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What Colleges Want in Creative Writing Portfolios?

Creative writing is a very diverse field, encompassing everything from short stories to feature films. It can also refer to the literature of creativity, such as jazz and classical music. Although the definition of creative writing can vary from course to course, it is generally accepted that creative writing is all of the following:

  • original
  • flexible
  • sustained
  • literary
  • well-structured
  • expressive
  • entertaining
  • accessible
  • multilingual
  • and
  • global

These are the skills that employers and graduate schools value most in a creative writing graduate. However, obtaining these skills without a proper education can be difficult. That is why, before we delve into the specific requirements of a creative writing portfolio, it is important to understand what colleges and universities seek in a student’s application.

What Makes for a Good Creative Writing Portfolio?

A creative writing portfolio is a collection of intermediate-to-professional writing samples organized and presented in a way that demonstrates the student’s ability in various areas. It should also contain a strong narrative thread connecting all of the pieces, as well as include a clear voice and style. When developing a creative writing portfolio, students should aim to include the following:

  • a short story
  • a novella
  • a novel
  • a short story collection
  • an essay
  • a lyric poem
  • a play
  • a screenplay
  • a graphic novel
  • an illustration portfolio

With so much competition for limited slots in residencies and graduate positions, it is essential that students develop a unique selling point that will make them stand out. One of the best things that students can do for themselves is to create a portfolio that is not immediately recognizable as a school-produced piece. By taking the time to develop a personal voice and aesthetic, as well as utilize the above list of items, students can truly unique their portfolio and make it stand out.

Specifics On How to Structure a Creative Writing Portfolio

When structuring their portfolios, students should aim to create mini-manifestos that reflect the type of work that they have produced. A mini-manifesto can be a short statement of purpose, an essay in which they elaborate on their goals and the path that they plan to take to achieve them, or a collection of the student’s stories, poems, or essays. When structuring their portfolios, students should include the following:

  • a brief bio
  • a list of previous work experiences
  • a list of any awards or honors
  • a short biography of the student
  • a clear statement of the goals and objectives of the student’s writing program
  • a statement of the student’s career objectives and future plans
  • a statement of the student’s commitment to promoting diversity in writing and literature

As a general rule, shorter is better when it comes to writing samples. Ideally, a short story should be no more than 500 words, a novel should be between 10,000-20,000 words, a play should be between 3-5 pages, and a screenplay should be around 10-15 pages. Using a shorter piece allows the reader to get a better sense of the work and makes it more accessible.

What Should Be In a Creative Writing Portfolio?

The above list of elements makes up a good creative writing portfolio, but it is not complete. Because creative writing is such a broad field, it is difficult to define exactly what should be in a portfolio. However, it is a good idea to include the following:

  • a sample of the student’s work that deals with a specific theme or issue (i.e. racism in U.S. society, LGBT rights, the drug epidemic, women in authority, etc.)
  • work that is representative of the student’s voice (i.e. stories, poems, essays, etc.)
  • a critical analysis of a classic text (i.e. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, the works of William Faulkner, etc.)
  • a recording of the student explaining her work, including a short lecture or reading (i.e. from a novel, play, or screenplay)
  • a portfolio of the student’s work that is representative of her individual style and voice (i.e. a short story collection, a graphic novel, or a play with scenic design)
  • a bibliography of the student’s reading, including books, articles, and play manuscripts (i.e. from “Hamlet” to “The Crucible”)

Above all else, a creative writing portfolio should be unique to the student. While it is important to provide a clear example of your work, it is even more important to provide a clear indication of your creative voice. In order to develop your own style, it is necessary to read a wide range of works and be exposed to a variety of writing genres. This way, you can become the author that you were meant to be, the one that is most recognizable for their unique style.