Monday, January 02, 2006

Mailbag for January 2nd, 2006

Happy New Year everyone. As I said in last week’s mailbag, the MFA Handbook is now available from Continuum Publishing. Do check it out, as it has interviews with George Saunders, Aimee Bender, and Geoffrey Wolff, plus advice about applying, teaching, workshops, writing, and making the most of your graduate experience.

Okay, lots of great questions this week for the mailbag. Future questions can be sent via this page. Here we go…

Julie in Mpls offers us some grammatical editing for our site, and we appreciate that. Those changes are now made. She also mentions that some programs offer GRE scores as “optional.” Her question: “How good should my scores be in order to send them?”

As I’ve said before, the GRE scores (for MFA programs at least, as opposed to M.A. and Ph.D programs) are mostly for the graduate school office, as opposed to the writing program. They don’t have much, if any, impact on your acceptance to a program. Completely man-facting here: I’d say 1200 for the optional schools. Best of luck, Julie, and thanks for the tips on the site.

Spell-checked in Southern California says that he sent in this question weeks ago, but didn’t see an answer posted. Sorry about that, SCSC. I don’t remember seeing it before. As consolation, you’re the codenamer of the week. Rock on. The question? What if someone spelled “shining” as “shinning” in his writing sample. Does that sink his chances?

Completely man-facting again: If I’m on the committee I’m not worrying about one misspelling, especially one that is likely a keystroke mistake. If I see three or four misspellings, then I’m wondering about the seriousness of the applicant and his/her ability to edit and rewrite. Don’t worry it, SCSC. And good luck to you and your applications.

That brings us to Anxious Latecomer, who I think is a he, though I’m not sure. Sorry if I got that wrong. AL wonders if he can resubmit a writing sample, since he’s got a much better story or rewrite now. My answer: definitely not. Most programs have a policy against this. Don’t worry about things you can’t control. You sent in the best stories you had when those deadlines arrived. As far as the programs are concerned: a deadline is a deadline.

AL’s second question: How bad is the funding at Sarah Lawrence College? I don’t know for certain, AL, and a quick perusal of the program’s website gave me no further answers. This leads me to this week’s rant… The websites of 80% of programs are downright horrible. Students are interested in funding, dedication to students, resources, classes, history of the program, and requirements. SLC’s site is not the worst that I’ve seen, but while it’s aesthetically well-designed, it lacks much of this information. My rule of thumb: if a program can’t be bothered to list its funding information on its website, then it likely does not have very good funding. SLC has a very good reputation among writers and teachers, but it’s an expensive private school. If I were a prospective student, given my financial status, I’d skip this program.

Rant over. Sorry to pick on you in particular, Sarah Lawrence. As I said, this is not, by far, the worst website as far as information goes.

Anxious Latecomer lists NYU, Cal-Irvine, Iowa, Johns Hopkins, Boston University, Sarah Lawrence, CUNY, and New School on his list. He asks my opinion. My sense is that, reputation-wise, this is a good list. But I see funding problems, if that is an issue for you, also at BU and the New School. Since you seem to be looking in the Northeast primarily, I’d encourage you to look at Massachusetts, Maryland, and Syracuse as well. Good luck, AL, and thanks for your kind words about the blog.

I half answered a question in last week’s mailbag concerning “safety schools,” of which I said there weren’t any. You can’t be safe in assuming anything about your writing sample or who will be reading. Off the subject of safety schools, the reader also asked about the University of Montana, and I want to reiterate that we’re well off the subject of safety schools and that I think highly of this program. I’ve spoken with two graduates, and they spoke in glowing terms of their experience there. The funding is above-average. Check it out, Anonymous, and sorry about the delay in answering that part of your question.

Finally, MandaBird asks the questions you’re all wanting to ask, now that applications are in or about to be in: “When can we expect to start hearing back from programs once all of our application materials are received? I know most deadlines are mid-January. Do they send rejections out first? Do they send out all of the acceptances at the same time? And what’s the deal with wait-listing?”

Where to begin? Acceptances will go out, normally by letter, but sometimes by phone, in very late February to early March. If you haven’t heard anything by March 15th, it’s okay to contact a program. Rejections go out at all times. The University of Washington (Missouri) rejected me so fast I wondered if they’d even opened my envelope. Others came in March.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the programs in question are looking for fifteen students. Some will accept only fifteen and then have a list of ten on their wait-list. Others will accept twenty or more, with the assumption that some students will decline. If all twenty accept, they’ll still take all those students. (And if they don’t – and I’ve never heard of a case when they don’t – that program director should be strung up in the town square). As for the wait-list, you’ll be notified of this. If I were wait-listed, I’d call or email the program, I’d be extremely polite, I’d ask to talk to the program director, and I’d ask what number I am on the wait-list. They may tell you, they may not. I want to reiterate about being very polite. Your contact with the program, in this case at least, might have an impact on whether you’re ultimately accepted or not.

And yes, if you’re accepted at school A, but are wait-listed or haven’t heard from the schools B and C, it’s okay to contact B and C as your deadline for making a decision at school A approaches. This should be close to that March 15th date that I mentioned. Don’t jump on the phone the minute your first acceptance arrives. Be patient and see what comes your way.

I expect we’ll have some questions about “negotiating” funding etc. in the future mailbags, and I’ll wait till those questions arrive. Thanks for your question, MandaBird, and thanks for your kind comments about the blog.

Okay, I’m out of here for two weeks. I’ll talk with you again on the 16th. Rock on.

-- TK


erin said...

Assuming little has changed in a decade (which is, of course, an assumption), SLC's funding situation for graduate students is, to put it diplomatically, grim. Part of the reason why this is the case is because of the way the undergraduate programs are structured. There is (almost) no such thing as a teaching assistant at SLC -- so they can't offer you four classes for teaching two, or anything along those lines. Structurally, there's not a lot of difference between undergrad and grad at SLC. There are definite advantages to that model, but obviously this is one of the disadvantages.

That said, when I was there they did have a handful of administrative and work-study assistantships -- so it can't hurt to ask, and to let them know what you bring to the table.

I don't regret the decision I made, but Tom is correct when he says that many other programs are in a better position to address financial issues.

Anonymous said...

It is very difficult to find comparative information on low-residency programs. When they are mentioned at all it appears to be almost as an afterthought. Two questions:

1. ARE LOW-RESIDENCY PROGRAMS IN GENERAL LESS PRESTIGIOUS? (I'm not going to base my decision on the prestige factor, but I am curious.)

Tom, thank you for this site. I feel guilty asking the questions - I should buy the book, but neither the Continuum website nor Amazon has a listing for it - at least not that I could find in several tries.

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