Monday, November 12, 2007

Mailbag for November 14, 2007

Hey! Psst...Psst! it's time for a newly redesigned mailbag. Questions? Concerns? Musings? Just ask.

56 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Regarding the writing sample: If I have two stories, say at 10 pages and 20 pages, and the application asks for something like 25 pages maximum, is it acceptable to submit an excerpt from one of the stories, and list it as such? I would be in fear of going over the maximum, but I also don't know if "Excerpt from . . ." would look bad.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

Edit the 20-page story as best you can and submit both. 30 pages for a 25-page writing sample is barely acceptable, but of the 100-something stories I've workshopped in my life, only about 10% of those didn't need any cutting.

Phillina said...

Hi, I would like to apply for an MFA program in the UK. Unfortunately, I will have trouble getting recommendations--not only has it been quite awhile (6 years) since I've been in school, I also had a rather shambolic undergrad career. Am I hopeless?

Musée des Beaux Arts said...

Are there any part-time MFA programs in NYC besides for the one at NYU? I'm having a baby in the spring (yay!) and working full-time, so want to keep my class schedule just one night per week. (Low-res programs are probably out because I need to be at work every day in January.) I don't want to apply to just one program, but NYU seems like the only one that fits.

Quality Control said...

Does anyone know anything about the University of British Columbia's program in Vancouver? It's kind of the odd-man out on my list right now — not sure what complications would be expected when hopping the border. But...anyone know anything?

Kevin said...

I'm in a similar position to Phillina. I've been out of school for almost a decade, was not an english major, and had a solid but not stellar GPA. Would I just be wasting my time applying to an MFA program, or is the writing sample really what makes or breaks an applicant?

mummy licker said...

Hi Musee,

Why don't you look into Hunter? I'm not sure what their policy is on part-time students, but I know that all classes happen at night, and the program is pretty affordable.

Brittany said...

Kevin,

Most MFA programs don't require you to have been an English major in undergrad, nor do they care too much about your GPA. Your writing sample counts for about 90% of your application, and then next two important things are your personal statement and letters of recommendation.

So it's not hopeless, you should definitely apply if and when you get a good portfolio together. Good luck!

Rambler said...

Okay, here's the deal:

I am a high school English teacher. I really want to write. I'd also love to teach college at some point. What I really, really want to learn, at this stage of the game though, is how to write. But I can also see myself wanting to get a Ph.D. in Literature at some future date. I have a master's in education. Should I pursue an MA in English or an MFA in creative writing?
(One program I'm looking at is an MA with a creative thesis that also offers creative writing classes. Enough? Or no?)
I've taken many workshops and love the atmosphere, but I also want a strong literature background, as well.
Please advise.

Margosita said...

I'm just looking for information about the University of San Francisco. Anyone else interested in it? Attended the program? Heard anything through the grapevine?
Thanks!

BreadCity said...

I'm currently in my first year of a fiction MFA at Brooklyn College, and would love to do a workshop abroad this summer. Do you know of any programs out there that offer this? So far all I've been able to find is one in Mexico sponsored by University of New Orleans. Thanks for your help!

Pensive495 said...

I know that there are many supplements to MFA applicants that are more important than the GRE, but I'm still a little anxious. I'm in an odd situation where I scored a 760 on the math and only a 510 on the verbal. Does it matter enough that I should retake the GRE? I've read that it's more for the actual graduate school than the dept., but at some of the better schools where they ask for the test, will a 510 cut it? It's been bothering me a while, I hope someone can help:)

Bolivia Red said...

Pensive495
You're so ok. Quit sweating that score. 760 in math? Nice. They don't care about that score. They care about the writing sample, and then the SOP, and then the recommendations. Only then do they bother to look at the GRE score, if they even do. You're right that it's mostly fulfilling some grad school or English department requirements to consider giving you a TAship, and if the MFA program wants you, you'll be fine. 510 isn't so bad.

Put that time spent sweating into your writing sample, and the cash you are thinking of so generously donating to the GRE people into another application or a relaxing glass of vino instead.

Samara said...

I'm kind of freaking out here. Three people have said they'll write me recommendations. Two of them I'm not worried about. The third said he'd do it but hasn't responded to my last couple of emails (I've sent him the forms and everything already)and I'm panicking over whether I should ask a back up to do it--I'm hoping to get my applications in in the next three weeks or so! I'm worried my 3rd recommender is just too busy. He's a big name and I don't want to be a pest. At the same time I'm so afraid I'll end up one rec short...I guess this isn't really a question, more of a panic attack. He would have told me if he changed his mind, right?

Bolivia Red said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bolivia Red said...

breadcity:

Check out the Prague Summer program at Western Michigan. That looks awesome. San Diego State U offers a summer abroad to London and Italy, though I don't know if those are open to everyone. U New Orleans used to offer programs in Europe. You might check them out again and see if there are other options.

I'm without my Poets & Writers stack, but I remember lots of MFA program ads offering summer programs. Might be worth flipping through a few.

Jill said...

I could use a hand... I have been out of school for a dozen years, working in politics and doing a lot of writing for others. Am now interested in applying for MFA programs, but just not even sure where to begin. I have a decent portfolio of things I have worked on over the years, but i have never done any continuing ed or anything like that. I am concerned that I don't ahev enough creative writing experience/knowledge to do this. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Lizzy said...

rambler,

if you're sure you want a PhD in lit at some point, i'd try to look for either an MA or an MFA program with a strong lit bent. FSU's program, for instance, requires work in literature toward the MFA degree. I'm not sure what other programs there are out there that take this approach, but maybe some of of the other contributors here can speak to that.

since your primary interest right now is writing, i'd only consider the MA if you're sure that you want the PhD in lit farther down the road. in fact, even in that case, i'd probably go for the MFA--just making sure along the way that i picked a program with a strong lit component.

Lizzy said...

dear pensive,

i have just three words for you. en. gin. eering.

no, just kidding. actually, i think that if your writing sample is strong enough, that 510 is not going to keep you from getting into *most* programs. a stellar writing sample trumps just about everything.

however, as you know, the 510 may keep you from being admitted by graduate schools if they have certain cutoff points. also some cw programs may use the scores to give out fellowships, TAs, etc.

of course that's just my take on this.

best of luck.

Gustavo Llarull said...

Samara: Make sure you get three letters; at a minimum --but a NECESSARY minimum -- three letters from virtually anybody. I know, this is NOT ideal, but it's better to have three letters from, say, former bosses unrelated to writing, than a potential letter from a big name that doesn't come through. So do work on getting those back-ups. If the big name eventually comes through, great. But if s/he doesn't, you shouldn't let that screw up your dossier. Remember that the letters are not supposed to address how great your writing is -- if they like your sample, you're in; if they don't, you're out, even if a big name says you're fantastic. The letters are basically to make sure you can gather three people who can say you're a good player. As a side note, I couldn't find ANY recommender who taught at a Creative Writing program or anything remotely related to that. And well, I'm in my first year at UMass-Amherst now... which takes me to

Jill: previous experience is not required. Don't worry about that. It's the writing sample that matters. I know of many people who were out in the "real world" (???) doing things unrelated to writing for years, then wrote a couple of pieces, applied to MFA programs, and got in.

elisabeth said...

i've just decided to put off applications for one more year, while i update my portfolio (i haven't written much since getting my bfa three years ago) and find a stronger recommender. i'd like to take a class or two and join a writing roup in chicago. any chicago-area writers with thoughts on storystudio chicago, or another local writing center? how about suggestions for where to find good workshops to join?

thanks!

melee said...

On most of my applications, there's a little box that says something like "Anything else you would like for the Graduate School to consider?" Are they asking for my personal statement again? Even if I'm already going to send it to the actual department?

rebekah said...

Elisabeth -

U of Chicago has some continuing education courses that meet once a month for 2 or 3 months. I believe it's through the Graham school. I am planning on taking one on contemporary poetry in Jan. and Feb. They also have several workshops offered throughout the year.

neoconvict said...

I've spent the last 2 evenings wired to this blog, but haven't found what I was searching for. It's been fun, nonetheless, and beats talking to my cat, who provides unreliable information. I'm searching for playwriting MFA program information. Any suggestions on online guides, blogs, lists, etc? AWP seems to give some info, but the site is incomplete if doing a playwriting search. Are playwrights really so different from the rest of the MFA crowd?

rebekah said...

oops, I meant the classes meet once a week for 2 or 3 months.

Victoria said...

Does anyone have advice for writing essays in responses to a work of literature? Columbia requires this as part of its application; not sure if any other programs do. Any tips/guidelines for which work to pick and how to go about writing it? I assume the essay should be more personal rather than an essay you'd submit to a literature class. Any suggestions?

mtm said...

Regarding recommendations: Is it wise to get a rec from a creative writing professor in a different genre? I am a fiction application who has taken a lot of poetry lately, mainly because my particular school's poetry offerings are quite renowned, while its fiction program is so-so. So... in one corner I have an young adjunct in poetry who adores me and I adored her workshop; in the other corner is a (somewhat well-known) fiction professor who thinks I'm great, but to be honest I didn't really like her workshop. I'm thinking of going with the poet (for my application to fiction programs). Bad idea?

Mike Valente said...

mtm -

sounds like you're trying to decide between your third and final rec. if so, then you must have some pretty solid recs already as your first two, so this third one shouldn't be a huge concern. if the fiction prof does think highly of you, then she'd probably write a stellar rec anyway, regardless of what you thought of her workshop.

though to be honest, i have no idea what a program would think if they read a rec from a poetry prof for a fiction candidate.

mike valente

Anne said...

Margosita re: USF -- are you in poetry or fiction? I don't know the fiction people there, but I believe D.A. Powell still teaches there in poetry, and he's an absolutely amazing teacher.

You shouldn't go somewhere only because of one faculty member, of course, so gather more information. But I didn't see any other answers for you so I figured I'd threw in what I know.

Gustavo Llarull said...

Neoconvict:

The Michener Center at UT Austin gives some preeminence to play-writing -- I'm not sure whether you can get an MFA in drama, though, but it's worth checking out. UC Riverside also has some MFA-related drama things... Well, I'm beginning to sound like your cat...

mummy licker said...

regarding the statement of purpose, should it be double-spaced?

Luke said...

I accidentally uploaded the wrong statement of purpose to one of the schools I'm applying to. It had another's school's name and the name of its literary journal in it. I hate myself.

She-Ra said...

How far in advance did you guys contact your potential recommenders? I'm applying to several low-res programs, and the deadline for the first one is 2-1. I already have two people in mind who I know would do it without a problem. The third one is a bit trickier for me. Is the week after Thanksgiving too early to ask, about right, or kind of late?

She-Ra said...

One more question about recommenders. I know a former writing coach who would do it, and I'm confident my boss would do it as well. I'm a journalist, so my editor could talk about my writing and my ability to juggle assignments. When it comes to the academic world, a couple of professors come to mind, but I've been out of school for nearly 10 years. I think they would remember me as a good writer, but as far as specifics go, I can't imagine they'd remember a lot. Some of my schools require two letters, and others require three. For those that require two, who would you recommend I submit out of the boss, the writing coach, and the professor? Thanks in advance for your advice.

Lizzy said...

she-ra:

boss for sure. then writing coach, then professor (assuming writing coach has a fresher, more vivid impression of you).

Caroline said...
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Caroline said...

I applied last year to a bunch of schools and was rejected or wait listed. So I'm applying again this year to some of the same schools and would like to recycle parts of last year's statement of purpose (which I really liked)-- like the introduction, conclusion, parts of the middle... Okay, so most of my SOP. I was just going to add some stuff about the writing things I've been doing this past year and take out the parts that are no longer relevant. Do you think this is a bad idea? Last year's SOP was mostly about why I write and that hasn't changed... Thanks!

Raina said...
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Raina said...

This is somewhat MFA related, but...

I received a comp registration for the 2008 AWP conference. (I still haven't figured out who's done this yet...) I haven't decided if I am applying for MFA programs for Fall 2008 or 2009.

Do you think I should use this conference as a means of research and wait to apply for Fall 2009?

Do you think it would be beneficial to go and network with potential schools or could they care less? I have no idea what really happens at the conference.

I've been taking a portfolio course this semester, so I do have a portfolio ready, as well as recommendations. I've yet to take the GREs. And I do have a list of schools, which include:
Washington (St. Louis), Vanderbilt, NYU, Virginia Commonwealth, Temple, UNC - Greensboro, Hunter College, South Illinois Carbondale, Indiana, Alabama, Pitt, etc.

Any advice would be helpful!

Bolivia Red said...

mummy-
Single spaced.

Bolivia Red said...

Caroline,
Since some schools let you recycle parts of the app if you're trying again, it's probably ok to use some of last year's SOP. At the very least, though, you need a paragraph stating all the new, shiny things you learned this past year and how you're writing has improved. It should probably also show that gosh-darn-it, you want this MFA thing even more than ever, and the extra year has only made your passion for writing stronger.

If you were wait-listed at a school, you need to say so. If they gave you any advice or comments on why ultimately you weren't chosen, note that you acted on it and worked to improve your writing (and chances of being accepted outright).

It couldn't hurt to do some tweaking/rephrasing/reframing of the old parts of the SOP in terms of this past year's experience if it's possible.

Bolivia Red said...

Raina,

Of course you're going to go to AWP, whether you apply this year or not. It's going to be a great conference.

If you feel ready to apply--and by ready, I mean your recommenders have letters already written, just waiting for you to hand them pre-addressed envelopes; your portfolio is polished and you feel confident about the content; you have a solid SOP completed and you feel that you also have time to personalise for each program; you have the next month or so free to crank out those apps (don't forget you need to order and send transcripts, and do the individual university apps as well as the MFA program stuff); and that GRE isn't going to be a problem for you to take NEXT WEEK so you can get the scores sent out in time for 1 January deadlines--you're set to go for applying for this next year (2008). (That's not meant to put you off but merely to ensure that the effort involved doesn't come as a surprise.)

Then you can go to AWP and meet the people in the program and get the inside scoop. This can't hurt although it's not a guarantee of anything. We worked hard to impress a few of our top applicants last year in Atlanta. AWP's a lot earlier this year, but I imagine many schools will have made their first picks.

If you don't feel ready to apply, here's where AWP can be helpful. You'll have the opportunity to chat up students in the program and decide if it's a good fit. Often you can also talk to the faculty, though they'll be busy networking and catching up with their colleagues and such. You will be able to catch a reading or a talk by faculty. If the program has a magazine, you can check it out, see what opportunities are available, and sample the final product.

The conference offerings are also well worth attending, since they can give you a lot of inspiration and direction in your writing and career. And you can check out just what it is you're getting yourself into and get a taste of whether this is something you really want to pursue.

So, either way, plan to attend.
If you don't feel confident about your portfolio or ready to apply, the extra year would be beneficial to work on your writing, get a little life experience, and think about how much you want this. (And if you're still in school right now, I highly recommend a little break.)

Chelsea said...

I was looking for a mailbag for the 19th because I finally have a question. I figure everyone is off enjoying the holiday, but thought I'd ask now just the same:

My writing sample is 20 pages, which hits the exact limit most schools I'm applying to ask for. I feel comfortable sending the 20 pages to schools with 30-page limits, too. But Michigan's limit is 40. I was wondering how sending half the limit looks: Like I don't have enough good writing? Like I'm being over-confident? How might this move be received?

Thanks.

TheRant said...

Chelsea,

I had this same concern a little while back and I was lucky enough to stumble across Steve Almond's article "Confessions of an MFA Application Reader" which is posted in its entirety under P&W MFA ToolKit link on the right hand side of this blog's homepage. Almond states in that article:

"Less is, in fact, more. I often came across applications with one very strong story and one weaker story. All this second story did was water down my impression of the first. Quality trumps quantity, every time. There is no law against submitting a 15-page story, even if the limit is 30. To be honest, most readers (this one at least) will be grateful. We won't assume you don't have other good stories. We'll just assume you have confidence in your best work."

So according to Almond's insider opinion, you can get away with less, as long as your samples are strong. Hope that helps.

TheRant said...

Now for a question of my own:

Can you apply for a TA position after your first year or first semester in a program?

As a former teacher, I want to try for TA position if I am accepted into a program, but I'm a little worried about applying for one on the application. The reasons why I'm worried are 1. I do not have good GRE scores (the GRE is required for most applicants applying for a TA position) and 2. I don't want those bad scores to make me expendable in a list of possible candidates. I have faith in my writing samples, but again, I don't want to make getting accepted any harder than it already is. If you’re able to apply for a TA position after you're already accepted, that will make things a lot easier for me.

Thanks!

Bolivia Red said...

therant:

Apply upfront for a TAship, especially at schools that offer across-the-board support to all their students. TAships are the major form of support at most programs, and unless you're a child molester or have some other serious fatal flaw (low GREs are not even close) that would make you a bad candidate to work with undergrads, you're pretty much a shoe-in at the programs that offer support to everyone (like ours). Yes, those GREs matter a little bit to the programs that ask for them, but mostly, as long as you can string two sentences together and play well with others, you already possess most of the skills you need to teach frosh comp (frankly, it's as much about herd management as anything). As a former teacher, your experience is probably going to cancel out your low GRE scores.

I think that if the program likes your writing sample and wants you, they'll still take you even if you don't qualify for a TAship. Perhaps put a line on the TA application (or the SOP if need be) stating that while you'd prefer a TAship or other support, you're still willing to attend (and have the means to do so) without the support.

For the schools that are much more competitive in terms of the support they offer, why not apply now? You can still apply the next year if for some reason you don't get one.

And yes, you can always apply in your second year for a TAship if you don't get one in your first. Perhaps taking a Rhet/Comp class during your first year would help increase your chances.

TheRant said...

Thanks for the great advice Bolivia Red. I'll take it to heart when I'm finalizing my apps next month.

Chelsea said...

Thanks, Therant, for the link. It's a great article and my mind is now at ease. It seems like so many little issues pop up in the application process that cause me to worry. I never knew I was so anal. Hopefully this is the last.

Sarah Perrault said...

...but mostly, as long as you can string two sentences together and play well with others, you already possess most of the skills you need to teach frosh comp (frankly, it's as much about herd management as anything).

I'm curious -- do most people who post here view first year comp in those terms?

Annabelle said...

Hi--

I have no idea if I'm using this site correctly...but I hope somebody will read this and give me advice.

I'm a semi-recent college grad (2003) and think I'd like to teach high school as well as write. My goal is to apply for an MFA program a year from now (for Fall 2010 entry), but in the meantime I'd like to get my teaching credential. Is that something that looks suspicious to admissions committees? As in, I'm not dedicated enough to writing as a profession if I've so recently gone back to school for a high school teaching credential?

Annabelle said...

As an addendum to my post, another consideration is that many credential programs are also Master's programs, which means I would be getting a Master's in Education and a Master's in Fine Arts back-to-back.

Bolivia Red said...

sarah p.,
I'm not dissing teaching frosh comp so much as pointing out what qualifies you to teach for the application process. After that, you can make it what you will. Few people who get TAships have prior teaching experience or much beyond a college degree that gives them 'hard credentials' to teach. Most programs are going to have a training week before you actually start teaching, which will give you the tools you need to teach. They'll give you the books and syllabus, some classroom exercises and assignments, and then you'll have weekly or bi-weekly meetings in a practicum or mentor group to talk about classroom issues and planning and such. After a semester or a year, some programs let you come up with your syllabus and assignments and such, so you really can make it your own thing and put as much or as little as you like into teaching.

Once you’re in front of your very own class, you get to decide if you're going to be a good witch or a bad witch. One thing that's great about teaching comp is that to the students, you're probably going to be the only teacher who learns their names and talks to them individually. Most of their general ed classes are 500 students crammed in a hall, completely impersonal. You have the opportunity to connect to students.

Half of what you're teaching freshmen comp students, especially the fall semester, is how to be college students. They have to learn how to read a syllabus, where to go online for their assignments and tests, how and when to turn assignments in, which room to show up in on what day (Purdue does this extra special thing where we're in a different classroom and often a different building every day for the same class), and then they’re also learning where everything is on campus and what their resources are (library, computer labs, etc.). They don't know what college looks like, so you have this opportunity to shape their experience besides just teaching them how to write.

Sarah Perrault said...

Bolivia,

Thanks for the clarification. I get a little uneasy about some folks' cavalier attitudes toward teaching FYC and am glad that's not what you were espousing.

I'd really like to see some teaching conversations on this blog if folks are game. I think the lack of pedagogical training in some graduate programs is problematic, and am genuinely interested in what others with MFAs, or in MFA programs, think about this issue.

A quick note about where I'm coming from: In 2001 I was turned loose, with one week of very expressivist training, in a room full of conditional admits at an open enrollment university... I'm sure you can imagine the shock waves, both for me and for my students. Three years later I took my newly minted MFA off to a Rhet/Comp PhD program and started my real training in writing pedagogy. More shock waves!

Figuring out the relationship of MFA/MA/lit programs to FYC is an ongoing interest for me.

L. said...

HI Sarah,

What do you mean by "expressivist" training. I'm curious.

Sarah Perrault said...

Expressivism is, briefly, a pedagogy that focuses on helping students develop their "authentic voices" in writing. It also emphasizes the importance of teachers finding their own voices in order to better guide students toward a process of writing-based self-actualization.

While I believe these are important elements in teaching, they received more emphasis in TA training than was useful for me as a first-time teacher.

Also, I prefer a more rhetorical approach to teaching writing, and think that prioritizing "authentic voice" can be problematic, especially in the absence of discussions about what is meant by "authentic."

R.P. said...
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