Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mailbag for 9 December 2007

Well, Folks,

It's crunch time. The final countdown. Down to the wire. Take no prisoners. Fish or cut bait. The last hurrah. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Last minute inquiries about applications? Now's the time.


Brittany said...

Okay, so as Tom said, it's crunch time. I want to contact all my schools and make sure they have everything (GRE scores, transcripts, etc). What department do I contact to do that? Admissions? Registrar? And should I call, or e-mail? I'm scared someone along the way didn't send what they needed to send and I'll be screwed until next year.

mummy licker said...

One of my letter of recommendation writers has gone MIA. She was very gung-ho in the beginning, but I haven't heard from her since October. I've sent her 4 emails since then, and my first app is due Dec 15th -- Help! What do I do?

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


Many of the programs I applied to sent me an email or card letting me know everything was in or what they were missing, so you may keep an eye out for those. If you do get such a beast, follow up with whoever sent it.

Which place to call? It depends on where you had to send the info to each individual school. If everything had to go through the Grad School or Admissions office, then call them. There's usually a main number listed on the website.

If some stuff went to the grad school and some to the MFA program/English Dept, I'd check with the latter since the grad school will usually forward everything to the program after they get everything they're supposed to. If the MFA program doesn't have everything that went to the Grad school, then follow up with the grad school.

Who to call in the MFA program/English dept? First, usually application materials go to a specific administrative person, such as an admissions secretary or prgram assistant type, so you might check the program website and see if such a person exists. I'd call them first. If it all goes to the MFA program director or head of the department, I'd try to figure out who that person's admin assistant/secretary type is before bothering them directly. Usually there's a list of the department admin assistants/secretaries on the website (maybe under staff). Call and be polite, and they'll direct you to the right person if you got the wrong one.

If you can't find a staff-type person, send an email to whoever is listed to receive program materials.

Bolivia Red said...


If that person lives within a fifty mile radius of you, go visit tomorrow. Take pre-addressed envelopes and printed forms with as much info filled out as you're allowed. Have everything all ready to go to make this as easy as possible for her. It's not unreasonable at this stage to find a home phone number or call her office or show up at her office. Your emails might be dumping into her junk mail so don't rely on that.

You probably also need to line up a backup recommender, so start going through the possibilities. Write down whatever specific information you'd want her to write about in her letter and maybe even print out a few sample recommendations so she can crank a letter out as fast as possible. A not-great-choice is better than an incomplete application. Again, bring this new person all the pre-filled out materials that you can. And maybe add a nice box of chocolates or a homemade cake.

mummy licker said...

Thanks, Bolivia. Just as I was reaching for the paper bag to control the hyperventilating, I checked my email one more time, and I had a response. THANK GOD! Thanks for your advice anyway.

Avimaan said...

Do y'all recommend informing the readers that a particular piece is a novel excerpt? And if so, where?

Brittany said...


I wouldn't submit part of a novel, mainly because they want to see your potential to develop characters/plot throughout a whole story. It's hard for your readers to get a full sense of your story (and your talent as a short fiction writer) when you send an excerpt.

That being said, if you really want to send it, I'd state that in your personal statement with your reasoning as to why you chose it.

Bolivia Red said...


I'm going to respectfully disagree with brittany, although she makes a great point about showing character/plot development. I think, though, the apps committee can get a good sense of that from a novel excerpt if you choose the right selection.

If you intend to focus primarily on novels in your MFA, then by all means, send a novel excerpt (and, as brit says, note that interest in your SOP). On the manuscript, put a note in brackets, italicised, right before the title, "this is a novel excerpt" (skip a space after your name/address header/the note/skip a space before the title). Only put more if you're excerpting from the middle and the reader would need to know "Jake shot Kelly in earlier in the novel, and now he's in a monastery in Spain feeling remorseful," but again, be brief about such info, you're not outlining the whole plot here. Make sure the note clearly stands out from the name header and the story. I don't think you need to put much more up front. At the end of the section, you may want to give a brief synopsis of where the novel goes from there (2-3 sentences max), again, in brackets, italicised, clearly delineated as not part of the excerpt).

I submitted the first ten pages of a long short story as one of my selections along with a ten-page short story.

Noah said...

I've just started working to prepare my application. I put in calls for letters of rec and requested transcripts. I'll be working on a new story to submit and editing another. I'll be applying to four or five schools.

So, yeah, it's December 10th. The first application is due Jan 2. The latest date I'm looking at is Feb 1.

All of the schools are in NYC, where I live, so I'll probably deliver them by hand if possible.

My question is - can I pull it off? Is it possible to put together a solid application in a month (assuming that I work at a good pace)?

Also, does it look bad for some reason to turn in an application at the latest possible date?


Jim said...

Noah--I asked the same question (regarding coming in at the end of deadlines) and was told that it didn't make a difference. I'm sending my Cornell app this afternoon--it's due Saturday.

As far as whether or not you can pull it off in a month...well, I've been working on mine for five month, but that is thirteen application and I was taking a full class load while getting ready to graduate. It was hard. My sense is that, yes, you can probably do it, but you're going to have to be very tenacious, especially considering that you'll need to find some gracious recommenders who will be willing to help you out over the holidays.

Pablo said...

Does anybody have any thoughts on the U of Texas El Paso bilingual MFA program?

brown eyes said...

if anyone could hit me up with a list of programs that do not require the gre, it'd be pretty swell of you.

why is it so hot in december?

Lizzy said...


I hand't heard of the El Paso program, but a bilingual MFA sounds exciting. Going over there to check out the website now.

Let us know if you find anything on it.


brown eyes,

uh... because you're in hawaii??

Mike Valente said...

One thing to add to Bolivia Red's comment -

If you do not put the 2-3 sentence synopsis, be sure to still indicate, in brackets, the end of the section as an excerpt. even if you indicate it at the beginning, the reader will forget by the end.

TheRant said...

Brown Eyes,

Don't have a full list, but here are a few that I know of that don't require the GRE:

University of Southern Maine
University of Mass-Amherst
University of New Hampshire
Lesley University
Farleigh Dickinson University
University of Maryland
Columbia College of Chicago
University of Idaho
Sarah Lawerence University
UNC Wilmington
Chatham University
Roosevelt University
Colorado State University
American University
Iowa University

Some of the schools do require the GRE if you are applying for a TA position, but if you're just going for general admission, then they don't. I know it's not a lot, but I hope it gets you started.

Sarah Perrault said...

Brown Eyes,

Northern Michigan University has no GRE requirement.

It does, however, have a wardrobe requirement, at least if you want to survive a decided not hot December (not to mention October, November, January, March, April, May, and sometimes June).

Gregory said...

everyone, thank you.

realitywrites said...

university of oregon also does not require the GRE

Heather said...

I'm not letting any school know any other schools I'm applying to. It's always an "optional" question on the online application, and my thought is, why should they care? Judge me on my writing sample. I don't want one school to reject or waitlist me based on looking at my list and them thinking I would pick a certain program over theirs.

Your thoughts?

Heather said...

Also, and I'm sure this has been in here before, but how bad is it to include 30 pages (2 short stories of 15 pages each) if the "maximum # of pages" is 25? It's not ridiculously over, and I would like them to know that I can finish. I figure if they want to stop reading, they can.


Carmiel said...

Who reads the first round of writing samples - grad students or program directors? Concerning the order of my writing sample, should I be thinking about this like I think about magazine submissions? (The first page has to grab them.) Or will they read the whole manuscript?

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

heather: i actually include other schools (applying to phd programs in complit now) just to give them a sense of who they would be competing against for the honor of having me in their program. :)

carmiel: the whole story has to be great to get in, but a lackluster first page surely doesn't help. at cornell, everything's done by the faculty. it varies from school to school.

Ashley said...

I'm wondering what is a proper "thank you" gift for the professors who wrote my recommendations. I know some folks who just gave cards, but I also know someone who bought all his recommendors a bottle of wine. I've already bought cards, but I'd like to give them a little something extra, too. I don't feel comfortable with the wine thing. Any suggestions?

(Thanks in advance! This blog is such a fab idea.)

Mike Valente said...

Ashley -

I did give a card and a bottle of wine to each of my recommendors, but I was working for a wine company at the time, and I used my buddy's wine (he's a wine-maker). Though, I can totally understand your concern. I think that a hand-written card would suffice. If you're a student, they'd understand if you didn't pop for any gifts. Also, I waited until after the final app deadline before I gave them anything.


Bolivia Red said...


I baked baklava and put it in those decorative plastic storage containers with a nice card. One of my colleagues also gave baked goods, and another gave small craft projects. I don't think people expect anything fancy but it is important to acknowledge their efforts on your behalf.

Samara said...

I know others have touched on this, but I do have a question about writing sample length. The story I'm using for my sample is 24 pages long. I have a second story that I'm still revising (bad, I know!) that clocks in at around 18 pages. What do I do for schools that request two stories, but set the limit at 35 pages (one of them) and 40 pages (the others)? I can't help it, I just don't have any shorter stories to choose from. Thoughts? Is it better to be under the length limit and send just one very strong story, or go over and send the two requested?

K Eliz said...

Heather and Samara,

As far as page limits go, I think they are pretty strict with them. I have asked my recommendors (one is a professor at Columbia) and they both felt strongly that 5 pages over the limit was unacceptable. Some programs will even throw away the additional pages. They suggested I shave off as much from each story that I possibly could (or have someone edit them for you focusing on condensing). If you still find yourself over, you could email admissions and ask permission to include more pages and then make a note of that in your app. They also stressed not to change font or play with margins. These people read tons of apps and know every trick in the book.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

Carmiel said...

What info should be included in a cover sheet for the writing sample? No details are given on the school website, though they want one.

Kevin said...

Anyone know if the 15th is a postmark or arrive by date for Cornell?

Pensive495 said...

In regard to listing your other schools on the application, it's a mixed bag. I decided to list a few of each type of school I was applying to, just to show that I'd done my research. In most cases, I listed a few of each of my better public and private schools, and then a back up school last. I've done my research about these schools, I want them to know that.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

kevin: postmark most likely... the staff in the enlighs department are really nice and i couldn't imagine them throwing away an app just because it's a day late.

Ivorysoup said...

The Columbia application wants a "response" to a work of literature written and published within the past 10 years.

Should this be critical, interpretational, personal, all of the above, none of the above, some of the above?

Also, I'm assuming that a single poem is a "work." Or are they looking for a collection? Or does it matter?

Thanks for any help. Love the site and Kealey's book.

Bolivia Red said...

A work would be a whole collection of poems or shortstories, or a novel, not just one poem (unless it's 60 pages long or something). I don't think that means you'd have to talk about each individual poem, but rather some larger elements of craft or meaning the author employs, using examples from a bunch of different poems.

As for the essay, I'm inclined to say that it is a personal/craft analysis discussion about a work-- Here's why it moved me or didn't, and here are some interesting craft things that the author does and what those interesting things add up to or how they work that I want to emmulate or have learned something from. This is just my inclination not seeing the other app materials required. (M. jump in at any point here.)

ann said...

for christ's sake, i just sextuple-checked irvine's online app - i've got everything filled out but the personal statement - oh wait, what's this? a personal history essay about challenges and diversity?

AGHHH. i don't know how i missed this. does the MFA program actually care about this essay at all? how is it not made redundant by the personal statement and the "autobiographical sketch"??

ready said...

Should you single space or double space the statement of purpose/personal statement?

Bolivia Red said...

The consensus has been to single space the SOP. I single-spaced with space breaks between paragraphs but no indent. I think you could do the indent, no space break as well.

Ashley said...

First off, thank you all for the advice on recommendors' gifts. It's very helpful!

Many of my applications don't specify how to format my writing sample. I'm figuring 12 pt font, Times New Roman, 1 inch margins, double spaced, but do I need to put my name and address on every page, or only on the first page of the sample? May I print on both sides of the paper?


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

Thanks everyone for your answers on my listing other schools / writing sample length topics!

As for recommenders' gifts, I'm giving them a nice note, cookies, and a few goodies from, which has good quality handmade soaps, etc.

Ashley, your formatting sounds fine. I don't think there's a "one right way" about page numbering, but I felt more comfortable having my name on every page in case anything got separated, so I put my first initial and last name aligned right in the header, and a page number at the bottom aligned right in the footer. You could also do name AND page number aligned right in the header, which is how fiction stories are usually submitted to magazines. I don't think you need your address on every page however. Also, I think printing on both sides is both fine and environmentally-conscious.

Lizzy said...

I think double-sided printing might be confusing or irritating to some readers. Just this once, I would use single-sided, just to be safe.

Melissa H. said...

Should the personal statement be single-spaced or double-spaced?

R.P. said...

I bought two of my recommenders a $20-25 gift card to a bookstore. The third one, I bought him two little baby onesies because he and his wife are having twins in a few months. If you can personalize, that's great. If not, gift cards or wine is great.

R.P. said...

my friend and i are both applying to uci. she was very frazzled by the very different descriptions about the auto sketch. I used the cover sheet as a checklist b/c they are inconsistent. There's only a personal statement and an auto sketch. You may have this already, but here: