Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mailbag 27 Feb 08

Questions, comments, coping strategies--Hot Fresh Now


TheRant said...

Hey All,

Just had a quick question about acceptances:

Is there any difference in the notification times for applicants seeking funding/TAships and applicants not seeking funding/TAships?

I'm in the latter group and haven't heard back from any of my schools (not even a rejection). Some schools on my list have started notifying people (Umass-amherst, American, Chatham, UNCW, Rutgers-Newark), but most people that have reported hearing from such schools are also reporting that they received funding or a TAship. It makes sense that schools would go after students that desire funding first, but I'm just not sure. Anyone who could offer some insights or personal experiences would be much appreciated!

The Rant

P.S. Congrats to the already accepted!

Pam said...

Question concerning work samples.

I used to be a music reviewer. Although I understood that when a first album contained a British murder ballad followed by cocktail jazz followed by Western swing, I was supposed to say "Ooo, versatile!" I was generally more impressed by first albums that showed a cohesive, mature aesthetic direction.

The danger with the latter approach is that one can come off very one-note. Or one can cram in every British murder ballad one has ever done, even if some of them are weaker than that Western swing number in the repertoire.

So I'm wondering whether I should consider this at all when putting together my 10 pages of poems for Warren Wilson's September deadline. Or, generalizing: Should a manuscript submission for admission purposes contain representative samples of best work or something more cohesive?

I mean, they're calling it a "manuscript," which suggests the latter approach to me.

Maybe I'm getting karmic payback for pegging those neophyte singer-songwriters as dilettantes!

Andrew Miller said...

To be honest, I haven't filled out the FAFSA. I know March 1 is a key date. But can I fill out a FAFSA while still unsure of where I'm going next year?

Ashley said...

Hi Pam,

I expressed similar concerns to my thesis advisor about using two stories for my manuscript that were very different (one was your run-of-the-mill workshop peice and one was more "experimental" in form & content). She said to go for it, because they were both strong and showed I wasn't afraid to take risks/try new things in my fiction. Hope that helps?

Andrew, thanks for the FAFSA reminder! I forgot all about that. Yikes...

lightrimed:the lark ascending said...

I'm sure this question has been asked and answered before: What to do when you've been rejected? Is it ok to call the program and ask what you could have done better? Or should you just skip it and hole up with chocolate for a couple weeks? Many thanks.

Luke Geddes said...

This is a question I feel very fortunate to have to ask: What's the best way to go about turning down schools you've been accepted to but have chosen not to attend?

Also, are there any current (or recent) students of Wilmington and/or University of Kansas out there reading this who would like to sell me on their program? I'm trying to decide.

Heather said...

Andrew, you can definitely fill out a FAFSA before you know where you're going. At the end of the form, you can list up to ten schools you want to submit your information to (and I believe there's some way to add more schools to the list after the fact).

Murphy said...


The schools I'm applying to all say they cannot give feedback if you're rejected. Most of them mention something about the number of applications making it impossible.

Bolivia Red said...

andrew--ditto what heather says. It in no way affects your ultimate student loan money at whatever school you decide to go to even if you send it to every school you applied to. The schools don't usually do anything until you've been officially accepted. You might get a letter or two about financial aid from schools you ultimately don't go to, and all you have to do is call or email and tell them you're not going. (You would never be under any financial obligation at any school until you went in to sign the MASTER CONTRACT SOMETHING OR OTHER, nor would they send you any money until you did.)

One warning, though. Some schools send you all kinds of fat envelopes filled only with student loan and housing info, even before you're accepted or rejected by the creative writing program. It DOES NOT mean you've been accepted into the program and can be very deceptive and heart-wrenching when you realise they are simply toying with you.

Bolivia Red said...

to decline a program, send a polite email (with a follow up actual letter saying the same thing) that says something to the effect of:

"Thanks so much for accepting me. Your fine program is among my top choices. However, after careful consideration, I have decided to attend a different program (you may or may not name the other program--schools like to know who they lost out to so they can go to their administration and get more funding and such). Good luck with your class of 2011 and thanks again!"

Send this as soon as you possibly can so the other souls on the blog can get some good news, too!

Lizzy said...

The Rant, My feeling is that schools go after students whose writing they like first. Funding often seems to hinge on particular issues at individual programs, so that I don't think there is one blanket answer to your question about whether applicants seeking/not seeking funding would see radically different notification times. Still, I can't see that an applicant's seeking funding or not would affect acceptance nearly as much as the quality of an applicant's writing--in a typical program, at least.

I suppose it's possible that, if you've been accepted and are clearly not seeking funding, a program may notify you right away, whereas it may need to hold off on notifying others until funding matters have been ironed out. It's also possible that people seeking funding may be notified of acceptance before being offered a funding package. I would say all of these timelines depend on the specific inner workings of a given program.

Lizzy said...

Oh, and best of luck to everyone as you wait to hear.

spillingink said...

Here is my sad story:
My boyfriend lives in Chicago. I live in Texas. I had planned a three-week trip with him. The first week we went to Vegas, and then I was going to stay with him for two weeks--even spending my bday with him. Well, I started freaking out about checking my mail, and I ended up cutting my trip 10 days short. I just got back to Texas, checked my mail, and there was absolutely nothing but bills. This means I have not heard a peep yet, from anyone! And I probably won't get to see my boyfriend for at least another month. I feel a tad bit crazy right now.

Unknown said...

I second Lightrimed's question about asking "why" on rejections. I haven't received anything official yet, though based on what I'm hearing about people who have, I imagine there are some specific rejection letters in my future. I'm sure most schools will answer "there were too many." Are there any good techniques in getting a helpful answer - i.e. calling instead of e-mailing, calling the program director, or are such things seen as rude?

Meredith Ramirez said...

i feel like it's more feasible to give feedback for phd applications but for mfa's the field is so subjective and the number of applicants so large that it would be difficult for a program director to give you feedback. there were over 300 applicants to cornell just in fiction. if i were on the admissions committee, it would be practically impossible for me to remember individuals without having to review a file all over again.

Screwsan said...

Not to mention, isn't the answer always just: Because we liked the work of these people more? I mean, I can appreciate that people want constructive criticism but what is there to say, other than "We just didn't like your writing enough to let you in?" Sorry if that harshes anyone's mellow but isn't it the truth?

Anonymous said...


I've been wait listed (at Vanderbilt)

what are the odds of getting in off a waitlist?

Bolivia Red said...

your chances of getting in are exponentially better than those who received rejection letters.

Your chances will depend on a few things: how high you are on the list, how many people who received offers ultimately decide to go elsewhere (thereby opening a spot for you), and whether said people decide before your dream school swoops in to make you an offer.

Considering that some people take until 15 April to choose schools, you may not hear from Vanderbilt until after then. That doesn't mean you're way down the list--you could be first on the waitlist, but you have to wait for a spot to open. I imagine it's rare that a program gets all its first round of selectees to accept since everyone had different standards of what they want/need from a program and since everyone applied to multiple schools.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I can not even tell you how good reading that made me feel

Nototherwise said...

Does anyone have any thoughts on what to do if a school that has made you an acceptance offer asks you to make a decision before you've heard back from the rest of your schools? The other schools are all extremely selective, but I would be uncomfortable making a decision without hearing from everyone first. At the same time, waiting could mean losing my spot at the one school that has accepted me so far, and I would really like to attend an MFA program this fall rather than wait an additional year.

Bolivia Red said...

I put a lengthier comment under the "Acceptances?" post (16 Feb), but basically you have two choices:

1-you can ask for an extension up to 15 April. You can say you need more time to consider your options and hear back from other schools, and possibly so you can do a school visit.

2-you can accept the offer from school A. You have until 15 April to decide to withdraw that acceptance without penalty. If another school later makes you an offer that you'd rather take, all you have to do is write a letter/email to school A and withdraw your acceptance BEFORE 15 APRIL. If you get accepted after 15April, then you have to get permission from school A to withdraw before you can accept another program's offer.

Kate Evans said...

This is really an "after the MFA" question...I'm wondering how people get positions teach in low-residency programs? It seems there should be a ton of those positions out there since there are so many such programs. But I rarely see said jobs posted. Makes me wonder if it's all about connections... Or recruitment?

Kate Evans said...

typo alert: I meant "teaching in low-residency programs"

Murphy said...


The reason you may not see low-res jobs posted widely is because a lot of the same professors who teach at the traditional programs also teach at low-res schools.

As an example, this comes from a description of the faculty on Vermont College's website --

More than two-thirds of these exceptional writer/teachers are also highly respected academics with jobs at other universities, including such distinguished universities as Indiana University, Emerson College, Sarah Lawrence College, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, Tufts University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Western Michigan University, and the Universities of Iowa, Alabama, Utah, Arkansas, and North Carolina-Wilmington.

Lucy Bryan Malenke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucy Bryan Malenke said...

I think I would describe my condition over the last month as diarrhea of hope—a general depletion of my dreams punctuated by violent expulsions of them with each rejection. I just got my final rejection, and I find myself surprisingly intact. Actually, I’m a bit relieved. It’s over. I can start recovering and making new plans for the future. Maybe you all can help with that. I will still be moving to a new town because my lucky husband got accepted to two PhD programs and even offered a fellowship. So, I get to (have to) start a new life, and I want that life to center around writing, despite the fact that I won’t be taking the MFA route. Does anybody have any creative suggestions about ways I can make enough money in a small university town to cover health insurance and groceries ($10,000-$12,000 a year) and write the rest of the time? The whole barista and waitress things don’t excite me too much, and while stripping and exotic dancing are lucrative, I’m morally opposed (for the time being). I’m open to all other ideas…

Heather said...

Lucy -

I feel you on the rejection front. Although I haven't received official notification from everywhere I've applied, nearly all of those schools have notified their official acceptances and waitlists already, leading me to believe I'm just a few snail mail letters away from out of the game.

My suggestion for money-making? Substitute teaching. I do it on a part-time basis as my current livelihood. I find it to be fairly easy, especially at the high school level. (HS teachers often leave tests or videos with subs - Middle school or elementary, expect to be hands-on.) If the town you're moving to requires a teaching certificate for subs, you could be a sub-assistant w/special ed. kids.

If you can't stomach the idea of subbing, sub-assisting, or any other schoolish pursuit, I'd suggest working in the University or town library where you're going to move. There's nothing like being surrounded by great work when that's what you intend on producing. You can also usually depend on intelligent and well-read co-workers.

Good luck!

Babelle said...

Hey Lucy,
I work in a used book store. It's a chain, and they don't pay much, but the benefits are amazing and it's a great hippie company. It's been excellent for my writing--I'm surrounded by books, it's great people-watching, and a flexible schedule plus paid vacation. It's Half Price Books--if there happens to be one near your town, you might see if they're hiring. Or work at another book store if you can.

MrKSB said...


I second the whole library/book pursuit in a small town. Last year I applied to 8 MFA programs, was resoundly rejected from all of them, and ended up moving to a small, small town with my boyfriend, who got a job at the university there. I've since taken up employment at the public library, where I've been working the reference desk and writing on my own time. It's pretty wonderful, actually. I'm also adjuncting at the university because I have a master's degree, so if that's a possibility for you, I'd say try it. And, this year, I've applied to MFA programs again - only 15 this time. We'll see what happens.

Hope this helps, and good luck.

Screwsan said...

Depending on the size of your new town, newspapers can be a great place to work part time. I worked as an obituary and events calendar editor for a time and it was really fun. I left my work at the office, the hours were a bit different (which worked better for me than a standard day job), the people were whip smart and I had opportunities to write fun pieces for the newspaper and boost my portfolio. Plus I was never bored which is a perk for a part time job. This was all for a paper of about 100,000 circulation--not tiny but not so big as to be uber serious or competitive either.

Screwsan said...

oh not to mention that I was more up on national and local news than I've ever been in my life.

Lucy Bryan Malenke said...

Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions. Screwsan, I was a journalism major in college, so your suggestion interests me. I'm curious, though, about how many hours you put in every week. Last time I worked at a newspaper, I logged a lot of long hours. I'm also concerned about expending my creative energy on pieces I don't really care about (not that obituaries aren't great). Did you find it hard to sit down and write at home?

JeSais said...

one suggestion post-mfa rejection(s) would be to check into online courses. a friend of mine has been thrilled with her UCLA class.

Unknown said...

I'm currently in a newspaper job that's much like Screwsan's - I do a lot of community event kind of things, some obits, and the occasional story. Right now the paper has about 25 of my hours per week, and another 12 go to the local bookstore. It's not -quite- enough to have my own place (I confess, I'm still with my parents) but I find it to be a really nice balance between two different aspects of writing. I don't find that the newspaper exhausts me too much from my writing because it's so different. Working at the bookstore also is really inspiring, especially since it provides me with a world of reading material and suggestions. What I really like, as Screwsan says, is that you can leave your work at work. Plus, I have found that many of my co-workers pursue writing on the side as well, so it's a good way to get into a community of people who care about writing on some level.

Screwsan said...

Like Elizabeth says, the work is very different so it didn't tire me out for writing fiction. I worked 20 hours per week--it was a part time job and I was not expected to work more than that. Writing obits and listing calendar events involved stringing words together in very specific way. It was so formulaic that it didn't feel like writing, more like data entry. I specifically took the job because it didn't involve writing articles. So I think it depends on the specific newspaper job you look for.

shady side review said...

Does anyone know/heard anything about Chatham's MFA program?

Tigerlily said...

Hey lightrimed,

I know how much that one sucks. My first year I got waitlisted only. It took me 2 years to get into a school without TA. My third year applying, I got in someplace good, with a TA, and someplace great with full tuition and poss. TA. Here's the deal tho. My first year, heartbroken, I emailed or called a few places. They're really not up for that. It's just not even on their radar, know what I mean? The only place I ever got a response from was UNCG, I think they are just very cool there.

So here's what you do. Apply to as many schools as you can (I had 13 I think). If ya don't get in, revise, revise, revise, take a grad level workshop and revise some more, have friends read your stuff and revise some more, re-read Chekhov and Joyce and Elmore Leonard (dialogue :) And then.... revise some more. That's what did it for me. :-) And trust me, if I could do it, ANYbody can. I am not kidding. Just trust me on this, I really know this for sure. I promise. Just put a lot more time into your stories and really up your game. And make sure you cut the first 2 pages of a story so you hit them with your best stuff right off the bat. Don't make them wait 5 mins in to read something that will be your absolute best and grab them by the b****. Just do it up front, ya know?

Sorry if some of this seems obvious. Hope it helps :)

grams said...

Hi everyone,

Question: If you are going in for an interview/campus visit, what questions should you be sure to ask?

Thanks and all the best to everybody during this stressful time!

Chris said...

So, my tally now is:

Arkansas - funded w/TA and fellowship
SIUC - funded with TA
Maryland - waiting for funding offer
Colorado State - waiting for funding offer

Still waiting on:
U of Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth

Supposing I only get into the four I've been accepted to, does anyone have any advice? I love the program at Arkansas, but it's 4 years and that just might be too much to commit to in a town I'm not sure about (I've never been to Fayetteville, though).

I love the looks of Colorado State, and the students there seem to love it, but it's not ranked real high in the U.S. News rankings or on the Kealey Scale, for whatever reasons.

I'd be comfortable financially at SIUC.

I'm unsure if I want to live in the Maryland/D.C. area. Seems a bit urban for what I'm looking for right now, and still no word on funding.

Thanks everyone!

Pam said...

I can't speak to the Maryland program, but you should be able to find kindred spirits and a place for yourself in the Maryland/D.C. area. (I'm a lifelong resident.)

If it's the urban-ness that scares you, know that you'll find less of it up near College Park, which isn't even considered "in-town" enough for D.C.'s local city weekly. College Park is a bustling college town/suburb. Not particularly pretty or otherwise notable. But the broader area offers many diversions.

There are some great choices of living places that aren't full of honking horns and highrises. Greenbelt, for example, is a wonderful community, and Takoma Park, my old home town, is a hotbed of arts.

I live 45 minutes from the campus in a rural area/small town. If I weren't already in love with the idea of applying to low-res programs (I have a pinup of Warren Wilson over my bed*), I'd make that commute.

And congrats on all your choices!


*Just kidding about Warren's pinup. It's Englebert Humperdinck.

Mr. E said...

I've got 4 schools left. Is there anyone reading this thread who can tell me that waiting this long has at least put me into a higher tier of candidates for acceptance? Other than SFSU, the other three schools are geographically close, and I spend every day calculating the time it would take for a letter to arrive based on an imaginary date I set in my dangerously preoccupied mind.

Bolivia Red said...

mr. e
Not having received a letter probably means one of two things:
you're either in the "wait-list" pile at schools that don't bother sending out wait-list letters, or the schools are slow to send out rejections. Assume it's the former. It seems like most schools send out the instant rejects right away.