I've decided to apply to only six graduate programs, not the suggested eight-to-ten you find in all the books and articles about applying to graduate school. For each application, you can expect to send in between 60-100 dollars, just to be considered. You don't get that money back if you are accepted or rejected; it's a readers' fee that the college gets to keep. Most programs ask that you include an essay that covers the following: which authors inspire you and why and just what, exactly, makes you think you can write a sentence, much less a story that would impress those deciding whether or not you'll get in to their program.
The most important part of the graduate application: Your prose. In most cases, you will include twenty-five pages of prose, at a minimum. Some programs want more; some a little less. If you fancy yourself a poet, you submit an equal number of poems. No one tells you what is likely to sway an application committee member to considering your application as suitable; you can't find examples of what got anyone else into graduate school--anywhere. (I've decided (unless the rules prohibit it) to publish my winning entry.)