Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Letters of Recommendation, New York Style

Newbie in New York writes…

I'm looking to apply to fiction programs this
fall/winter (and next year if nothing works out) and
need recs. I'm confused as to whether or not I should
take some classes at a university or at places like
the Gotham Writers Workshop. You've written already
that it doesn't matter, just immerse yourself in a
writing environment. But for me, though money is sort
of an issue, I'm most concerned with preparing a grad
school application that is as good as I can make it. I
don't have good transcripts from undergrad, which was
about four years ago, so I'm a bit worried about this
whole process.

---Would instructors at Gotham, for example, be used
to writing recs for students? Though it's obvious to
me it would look better to have a rec from a faculty
member at Columbia rather than an instructor at
Gotham, is it maybe not such a difference at this
point that I should pay three times as much in an
attempt to get one? I also wonder if these classes at
Gotham would be as challenging as a course at Columbia
or NYU.

Newbie, I’ve heard very good things from students about the Gotham Workshops. Good teachers, good feedback, very motivating.

As far as your letters of recommendation: I’ve written about this a hundred times, so I’ll just get right to the point. It’s your writing sample that counts in your application. 90% of your application is the writing sample. Certainly, you can’t apply without letters of recommendation, but if you can get three letters from people who know you well and who will highly recommend you, then that’s enough.

I personally would not pay a large amount of money with my eye on letters of recommendation.

That said, I think only former students can talk about the merits of the adult education classes at Gotham, Columbia, and NYU. If there are any on this blog, both Newbie and I would greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comment section.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was in a similar situation, essentially in need of a last letter of rec (and some structured feedback for my manuscripts). I've heard extremely mixed, often lamenting reviews of Gotham (especially any of the lower level courses), but a woman from my college recommended Sacket Street Writers Workshop, and I had a great experience with them. Plus, I think it's a bargain, compartively. Check them out. sackettworkshop.com

Anonymous said...

I didn't take any creative writing classes in undergrad and got a master's in a different field. I took classes at Mediabistro,The 92nd Street Y, and Gotham. I wasn't as fond of the Gotham class and the instructor flaked on me after saying he was going to write me a rec, but I hope that's just a personal experience.

I got recs from my Mediabistro and 92Y instructors, and a rec from an old professor in a different field.

I'm going to Cornell and was waitlisted at Michigan, so I did fine with no big names as recommenders. I'm sure it helps though to some extent.

Anonymous said...

I had a terrible experience in the Fiction II class at Gotham Writer's Workshop, because the students included mystery writers, romance writers, science fiction writers, and me (and OK, one or two other literary fiction writers). My instructor also flaked out about recommendations, only sending in about half my envelopes.

On the other hand, I cannot recommend the writing program (continuing education) at The New School enough. You will pay about $500 per class, but they have flexible scheduling options (classes at 6 and 8 PM), the instructors are great (some teach in the MFA program), and many of the other students are MFA-bound.

Anonymous said...

I had a similiar experience at the Gotham workshop. Most of the other writers in the fiction workshop were genre focused, and while to each his own, I wasn't interested in reading mystery and fantasy. The instructor, also, seemed a little stretched for attention and wasn't always easy to get ahold of.

I then took a workshop at the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop, and it was a much better experience. All of the writers were more literary (totally different styles, but literary) and the instructor I had (Julia) was easy to reach and totally attentive.

Smasheree said...

Has anyone gotten recommendations from an online writing class?

Anonymous said...

I second Smasheree's question--I was hoping to get a recommendation letter from an online writing instructor. Is this a ridiculous stretch or a worthy goal?

Coolshoes said...

Classes (adult/continuing ed) at either The New School or NYU are excellent and, in my experience, the instructors are first-rate, and very willing to write the letters (and mail them!). It worked for me, but I would caution to vary your letters -- say, one from an instructor, another from a current/former employer, a college prof (any subject), a work colleague/client. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

thanks to tom and everyone for your very very helpful feedback! this is exactly the kind of info i was hoping for. nice to hear there are lots of options for recs and classes. i took a free hour-long class at gotham and it was after this very disappointing experience (teacher was inexperienced fresh mfa grad from cornell and either nervous or distracted or both) that i started thinking about other options. i hadn't heard anything about new school, so your comments are good news. i've also heard great things about the 92nd street Y, and attended a one night lecture (on freelance writing) at mediabistro and thought it was worth the time (a little expensive though). anyway, thanks again, guys. --newbie

Anonymous said...

hope i'm not chiming in too late...
i'm going to offer a different opinion, which is you just cannot tell what you're going to get (unless you know the instructor already) when you sign up for a class, no matter where it was. i can only speak for the 92nd street y and gotham, and i had wildly different experiences in them both. my gotham class- beginning fiction- was wonderful, and by that, i mean the instructor was wonderful. most all of the students were writing very genre-y fiction and needed a lot of help, but i did meet one writer in class and we really bonded - we like each other's writing, and we send stuff to each other still and have coffee every once in awhile (this is 3 years after the class). the teacher was one of the best writing teachers i've ever had, and she wrote recommendations for me. i am also still in touch with her. now, contrast that with the 92nd street y- my workshop had quite a few very talented writers, but the teacher was less than satisfactory. she's somewhat famous, and from the looks of the catalog, not teaching there right now. it was definitely disappointing. anyway, the only point i have is that it's kind of a gamble. sign up for a couple classes if you can at different places and see how you feel about the instructors. hopefully something will work out!

Anonymous said...

If you're considering taking a continuing-ed course at the New School, I'd highly recommend Robert Lopez's class -- he teaches experimental/progressive fiction. The class is great, he's great, and the most of the students there were great, too. He wrote rec letters for some of the students, and he really gave my work a lot of attention when he critiqued it. So, FYI.

(I also took a summer course with Gotham and thought it was okay.)

Anonymous said...

i'm the person who's going to cornell who posted earlier. i got a recommendation from an online short story instructor at mediabistro. he's my first fiction teacher and i still haven't met him. :)

Anonymous said...

I've gotten recommendations from instructors in UC Berkeley's online extension program. I think -- like most other posters have mentioned -- it really comes down to the instructor rather than the school. If you take a course where you like the instructor (either online or in person), seems like it wouldn't be a bad idea to ask for a rec.

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