Monday, September 24, 2007

Mailbag for Monday, September 24

It's a totally new Monday and it's mailbag time. Questions? Concerns? Musings? Just ask. Cheers!


John said...
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John said...

I have a GRE question, if you don't mind ... I'm taking the test this Saturday in preparation for sending out MFA applications this fall, and, although not all of the programs I'm applying to require the GRE, enough do that I'm taking it seriously. At least, as seriously as I can. The problem is that I am godawful at math ... I always have been, and I always will be. I'm trying to re-learn (or just learn!> some basics before the exam, but it's not going particularly well. I've concluded that I can only do so much with it in the time I have remaining ...

My question, then, is: how much should I worry about that? I have no worries about the verbal component of the test, but I'll be lucky to score 250 on the math. Do MFA programs typically just rely on the aggregate score or will they cut me some slack and note that I max out my verbal score and simply suck at math?

Thanks for any input!

Luke said...

Don't worry about it. It's pretty well known that no one really gives a crap about the math score. I have a friend who's chair of the English department at his school, and he says they get GRE score reports with a 0 on math (applicants who didn't even bother to take the math section, obviously) all the time, and it doesn't hurt them one bit.

Great White Cory said...

Question on Letters of recommendation:

It's been 5 years since I went got my Bachelor's, and while I had pretty good relationships with teachers at the time and had very good grades, five years have caused me to lose a lot of essays and may have caused them to forgot just who the heck I am. When requesting letters of recommendation, should I (slyly, of course) include some sort of reference picture? Also, if I don't have any work from that class to remind them that, yes, you did give me "A's" on papers, should I send stuff from another class? Finally, should I send my creative work to them or are they there for the strict academic side?

Thanks so much!

S&M said...

Questions from a beginner:

I dont plan on applying to a program for another year and a half or so, but want to start deciding what school would be right for me.

what sort of questions should I be asking myself when looking at mfa programs.

Jensen Whelan said...

Hi there,

First, thanks, you guys, for putting together such a great blog. It's such an incredible resource. I'm beginning the application process to for Fall '08 and have been making good use of this site. So thanks. Also, the book is great, Tom! I finally got a copy.


This may have been already answered. I know the book addresses it. I'll appeal to the collective expertise here, anyway, though.

When submitting a writing sample, do you include a title page? This is how I generally submit stories (if I am wrong to do this, it would explain a lot about why I'm not publishing as often as I should!) Or should I just put the story's title at the top of the first page. Also, obviously paginated is the way to go, but what about a header with last name and title of the story?

Maybe there are no rules here. And yes, I am fully aware that I am over-thinking this.

Thanks for your help. No doubt I'll have more questions as get further and further into the process.


John said...

Thanks for the GRE advice, Luke! What a relief!

I have another question for any takers ... A couple of the programs I hope to apply to require, instead of a single Personal Statement, an Autobiographical Statement and a separate Statement of Purpose, the only direction for which seems to be that it should be "more academic in focus" than the Autobiographical Statement.

Any idea what exactly the admissions officers are looking for in this sort of Statement of Purpose? Something more formal that simply explains what my academic intention for the degree is? Any suggestions?

Thanks for any advice!

Jensen Whelan said...


just thought i'd echo what luke already said here. i get the impression that the gre math scores aren't really counted for much. the gre is such a racket! pay 150 dollars for a standardized test that our programs aren't really even going to look at. something seems wrong about the whole system. it's a waste of money, if you ask me, and just a formality.

i took it just last month and studied kind of a lot for the math. i really didn't want to embarrass myself. instead i ended up with so-so scores on both math and verbal. higher than i could have done on math, but lower on verbal. i've been living abroad for 8 years and my english vocab isn't what it used to be. i should have practiced. do do some math review. i used the princeton book and it was pretty good. also, my sister-in-law teaches elementary school and i took a look a book (hello dr. suess!)called "everything your sixth grader needs to know" or something. the math section was pretty good. it's designed for parents who need a refresher on math, history, grammar, that kind of thing.

anyway, don't stress it. study, do the practice tests, don't ignore the verbal. you really won't get a 250. honestly. it's not that hard.

greg said...

"he says they get GRE score reports with a 0 on math (applicants who didn't even bother to take the math section, obviously) all the time, and it doesn't hurt them one bit."

Is this true??!! I'm taking the GRE in a month - can I really just forget about studying for the math portion? That would help a great deal.

Vince said...

You need to take a good look at the different programs when it comes to the GRE. The GRE is also used by many programs as a determining factor in awarding teaching assistantships. That's why people worry about doing well on the verbal portion...mostly.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

do *not* title-page your stories... name on contact information on upper left-hand corner, word count on upper right hand corner. it's too early for me to look up the formatting link on google, but it's googleable.

Jensen Whelan said...

thanks for the tips, m.!


s said...
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s said...

What would you consider too short for an application story? Should I shy away from sending a 2-3 page story that I consider very strong along with some longer ones?

Thanks, ladies & gents!

Ashley said...

I have another question to add to the reference letter pile. The story kind of goes like this: I went to an arts high school, where we spent half of every day with dedicated arts teachers and classes. My fiction teacher, who I had a pretty great relationship with at the time, is now a somewhat big name. I have been out of college now for two and a half years (so out of high school that much longer!), and corresponded with him only briefly.

Since I have decided to try for an MFA, we have exchanged several friendly E-mails about general things, and he's given some advice on schools to look at, schools to avoid, etc. But nothing has been mentioned about a possible letter of rec. It is true that he has not read anything of my work in something like six years. Do you advise that I should just forget soliciting him as a reference? Or do you think there is a polite and not too uncomfortable way of getting him on board? I'd hate, also, for him to think I'm just trying to get a letter out of him as, when I first started writing to him, it didn't even cross my mind. I realize I'm probably worrying about this entirely too much.

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Lizzy said...
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Lizzy said...

The GRE thing can be tricky though. I agree that a low math score probably won't kill your chances in the eyes of the program, but the graduate school may have certain requirements for admittance. It's porbably worth your while to prepare as much as you can.

Lizzy said...


About SOPs and such, check out our collection of past tips:

Lizzy said...


I think your ex-teacher probably would love to help you. Write him a brief, friendly note asking whether he feels up to it, whether he's got time now and whether he needs to see a recent writing sample from you. Give him an out: let him know you understand if he can't right now. Thank him for his time.

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