Anxious in Austin writes in...
I've been looking at programs to apply to next fall and currently have the following list: Brown, Oregon, Michigan, Cornell, Virginia, John Hopkins, UC-Irvine, Umass, and NYU. I am aware that these schools are fairly difficult to get into, but I'm very excited about all of their programs. In applying to schools, do you think getting into any school takes precedent over applying to top schools you're interested in?
I suppose I'm wondering what your thoughts on "safety" schools and my lofty expectations are.
As far as the list goes, I think it's an excellent one, though only Michigan, UMass, and NYU are larger programs. I'd encourage you to add one or two additional larger programs.
On the subject of safety schools, I have a clear opinion on these: There aren't any. The MFA process is not like the law school, medical school, or undergraduate application process. Your grades and GRE scores rank far below such unmeasurable things as the writing sample, personal letter, and letters of recommendation.
With the writing sample being the most important of course. It's difficult to predict just which committee members will be enthusiastic about your writing and which ones won't. This is the main reason behind my advice to apply to between 8-12 programs.
Which, you seem to be doing, AiA. Good for you. Spread those nets wide. I was really surprised about this 'no such thing as safety schools' when I applied, and I was ultimately surprised when I was rejected by some of my 'lower' choices and accepted at my 'top' choice.
I'd really appreciate any comments about the concept of safety schools. Perhaps others have different takes or experiences. Thanks.