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.