Sunday, April 02, 2006

High School Writers asks...

MFA Preschooler asks:

Hi Tom, I am a junior in H.S., regional (and maybe National) Winner of a Scholastic Gold Key and American Voices Award for my short story. Among other courses and workshops, I have taken dramatic writing at NYU, fiction at University of Chicago and I am waiting to here from the N.Y. Writer's Institute for a fiction course this summer. I am anxious to find out what is best for me to do for undergraduate work to prepare me for MFA. I am a National Merit semi-finalist,(maybe finalist), 3.8/4.0 GPA, 1380 SAT and 31 Act. My question is:--
In your opinion, what schools would give me the best preparation for grad school for writing? I like all writing except poetry and journalism.

Thanks for writing in MFA Preschooler. I'm hesitant to push you in any direction as far as undergraduate goes. You may very well keep writing as your main focus, and if so, good for you. But undergrads often change interests and focuses, so I think the key is first, finding a good school for you overall, and second, finding a school with a good writing program. I don't think you should go across the country just for a good undergraduate writing program.

So, send us the list of the schools you're interested in overall, then we'll give some feedback, writing wise. Rock on.


asneth said...

I am currently an undergraduate senior at The University of Iowa. While I have no idea if this has helped/hurt my chances to get into an MFA program, I can promise that my writing has improved tremendously since my start in college. Here, the community is highly writing oriented, and all of the undergraduate writing classes are taught by mfa candidates in the workshop (and for nonfiction, by mfa nonfiction candidates). Plus, you have the chance of appylying each semester for the an undergraduate workshop of talented writers. I would at least suggest looking into Iowa.

If you have any questions, I would be glad to help!

Lincoln said...

I agree completly with TK that you shouldn't go to a school for writing. Tons of people, probably the majority, end up changing their major during undergrad. I know I did.

That said, George Washington University has a great undergrad creative writing program. The faculty is excellent and accomplished and helped me with my writing a lot.

The major is a major-and-a-half, English and Creative Writing, and is, believe it or not, selective. So the people accepted into the major are good.

Anonymous said...

Beloit College has a phenomenal undergraduate writing program and is an excellent - though slightly non-traditional - school...has a great visiting writers program, lots of personal attention, etc., plus a national journal (Beloit Fiction Journal, as well as maintaining a loose affiliation with the Beloit Poetry Journal). I'd recommend that the writer of this letter look into this school, as well.

Sarah said...

Okay, I have to step in and give some props to my undergrad institution, Carnegie Mellon University. CMU is one of the only undergrad writing programs in which courses are taught by full-time faculty instead of grad students. (Not to slight MFAers, but having the undivided attention of seven full-time faculty is absolutely indispensible. In fact, it's the kind of attention many writers won't get outside of an MFA program, but at an earlier stage and within a very warm writing community.) If I could have stayed there for my MFA, I would have. But the fact that CMU has no MFA program is exactly what makes the undergrad program so wonderful.

It's true that most college students change their majors many times, but I didn't. I have always known what I wanted to do, I guess. It sounds to me like you might be the same way, especially because you're asking these questions now, but I would definitely caution you to take your time getting to that point. Look for schools that give you a lot of interesting options in other fields and disciplines. For me, that was Carnegie Mellon (which has incredible programs in music, design, theater, policy, engineering, and so on). I hope you find a good fit!

Anonymous said...

MFA Preschooler: go to the best school you can for the lowest cost. If your state awards full-tuition scholarships to keep students in-state at their public universities (most do), take one of those, go to school for free, and enjoy life without staggering student loans. This way, after graduation, you can backpack around the world or deliver pizza in your hometown and not have to worry about getting a full-time job to pay back those loans. And you'll have time to write, navel-gaze, and think about grad school.

That said, take a look at the Univerisity of Florida. They have one of the top MFA programs in the country, and the graduate creative writing faculty all teach undergrad courses. You have to take a writing 1001 class and "apply" to get into the 2000 and higher writing courses that the MFA faculty teach. And Gainesville is an awesome town to be a college student in.

Elissa said...

Hi, MFA Preschooler,

I'm an undergrad at the University of Maryland, planning to apply to MFA programs right away (yeah, Tom, I know), and when I was in high school, I was pretty much in the same boat as you. I won the New Jersey High School Poetry Contest, did the whole National Merit thing, had the nice SAT's. I was quite serious about my writing. My poetry teacher nudged me toward Bard College, which would have saddled me with some serious debt, and in the end I chose the University of Maryland because they offered me the best financial package. I didn't know anything about the writing program.

When I got here, I stopped writing for a while, then switched to fiction. I majored in anthropology, then history, and finally English with a concentration in fiction. I didn't come here because of the writing faculty; for some reason I can't remember, I didn't really care about that when decision time rolled around. My wonderful thesis advisor wasn't even on faculty until recently. Things have worked out very well for me at UMD as a fiction student, but my success is due in large part to the reading and writing I did on my own before starting in the writing concentration.

What has helped my writing the most during the past three years hasn't been the classes I took or the faculty I work with, excellent as all of that has been--it's been the real-life experiences I've had. My writing has benefited so much from being in DC, working, meeting people from around the country, etc. So, I think the most important thing during your undergrad years is experience and not academics, if you want to improve your writing. [Reading is also crucial, as I'm sure you know.] Learning from wonderful, capable people doesn't do a whole lot of good if you don't have material. Try to get out of your comfort zone and do something interesting. Take some physics classes. Don't take on too much unnecessary debt. And let me know if you want to talk about school.

Anonymous said...

I definitely want to caveat this advice by echoing the sentiment that you should take money issues pretty seriously into account. That said I'll toss out a very strong recommendation for Pomona College. Although it's an expensive private school its funding is so good that it sometimes outdoes in-state tuition. Pomona is also one of those extremely rare places where every professor is there to actually teach. David Foster Wallace currently teaches writing there. I was around where he was chosen (over at least one and I think two nobel laureates) for the position he now holds, which is an absurdly well-funded chair, and I can say that as impressed as everybody was with his writing what got him the position was his teaching, and from everything I've heard he has more than lived up to the impressions he gave. Pomona is a very small school (with no grad students) so the competition for even a star professor's attention is manageable. Perhaps even more importantly, if you decided that you wanted to switch majors, they are an excellent school for pretty much anything else you would want to do.

MFA Preschooler said...

Thank you, everyone, for all your kind thoughtful comments. I am looking into all the mentioned schools. What about dramatic writing? Anyone have a comment on NYU Tisch School's dramatic writing program or USC's creative writing department or their BFA writing for television and film? I think I would like to go that direction for undergraduate. I know admissions is very difficult but there are also programs/emphasis at many schools such as BU, University of Miami, and Dartmouth has a couple of screenwriters there. This may be too far afield for Weblog but does anyone have a comment for me on these schools and other similar writing programs? Why couldn't I take dramatic writing and also take creative writing in the English department or are the two just not compatable in the undergrad. They seem compatable to me even if the structure of the writing is different. I dearly love script writing but I just can't stop writing standard fiction and non-fiction also. Thanks for any insight you can provide-even if it is your own opinion. MFA Preschooler

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Anonymous said...

I saw that someone mentioned the undergraduate creative writing program at Beloit College, and I just wanted to second that. I am a graduating senior at Beloit, and I came out here to Wisconsin all the way from Massachusetts for the writing program. You sound like me- I won four national writing awards in high school, and I have known all along that I wanted to attend an MFA. I am actually applying for MFA programs right now!

Creative writing is the largest major at Beloit, and the faculty is amazing. Since I have been a student, both Billy Collins and Bei Dao have taught writing workshops as visiting writers. There have been a number of well-known writers who have visited campus to do readings, and some students are chosen by professors to meet them, go out to dinner with them, etc.

The workshop setting at Beloit is wonderful. Almost all of the students in the program are very talented. Their work is polished, they give great feedback, and they are very serious about what they are doing.

I also have to point out that although it is a private liberal arts college, the financial aid is phenominal. I come from a fairly poor family, and I was able to attend Beloit without many student loans at all.

Good luck! I definitely dont see anything wrong with seeking a college with a good writing program, if you are sure that is what you want to do. It worked wonderfully for me.

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