Monday, August 11, 2008

Mailbag - August 13, 2008

Looks like it's time for a new mailbag.

Questions, comments, icy cold drinks: bring 'em... bring 'em all.


Unknown said...

Here's one: How important are campus visits both before and after the applications go in? A friend (going for her MA in history) suggested that my lack of offers last year was due to not meeting with program leaders before they made their decision. My friend pointed out that directors are much more likely to remember someone they've met. I don't doubt that, but I'm looking at applying to a lot of schools, very few of which are close. Even visiting a couple would get pretty expensive, so I'm wondering how much it would actually help in a CW degree?

Emily A. Benton said...


I don't think meeting the directors or professors before applying makes any difference as far as acceptance. Maybe they would give your application an extra read if they knew your name, but it's YOUR WRITING that they should be remembering you by, not your face. YOUR WRITING is what ultimately determines your acceptance into a program. I don't think schmoozing beforehand matters one way or the other.

But you should definitely consider visiting programs that offer acceptances. Your visit with faculty and students could help you find funding, and - most importantly - give you a better sense of what program is best for you.

pablo said...

I'm finally done with my list and would love some feedback. Thanks!

U of Houston
U of Massachusetts Amherst
U of Pittsburgh
U of Memphis
U of Maryland
Penn State
Texas State
Colorado State
The New School

PARTISAN said...

I agree with emily. In fact, I believe many program's websites state that meeting with faculty and directors does not increase your chances of admission into the program, and many will not meet with you at all. They are loaded down with their own classes and responsibility and when the time comes to review your application, your writing is what they're going to concentrate on.

I do think that it's difficult in talking with friends (at least for me) that have applied and are going for their masters in liberal arts fields. I think people find it easy to lump all graduate processes together and from what I understand so far, the MFA process is a very different beast in terms of what counts and what doesn't matter at all in terms of acceptance.

Also, if I hear one more of my friends balk at the fact that I'm applying to 15 schools, I'm going to go crazy. I feel like I should have a handy little card in my pocket to give to people to explain why applying for an MFA is very different than their MA in English.

Sigh ;)

Marc said...

I'm only seriously considering applying to six high-residency programs (in Creative Nonfiction) at the moment. Am I nine short judging from these other comments? :)

PARTISAN said...


15 is not necessarily the golden number ;) For me, I'm applying for poetry and to roughly 15 programs ranging from "i'd sell my sister to get into here" to "i would be happy at this program" type of schools. I think it's generally considered a good thing to apply to as many programs as you can afford to, and as many as you can stand completing applications for.

I simply feel ready to enter a program in Fall '09 and want to give myself the best possible chance.

Anonymous said...
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Jessica Miele said...

write, write, write. Write even when you're tired and exhausted and you'd rather mow the lawn in 115 degree weather. Write when you have no idea what you'll write. Read Natalie Goldberg and find writing exercises that work and, "keep the pen moving."

Writing programs won't help you write, they'll help with what you write.

How much you write is up to you. Remember that sometimes writing isn't always "fun." Writing is hard work. J.A. Jance once said, "A writer is someone who has written TODAY." Have you written today?

Unknown said...

I share your frustration with having to explain how the process is different! The same friend was full of a lot of advice that I'm re-examining . . . I don't even have my final list made up yet, I already feel behind. Gah.

malcontent said...


There is no need to visit before you apply. I suggest you conserve your resources so that you can visit the schools that you are seriously considering after the acceptances are out.


I agree with jess that it is crucial to just keep writing. If I waited until I felt inspired, my output would be negligable. Sure, some people are more prolific than others, but writing needs to be a habit that is independent of mood. I don't think the expectation that one will complete a manuscript is at all unreasonable.

Brittany said...
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Brittany said...

Hey everyone,

I've got a list going right now for fiction, which I need to trim down because I simply can't afford to apply to that many schools..especially b/c this is my second time applying! Here's what I have so far:

Seattle Pacific U
Eastern Washington
George Mason
The New School
Brooklyn College
Sarah Lawrence College
Hunter College
Northern Michigan (MA)
U of Colorado at Boulder
Minnesota State at Mankato

I'm planning on only applying to nine. My question is, does anyone have any suggestions for programs that may have a larger acceptance rate (I would say, "Are there any safety schools," but I know there are no such things)? I'm over applying to the fabulous, top-notch schools because I applied to less-than-top-notch schools last year and got rejected by all of them.

I don't want to go to school in the south--my only stipulation. I think this application round is going to be my last if I don't make it this year. Thanks guys!

Marc said...

Does anyone have a good list of creative non-fiction programs going?

Nick McRae said...


When you say you don't want to be in the South, where specifically do you mean? George Mason and VCU, which are on your list, are both in Virginia, which is a Southern state.

Also, what are your reasons for not wanting to go to the South, if you don't mind me asking? There are a lot of good schools there that have great, well-funded programs. Why the bias?


M. Dennis said...


Are you sure you want to apply to MFA programs just yet? Maybe you'd be more interested in a literature program that explores poetry and poetics? I say this because before creative writing mfa programs, people learned to be better writers by becoming better readers-- and of course this is still true today.

I don't mean to discourage you, but being in MFA programs usually requires completing a book-length thesis as well as turning work into workshops regularly. At the least you might just want to give yourself some time off from applyinh to try to make writing a stronger habit. Or not. The advice other people offered is good too-- just suck it up and write, write, write.

pablo said...


Anonymous said...
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mikedon said...

I'm applying for fiction programs and have a rather lengthy list. I'm trying to trim it down a bit. Funding and location are my two biggest criteria. Looking to apply to 14 or 15 programs. Any thoughts?

UMASS Amherst
UNC Greensboro
UNC Wilmington

malcontent said...


I do understand your feelings because I am a perfectionist and never think what I have produced is quite polished enough.

However, I have found it liberating to have deadlines in workshops. Being forced to produce faster changes my work. It may be less polished but it also becomes less ornate, less stately. The ideas have to come faster.

One of the functions of a workshop is to provide feedback on work that is not realized yet. Workshops are an element of the process, and I'm not sure it would be worthwhile to workshop work I was fully satisfied with.

Jessica Miele said...

I've noticed that no one has mentioned Emerson on their list, and I was just wondering people's thoughts on their program. I think their literary magazine (Ploughshares) is one of the best.

No One New said...

I would just like to jump in and respond to a few posts.


I definitely understand where you are coming from. Elizabeth Bishop was well known for being the kind of perfectionist you are, she often spent an entire year on revising single poems. It is for our benefit and detriment since her poems are absolutely brilliant, but in contrast to her contemporaries, she published much fewer poems due to her strong commitment to revision.

That being said, while these MFA programs require the completion of a book length thesis, publishing that thesis isn't what many writers do. Often they work with their thesis for a few years after the program before actually sending it out to contests and literary publishers. The idea is to get you thinking in that mode, to get you disciplined enough to complete book-length manuscripts after completing the program.

You might find it difficult, then, in an MFA program, which puts certain constraints on your writing, but afterwards you'd ideally have the discipline needed to come up with a book of your most realized work.

Just some food for thought.


Emerson was initially on my list, but after Tom derided the program in his book, I looked into it and found that it did not seem to be a very writerly program, in the sense that it is more focused on the business of publishing than the business of writing (fitting, since Emerson is predominantly known as something of a business school). Not only that, but for a program firmly situated in Boston, the funding leaves a lot to be desired. I agree that Ploughshares is a fantastic journal, but the actual program seemed a bit overrated to me. That's just my two cents (with maybe an additional cent thrown in).

PARTISAN said...

In regards to Emerson: My two cents are pretty much the same as Tory's. Their funding is known to be quite awful (and I live in Boston, so I'm well aware of the price tag here.) Also, from reading the boards last year, I seem to remember a couple people who were admitted to Emerson and had lots of frustrating experiences in communicating with the program (emails never getting answered, phone calls telling you to call someone else who tells you to call someone else, etc.)

That said, of course Ploughshares is amazing. What's also amazing is how Boston can have such a great literary scene but be lacking so much in terms of writing academia. BU is a year long program with its own share of drawbacks and Emerson will put you in the poor house with more of a publishing background than a writing background.

PARTISAN said...

A question regarding page count:

Nearly all of the programs I'm applying to (poetry) ask for a submission of 8-10 pages of poetry. I have been sorting through my work accordingly and this page count makes me very comfortable. Then, of course, you have Notre Dame which asks for 20.


I've been writing seriously for some time now, but to ask for 20 pages of poetry would leave me submitting at least a couple poems which I don't value as my "best" work.

What are people's thoughts towards this? Do I just submit the 10 or so that I'm submitting elsewhere and hope that my best is enough to go on? Do I submit 20 even though some of them aren't my strongest? Do I cut Notre Dame off my list?

I'm sure I'm not the only one frustrated by varying page requirements?

Unknown said...

Sara E.G. - you're not the only one. I've been starting to wonder what I'm going to do when a school calls for 35 pages of quality fiction and I only have 30 to offer. Write a five page story? Submit less?

Luke Johnson said...
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Luke Johnson said...


Looks like you've got a great list. To my understanding, the funding at UNC-Wilmington, Brooklyn, and Pittsburgh isn't great. Specifically Pittsburgh, I think they only fund 2 of the students they accept each year. As far as Brooklyn goes, I know they offer some level of assistance, but not a full tuition waiver. Then again, if I was writing fiction, I would pay to study with Amy Hempel.

I'll preface my suggestion for another school you might consider applying to with the information that I'm currently a student there and I suspect (rather, am certain) that this influences my opinion. You may want to look into Hollins University. About 2 hours north of Greensboro, nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Good luck with your list.

mikedon said...


Thanks for your suggestions. I will definitely look into Hollins. What is the funding situation?


Seth Abramson said...

Hi Mike,

Hollins is 58% funded (7 of 12 get full or near-full funding) and Wilmington is 40% funded. Pittsburgh and Brooklyn are, it could reasonably be said, essentially unfunded.

Be well,

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. I should say, that's the info I have, but Luke should feel free to correct me, as he'd be in a better position to know. :-)

No One New said...

I have the same problem Sara. I am applying to Indiana which also asks for 20 pages...for me that's essentially a whole separate manuscript tacked onto the existing one I'm sending everywhere else. It's vexing, but I think it's best to send them the full 20. Unless someone knows whether or not these programs are super strict about those manuscript guidelines (which I suspect they are). Otherwise, I might just tack on some longer poems to eat up the page limit...alternates perhaps? I don't know *huff*!

PARTISAN said...


Yes, I'd forgotten about Indiana. I'm applying there as well and I'm seriously considering writing two multiple page poems (very uncharacteristic of me) to fatten up my manuscript.

Their financial package is just way too nice to pass up.

Luke Johnson said...

Seth paints an accurate picture of the funding at Hollins. In the first year, no one teaches and 7 out of 12 are offered funding. In the second year, all twelve of the students (both funded and non-funded) are eligible to apply for 4 teaching fellowships which come with full tuition waivers and stipend. So theoretically 11 out of 12 students could be funded in the second year, but it rarely works out like that (this year 2 funded students got fellowships and as well as 2 non-funded ones). Best site for info on Hollins (a pretty comprehensive FAQ section):


M. Dennis said...

I just graduated Hollins (undergrad), and I remember getting some notification about the creative writing department receiving a huge endowment. I think-- and I have to double check this-- that some of that will go towards funding the MFA program, which may mean more funding for students since that has been a problem.

As stated on their website (kind of vaguely): The Jackson Fellowship in Creative Writing, designated for students who are completing the master of fine arts (MFA) program in creative writing. The fellowship will provide full or partial tuition assistance and could also support stipends for summer research and writing, conference attendance, and other scholarly activities associated with pursuing the MFA.

So depending on how the department chooses to use the fellowship, that could open up the door to more Hollins MFA funding for individuals. I'd investigate that.

Clearly my experience as an undergrad differs from Luke's as a grad student, but I recommend Hollins for nonfiction-- or for anyone who would prefer not to be limited by any one genre. I'm excited to start a poetry program in the fall, but if I had my way I wouldn't have to choose between genres the way a lot of programs make you do.

Just_Another_Poet said...

Anybody care to help me out. I worry if my prospective graduate schools are too "prestigious" and I need to apply more to those schools that are relatively under-applied to or less prestigious. I only want to go to a program that has some quality; actually, a lot of quality with potential. So far, I think I might be applying to 14 programs, preferably in the New England and Great Lakes regions, or near there, but I have some programs in the south and other areas. Anyway, here they are:

1. Cornell
2. UMASS Amherst
3. Ohio State University
4. Indiana University
5. Johns Hopkins
6. UNC Greensboro
7. Arkansas
8. Michener Center for Writers
9. Michigan
10. Vanderbilt
11. Bowling Green
12. University of Virginia
13. University of Montana
14. University of New Hampshire

I'm willing to compensate for some. I'm content with this list, but again, I can make some replacements.

Also, I consider myself a Southern poet, i.e. a Faulkner-esque type. Though the genre seems to be fading with all the urbanization going down in the South, I wonder if there is anymore longevity in this particular genre. Also, I have a heavy list of programs in the north, so I don't know if my instructors will be able to teach me or sway me toward the demands of a Southern writer. They must appreciate a little bit of diversity, right? I only worry they won't know how to teach me.

Anyway, I'm done with my rant, so any help is appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Unknown said...

sara e.g., elizabeth--On submission page counts: I wouldn't stress getting right up to the page count asked for. If you're a few pages short (even five pages short), that's fine. As I was told by one of the professors at Michigan (where I just finished the MFA), when a reader has to go through a tall stack of applications, finding one with a sample just a little lighter than some of the others isn't at all a bad thing. In fact, it might put the reader in a slightly better mood, which is a plus for your application. Basically, as has been said on the blog before, go with the strongest stuff. Don't worry about adding filler (unless you're way under target).

Unknown said...

I should add that my information was for fiction--but I assume the same is true for poetry...

Lizzy said...


It's difficult to comment on people's lists at large, since these are usually (hopefully) tailored to the individual's needs and wants. I'm a strong believer in the adage that it's "different strokes for different folks." A school that may be not a good fit at all for one person may be wonderful for another. And, of course, opinions differ on what schools are top standouts in any case.

My only advice this early in the game is to figure out what factors are important to *you* in selecting schools to apply to. From there, research, research, research individual schools to put together a list of the best programs for *you*. Ask around, post specific questions (the more speficic your questions, the more useful the answers you're likely to receive), read blogs ;), read books... Certainly, it's a lot of work. The good news is that there's plenty of time yet.

Keep your comments and questions coming. And best of luck!

Lizzy said...


In general, adding one or two safety schools ("safety school" may be a misnomer when it comes to MFA admissions) is a good idea. I'd say find a couple of sleeper programs that are high quality and underrated to add to your list. Right now, it looks to me like it's heavy on the ultra-competitive schools. Don't take it from me, though. I'm in prose. Check with a poetry person for the inside scoop on possible poetry sleeper programs.

Good luck.

Suzanne said...

I know it seems like everyone applies to a long list of schools, but I only applied to two. I live in NYC, and can't move for a variety of reasons, and there are not many non-fiction programs here. I was rejected from one school (Hunter), and wait listed then accepted at the other (New School). For the record, a friend of mine only applied for nonfiction at New School, and she was accepted. Just another perspective...

Unknown said...

Does anyone have opinions about San Francisco University?

I have a list of schools that I love for different reasons, but the San Francisco area would be best geographically for my husband and me. We are currently in Seattle, but both have an interest in moving to California (I grew up there).

Johanna said...

Firstly, thanks so much for you blog. I've just started seriously thinking about applying to MFA programs in Fiction for 09-10 and your site has been a tremendous resource. Basically, I am very much set on staying in New York, where I currently reside and I was wondering if you had thoughts about where I should apply. I've read (on your site) terrible things about NYU and amazing things about Columbia (to which i was already partial, as I got my BA there). But how does Brooklyn College compare? What about New School? And are there any other top programs in the city?
I would so appreciate your insight on this!

wScott said...

Anyone know anything about the programs in Alaska - Anchorage & Fairbanks? Location is attractive, but I know nothing about their respective reputations, etc. Any info is welcome! Thanks.

Mozelle said...

wscott: I just graduated with an undergrad minor in creative writing from UA Anchorage. I can tell you that the MFA program is low-res, the poetry and non-fiction profs are decent to excellent, and their "big name" fiction prof is a major jerk (although she loooooooves her "personal" grad students - so if you're a fiction student . . .) I don't know much about the Fairbanks program, although UAF is generally considered to be a better school all around. The drawback? Fairbanks is Really. Freakin'. Cold. We're talking waking up on winter mornings and your tires are shaped like squares because the cold air is squashing them. Walk outside with a plastic bag and it literally shatters. During the week you can get bad smog from the commuters. On the flipside, the summers are lovely, and can get quite warm. I gotta tell you though, I wouldn't care if Fairbanks had the best program in the world, I wouldn't go because of the climate.

Fund me said...

when is the new book coming out and where can I get it first?

Also, how do you post questions or comments to the blog (I mean, other than the mailbag)?

wScott said...

Just 'cuz I haven't said it yet, this site has already proved to be a major help in my search, as with many of you. So thanks to everyone.

This question pertains the writing sample/manuscript:

Surely the "most correct" answer to my question is going to lie somewhere in between, but are readers looking more for polished work, or work that has a strong voice with room for growth? Not to say unfinished pieces, but what are the scales like concerning polished v. malleable submissions?

stephanie said...

Hi all,

I'm interested in programs that will not only give me time to write, but will also allow me to deepen my knowledge of subjects that I'd like to write about (psychology and ethics)

I'm trying to identify programs where additional academic work figures in the program. I'm particularly interested in programs that not only offer instruction to improve students' command of craft but also help students approach their subject with intellectual depth.

Cornell seems to be one of these programs. Any other suggestions? Thank you!

Bsquared86 said...

Anyone know anything about funding at CalArts or Otis (or any other art achool for that matter)?