at 12:32 PM on July 20, 2010


A bit late to the party but I did get a grad degree from UCLA (not in screenwriting, but I spent two years sharing a bus stop with the theater people!) and I ever so vaguely remember this form.

-Do I (egads!) just leave the entire first page blank?

No, terrible idea. Just put together whatever you can (plenty of the ideas given in previous answers look good). For example, I had awards in not-so-relevant areas and wrote about them anyway. Don't worry too much--my first page looked a little forlorn (especially the publications part), too.


- Page 2: is UCLA looking for answers to the question, or ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION? For an extreme example, "my plan for my future profession: world peace."

I'm not totally sure what you mean by this. They want to know what you want the degree FOR; have you really thought about this, or is this spur of the moment? They want you to outline what your plans are in the area you're interested in studying and, most crucially, how a degree from UCLA and the screenwriting department specifically will help you--this is the time to be specific (maybe you're interested in a particular professor? a pedagogical style? alumni connections? whatever motivated you to apply, be clear!). The answer is not 42.

- Is it wrong to describe growing up in [multicultural] Hawaii and living in [bicultural] West Philadelphia as pertaining to "add[ing] to the diversity of the graduate group?"

Hmm. I would honestly mention your experiences there, especially if they inform your writing. You do want this to connect back to screenwriting, after all! Overall, keep in mind that UCLA is very concerned with appearing concerned about diversity and anything that you can mention to convince them that this is something that you take seriously (and incorporate into your daily life--you said you sub, right? so what do you do in the classroom related to this topic?) is a good thing to mention.
posted by librarylis at 2:48 AM on July 21, 2010


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