Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Age-Old Issue

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your great blog. It's helped me feel less like an
apprehensive little ice floe floating along on its own, more like a
mighty icebreaker cutting through the cold, cold sea of MFA ice.

As an older (38) MFA applicant this fall, I guess I can't help
wondering whether I'm past my prime for the typical MFA crowds and
whether I won't feel all out of place and sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb-y among the 23-year-olds fresh out of college.

That you know of, how common is the presence of older students in the typical MFA program? And how about my chances for admission? Will I be at a disadvantage because of my age? Are there any programs that you recommend in particular for older folk?

Any thoughts you can share on this issue will be most welcome. Thanks so much in advance.

~Old Fogey


OF, my guess is that you'll want to narrow your list down to about fifteen schools and then maybe email those programs and see what the age range is. I know at UMass we had everyone from 22 to 50. I definitely understand your situation: I wouldn't want to be 38 and hanging out with all 24 year olds.

The average age in MFA programs, and this is Man-Facting by about a dozen collegues of mine, is around 28. But that will vary from place to place. Don't make that an early criterion, but keep it in mind before you apply.


The Gamehole's Blog said...

At the last residency at Bennington, one of the administrative staff told me the current average age was 37. I'm guessing it might skew slightly higher for low-res programs as a whole, though.


Bhavin said...

I wouldnt worry about 38. I'm an MFA in Poetry at south carolina, and in our workshop most of the people are in their late twenties I believe. There are a few 30-somethings, and one 50-something, so it isn't out of the ordinary to have a mix of ages.

rtperson said...

I was 38 when I came to FSU for my MFA, and while I'm older than the average, I've never felt odd or out of place about it. The benefit to waiting this long was that I got to spend more time honing my fiction chops with my mentor in New York, as well as getting more life experience along the way. I actually think I'm in a better position than someone who starts an MFA right out of undergrad, if only because I have a better sense of just how tough the writing life can be.

In fact, I'm not even close to the oldest person in the Creative Writing program -- a friend of mine in the Ph.D. program is over 60. I don't think anyone treats her differently because of her age. We all connect as writers.

KLynn said...

I'm 41, starting my second year at Iowa, and I'm not even the oldest in my class; there are two people in their 50s. Our class is supposed to be skewed older, but I think it's because we mess up the curve. :)

Most of the first-years I've met so far seem to be fairly recently out of undergrad, but there are a good number of 30-somethings too. There are also a few people here with spouses and kids, which is nice.

As an older student, I probably do stick out in some ways -- I have a decent apartment, for example, and I'm rarely seen at the bars -- but I knew that was going to be the case when I chose the traditional route over the low-res route.

Numbers help also: Iowa's one of the larger programs, and I'd think that in such programs you're bound to find some folks who have things in common with you.

I do agree with rtperson that, at the very least, our bond as writers connects us regardless of age. My classmates may be young, but they've taught me a LOT about writing and the writing life.

Sarahlynn said...

I am applying to MFA programs as a 32 year old, and I can't imagine doing it any earlier. My main frustration is the amount of emphasis many programs' websites place on undergrad GPA (both the department criteria and the grad school criteria).

My work in Organic Chemistry as a 19-year-old is simply not all that relevant to the workshopping, reading, and writing I've been doing for the last 10+ years.

Unknown said...

I am an older student in an MFA program, in my mid forties and it has thus far been a difficult experience. There is a strong drinking and socializing culture that I cannot participate in because of health issues and also because, I outgrew staying up and drinking until 2:00 in the morning. I am a published writer and resisted getting an MFA for years because I saw that workshops could be damaging to writers. Well, I needed an MFA to get out from those pink ghetto office jobs and caved in. However, workshopping with 23 year olds has been depressing and I find negative to the process of how I write. Any other "older" writers in an MFA program experiencing this?

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