Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mailbag 18 May 2008

Questions, comments, and concerns answered here.

It's time to start thinking summer reading. What's on your list?


dwa~ said...


I have read a bit about median GRE scores on the blog, but does anyone know what the top schools require? I am wondering if schools will disqualify applications, before reading the writing samples, based on the GRE. Specifically: Iowa, UVA, Cornell, Notre Dame, Texas at Austin, and Emerson.

Also, the blog says the GRE is used as a tie breaker in certain circumstances. Does this mean that the GRE's importance is adjusted based on the quality of the samples?

I know these are a broad questions, but it is impossible to google relevant information (the best I can come up w/ for most schools is averages for political science and engineering masters).

I guess this question may be easier for individuals already in top programs to answer.


Writer Reading said...

Has anyone written about the Bennington Low Residency MFA program which is extremely disorganized with poor communication between teachers so that policies are different from one to the other and students get caught in the middle? Very uneven quality, a few good teachers and mostly terrible ones who should not be teaching at the MFA level.

forgotten the cat said...

Hi dwa,

From what I have heard and experienced in applying to programs, the place that will care the most about your GPA is the Graduate Admissions department. In most cases (or at least most of the schools that I applied to) you'll send off two applications, one to the CW department who will consider your sample, PS, and recs as the key parts of your application. But in most cases you must be accepted by the graduate school as well, which has a pretty cookie-cutter list of requirements, one of of which is GPA. You can usually find the minimums on the main site for the graduate school, like the GSAS for UVA. Most times it is a 3.0.

From what I have gathered, I don't think GPA will factor in to your application to the CW department a whole lot, as long as it's not truly horrendous. They want to see that you can handle a graduate course load, but I think a 3.0 candidate with a fabulous writing sample will beat out a 4.0 with a mediocre one any day.

I have a decent GPA (somewhere around a 3.5). I was rejected from some good programs and accepted to some others (I'm heading to the University of Michigan next year). I don't think for a minute that the people who beat me out for spots at other schools did so because they had a 4.0. I think that their samples were better than mine in the eyes of those particular admissions panels. Your GPA is what it is (assuming you are out of college, or almost done). Focus on making your sample the best it can be, and don't rule out schools because you think your grades will disqualify you.

JeSais said...

I would encourage ANYONE who is considering grad school to get to work on it NOW. I was very fortunate that I was accepted into the one place I applied (starting this Fall! yipee). Why only 1 you may ask... because I blew my deadlines on almost all the other schools on my list. Either I didn't take the GRE, which knocked a few schools off my list, or I just didn't submit my app in time.

So take the GRE. NOW, so you'll have time to re-take it if you must. Then you can work on getting your writing sample as good as it can possibly be!!!!

Catherine said...

Does anyone have any miracle stories they can share, because I'm hoping for one. I'm currently still on two wait lists, and I'm losing hope every day. When was the latest you ever heard of someone getting into a program? I'm fearing (but still wishing) on a call in late August, since both schools are across the country. Do wait lists often work out? Or generally no? Thanks!

Bolivia Red said...

One school didn't send me an acceptance letter until mid-June the year I applied, so all hope is not necessarily lost. Have you been in contact with the schools where you're waitlisted? It's not unreasonable at this point to check in with them to see where you stand. And it's ok to say "I didn't get in anywhere else" so they know you're serious and interested.

r.p. said...

Hi dwa~
I asked the same question last year when I was applying. I compiled a small list of GRE scores from various school websites-- this was all I found. It's on this post:

The scores I found are all based on the English Dept. These may give you an idea of what some schools look for.

I would absolutely recommend that you take the GRE. Yes, it costs $$ and a little time to study, but it's worth it. I think it's safe to assume that scoring at least 600in the verbal and 5 on the writing would create a safe passage through graduate admissions. This is my personal guess.

The most important thing you are sending to the schools is undoubtedly your manuscript. You'll hear this a million times before you hit the deadline. Just turn in your best, most polished work and that's all you can do.

If you have more questions, let me know- I'm glad to help. I'll be starting the Johns Hopkins MFA program this fall.

Samara said...

I was 5th on a waitlist of 8 for 5 fiction spots at a top program, and I got in. Then I turned them down, so #6 got in, too. Before I got the call, I thought there was no way in hell that I would get in being that far down on the list. Good luck!

Sarah Perrault said...

Free online GRE prep is available at

Summer reading! What a nice question.

For the science writing class I'll be teaching, I'm reading/rereading
Scott Montgomery, The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science, Gina Kolata, The Best American Science Writing 2007, and Dorothy Nelkin, Selling Science. I'm also going back through lots of the standard craft-of-writing books: Lamott, Zinsser, King, Miller & Paola, etc.

For pleasure, I'm planning to read a couple of Chaim Potok novels, other fiction as it comes to my attention (suggestions welcome), maybe Ted Levin's Blood Brook. Í've also started rereading McPhee's Basin and Range (try reading it aloud, even just to yourself -- stunning).

KATE EVANS said...

Our MFA program is debating the foreign language requirement (which involves a test to prove competency).

Does anyone know how many MFA programs require a foreign language? And how is that handled--are there courses in translation? A test?


r.p. said...

Johns Hopkins also requires that the MFA students pass a translation test (at a second year university level) in a foreign language. I'm hoping to audit a course in the summer or just study like crazy. I did Latin in undergrad. I don't know what the test looks like or how hard it is.

Summer reading?
The Stories of Richard Bausch, Dream Date: Stories by Jean McGarry, The Great Fires: Poems by Jack Gilbert. These are for pleasure.

To prepare for the class I'll be teaching in the fall, I'll be reading Eudora Welty, Nabokov, Henry James, Robert Frost, Paul Fussell, John Gardner, Seamus Heaney, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

camm said...

the mfa program at new mexico state (where i am headed in the fall) has a language requirement. here's a link t their page :

Samantha said...

About summer reading -

I want to read EvErYtHiNg! I want to read some fun books - I got Persepolis from the library and can't wait to read it. I also want to read some Jane Austen books - I've seen many film adaptations, but I want to read them too. I also want to read some literature that my professors talk about that I haven't read yet.

DM Nichols said...

This summer I'm reading a ton of Irish lit for a class... Yates and Joyce, Seamus Heaney/Deane, Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy, and Beckett's Murphy. They are all fantastic (at least the one's I've gotten through so far). In my spare time I've been reading the Collected Ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez, and I plan on reading a couple Salman Rushdie Novels (I've been on a Rusdie kick ever since he came here to speak this past Spring).

hnt said...

I've been following the GRE/GPA talk on this forum. I have a less than spectacular undergraduate GPA from a less than spectacular southwestern state school. I did break 1300 hundred on the GRE.

I've read some tips to recover from a bad GPA: from writing a letter explaining it (not that i have a good reason) to taking some non-degree earning graduate level classes to prove you can handle the course load.

Now, I know writing samples matter the most. And I have prepared/ am still preparing my best work. I have been published in a few reasonably notable literary magazines and to be frank I know my work is solid.

So the question is: should I write letters, take classes, ect. to redeem my gpa or will my writing sample, if well received, overshadow my early academic blunders (in the last two years of undergrad I did well, but not well enough to bring my cumulative to a 3.0. ).

I apologize if I am repeating anyone on the blog by asking more questions about GPA. Honestly I believe schools will like my body of work, but not my 2.6 (esh, I typed it). It is embarrassing and I want to overshadow the shame as much as I can.

Thanks everyone,


Bolivia Red said...


One thing a lot of schools look at is the GPA for the last 60 hours of your undergrad or the average of your major classes (usually the same thing), so if you started out poor but got your act together, you're probably fine. Take a look to see if that's the case, and then you wouldn't need much spin.

Where it might help to take a few grad courses is if you want to be considered for a TAship, especially at schools where not everyone is funded and you're competing for TAships. If the TAship is offered through the English or Rhet/Comp program versus the MFA program, there might be different, higher standards. Often, the application for the TAship includes an "academic" writing sample or two, so in lieu of taking classes, you may want to buff up (or crank out) a paper from an old lit class that would pass muster. Most of the programs that I remember requiring it asked for about 15-25 pages. Some schools are more stringent than others for the TAship side of things, which you'll need to check out.

The bottom line comes back to, pretty much if a program likes your writing sample and they want you, they'll make it work.

Tory Adkisson said...

I am reading voraciously this summer. On my list:

The Boat by Nam Le (Stories)
Backbone Flute by Vladimir Mayakovsky
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (Essays)
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (Novel)
My Tokyo by Frederick Seidel (Poems)
Felt by Alice Fulton (Poems)
Natasha: And Other Stories by David Bezmozgis (Stories)
Modern Life by Matthea Harvey (Poems)
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Graphic Novel)
The Mooring of Starting Out by John Ashbery (Poems)
Saturday by Ian McEwan (Novel)
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Stories)
The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition by Cesar Vallejo (trans. Clayton Eshleman)

This should be enough for June. I am eager to accept recommendations based on what I have here, especially for poetry because good collections are hard to come by. If you want suggestions, feel free to ask. Let's share, my community!

Buying Time said...

I feel like the most important aspect of a CW programs is funding. Surely, I have my preferences when it comes to other aspects of a program, but, for me, the idea of attending a grad school doesn't become a reality unless the funding is there.

In order for a program to become viable for me, it would have to fund me to a level were I'd be up $16,000 per year minimum (that is, winding up with $16,000 for annual living expenses). I know there are some programs that offer this level of funding or higher to all their students (like the Michener Center), but it seems there are more that offer it to a few (like Ohio State) that are never mentioned in "well-funded" lists.

Ultimately, I want a program that can cover my basic living expenses and give me two or three years to write while asking no more in return than teaching, say, a course per semester. Is there any list of programs based purely on financial terms? Can anyone tell me of schools that meet my financial criteria (or give me a sense if there are many or few)? I want to apply to as many programs as possible that, at their best, meet my financial criteria, even if their funding is competitive and very limited--I trust my writing enough to want to take a shot. In other words, I want to apply if the school offers the type of funding I require to all their students, or just one. Beyond this, I want to place special emphasis on getting the most funding I can.

In closing, a rant: money is the one quantifiable, completely objectively assessable aspect of any program (the more money the better). So why, then, is it so hard to find concrete information on certain program's funding? It seems a little game these programs are playing. I've written many programs on the topic and gotten only one reply. The one time I did get a reply, the person had the gal to say it was a long shot for me to get in and "too early" to discuss such matters. Too early? Why, so I can break my neck taking the GRE for you (the only school on my list requiring it) to teach myself math and then go through the trouble of applying (and paying money I don't have for the privilege) only to find out I can't attend because you decided to be vague on your website about what financial support students receive?

Samara said...

Currently reading:
Women and Other Animals by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Like You'd Understand, Anyway and Love and Hydrogen by Jim Shepard, The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, and Erin McGraw's first book. I also recently read Erin McGraw's The Good Life, which I loved, and a couple of Sara Paretsky mysteries. I want to get my hands on Jhumpa Lahiri's new book. Another one I read recently that I totally, completely loved was The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. I really, really want to get some of his other stuff.

Samara said...

Buying Time--
I think that for a lot of schools the funding varies year to year--even if every student is funded, the exact amount of the stipend changes. Even this April, directors of schools I'd gotten into didn't know the exact amount yet.

Off the top of my head, Ohio State, where I'm going, offers funding combined with a low cost of living. It's not $16K, but Columbus seems like a really cheap city, so funding might be comparable to a school that offers more in a more expensive city. Also, it seems like at least a couple MFA students in each class receive fellowships the first year.

Washington University in St. Louis offers a LOT of money--I think it's around $18K with no teaching the first year, and then a TA with a slightly lower stipend the second year.

r.p. said...

Buying Time- I have to say that I also think that $ is absolutely crucial. Who wants to come out of a creative writing program with $30,000 or more in debt? Any debt at all?

I'm starting to pull info from a bunch of schools based on excellence in funding. You can browse the handful I've finished at

Best of luck!

Speak Coffee said...

Re: Buying Time on FUNDING

I know what you mean about those numbers not being easy to find. But now that I've applied and I've been discussing the process with people in the same boat over the past few months I'm finding promising things.

My program doesn't list numbers b/c the number of people they can afford to fund changes each year. They only "accept" the number they can fund, but when they have applicants like me on the waitlist who really really want to come and are willing to pay for part/all of a year and reapply for funding next year they're willing to enroll me for the fall. However my presence throws off their status as "fulling funding all students." But the good news is that now that I'm on board and talking with people, those people are looking for ways to find me little bits and pieces of money to make my way easier. Between a part time job and a couch-cushion-scholarship I'm hoping to make it work. I know another applicant this year at another school who was told "no funding" and is now getting piecemeal aid as well.

My suggestion is to take a good long look at public in-state schools. The tuition is often much more doable, especially if you can work part-time in the process.

And apply to programs like Wisconsin, Michigan and Notre Dame that fully fund. Michigan accepted less than 4% of their applicants this past year but you can always try.

Some grad schools have a policy that no program can admit a student that doesn't have at least a combined 1000 GRE. However, if your writing sample is the best thing since sliced bread the MFA program may be willing to fight the grad school on this.

Scout said...

Summer reading:
Knockemstiff-Donald Ray Pollock
The Collected Stories of Earnest Hemingway
Our Story Begins-Tobias Wolfe
Lorrie Moore stories
and everything else I can get my hands on.

I'm a little torn on the thread about money and the MFA. Of course you shouldn't throw $30K at a program that gives you a degree that makes you completely unmarketable. But I also read a tremendous sense of entitlement into your question. You had better hope that you are the next [fill in big, money-making cross-over hit writer here], because even if you get fully funded for your MFA (and I hope you do), that will probably be the last free lunch you get. It's still an MFA after all. Good luck finding your golden ticket.

dannigirl said...

Hello all,

Since there is much discussion on the GRE topic, I thought I'd ask a question. I did very well on the main part of the test (1300+), but I didn't do as well on the writing (3.5). Is that going to hurt me? I really am a strong writer, but I simply didn't practice enough for the writing portion. Should I take the test again even though the other part of my score is more than enough in most places? Thanks in advance for the feedback.


Lisa N.R. said...

I know I'm woefully behind the times, but I'm reading old prize winners this summer. So, Ha Jin (love him), Jhumpa Lahiri (Intepreter of Maladies), more Andrea Barrett (love her), David Shields' new book "The Thing about Life...",and some classics..."To The Lighthouse," Autumn of the Patriarch," and whatever else comes my way. Also looking forward to "Tree of Smoke"

mgratherjr said...

I'm not sure where this question should go so I am going to drop it here. I am uncertain whether I will be getting grad loans this semester (I am the process of reorganizing my debt and due to personal issues have bad credit). I have a TA position at the school I have been accepted to, but can only expect 1000 a month. Good money, but I am nervous about living off a grand. The cheapest rent I have found is 525 (including utilities), when added to 75 a month insurance, 50 a month phone, and grocery/gas--I will be cutting it really close. Do any of you work part time on top of classes and a TA position? Any recommendations for making extra funds during the MFA process?

I have juggled two jobs, a full class load, performing in a traveling theatrical troupe, writing, and a relationship.

Any suggestions?

M. Douglas said...


I'm not familiar with any programs that let you have a part-time job and TA at the same time. I'm not sure it's allowed. At least at all the schools I researched, that's not the case.

Have you looked into any kind of government assistance? That may not be an option, but it could be something very beneficial.

I'm positive that other ways of making money come up all the time at the universities themselves: subbing for other instructors, community/high school workshops, etc. You may want to ask the people at the program directly about this issue.

Anyway, good luck with the finances. Most of us at these MFAs are in the same situation, so maybe there's some safety in numbers.


r.p. said...

McGratherJr- I don't know them personally, but I know that there are 1 or 2 people in JHU's MFA program who also tutor to make a little extra cash in addition to the stipend and TA-ship.

I'd suggest tutoring or finding some kind of freelance job writing or helping high schoolers polish statements for college, etc.

I wish you the best!

Bolivia Red said...


You have the whole summer to temp or get a job or two and rack up some cash. Yes, some people do pick up the odd job to make ends meet, though most try to work over summer and save up. The point is to give yourself time to write, so it doesn't make sense to overwork yourself and not write. Don't underestimate how intense your first year of teaching and taking grad classes is going to be.

If your debt doesn't involve previous federal student loans and/or you're not in default on student loans, I think you're still eligible for financial aid. Don't be afraid to call the school's financial aid office and talk to them. They're there to help you.

A grand might barely meet your basics, but that doesn't leave you any wiggle room for trips to the dentist (I've had 5 root canals in 3 years) and flat tires and a few nights on the town. You might see if there's other scholarship money or grants/fellowships to be had at the school.

Consider a roommate situation, too. We have several people who got in touch over summer before they started and roomed the first year. That might help.

JoeyD said...

For summer reading, I'm currently finishing Toni Morrison's Sula. Also, I'm pecking away at three other books: Postmodern literary theory, a 30 year old collection of American short stories and Moby Dick (should probably just focus on this monster of an awesome novel). If I ever get through that last one, I'll start Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Oh, and in between all of this I read garbage gossip blogs because I absolutely must know what Jake Gyllenhaal is wearing every hour of the day.

Seth Abramson said...

Buying Time (and others),

The second edition of Tom Kealey's Creative Writing MFA Handbook will have a funding-only ranking of programs (the top sixty). I did that ranking myself--the research and everything--so I can vouch for it being the most-researched assessment to date (it even takes into account cost of living). The book is due out later this year, and will also have comprehensive tiered rankings of the top 50 programs (again my doing) and a "master poll" of applicants I compiled--300 applicants in total--listing the top 100 most popular/applied to programs.

In the meantime, I've compiled a huge amount of MFA data here:

Be well, and best of luck,


hnt said...

bolivia red,

My last sixty hours average out above a 3.0, but I am interested TAships.

If I were to take classes how would I present them with my applications? I can't really think of a good way.

A note?

"Here is my non-degree earning transcript. I hope this proves I can teach and overshadows the fact that as a freshman I failed Ancient Buddhist Literature and Swahili - I should have stuck with Spanish, I know."

Also, I assume it is okay to submit samples that have been published. Can any one confirm that?

~ Haley

Lincoln said...

Blogger dannigirl said...

Hello all,

Since there is much discussion on the GRE topic, I thought I'd ask a question. I did very well on the main part of the test (1300+), but I didn't do as well on the writing (3.5). Is that going to hurt me?

Dannigirl: It shouldn't be much of a problem. Many schools don't even ask for your GRE scores and those that do don't weigh them heavily at all. In fact, I think most MFA programs that ask for GRE scores only do so because the university at large has rules requiring it.

Good luck

Alex said...

Haley, or anyone else in the low GPA pool like me --

One other thing that might help...a resume. I had a low undergrad GPA (2.6-ish, showed improvement over the last 2 semesters). But I've been out of school for 10 years and have a solid work history showing that I've handled important tasks, supervised employees, and balanced a full-time job along with my on-again, off-again writing "career." Whatever problems someone might read into my transcript are at least somewhat offset by my successful stint in the corporate world.

The administrators at the school I'll be attending in the fall choked a bit when they saw my sub-3.0 gpa (this was the grad school of arts & sciences staff, not the MFA program folks). The fiction faculty fought for me and got me through. If you show promise, they'll make it work.

(not to say that wasn't an incredibly stressful week as they sorted that out -- to be accepted, then told "hey, wait a second. maybe not..." I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone.)

Hope that helps...


JoeyD said...


I might have mentioned this elsewhere in another mailbag...I graduated with a 2.5 GPA, and then several years later I went back to school for an MA in Literature before I realized midway through the program that I really wanted to write fiction, not literary theoretical essays.

Last year I took the GRE and while I did fairly well on the verbal, I didn't do so hot in the analytical writing portion (I received a '4'). And don't even ask me about the quantitative section; I did horribly because I didn't study.

I applied to a few MFA programs and in the meantime I graduated from the MA Lit program with a 3.9 GPA.

The school that finally accepted me said that although the 3.9 indicated that I would do well in graduate-level study, the dept. of graduate admissions counted only undergraduate grades; thankfully, they allowed me in on the condition that I received nothing less than B's in the first semester.

So the moral of this sort of long-winded story is that even a sorry-assed slacker like me can get in, as long as you find some ways to illustrate your commitment to good work--whether it's through professional or academic accomplishments.

And, as the MFA experts here have reminded us over and over again, a decent writing sample is more important than grade points and some lousy standardized test score.

Pote said...


I've been reading through your blog, and finding it very useful.

I'm wondering if it's any harder for international students to be accepted in CW programmes. (I'm Indian.) I worry constantly that my style of writing may not be appreciated. I /have/ been published, though I don't know if my credits are good enough. (5 mags so far, most of them British publications. I'm working on sending work to American mags.)

hnt said...

Alex and Joeyd,

Can I ask what schools you both attend? And maybe where else you got in?

And Alex that is a terrible situation. Do I need to remind schools when they accept me that my grades are bad?

Bolivia Red said...


Alex and Joeyd make some good points. I don't think you need to say much of anything about your transcripts since you did pull yourself together in the last 2 years/60 credits, and that's the part that counts, even to the rhet/comp people. (They're looking to see if you can string a few sentences together in English and throw a few commas and semi-colons around, not necessarily that you got a D in sanskrit and algebra.) Perhaps on a copy of the transcripts you include in the app, do the calculation (without commentary) to indicate that the last 60 hours or 2 years are at least 3.0.

In your SOP, you probably don't need to say anything. In your TA app, you might spin it to say, "I feel I'll be especially helpful to those students challenged to find their way through their first year of university and can offer empathy and guidance from the lessons I learned." Or you can say, "While I stumbled in Sanskrit and Algebra, in my last two years of school, my GPA is a healthy 3.0+ in my major Lit classes."

You're going to be fine, Haley. Work on that manuscript and quit sweating the GPA.

Lincoln said...

Pote said...

I'm wondering if it's any harder for international students to be accepted in CW programmes. (I'm Indian.) I worry constantly that my style of writing may not be appreciated. I /have/ been published, though I don't know if my credits are good enough. (5 mags so far, most of them British publications. I'm working on sending work to American mags.)

I'm not sure I have any insights on whether it is harder to get into an MFA program as a foreigner (although I can tell you that my program had several foreign students when I attended), but I don't think you should worry about publications. The majority of MFA students don't have any publications prior to going to the MFA program. In fact, it seems like most MFA applicants have never really submitted work yet.

So don't worry about the publications.

Good luck

JoeyD said...


Because I'm unable to move out of the LA area, I only applied to three nearby schools: Cal State Long Beach, UC Riverside and USC.

Although they are 'under the radar,' I believe that the first two have pretty good reputations. And because they are state colleges (I'm a California resident), their tuition is reasonable.

I didn't get into either. I got into USC. It's very expensive. $37,000-40,000 for two years. I am going against conventional wisdom, and I know some might think I'm stupid or crazy. But I have an established life here, a home and family, and I'll be working enough to make the debt 'manageable.'

At least it's cheaper than CalArts: $63,000 for two years!!! And USC seems to have lured away their director, Bridghe Mullins.

Regarding the issue of mentioning something about your low GPA in the SOP, I went ahead and did it. I took someone's advice on this blog. I basically said that while my undergrad grades were crappy, I had some personal issues to contend with (I just gave vague, but entirely true details about caring for a family member), and that low grades are in my past, because look at my current GPA, etc, etc.

If you haven't taken classes recently and don't plan to, then it's all about the writing sample, and a compelling statement of purpose which plays up your writing philosophy, interest in teaching, and recent or current accomplishments (publications, work accolades, etc).

I hope I was helpful. I've found a lot of great advice on this blog.

Man with No Name said...

I am currently deciding between Hunter College @ CUNY, American University, and Brooklyn College. All three schools offer pretty decent funding and impressive faculty. Any suggestions?

Wind Chaser said...


when i spoke to my advisor, he said that if you have a low GPA, a good score on the GRE could make up for it. a lot of schools don't require the GRE now, and the creative writing departments really only care about your writing sample. the only thing is getting past the regular graduate admissions, so if your GPA is lower, the department can show them your GRE score to appease them and get you in. GPA's are really hard to raise, but the GRE, a one-time thing, i think is something worth taking and worth studying for.

aaa said...

I am searching for an interesting online MFA program to pursue poetry writing and/or personal essays. I completed the undergrad writing program at columbia and now work as a professional athlete full-time but wish to do something else to supplement the social experiments i conduct in bars! any info would be delicious. HELP!

s.t.liaw said...

To: Pote
Re: International students

I can't speak for whether the schools will appreciate your 'style,' but as far as I know, if the readers like your writing, it doesn't matter where you're from, local or international.

I applied for poetry as an international student (lived in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong) who currently live in California, and I got in to UCI and Oregon. I'm not sure about Oregon, but the UCI faculty had no idea that I was an international student, even though it was in my applications. That's to say if the faculty resonates with your manuscript, the international student part is just a matter of VISAs and financial aids (see below).

A note of caution though. 'Tuition waivers' are not the same as 'fellowships/scholarships.' As an international student (F-1 visa) you may not qualify for a tuition waiver, and may have to pay out of state tuition rates. Since the schools let the program administrators rather than the faculty concern themselves with this, make sure you get this clarified, if finances will be of big concern for you.

All the best.

Lisa N.R. said...

Hello, another lurker, already obsessing over apps for fall. I will basically have to go low rez (may be out of my league financially, with mouths to feed) OR get into the U of Washington. Does anyone have any advice about UW for fiction? I accidently talked to a current MFA student in a random phone connection. He was pretty chagrined in all kinds of ways over the program, but I don't know if he was just a crank or a voice crying in the wilderness. I adore the program at Warren Wilson, in every way, but it gets discouraging to hear people say "you shouldn't go into debt for an MFA." I just keep writing, desperate to get better, any way I can. I know the UW MFA is considered a good program (in Tom's book, at least)...does anyone else have experience, applying, getting in, friends, first-hand? Also...I went there as an undergrad (over 15 years ago) does that help or hurt my chances?Thanks and best wishes to you all; this is such a generous group, sharing info and positivity.

r.p. said...

Naropa Univ offers an online MFA program for the academic year but a summer residency is required. You might consider a low residency program like Bennington, Vermont, Warren Wilson, Pacific, or Antioch.

Most schools require a 3.0 for entrance. The only problem I see with writing an explanation about poor GPA is that the writing faculty usually do not even look at this. The GPA and GRE are usualyl seen by Grad Admissions, who are responsible for allowing students into the school in the first place. I would contact Grad Admissions for each program and ask about this.

Finally, FUNDING.
I just saw that Tom Kealey is putting out a new handbook on the top 60 funded programs. I guess we both caught on to something. I've compiled a list of MFA programs with full funding for ALL students based on a 4 point rubric. You can see it here at:

DOGZPLOT said...



CREAMY BULLETS - kevin sampsell

A PECULIAR FEELING OF RESTLESSNESS - a collection of flash fiction chapbooks recently released by rose metal press

quick question for anyone:

the mfa program at rutgers-newark is brand new this year. has anybody heard anything about it? i know jayne anne phillips is there and she is amazing, and the funding is good, but what about the program, anybody got the inside scoop?

Screwsan said...

re: going into debt for an MFA (lisa n.r.):

I took on debt to go to a low-res program. The reason I went low-res was so I could keep working in my career field. The money I spent on the program is money I've earned back by advancing at my job (and by not having to move away and start over and probably waitress in a small college town somewhere for two years).

In the immortal and annoying words of my stepfather: Whatever you think you can afford. I could afford some debt and I got a very low interest rate and I'm paying it back over the next 20 years, so it's not something that affects my everyday life or lowers my quality of life at all. In fact, it has helped me establish good credit.

It's not that no one should ever go into debt to get an MFA, it's just that you should be sure you can live with such a debt for years, possibly decades, and that the low-residency program costs are balanced out by low-res program rewards. For some people, it's worth it. For others it's not. It all depends on your individual situation.

Lizzy said...

screwsan, I think that's smart. Of course, we want to minimize the debt we take on, if any at all. But I am not among those who are against MFA debt at all costs.

In the age of information, a professional writing degree is increasingly valuable. I don't believe the MFA is as "useless" as so many claim it to be. No, of course it's not a law degree. But it can, as you say, improve one's chances for professional advancement.

The landscape is constantly changing. Yesterday's platitudes don't necessarily apply today. That's my optimistic take on things, anyway. Whether anyone agrees with me or not on the future prospects of the MFA, the reality is that even full funding won't always provide for all of one's needs, especially if one is a nontraditional student. As you point out, screwsan, smart debt can have its pluses, too.

Good luck, everyone.

Robin08 said...

I just turned 59 and have been a journalist for 28 years (including almost 18 years at The Wall Street Journal). I would like to teach nonfiction writing and need an MFA but I despair of ever being considered for a program because
- most colleges would probably consider me too close to retirement age to waste a slot on me
- I've essentially been an editor for the past 18 years and don't have any current stories I've written to submit with my application
- I don't know any professors who could write recommendation letters for me because I graduated from college (with a degree in history) 38 years ago
- I'm restricted to low-residency programs because I can't afford to quit my job (with an international news organization) and still go to school.

Is there any possibility I could get accepted into a decent program? Or if there's already been a discussion about people in my situation, could someone point me to the posts?

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.


Seth Abramson said...

Hi Robin,

Some good news for you:

1. I'm reasonably convinced that MFA programs are not particularly concerned about age, simply quality of work. To the extent they are concerned about age, any such concerns would be off-set by the fact that a) you've already demonstrated skill in your field, and b) unlike many younger writers, who may ultimately give up writing after the MFA, you have a lifelong commitment to your field which your background demonstrates and which will therefore be an important consideration for admissions committees. They want people who are going to stay in the field, and not move on to other fields.

2. I think low-res programs are particularly unconcerned about age, because they are by definition designed for those who already have careers, which (again, by definition I think) is an older demographic. Most programs, low-res or otherwise, can boast at least a few admittees in any given class who are non-traditional students, and to the extent it is " a few" and not "a lot," remember that the number of such individuals applying to MFA programs is commensurately low, so the admissions rates are likely unchanged for older admittees (or, the decrease is de minimis). Granted, this is speculation--there's no data on this--but I think/hope it's informed speculation based on my experiences and research.

c) Recommendations are not a major part of the application. Provided they're positive, and speak to your commitment to writing, it doesn't matter if they're from professors or not (it may, as a matter of "form" and expectation, be preferable, but it doesn't significantly change the game, or the odds, in any one direction, I'm saying). I'm 31, and had no professor recommendations when I applied and was accepted to Iowa.

d) The number of low-res programs is increasing, to the point where there are at least three (just off-hand) which have strong reputations in the field of MFA study not merely "among low-res programs" but overall: Warren Wilson College, Bennington College, and Vermont College. Plus, several large, established universities are starting or have started up low-res programs, like the University of Nebraska and the University of Alaska.

e) The biggest issue of those you mentioned is that you do need a writing sample, as that's the primary element (90%+) of your application in terms of you getting in or not. On the bright side, I think that's the only thing your standing as a potential applicant is "missing" at the moment.

E-mail me at if you have any further questions. I'm particularly interested in helping non-traditional students if I can, as I've been very close to--personally, as well as (now) as a college instructor--non-traditional students in the past, and just admire the hell of that demographic. I know how difficult it can be to go back to school after being out for many years.

Best wishes,

Man with No Name said...

I came across this program recently. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a three year MA/MFA program. Here's a link if anyone is interested.

morningstarslave said...

Hey all!

So...I will try to keep this long and autobiographical story short. I am a third year medical student, one year from graduating with my MD...and I am just coming to terms with the fact that I have a deeper passion for writing than medicine. However the $1XX,XXX worth of loans I have for medical school mean that I will finish my M.D, do residency and work as a doctor. but my school will defer the loans for a 1-year leave of absence before doing my 4th year (light enough I could keep doing a low-res MFA)/graduating. I want really badly to spend this year working on my writing in an MFA program, then maybe finish the MFA in my 4th year of med school (a joke compared to the brutal first 3 years).

So my question I have a prayer? I've only taken one writing course in college (granted it was 400 level and I got an A) and haven't written hardly at all over the past 3 years. The only thing I have right now is a 20ish page fragment of a adolescent-targeted Fantasy story I began writing as a Christmas present for my younger brothers...and literally never had time to finish.
The main crux of this question is a time crunch. I'm trying to get into various low-res programs that have summer residencies beginning 4-6 weeks from NOW. The people I talk to at those programs have encouraged me to apply...but I'm wondering: should I go ahead and give it a shot? I know that my writing sample isn't as strong as it should be and that's the core of the application. Would it hurt me to try and apply now, then if I don't get in work hard on re-applying for the fall? (in other words, do schools frown on re-application?) Also (and lastly) do most MFA programs have strong positive or negative feelings about genre writers? I basically grew up on Fantasy and SF, and while I don't feel tied down to those they are definitely the foundation of my literary world.

Thanks, sorry for the rambling randomness, and peace to you!

morningstarslave said...

And as an addendum to my own post I guess what I'm asking there any way that a strong personal statement, explaining a genuine total lack of time to write, can in any way make up for (what I think may be)a somewhat weak writing sample? or should i not even bother? Thanks and again, peace!

r.p. said...

To be blunt, completely honest- there's nothing in your personal statement that will make up for a weak writing sample. Think of your writing sample as the whole pie and the GRE, personal statement, recommendations as the icing on the cake.

Steviek said...

I hope this helps to quell some fears. The TA positions at the school I am attending next year bases their offers solely on a ranking of writing samples.

Speak Coffee said...

POTE: chances are good for you. So long as your English is good as well as your comprehension of story telling and culture conflict. I don't know what you like to write but (pardon me if I'm being politically incorrect) stories about different ethnicities blending/conflicting with main stream american culture are hot in the market place if told by immigrents or the children there of. I can only assume that a well told story in the same vein would be equally appealing to an MFA acceptance committee. However this is all speculation and you still (obviously) have to be able to write a story. But I do not think being an international student will be a deterrent to your acceptance unless you have extremely limited writing experience. (If so you might want to take a class or publish a story before applying although neither is required for acceptance and neither is a guarentee of acceptance.)

scheherazade said...

s.t.liaw - From what you've seen is it fairly common for schools not to offer tuition waivers to international students? Are there any other caveats we international students need to consider before applying? I remember seeing one school that requires you to submit with your initial application a bank's assurance that you have or can access $30,000 to pay for your program if the need arises... As if there weren't enough components to the application already!

NJ said...

I need a couple of good thank you gifts for my recs. Any suggestions?

Tory Adkisson said...

anything baked and homemade works! chocolate, cupcakes, pie, least that's what i'm doing for my recommenders!

r.p. said...

Gift cards to bookstores, a bottle of wine. Last year I made each of my recs a card and tucked gift cards in each. I also sent some baby gifts to 1 recommender whose wife was expecting. Adding a personal touch is always nice.

pps said...

When is a good time to start getting my recs?

pps said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samara said...

Crap--has anyone else out there been so lax as to not thank their recommenders by anything other than email? I feel like such a schmuck. But then, one of them responded to said email with "don't worry, you are so not a philistine." I still feel like a jerk. I had the best of plans for homemade cookies and bookstore gift certificates--maybe it's not too late?

Bolivia Red said...

Instead of awkward, three-month's late thank-you cookies now, why not send a t-shirt and some local trinket from your new school in the fall with a "thanks, wouldn't be here without you" note.

Jennifer said...

Hi Y'all, sorry if the answer to this is posted elsewhere and I just can't find it . . .

On the Johns Hopkins language requirement. . . this means that if I have no foreign language proficiency at all, I ain't gettin' in, right? They don't let you take the language once you get there, it is a prerequisite for admission, right?

bookfan said...

Re: GRE scores- I seem to be doing pretty well on the verbal sections, but my math is pretty stale. I'd rather spend the time working on fixing up my stories than studying math... any advice?

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