When you apply for a Masters Degree in the humanities or arts field, you may well feel like your childhood years of watching Art Attack are about to pay off. As many postgraduate courses require a creative application as evidence of academic ability, it can be tempting to frantically raid Hobbycraft, create your own magazine or lie down on a chaise and recite an ode.
But what are your chances of success? And how much is too much?
Aiming for a career composing prose, Zoe Cook applied for a Masters in Writing at Sheffield Hallam having completing undergraduate study in the same subject.
"I had to support my application with a portfolio of writing, which showed which genres I wanted to specialise in,” she explains. “The application asked for 3,000 words of prose, ten poems or a twenty-minute script.
"My strength is in prose, so I packed up a portfolio of 6,000 words in total. This sounds like a lot but I didn’t write anything new for it; I recycled some work I had submitted during my BA, such as a novel and other stories that I had kept to myself."
Delighted to be offered a place, Zoe is surrounded by other serious writers and enjoys taking part in creative collaborations. And having also studied her BA at Sheffield Hallam, she maintains that an imaginative entry piece is key.
"I would say any portfolio is the most important factor when admissions tutors are not sure whether to accept a student - how else will someone know you can design a dress or a computer game?"
Before you join a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain, it’s worth knowing that not all universities need you to plunge into a paint bucket to demonstrate creative flair.
Jane Bentley, lecturer of MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University, says a strong personal statement is equally important.
"To be honest, the application process is all online now - it is pretty templated, so there is no room for a creative CV,” explains Jane. “I think this is a shame, but it’s the way universities are going – making it all digital and form based.
"If applying for a course I think a clear CV is really crucial (if required) and I am always looking for a personal statement that sets out your career aims, relevant experience and ambitions, so we know you are industry focused."
Indeed, many universities save creative elements for writing or subbing tests at the interview. So, even without an opportunity to send a quirky CV, you should keep some brightly coloured flags up your sleeve.
Using all the tricks in the book, Tom Carter, who completed MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff this summer, honed his InDesign skills to a tee in a bid to impress.
"I made a creative CV when applying for a work placement at Cereal magazine, arranging a four page mini-mag mimicking their style,” he describes. “I designed a cover, a photo spread and wrote my introductory letter in the form of their articles. The back page also had my basic CV on it, mirroring the Cereal contents page."
Apart from standing out from the average black and white CV, Tom found several benefits in learning InDesign before the course workshops. He is now employed at the BBC, helping to produce their iWonder guides, in a role combining writing, with picture and video editing.
"My university application was just a covering letter - I had no portfolio - so I made sure it got my passion across. It started something like: ‘I have spent the last two years pretending to be an accountant. I am not an accountant ’ - they must have liked it because they let me in!
"Being good at what you do is more important than being different; if you learn your craft properly you'll stand out that way."
So, whether you’re a budding Fauvist or a Dickensian fanatic, if you’re not required to send anything immediately, don’t go cutting off your ear in vain. A strong personal statement will stand you in equally good stead, and there may be imaginative tests to prove your worth at interviews. Either way, if you are talented it should shine through!
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