Sunday, November 04, 2007

Mailbag, Week of November 4

Questions, comments, meditations on Daylight Savings Time?

Bring it! Bring it all.


Brittany said...

Does anyone know anything about the MFA program at University of CO at Boulder? I'm doing a spreadsheet of all the places I'm applying to, and the cost per credit is much higher than all the other schools. Not to mention I would be out-of-state, which makes it even worse. I looked up the funding and it doesn't seem to be too great unless you're a TA or have an impecable academic record.

My other question is, if a school states that it requires a score of, say, 600 on the GRE, would it be pointless to apply if one did not achieve that score? Because, well...I didn't, haha. Thanks for any information!

Mac said...

Worrying about the GRE is a pesky annoyance. I haven't pre-tested well although I have done well on standardized tests my whole life. Admittedly, it's been awhile....

However, there are a few programs that require them which I find compelling so I see some earnest studying in my future.

FYI, I stumbled across a great blog on books here:

Charlie said...

Hey, do most successful applicants to Iowa actually submit one hundred pages? Do most applicants, successful or otherwise, shoot to submit one hundred pages? Right now, I think I might be applying with three stories that total a little short of sixty pages. Is that enough?

Bolivia Red said...

brittany--Is the creative writing program asking for the 600, or is it the Grad School requirement (or maybe the English Dept versus the CW program)? Creative writing programs rarely care a whit about the scores, though often the Grad School will require them. If that's the case, it's a mere formality and if the program likes your writing, they'll fight for you even without the 600. Sometimes they'll even say this in their app materials or you can write the department and ask.

If it really is the CW department asking and that's the program you have your heart set on, maybe you could consider retaking the test (you're allowed to after 30 days or something as I recall). Really put some time into those practise tests. If the app deadline is some point before you'd be able to retake, you can mention the test date and have the scores sent directly.

Quality Control said...


Don't forget to factor in the astronomical cost of living in Boulder. I have some friends that went there, said it was a real back-breaker.


I felt the same way pre-GRE testing. I've always been a confident standardized tester, but there's little margin for error with the GRE. I walked out with a 510 in Quantitative and 480 in Verbal. And I don't know a thing about math.

natalie said...

Before attending an undergraduate university, I acquired quite a few credits from workshops, seminars, an outdoor education class, studying abroad, etc. However, all my upperclass work has been completed at The New School University.

Will most MFA Programs consider me if I send them only my upperclass (junior and senior) transcripts? Otherwise, it will cost me an arm and a leg to send two copies of every transcript to each of the ten schools I'm applying to - God, no, that number is literally reaching the 80's!
(I did orginally transfer them all into The New School, but that information can't simply be forwarded along, can it?) Thanks for your thoughts!

elisabeth said...

I graduated a few years ago and am having a hell of a time finding a third recommender. I have two profs lined up, but can't think of a third. My job experience since college has been far removed from the world of writing and academia. Is it okay to have two strong recommendations from teachers, and one from a friend who is familiar with my creative work (improvisational acting, comedy writing), but not necessarily the straight fiction writing I did in school?

Also: I've searched the archives and see that Columbia College in Chicago has been mentioned, but not in much detail. Any updated information, or feedback from students?

Thanks so much!

malcontent said...

My question is similar to Natalie's. I have already sent out my undergraduate transcripts, and am $180 poorer for it. However, I have taken writing classes at a local college in the last few years. The classes were not for credit toward a degree, so is there any reason I need to send out those transcripts as well? My GPA was a 4.0, but it seems like a waste of money to order trancripts for non-degree course work. My writing teacher is one of my recommenders though, so I worry I will look remiss if I don't send these transcripts out.

Many schools are unclear on what additional transcripts are required, and I haven't had any luck getting my e-mail inquiries returned.

malcontent said...

Perhaps I can answer my own question. An e-mail from Cornell has just confirmed that there is no need to send transcripts of grades from not-for-credit classes.

Sorry about cluttering the mailbag with my neurotic and nitpicky question.

auckunigrad said...


Does anyone have any insight as to what the selection committee is looking for in the Statement of Plans for the Stegner Fellowship? I'm a fiction writer, and plan to discuss how much I'd like to complete a new draft of a novel. What should I talk about, other than that? Any help will be much appreciated.

Shea said...

I'm applying to MFA programs in both fiction and nonfiction. I've never published my creative work, but I have a lot of publications from my work experience, as well as odd newspaper articles, blog posts from national blogs, articles that I've ghostwritten for more prominent people, etc. These pieces tend toward the political and sociological.

Is there any benefit in including these publications in a CV or mentioning them in my personal statement? Or does that just underline the fact that I haven't published my creative pieces?

Thanks for any feedback.

Vince said...

lincoln is going to an old school foam party--has anyone seen his phat pants?

ClintZ said...

I am applying at 6 m.f.a. playwriting programs (Texas, Brown, Iowa, Columbia, NYY, and Yale). Does anyone know the approximate number of applications each program receives each year?

Also, if someone is going to be invited for an interview, what time of year does that usually happen, i.e., when during the process does the invitation usually arrive.


Clint J.

Lincoln said...

Vince said...

lincoln is going to an old school foam party--has anyone seen his phat pants?

2:06 PM

I think I'm missing something here?

Vince said...

apologies lincoln, i'm the one going to a foam party--and my phat pants are wide-legged jncos from way back when. just kidding.

Lizzy said...


i took some extra classes after undergrad and i ended up sending in those transcripts to just about every school i applied to. most programs were clear that one should send in transcripts for all coursework. my guess is that ypu should send yours, especially as it sounds like they comprise half of your undergrad work.

good luck!

Lizzy said...


my feeling is that it depends on the program. i included my nonfiction publications (along the lines of what you mention in your post) and i think they helped my cause. however, would an iowa or a cornell actually view those publications as evidence of lack of focus on creative writing? not sure.

i am of the school of thinking that says you should put your best, honest effort into every application and then let the chips fall where they may. there is only so much you can predict and prepare for at your end. therefore, go with your instinct on a school-by-school basis as to whether to mention what you've published.

Bolivia Red said...

Natalie: I'm with Lizzy in thinking you should probably have all transcripts sent.

Bolivia Red said...

elisabeth: if you have two solid academic recommenders, it would be fine to use an employer as the third. Part of what they're looking for in the recommendations is that you play nice with others and can handle the work load. An employer can give that type of info.

I would shy away from using a friend unless you had a legitimate, official relationship (you worked together on 8 plays with X theatre or you are both members of X writing group) that wouldn't look like your friend is giving you a recommedation.

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

Absolutely mention those publications and include them on the CV. They show writing experience and professional development. Consider how they have also given you fodder for writing because you've looked into many different topics and issues. Maybe they've even given you a particular focus to your writing that you could mention in your SOP ("While writing a travel piece on the modern 'wagon train' I developed an interest in the fascinating people who do these things that I'd like to explore more in fiction"). Work experience is usually a plus because it gives you something to write about, and this kind of work will be a big plus because you're looked deeply into political and social issues.

A lot of people don't have prior "creative" publications going into an MFA, so you don't need to worry there.

lightstays said...

Have successful candidates posted their fiction writing samples anywhere I I could find? I'm curious about the quality of the work I'm up against. A real confidence bringer!


Gustavo Llarull said...

Re: Transcripts: The MFA program won't care much about them, but if you are accepted, the Grad School will require EVERY transcript (except for non-degree stuff). You may break down the cost by not sending all of them right away. But make sure that by the time schools make decisions, all of your transcripts are in the Grad School. I had a long, boring, anxiety-producing experience with lost transcripts from overseas...

Re: LOR ("letters," not "lord"): I'd even be willing to push the envelope and say that the third letter could be a friend's -- provided s/he is writing in a somewhat professional capacity. But I kindly disagree with Bolivia: I wouldn't worry about having to have worked with him/her for years. Sure, it'd be better to have three completely solid letters, but, as Bolivia said, all they want from the letters is to see whether you're nice enough (i.e., whether you can get three people to vouch for you). Your writing? They won't care what others say about it -- if they like your sample, you're in; if they don't, you're out.

Re: Previous publications: do mention them in your S of P (in the nice way Bolivia suggested, :)), but don't overdo it lest you come across as haughty. And no, no one will expect you to have published your creative work prior to attending the MFA. If you have, great; but it's far from being an implicit requirement of sorts.

Re: Iowa: this is second-hand, but I've heard stories of people being admitted on account of 20 or 30 pages of their fiction. The 100 page limit is, I'm told, to give you space SHOULD YOU NEED to use it. But they won't worry if you don't write 100 pages...

Re: Writing Samples by Applicants: Somewhere at the Writers and Poets Speakeasy there is a link to some people's writings. But, understandably, in general people are reluctant to share their writing with those they don't know. In my humble opinion, I'd say you shouldn't worry about trying to read work of "successful" applicants, or to second-guess the committees in general. The whole process is a crapshoot. Just send your best work, hope for the best, and expect the worst. Some committee member may like a spark they see in your unpolished diamond, and then you are in. Some other people might not like (or even see) that spark, and you're out. On the other hand, your work may be very polished but leave your readers cold. Or it might not. No use second-guessing your readers here -- you'll drive yourself nuts.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

non-degree courses are fine in terms of not sending in your transcript, but you should send them over for work that led to a degree (i have a previous mfa and i did that).

i would include work experience, but not as a resume-padder. people can sense when you're doing this. generally, it's good to express confidence.

i just uploaded my original SOP to my blog: i would have probably tailor it if i had to do it over again, but i didn't when i applied. i don't want to post application stories publicly but write a comment there with your e-mail and i'll send you one.

anne said...

i'm looking for some feedback on a nonfiction program list. right now i'm working on applications to:

university of minnesota
new mexico
ohio state
eastern wash u

does that seem like a good mix to other nonfiction folks out there? i've already sent out letters to my references, but i keep going back and forth on the programs.

thanks for any opinions!

Vinny said...

Many programs ask for 25 pages of writing manuscript. I have two very short stories (1000 words and 1500 words) for which I have recieved very good feedback from my writing groups. Is it okay to include flash fiction in the manuscript? I was thinking of putting in the two flash stories and a full length one, for a total of 24 pages. Is that a bad idea? Many literary magazines don't take flash fiction and I was wondering how writing programs looked at them. Thanks.

natalie said...

Thanks for the advice on my transcript issue. Looks like I'll be contacting every single institution that has ever given me a credit, and spending quite bit of money in the process.

Whatever it takes, right?

mfaorbust said...

Hi everyone,

In terms of recommendations, what do you personally think would be stronger: a solid recommendation by someone in my chosen field (poetry) or a rave by someone in another academic discipline (anthropology, cultural studies, philosophy)?

Jensen Whelan said...

just to echo m.'s advice about transcripts. i've sent emails and even called one school about transcripts and was told, across the board, send transcripts for credits that counted toward any degrees. i would guess sending other non-credit or non-degree transcripts wouldn't hurt, but the schools i spoke with didn't need them. they did, though, need everything from the school i got my degree from and also from a year of studies that got counted toward that degree from a different school.

i don't know, maybe i did this wrong.


M. Ramirez Talusan said...

vinny--depends on the program. i would include the flash fiction at less traditional places like columbia, umass, brown, and michigan and send two/three long pieces to places like cornell, iowa, and hopkins since i'm assuming stephen dixon isn't looking at manuscripts anymore. i'm not with tom on the sending the same manuscripts to everywhere idea... i think tailoring manuscripts is good as long as you have reliable information and know the faculty/alum's work.

as for the recommendation issue, i would take the solid recommendation in the field over the rave. a great anthropologist does not necessarily make even a decent poet.

Mike said...

Here's a question about applying to MFA programs after having dropped out of another (non-MFA, non-English) graduate program.

I attended an intensely academic graduate program at a prestigious university, had a 4.0 GPA, and dropped out after a semester and a half... Um, because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life writing conference papers on that subject.

And as I'm applying to 8 schools for an MFA in poetry and 2 for an MFA in literary translation, I sure would like to save the money and not have to send transcripts off.

So what do people think? If you're a no-good dropout is it actually *more* important to include your transcripts from the program you quit, thus proving that you're much better than no good? Or does it not matter, since I never got the degree?

And how important is it that I explain this previous dropout? One of my recommendations is from a professor from the program I quit. Is that enough or would a person like me need to do more 'splaining than that?

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

mike, i would say something in my sop along the lines of, "after spending so and so time in so and so program and doing well, i realized that i am much more drawn to poetry," or something like that. i think it looks weirder if you don't say anything about it than if you do.

as for sending the transcripts, i think you technically should. i have no idea if they penalize you for not doing so but it might look strange especially since one of your recommenders is from the program so they would know about that aspect of your background.

Brittany said...

My question is regarding recommendations. One of my recommenders in the Director of the Creative Writing Program where I was in undergrad, and another is my boss (I'm a teacher), so pretty strong ones. For my third one, I asked my former Lit teacher...he e-mailed me and told me he'd be happy to "testify to my intelligence, energy, good-heartedness, and success as a critical reader, plus append a good faith endorsement that I'll succeed." But he also said that since he hasn't read any of my fiction, it might not be a strong reference. He is, however, very revered in the university for Lit and has been teaching forever.

Does anyone have any opinions on this? I really have no other creative writing profs to ask except for one who is about 26 years old and had just graduated from grad school when I took his class. I know he'd give me a great rec, but he hasn't really established himself within the university. Which one do I go with?! Any thoughts would be helpful!

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

go with the creative writing guy... Always go with people you have taken cr classes with even if they are not as famous.

Raphe said...

I'm new the this. The whole lot of it. MFA was something I thought about a while back, when I took a creative writing class in undergrad (which in all honesty I took because I like writing, and I needed the credits). I never gave it much more thought, proceeded to switch from PreMedicine, to Film Production, got my BFA and moved to LA.

Fast forward about 3 years and I'm so sick of this place and where my life is going that I'm looking for something different. The only constant through all of this is my writing. No matter what else I was doing, be it creative or academic, I was writing. So that leads me to a career in writing.

Obviously, (or not) I think everyone has that idea of writing a few novels a year, an hour or three a day, going on a walk, and spending the rest of you day reading, a la Stephen King. However, I'm approaching an MFA in CW as a means to be in the academic setting. I do wish to write my own things, but also I would be acquiring the degree specifically to earn the credentials to teach at the collegiate level someday.

Any advice in general would be appreciated.

Also, if I do move forward with the MFA process what should I do to prepare. Taking GRE and preparing SoP's is a must but as far as a CV and recommendation letters. It's been almost four years since anything remotely academic has been a part of my life.

Reading these blogs and questions here has admittedly left me feeling a little underprepared and qualified for an MFA. I can guess, though, that I'm not alone.

Sarah Perrault said...

Anne, last I knew Montana had scrapped the nonfiction emphasis while keeping some classes. Granted, this was in 2001, but it makes me wonder if they're as strong in that area as they are in poetry and fiction.

A quick look at their site isn't encouraging -- they have three profs listed for fiction, four for poetry, and one for non-fiction. If you don't end up working well with that one person, you'll be in a bind.

In general, I recommend checking out nonfiction programs pretty carefully, because some programs list nonfiction as an area but don't actually have many (if any) people who specialize in it. If nonfiction is your chosen genre, it'd be a drag to arrive somewhere and find out it's taught every other semester by someone whose primary work is writing story stories.

Sarah Perrault said...


Opinions about the MFA as a degree leading to an academic job are varied, and sometimes heated. Drop me an email if you want my view (MFA completed in 2004, PhD expected in 2009). My email is my last name at unr dot edu.

Jon said...

This is an odd question, but hopefully someone could help me out. The official department page of an MFA program requests a personal statement, and the online application for the graduate school ALSO has a little box in which you put in a personal statement.

Is this the same statement twice, or do you have to give a different statement to the department and graduate school?

Bolivia Red said...

Those are the same statements. Just copy and paste your SOP into that box. Make sure you don't change it if you have to send a hard copy to the MFA program since the grad schools often forward that info to the MFA program.

Bolivia Red said...

After you email Sarah and you think you still want to do this, run out and get Tom's book "The Creative Writing MFA Handbook." That will answer a lot of questions and go through the steps to apply.

To be frank, you're pretty late in the game to apply for this year. It might be doable, but you'd be putting yourself under an awful lot of pressure.

Think about if it's practical right now to line up your recommenders and crank out that SOP and CV by the end of the month. You'll need to get the GRE done pronto since it takes several weeks to get the results and then get transcripts sent. Somewhere in there, you'll have to research schools. This is assuming you have a few fabulous stories or poems lying around for your portfolio. The deadlines for most schools are December/January for programs beginning next fall, though a few are as late as February.

It might be worth taking the next year to really decide if you want to do the MFA (or maybe a PhD) and get everthing together. Get the book now, spend the next eight months getting some work for your portfolio together and look at schools. Maybe take some classes or join a workshop to see how you enjoy the experience. Next summer, you can get your recommenders together, study for the GRE and get it out of the way, draft your SOP and CV.

Another alternative is to look at low-res programs that allow you to start in the middle of the year. Some of them have later deadlines for fall apps, too.

Jim said...

A random question that just popped into my head, based on the previous comment...

I am not at a disadvantage by waiting until close to the deadline to submit my materials to the department, am I? I'm currently in the process of aggregating all my other supplemental materials (I'm applying to 13 MFA programs and have been to 5 schools as an undergraduate, so this is more difficult than it should be).

I don't see why I WOULD be at a disadvantage, but I'm just throwing it out there. I am a little paranoid right now I guess.

Mike Valente said...

Jim -

You're not at a disadvantage, as long is everything is ready to go, like your manuscript, personal statement and your recommendations. If everything arrives at the school before the deadline, then I imagine that you'll be okay. Though, if you're still trying to assemble things, like find recommendors, write a manuscript, take the GRE, then you might be a little late (see Bolivia Red's comment above).

Jim said...

Thanks for the reply. All of my recommendations are in, all of my applications are paid, and I took the gre (thank God only 2/13 ask for it...yikes).

So I figured I'd be ok. The next big project, once I get all the transcripts on their way, is 13 tailored Personal Statements. Oh joy...

Bolivia Red said...

Jim (and everyone else I may have caused a moment of panic),
Sorry! My comment to raphe wasn't clear. I think raphe is a little late to just be starting the application process. As Mike says, if you've been working on this for the past few months and have got your materials together or are getting close, you're more than ok to apply this year.

Good luck to everyone!

Gregory said...

does anyone know anything about american university? it's been under my radar and i just ran across it.
any help is appreciated.

Raina said...

Does anyone know anything about deferments to MFA programs? Would a student be able to apply for a program and then defer it for a year?
I'm interested in applying to my undergraduate school's year-long TESOL education program in Thailand. (They pay for everything and would give me a chance to see what it's like to actually teach at the undergraduate level).


Lizzy said...


I remember a couple of people last year mentioning that they'd been able to defer for a year, but not the particular schools that granted the deferments. I also seem to remember others mentioning that they had not been able to get deferments. I think you should probably ask each of the programs you're interested in whether they'd be amenable to your plans or not.

Hope that helps.

Noah said...

raina... info for deferments is usually on a program's website. and i haven't come across any (in about 25 i looked at seriously) that allow deferments. typically, you have to apply again if you don't go the year you get in.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

you have a better chance with the larger programs... i've heard of someone getting a deferment from UMass Amherst. Certainly no chance of that at Cornell, though it's unlikely they would reject a person they accepted the previous year, imo.

alexa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alexa said...

Anne -- I'd also throw Hunter College and the University of New Hampshire into the mix.

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