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.
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.