Monday, May 22, 2006

Visiting Programs Before Applying?

Old Scribe of the Ozarks has some nice words for the blog, and we thank him for that. He also writes...

Like most members, I'll be applying to a variety of MFA programs around
the United States very soon. My current instructors believe it's
important to visit these schools before applying. Not only does this give
prospective students a chance to see where they may be living for the
next 2-4 years, it allows them to hopefully meet with those individuals
associated with the program (such as current instructors and department
heads). The problem I have is that this could be an immense undertaking
financially. Let's speak the truth here: it's not cheap to get around
anymore. Gas prices are on the move, of course, and it's not cheap to fly
anymore either. When you consider the cost of traveling all over the
nation added in with the expense of applying to graduate programs, it
could get out of hand really quick.

I suppose one solution is to wait and see what program(s) actually accept
me before traveling to the campus for a visit. But I'm concerned that
there won't be enough time. And even if there is, just traveling to
places like Iowa, Arizona, and Texas from the middle of the U.S. can get
expensive. What do most applicants suggest? What should I do to make the
best use of my time and money?

Ozark, this traveling plan sounds good in theory, but I think it's a waste of resources in practice. While yes, you may stumble across a program or a town/city that you fall in love with, what are the chances that you'll necessarily be accepted there?

You know, come to think of it, I actually did this before I applied. I checked out UMass and Brown, and NYU, and Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth. But I was taking that trip with my girlfriend anyways. I actually did learn a lot: The two faculty I met at Brown were snobbish, NYU seemed overwhelming to me. I liked UMass, and Virginia Commonwealth seemed underfunded.

So, I know this seems to contradict some of my own experience, but I'd save your money, do your research, and if your travels take you near a place, by all means, go and visit. Faculty and students are not likely to go out of their way to show you around etc. if you're only thinking about applying to the program, unless they know you through another person.

Apply to 8-12 programs, Ozark. See where you're accepted. Then do your visiting. Otherwise, to my mind, it's a little cart-before-the-wheel action. Rock on.


Anonymous said...

This is Ozark.

I laughed aloud at your comments about Brown's MFA Program. I studied under the late James Whitehead while I was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas. I once heard him remark that Brown's MFA program "sucked." I approached Jim about this and asked why he would say such a thing (I thought he was being heavy-handed). He looked straight at me and replied, "Brown's MFA program does suck."

Now I log on here and see this. Makes you wonder what's going on at Brown.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tom's advice, but just wanted to add that, once you're accepted, do visit. There's nothing like the first-hand experience you'll get there. After hanging out with faculty and students for a couple of hours, you'll get to know a lot (good and perhaps not so good) about the program in question.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the assistance. I'm curious how much time I may have to visit the school after I'm accepted.

Also, I didn't mean to offend anyone related to Brown's MFA program. It's just that I've never heard anything positive about it. But it's ranked in the top 20, so someone out there is pleased...

Anonymous said...

If they really want you, some programs will fly you out for a visit, all expenses paid. I'll list the programs that I (or my friends) have had experience with: Michigan, Washington University, and UT-Michener Center. Iowa will fly out their big fellowship winners, like the Capote fellows. I'm guessing other programs may pay for accepted students to visit, but these are the programs I know for sure.

The whole process is such a crapshoot. I agree with Tom: see where you're accepted, and then visit. You should have at least a month to travel to schools. If you're worried about fitting in visits, only apply to schools that notify early, say late February to early March. Check out the Poets & Writers Speakeasy MFA forum to see when programs notify.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

You can also check out It lists acceptance/rejection dates for grad programs by date added--go to "results" and then just look under "c" for creative writing programs.

Kowdog said...

I'm applying to Brown. Why does it suck?