Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rejection as Experience

Meliorated in Mass writes in...

Last spring, my nine fiction MFA applications were answered by nine unremarkable rejection letters. To be fair, I filled my list with competitive schools, (Johns Hopkins, Brown, and Michener to name a few). After a brief period of abject mourning, I made a resolution that I would do everything I could to produce a blindingly brilliant application for the next application cycle. I've finally managed to scrape up some writing cohorts for crit-trades, am producing work like mad, reading lots, and going into debt in order to attend my first writing conference (at your MFA alma mater, by the way). This is not to mention the continuous writing-work I've done since sending out my apps last winter.

My question is one that I suspect you've answered before, but please bear with me if you can. Should I include what I've gone through in my personal statements? Obviously, schools I will be applying to for the first time don't need to hear it. But might those I still have my eye on, like Brown and Michigan, be interested in a report of my efforts and dedication as long as it's accompanied by new, breathtaking writing samples?

Or does it not matter at all?

It matters, MiM. Definitely don't do it.

If I'm at, say, Michigan, I'd hear that as "I didn't get into Iowa, so I'm applying at your school this time around." Don't mention previous rejections at all.

Show your effort and dedication to writing, not to applying to MFA programs. Rock on.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Relax, man. Take a few years off. Try to publish a couple of stories and then apply again. It's not like applying to a law school or MBA program...

Anonymous said...

hey, i was rejected by 9 schools my first time around as well. i was crushed, but at the same time it was a hugely positive reality check. i applied again (to 9 for some reason--but no iowa this time) the next year and got into 2. i suppose the difference the second time through was the fact that i realized what a ridiculous experience it all was, impossibly fickle. so there ya go. good luck.

Anxious Latecomer said...

Hey Tom, I think MiM meant to ask whether he should mention the issue to schools he's ALREADY been rejected by, not to new ones, as you seem to imply in your reply. However, I'm nit-picking here. The main point is the same: don't mention it. I remember something mentioned in some MFA book (do you know which one I'm talking about ;) -- Don't have any qualms about reapplying to the same school: if your application didn't make it to the final stages, they won't remember you, and therefore it won't matter; if it did make it to their final rounds, they will remember you -- with fondness. Which works to your advantage. Also, it shows your determination. Back to the original point, MiM, and to paraphrase the old but true cliche: show them your determination, don't tell them about it. :)

BlueVelveeta said...

Hey there, I just wanted to add an anecdote and a suggested article: a former poetry professor (who is himself the editor of a well-known lit mag) told me recently that one of his most promising students, for whom he wrote a glowing recommendation, was unanimously rejected from every school she applied to last year. Painful as it must be (I won't even begin to get my rejection letters until 2007), you have clearly earned from this experience a renewed dedication to your writing. What's better than that?

The article I mentioned, which appears in the Jan/Feb issue of Poets & Writers, is titled "Imperative: Finding Community Outside of Academia" (here's the url for the letters written in response: http://www.pw.org/mag/0603/letters.htm). While I don't agree with Hollander on all points, I do think that his suggestions for engaging with your community as a sort of supplemental MFA program, as well as his comments on the admissions process, are worth considering. Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mention the rejections. But what they spurred -- the renewed dedication, the commitment, the focus -- you sure as hell want to mention that. Just don't tell them where it came from! :)

Anonymous said...

I think this is common sense, but nobody really mentions except Tom...how about applying to some bigger programs and some lesser known schools. I see too many lists here with Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, etc. There are a lot of other solid programs out there. With that being said, I will be applying to schools and the fall, and I will most definately include a wide array of schools, not just the top 5 or so. I think we need to be realistic.

Anonymous said...

what's wrong with having your sights set on the iowas and michigans? I applied to only the best schools because I wanted to work with the best and be the best. You can always reapply.

Anonymous said...

I understand where you are coming from, but there needs to be a certain realistic approach also. Why not applying to five good, respectable programs and five of the higher tier ones? Writing is extremely subjective, and if you choose these top tier programs you might set yourself up for disappointment again. Why not some balance?

TJ said...

I think there might be some truth in that--the idea of building in maybe 2 or 3 (or 4) "safety schools" that might not have as high standards as the Iowas. A sort of chill went down my spine when I read that a couple of talented promising applicants applied to nine schools and were rejected by all nine.

I guess the only thing that might prevent someone from applying to an addition three or four "lower tier" (yet still respectable) schools would be the increased cost (upwards of a couple hundred bucks) and of course the added burden on your rec-letter writers to put a few extra copies in the mail. Curious to know if anyone else has employed this "safe-bet method," (probably a patent misnomer in light of this being a finally subjective process) or if it's just the case that people "go for broke" and let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

Would you be satisfied going to those low tier 'safety schools'? I cringe when I see people writing in asking whether they should include new programs or obscure third tier programs that no one's ever heard of. I realize that people have families and situations that limit their applications, but if you're young and single and there's nothing tying you down to any particular city then what's the rush? And good writing is not necessarily subjective. Almost everyone I know that got accepted to the Iowas and Michigans got an acceptance or a waitlist at another top school. I believe that is much less common for someone to get into Iowa and not to get into any of their other schools.

Anonymous said...

It really seems like a subjective process. I wouldn't read too much into rejections if you feel you've put your best work forward. At the time of my applications, I belonged to a program in college that provided me with enough cash to apply to four schools. I needed to stay in NYC and was rejected by all but Columbia, which my last choice. I was actually hoping to get into a CUNY. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Because Columbia would like to torture you for tuition, but unfortunately it's illegal.

jaywalke said...

Reality check.

This obsession with ranking seems odd to me. Because the MFA is such a subjective degree, does it really matter where you go? Won't your experience be completly dictated by circumstances beyond your control (e.g. workshop leader and fellow students).

I think the MFA in CW (like most artistic degrees) is solely what you make of it. Yes, a few people may have heard of Iowa. Beyond that, who freaking cares?

I come to writing from the world of theatre, and there are a lot of similarities. If you read your program at a Broadway show, you will find people only mention if they graduated from Yale, Tisch (NYU) or Northwestern. Carnegie Mellon is a distant fourth. Beyond that, and even including those, NO ONE CARES. If you can do the role, you're great. If you can't, no one will ever hear of you. You don't need a degree. See above, under NO ONE CARES.

Likewise, if you can write well no one cares where (or if) you got an MFA. The writing is the true test, not the silly letters after your name.

I went to a theatre school that no one knows. However, I have managed to carve out a career, and I saw a few fellow alums on the Tony broadcast the other night. What we learned is much more important than where we learned it.

If you feel a need to get an MFA, just go somewhere and make the most of it. You will either make it or you won't. Either way, it's your doing, not some specious ranking . . .

Anonymous said...

notsopithy, where are you hiding? you don't want to be the top dog any more?

Anonymous said...

It is rumored that notsopithy is hiding here at http://www.fearfulleader.blogspot.com/

Ad Blaster said...

Some people must make a good career of clumsiness.They couldn't be so good at it by accident." W.G.P"