Monday, December 10, 2007

Anxious Post-Application Moments

To all current MFA applicants:

At this time last year, I was working as a copywriter in Syracuse, NY. By day, I thought of new ways to describe the coolness of a microwave. By night, I worked on my stories and plays and other creative writing. I had sent out my MFA applications earlier in the fall. (Okay, okay...I procrastinated and sent them out in early winter.)

Although I've been getting rejections since the age of fifteen (both from women and for my writing), I was uncharacteristically anxious about getting those polite 'no-thank-you' letters from MFA programs. After all, this isn't just a poem or a script...the application was me. It was all there in one thick, well-sealed envelope: the stories of which I was proudest, my teaching philosophy, my hopes for a literary future.

As I played the waiting game, I tried to comfort myself with the cold equations of the application process. Let's say a school gets 600 applications for two spots. They have to reject over...102% of applications, inevitably turning down some amazing writers. (Including some who can figure out percentages and math and stuff!)

And even if you're shortlisted, sometimes a school is looking for one kind of writer over another. Maybe they're looking for more experimentalists. Or maybe they want writers who have spent a lot of time in the scary real world I was trying to escape.

The irrational worries set in after the New Year's deadlines. Did I forget to request my GRE score for one of my schools? Did one (or more) of my application fee checks bounce? Did I include the wrong cover letters, telling one school I was excited to work with the professors at another?

I kept my father abreast of the developments. Each time, I reminded him that the likelihood of my acceptance was not great. (Remember those 102%:1 odds?) Unfortunately, his fatherly optimism could not be dimmed.

My schools did their best to dim his optimism, sending back anemic rejections with disturbing promptness. As I sat at work thinking of synonyms for "useful," I developed a theory about the rejection letters. I'm not sure, but I think MFA programs are in some sort of Cold War-esque competition to turn people down with the nicest stationery. (As I recall, SU's is particularly creamy and contains at least 50% cotton. And what a watermark!)

If you're waiting for your schools to get back to you, take heart. There are indeed acceptances out there. I'm proud to be in the Ohio State MFA program with world-class teachers and amazing fellow writers. I'm teaching young minds and inuring myself in the fine Buckeye tradition. (Sorry, I'm contractually obligated: GO BUCKS! WHOO! O-H-I-O!)

Come to think of it, after my degree is freshly minted, I have to hope I'm in the top 102% of prospective writing instructors. And my thesis manuscript needs to be in the top 102% of a publisher's slush.

May you all have this same kind of anxiety soon.

22 comments:

Lizzy said...

I remember getting the SU rejection, on the creamy stationery. For some reason, that one hurt the worst. Then about a week later I got a phone call from FSU and my funk lifted instantly. Now I couldn't be happier here and wonder if I might've been as happy elsewhere.

Hang in there, rejectees. There may just be good news right around that corner.

Sarah Perrault said...

I remember that waiting process, first for the MFA (while I worked in high tech) and then for the PhD (while I finished the MFA). I love your comment about stationery -- right on!

What got me through waiting for the MFA answers was thinking about what I would do if I didn't get in anywhere: get certified as a Wilderness EMT; quit my job; go work for the National Parks; write, write, write; and try again.

One note to people being anxious that their files, or parts of their files, are lost -- that actually happened to me at one school. By the time they admitted they had lost my file (which they only did after finding it), the decisions had been made.

I ended up being happy where I went instead, but if you think there's something amiss with your file, a very polite query might be a good idea.

Cory, 2700 A.D. said...

I put 16 apps in the mail yesterday, and I'm already freaking out. So many questions and what-ifs are bopping through my brain. My letters were sent two or three weeks before I applied; are they still, or were they ever put, on file? My cover page listed two works; one said [the title of my novel italicized] (excerpt), and then right under that the name of my short story (in quotes). The manuscript starts new numbering and the title changes in the footer and at the beginning and it's third person instead of first, but did I label clearly enough? This is going to keep me up for two months, and possibly longer.

Anyway, thanks to everyone on the blog for the help over the past few months. This site (and Tom's book!) has just been phenomenal.

Noah said...

oh... this post did not help. five in the mail yesterday, an additional seven to go at the end of the week. the anxious worry is starting already. i went over and over my writing sample this past weekend. with each reading i flip-flopped: "this is good. no doubt i'll get in somewhere -- crap, i've got no chance. i'm screwed. only reason to send these in is because i've already paid the application fee."

ugh... and i've got how many months to wait?

but really, thanks to the contributors and commenters on this blog -- a huge help.

realitywrites said...

I'm still pending putting my applications in the mail, but thank you for this excellent post of reassurance (and reality check).

Renee said...

hey, i guess this is off topic, but i'm just now starting the search for which MFA programs to apply to...
Do you have any opinions on Murray State University, University of Southern Maine, Pine Manor College, and Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency programs? Those are just the programs that have caught my eye so far...I would love to hear anything negative that there is about them to narrow my search.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

i was fortunate in a way because for some reason i didn't even think to consult blogs and such when i applied, and i wasn't expecting to hear until april like undergrad ups so when the call came from cornell in early february it was all a big surprise. oh, those days of innocence...

Mike Valente said...

I didn't find out from Notre Dame until after Tax Day...and I had to call them. I have the distinction of being the last person admitted into my class.

So unless you receive a letter from a school saying that you are not admitted, I would not assume anything. If it's late in the waiting game process and you haven't heard, just give the school a buzz.

singjulia said...

That happened to me, too: One of the two applications I sent out (bad planning, I know) one was missing parts, and I didn't find out until it was too late that the file was incomplete.

I like where I ended up, and I've since heard some negative things about File Not Found University, so it worked out all right for me in the end. But it can happen so-- yeah, what sarah perrault said.

Elizabeth said...

Four down, six to go . . . they can't all be rejected, right? I hope? Especially because I don't know what I'll do if I don't get in . . .

Pensive495 said...

3 down, 9 to go. I know how you feel.

Vince EstrogenSociety said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JoeyD said...

Sent out my three app's in mid-November (yes, three; trapped by familial obligations--can't move far from this area, unfortunately). I just hope that the professor who hasn't answered my last two emails has sent out those letters that are due by Jan. 5. And another one of my prof's is so very nice, but s/he still hasn't mailed the one for the January deadline. Ok, now I'm getting worried, shoot. Time to go bury my head in Oscar Wao.

Samara said...

One down, nine to go! JoeyD--I was freaking out about one of my recommenders not coming through--she's just doing it today, the day before my first application is due. Luckily she's submitting it online. I wasn't sure if I'd get a hard copy of her letter in time to send it to the next school, though, so luckily a backup was able to FedEx me on in case our postal service fails me. Good luck!

JoeyD said...

Thank you, and good luck to you as well.

JoeyD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin said...

I just put all 11 applications into the mail last Friday: Iowa, UCI, MT, TX-Michener, U-FL, Brown, Cornell, U-VA, U-WI, Johns Hopkins,U-MI. This blog has been really helpful.

Last week I checked some of the schools statuses online to see if they'd gotten my online application and GRE report and transcript-- it didn't show up as filed.

But when I called two of the schools (before Dec crunch time) they kindly notified me that they had arrived but not been filed yet-- which means everything is fine, just slow on their end.

So if your status hasn't been really updated with what you've sent- you can call the depts, but they may be super busy now. I think it's rare that they lose things, anyhow. G'luck everyone.

Pensive495 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pensive495 said...

Robin, I'm glad you said that, I'm having that problem right now with a few schools and recommendations. How long do you think I should wait before thinking about resubmitting the materials?

R.P. said...

Pensive,

I would probably try emailing or calling the dept where your stuff is missing. After you submit all your things, the schools may email you with a site or link to check your status- and on the page they may have some contact info in case your things don't show up.

If my things still haven't shown up through the first/second week of Jan, I will probably call them again. But I'd hold off on re-submitting things until you're sure they're lost. But if you're worried, maybe give them a ring today- they may even find it and put it in the "next-up" tray like they did for me.

Let me know how everything goes. Best of luck.

Megs said...

HI! It's so consoling to know there are others in the same boat as me! My manuscripts are all in neat piles, awaiting mailing tomorrow to different uni's... It's such a HUGE process, isn't it? Hopefully I'll join those of you who get accepted somewhere... Thanks for your post, and comments

Cheers!

Meg

Scrappy said...

Thanks for this post, I'm extremely anxious and I'm trying to calm myself by making a plan B if none of this pans out. I'm jealous of those of you who had 12 schools you wanted--I'm a screenwriter and I refused to apply to film schools (I did my undergrad in this so I deemed their unnecessary & redundant film requirements a waste of time and money) for my MFA so I had very very very limited choices. I'm trying 7 but I only really want to go to one of them. I even have doubts about getting the degree at all, and it doesn't help that one of my recommenders originally backed out on me because he thought my sample was crap. I hope I get in but...I'm not holding my breath.