Monday, July 27, 2009

Mailbag for July 27, 2009

Today's mailbag comes equipped with enough room for your questions and concerns. Leave them here for everyone to ponder or answer. Summer rolls on.

41 comments:

Sam said...

I am starting to work on putting my portfolio together for my MFA applications, and I have a few questions:

Is it better to be consistant with the peices I am submitting (similar voices, similar POVs (all first, all second, similar themes) or does it matter?

What length is best for portfolios? I have a few really nice pieces I wrote at a workshop over the summer, one of which has been published, that are short-shorts. I also have some longer pieces in the 6,000 word range. Is there an ideal range to be in, or should I just submit my best work within the page count?

Renee Beauregard said...

Has anyone been accepted into Hamline? I've applied to several so far (UMass Amherst, Emerson, Naropa, U of Guelph, School of the Art Institute of Chicago) but I'm really crossing my fingers for Hamline. (Their program seems a pretty perfect fit for my fiction.) I've applied for the January semester, and am sick as a dog in waiting for their decision.

whynotbecause said...

I'd like to echo Sam's concerns abount length and ask: how is flash fiction regarded as part of a writing sample? Are very short fiction pieces (under 1,000 words) seen as legitimate?

Jenna said...

Sam:

When it comes to being consistent, that's really your call. It would be good to show a variety of solid work, whether that be flash fiction or a novel excerpt.

Um, after reading the handbook, all I can say about the page range is submit your best work that fits the limit. Some people go a couple pages over, some under. It depends on the strength of the portfolio.

I hope this helps :)

Jennifer said...

Regarding using flash fiction in your apps --- I submitted it with my apps. I sent in a 9 page story, a 7 page story and a piece of flash. I thought the flash was some of my best work so I sent it.

Lizzy said...

Submit your best work. Submit your best work. Submit your best work.

(Everything else is negotiable.)

Max Schmetterer said...

I have a simple question for those applying to MFA fiction programs this year: how many schools are you thinking of sending an application? I ask because I'm having trouble narrowing down my list, and I tempted to apply to 10+ schools for fear of not getting accepted into any. I realize how expensive it can get, but when I look at the percentile admitted to these competitive programs I get worried.

G said...

To Max--

I am in a similar stitch... I have upwards of fifteen schools on my list (for fiction) and am staring at them critically. If it would guarantee me a better chance of finding a good match for my work, I'd apply to as many as possible, ignoring the cost factor. That not being the case, I'm cutting down with the assumption that I can reapply next year if I don't get into this set.

Good luck with the application packets.

amy said...
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Lindsay said...
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Lindsay said...

Anyone know anything specific about the funding situation at Pitt? I know it's not great, but it seems like full-funding is available for some -- anyone know what the chances of getting a TA spot are? (I'm applying for nonfiction, if that matters)

Seth Abramson said...

Lindsay,

Pitt has, to my understanding, a maximum of 1-3 fully-funded spots per year. Statistically speaking, it would be most accurate (and most useful) to think of Pitt as being an entirely unfunded program. The chances of getting full funding there are somewhere between negligible and zero. I think, too, that when folks consider what it's worth spending to apply to MFA programs, it makes sense to consider the cost-of-living-adjusted value of a fully-funded package at a top program: somewhere between $20,000 and $75,000 not including tuition; tuition included, many of these programs are offering close to or more than $100,000 in value to admitted students. Given acceptance rates of (generally speaking) less than 10%, and (often) less than 5%, and a subjective admissions process based 95%+ on the creative portfolio, I continue to strongly advise all applicants to apply to 15 programs if possible. Even those who apply to eight programs and get into one--already an impressive achievement, as many, many applicants apply to eight and are rejected by eight--may well wish, before it's all over, that they had been accepted to more than one program, so they had either options or leverage re: location and funding.

Best wishes,


Be well,
Seth Abramson
Abramson Leslie Consulting



Smoke-oi said...

Has anyone here (presumably a current MFA student at an NYC University) done an internship at The New Yorker or Paris Review?

How did it go? Was it worth doing?

lesley said...

hi all,

i'm getting ready to start putting together applications for the fall, one of which is to the michener center. thing is, i did my undergrad at UT and all the writing profs i had in college are also on faculty there. i think i know the answer to this, but is it too big a conflict of interest to ask them to write letters of rec to the institution where they teach?

thanks

Kerry Headley said...

Has anyone heard anything about New Hampshire's funding prospects? I had scratched them off my list when people here posted that they were accepted with no funding whatsoever. Seems like a great CNF program, but I don't want to waste any money on application fees if they still aren't funding anyone and not being upfront about that.

Cereal4meplz said...

Does anyone have any advice for looking overseas? I think that I'm floundering in general, trying to figure which programs are a best fit for me.

Nic said...

I've applied for Creative Writing MFA, but people are telling me that my teaching prospects will be diminished unless I get a Lit MA. I plan to teach while I write. I know if I want a PhD, it will be in Lit, so part of me thinks why not do the MA in writing. But again, I also want to be, you know, somewhat employable. What route to take?

Tory said...

I want to echo Seth's comments about applying to 15 or so schools for the options. In my case, I applied to 12 (upped from 10 initially) and one of the two I added accepted me, along with two schools on my original list. I had more flexibility and control over my situation...I didn't have to settle for the only offer I had. Also, fiction people, if you look at the data on Seth's blog (http://sethabramson.blogspot.com/2009/03/creative-writing-mfa-rankings.html) you can see that fiction applications greatly outnumber poetry applications across the board. Consider the implications of this as you start honing in on what schools you want on your final lists.

Cereal4MePlz: I believe that the University of Edinburgh and Bath Spa University, both in England, are well regarded for their graduate creative writing programs. Those are the two I always hear about.

Nic: The MFA qualifies you to teach creative writing at the college level, but an MA in literature doesn't really, since the Ph. D is the terminal degree in the field of English Lit. Having a Ph. D can make you more attractive, but only for the purposes of teaching literature courses. Some people get an MA prior to applying for the MFA, and vice versa. It depends on your priorities. Do you want to write more creatively or more critically? The MA is a scholarly degree, the MFA a studio art degree. Neither degree precludes you from pursuing the other at a later date, so it's not necessarily a binary situation. Keep that in mind.

-Tory

Emily Stone said...

Hello,

Does anyone know about helpful blogs or websites for MFA grads on the academic job market? Many thanks,

Emily (I'm about to finish the nonfiction program at Pitt, and happy to talk about that as well)

one seven five three poetry and prose said...

Nic,

As a current MFA student, I would argue that an MFA has as much, if not more, ability to find teaching jobs. An MA seems like an odd degree to me, as it is not a terminal degree. I would argue that, for those who are willing to work hard and take initiative, there is teaching work in the world for MFAs (although that work might not always be at the university level).

Noel said...

Cereal4meplz: Last fall, I thought I would apply for an MFA (MPhil, MLitt, etc., depending on the program) abroad and looked at several schools before pulling my applications (I needed a break from school). I was looking at poetry programs specifically, but it seemed that the University of East Anglia was very strong in all genres. It's one of the top programs in the UK, with a crack faculty all around. St. Andrews and Trinity College, Dublin are also worth your looking at. And some other names that come to mind are Aberystwyth, Swansea (if I remember correctly) and Royal Holloway, University of London.

I'm sure there are more; unfortunuately, I don't know of a comprehensive list - although, you can look at the comprehensive list of PhD programs on the Suburban Ecstasies and then see if any of those schools mentioned abroad also offer an MFA.

As far as the programs go, I found that there was a lot less consistency in the types of courses offered and the degrees granted compared to studying in the US. You'll just have to examine each program thoroughly to make sure they'll give you what you really want.

Good luck!

Chloe said...

Hi everyone--I'm interested in going to school in the Chicago area, and I was wondering if anyone could suggest a few strong programs there. Within the city would be great, but I'm definitely open to programs outside it, too. Thanks so much!

Chloe said...

P.S. Any thoughts on Northwestern's program??

mister trickster said...

To Lesley,

I'm sure your professors are aware of the problems inherent in that application. It may be for Texas-Austin that you need an entirely different set of recommenders, who could recommend you for things other than your writing (what they really want to know is: are you a psychopath who never works hard during, before, or after class. if not, you're good to go).

But I would send one of those professors a message asking them about the established protocol, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind writing you recommendations to other schools as well...

lesley said...

thanks, trickster.

Kerry Headley said...

Does the advice to just submit your best work also apply to the critical paper? I have one piece from undergrad that meets the 8-10 page requirement, includes citations and a bibliography. It is a media ethics analysis.

In the other paper I analyze a print advertisement applying feminist, ideological and psychoanalytic criticism and examine the construction of masculinity. It includes no outside research, no copy of the actual ad, no bibliography and is only 5 pages. However, I sound a lot more intelligent in this paper and the forms of analysis seem a lot more relevant to lit criticism than in the other paper. My gut tells me to submit the shorter, but more impressive piece.

Anyone care to weigh in on this? (I really, really do not want to write a whole new paper when I think the readers would probably be satisfied with one of these.)

Thanks!

whynotbecause said...

Thanks to all for the advice... I feel a lot more comfortable submitting some of my flash pieces now.

Kerry reminded me of another concern - my strongest undergrad critical writing has been on philosophical texts. Would this suffice, or should I put some elbow grease into a more literary paper?

Kitty said...

Hello all! I'm trying to find out more about the acceptance rates for these schools:

University of Memphis
MSU at Mankato
Virginia Commonwealth University
Old Dominion University
University of New Mexico
Louisiana State University

All I've found so far is that they're supposed to be higher-odds admits. I'd really like some concrete data to aid my selection process. Thank you in advance!

Eric said...

Re: whynotbecause

The critical paper I submitted last fall was from an undergrad philosophy course, a 200-level course, actually. I had to revise it heavily to bring the writing to a level I was happy with, but in general, it was much much less work than if I had to write a new critical paper from scratch. So long story short, I really don't think schools care what your paper's about (so long as its based in the humanities) so much that it demonstrates your ability to write critically. I think.

CarolHenny said...

Thanks for the advice, everyone. I feel that my mistake last year was that I did not apply to programs that best fit me!

I applied both to UCSD and Brown but after a little more experience, I figured out that I am definitely not an experimental writer.

I know that you can make appointments with both Columbia and NYU to get a feel for the program. I'm going to do that.

J said...

I'm curious what people think. I was admitted into the New School's MFA for fiction already for the Fall 2010 (actually given deferred admission because the entering 09 class was so large). I live in NYC now, so I'm familiar with the cost of living. And the New School's funding is shabby at best, so I'm applying elsewhere to see if I can get more money or a better offer.

My question is this:

Should I mention my as yet unaccepted admission to the New School in my statement of purpose for other programs? ..Any thoughts?

Cheers!

Tory said...

J,

The answer is no. There is no reason you'd want to mention something like that because it does not, and will not, affect the decision of other programs you apply to. I think they would be confused by such an inclusion when the personal statement is about why you want to go to their program, not one you were all ready admitted to.

J said...

Hey Tory,

Thanks for the reply. I didn't know if it'd be a beneficially weighing counterpoint, as in, "I've been admitted here, but I really really want to go to your program" kind of thing..

J

Tory said...

Also, in a bit of shameless (but I hope useful) plugging, a bunch of us incoming MFA students have started up a cooperative blog where we will be detailing our lives as MFA students and talking about our respective programs in the upcoming year. It's called the MFA Chronicles.

http://mfachronicles.blogspot.com/

So far we've had two people post about teaching and another post about mfa location and having the nerve to apply. We are students in a diverse range of programs (Virginia, Ohio State, Illinois, SIUC, Indiana, SFSU, Hollins, Georgia, Oregon, Maryland, Penn State, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, and Illinois-Chicago) across all three major genres.

We hope you find our insights helpful and interesting. Currently we are trying to figure out what kind of topics to discuss and content to include on the blog. Feel free to make suggestions in our comments sections.

Good luck with your applications everyone! Believe me, it's going to be a stressful ride, but hopefully a fun one too :-P

-Tory

Jennifer said...

Tory --- You left out George Mason. :-)

Chloe said...

Tory--what a great idea! I know this is broad, but I'd love to hear about student life at each school. I get the sense that many programs have wonderful professors, but that the atmospheres vary a lot. It would be great to hear about things like community, age range, support, etc.

Tory said...

Damn, I knew I'd forget someone. Sorry Jennifer, I's stills loves yous!

And yes Chloe, as we begin matriculating you are likely to hear a LOT about student life at our respective programs.

samantha said...

great concept, seth. i would definitely want to make good use of such a service, when it comes to the actual portfolio.

all the best with the venture.
Samantha
Wireless Home Alarm Security Systems

Larry Farmsworth said...

Does anyone have info on the pros/cons of using a fixed-width font vs. a variable width font in writing samples? At 12pt., it makes a significant difference in the page length of a story. I read some guidelines that seemed outdated, recommending a fixed-width font, underlining to indicate italics, -- em dashes, two spaces after commas and colons (to distinguish from semicolons), among other things.

What's acceptable for electronic submissions? What's preferred?

Thanks.

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