Saturday, July 21, 2007
Breaking the Rules #1: Apply to Many Schools
This is the first of a series of posts I wanted to write about MFA application rules and when to break them. I broke a lot of rules when I applied, and I somehow managed so I wanted to offer my perspective.
Rule #1: Apply to Many Schools of Different Sizes
This is a generally good idea if you REALLY need to get in this year. But keep in mind that unlike other professional degrees, there's a much bigger age and background gap for MFA's. Also, it never hurts to get more life experience before doing your degree. So if you like your life and can stand to wait, I think it's not out of the question only to apply to a select few schools.
In my case, because I was thinking of possibly doing an academic PhD after my MFA, I focused on schools that also had good English departments. I also wanted to go to a school that has a lively academic community outside of creative writing. All my schools fell into this category, except for Iowa, which I applied to mainly because I wanted to see if I could get in (I didn't). So I applied to Cornell, Michigan, Johns Hopkins, Brown, Michener Center, and Iowa.
Crazy, right? No safeties, with the highest acceptance rate being Iowa. But I had a great job in New York that gave me a lot of flexibility in terms of working on my writing. Also, I knew that I'd be miserable if I couldn't take high-calibre geeky lit classes. And let's face it, I went to Harvard for undergrad so I'm a big snob. So this is what I did. And even if I didn't get in the first time, I would have gladly done it again, and possibly again.
Luckily, Cornell was nice enough to take me. I was a short-story imbecile at the time (still am in a lot of ways) but was lucky enough to work with Alice McDermoott at Sewanee, who gave me extensive comments on revising the two stories I applied with. And the rest is history. This leads me to a preview of Rule #2, which I will tackle next time: Apply to schools for the program and not the faculty.