Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mailbag (Jun. 17)

Time for a new bag for your general comments and queries.


1 – 200 of 248   Newer›   Newest»
Claire said...

I posted this on the old mailbag, but I'll ask here again. Does anyone have personal knowledge/experience with Iowa State's funding? It is high on the TSE list, but the program's website doesn't mention guaranteed assistantships and I saw a post from Seth on P&W that called it a "50%" funded school. I am going to try to get in touch with the program, too, but I was wondering if anyone on here knew more. Thanks!

kaybay said...

subscribing :)

Anyone got a list already? I have a couple of schools finalized, but I'm still wavering on a couple. Sad, I know, but I have nothing else to do :D

Notre Dame
Ohio State
Washington St-Louis
NC State
Bowling Green
West Virginia
Ohio University *MA*
Virginia Commonwealth

Maybe Cornell, and maybe Syracuse. Both are a little bit cheaper than normal because I applied last year (you don't have to resend a lot of materials, too!).

What's everyone doing right now??

kaybay said...

Oh my God, after all of that, I didn't even click the little subscribing button...

Seth Abramson said...


That ISU data was updated when a representative from the school came on this board to say the program was fully funded, which he later confirmed with me. It is fully funded, as TSE now indicates.


Claire said...

Thanks so much, Seth! (and an extra thanks for all the work you've done to compile this knowledge...I'd be lost without it!)

xin said...

I'm still finalising my list. Emailed schools to ask if they will waive the TOEFL for me (I'm from Singapore, where the medium of education is English), but some are just not waiving it. One school even requires a certain GRE speaking score for TA applications. That's definitely going to put me off applying to them.

Still excited for application season though! :D

Justin Tate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tory said...

MFA Blog. I don't know how to quit you.

@Kaybay, good luck with OSU. I love it here and so do my CNF buddies.

@JustinTate, it depends on the schools you want to apply to, but yes, just do it. It's not thaaaaat bad.

Ruin Christmas said...

@Justin Tate

Yes, take the GRE. By spending a few minutes each day to prepare for it now, you will be in great shape by the time you take it (maybe in Sept-Oct).
MFA programs are not known for weighting your GRE scores heavily in admissions decisions. The programs' attitudes range from "We don't want your GRE scores" to "We want you to have X on Verbal, but we are willing to overlook this." But think how much better you will feel with a decent score reflecting proper preparation

1. Go to the library and take out one or two of the big name review books - Barrons, Princeton Review, etc.

2. VERBAL:Buy about 500 index cards. Go to the section of the review books that have a "Hot list" of the top vocab words. Make a flashcard for every one you are the least bit unsure of. Even if you are pretty sure you could figure it out "in context" - make a card. Go through the cards every single day for a few minutes. I did this up to the morning of the test. I was worried it would be a waste of time. Every single tricky word was on my cards.
3. MATH: I'm a "math guy" so I just did a cursory review. However, the math is pretty basic. Like algebra, percentages, geometry. If this is your weak spot, spend a little more time on this area, working through the review sections, writing up the formulas and helpful tips on a few sheets of paper - like "Angles of a triangle = 180 degrees" and that kind of crap. Also be prepared to have math and engineering students demolish the curve, because this is stuff they learned in high school and have been practicing ever since. A score in the 700s in Verbal will put you in the 90th+ percentile, while a 700 score in math is like 68th percentile. Don't sweat it.

4. WRITING - This is the most annoying section to practice, because rather than flash cards, or doing a couple of math problems, you need to actually write essays. The review books have good hints, but to do well, you have to practice. The good news is that you can download a list of all the possible essay questions. The bad news is that there's like 500 of them.

Good luck. Grab your nuts, ace the GRE and spend the bulk of your time worrying about more important things like the writing sample. If you get a decent score, meeting your programs' requirements (if any), don't waste time and money re-taking the test.

disclosure: i scored in the 700s on verbal and math and got a 4.5 on my writing (because I was too lazy to write any practice essays)

xin said...

@Justin Tate

It's still early enough to get some GRE practice in ^_^
9 out of the 12 schools on my list so far require the GRE--so it may also depend on the schools you have in mind. But taking it may increase the no. of schools you can apply to :)

andsuddenly said...

i've got a list! i'll be applying for fiction to:

iowa [just so i can get/possibly frame that rejection letter]
umass amherst
penn state
indianau bloomington

i'm hoping to add another couple schools but none of the ones people are suggesting are jumping out at me. hmm.

DigAPony said...

I just want to encourage people to think about applying to Oregon State! I'll be starting there in fiction this fall.

This isn't widely advertised, but even though their info says you have to be either fiction or poetry, it's actually more like prose or poetry. You can write CNF for fiction workshops and do your entire thesis in CNF. Their application process is incredibly easy, no GRE requirement, no mountain of additional TA app material required- on the app, you just check a box saying you'd like to be considered for a TA.

Usually, six students in each genre are admitted each year. You get a stipend (albeit small), tuition waiver, and health insurance. The teaching load is 1-2-1 (quarter system) and in your second year you have the opportunity to teach intro to fiction writing and/or technical writing in addition to freshman comp. All of the professors are fabulous, laid-back, and friendly. The town (Corvallis) is small and hippie (but not TOO small or hippie) and woodsy and beautiful. Check it out!

kaybay said...

Grab your nuts!! HAHA, love that expression!!

Thanks, Tory, for the good luck wish for Ohio State. I meant to apply last year, but chickened out because of their GRE score minimum. I'm pretty convinced, after talking to them, that they really don't give it much credence. They didn't tell me directly that they don't care, but when I asked if I should retake the test, they told me it was "entirely up to me." Cryptic, eh? But, I would love to get an acceptance from them, and I would love to go there, so hopefully it all works out. I still actually might retake the GRE anyway, so long as I'm improving with my practice tests.

Andsuddenly: you might want to add a couple of lower admits to your list, since your list, as it is, is rather tough! It's also small (although if that's on purpose, don't mind me). Just a suggestion from someone that did not get an acceptance last year :)

And we just got robbed against Slovenia...... why does everyone hate us so much?!!

Katie Oh said...

kaybay: part of my logic is that i want to go to the best school i can. they're all in the top 50 ranking-wise, and i don't really want to go lower. i'm only 20, so i figure i've got a good couple years to get this right. :)

i'm in a writing bfa program right now and previous years' grads have seen acceptances from iowa, columbia, and brown, so i am cautiously optimistic. if i don't get in, i'll just keep on writing and apply again. :)

[also, i think i changed my display name in my settings, this is andsuddenly, haha]

when does the real frenzy with applications start? i feel like i'm in the game super-prematurely.

re: world cup, i've only been paying attention to the vuvuzela controversy. ;)

kaybay said...

Katie-oh, or the artist-formerly-known-as-andsuddenly:

I hear ya. Your list is your list, and you seem to know what you want, especially since you don't feel like you have to get accepted anywhere this year. If you do get into any of your schools, super-kudos to you! I understand you not wanting to settle.

BUT (yes, there's always a but), I think it's a bad idea to equate program rankings with future success/prestige/worthiness/etc. I'm not saying anything about the validity of the rankings (I promise, Seth ;) ), I just think that there are so many quality programs out there that can deliver the same results as the big-boys. I'm not saying you should just go anywhere that accepts you, but maybe give some of the mid-tier programs a chance. Success is not based on where your degree comes from, but what you can produce.

Also, what you said reminded me of one of my friends. She got her BFA in creative writing, was published during undergrad, and then applied to about eight top programs out of school, and was not accepted to any of them. She was shocked by it and it definitely humbled her. While I'm not saying anything about your talent, since I don't know you, just be mentally prepared for that to be a possibility. She was accepted the following year, by the way.

Oh, and things start picking up in the Fall, when deadlines get closer. There's crazy action between January and April, but summer's pretty dead. I can say that it does kind of suck to get everything finished early, because you wait forever, and the waiting SUCKS donkey butt...

Katie Oh said...

i'm fully anticipating those rejection letters, haha. i honestly think my one chance might be penn state [i'm a pennsylvania writer, which i think might give me an inch or so up on the competition, but just barely] i think i'll learn a lot from the process! i'm working closely with a professor on my writing sample and statement of purpose and so far he seems optimistic for me. fingers crossed, hopefully!

i will probably be done with applications sometime in november. at least i hope so. the waiting will probably be agonizing, but i'll have my thesis to occupy me, so that should help.

thanks for all the input! :)

kaybay said...

I hope you do get accepted! My mouth would be agape with jealousy at the 20-year old going to Cornell, but it could happen! Sincere good luck wishes :)

Seth Abramson said...


I actually agree with you, to an extent. I don't know that there's a significant difference between the programs ranked 40th through 50th and Honorable Mention programs like Colorado, VCU, BGSU, UCSD, Texas State, and Idaho. And up-and-comers like Miami (also Honorable Mention, actually), Western Michigan, and Boise State are getting to that point also, I think. I do agree that one can meet with success coming out of any program, albeit those admitted to more competitive programs have already overcome such a sizable hurdle that it certainly speaks well for their future prospects, even if not being so admitted doesn't necessarily speak poorly for the prospects of others. And it's true that, until MFA programs become even more welcoming of experimental poetry and fiction, some of our more innovative young poets and writers will have more difficulty gaining admission to top programs than they should. This is one reason I do think people benefit from using services like Driftless House -- it's such a chaotic field right now it's tough to know where one stands and how best to strategize one's applications.


l.rosenfeld said...

I've been batting the idea of MFA school in my head for a while now, and after postponing my application for this upcoming fall, I've decided to take the leap now. I've been researching the application process for MFA schools and frequenting this blog quite occasionally, so I think I've got a good handle on thing. However, I do have one major concern. My experience. I just graduated from the University of Miami and while I've taken creative writing classes there for my entire undergraduate career, I'm very worried that my inexperience and age will work against me in the application process. I've taken many classes, and have gotten to know, most of the professors in the Creative Writing program at UM. They have encouraged me to apply to MFA schools but I am still hung up on the fact that I'm a recent grad - wet behind the ears.

I guess after my long rambling, or what feels like one, the question I'm ultimately asking is will my inexperience/age work against/for me?

DigAPony said...

@ l.rosenfeld

In a word, no. Your inexperience/age will not work against you. I graduated from undergrad in 2008, majored in CW, but have no publications. I got 6 acceptances, several with full funding. Another awesome lady that frequented this blog last app season graduated from undergrad this year and got all kinds of kick-ass acceptances for the fall.

I'd say go for it, especially since your professors are encouraging you. Good luck! Don't let your fears hold you back.

l.rosenfeld said...


Thank you SO much for the input. I had been talking to a lot of older MFA students so I was a bit scared that I was breaking some sort of age rule. I appreciate your feedback. May I ask where you are going/went for your MFA and how you liked it?

Claire said...


I have a Bachelor of Music degree and only managed to take 1 creative writing class during my undergrad. I applied in the fall of 08, when I was 22, had 0 publications to my name and was barely able to get recommenders. I was really afraid that my experience was going to be a huge hurdle. I managed to get accepted to four programs and was waitlisted at one (none of them were hugely prestigious, but they were still acceptances). Over 90% of it is what you submit in the writing sample.

The only consequence of my inexperience was that I knew very little about MFA programs and thus wound up only applying to places with mediocre funding. I am applying again to this fall, only to schools that have good money to offer. It keeps the odds of acceptance very low, but that's the way it has to be.

Sister Sensible said...

Hello all,

Finally decided to join this conversation instead of lurking about.

Some of the talk on this blog, and links from it to other places, etc. are leading me to think that folks interested in an MFA in poetry are all hoping to land a job teaching someday.

Does anyone here want to get an MFA with no hope or need to ever make money from poetry, but just to perfect your craft and become the best poet you can possibly be? Or are MFA's too expensive to use them for such a purpose?

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Sister,

Some MFAs (34 nationally at last count) are fully-funded, in which case I think your priorities make a lot of sense. Just don't pay for an MFA -- especially if you won't be using it (ever) as a professional credential (i.e. for employment). But it's also important to realize that while everyone wants a TAship at their MFA, that's only because that's how you get your funding. Very, very few MFA grads will ever teach, and almost none will get a full-time teaching job immediately upon graduating.

More information on MFA programs is in the right-hand sidebar here (scroll down at link).


Seth Abramson said...

P.S. To echo what KayBay said, hey, if anyone wants to post their prospective application lists for the 2010-11 application season, please do! Cheers, --S.

DigAPony said...

@ l.rosenfeld

You are welcome! I'm starting the prose program at Oregon State this fall. (See a post of mine above where I rave about it/generally whore it out.) I'm nervous but very excited to begin.

Minnow said...

Hello everyone!

I've been a long time visitor on this blog and am finally applying for a poetry MFA, so I can actually join in on the discussion for once. My prospective list still has to be narrowed down, but will definitely include Iowa, Michigan, Cornell, Indiana-Bloomington, and Minnesota. Probably also Oregon, Austin, Houston, Virginia, and Johns Hopkins. I'd have Wisconsin on the list, but I just got my BA here and was encouraged to extend my network by applying to other programs, which is probably wise.

It's really competitive list, I know, but I've done a lot of research and, like Katie Oh, I think I want to stick with first and second tier programs. If I don't get in, I'll apply again next year. It'll be a useful experience no matter what!

@I.rosenfeld - From everything I've found out, the acceptances in MFA programs range from 90 yrs old to 20. What really matters is your writing sample. I have friends who applied to programs just out of college and are going to great programs. One of them who is going to Minnesota actually said that most of the people in her program are in their early twenties, so I don't think it's a big problem! The only way it'll really work against us (I'm 22) is that we will inevitably have less writing experience than many of the other applicants, but that's a risk I'm willing to take!

kaybay said...

Sorry Seth, you actually said what I meant to say - I didn't mean to say that people should just apply anywhere indiscriminately, or to imply that every program is essentially the same, but I just wish that people could give places like BGSU, VCU, UCSD, McNeese more of a chance. Hey, I'd love to go to an Iowa or a Cornell, but I don't see anything wrong with going to VCU. It would also increase people's chances (at least, theoretically).

Hey, one question about Driftless House Services, when you give list advice, do you read the sample first and then give advice? It seems kind of pointless to just email you a list and ask what's wrong with it. Thanks!

Renee said...

Hello everyone, I recently decided that I want to get my MFA (in fiction) and have been reading old mailbags. Time to actually post!

I'm still researching schools, but this is what I have so far: (I'm still looking to add some.)

UMass Amherst
UNH Durham

I'm worried that this is a list of pretty prestigious schools. I currently live in New England and would like to stay here, but I can't find any middle-of-the-list schools that offer MFAs besides UNH Durham. (Southern Connecticut State does, but their financial aid appears to be pretty bad.)

Once I start looking at the rest of the country, I get overwhelmed with options. It seems like the best-funded programs are the most prestigious. Is this true? Is there a good way to find well-funded programs that are less well-known? Or should I just apply to programs with questionable funding and hope something comes through? That kind of seems like searching for a needle in a haystack and possibly not worth the application fee.

So many questions! Finally, does anyone else have any recs for well-funded schools in college town/small town environments? I'm going to look up Oregon State, I think, thanks to DigAPony's recommendation.

Thanks everyone! This is going to be a journey, wherever I (we) end up!

Seth Abramson said...

Hi KayBay,

An application-list consult can follow a portfolio consult -- and often does -- but it doesn't have to, and the straight application-list consult is generally if imperfectly described in the pre-DH ALC (see website). Essentially, knowing what an applicant's values are allows one to help them strategize a list more likely to be successful in meeting those needs/interests, and to understand how differing levels of present ability might inflect that list in terms of number and type of programs to apply to. The result is that those receiving application-list consults get tons of info about programs and how to best suit their interests -- with specific recommended programs based on program features and less well-known information -- and then either self-assess or use a portfolio review to determine which element of the rest of the advice (that portion dependent on an applicant's present ability) most/best pertains to them personally.


Kimberly said...

Hi Seth,

Since you asked, here's my list so far. These are all "definite" schools, though I may add one or two more.

In fiction-

Notre Dame
Southern Illinois

Good luck everyone!

Katie Oh said...


You're lucky you can apply to Wisconsin! I hate that the system goes every other year. I think if I don't get accepted anywhere this year, I'll apply there next year.

I'm excited to get to know you all as our applications go by this year! :)

Tory said...

@Kaybay, thanks so much. And yeah, the GRE's only seem to matter for fellowships (which are a different sort of funding from the GUARANTEED FUNDING via GTA positions we all get offered) not the admissions process. You need to take it, but beyond that the scores don't matter much.

I'd like to officially declare myself the ambassador the OSU MFA program on this blog because I served in this post last year and things went well, so why not renew my appointment? I am a 2nd year poetry student at Ohio State and I am loving it. I am California native, love my homestate and miss it (going back in about a week) but this program is for real. It has a strong alumni record, excellent faculty in all genres (though I would say especially in poetry: Kathy Fagan, Andrew Hudgins and Henri Cole!) and is a FULLY FUNDED THREE YEAR PROGRAM FOR ALL STUDENTS. Plus Columbus is a pretty cool town. So take note, I guess, because this is a program that still seems to be under applied to in contrast to such schools as Purdue, Minnesota, U Illinois and Indiana, which I think we are comparable with. If you have any questions about the program post 'em here and I will dish.

Good luck everybody. This process has only sort of almost in a little just begun!

Justin Tate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie Oh said...


I'm just finishing up my undergrad in NYC and, honestly, unless you can manage to save like $5k before moving here, I would suggest against it. The aid programs that Columbia and NYU offer are, in my opinion, laughable at best when cost of living is considered. I mean, if you choose to find an apartment instead of living in some sort of dorm situation, you're looking at, at a minimum, $600 a month, and that's if you're lucky. [I lived seven blocks from where Jay-Z grew up and I paid $700 for a glorified closet. Ehhh.]

However, if you do have a little bit of money stashed away by then, it makes more sense. If you have enough to get on your feet [because most rental properties ask for first month's rent, last month's rent, and your security deposit up front] then go for it. But if not, NYC can be very difficult to do.

This is also from the perspective of not wanting to take out loans for the experience. If you're okay with that, again, things would be much easier.

All that said, NYC's a wonderful place, and the programs are amazing. I mean, Michael Cunningham's running Brooklyn College's program and Amy Hempel teaches there! It's enough to make me consider applying. Maybe.

Katie Oh said...

Oh, whups, reading comprehension fail. The whole of NY State isn't that expensive! That's just my advice for NYC. I have no idea what the rest of the state is like.

Justin Tate said...

It's okay, thanks a lot Katie! I'll have to check my list again, but I think the best colleges in NY were in NYC anyway. If there's some that are upstate I'll have to check them out.

kaybay said...

Justin: Cornell and Syracuse are upstate, and both are fantastic programs, albeit a little tough to get into :)

D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David P. said...

I'm trying to stay in Illinois. What are good programs to apply to in-state? I know there's U. Illinois in Champaign (Ninth Letter) and Southern Illinois in Carbondale (Pinckney Benedict teaches there and Ben Percy is an alum) , but I don't really know of others and how one would rank them. Money is a big consideration (so no SAIC obviously). Anybody?

冠慧 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
megan said...

@ Sister Sensible,

I'm a poet and I'll be getting my MFA solely to improve my writing. I do not have any hopes that the MFA will help me earn a teaching job (I teach now, but in a completely different field in which I already have certification - the MFA won't add anything to my teaching credentials). While there do seem to be a certain number of poets who hope to stay in academia, it's definitely not everyone. I second what Seth said, though - if you know you're not going to follow up with a PhD, etc, be all the more sure you can afford wherever you go, since when you finish you probably won't have more earning potential than you do now.

megan said...

Re: GRE practice & improvement

I DREADED the GREs and thought seriously about not taking them, but in the end I'm glad I did as it opened up my list of potential schools. The best advice I received about getting a decent score was to learn as many vocab words as I could (I learned 5 a day for about two months prior to taking the test) and to make your writing sample as long as possible. Both tips worked for me - especially the length one. I would go so far as to say it might actually be better preparation for the essay writing section to learn how to type really fast than to spend time writing practice essays.

megan said...

@ Renee,

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there ARE any "middle of the list" schools in New England with good funding. I would strongly, strongly suggest you open up your list to schools in other parts of the country.

I'm going to UNH in the fall, and although I'm very excited and absolutely in love with what I know about the program, I get a strong sense that funding is horrible, worse than how they advertise on their webpage. I'm in poetry, and I believe no first-year poets were offered any full funding. CNF seems to have slightly better funding, but it's definitely a weak point in the program. I'm not able to leave New England because of family constraints, but if you CAN look at schools outside the area, I definitely recommend that you do.

megan said...

I'm just full of comments today...

Re: Wanting to go to a "top-50" or "first or second tier school":

When I was applying, I also thought it was important to me to go to a "top-50" school, and I thought "well, I want to go somewhere good, and I'd rather have to apply more than once and get to go where I really want to go." I don't think there's anything wrong with this train of thought, but here's what I wish I knew before I made my list:

1) Applying SUCKS. Applications totally took over my life for several months, and if I had known that going into it I'm not sure I would have felt so light-hearted about possibly applying twice. Yes, lots of MFA candidates apply multiple times, but personally, if I knew how hard I would find the application process, I would have tailored my list more carefully to reduce my chances of having to apply multiple times.

2) The "top 50" schools have a huge range in selectivity and in funding. Some top-50 schools have a selectivity of less than 1%, and some have a selectivity of around 14% or 15%. The most selective schools don't necessarily have the highest over-all rank and vice-versa. I applied to all "top-50" schools, but five out of the seven schools I applied to had a selectivity rate of less than 6%. This, to me, was a mistake - I should have applied to one or two in the 5% range, a couple in the 10% range, and a couple in the more-than-10% range. I wish I had known more about selectivity rates as compared to overall ratings before I applied - I didn't realize that the "middle-of-the-list" schools were sometimes more selective than the schools at the tippy-top. So my advice: do your research and know your numbers! "Top tier" can mean a lot of different things when it comes to selectivity!

Sister Sensible said...


Thank you so much for your helpful comments regarding my question, the GRE's, and the application process. I'm learning a lot in a short time through this blog.

xin said...

@megan: That was very helpful info about selectivity rates! My list of schools seems to have too many highly selective schools, but I'm not applying to schools without full tuition waivers.
Now I'm wondering if there are schools outside the Top 50 list that I should be looking at, and that have good funding but aren't so highly selective. But maybe that's wishful thinking on my part ^_^

Katie Oh said...


Your comment made me go do my math and my schools are all under 3 percent with their selectivity... eek. Unfortunately, I have weird "standards" for a program [above the Mason-Dixon line, preferably not more west than the Mississippi unless it's in the Pacific Northwest, and with a good chance for full funding] and I'm not sure there are many more options.

I may actually add Ohio State to my list after seeing several favorable comments about it around. Anyone else have any other suggestions? I'm in fiction.

Sister Sensible said...

How many of you are published in a good journal before you apply to an MFA program? Do you think it matters one way or another?

Renee said...

@ megan,

thanks for the heads-up on UNH. I had gotten the impression that their funding was slightly better than that. I guess I'll have to do some serious thinking about what I want in terms of location.

also, thanks for the info on selectivity vs. rank vs. funding. That cleared some things up! I am off to research some new schools!

Jennifer said...

Sister Sensible-- It doesn't matter.

Ruin Christmas said...


re: GRE tips

I agree with your tips on the essay. Writing long and typing fast are essential. I should have mentioned that.

Also I wish there was a pill I could have taken to get me to care about the topics. Then I would have really gotten into it. "Art or Science, which is more important?" and "The town council of Smalltown, USA is thinking of adding another stop light. They've read a study showing that when Seattle added a stop light, traffic congestion decreased 17%....blah". These don't really inspire me. MFA prospects should be allowed to write a flash fiction story or a poem. Now that would be awesome.

kaybay said...

Katie-Oh, have you thought about Michigan, Purdue, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Washington-St. Louis?

Technically, schools in VA are below the Mason-Dixon line, but I think they're worth a look: Virginia Tech, UVA, Hollins, George Mason, VCU

Are you aware of Seth's website?

Katie Oh said...


I used Seth's website to compile my list I have now. :) I went mostly by prestige, then funding rank, then location, so it wound up being small, but I figured I'd ask and see if anyone had any other suggestions.

I'm not fond of Michigan, so that's out. I know Purdue was on my list at some point, but I took it off... I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the suggestions. :)

Cancer Bitch said...

David P.,
You may want to consider Northwestern's MA/MFA. We have classes at night in both Evanston and Chicago. We're geared toward working adults, so our students do pay for their classes (though our tuition is a lot less than it is in the "day school"). You can compare our program to low-rez ones re: tuition cost. Some of our students get jobs at NU and then get a 75% tuition discount. Two students a year are chosen to be managing editor of TriQuarterly Online, and each receives $5,000 for six months. The last four classes of the MFA are free. If you want more info, you can go to our web sites. Official: and unofficial:
We've got Stuart Dybek, Janet Burroway, Alex Kotlowitz, Mary Kinzie, Reginald Gibbons, John Keene and many other great faculty members.
OK, end of commercial. Thanks for reading.
Sandi Wisenberg, MA/MFA co-director, wisenberg (at)

Benjamin said...

This is probably the wrong way to start my journey, but it's early in the morning and after reading all the helpful comments in the mailbag, I can't help but wonder if some of that usefulness couldn't be drained on my own account.

I'm currently a CW major at NCSU and will be entering my junior year this Fall. I recently decided that getting into an MFA program is going to be my goal--that I've had so much encouragement from the MFA/CW staff here and from my family that I no longer have a lot of those reservations that I did in the past. And even though it's a bit early to be planning definites, I want to start finding out everything about the process that I can now, including... well, where to start. And when I say where to start, I mean finding out what I should do to make myself the best MFA candidate possible.

I'm probably going to buy the MFA Handbook to see how far it'll go in helping me, also to support MFA Blog. But still, while I'm trying to find a dedicated adviser to help me with my desire to reach this goal, I'm trying to find ANYONE with experience or advice in how to get started. There is a serious abundance of MFA grads in my life.


alexscalf said...

Hi everyone,

I didn't know where else to post my questions so I chose this section since it seems like this is where the general questions/comments go. I just graduated with a BA in English and Irish Studies (minor) from Emory University and I am interested in pursuing an MFA in poetry. I came into creative writing relatively late in the game (my last semester of college) and probably would have considered myself too novice to even try graduate work in creative writing had it not been for me Intro to Poetry professor (Natasha Trethewey) my last semester. She kind of took me under her wing and worked with my outside of class to develop my craft.

Anyways, to make a long story short, I am a little overwhelmed by all my options and all of the things I simply don't know about MFA programs and the difficulty of being accepted. I've made a list of the some schools I am interested in applying to and I've based many of my choices on location (I would like to move to New England), but I was just wondering if anyone has any good tips for individuals just getting into "the biz," so to speak.

P.S.- This blog is fantastic by the way and I am really learning a lot just browsing through everyone else's comments. Thanks!

Minnow said...


I'm only a recent graduate who's applying to programs this year, so I'm a bit lacking in the experience you might want for someone to answer your questions. I do think, though, that it's wonderful to consider your options so early in the game, and to keep in mind that you're already way ahead of a lot of other people in terms of planning for the MFA. That said, the best way to prepare would be to work on your writing, read as much poetry/fiction that you can, and try to develop relationships with as many of the CW faculty as possible. They're there to help, so use them! MFA programs care about your writing sample far more than any other component of the application, and CW professors will help you hone your craft, can write decent recommendations, and can recommend programs to you.

I guess my advice was a bit general in the end, but I hope it helps! MFA applications usually require GRE's, recommendations, Writing samples, personal statement (or some variant thereof), and... well, that's about it, so the best thing to do is just to improve and network as much as possible.

Also, are there any undergraduate writing clubs that can help you revise? I used them at Madison and they were a nice way to keep me writing and editing my work. If no, perhaps you could start one? It's a great way to meet other serious writers and get some feedback! Perhaps someone on this blog may know of an internet-based version of these types of meetings?

Hope this helps!

alexscalf said...

@Ben and Minnow

Wow, Ben, it seems like we are both pretty much in the same boat (except that you have at least a year head start). I'm pretty much new to the whole blogging thing so I sorry that I didn't even look at your post before posting my own question.

I think Minnow had some really great points. Really utilize your faculty's experience with learning to write and workshop. That is really the only thing I was able to get out of my college CW experience before I graduated. I wish I had had more time to create more relationships with other members of the CW faculty and make more connections. Work with those professors outside of class if you can, it makes a huge difference.

I have been trying to glean as much as I can from this blog, but there are so many posts that I feel like I am missing a lot just trying to find answers to my questions. I don't want to make anyone repeat themselves in regards to my questions, so I guess ignore my first post and I will just wade through the other mailbags and find the answers. If anyone does think of anything new that might help that would also be great. Thanks!

P.S.- In case anyone notices this post, here is a list of the programs I am considering right now:

Stonecoast- Portland, ME
UMASS Amherst- Amherst, MA
Brown U- Providence, RI

Any other suggestions in the New England area? I am also open to the Pacific NW, but I don't know much about the schools there (although OSU does look promising)

Minnow said...

@Benjamin and alexscalf,

The sources I really like to use for MFA program info is The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, which will give you a concise, objective approach to understanding different MFA programs, guidelines, etc., The Suburban Ecstasies, which has the most recent rankings of the different programs (there are links on the MFA blog home page), and the Poets and Writers MFA rankings ( Unfortunately, this last one is a year old, but I still use it all the time. Most of the top programs are neck to neck anyway, that if they have displaced each other, I'm not too concerned. Either way, you may want to back up any info from the rankings with TSE, which has updates and such. You guys probably know these services already, but in case you didn't...

Another thing to consider (especially if you're having trouble talking with professors) is to talk with the current MFA students at your universities. I've talked with a few of mine and they were always very enthousiastic to discuss MFA's, writing, and revising, since they know how intimidating the application process can be.

Writer Dude said...

I write good. Want to write gooder.


Go big or go home. May do 1 or 2 "lower" schools...

I'm sure it's been asked but -- writing sample: 1 piece or more than 1 (fiction)? And I know they say "your best work", but let's say you have one long piece that is equally as good as 2 or 3 smaller stories...are most Admissions Tribunals (that sounds more apropos, eh?) expecting multiple smaller samples or is one sample just dandy?

Alana said...

Hi everyone-

I've taken a fairly extended hiatus from all things MFA since my rejections. I only applied to three schools in CNF, but it was still a devastating blow to my self-esteem to be rejected by all of them.

After taking time to regroup, I've been thinking about applying again, only this time in poetry. Is anyone else considering switching genres this time around? I find that poetry comes much easier to me than writing essays, and I enjoy it more. Plus, it opens up a whole new world of schools to consider, many of which are actually funded. I was just curious if anyone else is thinking of making a switch.

Jennifer said...

Writer Dude--I would send two or three. But there are plenty of people on these boards who get into good schools with one story in their sample. Just be careful that you read each school's information carefully--many schools require at least two stories.

Katie Oh said...

@Writer Dude

I'm facing the same dilemma myself. For example, University of Oregon wants up to 25 pages of 2 stories... but two stories for me would come out to at least 30. It's really frustrating!

I wish there would be an across-the-board sample length. I feel like I'm going to end up having to edit stories for each particular school and they'll end up being inconsistent.

kaybay said...

Benjamin - I know that you weren't involved with the MFA program at NCSU, but what were your thoughts on the school, English program, area, etc?

Writer Dude said...

@Jennifer: Thanks for the comment and advice...what is the idea behind submitting more than one sample? Variety? To show our "range"? Should we be thinking of 2 or 3 of our most different pieces? Illustrate that our lightning can strike twice and that our pony has more than one trick and should not yet be put to stud?

Or just in case they don't like one story's content/concept, but see merit in the writing, you have a back up right behind it? (though conversely I can see it hurting you, if they love one then BOOM the second piece they don't like so much and suddenly they have a decision to make)

For me, it doesn't take long to read something and know if 1) I like it, and 2) it's well written...#1 is usually also #2; while #2 is not always also #1.

What I'm using a lot of words to ask is: does it REALLY matter?

(and good point with the "check the admissions requirements" comment...some do ask for multiple stories outright)

@Katie Oh: Heh. Utopia.

Jennifer said...

Writer Dude:

I'm not sure it really matters. But I applied with one first person story, one third person story, and one piece of flash--because I thought they might want variety--and this approach worked fine for me. Whether they want variety depends on who is reading it, what you sent them, etc. For example, one particular admissions committee member may want to see something akin to a classic story in addition to what you sent them if the other story you submit is super-experimental.

Gena said...

A'ight, y'all...

Like kaybay, I'm back to hit the ball again. (I'm not exactly sure if it will be this year or next year as I have a "temporary" teaching gig in the works.) I've made some big (probably stupid) changes to my tentative list this year, please feel free to call me out or make suggestions!

Anti-domestic realism fictionite second-go-around list:

Johns Hopkins
New Mexico
New Mexico State
Arizona State
Alabama (waitlisted last year)
Michener (I'm a glutton for punishment)
Vandy (" ")

(Just a refresher-- Virginia, Iowa, Syracuse, Ole Miss, George Mason, Old Dominion, U Arizona, U Houston, and U South Florida are out from last year, though Syracuse might see a resurrection in the case of Vandy's demise).

I'm writing, rewriting, and choosing my work sample day by day and can't wait to get into this again with all of you! (Though I'm not ready for that financial gash applying incurs just yet, unfortunately.)

Gena said...

Oh, and all but Vandy, Michener, Bama, Florida, and LSU are new.

Good luck to all of you taking your GREs, but they're really not something to fret over. Just another thing you have to schedule-- the earlier the better, as it takes time to get and then send score reports, and some schools are ickily particular about their supplementary material deadlines.

Benjamin said...


I don't know any of the actual MFA students at NCSU, but I know all the staff on the board, most of which have taught some of my workshop classes. The heavy-hitter at the table is John Kessel, who is, at least in my book, a pretty big name in his genre. I think it's interesting that he's the big name at this MFA program when a lot of other programs might look down on him as being too... well, pulp (though he isn't). His foundation is in Sci-Fi, which he's always been an extremely tasteful writer of, and he is considered a pioneer in Slipstream fiction, as well as being popular for his well-known book on Cyberpunk literature.

In any case, Jill McCorkle is part of the MFA staff too, and she balances things out well--she's an amazing writer and she fills all the gaps that could possibly be left by John Kessel. The other staff are all experienced and helpful, and from what I hear the program is very good and very underrated by national groups, possibly because their info about the program is a bit cryptic. I have no idea how their funding is, but I know that everyone they admit is going to be a TA, and fellowships are added on as if they were part of a TA stipend.

A lot of people don't want to consider NCSU for their MFA program because the school is largely renown for their Engineering and Agriculture programs--when in reality we actually have a really strong (if financially malnourished) English department and Humanities. The program is very competitive because of the few spots there are available, I know that much. Raleigh, NC is also an amazing city, and in the last couple years has been labeled everything from Best City in America to Most Wired City in America to Best Place to Live in America--lots of really nice titles that, while maybe shouldn't be a MAJOR factor in the application process, have impacted the way I view this area (I'm not from around here, but am an NC resident).

In any case, I've rambled a bit, but maybe I've helped in some regard.

I do have my own questions to perhaps add on:

-How important is GPA?
-How soon should you be looking to take the GRE? I should take it, right?
-Do you think big-name references really matter over no-name references (I have 5 professors who offered recommendations, and all genuinely supported me--should I ask letters from the three that are actually well known authors, or the ones that would flatter me the most?).
-I should be asking my own academic counselor, but do most schools have the ability to help students looking to prepare for a future MFA?
-Is there a rule of thumb for a minimum number of schools to apply for? Should you just bite it on the application fees to increase your chances?

Thanks, I know I'm a bit wordy.

kaybay said...

Hi Gena! Glad to have some returnees! You were waitlisted at Bama last year, weren't you? Or was that another Gena? Good luck!

Ben - thank you for answering my questions, I'm actually really excited about that program. Right now, I'm liking Notre Dame, UF, Bowling Green, VCU, and NCSU for my "fingers crossed" schools.

I'll take a jab at your questions:

-from what I hear, GPA means very little, even for schools that have a minimum. I've heard of people with sub-3.0 GPAs getting into top programs and programs with minimum requirements. If programs do care, they care more about your English/upper division grades.
-Definitely take the GRE. Know that it means very little, even to schools that require a minimum. Honestly, take it at the end of summer if you have time, but don't procrastinate. It might be annoying to worry about that while filling out applications.
-apparently, recommendations mean little to nothing. Sure, it's great to have a big-name. But, a better sample outweighs a stellar rec any day. No one that I know of has been rejected for recommendations. Go with the letter writer who will say the best things about you as a person, writer, and academic.
-I'm sure a counselor will help you, but because the degree is so "different," I'd stick to the blogs, forums, and websites.
-The new recommended # is 12-15 (I think). Because this process is so subjective.

kaybay said...

One word of advice that I would give is not to expect ANYTHING. Certainly don't expect to get accepted to most of your schools, especially if you're applying to the heavy-hitters. Don't expect to get accepted to any of your schools. Don't expect to get accepted to schools with lower acceptance rates, schools that support your "aesthetic," schools that your friend/mentor/teacher got into, etc...

Other advice: DO NOT USE THE SAME PERSONAL STATEMENT. This I learned from my own mistake. The programs that waitlisted me last year were ones that I gave specific, honest, heartfelt reasons why I wanted to go there. I'm not saying it's the biggest determining factor, but I really think it would have helped me last year to have tailored statements. Do some research on your schools and tell them why you chose to apply there. Tell them how much you think their program will help you.

Another piece of advice - make sure you are proud and confident of EVERY story you send. I think I had one strong story and two weaker stories, and I think that was a big factor in my results from last year.

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

Oh, and if you heed any advice, heed this: WORK ON YOUR SAMPLE. Get it workshopped by friends, a class, a service (Driftless House, etc). Write a lot of stories and work on them steadfastly. Pick the best ones that you have. Last year saw so many people applying and I think this year will be even worse :*( these places have their pick of the litter, and you're up against a lot of seasoned writers.

Oh, how depressing :(

Benjamin said...

I realize now, having actually looked at the MFA Tip Sheet linked on the sidebar, that most if not all of my questions have already been answered over and over and over again. :)

Gena said...

@kaybay -- Yup, that Gena. Seems like you and I are on the same page as far as changes this year-- different, hopefully more competitive writing samples coupled with individualized SOPs.

@Ben -- Don't worry about it; this stuff is useful to get out there, and some of the advice changes over time (like how many schools to apply to). I second kaybay on all but the letters of rec, and they don't mean much-- it seems to me the best advice has been: get letters from people who know your work the best. If those aren't available, people who know your work ethic. Generalized bragging and/or sweetness probably won't go as far as a more specific critique, even one that points out potential areas of improvement.

Sister Sensible said...

@Gena, @Kaybay, @Benjamin

It was my understanding from the MFA Handbook that letters of recommendation can be very important when used for a tiebreaker between you and another equally talented writer. Given the large pool of applicants, I'd try to get the very best you can from professors who know your writing well and believe you're a good candidate for a Masters degree.

Loz said...

Hi! I am applying to some CW MFA programs for 2011, and have been doing plenty of research. I still can't find much information out there for one my issues: Most programs have an undergrad GPA limit of 3.2 or 3.0. My undergrad GPA was 2.98; however, I graduated with my MA in english a couple years ago with a GPA of 3.99. Do they still take my undergrad GPA into account? I'm inclined to think not, but you can never be too sure. Love this blog, Thanks!

K Wilson said...


I'm a fiction writer, and while a lot of my work is in traditional formats (i.e. a pile of papers stapled together with a somewhat linear narrative), the pieces that I think are best are somewhat more...experimental. Namely, they're not written on 8 1/2 by 11 pages, but on big map scroll-style sheets, designed to be hung on a wall or spread out on a table like a map of bombing targets. Obviously, the plot and characters and language are still the essential thing, but this format is the path of least resistance for me to express the themes I'm working with. Plus I...really like letterpressing. They're not incredibly unwieldy to read/manage, and again, the prose is the focus, the format the after effect, but the pieces are written with the format in mind and I don't want to linear-ize it.

SO: my questions are--

1. I've contacted a couple of MFA programs and most of them say that things need to stay double spaced on 8 1/2 by 11 so they're easier to copy/distribute to their readers. Could I...I don't know, send them a mailing tube with 10 copies of the thing attached to a packet of more traditionally formatted stuff?

2. Should I just shy away from programs that are discouraging me from submitting my best work simply because it's not in a totally normal layout? Any suggestions for programs that might be totally jazzed to see work from a writer that looks a little different? I've heard good things about Brown but not sure.

Thank you in advance!

Veteran said...

Hi all,

Oh, MFA board, why can't I stay away? I just wanted to chime in with some advice, as other have done, from a veteran of the last application season. My numbers were pretty good. Of the 10 schools I applied to, I was accepted at six (three with full funding), waitlisted at two, and rejected twice. It was my first time applying.

1. Pay attention to funding EARLY. Don't fall in love with a school's program or location or faculty or cohort, and pin your hopes on partial funding. This happened to me with Hollins. After I was accepted, I had to deal with the fact that even though Roanoke would have been a dream for two years, even partial funding was illogical when I had fully funded offers elsewhere. If those fully funded offers hadn't come through for me, I'd have been facing a tough call. I wanted to go to graduate school, badly, and after such a long application process it would have been heartbreaking to say no to a "yes." But I'm also adamant about not taking on debt.

So, put simply, don't apply to a school that doesn't guarantee full funding unless you are very willing to go into debt. I threw a couple schools into the mix because old professors or mentors recommended them, but frankly these people in your life are not likely to be up on the latest funding data. Pay attention to these things. It'll save you application fees down the road.

2. Don't be afraid to get in touch with faculty members early. I e-mailed several professors in October and November, just to confirm my feeling about the schools was right. I explaining my writing interests, asked a few pointed questions, and waited. Several wrote back to me, and I was accepted at three of the four schools where I contacted faculty members. I don't think it sealed the deal — but that also says to me it didn't hurt my application. One in particular was incredibly warm and enthusiastic; it was a good omen, because that's the school I'm headed to. Interactions with faculty and students, even by e-mail, can be very telling about the atmosphere at the school.

3. This might sound stupid, but think long and hard about two-year vs. three-year programs early. I applied to both, and in the end some of my acceptances (and application fees!) went to waste because I realized the length of the program was a dealbreaker for me. (For me, two-year was the right choice, but that's going to be different for everyone.)

4. If you're still an undergraduate, please, please think hard about getting a job for a year or two before applying. I say this because I believe very strongly that my on-the-job experience really strengthened my applications. Do something random, interesting, difficult — anything. You'll have lots to write about. Your application will be stronger. And you'll have a chance to save for an expensive application process! I might get pilloried for saying this, but I believe it pretty firmly. I know I was a more compelling applicant because of the work I've done for the last two years.

Veteran said...


5. Take the GRE. Don't study. (Work on your writing sample instead in that time you could have been relearning high school geometry. Seriously, I guessed my way through the math section, and it was fine.)

6. As Kaybay noted, don't use a generic statement of purpose. I know the writing sample is king in your application process, but after my acceptances at least two faculty members I spoke with mentioned specific points I made in my statement. It does matter. I took the chance of mentioning specific faculty members (some of whom I'd contacted) that I was interested in working with, and it didn't seem to burn me. I was also quite specific about the kind of work I'm hoping to do in graduate school, and why the program I was applying to seemed a good fit. Specificity, at least in my case, was my friend.

7. Finally, not to beat a dead horse, but the writing sample is the biggest thing. For me, having a writing group to workshop my final sample with was invaluable. I included two very different pieces: different in length, in tone, in topic. I think it showed range. But I also spoke about these two extremes in my statement of purpose, and talked about wanting to find middle ground between the two, so there was a method to the madness.

Good luck! The waiting is the hardest part. But that's what the MFA blog is for, right?

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

Veteran has it exactly right -- with 34 fully-funded programs in the U.S., there's simply no reason anymore to apply to a non-fully-funded program. Especially because the MFA is not a time-sensitive degree; if you don't get full funding this year, no doubt your portfolio the following cycle will be that much stronger. With patience, almost anyone can end up at a fully-funded program, whether one of the most well-known ones, or one of the lesser-known ones (e.g., Iowa State, South Carolina, Miami, UCSD, &c).


K Wilson said...

question for there a list somewhere on this site (or elsewhere) of the 34 fully funded programs you elude to? That would be WAY helpful.

Justin T said...

New question!

Okay so about the letters of recommendation, in my MFA handbook it says that ideally you should have 2 by professors and 1 by a job of some kind.

I have two great professors who have seen a lot of my writing and was an assistant manager at a movie theatre for over a year, though they obviously didn't see any of my writing there.

I've read some programs say that the letters of recommendation should be from "academic" people but is that just so people won't submit 3 from friends and family, or do all 3 have them HAVE to be from professors?

Benjamin said...

I'm going to have to second Wilson's inquiry. I thought I had the list in here somewhere but I can't find it. If it's in the MFA Guidebook then Amazon tells me it'll be here tomorrow (hoorah two-day free shipping!), but if it's a resource available freely here, I will gladly look at it.

While I know funding shouldn't necessarily be the only factor in my future decision, I'll probably be applying to mostly full-funding schools. It's kind of a necessity for my situation.

Seth Abramson said...

K Wilson & Benjamin,

I have very, very good news for you...

I think you if you check out the right-hand sidebar on my website (scroll down at link) you will be very, very pleased.



kaybay said...

K Wilson - I'm going to try to answer your question, but I'm not an expert, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It might (emphasis on "might") make you stand out in a not-so-good, gimmicky kind of way. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm downing your work, it sounds interesting, it just seems difficult to pull off. It also seems very risky. I guess the question I would ask is, is the format necessary to the story? Could you deliver the story in a more "traditional" format and then explain in your personal statement that you want to experiment with non-traditional formats, hyperfiction, etc...

Am I wrong? Anyone here get accepted last year with a less-than-traditional format?

popsicledeath said...

Anyone have thoughts on the style and culture of programs? I scrabbled together applications to 4 schools last year and was rejected from all 4. No surprise, as I really didn't have my strongest applications. But, one of the professors I'd worked with extensively said he just wasn't sure I applied to the 'right' schools, and that even had I submitted stronger packets I might not have gotten in because my 'style' wasn't very fitting.

He's out of the loop enough he couldn't exactly explain which schools would be right at this point, but used the example that the MFA program he went through was very experimental at the time and pushing new styles and content, while he was pretty traditional, and in the end the mixture just didn't work and he always felt it hurt both him and the program. And believes more programs are being selective in these sorts of ways, because there are so many 'good' writers to choose from they can start looking more at writers who'd be the 'right fit' for a program.

We know the quality of writing is what matters in the end, but does the subject or style also matter? I mean, I can admit that I'm a bit odd and even my 'normal' stories aren't at all mainstream. I tend to write about characters on the fringe, doing fringy things. No bizarro or snuff or anything terribly shocking--well, I've had plenty of workshop sessions where the class sort of just open-mouth stared. I'm just not very ordinary and don't toe the lines of expectation very well, I guess.

Is there any merit to this? Should applicants not only consider the qualifications of a program, but also what 'kind' of fiction is encouraged or appreciated there?

I tend to think the quality of writing is what matters, but I've also taken fiction workshops with both professors on the MFA selection committee at my undergrad school and they both openly admitted my work wasn't the kind of thing they personally write or look for in applicants, and definitely not the kind of stuff others were typically writing in the program. They've been great and said they were a coin-toss from accepting me last season despite myself, but still also admitted I'm not quite as 'traditional' as the program typically produces or embraces.

Monkey-balls, I'm prattling on!

I'm just curious in the less tangible things when looking into programs. For instance, my main draw for looking at USC or Syracuse is that Aimee Bender and George Saunders are faculty, as I think they'd 'get' the kind of crap I write. Is that a stupid sort of thing to even consider, and should I just apply to the programs that seem 'best' according to the standard points like funding and location?

Or worse, should I actively try to present myself as 'normal' so I can at least get my foot in the door? I've refused to do this thus far, but have been advised by others applicants and professors I might want to consider it. Play the game on their terms, I've been told, as it's much easier for them to accept my eccentricities after I'm already IN the program. But who wants that? Nobody wants to invite the nice boy from next door to dinner and have him pull up in a hearse.

Claire said...


That question has been on my mind, too, although I don't write particularly experimental fiction. A lot of what I've been doing recently could be considered historical fiction, and I've been wishing there was a way to know which programs would be the most helpful in developing my interests and style. I've also wondered whether I should try to write more experimental or contemporary pieces in order to be more memorable. But I think trying to write something other than what I want to write would be sort of disingenuous, and also probably not very good.

Seth always harps on choosing programs based on concrete information: location, funding, length, course requirements. Trying to determine whether you'll be a good fit for the faculty, or vice versa, is a much riskier thing to bank on.

When I was in undergrad I briefly considered trying to get a Ph.D. in musicology, and all my professors emphasized that in the humanities, the faculty you'll be working with should be a very high priority when selecting a graduate program, but with an MFA it's so difficult to know - even if you like someone's writing or it's similar to yours, how can you really know if someone's ultimately going to be useful to you? You can read their work, read the work of current students in the program, talk to people who know the program well, and maybe even straight up ask some of the faculty, but still, how much can you really know - and how much weight can you really give it when you're deciding to apply?

Hey, look, I rambled, too. I don't even think I had any useful advice in there.

Jamie said...

@ popsicledeath and Claire -

Don't forget that the professors in programs you apply to might not end up teaching you - even in small programs, profs go on leave, change jobs, and you just can't rely on being taught by great (or even good) writer X at any given program.

I do believe from my experience applying that most programs do have an ethos. At most places it's not as hard and fast as an aesthetic "school," but more like what happens when you put five writers in a room and ask them to pick students whose work they like. Different groups make different choices.

The best way to feel out program differences at this level is to read work by current students and recent grads. That's what I found, anyway.

Writer Dude said...

@ popsicledeath and Claire

To add to what Jaime said, most schools publish a literary journal, containing not only some of the current students' work, but also outside submissions. You can usually order a single sample mag without needing a subscription, so once you get a list of schools together you can order their journals (like $15 each, I'd say) and read what that school is publishing. My professor in undergrad stressed this to me -- before applying or submitting any work, find out what kind of work that publication is publishing! I haven't done it myself yet, but I will... Tomorrow. Promise!

megan said...

Popsicle Death:

I recommend reading the work of faculty and students, and letting that help you find schools you maybe haven't considered -- but for the most part, I think you should still pick a list based on things like funding, location, or any other potential deal-breaker type factors. It doesn't do you any good to get accepted to your perfect school if you can't afford it.

Cast your net wide and apply to as many schools as you can - then, when you get a few acceptances back, you can worry about which of those options is the best "fit." Schools won't accept you if they don't think you're a good fit - so in some ways, it's easier to let them narrow it down a little by telling you they think you'll do well at their institution, and then making your decision from there.

cath said...

This is related to the previous post but I found it interesting:

cath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynn said...

An alternate list of writers to watch from the Emerging Writer's Network:

popsicledeath said...

Thanks for the replies!

Reading what the school is publishing is a great idea; feel dumb for not considering that. And I like the [few] schools that openly list their current students, so at some point I can just outright ask some people what's what.

I suppose the best hope for people like me is to cast the wide net as suggested, be open about what I want to do, and let the program decide if they want to let me do it.

Hi, my name is popsicledeath--(maybe legally!--and I sometimes write the typical coming-to-terms-with-death-and-love stories from the perspective of robots. Beedy beedy beedy. Don't hate, matriculate!

韋富 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Justin T said...


So obviously I want to apply to Iowa, but they say "The current requirements for admission to the Graduate College are possession of an undergraduate degree at an accredited college or university"

- I'm going to graduate in May of 2011 but wanted to apply January 2011, will they not accept me because I haven't graduated yet?!

Seth Abramson said...


As long as you'll have the necessary degree by the time you matriculate (i.e. first day of classes at the IWW) you're fine. That's all they require. And in fact in some instances -- rarely -- the IWW has taken those without a B.A. but close to one, and told them that they simply need to earn their B.A. by the time they graduate.


Justin T said...

Thanks, Seth.. that's what I Thought, but it was worded so scarily! *breathes now*

Sister Sensible said...

Poets, please do not all flame me at once, as I mean this in the kindest way, and it's also coming from a place of new self-doubt... but at the risk of sounding like an old grandma, some of you are SO young! I certainly could not write as an undergrad the way I do now. No, I'm NOT going to tell you how old I am. It's just... well, I'm wondering - does anyone know statistics of ages of poets who are accepted to MFA programs? Because if all they want are young people fresh out of college, I should give up now. I've been out in the world for a long time. Anyone else out there on this blog like me?

Seth Abramson said...


I started my MFA at age 30. The average age for a beginning MFA student (full-res) is about 26.5. The average age for a beginning low-res MFA student is believed to be about 10 years older (36.5 or so). Most programs don't look at age whatsoever, though I do think there are some full-residency programs that take into account the length of applicants' prospective writing careers and are slightly less likely to admit student who are over 40. This is only some programs, though (generally those that receive so many applications they can choose students not only on the basis of skill but other demographics they may consider important, rightly or wrongly).


Jamie said...

@Sister Sensible (Is that like Sistah Souljah's sister or something?)-

I'm 32 and will start my MFA in fiction this fall.

There's no "correct" MFA age, it seems. Take Leslie Jamison - she's an awesome new writer who went to Iowa straight out of school. Or Tea Obreht - who made that 20 under 40 list and got her MFA straight out of school. I don't like what I've heard (only one excerpt) of her work, but she's still living the dream. And a poet friend of mine went straight to MFA from undergrad and has done well for herself since.

That said, I'm glad I'm doing this at 32, not 23. I feel like I got some experience under my belt, saw a bit of the world and got a better idea of how what I wrote fit in with it. I feel like I was able to define myself and my work better, and get beyond a cliched romantic outlook many early twenty-somethings have. Aesthetically, I had some work to do before I felt ready. On the practical side, nothing beats working and paying bills - and learning the value of a dollar in your pocket - for a few years to give you some perspective on just how you're going to lead this creative life you want - and the practicalities of what to expect from it. I couldn't think such mundane thoughts at twenty-one, but so much of the life seems to be just about striking a balance between money and time. Anyway, Sis, I'm so glad I'm going back to school as a grumpy, parsimonious, world-weary old man, not some bright and blazing young pup!

Jennifer said...

Sister Sensible -- For whatever it is worth, at my program I've got friends who are fresh out of undergrad and friends who are grandparents (yes that's plural--more than one person in the program is a grandparent), and I'm 40. Lots of different ages around here.

Alana said...

Tentative Poetry List:

UC Irvine
Arizona State
San Diego State
UC San Diego
UC Riverside
Oregon State
U of Wyoming

I was also interested in Portland State, but can't find anything on their site about funding or student/alumni publications. I'm obviously trying to stay on the west coast, and funding is a top priority.

DigAPony said...

@ Alana

Portland State is pretty bleak on the funding front (this was made evident by all the blog participants from last year who were accepted and then discovered the lack of funding).

Yay for you considering OSU! Good luck.

Alana said...

Does anyone know anything about Cal State Long Beach's program? I'm not familiar with the faculty, but they've had some amazing visiting writers.

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


I just graduated from CSULB. I can tell you that the faculty is amazing... always available, always honest, always helpful, etc.

And yes, we have had some amazing visiting writers. I have seen Ed Hirsch, Dylan Landis, David Hernandez, Colette Atkinson, Mark Doty, Alcia Ostriker, and many others.


Alana said...


I'd love to talk to you more about the program if possible. Is there an email address where I could reach you? Thanks!

LaLa said...


I would love to talk to you about it! I can answer any questions, and if I can't, I'm sure I can get you in touch with people who can :)

Benjamin said...

So, I've got a question that may not easily be answered, and certainly can't be answered for me.

I asked about the average age of MFA candidates earlier, not because I personally feel like I won't be ready after undergrad, but because... well, I'm worried about my situation with my girlfriend. I've been with her for three years now and we don't plan on breaking up any time soon--we'd be married if we both knew that college was no time to tie the knot (at least not for us financially and emotionally), but it's been discussed that if I sought out and was accepted into an MFA program at graduation, she would come with me (she's not going to grad school and can start basically anywhere... though coast is preferred for her work).

What I'm worried is that if I take one or two years after undergrad to "experience the real world" that she might take root with a job, or hell, that I might, and then that it will discourage seeking an MFA, or maybe even worse, make it a decision between what could by then be my wife and pursuing an MFA.

I don't know, has anyone been in a situation like this, or know anyone who is young but has come into an MFA program with a significant other in tow? Is this going to hurt me any way it spins?

kaybay said...

Benjamin - there are a lot of people towing someone (even families!) along with them. I'm 26 and will be bringing my boyfriend of 7 years with me, who will be getting his graduate degree in physical therapy at the time I get mine (he's my age, but is just finishing up his undergrad degree this year as a non-traditional student). The MFA has been a bit of contention for both of us. He is supportive of me getting the degree, and very supportive of my writing, but he does wonder why I need the degree and can't just work a low-paying job and write on the side until he finishes his degree. Point taken, but I don't want to wait, and I do want the degree, and I think we can both go to school at the same time. I'm worried that if I keep pushing it back, it might never happen for me. There's so much to worry over, though - out-of-state tuition for him if I went out-of-state for my degree, moving, affording things, loans, debt. Ugh.

I will say that it's a totally personal decision that only you and your lady friend can make. If she's comfortable getting a job that she can leave easily and quickly, then she can work while you get your degree, even if you go to school next year or the year after that. That's assuming, though, that she can find a job now, and another job when you get your degree. That could be a challenge. If she wants to get a full-time, stable job now, that might be a problem. If there's no budging, perhaps a low-res program would work for you in the future. Perhaps a long distance relationship could work for a while, too. It seems that it might be easier to get your degree now (or at least soon) before she really settles down with a job somewhere.

I'm feeling your unease, though. You have to make a lot of assumptions when you plan for something like this, and if those assumptions don't become realities, then problems perk up. It would obviously be easier to do it alone, but if your relationship is worth saving, you'll make it out. I do know of several people last year with spouses and families that got accepted somewhere and are bringing everyone along with them. So, it happens.

DigAPony said...

@ Benjamin

I'm starting at Oregon State in the fall and bringing my partner with me (we currently live in Washington state). When I decided that I wanted to apply to full-res programs, we just had a big conversation about whether or not that was feasible for him, whether he'd be willing to move, and to what states, etc. Luckily, he was more than willing to move to certain parts of the country (although, this has a lot to do with the fact that he hates his job and is looking forward to starting fresh, but I digress).

My roundabout point is that it all depends on what your partner is willing to do for you, and vice versa. Perhaps she'd be willing to move to states x, y, and z, and you can apply this year. If you don't get accepted, the two of you can form a new plan at that point. Maybe she'll land a kick-ass job and you'll both decide that she'll work there for a few years and then you'll apply to MFAs again- who knows? It does get complicated, but I think it's all about creating a good balance of give and take. Good luck!

李哲維 said...
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Writer Dude said...

Some questions about Humor. Is it frowned upon? And I don't mean a wry joke here and there, but a piece that is crafted with the intent to make you laugh often...(think a melange of douglas adams, kurt vonnegut, tom robbins, and chris moore...with some Swiftian influence)

1) Since this is adding subjectivity to an already subjective process...should we avoid humor in our Sample? Do they want the so-called "Literary Fiction" (and by "want" I mean are expecting)...serious in tone, all about sex or violence or both (wink face).

2) Are there any programs that are better suited for satirists and absurdists? I know George Saunders at Syracuse is a strong comedic writer...but do any schools have a track record of funny satirists coming out of their programs?


Benjamin said...


It seems like we're in pretty similar situations. The conversation has definitely been had with my significant other, and there are parts of the nation she prefers over others--and out of the country is out of the question. She's graduating with a Natural Resources degree with a focus on Coastal and Marine Environments. Odds are they she'll end up working for a government environmental branch or as an advisor to a corporation anyway, so I figure that while the coast is preferred, anywhere that's not a desert could probably have jobs for her.

She is pretty picky about some areas of the nation though. The Mid-West was immediately ruled out, and I'm okay with that, but I made it clear if I got full-funding from a major school like Iowa, that it would be something I'm not willing to overlook (okay, so this is an unlikely situation but that's not the point). Hell, I'm not even sure what states I'd be okay living in--I've lived in coastal North Carolina my whole life, which is about as average in terms of climate, economy, and social living that you can get. I feel like if I went more South I'd die of heat, North and I'd never know what to do in a big city or during a goddamn blizzard or something, dunno, that's something I'll have to think about.

I'm thinking about taking Seth's Funding rankings and plotting them on a map and then looking at the regions they're in and eliminating them on that secondary basis, to help me decide what areas would be good for myself and for my S.O.

@Writer Dude

George Saunders would be a pretty wonderful teacher if that's what you're into--but I'm not sure he'd exactly call himself a "funny satirist". If you've ever read anything from John Kessel (NCSU) he's almost like a more sci-fi/fantasy version of Kurt Vonnegut--and Vonnegut is one of my most important inspirations personally.

As far as "humor" goes, I've heard and read (so this is purely speculative) that there is probably reason to say that MFA programs will prefer more traditional "literary fiction"--erh, which by no means is sexy or violent. Again, that's purely speculative. I don't think you should submit anything that isn't an accurate portrayal of your work, so even if you're not the most traditional genre writer, I don't think you'd be any better off masking the fact. And frankly, as far as I'm concerned, nothing beats well-written satire. On the other hand, satire being a genre so often dominated by the people who have lived life enough to be critical of their experience, poorly written satire from people who may not really know what they're writing about, is often the worst. So I'd be careful in selecting humor pieces--my own inexperience aside, I would think they should be extremely strong pieces in execution, not just in laughs.

DigAPony said...

@ Benjamin

Yes, sounds pretty similar. When I was choosing programs to apply to, I made a long list of all the ones I was interested in, and went through that list with my partner so he could say yay or nay on the location. That's funny you should mention Iowa- I told my partner the same thing: "I know neither of us wants to live in the Midwest, but on the off chance that I get accepted and funded by the IWW, you're going whether you like it or not!" My list ended up being a mix of cities that we would both like to live in, and cities that we could stand living in if I got accepted/funded at whatever kickass program was located there. Good luck with the battle 'o geography.

Katie Oh said...

this is more of a general grad school app question, but i figured i'd go ahead and ask it.

one of my former professors went on maternity leave [which i think has turned into a sabbatical from my school] at the end of the fall '09 semester. being as that i knew grad school apps were imminent, i asked her if she'd be willing to write me a letter of rec. she said she definitely would.

well, she's had twins. and just won a fiction prize that will be taking her to a school slightly further upstate for the spring '11 semester.

how should i approach this? should i email her to verify that she'd be willing to write them? how soon should i do it? i'm going to assemble my letter-writing packets [with stamps, envelopes, fun fact sheet about me, current writing sample, etc] probably in late august/early september.

Mick and Bashi said...

First, you should send her a card congratulating her on the birth of twins. If you were close, you could send a small care package. I've done this in the past and have included things like soaps, scented candles, cigars, and whiskey.

Second, if she doesn't respond to the card and package, send her a strongly worded letter (via certified mail) threatening her with legal action unless she produces a letter of recommendation.

Third, hire a lawyer who has extensive experience with contract law. By the way, you can tell your former professor that an oral contract is binding in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Tell the lawyer that you are a future MFA student and don't have a lot (or any) money to pay him. Lawyers are usually understanding.

Fourth, let the US legal system work its magic.

If, however, you are disinclined to follow the above route, you could always send a short e-mail to the professor to see if she is still able to write these letters. She's still got plenty of time, and as the parent of triplets, I can tell you that she really isn't THAT busy. She'll probably agree. Most professors want to help their former students -- at least that has been my experience.

Justin T said...

Whew, I've finally made a list and I'm sticking to it. I'm going to apply to ~11~ schools! (my poor wallet..) and according to Seth's acceptance rate chart, It's easier to get into Harvard Law School than just about all of them (cries)


I'm so nervous about the sample, I'm working on two stories right now and I love the plot of them, but I'm so scared the writing's not brilliant enough. In my mind Dean Koontz and James Patterson (or his ghost writer) wouldn't even get admitted into MFA schools cuz they're writing is so simple..

I keep looking, but I don't guess anybody has been kind enough to share their accepted writing samples?

Justin T said...

Oh and New question!

So I gather that MFA programs don't like "Genre" fiction, but I'm not entirely sure what that means. If someone gets murdered is it automatically stereotyped as "mystery/crime"? If there's love is it instantly a "Romance"?

I've been reading a lot of short stories lately from The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories books, which I'm guessing is what they want, but I'm still concerned since the fiction I'm writing seems to have a little more movement in it. If there's an action scene does that make it trash? If the setting is spooky is it a God-forsaken horror story?

I know this question is kind of vague and varies from case-to-case, but if anybody has advice I'd appreciate it!

Sister Sensible said...

@Katie Oh

I'll give you a straight reply to your question. I'm not sure what all the sarcasm was about from Mick and Bashi. ??

I'm a mother of two young children and I've not had many good nights of sleep in the last 5 years, so that's the perspective my advice is coming from.

Send her a card and/or gift for the babies that reflects your level of relationship - don't overdo it! You don't have to mention the letter.

Then go ahead and send your packet as you'd planned, since she already said she'd write your letter. Tired mommies still want to keep their commitments. But I would allow PLENTY of extra time for her to get it done, and do add an additional personal note to the packet thanking her profusely for doing you this wonderful favor when you know she's got to be so busy with her babies, etc. etc.

Hope this helps.

Katie Oh said...

thank you, sister sensible! i don't actually have her address... i think i might just email her this week asking about how she's doing, congratulating her on her prize, and then mention the letters...

i'm so concerned about this because she's one of the only professors at my school that i've had for more than one writing class. i'm not sure who i'd ask if not her... and coming up with that reference when i only have a couple of months to go would possibly drive me crazy, haha.

x said...

Has anyone emailed programs to ask them questions yet? I've emailed some grad schools' admissions offices and programs 15 days ago but gotten no reply =/ Is this normal in summer? Thanks ^^

Kerry Headley said...

Writer Dude,

Satire is my main thing. I submitted two pieces as my sample. One was unquestionably satirical memoir. The other was more serious memoir, but not without a fair amount of wry humor as well. I chose to submit these pieces because they represented very well the type of work I wanted to focus on in a program. I knew it was a risk, but I didn't want to end up accepted to a program that didn't realize how important satire is to my work.

I was rejected by three schools, accepted by three and wait-listed by one (Iowa, for the record.) I'm starting at UNCW this fall and with a TA-ship to boot, so don't let anyone tell you you can't get in with satire. In fact, I was told specifically that the humor was a big plus in my sample. Good luck!

Writer Dude said...

@Kerry Headley

Thanks for the feedback! And congrats on the acceptance(s)!

It's good to know fellow satirists are getting some love. I definitely have already decided that my samples are going to be what I write, they are going to be any admissions committee can just deal with that (that may very well mean trash it!) -- but it's still nice to know that, if done well, it will be taken seriously (but not too seriously!)

For was getting to the point of doubting even applying at all. Whether or not it was "for me". When I write, even when I'm being serious, I am doing it in a joke...from what I've read (and I am admittedly not well-read and up-to-date with the whole current scene), this isn't the standard coming out of universities....However, after graduating with a writing degree from a tiny school, what draws me to an MFA being part of a community of I am going for it! Let's hope it works out!

Adam Atkinson said...
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Adam said...

x - Yeah, I'd be patient in summer. I'm an incoming MFA, and my program recently e-mailed me about my arrival date saying, essentially, we needed to settle the matter before "everyone left for a while." Such is academia!

August and September are *not* too late to still be doing research and asking questions (not by a long shot), so don't panic, and good luck!


lalaland626 said...

Hey all. Pretty new here. The part about average age of MFA students amuses me, because I just turned 26 and I was worried I was behind. Glad to see that's not the case.

I'm considering going back for a teaching certificate (may take a year or so, still looking at that) while I apply to MFA programs. I'm going to need something to do after the MFA. Have a couple of great profs who are mentoring me (minored in CW) and one said I would do some good work in MFA program, even though job prospects are uncertain. I think this is what I want, so that helps. But I'm afraid to have no prospects whatsoever after MFA. I'm currently in a dying industry (you can probably guess what; it involves writing). I know I have to get out of here sooner rather than later, even though I enjoy some aspects of my current field.

I guess I'm just wondering if getting a high school teaching certificate right before/during the MFA process is possible or even a good idea. I'd rather teach the college level, or even just write for a living, but I know the prospects for either are far from certain.

I have a liberal arts degree and too much undergrad student debt, so that's another consideration. I will be applying to full-funding schools almost exclusively.

I know and accept that an MFA doesn't guarantee you anything, and since I'm hesitant about there even being a place for me in my current field once I get out of school, I feel like I need a backup plan. But I guess just pursuing an MFA is a leap of faith. If we were sensible and pragmatic, we'd be accountants. To some degree, we do this because we just don't know what else to do.

Justin T said...

Hey Lala, I'm kinda in your boat as well. I don't know what I want to do or why I want an MFA but I do. Discovering how few get accepted into the programs though, I figure I'll go for the teaching certificate if I get denied by everybody. I don't really like the idea of teaching high school but I guess it's either that or be homeless until I can write a bestseller :(

Adam said...


As far as teaching goes, I'd recommend doing it at a high school for the arts, or a boarding school (housing provided!) - I have a feeling teaching English to teenagers isn't going to fulfill you after your MFA, but I could be wrong.

I happen to have just finished four years of teaching writing at a high school for the arts, and it was great. Not my career goal, but I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed the students, it was good for me as a writer and thinker, it improved my CV, and it paid okay. (And really, what else is there?)

I'm entering my MFA (at 27), and if I teach writing at a high school again (for a bit) that's fine by me.

A friend of mine who just finished his MFA at a top ten program is about to start a teaching job at a different high school for the arts. It's not unheard of, there's nothing wrong with it, and I can't imagine it being held against you if you apply for university jobs down the road.

All that said, I wouldn't stress about getting your certificate right now, or even during your stay at a program, especially given how different state requirements can be.

Your MFA will speak strongly if you're applying to an arts high school or a boarding school, and (I believe) schools in most states are fine with you using an emergency certification (easy to get) in your first year and working towards something more permanent during the course of your first year as a teacher.


Benjamin said...


I'd like to hear some of your feedback on UNCW. I live in Eastern NC but I have no idea bout their program. For example, do you think the stipend and awards they're giving you are pretty generous? Were you a really strong candidate to get that funding?

lalaland626 said...

@Justin, Adam Thanks for the input. I've been trying to get out of my current field and into something else for a few months now and am just not hitting on anything. It's scary and I guess I want to avoid that if possible in the future, but really, there are no guarantees. Also, starting the teacher certification would give me something to do in the spring, since most schools don't take spring admissions. I really go back and forth. I'd hope I could network while in school and find something to do after I graduate, but again, nothing is certain.

I've also been trying to get out of my current location (rather rural and quiet) and the thought of being here for another year makes me cringe. I may apply for certification classes starting in the spring, just to give myself an option. Still have a little time, though-just got my GRE book in the mail. Got to schedule that for August or September. Happy to be here and starting all this, even though it feels like it takes way too long.

x said...

@Adam- Thanks! I'm glad incoming students like you are still hanging out here!

kaybay said...

Hey Lala! I'm actually in your (almost) exact situation, too. I'm 26 and have been teaching high school for three years. I also have a liberal arts degree that although impractical, is not something that I regret getting (wish I minored in something else, though :D)

I do not intend to teach after high school, unless I could find the right school (an arts school sounds kind of ballin' actually). My job is about 50% classroom management, which sucks, 30% paperwork and meetings and planning, and 10% actual teaching. And when I am teaching, very few are actually listening. I've been yelled at by students, parents, and bosses, so many times it would take several posts to explain, and when I say "yell" I mean yell. They'd have to censor some of the stuff on TV, and I'm at a private school. It's a total myth, too, that you don't work a lot. Aside from breaks, you work 50-60 hours a week. It's also not immediately rewarding, although you do see your impact after a while. Also, you'd be at the poop end of the school totem pole, so expect to get shat on for a while until you establish yourself. DO NOT become a "yes" person. Made that mistake myself :)

I also don't intend to teach college unless I publish a bunch of books (haha) and can teach creative writing full-time. I thought of post-secondary education as the holy grail, but after looking into it some more, I don't know... I'm not an adjunct, so correct me all you adjuncts if I'm wrong, but they get paid below minimum wage ($1500 a class down here). A full-time teacher at a junior college teaches (I think) 4 courses, and makes appx $60K. An adjunct would do the same amount of work for around $12K a year, without benefits, and would have to teach at several schools to get that amount of classes. Sounds a little unfair to me. A lot of people look at it as a stepping stone to a full-time gig, but that doesn't happen to everyone, and a lot of adjuncts slug away for years only to see someone get hired from the outside. Teaching college has its share of annoyances, too. They are still teenagers for a while!

Personally (this is just me, though), I'm *interested* in seeing what kind of jobs I could get as a professional writer (technical writer, grant writer, copywriter, etc). The pay is great and work can be done from home, in some cases. They want English degrees (and experience too, unfortunately). An MFA degree would be a good degree for this field, and any experience working with journals at a school would help, as would the extra classes I plan on taking in the field. I don't know, I could be totally full of shit here, but it's what I'm thinking about right now.

An administrative job at a university is also something I'm interested in, although that would require a separate degree in education, business, marketing, higher education, etc... and I'm not sure if I want to do that.

Anyway, sorry for the long posts everybody, but I thought I'd opine, as usual. I do think that the degree can open more doors to professions other than teaching, but one has to be creative to do so (but that's what we're good at!). If you have someone who could support you for a while, you could make a decent amount freelancing, blogging, etc... here's a website! good luck :)

Kerry Headley said...


The UNCW MFA website describes the program very well, but how appealing it is depends on what you are looking for. There are programs that offer a lot more funding than UNCW. At this time, UNCW offers TAs in their first year a full tuition waiver as well as a $14,000 stipend. In the second and third years, TAs receive the stipend but pay in-state tuition, which is about $5000. Additionally, I think a couple people get packages that are smaller, but I don't remember the details on that. If you want 100% funding, UNCW will not give that to you.

As far as being exceptional to receive funding, I would say that the faculty would consider you exceptional to admit you at all. (This is the case with many, many MFA programs. This is an incredibly competitive process!) I spoke with a professor here who told me that this application season gave them an abundance of completely qualified writers. He said that they could have easily admitted 100 people who they felt were very strong writers they would have liked to work with. So, yeah, to get funding here is a big deal. But it's a big deal at many other schools too. If you nose around the blogs you'll find plenty of great lists of programs that offer funding and what the acceptance rates are like.

Everything else like location and curriculum is obviously based on individual preferences. One of the many selling points for me is that TAs teach ONLY creative writing and will have experience teaching four different creative writing courses by the time they graduate. Also, if teaching is important to you, UNCW does offer other non-TA ways to get some experience.

Since I have not started yet, I can't tell you how I feel about the program except to say that everyone has been incredibly nice. I inherited my apartment from a graduating student, and I have already been taken in by some current students who have helped me to settle in here. It seems like a very supportive community. If you have more questions, email me at kerry DOT headley AT gmail DOT com. Good luck!

Lexi Elizabeth said...

Does anyone have a complete list of schools that offer full funding?

x said...

@Lexi Elizabeth-
I've been referring to this one, Seth sorta-posted it earlier:

R D L said...

I'm going into my second year in the MFA program at the University of Oregon, and before coming here I taught middle and high school English (I'm a licensed teacher).

I'd really encourage people not to look at secondary teaching as a back-up plan. It's not a job you should be doing unless you REALLY feel a passion for it. Kids--even ones without "issues"--can be very needy, and if you're doing a decent job, you're going to be pretty emotionally zapped at the end of the day. (And, of course, the end of the day isn't when the final bell rings--you're going to be doing hours of work at home.) Summers are for classes for recertification, professional development, etc. NCLB means you've got to do a lot of work prepping for evaluations, tests, etc. A big part of me loved teaching, but I also did virtually no (good) writing while I was teaching. Can you put the bare minimum into the job and write? Maybe, but I don't think that's fair to the kids, who have to be there and are relying on you to teach them what they need to know--even if they fight you every step of the way.

Another consideration is that teaching isn't the nice, secure job it used to be. (I was a very qualified new teacher, willing to relocate within reason, and it took me 3 years to find a full-time, benefited job. And then I applied to MFA programs largely because budget cuts made it look like my job was going to disappear.) Many positions in schools, especially English teaching positions, are receiving 200+ applications--or even 1000+ in some areas. A lot of those applicants are people who have been teaching for 10, 15, 20 years.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone who genuinely WANTS to teach at the secondary level, but I just think a lot of us still think the teaching world is what it was 10 years ago, and it's just not. Also, it's by far the toughest job I've ever had (and I've worked some high-stress jobs), and if it's not what you really want to do, you can easily make you AND your students miserable.

Renee said...
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Renee said...
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kaybay said...

BAH! Renee, I seriously love you right now for delivering that news!!! You mean this coming August 1st, right?? I'm not even joking, the analogies and antonyms were the only sections I sucked at. Reading comp and sentence completions I can do!! I'm not questioning the validity of your statements, but do you know where I can find further info on this??

kaybay said...

Oh darn, that "bah" should be a "gah." Sorry for the negative expression ;)

Alana said...

kaybay- The GRE website says the test changes starting August 1, 2011. So, I think those of us taking it this year are out of luck...

kaybay said...

Grrrr. wind out of my sails >:( thanks, though! Hopefully I won't be needing it next year :)

Renee said...

ack, sorry guys. Just reread the numbers...

Renee said...

now if I can figure out how to delete that old post so as not to horribly confuse future viewers.

I was *wondering* why it wouldn't give me a discounted rate. Oh well.

megan said...

I have to chime in about teaching, too!

Kurt Vonnegut said writers should never, ever be teachers. And he said second to never being teachers, they should never work in publishing.

I believe he said this because both require enormous amounts of time, and very few writers can write good stuff if all their time is sucked up by work.

I have four friends who considered themselves "writers" in high school and college, and went into full-time elementary and secondary teaching, and have not written so much as a journal entry in over five years. I have only one friend who manages to both write and teach, and basically he doesn't write a syllable from sept. - june, and then he writes like a maniac all summer long. And he's thinking about quitting teaching.

If you're an extraordinarily energetic person AND you have a genuine love of teaching, then I can see where the teaching/writing life could work. Or if you only teach part-time (I teach part-time -- to adults, who are way way easier than teenagers or kids).

When I think about my work post-MFA, I think I will be looking for a job that I can leave at the end of the day. The problem with teaching is that the work never ends - it drags into the late evening and weekend, eating up all your time.

megan said...

I love the analogies, too!

Kittens :: Man-eating Lions as

MFA students :: .....

Gena said...

... rabid ninja-assassin MFA applicants?

lalaland626 said...

Thanks for insight on teaching, all. My mom teaches and thinks I could do it, but she's got a lot of faith in her kid. If I told her I was gonna perform brain surgery, she'd say, "I knew those Grey's Anatomy DVDs I got you would come in handy!"

Teaching doesn't seem like the best idea. I know she works till 8 or 9 or later some nights. I know about the blame-filled and hateful parents. The crazy kids.

I just hope an MFA does me some good or at least doesn't hurt me on my resume. Right now, I'm trying to get out of my current field and into a nicer town (I have one in particular in mind) and pfft. Almost nothing.

I do write for a living at my day job (at least somewhat) and it does suck up some energy I could use for creative writing. I'd vastly prefer college teaching, because the atmosphere is a little different. I just wish there was a clear path after the MFA, and there's just not. To quote the prof who has been recommending I look at an MFA ever since I was an undergrad: "Will it lead to a good job? That's a roll of the dice. Will you probably write some great stuff along the way? I'd bet on it. Might you graduate and still not have a clear path? Likely. It all depends on how publications go for you, what the economy looks like, who retires where, who else is up for the same job, etc. Yes, it's risky. But would you thrive in an MFA program? I think so."

It's nice to have people believe in you, at least.

Oh, the GRE stuff got me excited for a bit, too, but mostly because of the half-price thing. $160 is a heckuva lot for a stinkin' test. I'll be taking it in August or September. Lookin' at Texas State b/c of location and I could start in spring, but I have a sneaking suspicion that's way too easy to actually work out with funding and everything. Also like like schools in the Midwest and West.

Justin T said...

I have a feeling Kurt was referring to the fact that teachers and publishers are dealing with writing and reading all the time and who wants to go out and write and read on the side after you did it all day at work?

K said...

Hi all,

Just wanted to start joining in on the conversation! I'll be applying in CNF, and, after much deliberation, I've settled on the following list:

U Minnesota
Columbia College (Chicago)
Portland State
New School

Any opinions? The aim is programs in places I and my husband could happily see living, with decent funding, and a range of acceptance levels.

Also, a quick question: I currently live in England, and have been for the past two 1/2 years, but I'm a US Citizen. Can anyone think of any reasons why I might have issues with funding since I've lived out of country recently? I still plan on filling in the FAFSA and stuff.


K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsay said...

@ K -- I applied in Nonfiction last year and did a TON of research (through this blog, Seth's data, and other sources), so I wanted to comment on your list.

Minnesota, Iowa NWP, and Pittsburgh are all good choices, I think, especially when it comes to Nonfiction. They all have good faculty in the genre and opportunities for funding (though getting Pittsburgh's funding is like seeing a unicorn).

Hunter is a good program, but there is very little funding, so unless you are paying in-state tuition (which you wouldn't be, since you haven't lived in the US in a while), I'm not sure it'd be worth paying for, especially since the cost of living in NYC is so high. Something to think about.

Portland State, Columbia Chicago, and TNS, however, are ones I'd suggest cutting from your list. They aren't BAD programs, but. (1) They have reputations for letting in students are who aren't very good writers [I have a friend in TNS's nonfiction program and he straight up said his classmates are awful], (2) There is very very very little funding (almost none), and at least TNS and Columbia Chicago have the added problem of paying for housing in two of the most expensive cities in the country, and (3) They honestly aren't that strong in terms of nonfiction, no matter how you look at it.

TNS is probably the strongest of the three I'm suggesting you cut, but my suggestion is coming from hearing horror stories from my friend in the program. He got "great" (his words) financial aid last year, but he now works 50+ hours a week to pay rent and his tuition, which leaves him no time for writing; the faculty and students aren't very good; and the cohort is HUGE. Plus, I think their "reputation" as a good school is mostly only among those who think "all the good programs are in NYC," when really, almost none of the good programs are in NYC (and this isn't one of the good ones).

I also remember at least one person on the blog last year who was applying to MFA programs as a transfer from Portland State because they were so unhappy with the program, due to the lack of funding, the lack of community, and the weaker cohort.

Just some things to think about.

I would, however, suggest looking into the following programs, which have decent-to-good reputations in Nonfiction and opportunities for FULL-funding.

Ohio State*
University of New Mexico
Minnesota State Mankato ^

* I'm biased, yes, because this is where I'm going next year. But, I'm suggesting it because it's such an amazing program. I honestly don't understand why it's not more popular on the blog -- Columbus is an amazing city, EVERYONE is fully-funded all three years, TAs get to teach more than just comp (though that's what you start out with), and the faculty is incredible. Plus, I attended a student reading when I visited and all I can say is: WOW.

^ I applied here last year, and I honestly fell in love with the program, even though I didn't think I would. It was my "safety" school, but from the administration to the faculty to the students, I never had a bad experience when asking questions. Their nonfiction faculty isn't well known, but are actually really good (Diana Joseph's memoir, I'm Sorry You Feel That Way, had me laughing so hard I couldn't breathe, in a good way). And a friend in the program said that the cohorts keep getting stronger and stronger every year. The only thing holding this program back, I think, is the location, but it's only about an hour or so from Minneapolis. I ended up turning down their offer because OSU's was impossible to say no to, but I would have been thrilled to end up at Mankato.

Ben said...

MFA Blog peeps:

I was a regular reader/fretter here this Spring. I'm about to start my MFA at Iowa this August.

Several people in my real-life life and MFA Blog life have asked me for general advice on applying. While I'm no Seth, I did enough things wrong last fall that I was able to put together a document that I've been emailing people who write for advice, and which I've basically posted here:

Probably nothing new to you all, but I hope it helps somebody.

K said...


Loads of thanks for your comments! I feel like I'm at a disadvantage not knowing a single person who's done an MFA, and so it helps A LOT hearing about other people's experiences!

To be honest, I chose Portland State and Columbia College because of their locations (I would be happy living just about anywhere, but I need to appease a husband who requires a city that can keep him entertained) and because they're not as selective. The more I think about it, though, maybe going somewhere that's not as selective isn't necessarily a good idea if the experience will suffer.

kaybay said...

I honestly think the major deterrent for most people, in regards to Ohio State, is the admissions process. They have GPA/GRE minimums, they ask for a critical writing sample, and they have several teaching statements/personal statements/etc. I am willing to do it this year, but last year, I decided I wanted to apply to Ohio State pretty late, and was burned out to the point where I did not actually end up applying. The GRE minimum freaked me out, too. I worried that it might not be worth it do all of the work for the application just to get rejected because of my GRE scores.

I totally understand the process, though, because they require a substantial amount of "academic," non-creative writing courses to graduate, and all students teach, so they have to make sure they accept students who can handle it. I'm also happy they ask for a critical writing sample, because it will show them that I'm not an idiot, even if my GRE scores suggest otherwise :D

But, it is a lot of work for one school!

Lindsay said...

@ K - I totally understand the location concern. It sucks, a lot, because there are so few well-funded, highly regarded nonfiction programs, and most are in places I don't want to go! I was so happy when I realized I loved Columbus.

@ kaybay - I can definitely see that, but honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal. I can understand the critical essay being a problem if you aren't coming straight from undergrad, but the GRE honestly DOES NOT matter. Only for the fellowships. I bombed mine and I still got in, I just didn't get the graduate school fellowship, so I teach my first year. So don't stress out about it too much.

Seth Abramson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Abramson said...

Here's the beginning of what will hopefully become an ongoing series of videos answering MFA applicants' questions. Warning: the videos are long! My goal was to cover a broad range of topics.


Frank Ruscica said...

Hello all,

I want to write serial novels.

Towards this end, I am eager to identify suitable creative-writing MFA programs.


Thanks kindly for any insight.

Best regards,

megan said...

@ K,

I'm not a non-fiction person, but another school to consider if you're looking for something not too impossible to get into is UNH. As far as I can tell, their funding for fiction and poetry sucks, but because the CNF program is small and it seems like they're trying to beef it up, they seem to offer TAs to lots of CNF people right off the bat.

I don't know that much about the strength of their CNF program, but I was really impressed with their faculty and the student reading. And there are several students who commute from Boston to the university if your husband needs a big city.

Jennifer said...

Re: Columbia College. . .

FWIW: I did my undergrad there and I've never again experienced such a vibrant and diverse artist's community. It is a very inspiring place and I would have gone back there for my MFA in a heartbeat if I hadn't decided to stay in the DC area with my significant other.

江婷 said...


K said...


Cheers for the tip, Megan. I'll check it out.

RE: Columbia College

Thanks for the recommendation, Jennifer. (It's so good to hear from someone who's gone there!) I've heard positive things about Columbia College in general, too. I don't want to strike it from the list; I'll just have to have a better look into its funding, I think.

Writer Dude said...


Are those videos going to be linked in a separate post all on their own on the MFA homepage? Seems like an awfully convenient resource to hide 160 comments into a mailbag.

Judging by your choice of the word "beginning" I assume you aren't finished yet and when you are, you will share it with the world!?

Seth Abramson said...


Hi, thanks for the kind words -- I'm not a moderator here anymore, so I can't say what will or won't be put up on the blog. Do try to spread the word around about the videos, though! And I'll try to link to them as often as I can.

The Suburban Ecstasies

lalaland626 said...

Happy holiday weekend to my fellow Americans (wow, I sound like the president when I type like that).

What are the best MFA programs on the West Coast? I ask because in a short time I'll be visiting a close friend in Northern California, and it's possible I'll fall in love with the area, or at least be intrigued by it. I know, however, that California does not have a lot of well-funded MFAs. The only reasonably well-funded MFA I can think of is Oregon and maybe UC-Irvine. Scanning through the funding list, just not a lot of West Coast schools. Love to be proven wrong, though.

Other than funding, what schools out west do you guys have experience with/recommend? I'm in the South now, by the way.

LaLa said...


I live in Northern California and went to school in Southern California. I can comment on both, as well as some other places on the west coast.

Feel free to email me with any questions or concerns.

Lindsay said...

@lalaland626 -- a friend of mine was accepted to San Francisco State last year with a partial scholarship. Wasn't enough to cover everything, but it helped. I also know someone at USF who works full-time but the schedule makes it possible. So those are two you might want to look into.

I also know there were a couple people who got funding at University of Washington last year -- not everyone gets it, but they do have a couple fully funded spots. And Eastern Washington has a lot of opportunities to defray costs, though again, not everyone gets fully funded.

I've heard both good and bad about all four programs, but they might be worth looking into.

Oh, and I think one of the UC programs has opportunities for full-funding. Maybe UC San Diego? It's a really new program, but I heard some buzz about it last year.

And if you end up falling in love with the area and are accepted, but don't get enough funding, one possibility would be to see if you can defer your admission for a year and establish residency in the area. I think most of the programs on the west coast (aside from the art schools, and Mills, which are all private) have much cheaper in-state tuition. Residency requirements vary from state to state, but you should be able to find that info. on the school's general financial aid page.

DigAPony said...

@ lalaland

Check out Oregon State. Tuition waiver, stipend, health insurance, cool little town, friendly awesome faculty.

LaLa said...


I am moving to Oregon this year (Corvallis or Portland) and I have a couple of questions before my visit on Tuesday. Would you mind if I emailed you some questions?

DigAPony said...

@ lala

Go for it! searchoflosttime AT gmail. I don't live in Corvallis yet but had a great visit and have been researching like mad, so hopefully I'll have some helpful info/opinions/impressions.

R D L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin said...

So, I'm worried that maybe I'm gearing up too much about MFA programs for where I am in college. This Fall I'll be starting my Junior year, so it's not like I don't have a lot of time. This is definitely something I want to do, but I'm wondering if maybe I should try and put it towards the back of my mind until next year.

Do you think that knowing ahead of time that this is what I want to do, and preparing myself to be the best candidate, is going to be ultimately more helpful than letting it rest a bit? Do I have an advantage by recognizing what I want to do fairly early in my undergrad career?

Old Poet said...


Because you're only just entering your junior year of undergrad, it's probably a bit early to become obsessed with MFA programs (that will almost certainly happen later when you actually apply).

That said...there are DEFINITELY some things that you could start doing this early:

1. Save $$$.
Applying to MFA programs is very, very expensive. If you apply to 10-15 programs (which is pretty standard these days), it can cost you approximately $1,000-$1,200.

2. Take the GRE.
Get this out of the way because many (though not all) programs require your scores. As long as you don't totally bomb it, most programs don't really care about your GRE scores -- aside from some fellowships perhaps. But because MFA programs are housed by graduate schools (and because graduate schools DO value/require GRE scores), it's sort of a necessary evil.

3. Recommendation relationships.
You'll need recommendations for MFA applications. Now is the time to start cultivating relationships with your teachers, peers, employers, etc. because you might need them to write a rec letter at some point. Basically...just be nice and friendly to everyone (when possible).

4. Preliminary program research.
I wouldn't spend too much effort researching programs yet because a lot can change between now and when you actually apply. But research those things that WON'T change -- like geographic location, location type (e.g. big city vs. college town), weather, graduate workload, etc.

5. Formulate a Plan B (& Plan C).
It's very difficult to get into an MFA program -- especially the ones with really good funding. For that reason, I would suggest that you have some solid backup plans in the event that you don't get in your first time (which happens to a lot of good writers).

6. Hone your craft.
Ultimately, this is probably the most important thing you can do because of the emphasis placed on the writing sample during MFA apps. Spend plenty of time working (and re-working) your pieces. Experiment with different forms and techniques. Read a bunch of different people. Start working on putting together a killer writing sample.

Hope that helps...

x said...


Old Poet's advice is good ^^ I didn't think of applying to the MFA until senior year, and as you say, you have lots of time! 1. and 3. are definitely things you can do right now, followed by 4. (which you could probably start in senior year, because programs keep changing-- I'm thinking of applying to a program that didn't exist 2 years ago and offers a good package now.).

I would say 3. is extremely important, and something I wish I had worked on early in my undergrad career. I feel a bit awkward doing 3. right now when I'm done with my undergrad, and I wonder what it's like doing 3. and reconnecting with professors for people applying years after completing their last degree (kudos to you)!

kaybay said...

I'm curious to know what advice anyone has for using novel excerpts. I'm working on a piece that is evolving into a novel, but I like it enough to possibly use it for an application. I know that programs like to see that people can start and end a story properly, which is why they prefer short stories, but if I can send them a relatively self-contained novel excerpt that ends "a little bit" but doesn't end completely (like the end of the entire story), would that be okay?

Secondly, what about programs that specifically want 2-3 stories and give page limits. Do I send one novel excerpt only, or the novel excerpt and a short story, ignoring the page limits, or do I scrap the novel excerpt and pick two short stories?

Anyone out there in internet land have past success with a novel excerpt or one long short story????

kaybay said...

And one more question: do I include a synopsis? Do I explain in the beginning that it's part of a novel? I don't want them reading the end thinking that I can't finish a story.

Adam Atkinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...


I'm not a fictioner, for the most part, but I have plenty of friends who are and have used novel excerpts with success. Based on what I've heard from them (and only that, to keep from talking out of my butt):

Go ahead and use a novel excerpt if you think it's your best work, but know that it changes the question most readers will pose from "Does this person know how to begin, sustain, and end a story?" to "Do I want to keep reading this?" (in the most pedestrian of terms).

As for a synopsis, I think my friends just identified it as an excerpt in the title (as in "an excerpt from TITLE HERE, a novel") and/or discussed the excerpt and the whole novel for a bit in their statement, since it dealt with what they wanted to do in the program anyhow. I'm inclined to think a program would ask for a synopsis if they wanted one. What do y'all think?

Lindsay said...

Benjamin -- I knew my junior year that I wanted to apply to MFA programs. I took a fifth year for undergrad, so I spent about two years researching programs before I finally applied last fall. Here's my advice.

1) Definitely start looking now, but don't stress out too much about it. There's very little you can do yet except WRITE and anxiety about MFA programs will not help that, at all.

2) Look at programs and create a preliminary list of ones you might be interested in, but keep your options open and don't worry too much about your list of schools at this juncture.

3) Write. That should be your main focus. Don't let the anxiety about applications affect your writing.

4) Next summer, the summer before your senior year, focus on deciding on schools and getting your applications together.

5) Since you're young, keep an open mind about relocation. Yes, being far away from your family and friends is hard, but there are some GREAT programs that I wish I'd looked into more closely, but I wrote them off because they were "too far away." It doesn't hurt to at least consider them.

6) Lastly, when you do finally apply, ONLY apply to programs you would ACTUALLY attend if you were accepted. I was so convinced I needed to follow the "12+ programs" advice that my original list included programs I would probably have hated, just because they were fully-funded and offered CNF. It's a waste of money to apply if you know you would never attend. Balance your list and you should be fine with a handful of programs.

I hope that helps!

Lindsay said...

PS - I just saw Old Poet's post and I have to say, yes, yes, and yes to what he said. Especially the GRE (just TAKE it. Your score doesn't matter so much as the fact that you've taken it) and the recommendation relationships (sooo important).

Plan B (& C) is also a good idea -- taking time off before the MFA can often help (not hurt) your writing. I know a lot of people who did the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America in between.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

I've added new videos addressing important issues in the MFA application process here.

If you have questions I'm not answering/haven't answered, please leave them in the comments section of The Suburban Ecstasies and -- assuming they're broad enough in their application/relevance and I haven't answered them yet -- I'll try to answer them.

Hope everyone's well,

P.S. As ever, MFA rankings and data are in the right-hand sidebar at the link (scroll down at link for all the info).

Seth Abramson said...

Err... posted a comment, now it's gone?

In any case, there are new videos up on my website regarding the MFA application process.


wllandis said...

I, too, have finally decided to stop lurking about and post. :)

I'll be a senior at St. Mary's College of Maryland and I'm looking to apply to various schools in Nonfiction. Right now my list looks something like this:

George Mason
Columbia (total pipe dream, especially considering funding)
Penn State

Any input would be greatly, greatly appreciated. Lindsay, your list in response to K was very helpful and has pointed me in the direction of some schools I hadn't really considered.

Also, I thought I would point out that the reason I'm considering Chatham is because I'm looking for programs that have strengths in/opportunities to try travel writing. I'm a double-major in English and Chinese and will be writing my undergrad senior project about the time I spent in rural China last summer (my advisor and I are calling it an "experiential ethnography"). So, if anyone has any insight into programs where I could continue to do some travel/cultural writing, that would be AWESOME.

Best of luck to everyone!

Jamie said...


I have nothing to offer re novel excerpt vs. not except my own application experience and opinions I formed there...

That said, my opinion is that submitting a novel excerpt, especially one with a synopsis, is generally a bad idea.

When it comes to the writing sample, I think the proof of the pudding has to be in the eating, and that any hanging plot threads or a synopsis would simply be dead weight. Is the imagined committee reader, picking your MS up after going through maybe thirty MSs before it that day, really going to get something from these appendages? Is he or she going to say, "well, now that I know so-and-so is going to come out to his preacher father later on [or whatever extra info a synopsis would provide] I can really see that this is excellent"?

My contention: it's either on the page or it's not, and you're going to get little or no credit for what's not on the page (ie, in the actual writing), and might even be disadvantaged by asking your reader to rely on info/storyline/etc that's not on the page.

Use your excerpt, but only if it really stands alone. The New Yorker has published work by JM Coetzee, Denis Johnson, and Jennifer Egan that's all been standalone sections from novels - maybe you could check those out as one example.

As for the page requirements and multiple story things, it's fair to say good work almost always trumps them. It's also general true IMO that making a piece more concise and tighter almost always improves it. It might go double for the MFA reading process, where you're dealing with readers who may have frazzled attention spans and be quicker to form hot-or-not type judgments.

wllandis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wllandis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

wllandis -- you can email me about George Mason if you want to. my email is on my profile.

Lindsay said...

@wllandis -- I'm glad my comment helped. One more thing I'd like to share with you about one of the programs on your list, but I'd actually rather not say it on the board. If you'd like, e-mail me at the e-mail on my profile -- just something that was pointed out to me that I feel the need to pass on to people with that school on their list.

Oh, and I would say University of Nevada-Las Vegas for international/travel focus, but they don't offer nonfiction as a genre. I didn't look super far into it because my fiction sample wasn't nearly strong enough, but it might be worth looking at, if they offer nonfiction workshops and/or if you have a strong background in fiction writing.

kaybay said...

Thanks for your help Jamie and Adam. I think I'm going to have some people read it and ask them specifically what they think about how it stands alone (at least the first 12 pages or so). I kind of think it can. I've read several stories that end open-ended and could be developed into novels, but still wrapped up pretty neatly. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" comes to mind.

Jamie - you said that your opinions are based on your own personal experience. Does that mean you sent a novel excerpt one year and didn't get an acceptance anywhere? Just curious :)

Thanks again.

Jamie said...

Hey Kaybay -

I do have a friend who's a really, really good writer who I felt got screwed applying to MFAs a few years ago, and he submitted a novel excerpt. I probably did draw some conclusions from that - his particular sample may have masked some aspects of his considerable talent, while a differently structured sample might have gotten him over the line at some of the programs that nixed him. That's a thought I've had.

But the personal experience I refer to is just my conclusions from having done last year's cycle. Have you read Steve Almond's article (Confessions of an MFA Application Reader)? It's not free online any more, but it's worth the $5 IMO.

Anyway, I probably came down a little hard on novel excerpts. Everything depends on what's in the work and what it is, so talking about it in the abstract is mostly meaningless...

I'm sure some of us obsessives from last year will keep lurking around here, and we'll be excited to see where you end up going, come March or April. Until then, kick some a$$ out there! :)

kaybay said...

Thanks :D hopefully I get in *somewhere* this year, novel excerpt or no excerpt! It is really a gamble, though, especially because it could be all I send, if I do end up sending it. It freaked me out last year sending only one story to FSU, and that's basically what sending a writing excerpt is like. Something to think about... it has to get good reviews from my writing sample helperees, or at least stand alone in the first 12 pages. I'd love to be able to send, say, 30 pages of it, but that won't do for a lot of programs... we'll see.

Loz said...

I asked this before but no one answered so maybe I'll rephrase:

How could one get out of taking the GRE if a CW program requires it?

1. I've taken it twice before, both times in 2004. the last test was 12/04 so it JUST missed the 5 year cut-off limit.

2. I finished a MA in English in 2008.

Six out of the nine schools i'm applying to that require it, but I'd rather spend the $160 GRE fee to pay for my application fees (I'm pretty low on funds as it is). That, and I despise the GRE and any standardized test.

All of my selected schools have the transcripts from both undergrad and grad schools, so I am thinking of talking with the admissions counselors and trying to negotiate. Taking the overpriced and rather unnecessary GRE for the third time to get into my CW MFA programs would be such a pain in the ass.

The school's websites FAQs all state the the GRE is a way to show that the student can be capable of graduate studies. Wouldn't my MA in English already prove that? Every writing professor and all my workshop teachers have testified that the GRE is not important in the decision process for this degree. I don't know what to do.

BTW, my list:

U of Miami
U of Oregon
Portland State
Virginia Tech
U of S. Carolina
U of Colorado-Boulder

Missouri, USC, and UC-Irvine are also possibilities.

My short stories have been workshopped and will be polished soon, I have some pretty good recommenders from alumni of said schools, and I've even written half of my app essays ready to be workshopped.

This GRE thing is killing me.

Someone who might know, please help. Sorry for the long post!

kaybay said...

Loz - trust me, this is not a defense of that stupid test, but I'm going to recommend that you retake it. I can't imagine that every program you talk to will exempt you from taking it; if you're lucky you might get one or two exemptions. It's totally not worth leaving out some of those great programs you're applying to (you have a great list, by the way).

In regards to the money issue, it will probably end up being an extra $50 bucks or so to take the test again, since ETS includes 5 or 6 score reports with the $160 price tag. Since you'd end up sending those scores anyway, which would cost you $20 a report, it's not really extra.

PS - you guys can probably tell when I'm procrastinating, because I comment a lot in a short time frame, haha. I really don't want to revise one of my stories! Bah on procrastination!

lalaland626 said...

On the GRE, I think it's one of those things that sucks and is way too expensive, but it has to be done. I was considering not taking it, either, but that really cuts my list down a lot. Luckily, I'm able to get some help from my family in paying for it (my poor mom-she helped her daughter get a bachelor's, then daughter goes into a crappy-paying field).

I got the Kaplan GRE book, but the disc doesn't seem to work too well on some Windows computers. Luckily the online companion does, but still, buyer beware. I Googled the problem my CD was having and got a lot of people with the same issue.

I'm focusing a lot more on verbal after taking the diagnostic test. I think strong verbal scores matter a lot more than math, which to me feels basically useless. But really, the writing sample is the thing, as lots of others have said.

If you're looking to save money, Vanderbilt is waiving the application fee to all who apply online this year. I am definitely doing that, even though it means a ridiculously hard school will be even tougher to get into. I'm still figuring out the rest of my list, which will probably come in around eight to 10 places.

DigAPony said...

@ Loz

I really can't see any schools allowing you not to take the GRE. If you decide you just really don't want to take it, then you'll have to change up your list of schools. I applied to 14 last year, none of which require the GRE, so it can definitely be done, though of course it narrows your choices and most people will tell you not to do that. I just decided it wasn't personally worth it to me, and I didn't have my heart set on any schools that required it anyway.

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