Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Waiting Game


So you've spent the last couple weeks obsessively checking the mailbox, jumping whenever the phone rings, and awaiting the news that a program wants to take you in. Here are some tips to consider as you speak with faculty members, weigh your options, and make this decision that will shape your art, and your life, for the next two to three years.

  • With all due respect to this blog and other online communities, try not to make too much of the web chatter. Each program is on its own time line. Trying to anticipate when you will receive offers, and attempting to draw conclusions from other people's offers, will only drive you stark raving mad. Does reading blog comments stress you out? Pick up a book instead.
  • When you receive an offer, do your best to communicate your enthusiasm, and also your desire to take time making your decision. The person on the other end of the line knows that 99% of prospective MFAs apply to several programs. This person should want you to be happy in your program, whichever school that might be. Assure the faculty member that you will deliver your decision as soon as you know.
  • As long as you have a faculty member on the phone, ask any questions you might have about the program. Ask for the contact information of some current students, if you haven't already done so. What are the alumni doing these days? Are there any cool, quirky, intangible features of the program that cannot be communicated on the website?
  • Clarify any questions that you have about funding, housing, health insurance, and so forth. If the person you are speaking to doesn't have the answer, he or she ought to be able to put you in touch with someone who does.
So--now you've been accepted somewhere. Take a breath. Try not to feel any pressure. You will want to know all your options before making a decision. Nonetheless, you should have an idea of how you rank your programs. This way, if you are turned down by your #1 and #2 programs, but are accepted by your #3 program, you can greet them with a confident and enthusiastic yes.

With this in mind, try not to be evaluating programs in the heat of the moment. Take time now to revisit each program that you've applied to--its funding, its faculty, its degree plan, and its geographic location. If, in the flurry of application activity, you haven't had the chance to read the faculty's books, then go back and do your homework. You will likely be working with several of the faculty in your genre, so make sure that you are making your decisions based on more than just your personal favorite.

Remember, you are not committing to a program's ranking or reputation. You are committing to a community where you will be living and writing for two or three years. Don't let anyone rush you, but at the same time, have a clear idea of which programs are your top priorities. This way, the faculty gets the message that you are as excited about working with them as they are about working with you.

Finally, and most importantly, don't forget your own writing! Use these next couple months to get as much work done as possible. Once you've committed to a program, the rush of moving, settling in, teaching, and starting classes will demand much of your energy. Work on establishing the writing and reading habits that you hope to carry into your program. This way, you can hit the ground running in your new home.

Best of luck to all of you!

P.S. If anyone will be attending the AWP Conference in Chicago this week, stop by the Purdue MFA table and say hi! Chocolate will be served.

38 comments:

Smoke-oi said...

You know, I was really sweating this MFA application process, but now I could care less. I have a trial pending (I could go to jail for a year) and I'm waiting for the results of an STD test. It's all perspective people.

Courtney said...

So true, Smoke-Oi. I've been the first one to complain about the agony, the waiting, the slim percentage rates...until I started waiting to hear back about my dad's biopsy. Now percentage rates have taken on this whole other meaning. I'm waiting to hear that he's in the group of rejected people, the survivors that are around 80% for this type of cancer. For a moment, I have to stop hoping there's a possiblity that I'm in the minority, since I'm giving so much energy into hoping that he's in the majority. MFA what?

foundintranslation said...

best wishes to both of you, i hope everything turns out okay.

BritMiller said...
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BritMiller said...

I spent many months of love, time and $$$ on this and I wouldn't change a thing. Even if I don't get in anywhere, the process of taking myself seriously as a writer by applying for my MFA was very informative. It has made me a bigger person (literally as well...all those nights on the computer where not good for my mid section...) but nonetheless it was worth it either way-it would feel wonderful to get it-but if I don't, then it's small stuff, really in the light of all the bigger issues at hand these days...

Jennifer said...

BritMiller -- Thanks for that post, you have a great perspective on all of this.

Eduardo G said...

I hadn't really been thinking about the MFA stuff much before Monday. I'd basically been planning my life if I didn't get in, and it was going to be a sweet life too. New projects, bands, maybe buying a house.
Then, I got a call from U of I, and now I'm all nerves, can't concentrate at work, jumping every time the phone rings, and so on. I want to know if I got in anywhere else! I NEED TO KNOW!

I wish I could calm down.

corkeyb33 said...

Thanks for this advice Chris-- I literally read it only a few hours before Marianne Boruch called me, and it definitely helped ground me a little while talking with her.

As if everyone doesn't have enough to worry about, I definitely advocate carrying a paper and pen with you at ALL times. I was in my car when I got the call, and thank goodness found a notebook to write things(important things, in addition to writing OMG OMG over and over again).

Joel Wayne said...

Thanks Chris. I think ninety percent of the posters (including myself) on the "February Mailbag" could benefit from reading this. At the beginning of this week, I felt really anxious which was due, in part, to the collective anxiousness of all the recent MFA blog comments. But after doing a little research and realizing that I likely have another month (at least) of waiting, I've tried to settle back into my regular life. I have plenty of other distractions in my writing projects, reading lists, and blogs (not to mention my "social life").

Em said...

I definitely agree - it's much too early to begin freaking out. It'll probably be another month before I hear from any programs. And if they reject me? I tried. I can try again. It won't stop my writing.

dannigirl said...

I must still be in a phase of traumatic shock over the whole process or something because I feel oddly at peace. I'm not one of those people who thinks her writing is so much better than everyone else's, so it's not for ego that I'm calm. I can't figure it out. Anyone else feeling this way or am I the odd duck?

Jordan said...

I guess it falls to me to be the selfish prig. I am going slowly mad waiting to hear, even though I know that none of my programs are going to let me know before March AND the fact that my wife is pregnant with our third. Does that make me a jerk? Sure. But an honest jerk all the same.

Jessa said...
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Kieran said...

Me, I was delighted to see Purdue in my e-mail; I was further delighted to note its encouragement to explore its research facilities.

(Hint: half of that statement is facetious.)

andrea said...

Hi:

I was wondering if you could give some interview tips (if it gets to that point). What are some of the interview questions that are asked? I've come up with a list on my own but I want to prepare as fully as possible.

Andrea

Stacy Lynn said...

:) I'm still stressing, but I'm on the next plane to Korea if I don't get in! So, things aren't so bad.

Gigi said...

I must say that I felt immeasurably better to get a couple emails asking questions or requesting more materials. It's nice to know I didn't just end up in the no-thanks pile off the bat and that they were at least interested enough to ask.

(if anyone's wondering, the askers were Boston and Colorado).

I do, however, kind of like the edge-of-my-seat anxiousness that comes with waiting...so I'm not entirely going to give up on late nights, scary dreams and ice cream out of the tub.

BritMiller said...

I got an email asking for more materials from Virginia Tech, but I wasn't sure if that was standard or maybe it meant that they were still looking at my work? Does anybody know the statistical odds of acceptance if you applied to 12 schools? I am sure there is no formula for this, but I just wonder, my poor Right brain just hopes and wishes blindly. If I had a Left brain then I would probably be in trouble already knowing that even though I applied to 12 schools; my chances are still SLIM. As I said previously,this isn't everything- although-I still really want to get in-despite being at peace with whatever happens. Oh well.

andra corinne said...

Gigi- BU or Umass Boston?

Brit- I got the Virginia Tech email too... I took it as a good sign. I did the combine probability formula a while back... when I was thinking of applying to 16 schools (I ultimately applied to 15)... When I made myself the marginal candidate (i.e., the last one they said yes to) and set the acceptance rate at 3%, there was a 36 % chance of getting into 1 program...and a lower chance of having choice, obviously. This also assumes that the choices are independent between schools, which they aren't really because they may evaluate using the same (or similar) criteria and that assumption of marginality is a big assumption...

Gigi said...

BU

BritMiller said...

Andra, thanks for your formula, I should have applied to more schools...uggh...suddenly my optimistic outlook is fading...so with my 12 schools with your formula, I have like a 20% chance of getting in. Again, I suppose there is nothing I can do about it now, and well there is always trying again sometime.

deadninjahorse said...

For those that mentioned receiving an email from VAtech, What "extra materials" is Virginia Tech asking for? additional writing samples, missing transcripts, a 2nd essay?

Kim said...

guys, I've found the healthy solution to our anxiety:

http://www.drankbeverage.com/

I'll be "slowin my roll" once my case arrives in the mail. And, no, I'm not kidding.

found said...

ha, "extreme relaxation." i keep meaning to drink tea to calm myself, but i'm too distracted to even get around to putting the kettle on.

Ray.L. said...

I got the additional materials email from VATech, too.

It was a document asking you to identify whether or not you had a criminal record.

It might be in light of recent events with the school...

Smoke-oi said...

Courtney, how did it go? My court stuff is still pending, but my medical test was negative - thank God. Good luck on everything (even your MFA) if you haven't heard yet.

Lisa N.R. said...

You all have been great to commiserate with, so I'm offering my "waiting game" advice. 1)If you work in the medical field,NEVER give your cell phone number to a patient. They will call you from an unknown area code and you will have a heart attack and crash your car trying to answer that call only to find that they are trying to scam you into calling in a prescription for some narcotics, code-word "muscle relaxants." Hey,sister, if I had the authority to prescribe muscle relaxants, do you think I'd be applying to MFA programs? Well, don't answer that. #2 Just don't answer your cell phone; it will always be an unwelcome caller, like your grandma or your gorgeous Italian tutor or the Prize Patrol with your beach-towel sized check. Am I way off base here, people? The programs WILL leave messages, won't they? They wouldn't just hang up and move on to the next name on the list, would they?

Liz said...

Kieran: what exactly do you mean by your comment re: Purdue? Was that a rejection from Purdue?

I'm anxiously waiting to hear from that program; it's one of my top choices. Some comments on a different blog suggest housing emails and other correspondence with Purdue, neither of which I have received.

Hang in there everybody!

Courtney said...

Hurray for negative results, Smoke! No word yet on my end--should know by next week. I'm feeling optimistic, though! Thanks for checking in. Lots and lots of luck to you!

Kieran said...

Liz,

No, it wasn't a rejection letter; I received something similar to what you discussed regarding housing and its campus.

What is your focus?

Liz said...

Poetry. I heard back in January from Jill Quick that my application was complete, but I haven't had any personal correspondence with her or anyone else from Purdue since. One blogger got an acceptance phone call from Marianne Boruch; finally, my anxiety's working with me by keeping me up and at my phone's side most hours of the day.

kfaytal said...
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kfaytal said...

i agree with stacy....im on the first plane to korea if I dont get in

Victorya said...
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Greg said...
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Kieran said...

Liz,

Where else did you apply?

Kieran

Peachy said...
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melissa h said...

Hey guys-

So I was waitlisted for an MFA program (its studio arts) but I wondered what you all thought my chances really are based on what the program director sent me in an email:

"Your application is right near the top of the waiting list. In light of how these things usually go, I would say that your chances are very good to excellent. I would recommend that you proceed with your bursary application regardless."

What does "right near the top mean"?? Is it inappropriate to ask what number on the waitlist I am?

What does "very good to excellent mean"????

Argh, I am freaking out a little. This is my first choice school.

Thanks for reading this!