Monday, August 25, 2008

MFA Transfering

A great question from "MFA Dropout." I'd appreciate everyone's two cents on this. As for me, I can't say either way, but I can say that after a semester at UMass, I was ready to jump ship. By the end of three years, I was really glad that I'd stayed. I just had the beginning jitters. -- Tom

Q: Is it always a bad idea to drop out of and/or transfer to another MFA program? I am deeply dissatisfied with the one in which I enrolled. First, the faculty with whom I was most enthusiastic to work resigned just after I arrived, leaving our department with one full and one visiting professor. As such, I have received feedback on my work from only these two faculty and have learned that no third will be hired before I finish the program. The professor who became my thesis adviser has a history of being largely unavailable and providing little critique of student thesis work. I have discussed the situation with the department director, who sympathizes but claims nothing can be done; my adviser is known to be inflexible, and for a host of reasons the other faculty is unable to accept an additional advisee.

Further, though I do have funding here, the cost of living is surprisingly expensive. To survive financially in the coming year, I will have to accept roughly $12,000 in federal loans. Also, the means by which I earn funding was presented somewhat deceptively. I was told I would be teaching one class per semester, and while that has been technically true, the required pedagogy program lasts a full school year and consists of intensive coursework, essentially the equivalent of teaching a second class.

I am waiting to hear whether or not the director can offer me any appealing alternatives, of course, but I am seriously considering leaving the program and re-applying elsewhere. Friends in the program tell me not to do it, noting that I am half finished and settled here. Still, I pursued my MFA not for the degree alone, but to seek mentorship and become a better writer. I've long since given up on mentorship, but with no new faculty I am on my way to completing an MFA having only received feedback from one inaccessible professor and one overworked guest. And to do so, I will have to teach, spend substantial time keeping up with another mandatory pedagogy course, and take out thousands of dollars in loans. Being that the MFA is a terminal degree, I want to make sure I don't spend mine in a program that has fallen so far beneath my expectations. So, what's your take? Bite the bullet and finish up, or withdraw, re-assess, and re-apply?


MFA Dropout


Raysen said...

Wow, what a nightmare of a situation. My first thought was: I'd like to know the name of the school that "MFA Dropout" attends.

Lincoln said...

Wow... I'm sorry to hear about that situation MFA Dropout. That is a really tough choice to make.

This is why I encourage people, when applying, to look first and foremost at the quality of the program. Does it have full time faculty who are open and available to students? What other opportunities does it provide? etc.

Sometimes I see people who put all their emphasis on funding or location and end up in a situation like this, with a disorganized program or with unavailable teachers. You have to spend several years in whatever MFA program you go to, so you better make sure it will be worth your while.

But as for advice for dropout... it sounds like your situation is pretty static. They aren't hiring new teachers and the situation is not going to chance. Would it be possible to pressure your program into bringing in an outside adviser, so that you have a new pair of eyes on your thesis?

You only get one shot at an MFA, so maybe it is worth applying to a better program. But on the other hand you aren't guaranteed of getting into another program and that could be bad. Although if you got into a good one already it seems likely. You want to come out of the MFA program with a grasp of what you want to do and an entryway into the writing world, if you aren't getting either of those maybe it is best to try somewhere else. But on the flip side again, maybe it would be worth just getting the degree and learning what you missed out on on your own?

Of course I'm not telling you anything you don't know.

That is a tough problem. I wish you the best of luck in solving it.

Elizabeth said...

That is really crazy; I'd love to know the name of that school too, take another look at them if they're on my list. I think if it were me I'd do my best to try and get into a different program. Talk with the directors at other schools that you're interested in, maybe tell them your problem. But still keep up your efforts at your current school. If you don't get in anywhere at least you have -a- program to attend. My sympathies!

Emily A. Benton said...

I would try to get into another MFA, and apply to equal amounts resident and lo-res programs. Maybe if you got in a lo-res you wouldn't have so many relocation expenses, and those programs tend to have more faculty on staff to read your work.

and I'm sorry your in such a sticky situation! best of luck to you!

Emily A. Benton said...

hello, it's early. I mean "you're in a sticky situation"

Stacie Naczelnik said...

I'm also curious about the name of this school. What do others in your program at the school think of the situation? Maybe you can gather together to talk to the director.
I think Emily offers some sound advice about applying to different programs.

Monica said...

Yeah, there any way to say which program that is? Maybe email those who asked?

But onto your question! I'm sorry my first impulse was not helpful to you. I think that, unless the degree itself means a lot to you, transfer out. There's no use for an artist to stay in a poisonous situation longer than she has to. Because it's, well, poisonous.

Colleen said...

he program, I'd say stay. You may have missed out on mentorship there, but if you're proactive about it, you can develop a close writing group with some peers. The teaching experience is excellent for your CV. And have you managed to improve your writing? The MFA is intended to create a structure within which you hone your craft - it doesn't hone it for you, and the MFA doesn't 'make' you a better writer your own willpower to spend the time and effort to go GET a mentor or useful critique group does. Yes, it sounds like you were misled, but some research would have helped. Now that this is in the past, I say suck it up, get teh degree, and prove that you're not one of those MFA folks who sits around and waits for the program to make them 'good.'

Raysen said...

I think I know which program MFA Dropout was talking about. I'm not trying to do a I-know-something-you-don't-know kind of thing. It's just a guess based on a little bit of research and lots of readings of posts/threads/blogs, but I won't say because I don't want to disparage the name of a program based on a guess. You know, I could be wrong.

Actually, the only thing that would bother me at a program is that I'll be so busy with TA and other work that I won't have time to write -- the sole reason why I'm doing this MFA thing. I can get used to all kinds of environment -- urban, suburban, cow pasture -- but time is a scarce commodity and I need time to write.

Emily A. Benton said...

I also want to add that it's not unheard of to transfer to another MFA. I've heard a couple MFA directors tell me first hand that they've had students transfer from other programs, or have heard from other programs where students wanted to get out. I also met a lo-res grad the other day who said she left a res MFA after her first year because she didn't like the small town community. I don't have specifics on everything, or I would name the schools.

Emily said...

I have a friend who was miserable in her MFA program for similar reasons to what you described - unavailable faculty, heavy teaching load, non-supportive environment. Can I say where this was? I don't want to slander a program I've only heard about second hand....

But anyway, she ended up finishing up, and has said many times in the years since that she feels she wasted her time. She was also very young, right out of undergrad, and she's also said she wishes she would have waited a few years before applying.

I don't know if that is helpful at all, but I would just say that if you're that miserable, you probably won't get much out of it, and would probably be better off going elsewhere.

Good luck!

julianna said...

We've taken in transfers from other MFA programs. I don't think there's a thing wrong with it. Sometimes programs are a match and sometimes not.

Julianna Baggott, Asst. Director of CRW Florida State University

Yo said...

I hope this thread is still alive. I am in a similar position, but I don't want to trash the program/people, and I am hopeful that the situation will improve. The only variant from the OP is that mine is a low-residency program. The program's thrust changed, professors changed, all after I signed on. And it's just basically BlackBoard post and get comments on 20 pages of fiction a month, with doesn't seem like much. Have some other issues, but I won't go into them.

Question: If I transfer to another low-residency program, will I get to transfer my credits earned or will I have to start all over? What if I transfer to a regular MFA program.

Jess said...

Please, could someone tell me which program this is? It sounds hauntingly similar to a program I am applying to, and now I am worried. You can email me at Thank you!

NR said...

Which comment were you referring to?