Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mailbag

What's up, future MFAers? It's been busy around here: semester in full swing, workshops, students, papers (both writing and grading), readings, and a lot of election excitement.

So it's time to catch up with everyone, now that things are quieting down a little and before the end-of-semester madness robs us all again of every minute to stop to collect our thoughts about things MFA.

Questions, comments, wild speculation, neurotic molecules of MFA-related mind chatter... Bring it all.

184 comments:

Jennifer said...

A funding question:

Va. Commonwealth requires that you fill out a FAFSA to be eligible for funding. I haven't seen this on any of my other schools websites, but now I'm wondering is it such a given that all of them want it but they don't say so?

Anyone else filling them out?

Lizzy said...

You'll want to fill out a FAFSA if a school explicitly asks for it OR if you think you'll need some loan money to help you make ends meet while you're in school, Jennifer.

The good news is that once you fill out a FAFSA--and it's free--it's good for the year and you can request copies be sent to eah school that requests it.

unsaid said...

I'm doing the FAFSA...I've done it all the way through undergrad. It's good for loans and grants depending on your financial situation. It's SOP to me so I don't even count it as added stress to this app process...thankfully!

michelle said...

Speaking of funding, I wonder if anyone has any info on how the economic crisis will affect MFA programs next year. This article is on the front page of the NY Times this morning: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/education/08college.html?hp

Also, I work at the University at Buffalo, and we have a hiring freeze

Christopher Lee Miles said...

http://creative-writing-mfa-handbook.blogspot.com/2008/10/mfas-and-economy.html

I asked the same question a few posts back.

michelle said...

Thanks, Christopher,

Sorry I missed that excellent thread, which addressed my concern about whether programs will have less funding available for stipends/fellowships/TAships, at least for the coming year.

corkeyb33 said...

Hope you are all a lot further in the process than I am...

I keep getting discouraged by finding various extra requirements hidden throughout programs' websites. I also feel like I don't really know when anything is actually due; some programs will say Jan. 15th, but then in the depths of the website, it will say an earlier date if you want to be considered for fellowships, etc.

It is also very frustrating that I will have to include two different critical essays-- UMASS Amherst wants a short one, and other schools want a longer one.

Just complaining... I know you all understand these frustrstions better than my roommates!

zola said...

corkeyb33:

about Umass-- are you referring to the 'Describe any teaching or tutoring experience' section of the application. I skipped over that without hesitation because I don't have any teaching/tutoring experience. My application was still considered complete. If that was the short critical essay you are referring to it apparently isn't required.

Also to everyone-- I feel that if something isn't listed in the admission requirements section of any particular grad school's website then it probably isn't required. Just because something pops up on an application doesn't mean you have to fill in that section. I left many portions of the application blank for all the schools I applied to and all my online apps were confirmed complete. why would a school surprise you with an essay. that makes absolutely no sense.

Morgan said...

The short essay for UMASS is in the TA application. I am just sending the same 10 page essay that I am to the other schools; I consider that comparatively short when imagining what kind of papers grad students write for lit classes.

Christopher Lee Miles said...

Michelle, I've also discussed the issue with my Profs, and it seems to be the case that programs with strong endowments--like Houston and Madison--will not be detrimentally effected.

zola said...

ohh right right, Umass did have an essay for the TA application. I forgot about it because I didn't apply for it.

Question: If Julianna from FSU is reading or any one else who knows anything about selection processes I'm curious to know if there are any reasons a program would not accept an applicant even if they are really excited about the applicants writing.

insertbrackets said...

My monthly update! courtesy of...me!

As of 11/08/2008:
*Submitted 2/10 applications (Brown and UMass), currently working on Michigan and Wisconsin
*Dispensed letters/forms to recommenders
*Finished my general personal statement, still in the process of tailoring it to the different schools
*About %80 sure of what is going into my writing sample

Somehow, I am still maintaining my sanity. For now.

-Tory

Jennifer said...

Hi everybody, just wanted to bitch to some people who understand that good god this applying stuff is a ton of work. 10/10 online apps filled out, personal statements all done and printed out, GRE taken and scores sent, transcripts sent, one recommender's letters are in and I just gently reminded the other two.

Now if only I could finish the two stories I'm submitting. I just can't seem to finish them and that Dec. 1 Irvine deadline looms.

Is everyone else having last minute I-suck-I'll-never-get-in feelings, or is it just me???

Sara E.G. said...

Jennifer--

Oh those nagging feelings. I had those about a month ago (I think it was the dread of the GRE personally) but I've been feeling pretty okay lately. I try to stalk the current MFA students in the programs I like to see the caliber of their work. Sometimes this makes me feel confident in my applications; other times, not so much.

Where I stand as of today:

*3/14 apps submitted online.

*GREs done. done. done.

*General SOP done and modified for probably 7/14 schools. Still putting off Michigan's second SOP, but should get on that soon.

*Recommendation letters should be at all the schools by now.

*Writing sample is roughly 75% decided. Indiana and Notre Dame are causing me some stress with their 20 page poetry requirement (I'm not nearly as prolific as Tory!) but I'm sure I'll squeeze by.

*Transcripts waiting on my desk (I think only one school I'm applying to requires that they receive the transcript directly from my undergraduate institution.)

...And probably 50 other things I can't remember. At least I'm not waking up in a cold sweat from bad McCain dreams anymore. That's a relief.

Joe said...

I submitted my application materials to UBC on Thursday. According to the confirmation email I received, they will let me know in late-January whether I have been accepted.

My concern is that, in late January, I will still be waiting for word from most, if not all, of the other programs to which I am applying. In fact, I assume I'll be waiting until March or even April for most of my notifications of acceptance/rejection. Of course, I would be thrilled to be accepted, but I also would want to know what other schools had accepted me before committing.

In the event that I am accepted into UBC, how soon will I be expected to confirm that, yes, I will definitely be enrolling in their program?

carrie said...

joe--schools know when other schools notify. i doubt they'll make you accept or deny their offer until march or so, when everyone else is deciding.

Bsquared86 said...

Just an update for anyone applying to UC Irvine:

They updated their graduate websites and many of the links you may have saved, such as the link to submittig recs online has changed.


And, am I the only one that didn't know that my UCI application had to be submitted befoe recs could be submitted online? Yikes!

Jennifer said...

Yet another topic from me today. . .thank you gifts for recommneders.

I have no idea what to do so I've looked at the follwing options:

Cookie basket?
flowers?
Bonsai tree (1800flowers has nice ones)?
fruit basket?
Bath gift set for the two ladies?
Barnes and Noble gift card? (but the one who aleady has them completed is a librarian).

I'm leaning toward fruit, andybody got any better ideas?

unsaid said...

Hey Jennifer,

I'm getting one of my recommenders a scarf- because she wears them; another one I'm getting the movie version of a book she assigned in her class; and the other one is getting something on Victorian Lit because that's what she just got her doctorate in and she liked to use supplemental info in class.

I went with the personal touch. Can you think of anything that stands out as something each individual recommender might enjoy?

Good luck!

insertbrackets said...

i recommend baking something, it shows a personal flare and it's something that definitely shows that you took time out of your schedule to make it for them. i made walnut brownies for one of my recommenders. he really liked that.

-Tory

CompassRose said...

I'm hard at work on my 1-2-page personal statement, which I think about half of the MFA programs I'm applying to will accept (once it's been tailored to the specific program, of course). But I'm unsure of how to transform this essay into a 300-500 word abbreviated statement. Any thoughts?

Morgan said...

I am under the impression that two double spaced pages is around 500 words.

Are people not double spacing their personal statements? If not, that's...scary.

Also, Brown says 1-2 pgs and 1-4 pgs on the same web page. So, uh...I'm aiming for two. Does that sound reasonable?

Jesse Thiessen said...

If you think you'll need any aid in any form (i.e. all of us), fill out the FAFSA. Just do it. A lot of schools consider it a given and will only mention it on their financial aid page, and if you have to wheel and deal with financial aid people, FAFSA numbers are indispensable. There's no downside, and if the gov't decides you're poor, you have the chance to basically get free money.

(Caveat: That is just based on my three-years-old entrance-to-undergrad experience. If it's different for graduate studies for whatever reason, then I apologize)

Joe, I also just finished my UBC app and am in the same boat. I'm just going to deal with that as it comes when I get the yes/no (and if it's the latter, well then moot point!) and talk to the school about the situation if it's a yes.

My updates:

* 1/12 apps completed. Next one isn't due till Dec 15, so breathing room.

* GREs signed, sealed, delivered. Thank God.

* Letters of rec all in my possession.

* SOP done but will need heavy modification as most of it was specifically directed at UBC.

* Transcripts for undergrad school #1 in a pile on my desk, have yet to order a pile for undergrad school #2

* Writing sample half-way there. 20 rock-solid I'm-proud-of-this pages I used for UBC, but need to get on perfecting other pieces for schools with larger requirements.

* Haven't started on any of the other online apps. God help me.

* Haven't looked at my old critical papers for the schools that want them and am quaking at the thought.

Oh, and as far as gifts go, it might seem obvious, but get them a book. One they probably haven't read, but has personal meaning to you. Not only is it a propos, it's something they will likely keep for a long time and remember you by.

Man, that was long.

Jennifer said...

Regarding personal statements and spacing -- mine is two pages single spaced. It is in the form of a letter so I single spaced it. It is 1000 words. This is for the four schools I'm applying to that that want it on paper. I had to cut it down for some of the online app SOPs though, and of course UT Michener who wants 350 words or less. If I recall, most of the spaces in online apps for personal statements gave me 750 words.

Sara E.G. said...

My SOP (after tailoring for individual schools) comes in at roughly 650 words. I spaced mine at 1.5 (personally, I hesitate to make anything single spaced, but that's just me.)

I'm cutting it for two schools that require 500 words or less, but am finding that a rather arduous task. For those, I plan on leaving the general structure the same:

1. Interesting hook about my upbringing
2. Poetic background/education
3. Poetic influences/interests/ achievements/publications
4. Part tailored to individual school
5. Short summary paragraph.

I'm trying to scrape off words here and there, and it's going to be a close call to get it to 500 for those two schools. My thinking is if you're really close to the number they want, they might not notice 20 extra words? Maybe that's wishful thinking of my part?

Good luck to those in the SOP trenches...

Lizzy said...

I say go with cookies or fruit, Jennifer. Guess I'm kind of a gourmand.

Lizzy said...

Sara,

I've heard people say they don't care if application materials go over the word limit. Others have made it clear that they regard excess wordage as right up there with the cardinal sins. It may be, a little, a case of luck of the draw, I'm supposing.

I think going over by a few words is fine, in any case.

Good luck.

Lizzy

Wahida said...

I'm losing it--really freaked I won't make it in time. I have almost all of my transcripts in, took the GRE and have the score reports sent out, know the two stories I'm going to use but still need to clean them up and figure out how to work with the page limits (I have 26 pages and some schools say 20 pgs. max). The big thing that's holding me back right now are the SOPs. I'm just paralyzed, I can't bring myself to start. All the schools ask for something different. And what do we do when the online application asks for essays that aren't specified on the program's website? Are these essays for the graduate school that I should write different SOPs for, or should I use the same SOP I write for the program? It's scary because I've sent all sorts of documents to these schools but I can't submit my applications online until I write these statements. I might have to flunk out of the second half of my last undergrad semester if I want to get these things done... But it's encouraging to see that all of you are getting somewhere with this, I guess it really can be done.

insertbrackets said...

News Update:
*waiting for GRE score reports in the mail (should be here very soon)
*filed 5/10 applications (Brown, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin)
*need 3 or so more pages for my Indiana length (i.e. 20 page writing sample)
*touching up my critical writing sample
*holding on to transcripts
*not sleeping
*wishing i had someone else to delegate all this nonsense too!

martin said...

5 online applications and exactly 2/3 of my rec letters submitted.
Gentle reminder sent to last recommender.
Writing samples finished and proofread (I can't bear to go over them again, as I've been writing/revising them for months).
GRE scores sent out.
General statements just about done.
Half of application envelopes being mailed today.

The only things I really need to focus on are a few statements on teaching creative writing and my work in general. U-Minnesota seems to want a description of the work now, too...

martin said...

Sorry - I mean Minnesota wants a description of writing background, not work...

fix it tuesday said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jclynn said...

My status...

*all online apps 90% filled out, none submitted

*personal statments 92% completed

*transcripts - done, gre scores - done

*packets out to 2 of 3 reccomenders, waiting on some info from the 3rd before, hopefully, sending packet out this week

*portflio - one story finalized, second story 75% finalized, third story (as needed) not even close

*trying not to panic even though nothing is completed yet!!

fix it tuesday said...

First time post..long time reader!
This process is so overwhelming that I bury myself in it for a few days until I cant breathe and then end up avoiding it for a week. Jeez! Ok...so of the 13 schools im applying to, I have completed applications for...none. I'm taking the GRE this Saturday (yikes...late in the game!). 1/3 of my rec letters have gone out. Transcripts should follow soon this week. That Irvine deadline is looming!
Writing sample is pretty much good to go. The SOP seems like a big undertaking...
Phew...
I love reading where all of you are at in your processes...It makes me feel better/motivated to continue!

speculations for schoolboys said...

So far:

All of my online and paper apps nearly completed, but none submitted
Rough draft of personal statement and teaching statement
Nothing done about my transcripts yet
GRE and score requests done
All recommendation things to recommenders
Still haven't decided about my writing sample
Haven't picked out a critical essay yet for the schools that request it

I'm basically flipping out now. I have just over a month...that's ok, right?

deadninjahorse said...

Out of 13 schools, 6 applications finished and submitted. The other 7are finished except for the SOP, since those are the ones that want it electronically, and I haven't started it yet.

Transcripts from all 3 undergrad schools sitting on my desk in a big pile.

Letter writers have all their stuff, one has already written the letter.

GRE scores came in the mail yesterday, requesting additional reports tomorrow.

Writing sample is 3/4 done. It's all written, just waiting on input from 2 people as to which things to use.

Hoping to mail everything out by first week of December.

julianna said...

IN RESPONSE TO ZOLA:
Question: If Julianna from FSU is reading or any one else who knows anything about selection processes I'm curious to know if there are any reasons a program would not accept an applicant even if they are really excited about the applicants writing.

ANSWER: Sheer numbers. It's awful but true. After the deadline, we lock ourselves in a small room filled with manuscripts and read. We also rank each application on a scale of 1-5. If all of the readers give your app fours or fives, you get sent to a stand-out pile. That pile is where things get really tight. And just because we can only admit so many, we end up having to decline people whose work we deeply admire.

That's what happens. It's really hard.

jb

tanya.debuff said...

Apps completed but not sent impecunious reasons (good word, right?)....

2 of 3 recommenders mailed letters today....

10 pages of solid writing sample, and working on more....

GRE scheduled......

transcripts done.....

Rough draft SOP.....

gotta dig out an expository writing sample and see if it is any good......

THe only thing I'm panicking about now is taking the GRE so late...haven't had the money till now. I feel pretty ready, though.

Trying not to freak out over getting accepted issues yet....pushing that down until later.

Good luck to all!

bri said...

2/10 apps sent in
GRE scores sent out to all schools that need them
transcripts going out later this week
LOR writers have all their info and have been sending things in
writing sample finalized, SOP done

i'm just really really broke, and all these app fees and transcript fees and GRE fees (GRfees?) are killing me!

Jennifer said...

I think I finished one of the two stories I am submitting! Oh joy, it looks like I'll make the Irvine deadline! Now if I could just get my darn recommenders to get their letters in . . . only one of the three has done so even though they had their packets in September!

dylan said...

What is everyone sending when schools don't have recommendation letter forms?

Jennifer said...

Dylan -- I just gave my recommenders a packet of addressed stamped envelopes and asked them to write a letter of recommendation, put it in the envelope, and send it off. . .

Jolie said...

Some of the schools on my list require two recommendation letters, while others require three. I guess I'll have to call/email the schools to know for sure, but in everyone else's experience, will the two-letter programs mind if I send them letters from all three of my recommenders? If not, I'm not sure how to choose which letter to leave out.

Sara E.G. said...

To poetry applicants:

Are you stapling or paper clipping your writing sample? I imagine for folks in fiction who want to differentiate between stories that stapling might be best, but what for us? (I do know that Minnesota requests paper clips.)

Also, are you putting name/info as a header/footer on each page? I'm inclined to do so, even though some schools just say to include a cover sheet. I just imagine poems getting passed around and names being lost in the shuffle.

Yes, a day off for Veterans Day has made me more anal than usual.

Emily said...

where i'm at:

GRE - DONE
Transcripts - DONE (requested, set from the school, all except Wisconsin that asks for it to be sent with other materials - those copies are in my possession)
Letters of Recommendation - my recommenders have them for now, due back to me by Dec 1st (my earliest deadline is Dec 15th and I'm starting to worry about the timing)
Statement(s) - have a 1 page Statement of Goals done for one school, and a basic 2 page SOP ready to be customized for other places. also a brief statement on teaching.
Writing Sample - pretty well settled on a 10 page sample and a 15 page sample, still playing with the 20 page sample.
On Line Apps - I've only started one so far and am freaking about the money aspect of this (I added it up and it's going to cost me, I think, $460 to apply to nine schools, not to mention what I already spent on the GRE)

haven't even thought about the FAFSA but I guess I should do that too.

I need to buckle down and start doing the online apps, and customize my statements. I'm having days when I feel like it's futile, and I'll never get in, and then other days when I absolutely see myself getting in and being successful. And I'm also having some freak-out moments about leaving a place where I've lived for 6 years and really feel comfortable and settled and happy. Oh, change........

Emily said...

sara e. g. - i am putting my name as a header on everything. i'd not thought about staples/paperclips/etc yet but i'd lean more toward paperclips I think. anyone else?

Andrew Payton said...

So I have a question. Does anyone know how forgiving programs can be for incomplete packages? Not that I don't intend to complete my package, but say a transcript or rec letter hasn't arrived and they never told me my application was incomplete. Do they immediately disregard my application, or would they tell me and give me a chance to send that last item?

Jennifer said...

I'm putting a header with my name and the title in the upper right hand corner of my stories. I've done this as standard operating procedure when sending in submissions to literary journals.

Jesse Thiessen said...

Andrew,

Some programs with online apps will actually have an updated checklist for what comes in. Otherwise, I think it's generally okay to shoot the secretary or whoever's in charge of such things an e-mail a few days before the deadline whether all your stuff has arrived.

Maybe someone who's in that position can say otherwise? But I can't imagine that's a bother.

unsaid said...

hey emily,

The whole paper clips/staple thing has been running through my mind too. Michener specifically asks for the writing sample to be stapled. I'm thinking staples for my samples so the pages don't get separated.

unsaid said...

OH! One of my recommenders wrote and sealed 16 letters and a few forms for me in one day! Like one day I asked her to do it and delivered envelopes to her and the next morning she emailed me and said pick them up. I feel like I could have her children.

Luke said...

Unless it says otherwise, I'd use paperclips and put your info in the header (I like name/address top-right with the poems themselves left-justified, but that's just my own superstition). Chances are if you make the final round they're going to get taken apart anyway. Good luck all.
-LJ

Anthony said...

This is my first time posting, though I've been silently watching it for a while (please excuse the creepy phrasing).

I'm not sure if this has been addressed in any previous posts, but is it advisable to mention in my SOP that I have an agent and am working with her on a draft of a novel to submit to publishers? It's taken a lot of work to create something that is (I hope) worthy of representation and I'm proud of it, but at the same time I don't want to come off sounding overbearing, or worse, entitled.

Anyway, I'd appreciate to hear what you think.

Catherine said...

Wow. I'm not sure if I feel better or worse about my place in the application process after reading through everyone's news.

So many people are applying to so many programs! I'm only applying to four. I applied last year too and made it on two (of four) waitlists.

I think it's all going to be fine and those who are freaking out... don't worry. But then again, I have yet to successfully get in somewhere, so maybe I should get on it.

Jennifer said...

Anthony, I think that is exactly the kind of thing you should put in your SOP. It shows how long you have been doing this and that you are dedicated and work really hard at it and that you can finish a project -- something a lot of us (me anyway) have a very hard time doing. I would put it just like you did in your post. . . "it's taken a lot of work to create something worthy of representation and I'm proud of it."

zola said...

oh man. my applications are pretty much complete for all the schools i'm applying to and i've already sent in my personal statement to each program. i wrote absolutely nothing about myself and i wrote nothing specific either (honestly, i don't know why i felt this way, by my initial reaction to writing a personal statement was to 'play the game'- write the bullshit you think people want to hear like the bullshit some one might say during a job interview. it probably says a lot about myself and how cynical i can be). i didn't know i could be honest and authentic. i excel at authenticity. i wasn't aware that there was a way of going about this. nobody told me and i'm not psychic.

after reading comments on this blog about personal statements I now think mine is absolutely horrible. And i don't know how many times i've heard WRITING SAMPLE, WRITING SAMPLE, WRITING SAMPLE!!! and I felt to be rejected from a school because of a personal statement is unimaginable but now i feel it might be possible.

Jennifer said...

Zola -- No worries. . . I'm sure your personal statement is fine. I think we are all having that last minute panic about something or other. I am convinced that 2/3 of my recommneders just won't send a letter in.

martin said...

I think everyone can empathize with feeling this way; I'm freaking out about the final state of my applications before they're even out the door. All the small details - a misplaced apostrophe, headers, footers, staples, etc. tend to eat you up as you accelerate towards ridding yourself of all your application materials...but I believe quite strongly that these things mean next to nothing in the grand scheme.

The waiting will be tough, though...:/

zola said...

thanks for that. that actually makes me feel a lot better. and if i don't get in this time i've learned a lot about the process and it will be helpful for applying next year.

Samara said...

I remember screaming at my computer in frustration last year because I couldn't get it to format my story the way I wanted it to. I also remember panicking over commas. But I really doubt tiny things like that are worth sweating over. I remember riding to a FedEx center to get my application to a school by a 2:00 p.m. pickup deadline, and writing changes into my story with a pen--it was a top-five school, and I still got waitlisted, so I think in the end it truly is the sample that counts. It all seems so insignificant now that I am actually in a program. What I'm trying to say is, these things seem disproportionately daunting at the time. Make your samples as best as they can be, don't sweat the personal statement (two pages, double spaced), and get it in on time--although there wasn't a single application I mailed in before the postmark deadline. Hang in there. This time next year it will all have melted away.

Victorya said...

I'm also freaking out, but I think it's only natural

I have two stories ready, ones that I like and others have liked so think they'll work. And they are different stories, so the directors don't think I can only write first person angsty teen-age girl stories. Although they might think I have mother issues, oh well (I do, read my blog).

I took my gres in JULY, just have to send out scores.

I have one reccomendation letter in hand, the other two said they'd send by thanksgiving, and the back-up said this weekend I can stuff them into envelopes.

I have most online applications done.

I'm freaking over various Personal statements, I like my main one, but then there are all the various secondary one.

How come, and I'm sure others have experienced this, it seems like every time I go to the MFA website for a school there are different requirements? I made a spreadsheet back around June, and ordered transcripts around then. Now it seems like some schools want two when I ordered one, or vice versa.

michelle said...

My worry of the day is the writing sample. My 2 best (fiction) stories are 19 and 11 pages, respectively. What do I do for the schools requesting 20 or 25 pages? I've heard it's a really good idea to send two stories no matter what. Anybody else faced with this?

marsupial said...

Hi Michelle,

I think you're probably better off sending one of your best stories instead of two that you are less sure about just because they fit the page limit and show that you have more than one story in you.
I also have 2 stories that I'd like to send, but together they total 32 pages. For schools that request 25, I'll send only one story. For schools that request 30, if I can edit a page out of each story, I will, but if that compromises the stories, then I'll send only one.

Akirk said...

Hello,

I'm not really sure where or to whom I should ask this question, so please point me in a better direction if you'd like.

I'm a college senior who was looking at the MFA -Creative Writing program, but I haven't really started thinking about it, and I'm sure it's far too late to be considered for fall 2009. I think I'd like to take a break for a year, but when I start looking again, I'd like to look at schools with a) esteemed gay/lesbian/queer programs and b) something that would help me develop in something called 'personal essay'. My academic advisor told me that the latter option is something I'd be good at, but I'm not sure what it's officially called or how to look for it in an MFA program.

Do you have any suggestions?

unsaid said...

Hey akirk,

Personal essay sounds like memoir to me which sounds like creative non-fiction to me. Maybe you could research creative non-fiction programs? Kealy's MFA book helped me a ton in choosing my programs so you should check that out if you haven't already.

As for the gay/lesbian/queer question you might want to check out pw.org/speakeasy forums. There's an MFA Program discussion group. I saw a recent discussion about programs and locations that are accepting/nurturing/welcoming of the gay community. It may have been in the creative writing PhD thread but you can do a search on the forum.

ntm8 said...

one of my recommenders sent a letter to my school's career center, which sends the letters out to schools. he didn't fill out the forms that some of the schools have that go along with them. do you think this is a problem?

ntm8 said...

also, is a 450 verbal on the gre a problem? i somehow scored significantly higher in math...

Jennifer said...

I sent goodie baskets to my three recommenders. . . only one has written the letters. . . so I'm hoping it prompts the other two especially since Irvine's deadline is dec. 1. . . which I have only mentioned to them about 10 times.

dylan said...

NTM8

Many websites say they will still read it and the form is just a guide.

Which schools were you concerned about?

ntm8 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ntm8 said...

michigan mostly. it says the form must be included. thoughts?

Dylan said...

A "Must" seems unavoidable. Best to contact the professor and explain that Michigan requires it. If the professor is disagreeable, call Michigan first and see if they will let it slide.

unsaid said...

That's funny ntm8! I found out about Michigan's form after my recommender wrote the letter. I informed the professor and gave her a new envelope to sign, seal, and to put the letter in along with the form. I'd do it. They seemed to emphasize MUST on the website.

I wonder if they just added that because I swear it wasn't there when I gave all my recommenders their stuff.

corkeyb33 said...

wait, isn't the Michigan recommendation online?

unsaid said...

Corkey,

I believe it's online but you can also choose to mail recommendations along with the form on the website.

insertbrackets said...

So, I am a genius. At the last minute, I have decided I'd rather apply to Ohio than Montana. Blame it on the dark thoughts that spring up any time I contemplate the reality of being a gay man living in Missoula. By contrast, Columbus sounds a WHOLE lot more hospitable! I just wish that I hadn't all ready paid to send my GRE scores there! Oh well.

Also, I am nearly freaking out b/c I just realized that 50% of my applications are due by December 20th!! My birthday is coming up at the end of this month. I think I should just ask my family for money. I have sent 7/10 (Brown, Cornell, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana) applications off so far, apparently forcing myself into settling on my writing sample in the process. Here's hoping I don't evicted as I make the final stretch towards paying off these last few apps!!!

Now, for some string cheese!

Jennifer said...

Omigod, I can't believe it, but I am off to Kinko's with one of my stories today! I never thought I'd have one done. Now if I could just finish the other one. . .

JDee said...

I've discovered that one of my recommenders may have forgotten (despite my repeated reminders)to sign the seal of the envelopes...how much problem is this going to be for me, and how should I best remedy the situation?

ali said...

I wanted to put in a plug for the MFA program I'm in right now, in case anyone currently applying has any questions or comments. I go to Ohio State, and I'm a fiction student. All three genres (fiction, poetry, and nonfiction) are really strong here. We have an encouraging faculty, and all accepted students are guaranteed funding (TA or fellowship). There is also a new nonfiction hire in the works for next year, which is pretty cool considering the way things are feeling economically. So, for anyone mired in the application process, this is an excellent program to consider as you prepare to send out all your materials. Anyway, good luck everyone. I went through this last year, and it was stressful to the extreme.

Sara E.G. said...

jdee--

I'm wondering the same thing. One of my recommenders is much older and forgot to sign a few of the backs of the envelopes (I know this because a few of the letters were sent directly to me so that I could send them to the school; the rest were sent directly there. A couple of the envelopes that were sent to me did not have her signature across the back.)

Is this something to be concerned about? I hope not.

In other news, I've just completed the 300-500 word SOP required by two of my schools. All the other, normal-length SOPs are finished. Massive sigh of relief.

Elizabeth said...

Hopefully someone can provide some insight on this: One of the stories for my writing sample was just accepted for publication. Where would be a proper place to make a note of this in my application - if at all? In my Statement of Purpose? A little line in the writing sample itself? Noplace at all? I'd like to point it out, but I don't want to look like I'm trying to brag, either.

Samara said...

Elizabeth--Congratulations! That's great news. I recall from last year that most applications had a place to list publications, but it seems like the SOP would be a good place, too. Also, I'm seconding Ali on the plug for OSU. I couldn't be happier with my decision to go there.

Jennifer said...

Elizabeth -- Definitely include the fact that you got the story accepted for pub in your SOPs.

Luke said...

Congrats! As far as where to put it in your application--I'm going to go against the herd here. I wouldn't mention it at all. Definitely, definitely, definitely NOT on the manuscript itself.

I think if a school is interested in previous pubs, awards, and the like, there will be a place where they ask specifically on the application. If you do choose to mention it, the SOP would likely be the place, but I wouldn't give it too much weight (if any) and I certainly wouldn't specify that the published story was one included in your writing sample. I imagine selection committees are much more interested in whether they like the stories than whether someone else did before them. I would take this as a major confidence boost, but leave it out of the application. Obviously the story is strong enough to speak for itself without the garnish of a byline. Let the story do the work.

All that said--celebrate!

-LJ

michelle said...

Congratulations Elizabeth!

I think you should definitely mention it in your SOP, which is your chance to tell the admissions committee that you are a promising writer who will make a name for herself, benefitting the program.

Morgan said...

Hi everyone. Sorry to bring up GREs again, when it seems like most of us are over the hump, but I just got my official scores in the mail. I did decent on the Q/V (670/620) but I got a 4.5 on the Analytical writing.

Should I be worried?

Thanks!

marsupial said...

Morgan: no, don't be worried.

My scores are a lot lower than yours, and I'm not worried about them. I firmly do not believe my GRE scores are going to keep me from getting into a program. I really can't imagine that I program that loves my writing sample is going to reject me on the basis of my GRE scores. And if they want me that badly but the school itself requires a certain GRE minimum score that I don't meet, I still believe something will work out in my favor.

Worry about your writing sample instead. The better the writing, the less significant the GRE scores become.

Jesse Thiessen said...

I could be talking out my rear here, but I'd think the GRE writing section should be the last thing on anybody's mind. If I was a program director and I liked someone's sample enough to look at their GRE scores, my response to a low writing score would probably be "Wow, those folks at the GRE sure are grading terribly these days."

Maybe someone else has more informed ideas, but I can't imagine such a score would influence somebody's already-formed opinions on your work.

Jennifer said...

My manuscript is finally done. Shipping it off to all 10 of my schools this weekend. Such a relief!

Morgan said...

Thanks for the reassurance. I guess it was just another blow to my self esteem (I teach and tutor composition and I can't even get a 5 on the analytical writing portion of the GRE???) I just feel so drained right now. I am a(slightly older) undergrad right now, and I'm trying to juggle school, work, and extracurriculars on top of applications. It doesn't seem like it should be *that* much extra work but it's the pressure that's really getting to me.

For example, I have a story due in workshop tomorrow and I just can't write it- the pressure of having to ace the manuscript for apps has me frozen in terms of first drafts. I keep writing a sentence, thinking, erasing it, starting the story completely over, etc. I only have four more weeks in the semester but I don't know how I am going to deal with finals on top of everything else, especially as my first round of apps are due Dec. 15th.

I guess I'm just venting, but it's as if I've lost all motivation. I just want to crawl into bed and sleep until Jan. 15th when this will all be over.

Am I crazy to feel so down on myself or are some of you unusually depressed as well? What are you doing to cope (besides obsessively checking this blog and writing long whiny posts)?

Jennifer said...

Morgan I’m right there with you. I am an attorney and the Editor of a magazine and it has been kind of crazy at work so I’ve been working over 50 hours a week. I try to get up every morning at the crack of dawn to get some writing in, but I have been doing what you referred to quite a bit, having trouble working on stuff, having trouble finishing my writing sample for the applications. Sitting down and not being able to write a word. The good news is that I’m finally done with the two stories for my apps and I can guarantee that if I can get em done, pretty much anyone else can.

I also flipped out over my analytical writing score. I got a 5 and when I got the score I was yelling at my boyfriend something to the effect of “I’m an attorney and the Editor of a weekly magazine about tax and they didn’t give me a six? They are idiots!!” I think that right now we just aren’t going to be happy with anything because this process is so draining. I’m also terrified because I’m 38 years old and I’ll be leaving a perfectly good career behind.

It is all one major psych-out right now, but all of it will be worth it when we get years to write. Hang in there!

Molly Mae said...

Ah! Manuscript angst...I'm hoping for some advice from other prose writers. Here's the puzzle...I've narrowed down my best work to two longer stories and one shorter story; due to page limits, I can't send both longer stories (except to a few schools that allow 40+ pages). One of these longer stories is a first-person, chatty narrator telling a story about somebody else and the other is a third-person, slightly distant narrator telling two stories simultaneously. The shorter story is also a first-person, chatty narrator, but much more personal and self-revelatory.

So...which of the two longer stories do I send with the shorter one? I like both, but for different reasons. The first-person story is all about voice, whereas the third-person story is more focused on language and the stylistic elements of narration. Is it better to show more range? All that being said, I feel slightly better about the first-person story because it's gone through more revisions. But then I worry about sending two first-person stories...

unsaid said...

Hey morgan...we're in the same boat. I'm a (slightly older) undergrad finishing up my BA in December. I'm normally extremely dedicated and on-point in my classes and that has just not been the case this semester. Part of that is the last semester blues thing but the biggest part is this process. I've been polishing my sample, staying on top of recommenders, taking the GREs, mailing transcripts etc all while working 40 hours a week and attending school full time. Seriously, you need a semester off to apply to 16 schools! But I'm just coasting now. Not letting it get to me too much. Haven't written anything new in a minute but hopefully after my apps are out (by Dec. 1) I'll be back into that too. Good luck to you!!

zola said...

so just the other day i was reading older threads on this blog and came across a comment about subject matter in regards to the writing sample. the person who posted the comment expressed the belief that most young writers are all writing on similar subjects. is this mostly true? what would be some subjects that often come up in the work of young writers? and does anyone have any thoughts on how subject matter will contribute to an applicant, if at all?

Courtney said...

Oooh, yes I second zola's question. It seems with each step I take in my writing process, I'm embarassed by the rookie mistakes of the last step. I'm terrified that what I think of asmy best writing will be full of young writer cliches and juvenile themes. I just wish I knew where I stood so that maybe I could sleep. Maybe?!

Jennifer said...

Regarding the themes of younger writers. . . I was at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in July and in my seminar we were told that a huge percentage of the application stories, especially from the folks coming out of undergrad, are either about a romantic break-or or something to do with a grandparent.

unsaid said...

I wonder about subject matter because a good deal of my writing sample(poems) deals with race, religion, and family. I surprised myself when I started writing about those things but I guess that's where my writing wants to be right now. Sometimes I worry that those subjects might be off-putting to some schools.

As far as breakups as a topic go, the right writer can give a refresing view on the subject ie Claudia Emerson's Pulitzer prize winning poetry collection, Late Wife, about her divorce, caring for her aging parents, and subsequent marriage to a widow.

I went to a poetry festival where it seemed like all of the middle-aged poets were reading poems about the decline and/or death of their loved ones. Later, I read an editor's comment in a journal that they receive tons of those types of submissions and didn't wish to receive many more. So the issue of subject matter spans across age lines.

I think the trick is to have your skill, talent, and potential shine, regardless of subject matter.

unsaid said...

Oh and I took a fiction workshop where the professor absolutely flipped out because a girl had written a story about getting an abortion. To her, that topic was way overdone by young writers.

Jesse Thiessen said...

unsaid,

I too was worried about the subject matter of my sample too...the young people thing as well as possibly being offensive...but in the end I decided not to alter anything or send different work.

I figure, if a program wouldn't accept you on the basis of such content, do you really want to be studying in that program? I don't mean that in a pretentious "I'm too good for that" kind of way, more in that if a program is not accepting of what you want to write about, you just probably aren't going to have a good experience there, plain and simple...

unsaid said...

I think you're exactly right, Jesse. I found your reply encouraging. Thanks!

Jennifer said...

Let me share something with anyone who is worried about this juvenile topic thing. I was in a position to hire 40 new lawyers at the justice department, and we interviewed about 80 of them. That meant looking at 80 legal writing samples.

In first year of law school students take research and writing and at every school they pretty much write a motion and a brief and this is what 90 percent of them use for their writing samples. To make it easy on them the writing teacher almost always makes the topic be a big first year law student subject. . . so almost all of what I looked at was either about criminal search and seizure or torts.

Did I get hugely sick of those topics? Of course. Was I still thrilled when I saw a really good piece of writing even if it was on a subject I'd just read about 10 times in a row? Yes. So in the end it really didn't matter what topic they had written on because to me good writing was good writing and very easy to pick out of the crowd of papers.

I would imagine it is the same reading a big stack of fiction. I didn't want to freak anybody out by the earlier post, I was just passing on information. Hope this helps.

Joe said...

Hey! I just received an email from the director of a top-twenty creative writing program. The gist of the email was, "we understand that you're interested in an MFA and encourage you to apply to our program." The director did not indicate how he obtained my address. Has this happened to anyone else? I don't really know what to make of this.

speculations for schoolboys said...

Joe - I got something similar from a program last week, although it was a postcard, not an email. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but since I'm already applying there, I figure it's a good sign, right?

Sara E.G. said...

Joe-

That's really interesting. Mind if I ask what program that came from?

unsaid said...

Did you guys elect to be contacted by schools on the GRE thing? You know how you can select to have schools contact you? Could be that.

corkeyb33 said...

Are you talking about Notre Dame? They contacted me too, probably bought a list of people from the GRE or something...

Joe said...

Corkeyb33,

Yes, it was Notre Dame. I thought it might be something like that, but I had never heard of it happening before. Thanks for your response.

franticfrantic said...

Does anyone know if University of Houston wants letters of recommendation sent directly from the recommenders or if we can include them with our application packets?

Erin said...

SOP Question:

I'm applying to creative nonfiction programs and a friend of mine (who is currently doing an MA with a creative nonfiction emphasis) suggested writing the letter of intent in creative nonfiction essay format. I've never heard this before, but it worked for her. Is this a good idea?

ntm8 said...

page limits...

first, is it okay to use 11 point fonts instead of 12?

for a 9,000 word requirement is 10,500 too much?

for a 30 page requirement, is 33 pages too many (if in 11 pt font?)

thoughts anyone?

insertbrackets said...

I am curious about what poetry applicants are doing with their writing samples. I wonder how old are your oldest pieces? How new are the newest ones? How many revisions have you gone through? And are you including any longer poems?

I have things in my sample that I wrote two weeks ago, and things I wrote (and revised) from about two years ago. I also have two longer poems, and a total of 20 pages to play with (depending on program requirements). What struggles have you had deciding on your samples?

speculations for schoolboys said...

Joe, Sara, unsaid - I definitely didn't choose to be contacted, since I'd already decided what schools I'm applying to...weird.

unsaid said...

Hey insertbrackets,

I'm a poet. All but one of my pieces was thoroughly workshopped and revised at least once but some pieces around about 4 times. I just wasn't feeling as comfortable with my new non-workshopped stuff so I left all but one of those out. I did do some revisions that weren't workshopped though but they were based on feedback that I got in workshops.

Most of my pieces are from Spring 2008 but as old as Summer 2007. I have one piece that I wrote a few months ago that has not been workshopped that I'm including in my sample. I have a long piece that is 3 pages long, a couple of 2 page pieces, and the rest are 1 page.

My biggest struggle was deciding how to present my sonnet crown (7 interconnected sonnets). I decided for the high page count schools that I will present them all on separate pages and for the low page count/poem schools I'll present them all together on 3 pages (that's the long piece I spoke of). Finally deciding to do it that way completed my writing sample.

My biggest concern with my sample is that I don't know if I varied the subject matter enough or the style. They are mostly all (well maybe all) narrative pieces. I've got the sonnets and a prose poem but even those are narrative. But those were my strongest pieces so I'm sticking with it. We'll see how that goes lol.

Jennifer said...

Sending out the writing sample packets this weekend. So minus one recommender's letter and a couple of TA apps I am totally done. So why do I feel so incredibly nervous instead of relieved???

Courtney said...

I am having trouble keeping my SOP short...it seems that I'm my favorite subject to write about. I have realized there is a lot I want to talk about and it comes out looking like a laundry list. Would it be better to focus in on one aspect of my life? Quanitity or quality, when it comes to experience?

Sara E.G. said...

Courtney--

I say quality. I had a really difficult time cutting my SOP down for the two schools that required only 300-500 words. Illinois wanted a lot of questions answered in that small space, so I found it best to make my answers short and thoughtful. As for my experiences, I mentioned the one or two that really stood out. I kept the same intro hook from my longer SOP, as I thought it told a lot about me in two short sentences.

I wound up with 502 words. And not without a battle.

Good luck!

Sara E.G. said...

Hey Tory,

Good question. My writing sample:

My oldest poem in the bunch is from five years ago. The newest is from last month. Most of the poems (with the exception of maybe two) have been through multiple revisions (some of them in workshop, others on my own) and a few of the more recent ones have seen two or three revisions.

Length wise, I have two two-page poems and the rest are under a page. I have two somewhat "experimental" (though I hate the term, so I'll say non-traditional) poems that I'm pretty proud of, some sonnets, one in syllabic verse, a prose poem and subject matters ranging from arthritic limbs to telekinesis to Polish folk art and most dealing (in some way) with my childhood on a rural mountain in Maine.

I'm currently struggling with what to submit to schools who request 8-10 poems. I have about 18 pages to play with (sorry Indiana and Notre Dame, you're getting 18 pages, not 20) so we'll see what makes the cut.

insertbrackets said...

hey unsaid and sara,
thanks for letting me know about your writing samples.

i have decided the order for mine. in total, i just barely have 20 pages (after substituting a relatively unfinished older poem for something new), with the first ten pages being composed of my first eight poems. i have one 3 pager in there, and another 3 pager within my top 15 pages of poems. everything else is a page long.

as far as subject matter goes, i talk about my childhood in the desert, homosexuality and eroticism, greek mythology, isolation and string theory, cranial biology, a number of gay "icons," personified language, fireflies and baseball, and the japanese language and akira kurosawa films--all in those first 10 pages. most of the poems deal in some way with the dissatisfaction of human sexual contact, the absence of love in a flawed and superficial world, and the breakdown of communication and empathy in an increasingly isolated world.

hopefully this isn't the typical juvenile fair.

keep your spirits up! only about a month or so left to go!

savage detective said...

One of my recommenders is clueless about the application process and asked me what he should put on my rec letters. Apparently I'm also clueless because I couldn't really give him a clear point-by-point answer.

Any thoughts?

michelle said...

Hi Savage,

I sent answers to these questions to one of my recommenders. I adapted it from a post on the subject here. The post suggested these are what the recommender should vouch for.

a) your committment to learning the craft of writing,

(b) your being able to take good criticism and give good criticism,

(c) your ability to follow through on work that you promise and meet deadlines,

(d) your character fitting that of a helpful and likeable classmate/student.

Michael G said...

I am curious to know why the UBC applicants need to have their reference letters sent directly from the referees? The UBC grad school website doesn't mention anything about having the referees send them, only that they be signed over the seal:

http://www.grad.ubc.ca/forms/?=ARF

Michael G said...

Also, has anyone looked at University of Texas @ El Paso's online MFA? I am curious whether any native-English speakers have gone through or applied.

They offer courses in English, Spanish, and bilingual courses. Though the website doesn't overtly say it, the program seems to be geared toward Spanish writers; most of the faculty appears to be Hispanic as well.

sara e.g. said...

To those applying to Minnesota:

Has anyone noticed the little part on their website that says to include a description of your writing background with your writing sample?

From their website:

For the M.F.A., the sample should be a substantial example of your creative work (25 pages maximum). Include a description of your writing background. Do not upload a writing sample onto the graduate school application.

I assumed the place to describe my writing background was in my SOP, which I did. Now I'm thinking I need to include an additional little note or something? What are other people doing for this?

Jesse Thiessen said...

sara,

I thought that was weird too, but I think the answer lies in their wording for what they want out of the SOP:

"...statement of one to three pages expressing your choice of graduate study in English at Minnesota in terms of your academic and general experience, and your personal and professional goals. In other words, explain what you can gain from and contribute to our department."

It seems like they're asking for your writing background only as it pertains to those questions. I think I'm going to follow that and then include a more detailed writing background with my sample (i.e. in high school I wrote about this for my newspaper, in college I took these classes, blah blah blah)

Jennifer said...

I am officially done, with the exception of one recommender getting the letters done.

Sent off all of my manuscript packets this morning. What a relief!

unsaid said...

Way to go, jennifer! That inspires me to keep going! I'm right behind ya..well a few weeks...my stuff should all be out by Dec. 1!!

I guess there's always one straggling recommender lol

zola said...

yeah, that's exactly where i'm at. everything's in except for one recommendation letter. i hope he gets it in. he's got about 3 weeks before my first deadline. i really don't want this to be a problem.

Jennifer said...

Zola -- I panicked that my third recommender isn't going to come through and today asked my old boss to write a letter for me this weekend. I'd rather have 4 of them in if the one I'm worried about actually gets around to it than 2 and have an incomplete application that isn't reviewed or something. Sigh.

michelle said...

Another GRE question--my writing scores are terrible, not just mediocre, though I did fine on the verbal. Does anyone know if this will affect chances for funding/TAships? Should I take the test again, and if I did, would it be enough time to help?

Molly said...

I am applying to a handful of school and am also quite overwhelmed at the SoP and Personal Statement level. But here is my question, does contacting the Professors in the program help? In my case it would be Poet Faculty members that I want to work with? I want to tell them that I'm interested working with them and admire their work. Do you have recommendations beyond that? I've heard it's a good idea to just ask questions about the program?

insertbrackets said...

Molly,
I would not make any overt shows of preference to the faculty, partly because the faculty you contact may not necessarily be the faculty that will be teaching at the program once you arrive (faculty shakeups happen all the time), but mostly because any attempts at praise will likely come off as unabashed pandering, which they will likely not respond well to. I think the mere fact that you're applying to their program should be enough to tell them that you like their work--after all, you are trusting them to be your teacher!

I think asking questions is fine, so long as you have a point in asking them.

Nathan said...

Hi all,

I have another personal statement question. I'm almost done with mine, save for the last paragraph. a former professor of mine who I asked for advice suggested that I close by focusing on specific faculty with whom I'd like to work with and why. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with this because I don't want to sound like I'm pandering. Is it worth say, reading something that the department chair wrote and mentioning how much I enjoyed how/how much I think I could learn from him? I'm concerned about walking a line between being specific, but not sucking up. Can anyone offer some advice? Thanks!
-Nathan

Morgan said...

Nathan,

I think as long as you approach it in a critical way, i.e. spelling out specifically what you enjoy about a particular professor's *writing* and how you think they might help you, instead of just saying "Professor X is my hero" than it couldn't hurt.

As long as what you say is well thought out and a serious attempt to explain one of the major reasons you are applying to a particular school, it shouldn't come off as pandering.

Hope that helps.

-Morgan

insertbrackets said...

Nathan,
I would caution against that, only because it might be off putting to the other faculty readers (though the pandering fear seems very real too). Other faculty may feel snubbed if you only mention the director, yet they will probably feel like you're sucking up to them if you talk about everybody who teaches there. It just seems like a bad idea to me.

Morgan said...

yeah, i really have no idea, so i'd trust other people...i was just going on instincts.

Jesse Thiessen said...

Nathan,

I'm going to toss my vote in for the "don't do it" side as well for your situation.

But I don't think it's always inappropriate, and I'd like others' opinions on this because I'm going to do it on my Iowa app: Marilynne Robinson is on faculty there, and one of her works (Gilead) is easily in my Top 3 for books that have had an impact on me. I feel making a reference to that is okay, especially to break my SOP out of "I'm applying to Iowa because it's Iowa". What do others think?

(Nathan, I realize I just basically said "Your situation isn't okay, but mine is." Please accept my apologies for being a jerk.)

unsaid said...

In regards to making specific mention of faculty on the SOP, I plan to do it with one school. I actually took a publishing workshop with 2 of the faculty and received my first acceptance shortly after. I am honestly applying to that particular school because of my experience with those 2 professors.

I think sincerity is what counts. I think if you have to reach for something or come up with some reference to the faculty now just to make the statement sound good, it may not come off as sincere...well, because it isn't lol.

sara e.g. said...

Jesse,

I'm in a similar spot. I'd agree not to mention specific faculty in the SOP... except that Bob Hicok teaches at Virginia Tech, and Bob Hicok's poetry has been important to me for a while now, and I'm inclined to mention that...maybe? no? eh?

Maybe Juliana has some insider knowledge on whether or not this is frowned upon?

nxt78 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ntm said...

Does anyone know if the personal statement on the University of Texas-Austin's online application is the same 350 word personal statement they want us to send with our manuscript? Are these different? Or should we submit the same one twice?

Thanks in advance.

Jennifer said...

ntm -- I sent with my stories the same thing I uploaded with my app for UT Austin. So yep, I gave them the same thing twice.

Not sure that is what we are supposed to do, but that is what I did.

Nathan said...

Thanks for the helpful responses! I'm thinking of going with my gut and not sticking in a bit about the faculty. The only things I know about them would be from short online bios, so I don't want to sound insincere. And Jesse, I understand where you're coming from. It's not like I have a personal connection to the staff, I would just be adding in some praise at the suggestion of my professor. I think the rest of my statement is pretty good, and my excitement about the program shines through. Now comes the hard part of thinking of a good closing paragraph. Thanks for the advice!

ntm said...

Would it be okay, do you think, to use 11 pt font, Times New Roman, for my writing sample?

Jennifer said...

ntm -- I say no about the 11 point font because so many schools speficy 12 point.

But other folks weigh in here...

ProspectiveMFAer said...

I had two questions about the writing sample (If anyone could help me out, that'd be great. Thanks in advance!):

1.) How much would it affect an applicant's chances were he to just have one story or one excerpt? I know some people encourage the use of two, to show range.

2.) If a program stipulates 25-30 pages, can we say, go with eighteen pages? In other words, is it safe to assume most of these page counts are only recommendations, not requirements?

Thank you again !

Jennifer said...

Prospective MFAer --

My writing sample is only 17 pages, and that is 2 stories and a piece of 2 page flash.

Nic D. said...

I have the same questions as the previous posters.

1) I have an essay that's 18 pages long, but Notre Dame requests 25 - 30 pages. Would it make difference if I just submitted it as is?

2) First off, a few weeks ago, I got an email from Notre Dame urging me to apply and look at their school. I thought this was just marketing junk mail. Notre Dame JUST sent me a letter, saying they found me through the GRE Search Service. Talking about the Multicultural Programs and Latino Institute. They offered me an application fee waiver? Now, they're waiving $30 or $50 dollars for me to apply? Has anyone else gotten this from them? What does this mean? I'm just really confused, because it's not like my GRE scores are sparkles. 440 verbal and 4.5 writing.

Jennifer said...

Nic D -- I got the same kind of thing from Notre Dame when I took the LSAT before law school. I didn't want to go there, so I ignored it. They must be getting tons of info from the testing service.

savage detective said...

I hope it's not to late to post on this mailbag.

I'm stuck on the first paragraph of my personal statement. In the 'old' MFA handbook it says to "introduce yourself briefly. Name, age, writing experience..." but it looks a little weird to me to start it that way. Any thoughts? What are you putting on your first paragraph?

Also, is everybody formatting it as a letter?

Thanks!

Brett said...

Hi everyone,

Are you submitting official transcripts from your study abroad programs? Even if the study abroad credits are clearly listed on your undergrad transcript?

I spent a semester in Spain, took four classes, failed two b/c of attendance (why not? I didn't need any of the credits for my B.A.), and transferred the other two (extra) credits back to my college. Those two classes are listed as pass/fail, non-GPA credits from "Univ of Granada, Spain" on my undergrad transcript.

So again, if they're on my undergrad transcript, do I need to (expedite) official transcripts from the university in Spain? I'd hate having to show those two F's to the grad schools, who might take issue...

(I posted this question in a previous mailbag, but got no response. Now that we're getting close to deadlines, please don't hold back if you have an answer!)

Thanks.

-Brett

Brett said...

Hey Savage,

(Just posted a question, might as well post an answer).

Yes, I'm going with the letter format.

sara e.g. said...

Brett--

I'm not sending transcripts from my study abroad. Because the program was through my university, my transcript simply says "Semester in Oxford-15 Credits" for which I received one grade for the entire semester (had I known there was one grade, I would have been taking off for Spain waay more often.)

I don't think it matters, personally.

Savage--

I'm not formatting mine as a letter. My intro paragraph details what I believe to be a rather unique part of my upbringing that influenced me as poet. I don't mention my age or name (my name is listed above, along with contact info.) I get into my writing background in the second paragraph.

Oh, and my intro paragraph is just two sentences long. I agree that introducing yourself seems a bit odd or forced.

Jolie said...

Brett:

Finally, a question I can help with!

As far as I know, there's no need to go to great lengths with your foreign transcripts unless the institution has some specific guidelines to that effect. NYU is asking for official copies of foreign transcripts if the course names and grades don't appear on my home institution's transcript. AND the creative writing program requires TWO copies of all transcripts, with certified translations of anything not in English. It's a major pain, but rules are rules.

RiverNavigation said...

Re: the whole study abroad transcript question . . .

I actually emailed all of the programs I'm applying to, and asked if those schools would need my Scottish transcripts. About half of them said yes. I would check with the programs you're applying to . . . Though I imagine that in the long run, it can't much matter. Right?

Andrew Payton said...

I'm not sending my transcripts from Study Abroad. My grades are clearly marked on my institutions transcripts. Univ Oregon says in my applications status that I need them, but no one from the school will respond to my inquiry as to whether what I sent is good enough. I'm thinking it won't be that big of a deal. At least I hope. Anyone have a more definitive answer?

Do you think they will regard the transcript as incomplete, or take a moment, see that the grades are on the other transcript, and move on? Esp. since Oregon states they won't even look at incomplete applications.

Jesse Thiessen said...

ntm - Don't do 11 pt. When profs are looking at hundreds of different manuscripts, you can bet they'll notice something different, and with 12 pt being so universal, they probably won't be happy. Bite the bullet and slice up your sample some more.

ProspectiveMFAer - re the page limit: From what I gather, it really depends on the program. There are some people here who've said they went a page or two over/under and it was fine, and program directors who say they just start reading and unless the difference is super-egregious it's really not a big deal. Then again, I've seen a few programs say specifically that they will accept exactly X amount of pages and they will not read any more, no exceptions. Then again, with your situation having less is probably a little more lax than having more.

Just thought I'd offer some vagueness for ya. =)

zola said...

Hey guys,
I've already sent in pretty much completed applications to all my schools. Since then I've made some revisions to my writing sample and personal statement. I read today on a school's website that 'no late additions or revisions will be accepted'. does that mean that revisions sent in before the deadline would be accepted. does anyone have any thoughts on sending in revised materials as long as its before the deadline?

Luke said...

I wouldn't send in revised material if you already sent them your writing sample--it would probably just bother them that you didn't wait longer to send it out, especially if they're relatively minor revisions. No matter how many times you revise things, you're always going to think of something you want to change once they're in the mail. Trust the work you've done.

Good luck with the homestretch all--I'm going through the same thing right now with fellowship apps--I guess we'll always be applying for things.

-LJ

zola said...

well actually i didn't make minor revisions. i was going to send in a completely new personal statement. i did everything i was not supposed to do in the first one because i didn't know any better. i messed up bad.

Lindsey said...

Is anyone else in the throes of panic having to part with their application materials? I'm so scared to send in my personal statements and creative submission that there'll be some blatant and horribly ridiculous mistake that will bar me from being admitted anywhere. AHH!

That said, I promised myself to stop editing today and send in Irvine since it's due by Dec. 1.

Courtney said...

Lindsey - Oh christ, I'm having those throes, too. I am horrified to let my application go into the world! It feels like throwing pieces of paper out of the car window on the freeway. What if I didn’t say the one thing about myself that would sway the committee?!! The nonsense this process creates in my head is maddening!

Morgan said...

Oh man, I know...

Someone once told me that a story is never finished, it just escapes.

When I was pretty confident in the first story for my writing sample, I actually sent it out to a bunch of lit mags. Just so I would feel like I absolutely couldn't edit it anymore.

I'm sure you'll both be fine. I don't think a bad personal statement will kill you, if your writing sample is good. And I would hope that professors are looking for interesting writing rather than the perfect polish.

But who knows?

Adrienne said...

Oh, my gosh. I am so ashamed by the lack of work I have done for this. I started looking for grad schools in October of 2007, so I shoould have been on the ball, but I'm not.

Finished:
-Transcripts send out
-Letters of application

Not Finished:
-Personal statement (3/4 done)
-Writing Sample (2/3 done)
-Applications (1/15 done, none sent)
-Gre scores (4/11 or so mailed)

I don't know how I got so behind on this. I've just had so much undergrad work due that it's been sucking away all of my time. Please tell me I still have time and I'm not the only one this far behind!

unsaid said...

Adrienne- you still have time! And I'm not just saying that because you asked someone to lol. I'm saying it because if you don't have time, I don't have time because I am exactly where you are in the process and I've been preparing for 2 years.

I haven't pressed send on a single one of my 16 applications. My writing sample is done and I haven't sent it out. I've just begun my personal/diversity statement. But, I think I'm right on time and I am. My first deadline is December 15 and I plan to have everything done by Dec 1 or 2. I suck as a last semester undergrad right now and I've become okay with that. My plan is to make major strides toward completing my applications over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Ease up on yourself. You are doing great! Don't let the process get to you!

That was all said as much for me as it was for you :)

J.M. said...

Did anyone use a professional recommender? I have two professors done, but am having trouble w/ a third. What are thoughts on former bosses (no, the work had nothing to do w/ writing).

Jennifer said...

JM -- My third recommender, a writing teacher from a Gotham online fiction class, totally flaked out on me. She's not even responding to emails or anything (I should have known better, she flaked out and stopped commenting on student work at the end of our class, too).

So I decided this past weekend to ask my old boss -- I'm an attorney and he was my old boss at the Justice Department -- to write one for me. He did so and got them in the mail this weekend, bless his heart. I think a former boss is fine.

insertbrackets said...

December 1st is on Monday! Jesus Christo! Thank goodness I'm not applying to Irvine. Still, my neurosis has got the better of me lately, causing me to doubt my writing sample and badger my adviser with emails about writing his letter on official letterhead. I have since calmed down and regained my confidence. But seriously, after all this is done I am going to need a vacation from myself!

My status:

Applications: 7/10 sent
GRE scores: 10/10 sent
Writing Sample: 1/10 sent (I uploaded it onto Cornell's app)
Personal Statement: 4/10 sent
Transcripts: 0/10 sent (I will try and mail them on Monday!)
Letters of Rec: 0/3 sent (I am getting one set to mail on Monday, and another recommender is mailing his out on the 5th...better get confirmation for the other one!)

I feel like I am really behind considering half of my schools want everything by the 15th/20th of December. Plus, I am entertaining the notion that I might tack on another couple programs at the very last minute because everyone else applying to 12+ is freaking me out.

Aaaaack!!!

Nic D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nic D. said...

I've got everything sent except my Reccs. and writing samples. The GREs and transcripts completely bankrupt me, I kid you NOT.

Okay, the first 4 schools were free. Kudos. And then after that, $20 bucks per school? Seriously, guys? That was $80 bucks. That's a Ipod for sending out TEST SCORES to schools that DON'T CARE. Even Ball State University emailed me three weeks ago and said "You met our minimum standards, by transcripts alone. Now its up to the English Department..." I loathe the GREs. Loathe. Who's bright idea was it to give the Math section 45 minutes for 30 questions? And the Verbal section 30 minutes for 30 questions?
All I'm saying is, I would have liked 5 more minutes on Verbal. It would have been nice. If I get into Grad. School, I will dedicate an entire non-fiction essay to bringing that system down. A system that changes every 5 years that doesn't accurately measure a person's intelligence, because our society isn't Camazotz.

And transcripts. My university (Florida State University) is the only one that charges $5 per copy. NYU, my local community college, I know many other universities do it for free. Again, SERIOUSLY guys! That's a pair of decent pants at the GAP!

michelle said...

Nic,
I agree, the GREs are a racket. I'd like to know why they don't count from when I aced them in 1997, but my academic transcripts from before then, do. And I did so poorly I may retake them once I finish my applications.

unsaid said...

Hey Nic D.

My misery likes company but it LOVES to totally overpower your misery LOL.

My undergrad school charged me $10/per transcript. I had to send 22 transcripts because some of my 16 schools wanted 2. AND I went to another school undergrad as well but that one only charged $4/transcript.

Now I must go back to meditating and chanting "It's all going to be worth it, it's all going to be worth it..." lol

Caitlin Eva said...

So I took the GRE a few weeks ago and got a 700 (97%) in the Verbal and a 560 (40%) in the math. Ok so far. Better than ok with the verbal. I'm figuring I'm even going to try to submit my scores to a few schools that don't require the GRE on the chance that it will help me with funding, especially because I go to a college without letter grades (it's an honor's college with written evaluations).

But then, I get my analytical writing score and it's a 4! Which is in the 37th percentile! I'm pretty sure I know what happened; I'm pretty sure I did well on the "analyze an argument" section-- probably a 5. But then the essay question I chose was about the need for tradition and ritual in a society, and I just wrote about Carl Jung. He is, after all, the basis for the idea that a society needs ritual and tradition. I think, however, it probably came off like I was trying to pass off someone else's argument as an excuse for not coming up with my own. I, admittedly, did not prepare much for this section, and didn't really know what they wanted. I also didn't finish the essay, not even close. So I'm guessing, on that one, I got a 3. It's kind of embarrassing, as I'm currently writing a 90+ page literature thesis, and work at the Writing Center at my school, essentially teaching analytical writing strategies. Analytical writing is definitively not a problem for me, and my recommendations-- from literature professors and my boss at the Writing Center-- will definitely attest to this. But I just have this fear that a program is going to accept me and the graduate school is going to be like: "37th percentile writing score for a student in the writing program? Impossible! Muahahahaha."

I'm wishing I could send samples of my critical essays, now, or that my school had grades. I guess I'm just wondering if anyone has any ideas about how the analytical writing section affects applications because I mainly just hear about the cut-offs for the multiple choice portion. Anyone else score low on the analytical section? And get into an MFA? Do you think I shouldn't submit my scores to schools that don't require them, despite the stellar verbal score?

Thanks!

Nic D. said...

No offense, but if I don't get into a MA or MFA program based on my 4.5 analytical score? I don't want to go there. That was such a joke. Analyze an argument? Yeah. Right. If I wanted to be a lawyer...

Go to a Barnes and Noble. Look at a GRE prep book and see how they want you to write an 5.0 analytical writing essay. It is ridiculous. It is passing the test. It has nothing to do with content. Nothing to do with creative writing. In fact, everything you were taught in Freshman Composition? Freshman Literature? Throw it out the window. Go back to your SAT days, because that's what it is.

They teach you in the books that you'll be graded by grad. students, who'll spend 2 minutes on your essay, to use big words to impress them, be sure to write 5 paragraphs (because APPEARANCE/IMPRESSION makes it look good), and use phrases such as "Well, first off, this is how this argument sucks... The second example I will use says... Lastly... And this is why..." You have to spell things out.

Morgan said...

Hey Caitlin, I want to second Nic D.

I got a 4.5 on the analytical writing and was freaking out, so I went to ask some Profs for advise. I go to UC Berkeley, which is tied for #1 for grad schools in English, and the professors on the admissions committee for English (which I believe care much more about stuff like gres than creative writing folks do) say they don't give a rats ass about the analytical writing score, they know it's ridiculous. They look at the verbal (which you did great in) and maybe the lit subject, but don't care about anything else.

I hope this makes you feel better! The last thing we need to do is stress about things we can't change...

michelle said...

Morgan, you just made me feel a whole lot better!

Nic D. said...

I heard the GRE Lit. Subject is hard... I have a friend who's graduating this Spring with her PhD in Creative Writing and SHE even admitted, that if she took that test right now, she'd probably flunk. Like, the lists upon lists they expect you to have read and the in-depth, miniscule questions they ask you (What color scarf was so-and-so wearing at this moment in "A Wrinkle in Time?" How does that tie into the theme of Forgiveness?) are horrendible... I pray to the baby Jesus that day never comes or I'm drugged on Starbucks and Barnies.

Morgan said...

Yeah, the lit gre is supposed to be impossible, especially for anyone who's focus is something other than 13th-17th century lit.

A friend of mine just took them a couple weeks ago and she said all the studying she did was ridiculous and didn't help at all. It ended up being a test of almost all text analysis, so she didn't need to know all the names she had meticulously memorized, just do something like 30 passage analysis in 30 minutes. I don't remember the exact number but it was something ridiculous like that. She said when they were done, everyone just kind of looked around and was like "what was that?" Even a girl with an MA in english lit who had been teaching high school for three years bombed it.

The nice thing is you are scored against the people taking the test that day, so if the test is really strange (as apparently that one was) or you get a set of really difficult questions, you won't necessarily have the worst scores.

I feel sorry for anyone who had to take that (boo John Hopkins) on top of everything else right now.

Samara said...

I got a 4.5 on the analytical writing last year. I did even worse on it eons ago when I took the SAT. I am now happily ensconced at an MFA program. I don't think analytical writing matters! It's the stupidest thing. So don't worry and happy Thanksgiving!

J.M. said...

Samara,

Where do you go?

Caitlin Eva said...

Nic D., Morgan and Samara: Thanks so much for the reassurance! That section is, indeed, the stupidest thing; I fortunately took the SAT before the equivalent existed. I forgot to mention I also went on a little rant about capitalistic values in the argument analysis section (it was about this guy paying his employees for results rather than time), which may have cost me points as well.

I was reading this interview today (ok I admit it: in my mom's Oprah magazine) with the author of a book called A Whole New Brain: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, and by the end, felt a little proud of my growing incapacity to be traditionally linear and rational. The premise is that right-brain skills-- i.e. storytelling, symphony, empathy, play-- will soon be valued in the U.S. more than they traditionally have been because they are the kind of skills that can't be outsourced like more left-brain dominated skills (i.e. number-crunching, computer programming, data analysis). One of the quotes from the author was that the Masters of Fine Arts is going to become like the new Masters of Business Administration!

Not sure if there's any truth to it but it was encouraging to read nonetheless, as I do believe our society overvalues rationality, to the expense of such important qualities as intuition and compassion.

Anyway. Rant over. You may be able to see why I have trouble writing a 5-paragraph essay.

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