Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mailbag--September 13, 2008

Got mail? Got letters? Got missives?

Make our mailman's day and post them here, please.

No stamps necessary. Your checkbook will thank you.


jetskiaccidents said...

do low-residency MFA programs (even Warren Wilson, Bennington, and Vermont) actually lower your marketability when you're trying to get that teaching job you've always dreamed of?

and how do you make the whole get-a-teaching-job-after-getting-your-MFA deal happen?

generally, would someone be better off with a residential program if they'd like to teach at the college level in the long run?

i'm a rookie. help me prove or dispel these low-residency rumors.

Joe said...

Hi all,

I'm finalizing my list of potential programs, and I'm having trouble deciding on one school in particular: Northwestern. Don't get me wrong: their program is very attractive (I'm particularly impressed by the caliber of their faculty) and I would love to live in Chicago (or at least in the vicinity). However, it says on their website that the degree is conferred through the School of Continuing Studies. I'm concerned that a degree from a SCS, even from a highly regarded university like Northwestern, will make me less competitive when I try to get a teaching job.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I just being a snob?


Seth Abramson said...

Hi Joe,

Have no fear: the program is administratively governed by SCS, but the degree is from the Graduate School and is a regular Northwestern degree in every single particular. Check out the program's FAQ and you'll see they specifically address this possible confusion. Best of luck,


P.S. My guess is that it's administered by SCS purely so they can schedule night classes; essentially, it's a "night MFA," which forces some bureaucratic restructuring from an academic standpoint, I'm sure.

Vince said...

Northwestern graduates can afford to be snobs...(I know one NW law graduate and another NW physical therapist) they're paying dearly and I congratulate them.

Joe said...

Hi Seth,

Thanks for your response. I checked the program's website, and here's what I found:

Will my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing be conferred through the School of Continuing Studies? How will my diploma read?

Yes. Your degree will be conferred by Northwestern University's School of Continuing Studies and your diploma will state this fact.

It seems they have changed the rule so that students entering in Winter 2009 or later will have their degrees conferred by the SCS. Students who enrolled before that time will, I believe, receive a regular degree through the grad school.

Am I right to assume that a degree from a SCS would be less attractive to employers than a regular degree through a university's graduate school?

Seth Abramson said...


I'm so glad you posted again--clearly they've changed their guidelines, and it must have happened within the past 60 days, because the site didn't say that (I'm almost certain) in June. I would tend to agree with you that this is a slight blow to the program, and frankly there's no excuse for the change in policy whatsoever. That said, your CV will simply say "M.F.A., Northwestern University," so I don't know how deeply employers will delve beyond that. It's not like, say, Harvard Extension School, which is a) open enrollment, and b) the name of the school, and therefore unavoidable even on a CV. With Northwestern, it's competitive admission and SCS is merely a sub-department within the larger undergrad university, not a separate entity as I understand it (i.e., Harvard University is not Harvard Extension School; I don't believe the same could be said of Northwestern [i.e., that it's Northwestern University and then Northwestern School of Continuing Studies]). I'd call to check, though. Perhaps SCS really is distinct enough that professional practices would require a notation on a CV.

Be well,

Screwsan said...


It really boils down to publications. If you don't have publications, it may be difficult to find a job without teaching experience, but that also depends on what kind of job you're looking for. My fellow Vermont College grads (with and without publications) do a lot of community college and adjunct work. With only three published short stories, I was offered both types of jobs (but turned them down because I ended up moving). I found the adjunct listing by looking at the website of a specific university in my hometown. The CC job I found simply by asking the CC's English department if they had any need for teachers. CCs are often needing teachers right before the start of semesters because they've had people hired away for tenure-track or other jobs. There's also the AWP joblist which you would have access to as a student at an accredited MFA program.

Many would probably not consider adjunct and community college jobs "dream jobs" but many of my friends are very happy with them and have turned them into dream jobs.

You're probably not looking at a tenure track position straight out of a low-res program, though, unless you have some "good" (read: big pub house/big press) publications. Vermont College grad Alicia Erian has published well and found excellent teaching jobs at places like Wellesley. If you're, say, Jonathan Safran Foer, you don't even need an MFA to land a cushy teaching gig.

Honestly, my take is that with the job market the way it is, you're not likely to land any kind of tenure-track job teaching creative writing no matter what kind of school you went to unless you have a good publications track record. If you really want to land a tenure-track job, publishing a book is the way to go. Getting a PhD seems to slightly up your chances as well. So, in that sense, I don't get the sense that low-res vs. traditional makes a huge difference, unless the traditional program you go to is one of the top few (like Iowa).

FWIW, I have just started a CW PhD program because I a) want a salaried tt teaching job and b) don't have a book yet so c) hope that being paid to teach and write for a few years will get me closer to our shared goal.

Good luck!

J said...

do schools announce visiting faculty in advance? how far in advance? is it possible to find out who would be teaching in 2009 on visiting faculties?

Bsquared86 said...

I hear alot of talk about funding (directly from programs) but I wonder if anyone knows of any scholarships that are independent of the programs?

At this point, half of the programs on my list are low-res and I am very concerned about funding. I basically paid for undergrad out of pocket and I cannot afford to do the same for grad. There seemed to be a surplus of scholarships around when I applied for undergrad but not very many for grad. The only ones I seem to find target science and/or business student.

zola said...

Hello everyone.

I'm concerned about teaching assistantships.

I don't feel I'm qualified to teach anything. I have had no formal writing training. My undergrad degree is a BS in photographic technologies. I only took two English classes in college and thus have a weak lit background. I'm not well read either in poetry or fiction (my work is in poetry). There's no way I can teach. I'm not qualified and I very much don't ever want to teach anyone anything. Does anyone else not have interest in teaching or not feel qualified but also have funding as a top priority. I'd be happy to work for my funding but maybe with some kind of work-study option. In my opinion there should be a range of opportunities for mfa students besides teaching assistantships.

julianna said...

I'm the new assistant director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University (MFA and PhD), in charge of admissions, and I'm happy to be of any use here. I won't bang our drum too loudly, promise. And I might have some inside scoop from our side of the admissions process. If anyone wants to get in touch with me personally --

All my best,

Julianna Baggott

julianna said...

Many low-res programs have fantastic reputations. Of course, the only drawback with a low-res is that you aren't teaching semester by semester so you'd have to prove you can teach in a university setting by some other means -- adjuncting somewhere local would help.

Julianna Baggott -- Asst. Director, CRW, Florida State U.

julianna said...

a few things, and i'm only speaking here for Florida State, but actually this is likely true of a lot of programs. I know it was possible to NOT teach at UNCG.
a. you go through a "boot camp" before your first semester begins and so you're really ready to walk into the classroom

b. there are often other ways to getting funding -- a tutoring center or a research assistantship of some sort.

once you get into a few schools, i'd discuss these options with the folks at the schools. some people are simply shy and prefer not to teach. we work with them ...

all my best,

Julianna Baggott, asst. director, CRW Florida State U.

Lizzy said...
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Lizzy said...


I wouldn't say that low-res programs lower your marketability. A good program's a good program, and the most important factor in landing a good teaching gig seems to be the publication record.

On the other hand, another important factor seems to be the teaching experience accumulated.

I don't think it's all or nothing, on either count. I do think it's to your advantage to build as well-rounded a CV as possible, if your goal is to teach.

This is only my opinion. Someone else have anything to add?



Lizzy said...
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Lizzy said...


I could be wrong about this, but I think Northwestern addresses this question directly on its website.

I believe the degree is conferred by the Graduate School, rather than by the SCS, though the studies are offered through the latter.

Please check up on this. I may be remembering incorrectly

Lizzy said...


Looks like I had that backwards. Here's what the NW site says:

"Will my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing be conferred through the School of Continuing Studies? How will my diploma read?

Yes. Your degree will be conferred by Northwestern University's School of Continuing Studies and your diploma will state this fact."

I have to think that studying under prestigious faculty and building working relationships with established writers would end up working in your favor in the end. In any case, the single most important factor in landing a teaching job is going to be publication record. It's hard to say how Northwestern's reputation and the program's might factor into your job search, but I don't think these are going to be the deciding factors, in any case.

Seth Abramson said...


I e-mailed Northwestern about this, and if I get any more info I'll post it here.

Side note: I want to thank Julianna for making herself available for questions; it's a great opportunity and I hope folks will take her up on it. Given how hard it is, in many instances, for students to get info from MFA programs, it's incredibly refreshing to see a program actively reaching out to prospective students.

Best to all,

zola said...


Thanks so much for your comment.

I think it is best to wait and see what I can work out with individual programs if/when I'm accepted.

forgotten the cat said...


I feel your apprehension. But I think there are two different things you are addressing here, the one being not feeling qualified to teach, the other being not wanting to teach at all. I think that's an important thing to define when figuring out what schools are right for you.

To address the former, I'm in my first few weeks of a program which requires all of its students to teach in the second year. I can honestly say that not one of us--even those with substantial teaching backgrounds--feels super qualified or confident about being in front of a classroom. But I'm amazed by how many resources there are for us. We have training before we start, as well as a group of mentors ranging from students to the highest faculty members. I suspect it will be one of the more scary experiences of the degree, but they don't just throw us out there.

And if you simply don't want to teach, well, that's a different story. Maybe certain schools would let you fulfill your requirement another way, but beyond the cool opportunity that it is, I look at it as a small price to pay for the funding and time they give us to write.

Emily said...

What are everyone's thoughts on including a prose poem or two in with more "traditional" poems for my writing sample? Will it show my diversity and willingness to experiment? Or will it just look like I'm not sure what I want to write?

Jess said...

I sort of have a problem opposite of the one zola mentions. i really want to teach, but I'm afraid i won't be able to because I'm not qualified. my b.a. is in journalism, and I only took one lit class my entire undergrad career. I know your undergrad degree doesn't usually affect whether or not you'll get into a program, but i heard that it CAN affect your likelihood of getting a TA position. Should I be concerned?

Christopher Lee Miles said...

Is anyone who attended U of Wyoming, Laramie willing to share their experience?

Tory Adkisson said...


If prose poems are your thaaang, then I'd say go for it. However, if prose poem are something you rarely write, don't feel comfortable writing, or don't feel represent your aesthetic perspective, then maybe steer clear of them. I feel like it might be counter-intuitive to think that having a sonnet, sestina, villanelle, ghuzal, etc... in your writing sample. It definitely shows some flexibility and diversity, but if it isn't you, then it isn't you. They want to see your best writing not the broadest range of your abilities. Definitely flex those "experimental" muscles, but if the results do not correspond with your expectations, blame the experiment on Alberto Gonzalez. Due to his poor memory, he seems like a good patsy.


i think, shy of having actually formally taught, most of us don't feel qualified to teach. Yet qualified we must be, otherwise I doubt these types of positions would really be offered. It seems like most of the schools require a teaching application, and in some instances an actual essay about teaching, and I think you should seize the opportunity to communicate your enthusiasm (I hope reading enthusiasm accurately here!) through such supplemental materials. It might be worthwhile to throw a couple lines in your actual personal statement that make it clear that you are eager to teach, if not technically qualified. I am sure you won't have too difficult a time finding a position, especially if the primary form of financial aid comes in the form of graduate student slave labor.

Peace y'all.

Lizzy said...

My impression, in general, is that if you're good enough to get into an MFA program that offers teaching opportunities, chances are you can learn how to teach.

Marjorie said...

Maybe this question has been answered elsewhere, but I can't find it, so here's my contribution to the mailbag: When is the second edition of the book coming out?

Marc said...

Iowa's 'Nonfiction Writing Program' lists two different dates as the official application deadline, one is Dec 15 the other is Jan 1. Anyone know the actual date? Also I have conflicting information on if they require the GRE...

speculations for schoolboys said...

On the topic of the GRE: if the deadline for applications is Dec 15, and due to other circumstances, I won't be able to take the GRE until Oct 25, am I cutting it too close? Is there a chance that my scores won't make it on time, and they won't look at my application?

het said...

On getting published in literary journals:

Which are the most respected? Which would matter to an admissions board? Any? None?



martin said...

Texas has increased their SOP word limit from a 250 word maximum to a 350 word maximum. That was nice of them.

Seth Abramson said...


There's a ranking of national literary journals here.

It's a few years old (and written primarily from a poet's perspective, as opposed to a fiction-writer's), but it's still a decent guide.


Adrienne said...

I am having the same issue as Speculations for Schoolboys.

I can only take the GRE on November 1st. Can I send applications to programs if I don't have GRE scores yet?

This is a very distressing and nerve-wracking problem...

Sara E.G. said...

Regarding the GRE concerns: I've seen on various MFA application pages that they suggest you take the GRE by Nov. 1st so they can get the scores in time. I think that time frame should be fine, and if not, I'm screwed as well.

Something I'm curious about: I signed up for the GRE about a month ago and have yet to receive the practice materials they are supposed to send. Has anyone received these yet?

Fund me said...
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Fund me said...

All these rankings, and it seems to me the one piece of objecitve info--funding--is missing. Give me a list of who funds the best in accurate, up-to-date, and detailed terms, and I'll go from there. That's all I want to know about: funding. For someone like me, the other stuff can't be considered until the money part is settled; I can't--I won't go into more debt!

I realize the programs don't make getting this info easy or stable given all the games they play trying to cut each others throats (my personal attemprs to nail them down have been frustrated; for instance, Iowa pretty much sets it up this way: if another good program wants you, we want you, and if you can prove it, we'll bury them to the extent we can). But there has to be some reasonable, reliable guidline somewhere, right?

The way I see it, any funding guide should consider a program's average funding and maximum possible funding (if their funding is tiered, like Iowa)--and not least of all, how much work you have to do for said funding.

So, does anyone know where I can find what I'm looking for?

I'm hoping Tom Kealey's new book will be that guideline? So when and where can I get it first?

I'd hate to guess at which programs might be able to fund me only to get accepted and have to turn them down. I'd also hate to not apply to a programw with gobs of money.

deadninjahorse said...

amazon says soon. I believe them.
and word is that the new handbook will indeed contain the info you speak of.

Eric said...

Re: sara e.g.

Signed up for the GREs back in June, took the test last weekend, haven't received ETS' so called "practice materials" yet. In fact, I've read and heard from other sources in years past that they didn't get their materials until well after January(!). So yeah, ETS sucks.

On the other hand, if you haven't checked the ETS website yet, they do provide a single paper test (which is not so useful) and two example computer tests to download. And actually, out of all the computerized tests I took, the ETS ones happened to be the most accurate to my final scores, so I would definitely give those a try.

Sara E.G. said...

fund me:

If you dig around on this board you'll find loads of posts (some contributed by fellow MFA Blog addicts, most by Seth Abramson) on the funding at most all programs in the country. From programs that fully fund everyone they admit (such as Notre Dame, Minnesota, hordes more...) to others that operate on a tiered funding system (which are obviously harder to glean hard numbers from) most of the information is here.

Good luck..

Sara E.G. said...
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Sara E.G. said...


Thanks for the heads up. I'll lower my already sub-par expectations of the company.

As a side note: Did anyone else watch the DVD that comes with the Princeton Review Cracking the GRE book? It has to be some of the best comedy (or is it a crippling tragedy? I still can't decide) that I've seen in quite a while. Apparently they can take all our money but not find the dough to hire a sophomore-level editor to correct their bad takes. It deserves awards.

Jesse Thiessen said...

I'm applying for fiction programs and most of my short fiction is, either really short (2-4 pages) or, well, not short (like 25-30 pages).

So my question is, how important is it to send multiple pieces? Should I try to pare my longer pieces down so there's room to send a shorter one? Or should I just take the best longer one and shoot the moon with it?

This seems like the kind of thing that might've been asked before, so forgive me, but thanks for any insight anyone has.

Lizzy said...
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Lizzy said...


Generous... sure. Haha. I remember sweating over that statement for days, then thinking I'd written a masterpiece, when it was finally done. The false sense of accomplishment was, of course, from having managed to fit it all in 250 words. I see that as kind of a gift from them to me--the joy of having managed to boil down my life's experiences and ambitions to a thimbleful of words. Tender mercies, and all that. ;)

angelle said...

not sure if this is a relevant question for this blog but i wondered about transfers. do people ever "transfer" from one program to another? is that possibly? if not, what about reapplying to places that you've gotten into in the past but decided against going? i'm having a small crisis about if i made the correct decision in attending the mfa program i'm enrolled in right now, and am considering if it is worth it to try a transfer...

also, do people know if most other mfas do their lit classes from a craft perspective as opposed to straight lit? i'm finding that my program's classes are straight lit as opposed to craft lit, which is something i didn't realize and am not sure i am happy about...

wordswordswords said...

Yes, you can transfer to a different MFA program. It's unusual, but not entirely uncommon any longer. I know one woman who has tried three different programs (most recently having left George Mason's) for various reasons. The issue is not so much Can you? as it is What will transfer?

Most programs will not take many (in some cases, ANY) of your class credits from the previous MFA program(s). So it becomes less a "transfer" and more of a re-start. But if you really aren't getting anything from your current program, that's not such a bad option.

As for lit classes being heavy on lit or on craft, it usually depends a little on the program and a lot on the teacher. Some are more comfortable teaching a lit class like a traditional lit class rather than meshing it with craft. Talk to other students in your program to find out which teachers are more craft-intensive and take their classes. If there aren't any, then maybe you should consider another program (and yes, re-applying is ok).

undertheeaves said...

re: eric and sara

Thanks for the post on which test was the best indicator because my scores have been all over the map. Does anyone else care to weigh in?

GRE countdown: 7 days....

dwa said...


If you are struggling with Math buy a lighthouse book:

It is straightforward, but helpful. Could make a dramatic difference in seven days....

Eric said...

re: undertheeaves

Some score information, if you're interested. My basic strategy for the test was to memorize the "most frequent word" list you can find in any of those Barron's/Kaplan study books and take as many practice tests as I could two weeks out before the actual test. Here were the tests:

Barron's GRE Guide -- 5 paper practice tests and one CAT test. I didn't put too much stock into the paper tests, which doesn't reflect the adaptive difficulty on the CATs. The one CAT test, which was on a CD, I scored a 550. -- A website that has hundreds of sample questions and one free computer adaptive test. The other four tests you'll have to pay $5 for. I paid, which was a bad idea. Basically, stay away from this website. Their test (and practice) questions are inexact, confusing, and in general, horrible. I think there were at least a few grammatical errors that I caught on the reading comprehension sections of their tests. Yeah. Reputable. To give you an idea of how "great" their tests are, I scored on five tests as high as 710 and as low as 540. -- Five CATs that you can download for $20. This site, in my research, was a much more reputable one. And it was true -- the questions were better worded, more precise, etc. My test range was 540 to 600, a much tighter band. I would recommend this site.

GRE website -- They provide two free CATs for download, both of which I scored 630 on.

My actual score? 650. A bit higher than I expected (was praying for over 600), which is nice, but I think that what a lot of testing resources tend to do is underscore people. This makes sense because as a business practice, lower expectations are so much easier to deal with. It just kind of sucks.

Okay, I'm done with this long-winded essay. Hopefully this is useful. Good luck!

Sparta Submissions said...

Does anyone know if it's all right to send a previously published work as part of your writing sample? Is this acceptable but frowned upon? Do schools even care?

Also, if it is okay, should I make a note that it was published under a pseudonym? Thanks.

Kevin said...

Does anyone know if it's all right to send a previously published work as part of your writing sample? Is this acceptable but frowned upon? Do schools even care?

Also, if it is okay, should I make a note that it was published under a pseudonym? Thanks.

Ali said...

I'm in the beginning stages of picking pieces to use as samples, and I have stumbled onto a problem. One of my strongest pieces, I think, is a model on a Grace Paley story. The purpose of it was to emulate her tone and style, and it is clearly stated on page one that the story is a model. When I read it, I hear enough of my own voice to think it would be ok to use as a sample, but what do you think?

michelle said...

I was looking through your list of subjects and I'm curious to read an update on MFA international programs, if anything has changed in the last couple of years.

Adrienne said...


I am by no means an expert and am just now going through the application process for the first time, but I think if I were in your place I would refrain from sending in this story.

I think MFA programs are looking for people who have the ability to create their own voice, tone, style, etc. or possibly those who can put a spin on old favorite techniques in a new way. While your Paley model may show your skill at being able to maintain a certain style, I'm not sure that it best expresses your capability for original storytelling. Though your story may be good, it might not showcase your writing (style, themes that matter you you personally, the truths you yourself wish to communicate with your work) in the best possible way.

That's just my take, though. Of course, it's your writing sample and you know better than anyone what is most representative of your style and skill. Best of luck!!

Ryan said...

I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on backdooring into MFA programs, if you don't get into the programs you want. By that I mean, enrolling in a school's MA in English/CW program to get to know the professors in the department, in hopes of being accepted into the MFA program later. Has anyone done this or heard of someone who has? I've been told by a professor that it is a good idea, if I don't get in anywhere.

Ray.L. said...

Don't fret about the GRE!
A free and extensive resource for GRE study and prep.

Tory Adkisson said...


I sort of had the same idea when I applied to undergrad and wanted to go to UCI. I ended up at UCLA though (UCI was the only school I applied to that rejected me) and am pretty pleased with the results. Regardless, I think that backdooring into an MFA program won't work unless you actually have enough talent to have merited general acceptance in the first place. It sounds like a good enough idea, but I don't know how well faculty might respond to this kind of strategy, especially when considering applicants from other schools. Granted, I have some tenuous connections at Brown and Iowa I plan on milking like a Bavarian peasant-girl, but it will be through my adviser that a slightly more preferential read of my application may take place. My sense is that's the most you can hope for, but if the talent/skill level isn't there, it won't amount to much help at all.

undertheeaves said...

re: eric and ray.l

Thanks for all the tips and the encouragement.

Jane said...

Since graduating college four years ago, I've been considering getting an MFA in screenwriting and/or playwriting.

Does anyone know of a resource of MFA programs only specializing in these areas?

I know of a couple, but I'm sure there must be more.

Thanks so much! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Ryan said...


Thanks for the response, but my question was presupposing that the hypothetical applicant has a modicum of talent. I was just wondering if anyone thought it would help chances of an acceptance. Like if you are of equivalent talent to other applicants, would actually knowing members of the selection committee help one's chances?

Adrienne said...

This is a stupid question, but if you don't know your GRE scores at the time you send in your application, you just leave that field blank, right? And they'll know they're on their way? Do we need to do anything special if this is the case?

Emery said...

Question about Recommendation Letters.
It's been years and years since I graduated with a BFA in Photography.
I'm interested in applying to MFA programs but not sure where to get letters of recommendation. I'm not a very social person and have not developed relationships with instructors, etc. Especially in the writing field.

Any suggestions?

J said...

do schools announce their visiting faculty in advance? where could i find out who will be at iowa/michener/michigan/etc. in fall 2009?

Jason said...

I too am just a lowly prospective MFA applicant, so I may just be adding my own ignorance to the general collective. That being said:

jesse - Yes, pare your strongest long story down to make room for a shorter one. Including two stories proves that your great long one wasn't a fluke.

sparta submissions - It seems to me that any work that has been published (especially if it's fairly recent) should be at the very top of your sample. Think of it a bit less as a publication you're trying to get work accepted in (where, obviously, previously published work doesn't fly), and more like a resume for a job. And the pseudonymn makes it a bit tricky, but it's better to explain it than to even begin risking the chance of looking like a plagirist.

emily - I think Tory's right about making sure it's one of your strongest pieces, and not having it in there just for the sake of variety. But I think MFA programs are much more interested in a sample that shows your curiosity and potential - as well as your willigness to push yoursef and explore outside your comfort zone - than one that demonstrates a consistent aesthetic. After all, if you had already crafted a mature, consistent aesthetic, you wouldn't have need for the MFA to begin with.

het - Publications are nice, but they aren't really expected. If you don't happen to have one, don't worry about it. Big name publications (and most small ones too) take, at the very least, a couple of months to get a response back on a sub. If you're applying this year, you'll likely have all your mfa applications in before even beginning to hear back from the litmags.

Morgan said...

Ok- I hate UMASS Amherst (sorry Tom! Not Really!)

I don't mind academic writing samples. I don't mind lengthy TA applications. I don't even mind the annoying online systems that are different for

What I do mind? A 20 page writing sample!!!! How the frick am I supposed to send in a 20 page writing sample?

Here's the deal. I have two stellar stories. Everyone agrees these are far and away my best stories. I feel very confident with them, I have been working with them for awhile, I love them! But, one is 15 pages, one 16. I am planning on trimming them down to 30 pages total (which satisfies EVERY OTHER SCHOOL ON MY LIST) but I have absolutely no idea what to do about Amherst. And I really want to go to Amherst!

So do I cut cut cut (ugh this would probably ruin my them.)

Do I cut cut cut one story, and pick/write a 6-8 pager (which I've never been able to do well) edit it like crazy and turn that in with one of my stellar stories (then, which one do I pick? another dilemma.) Also, I would be uncomfortable doing this seeing as I'm trying to get my aps in early and actually be able to finish my semester without failing and, oh yeah, enjoy winter break.

Do I pick one and write a flash fiction piece, which I've never done before but might like to try?

Do I just send them the damn 30 pages and hope they don't simply toss them? (Please say this one! Please say they probably won't toss them! Please Please Please!!!)


I'm just very frustrated. There's only so much a person can cut before the story stops getting better and starts getting farther away from you...

Thanks Friendly MFA bloggers

Jennifer said...

Oh the nightmare of the U. Cal. Irvine personal statement mess!

So the MFA website says they need two statements from you, an autobiographical statement that is 3-4 pages for the creative writing program, and a 1-2 page academic statement that is pasted in with your online app for the graduate school. Well all this was fine and well, but I get to the app and they want 2 statements there! One essay is supposed to be about academic preparation and goals, etc. and the other is supposed to be about hurdles leaped and ability to contribute to society etc.

So with the autobiographical essay that makes 3 statments we need to draft for Cal. at Irvine. Ugh!

Jennifer said...

Jane -- At University of Texas Michener Center you could study both playwriting and screenwriting.

Adrienne - Not a stupid question at all. I have been doing my applications and every school so far has given me the chance to just fill in the date I am registered to take it (I haven't taken it yet either).

Emery -- two of my recommendations are from teachers I had in online writing courses. You might look into to taking one, there is still time. I recommend Gotham.

julianna said...

Send your best work. If that means a lot of small pieces, do that. It's a true reflection of your work and your interests ...

Plus, I'd say that the short short is a up and coming form.

All my best,
Julianna Baggott,
Asst. Director, CRW, FSU

julianna said...

We want your best work -- published? All the better.

Julianna Baggott
Asst. Director, CRW, Florida State

julianna said...

One of the issues with posting our funding information is that our funding changes year to year -- how many TAs we can give, how many Research assistantships. Major Research I institutions are state universities and therefore their funding is subject to things like the legislature ... unless heavily privately funded as well. So we'd love to say that we fund X number every year, the end. Some years we are delighted and some years we don't make as many offers ...

All my best,

Julianna Baggott
Asst. Director, CRW, Florida State

julianna said...

One of the issues with posting our funding information is that our funding changes year to year -- how many TAs we can give, how many Research assistantships. Major Research I institutions are state universities and therefore their funding is subject to things like the legislature ... unless heavily privately funded as well. So we'd love to say that we fund X number every year, the end. Some years we are delighted and some years we don't make as many offers ...

All my best,

Julianna Baggott
Asst. Director, CRW, Florida State

Elizabeth said...

I second Morgan's question - I am in the exact same dilemma, staring at my 15 pg. and 14 pg. stories, wondering how I am possibly going to trim enough and whether I would get tossed out for going over the page limit.

Lizzy said...


In some cases, you might get tossed out. If a reader feels very strongly against reading more than the number of pages specified... Well, why tempt fate? It's probably not going to cost you entrance, if your work is good. But why take a chance?

Unless you're already a master story teller, most stories can be edited. And if you go over by a page or two, it won't be the end of the world. If your stories are the exception and you are absolutely unable to cut anything, consider sending your best single story under the page limit. If it's already so tightly revised that there's no room for cutting, put your faith in it and send it off with your application. Always send your best work. Period. If you must go over the limit, attach a note explaining why you are going over the limit. It's not ideal, but I'd say at least you want to be able to indicate that you can read instructions and are aware of the limit, but are going over it for a very specific reason.

S said...

I was lucky enough to be accepted to an excellent MFA program in the midwest. However, I have realized that I need to be in a city, preferably closer to my home. How do MFA programs feel about transfers? Should I apply while being in my current program or leave it or???

Christopher Lee Miles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher Lee Miles said...

Has anyone here who attended the MFA program at the Univ of AK-Fairbanks willing to share their experience?

julianna said...

On letters of rec.

The sample is so very important that the letters are really just extras. We want to hear that you're stable, basically.

There can be small red flag if, say, someone is applying for a PhD and doesn't have any letters from the professors at their MFA program (with no real time lapse to blame). We might scratch our heads at that.

I enjoy reading letters from someone I know personally from a program I know well ... That can help. But it still doesn't hold much weight.

On a personal note, I applied with one letter from a creative writing prof (though not in the field I was applying in). I didn't get along with the main CRW prof at my undergrad institution and had few other options. My prof at another university was on leave.
I got a friend of his to write a letter - someone who worked in a reading and writing center and knew my work. And then I asked my eight grade principal who loved me.
Honestly. And I got into my safety as well as my top choice, though not by some in between.

I hope this helps.

All my best,

Julianna Baggott
Asst. Director, CRW, Florida State University

Jason said...

Elizabeth - I think I've read here and elsewhere that sticklers don't usually hold it against you when you go over the limit. They just stop reading once they hit it. So, provided that the first five pages or so of the second story are really strong and can hold together in a fragmentary kind of way - as in, wow this is great! I want to see where they take this! - I'd send the full thirty pages. And if you make the initial cut, there's a chance they'll go back and read the whole thing.

Jennifer said...

10 online apps filled out, 2 packets to recommenders and 1 to send out today, stack of transcripts in addressed envelopes ready to go out today, GRE on the 11th, personal statement that I love.

In good shape.

Well, not really. Writing sample? Agonizing.

Question: We can do everything needed for our applications now and send in the writing sample in a couple of months closer to the deadline, right? (or the packet they want, with writing sample plus whatever else they want included in that packet).

Sara E.G. said...


Thanks for your comment about letters of recommendation. My application will include a letter from a poetry professor I've had twice and who I feel is a good judge of my work, my current director in my 9-5 job (I work in publishing and editing, so she knows my strengths in those, as well as my professional accomplishments) and the third was my tried and true favorite poetry professor from undergrad who I co-taught two classes with and regard as a close friend.

BUT the latter is having some serious personal problems right now and I don't know if she'll be able to pull through and get it done. I've been having a minor meltdown about this. If she's not able to, do you think it would be better to have a prof. from undergrad (creative writing but not in my genre and who I'm not particularly close with) or an outsider who's known me for years as an artist and a writer and can speak to my abilities as both?

From your comment it seems like I shouldn't be as worried about this as I am. No one on admissions committees will know any of my recommenders names anyway, so does it matter at all?

Thanks in advance.

S. E. Allen said...

I'm majoring in Creative Nonfiction as an undergraduate, and therefore probably want to continue my field of study and do a Creative Nonfiction MFA. The problem I've encountered, of course, is that most universities don't offer Nonfiction MFA's, they only offer Fiction MFA's. Now, I've written some fiction, and I have nothing against it. From a practical level, though, my best writing samples are all creative nonfiction. The ethical question I come up against is: should I just apply to fiction programs, submitting what-they-won't-realize-is-nonfiction instead of actual fiction samples (In other words, take 'fiction' to mean 'prose')?
Or should I just avoid applying to schools that don't offer creative nonfiction MFA's? (Which makes my options much more slim.)

Sonya B said...

s.e. allen,

You're not doing anyone any favors by applying for an MFA program that's not in your desired field. You said it yourself: you're a creative nonfiction writer. Personally, I think pawning off your CNF work as fiction is unethical because if you were to get accepted into programs with your "fiction" writing sample, you would be taking away a coveted spot from someone who truly loves the art of fiction writing and wants to pursue it. Ok, so the University of Pittsburgh(for example) isn't ranked number one on anyone's list. Do you still want to spend 2 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison immersed in a fiction program that you only moderately like?

I say all this because I am also applying to CNF MFA programs, and yes, it's true that there aren't as many as there are fiction programs. My advice is to ignore the rankings. Where do you want to live/write? Where can you afford to live/write? What scholarship or fellowship opportunities are available? If you really care that much about rankings, do some more research into CNF program rankings.

forgotten the cat said...

s.e. allen,

I have a couple of friends who have run into the the same issues. Some chose to apply only to CNF programs and some to a mix of both. Interestingly, most of them ended up at fiction programs, for many of the reasons you list.

I would agree with the above post that you should not put forth your work as fiction if it is indeed not. Most of my friends got around this issue by stating clearly that some of the pieces that they submitted were in fact CNF. It worked for some schools and not for others, although some of them ended up at very good programs. Though I would think that admissions committees, if they were open to seeing some CNF, would at least have to see some of the work pertain to the field in which you are applying.

From talking to them it is sort of like writing genre or vastly experimental work: you have to carve out your niche. And now that I am in a program, I realize that there is more going on than I originally thought for those venturing off the beaten trails of clearcut fiction and poetry, even if there is no specific program for it. For example, this semester at Michigan they are offering a CNF workshop open to both cohorts. Go figure!

Good luck.

Lizzy said...


Thanks so much for sharing that personal story RE: recommendations. I think it provides exactly the kind of perspective-from-the-inside I wished I had, two years ago, when I was putting together my own applications.

deadninjahorse said...

I want to ask what may be an obvious question but I need to be clear on this. If a school has a separate application for a TA position, like CSU and UMASS have, for example, does that mean you absolutely have to fill it out to have any shot at funding?

Or would being one of their highly ranked acceptees based on the writing sample still give you a funded position?

Lizzy said...


If you want/need funding, you should apply for it, whether that means checking off a lone box on an application form, or providing a separate set of documents.

In some cases, though, all applicants are automatically considered for funding. This would be a case with a school like Cornell, which funds everyone who gets in.

deadninjahorse said...

well, my reason for asking is because the schools with a separate GTA application require a critical writing sample, which I don;t have. So I'm wondering if I should take those schools off my list. I already have quite a few automatic funding schools on my list.

savage detective said...


what? CSU and UMASS require critical writing samples?

Jason said...

sonya b, answering s.e. allen:

I'm not sure why you mentioned UW-Madison specifically, as it wasn't in the original post. But, as a recent undergraduate there, I can tell you that creative nonfiction workshops were offered more than once (I wasn't really looking for them, so couldn't tell you the number for sure) to undergrads in the last couple of years. Checking the website, those workshops are run by two English professors who write cnf. So it seems that options would be available to explore creative nonfiction as an mfa candidate there, though maybe not write in the concentration exclusively.

The point of my little case example is that you should look into the offerings at each school, emailing the department and asking about their flexibility, or trolling the website and whatnot. Just because they may not have it as a concentration doesn't mean that there won't be options available. As you are probably well aware of, there aren't tons and tons of schools that offer cnf as an mfa concentration, so it might not hurt to be a little creative in your approach, whether it's the school or application.

deadninjahorse said...

well, UMASS actually requires a critical response to a hypothetical student essay, and a short essay on your previous teaching exp./philosophy if none.

Lizzy said...


I felt intimidated by the UMASS TA application, back when, precisely because of the sample student response they require.

Just do your best to provide the kind of helpful feedback your best professors gave you. Don't worry too much about nailing it on the nose, and certainly don't disqualify yourself beforehand by assuming you don't know how to provide a "professional" response. If you're a good writer, you already have many of the tools you need to be/become a good teacher.

Good luck.

AKZombie said...

@S.E. Allen:

I'm cnf as well, although I'm also applying to Michener and University of Florida because: Michener, duh, and I would like to live in Gainesville (I'm in Alaska now). Several of the schools who list only fiction and poetry on their websites have just neglected to update their websites. I called/emailed and discovered that several now offer nonfiction concentrations. In all, I was initially applying to eighteen schools as cnf (I since trimmed when I discovered that ETS charges you $20 per electronically-transmitted score, I would have had to pony up for approximately thirty copies of my transcripts, not to mention the application fees, and finally, I felt sorry for the people writing my letters), so there are lots of schools out there. If you're interested in one, and think they only feature fiction and poetry, contact them. As you can see, there are more than enough decent cnf programs out there.

Although now I'm wondering why I'm trying to be helpful and consoling, as you are potentially competition for me . . .

Brett said...

This is a reply to Fund Me and deadninjahorse re: New Handbook.

Last night I went to Amazon to pre-order the new version of Tom's handbook. I got all the way to the checkout and was about to push Finish, but noticed the estimated ship date as "November 4, 2008".

I canceled the order.

Today I called Amazon and they said the estimated ship date would indeed be Nov. 4, but might be revised after October 1st (the publication date as per Continuum's website).

Today I also emailed Continuum about their estimated shipping date if I buy the book directly from them. (No reply yet.)

If anyone (maybe even Tom, if you're reading this) has any more info, it'd be appreciated. I'm looking forward to the much-hyped funding list and feel I can't really finalize my picks until I see it...


adfjaseif we said...

I'm applying to programs for the first time this year, and nervous about wasting my time applying to schools that are out of my league. At the same time though, I don't want to settle. Any advice for gauging what's appropriate or ranking by competitiveness? Or should I just stop being self-conscious and put myself out there?

lesley said...

Anyone know about funding at Adelphi? Their website doesn't say much.

julianna said...

To Elizabeth worrying about page limits.

I'm in charge of admissions at Florida State and have served on the committee a couple of years now, off and on, and I actually couldn't tell you our page limit for prose.

Honestly, I've never noticed. I've never picked up a packet and flipped to the last page to check a length.

I settle in and read.

I hope this helps.

Julianna Baggott, Asst. Director of CRW, Florida State

julianna said...

To Sara EG about Letter of Recommendation

Go with the outsider who knows you and your work well. The person who's known for a long time and can talk about you as dedicated to the craft.

Julianna Baggott, Asst. Director Florida State

julianna said...

To Sara EG about Letter of Recommendation

Go with the outsider who knows you and your work well. The person who's known for a long time and can talk about you as dedicated to the craft.

Julianna Baggott, Asst. Director Florida State

julianna said...

To SE Allen about CNF

This is an emerging field and most good CRW programs are taking it seriously. Speaking for us, FSU has hired two nonfiction writers in the last couple of years, in addition to Bob Shacochis. If you look at the job ads at AWP, you'll see a growing number for this specialization.

We generally put our prose applications together -- fiction and CNF -- and separate them from poetry.

At FSU we require students to take one worshop out of their primary field, and this leads people to stretch themselves creatively.

One result, because of our new infusion of CNF faculty, we have more CNF theses and dissertations. In fact, one of our recent grads has a memoir coming out with Riverhead ... It's a burgeoning field and exciting things are happening across the board, in most CRW programs.

I wouldn't hesitate to get on the phone with the programs who haven't made it clear and talk to them ... I think you'll find a national trend really taking root.

All my best,

Julianna Baggott, Asst. Director, CRW, Florida State

Kevin said...

I've come across a few schools that are asking for cover letters/pages. I'm a little confused on how this differs from the personal statement? Are they asking for a cover letter in the vein of what one would write when applying for a job (which would reiterate some of what's said in the ps) or are they simply asking for a cover sheet with my name and list of works? San Jose asks to include educational info, so I assume they want a full cover letter. Does this seem correct?

Also, am I supposed to be sending these out to all the MFA programs? Even the ones that don't ask for it?

All this cover letter business has halted my application flow. I appreciate any help. Thanks.

bri said...

is anyone else applying to houston kind of flummoxed by their website? their application info section is really ragged and doesn't seem to even have a link to their application...

Sara E.G. said...

A question for Luke at Hollins:

I'm curious how your workshops go that include both graduate and undergraduate students. How is the dynamic? Do the undergraduate students take it seriously enough? (Personally, when reading that classes were mixed, I experienced an "uh oh" moment, but would love to have that dispelled.)

Thanks in advance.

Luke said...

Hey Sara--

Those mixed seminars are certainly worth asking about. From what I understand, it seems as though they're working towards switching the format so only during the first semester of the first year do you have this grad/undergrad seminar.

I think the main reason they have it is so the faculty can get a sense how you respond to undergraduate work, as the second year teaching fellowships are for a workshop-based creative writing class. They want to make sure you're not simply going to dismiss the undergrad work out-of-hand because it's done by undergradutes. That being said, there are a handful of undergrads who will really knock your socks off with their writing, feedback, maturity, etc, and are in the process of applying to (and getting into) top-rate MFAs. There are also undergrads writing sonnets about krispy kreme donuts.

So I guess what I'm trying to say the seminar is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it's a chance to work with another faculty member and other grad students you wouldn't otherwise. A curse in that you'll oftentimes deal with lower-level concerns. Anyway, it seems as though they're phasing it out b/c there were a lot of complaints last year, but I think it's largely dependant on the attitude you carry in.

Hope this was helpful.


mike said...

Foreign Language Requirements:
I was curious if anyone knows how strict most programs are with their foreign language requirements. I have read that the requirements can usually be fulfilled in a variety of ways, but I am not sure whether I would be able to work on learning the language while in the MFA program. I took a couple of years of French in high school, and one class in college. My knowledge basically amounts to a list of random vocabulary words. I am not sure whether I need to automatically take any programs with such a requirement off of my list. Any info would be appreciated.

Adam said...

Does anyone know what the deal is with Pittsburgh's 50 page writing sample? I haven't seen this requirement for any other programs.

Happy Cianci said...

Does having work published in a school's national journal have any effect on an applicant's chances?

Sara E.G. said...


Very helpful. Many thanks.

zola said...

when is the latest i should take the gre? i think i read on this blog schools will still be able to receive scores if the test is taken no later than Nov. 1st? correct?

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

this is a sort of random place to ask this, but does anyone know about the deadline for UT Michener Center? On the MFA web site, it says December 15, but then on another section of the UT Web site that lists deadlines, it says Jan 15. I know lots of people are applying there and have applied there in the past, so does anyone know when applications are really due?

Lizzy said...


A typical way to fulfill the language requirement might be to take an intensive "graduate reading knowledge" course, leading to a reading knowledge exam.

Don't take programs with language requirements off your list. If you gain admission to a program with a language requirement, at that point take the time to figure out where you stand and ways to fulfill the requirement. Chances are, this will be simpler than you think right now.

Good luck.