Monday, July 26, 2010

Mailbag (Jul. 26)

Throw out your new questions and comments, in the heat of this brutal summer...

283 comments:

1 – 200 of 283   Newer›   Newest»
willunderground said...

Hi everyone,

So I'm considering applying for an MFA and have some questions as I look for the right program. I was hoping you all could help!

My situation: I am in the middle of a book. It's narrative non-fiction, I've been working on it for about a year and I'm looking for a place to finish it.

What I love about an MFA: having time/space to work undeterred. Working closely with an advisor who is committed to me and my project. Publishing connections, of course, are another attraction.

What I don't love: I did a lot of workshops in college and found most of them frustrating. I'm scared of losing focus, become diverted from my project by smaller projects and assignments for classes. I'm a little apprehensive, because I feel like most non-fiction programs are memoir-heavy, whereas I lean towards journalism. I'm also - like most people - turned off by the price, so I would need funding.

What I think I want: a funded non-fiction program which is not heavy on class-time, which provides plenty of one-on-one access with an advisor. I don't care so much about location. I live in Brooklyn, but could easily land for a few years in Wyoming or Washington or Mississippi or something.

So if a not-too-memoirish, hands-off, cheap non-fiction MFA program pops into your collective mind, let me know!

Thank you, MFA blog.

Will

kaybay said...
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Jennifer said...

Will--If you are less interested in class time and workshop and more interested in a one-on-one mentorship, it sounds like you should look into low residency programs. They may be just what you are looking for.

kaybay said...

subscribing :)

Jamie said...

@ Will

I made my peace (in fiction) with workshop anxiety by deciding to treat it as analogous to the publication process - as being subjected to forces (especially the supposed workshop bias towards "good" writing) resembling a market in miniature. Under the stress of multiple opinions from people who get your work and don't, you will have to choose when to fight for your work and when to change it. At least that's my little construct going into the endeavor this fall.

Unless you really want to get into alternative distribution modes, at some point you will have to "sell" your work (though the currency isn't always monetary). That involves dealing with gross (mis)readings and categorizations as you move through the marketplace, "shopping" your work around. So the workshop - good, bad, indifferent - might both help you decide what's really important and unique, worth fighting for, and might knock the precious off some elements of your book that need it.

MFA conventional wisdom also says that, of those you workshop with, you'll really connect with three or four and you all will stay lifelong readers of each others' work. That's a good outcome.

However, if you're not interested in the workshop process, maybe just take a publishing avenue instead? Do your homework and find a freelance editor who will help you develop the book in the direction you want to take it. My guess is you could find someone who'd give you the guidance to finish your work and start agent-shopping for about five grand. That's a money investment, but there's a time/opportunity cost investment in an MFA (if you don't see the degree itself as an opportunity), so maybe it's worth it.

Pema D said...

@willunderground,
check out wyoming, i think you will find it a good fit
good luck!

Justin T said...

I have a question about the whole submitting process..

I was planning on sending all my stuff in as one big packet to each school around late December, but I was wondering if some things should be sent in early? Obviously GRE scores and transcripts, but does it otherwise matter?

And I also see a lot of schools have almost exclusive online applications. Should I go ahead and start filling those out even though I'm still working on my writing samples?

steph.trujillo said...

Hello hello!
After lots of thought, I've decided to apply for CNF programs next year.
I have a question about developing work to submit in the writing sample. I have been out of school for two years and have lost touch with some of my fellow writing students. I need to revamp my portfolio (the former was focused on professional editing) and need more eyes on my work. Are there any great (and free!) online writing circles that can provide critique and insight for this process?
Thanks!
Steph

Claire said...

@Willunderground

I agree with the earlier comment - low-residency might be a good fit for you, except that they're rarely fully-funded. But you would get a lot of one-on-one attention from your faculty advisor and would only be doing workshops during the residency itself. I think Erica Dreyfus maintains an extensive list of low-res programs and more information about them and how to get funding - I'm sure there's a link on this site somewhere.

megan said...

@ Justin T

You can start filling out the on-line applications even though your manuscript isn't done yet. Just don't accidentally hit "submit" until you're ready to submit.

Most schools prefer on-line recs, too, so it's not a bad idea to get started filling out the on-line recs sometime between now and the early fall, so that you can send the appropriate links to your recommendors in plenty of time for them to pay attention to them.

Jonathan said...

@willunderground

Please everyone correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not sure there are low-res programs that offer full funding. Hell, I'm not even sure there are low-res programs that offer ANY funding, minus the normal financial aid associated with the university (though this is more of a guess). Thus if what you love about the MFA is the time is provides, you almost have to steer towards full-res, fully funded programs. The free time, after all, comes from the funding, not the nature of the MFA program itself.

However, if what you want above all else is to work closely with a seasoned writer apart from workshops, then low-res is definitely your bet.

Jonathan said...

Hey all,

Sorry to post twice in a row like this, but I had a separate question. And to introduce myself (albeit, in a way that fails to distinguish me from half of you), I'm a fiction writer who's prepping to apply to programs this winter for the first time. And I love the blog.

To the question: This is almost purely for my own curiosity, but how closely to the application deadlines are/were you all finishing your writing samples? I ask because I've found that time changes my perceptions of my own writing more than anything else. I can write a piece, feel one way about it, and return in a few months with a completely different perspective. Yet to give myself the luxury of this with my writing sample, I need to plan well ahead (not my strong suit). Are you guys mainly writing new pieces or revising older ones?

lalaland626 said...

@Jonathan: Since lately I've been in a writing rut (partly due to work stress) I'll probably just revise, although I hope to write some fresh stuff in the not-too-distant future. But I'm slow and insecure about revising on my own, which makes it take longer. I have one piece now I think could be great, but have only done minor revisions on.

I actually feel more compelled to write CNF now then I do fiction, when I'll almost definitely be applying in the latter. Of course, if I decide I want to change some things about reality or approach it from an entirely different angle, it becomes fiction, which is one reason I'll probably study that because I feel like it gives me personally more to work with.

As far as lists, does everyone have their final lists of places to apply? I know I need to narrow it down to six or eight (yes, maybe more, but applying is expensive), but I haven't officially officially done it yet. How do you guys go from putting a school in the "maybe" column to "definitely?"

Renee said...

@Jonathan: I'm planning on using two short stories, one of which I finished in May and another which is mostly done but needs a little more editing. I have very little free time to write new pieces, though, as I'm working on a farm until early November. If I had more time, I might write a few more pieces, but it's a relief to know that I'm (almost) done with the most important part of the application.

@ lalaland626, besides the usual factors in choosing a school (location, funding, length etc.), I'm personally looking for schools with a strong studio component, a fair amount of freedom in choosing classes, and an openness to experimental writing that sometimes borders on genre. A good TA-training/support program is a plus too.

After four years of an undergrad creative writing program, I'm ready for a little more freedom. Your interests will obviously be different (I hope! Or we'll all be applying to the same schools.)

I'm still working on my list. Does anyone know any good schools that might fit the above criteria?

phynnee said...
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megan said...

@ jonathan

I applied last year, and I ended up using material that was mostly a year or so old. I did use some stuff that I had written the summer before applications were due. For me, I really needed Sept-Jan to edit and revise. Obviously everyone's different, but I wouldn't want to be working on my manuscript right up until the last minute.

Kristyn said...

Is there a limit to undergraduate credits? Do I only have a certain amount of time to apply to a graduate program before I must take courses again?

kaybay said...

@Jonathon - last year, I wrote most of my stories in the summer and one in the Fall. I did some revising in the summer and revised what felt like a billion times before sending my samples away in early December. I'll be doing the same thing this year.

I'm totally like you, though. When I write my first draft, I'm totally in the groove, snapping my fingers, thinking I'm amazing. Then, I toss it aside for a few weeks, months, etc. and I think it's total crap (sometimes I think it's salvageable). If I feel like I can salvage it, I do. But, yeah, I need a long time before I think something's "finished."

I'd really recommend having a bunch of people look at your sample and provide feedback (if you can't find anyone who will do it for free, there are a lot of pay-for services out there). Have them rank their favs in order. You may or may not agree with them, but if five people think Story A is the best and starts off with a bang, someone at a program will probably think so as well. If you're like me, though, you need second and third eyes on a story to make it work.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I need to get cracking. Sometimes in all the excitement of researching programs and whatnot, I forget about the whole point of it all and neglect to keep writing.

lalaland626 said...

@Kaybay: I'm sort of the opposite when I write. Well, a little. I have to let go a little when I do a first draft, or nothing would ever get done, but a lot of times I'll get to the end and go, "Well, thank God that's over, because it sucked." Then later I'll go back and say, "Hey, this has potential, maybe."

Wasn't someone on here going to school in San Francisco? Which school, and how's there financial aid? I just got back from a West Coast visit, and really liked that city, although as expensive as it is, it seems like even a pretty generous TA package could be tough to make it on.

Schools on my (nowhere near final) list thus far: Vanderbilt, LSU, Texas State, Purdue, Oregon, Southern Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon State. Maybe Iowa if I get to feeling especially brave (although little about the MFA app process is for cowards, I guess). I'm not sure about the colder-weather places, but I'm leaving them on for now.

Caleb said...
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Caleb said...

Hello, all!

I'm beginning preparations for my second year of fiction application. I have ten schools tentatively selected, and I'm looking to change a few out/add a few more.

Here's my dilemma: while I want to apply in fiction, I do not want to find myself in a program that restricts me to only fiction. I can't seem to find real information on whether any particular schools are friendly/unfriendly to cross-genre pollination. Does anyone know where I might find this information? Perhaps someone can give me some insight on a particular program that is encouraging of multi-genre experimentation. Thanks.

Caleb

Ben Quick said...

Will,

The NF program at the U of A here in Tucson sounds like it might be right up your alley. Not a huge class time commitment, small and really flexible workshops, and a faculty full of good people who are happy to work one-on-one and spend lots of time with any student who is as committed to a project as it sounds like you are. The only issue: Funding. Big surprise, right? I graduated in 08 and have been lucky enough to stick around and teach as an adjunct, and I'm still pretty active in the CW community--we're a tight-knit group--and I've watched the pool of money get smaller and smaller every year. The first to go were the big fellowships, then the TA positions, and now it's the out-of-state tuition waivers. Who knows what's next? I'm assuming most programs are in the same boat, although I hear the schools in TX are still awash in oil money. But check it out. I know the faculty are doing everything they can to find pools of money here and there. And like i said, workshops are small--12 at most--and at least in my experience, open to journalistic work and completely free of bs assignments and the like.

Peace,
Ben

Jennifer said...

Caleb-- GMU is supportive of cross-genre work. You are even required to take an out-of-genre class.

DigAPony said...

Caleb-

At Oregon State, you apply in either prose or poetry (not fiction, CNF, poetry), so if you are prose you can write fiction, NF, or both for workshop and your thesis.

Lindsay said...
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Lindsay said...

Caleb --

On most of the programs' websites you can look at the classes they require. The ones that require (or even just recommend) that you take a class outside of your primary genre are probably your best bets, though I'm sure some of the ones that DON'T state this explicitly would be open to it as well.

I know from my research last year that Minnesota and Ohio State both either require or suggest a class outside your genre, and they both seemed very open to cross-genre work. I know there are a LOT more, but those are the only two I immediately remember.

If it's a deal breaker for you, then I'd e-mail the programs directly to make sure they would allow/encourage this. Usually there is a department secretary or assistant who can field those kinds of questions.

x said...

@lalaland626

I'm in the elimination process now too =X If a school's website provides information about current students and video interviews with them, I'll be more likely to keep the school on my list. I'm not really into program blogs that are just lengthy lists of alumni achievements though. And if there's an active graduate student society, that's a plus, it kinda shows that the program has a sense of community.

Oh and I like schools in moderately-sized and big towns, but that's just me.

Is anyone applying to UCSD? Curious to know more about the program and what aspects of it potential applicants here are interested in. (I'm applying in poetry.) Also craning my neck to see if there's anyone here applying from outside the US...

(Subscribing!)

x said...

Also wondering if um, there's an MFA Blog Facebook group.

*scoots off*

Jonathan said...

@x

I'll likely apply to UCSD, though I haven't finalized that decision. I'm attracted most strongly to its good funding coupled with a relatively high acceptance rate. Plus there's the SoCal location.

Do you or anyone else know how experimental/traditional their aesthetic is?

trout said...
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trout said...

Will and Caleb--

It seems like the program in Wyoming might work well for both of you.

Will- I landed in the program here (from L.A.) and it's been pretty great in all the ways you're talking about. I started in fiction, and then switched to CNF, mostly compelled by my experiences with a fantastic NF workshop and an amazing NF professor (also the head of the program) whom I work very closely with on everything I write. The advisor/comittment thing is all there throughout the NF program (in the other genres, too).
I don't think there are going to be a lot of full-time programs where there isn't a lot of class time-- I mean, it is school after all-- but you can definitely do a lot of independent studies and such. And the workshops don't tend to have many 'smaller project/assignments' going on. Mostly everyone just brings in what they're working on-- be it a book/bigger project/what not. And this year, everyone in my class was fully funded, which I think will continue. There's even summer funding so that you are free to write during the summer in between the first and second year. Oh, and some people do memoir, some don't. The NF preoccupations of the students are all over the map.


Caleb-- the program here can be as interdisciplinary as you want it to be. I started in fiction, then switched to non-fiction, but my last piece (for a non-fic workshop) was basically a powerpoint poem. You can pretty much do what you want, particularly if you are doing it well. Another student is in poetry, but is doing two theses, one in poetry, one in non fiction. Another student came in poetry, and is now writing a novel for his thesis. Plus, you're required to take an out of genre workshop. So, maybe check it out?

Ok. Byebye.

jaha said...

i'll get straight to the point--how do i get this thing paid for!?! heavily considering CalArts and Otis (like the idea of art school,will dabble in the visual, merging with the written). in-school fellowships will cover half. stumped about the other. i'm a poet, black, female, mother, high school english teacher. undergrad grades (over ten years ago) suck. so does my gre (should i retake--im on a SERIOUS budget). but i'm mad talented (i'm sure that's what everyone says). anyhow, where do i begin..........

Kerry Headley said...

@Caleb

The University of NC Wilmington requires students to do work in at least one other genre -- poetry, fiction, NF and screenwriting (though I don't know if screenwriting is offered as often.) That's one of the reasons why I applied there. Check out the program websites. That's where most of us find the most current information.

x said...

@Jonathan

I'm very curious about how experimental or traditional their aesthetic is too (because of the presence of their Archive for New Poetry => a big draw for me).

John Gilmore said...

Will,

I've had the same difficulty with finding an MFA for nonfiction. I've talked to enough students at the Iowa NWP to know it's heavily memoir focused. I leaned toward the university of north carolina at wilmington over everybody else, but they have a ton of classes. I've also been interested in the Goucher college low res nonfiction mfa, which will cost a pretty penny. I looked at u of arizona, but like Ben mentioned above, they are out of money. I talked to faculty at the Berkeley graduate program in journalism (michael pollan is there). They basically told me I might find myself having to do too much basic journalism coursework, even if I was in the long-form magazine writing track.

My final decision is essentially to not do an MFA or to do one in fiction.

Hows that.

Kerry said...

This is kind of related to MFAs--but for a bit of background information, I applied to 8 schools last year and was rejected across the board. I was feeling pretty crappy about it for a little while but I have since recovered and decided to move cross country and have an adventure. I do, however, want to reapply sometime, and I am trying to stay on top of my writing until I do. I don't know when that will be, either.

So my questions are: when you've been out of undergrad for a little while, where do you find new recommenders? Also, does anyone know of any good writers groups in the Oakland area?

Kerry said...
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Kerry said...
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Kerry said...
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Kerry said...

oh my gosh, sorry for all those posts! don't know what happened... my apologies.

Danielle Wheeler said...

Jaha--
What I'd really worry about right now is getting a sample together and checking out a large number of programs. I know you want an art school with a writing option, but many writing schools allow you to take classes outside of the program...like Iowa, where I am headed, where we have to take a workshop every semester but then the rest of the courses are up to us. I could totally do some art courses, and my degree is fully paid for plus includes a stipend. I wouldn't write off these programs yet, mostly because the funding situation at Otis and Cal-Arts and similar art programs is beyond abysmal. One you might want to check out is Eastern MIchigan's MA in creative writing; it looks like they really have an interdisciplinary program. Also, Brown....and I know there are others, I just can't think of them right now.

As for the GRE, it really depends on you. You have taken it, so that is a good thing. My scores are super terrible and it didn't prevent me from getting into 5 programs out of the 7 I applied to.
Good luck!

l.rosenfeld said...

Question on the actual application process...

I'm applying for a track in Poetry and most of the schools require around 10 poems. For my sample, I have 7 that I am confident in, and 3 that I'm iffy about. Does anyone know if the writing sample something that should be strictly adhered to? Or can I send in less than they ask for?

lalaland626 said...

OK, guys, I know the GRE doesn't really matter, but I just took my first practice test and am OK with how I did on verbal. More than OK, actually, since I got a 590 and my goal is somewhere in the 600s. So I can study the evil antonyms and analogies (OK, not that evil) a bit more and be fine. Also, brush up on my vocab. But 82nd percentile is fine by me.

But oh my lord the math section was a massacre. If I could write an essay comparing it to one of several historical massacres, I would feel better than doing the actual math. Granted, I was barely trying, especially on the xyz and stuff, but 380? Mother of pearl, what kind of idiot must I be? Will someone please reassure me that departments barely look at math, and if they see an awful number, they're more likely to be sympathetic than point and laugh?

Writing sample, writing sample, I know. The GRE is just something to be conquered, just one step in the process. That in mind, I guess I'm gonna go ahead and schedule it for sometime in September, since I don't feel comfortable taking it much later than that.

何守韋陳彥祥 said...

這麼優的部落格,不踩一下不開心..................................................................

koru said...

@lrosenfeld,

i'd only send in poems that i felt were my strongest.

a couple of the schools i applied to last year wanted longer portfolios ... up to 25 poems at one place i think. i didn't include nearly that many. i sent in the ones i felt showcased my abilities and interests.

but, you also have several months before the writing sample is due, so why not use this time to find a way to edit and/or workshop some others.

good luck everyone applying this year!

FireSnake said...

Is it considered bad form to submit a story in my MFA application that has been published?

Adam said...

@lrosenfeld

I agree with koru. While sending 7 poems to a program that wants 25 might be a stretch, sending 8 to a program that wants 10 isn't. Send your strongest work and see what happens--that's all any of us can do!

I also agree with koru about the timeline. I had a (very timely) residency between Thanksgiving and Christmas that allowed me to do a lot of writing and re-writing, and my portfolio was much stronger for it. That was pretty late in the game, though--get started writing and revising, and you should feel like you have more options come deadline time.

Adam said...

@Firesnake

I would think not! While I wouldn't limit yourself to things you've published, as most programs aren't nearly as concerned with your pub record as the quality of your work, I wouldn't advise doing the inverse either. Send your best, published or not. All the rest is window dressing, in my opinion.

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

lalaland626 - I wouldn't worry too much about the math. Honestly, they don't even care that much about the verbal, as long as your writing sample is what they are looking for. I think it's been said before, but it bears repeating: most MFA programs only require the GRE because their institutions make them, but if they want somebody because of their sample, a sub-par GRE score probably isn't going to change their minds. AND most of the programs that do require the GRE say something about "___ on the verbal portion of the GRE" and don't even MENTION the math. The verbal score tells them next to nothing about your writing ability, but the math score is even less relevant. Don't worry.

@l.rosenfeld -- What's the department's exact wording? Do they say "Up to" or "Minimum of"? If they say up to 10 poems, I think you're fine with 7 or 8 of your strongest; if they say minimum of 10, I'd try and revise the others to the point where you are comfortable with them, or maybe see about producing more work that you might be happier with. Generally, though, sending less than the maximum number of pages/poems isn't necessarily a bad thing. One of the programs that accepted me said 20-40 pages of prose and I only sent 23. As long as you are showcasing your best work, and as long as they aren't requiring a minimum, I think you're fine.

mariposa said...

Hello everyone,

I came across this on a website:

"a student accepted into the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences must complete a 24-hour, two-year program in residence at the University of Virginia."

I have a pretty stupid question, but I honestly do not know the answer: do "traditional residensy" programs mean the students have to live in campus? Or can students still live outside of campus, as long as he/she is a full-time student?

I would very much appreciate if anyone can answer my question, Thank you.

Vanessa

Jonathan said...

@mariposa

Practically speaking, "in residence" means that all your class work will be done on campus. So if you want be in residence at UVA, you couldn't live in San Francisco. Beyond that, I highly doubt that most programs really care if you physically live on or off campus. I have heard of one masters program that requires first year grad students to live in campus housing, but it's my understanding that that's unusual. If you still wonder, I'm sure the programs themselves could clear things up.

koru said...

@mariposa,

UVA doesn't have a "campus" it has Grounds, so you won't have to live on "campus". ;-)

more practically, it means just living close enough to be able to attend classes and teach when required. for some people, that means walking-distance; for others, that mean further afield and driving to school.

mariposa said...

@Jonathan and Koru
Thank you very much for your answers:)

I have another question, for anyone who might know the answer:
So we all know that the writing sample is what counts, right? And that the GRE is basically required by the graduate school. So my question is, when I send in my applications, do they go directly to the creative writing program?

What I imagine the process to be is this:
1. my application things are reviewed by creative writing program
2. the Creative writing program decides whether they accept me, not putting any weight on my GRE scores
3. the creative writing program tells the graduate school they are accepting me
4. the graduate school reviews my info, and agrees to let me into the program if my GRE score is "in the neighborhood of the scores of other graduate students at that university" (quote from mfa handbook)

so what I wonder is:
a. is there a step before step 1, where my application things are first reviewed by the school, and the school eliminates all the candidates they find have low GPAs and GREs?

b. what does "in the neighborhood of the scores of other graduate students at that university" mean? is it a strict requirement, like I absolutely need to be above the average score of the school's student's GREs? And do they review my scores as a total (verbal + quantitative) or do they have to make sure I meet the average on "both" subjects?

sorry for the really long question, but I had to make sure I was making myself understood :)

thanks everyone, and the handbook really helped, A LOT!

mariposa said...

continued from above, I just learned my GRE scores last night. It was the first time I took it and I scored 520 on verbal and 750 on math. I got a 4.0 in the writing. so is that good enough for the graduate school? or should I take it again to be on the safe side?
thanks again!

孟湖聿軒 said...

拒絕冒險和成長的人,終將被生命的潮流陶汰。..................................................

jaha said...

Danielle,

Give thanks for the encouragement and information. I will definitely follow your lead. And congrats on your acceptances.

Lindsay said...

@mariposa: if the program likes your writing sample enough, your GRE scores won't keep you out of the program. The only thing that it MIGHT affect is funding. For example, if not everyone is fully funded through TA positions, there might be competition for them, and GRE scores might be considered in that selection process. Or, if students are put forth for fellowships that either replace TA positions or supplement that income, there might be a minimum GRE score requirement that you may not meet.

If you are confident that you could do better if you were to take the test again, and if the funding situations at your top school(s) could be contingent on a higher GRE score, I would maybe consider retaking it.

That said, according to slightly old data (from 2006), you ranked in the 62nd-ish percentile for verbal, which means you did better on that portion of the test than 62% of the people who took it. So that's actually not bad.

Still, IF your funding depends at all on GRE scores, I would try for a 600 on verbal; if it doesn't, then I'd just leave it as-is. I know people with a LOT lower scores on the verbal portion who still got into top MFA programs.

koru said...

@mariposa,

i'd agree with what Lindsay said. also, don't be shy about contacting directors of programs and asking if they or the school have a minimum GRE score that needs to be met.

if they do, and you can't achieve it, then you know to not waste your time applying to that particular school and to choose another more likely to look at your file.

as for who gets your stuff, it really varies from school to school. some make you send most stuff/all stuff to the CW folks, some have it sent to the central grad school office. sometimes you send one copy to each place. it depends on the school and how they have it set up. and there are a surprising number of variations on the simple themes of "where do i send my stuff and how?" so make sure you pay attention to that for each school!

poetrypuzzler said...

Hi everyone,

My question is: how important is it when choosing an mfa poetry program that I like the work of the faculty of that program? I know that the best writers are not necessarily the best teachers, and vice versa, but it seems that if i am going to spend two or three years learning from people, i should be confident in their abilities.

Jamie said...

@poetrypuzzler

My experience in fiction is that the faculty work became a more important factor as the process played out. I would use Seth/Tom's advice in The CW Handbook and do a preliminary screen - come up with 30 or so schools that are potentials. Use criteria like funding, location, etc. Stuff that's just must-have (who cares if you love the faculty's work if you have to take out a subprime loan or sell a kidney to experience that faculty, for example?).

Then, when you're getting down to the schools where you'll actually apply - 10-15 if you're by the CW book - you can take faculty style more into account, in a general sense.

Finally, it comes down to where you get in. An offer of admission generally means the faculty likes your work (and think they can productively teach you). That's as important as you liking their work. So, if you get into multiple places and things like funding are basically equal in your offers, faculty work may become what determines your choice.

When you get to this point, definitely think "faculty" as a whole - it's all about the aesthetic mix and unique program flavor resulting from that mix. Any one star faculty member could announce a job change, a year off, or a departure from teaching, so don't plan on working with any one teacher, even if their work is awesome.

mariposa said...

@ Lindsay and Koru

Thank guys, for answering my question in such detail. I really love this blog! so many nice people!! I feel happy just knowing there are so many people who like to write!

I study in Taipei, Taiwan, by the way, but I will be heading to Madrid for half a year pretty soon. I learned from the handbook that I really should participate in some writer's group/ workshop, and I really want to, but I can't find anything like that where I live(I searched on the internet, nothing. and I'm pretty sure I've never seen anything like that in coffee shops or bookstores around here). Would anyone happen to know where I can look?? I will also be looking for one in Madrid, but I don't know if I'll have more luck there?

王辛江淑萍康 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

starrlit71 said...

Subscribing. I don't suppose anyone would be kind enough to share their writing sample, specifically for CNF programs? I'm a little (okay, a lot) overwhelmed with the app. process, and it would be helpful to look at a sample. Eh?

Good luck with apps, all!

Jonathan said...

@starrlit71, others

I'd be happy to share writing samples with anyone who's interested, but I'm working in fiction, so I don't think I'd be much help to you.

starrlit71 said...

@Jonathan,

I would love to see one of your writing samples! I think looking at a fellow applicant's work will help me get a feel for submissions, overall. My email is amybernhard3@gmail.com .

I should also ask, are you in an MFA program right now?

koru said...

@mariposa,

another thing to try would be to look for something online. that might increase the chances of you finding something in english. i was also overseas through a lot of the application process, and found that using an online writing program helped keep me writing. i had mixed feelings about the one i used, otherwise i'd share the info.

@poetrypuzzler,

i'd pay attention to who you like reading. but you can also let yourself apply to a few places for other reasons, such as brilliant location, it's just been your dream to go there, etc ...

my own sense is that the poets i liked reading was the most important factor, looking back on last year's process.

those that i liked reading,
a) tended to be at the programs that accepted me, so they apparently resonated with my sample or something, and
b) they interested me more when i came down to deciding.

i found that reading/listening to interviews and readings of people helped a lot ... youtube has a number of people doing readings, so you can get a sense of whether they are a monotone drone reader, or an energetic, engaging person. not quite a sense of them as teacher, but it's better than nothing. and interviews also tell you a lot. if they're always talking trash about the state of poetry today, or if they're talking about mentoring a new generation of poets, etc ...

and there's a fair bit of wisdom on people as teachers, and a wee bit of unfair criticism of individuals found here and at the speakeasy.

that said, also be open to pleasant surprises. there were faculty whose work i wasn't very familiar with at a few schools that accepted me that i've since come to know better & appreciate.

summer said...

I am a writer but not an illustrator, and I would like to find an illustrator/cartoonist who might want to work with me on a comic graphic novel. Is there any way the Center can help me? I am willing to pay a student, and work via email/computer. I live in the Greater Boston area, and I am a certified teacher.

My graphic novel is about my fabulous 2nd grade teaching career. Could you email me with suggestions? Do you have a student newspaper where I can place an ad to find an illustrator? Thanks.
2susan@pobox.com

Georgie said...

Hey all,

So I'm making my list, compiling all my schools...there are very many right now. About half I've applied to, half I did not even think of last time.

And I'm kvetching about my writing sample... I have one story that is strong, polished, probably my best work thus far. The problem is I sent it last year, and it got me in at one school, sans funding. Hence this second time around. I've revised the ending substantially, and I think it's a stronger story now. Do I re-send it? I have another story I'm still working on, that I would send to the programs who require more than 25 or 30 pages. Is re-sending the same sample (well, not exact same) a big no-no?

Second, does anyone know what is happening with the Abramson consulting services racket? I've been flirting with having some extra help this time around but the web-site seems like it's defunct... Do I have to go it alone?

Thanks kids.

Katie said...

Hi Bloggers!
How impossible is Warren Wilson to get into? I love their program philosophy, and I think I would be more at home in North Carolina than in Vermont. The 10-15% acceptance rate is off-putting, but then I understand it all depends on the quality of the other 85-90%.
Any one who has an opinion or advice would be greatly appreciated!

Ashley Brooke said...

Hi everybody from last year!

I know it is early, but I want to talk about Florida Atlantic University, where I will be starting my MFA program very soon.
Florida Atlantic is a mostly unknown program, but I still don't understand why. The funding is there for most or all students (including MA students, though I don't know how many) and is a bit better than it looks on Seth's list. The location is great, although a bit expensive. It is a 3 year program with lots of teaching experience. You can live on your stipend if you're willing to live with roommates, otherwise rent in the area is pretty expensive. You won't find a 1br for less than 700-800 and there are only so many options in that price range. My place is nice but would cost around $450 back home in Cleveland!
I won't be taking a workshop my first semester, so unfortunately I cannot comment on the workshops here until the spring. I've been led to believe that there is actually no limit to the amount of workshops that you take outside your genre, but obviously you need to take enough within your genre to have material for your thesis.
FAU offers an MA in Science Fiction & Fantasy, so many of the lit classes offered are in these genres for anyone with an interest in the genres (though I don't know how open the MFA program is to that kind of writing, it can't be worse than the average school). There are plenty of traditional lit classes as well. I'm taking "Time and Space in Literature" for the fall and it looks like a great class.
If anyone has questions about the school, program, or area, I'd be glad to help where I can. Classes start in two weeks so after that I should have more concrete answers.

Good luck to everyone applying this year... I know how rough it is. I cannot believe I made it out alive. HUGE SHOUT OUT TO KAYBAY, who better get into her top choice this year. You'll all love her.

Gena said...

Hey Georgie,

I've got a similar problem, in that I've turned a novella I sent (a part of) out last year into a sleek (and quite different) short story. But I'm taking the advice of someone on the PW Speakeasy: don't resend work to the same schools. There's a chance it will hit on the same application readers, and if they do remember it, they might assume they know what's going to happen and not finish it. If they do not remember it, they might go through it all with that deja vu that might be translated into "this work isn't new" or "I feel I've read this before, it must be cliche" etc etc.

I am breaking with tradition, however, and sending different stories to different schools, and this super-revised work to all the new additions to my list this year.

It's entirely up to you, and if you feel that this is the only work truly representative of what kind of writing you want to do in the program... maybe you should discredit my advice above.

Good luck!

-Gena

Ben Quick said...

Let me just say right quick that I hope I didn't turn anyone off to the U of AZ--particularly the NF program, which was pretty kick ass for me in many, many respects. And, if they like your work enough, they'll find a way to fund you. I'm sure this is the case with most traditional programs, programs that are almost all strapped for cash right now. Like I mentioned in an earlier post: The oil and gas producing states--TX, WY, AK for sure, but maybe others--seem to be the only places where humanities at the big states schools are in decent shape.

So that's that. More apps than ever: Less funding than ever. My advice to applicants: Send out your best work and see what happens. Have a specific and unique project in mind--even if it's just an idea among many floating in the ether--and detail that in your letter of intent--especially for NF programs. Admission committees want to see candidates who appear to have direction and motivation and the potential, with some mentoring, to actually publish in reputable rags, write sellable books, and win awards. Period.

So, number one: Send your best work. Don't exceed the maximum page requirement.

Number two: Write your letter so you appear to have a specific and unique project in the works. For example, the my chocolate lab is my best friend memoir is about played out. Committee eyes will roll. A pit bull is my best friend except for the time it bit the neighbor's kid in the jaw memoir that also explores the history of the breed: Now that might be a different story--literally and figuratively. Committee eyes might not roll.

Number three: If your sample shows shows an ability with language and a willingness to go to the dark places, to be brave and vulnerable, and your letter gives the perception of commitment to a specific, unique, and timely project, you're in good shape.

Number four: Try not to worry too much. Even with the MFA in hand, you're still going to have a hell of a time finding a decent job that gives you the time to write while paying the bills.

PS-Tucson is lovely in February. I'm just saying.

ashley said...

Subscribing :)

I've been reading the blog ever since it was suggested to me two years ago by a cw instructor and now that I'm preparing for applications, it seems there's no better time to join in on the conversation.

My tentative list of schools:

Iowa
Texas-Austin
U of Michigan
ASU
Cornell
Syracuse
Washington U-St. Louis
Brown
Alabama

I'm sure I'll add a few more that aren't as highly ranked but since this is my first shot at applications I'm thinking, what the heck? Why not go for it?

Good luck to everyone!

基韬 said...

在莫非定律中有項笨蛋定律:「一個組織中的笨蛋,恆大於等於三分之二。」. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Minnow said...

Hi everyone,

I'm hoping to apply to Virginia for poetry this year. However, I heard that last year they were really late with notifying admittees and that it caused a lot of problems with choosing between programs in time. I recently found this blurb on the UVA site and was wondering what you guys thought. It seems to me that they will be continuing their rather inconvenient notification schedule:

"Decisions on admission into the Creative Writing Program will be announced by April 1. Students are expected to respond by April 15. If a student does not respond by this date, we will assume that the offer is being declined. There will be a waiting list. An admitted student who cannot enter in the fall semester will have to reapply for the following year. Deny letters will be sent the first week of April 2011.

According to the "Resolution Regarding Graduate Scholars, Fellows, Trainees and Assistants" published by the Council of Graduate Schools, no student accepted at any of its hundreds of member institutions is under obligation to respond to an offer of financial support prior to April 15. For more information, the full text of this resolution appears on the web site of the Council of Graduate Schools."

It appears rather cold and forbidding to me, but I don't have much experience in this issue. Is April considered a late date to let students know whether they're accepted?

kaybay said...

Georgie and Gena -

I'm going to do the same thing (same one story from last year, revised again, and do a little bit of "tailoring"). I know the advice is against it, and maybe it will hurt my chances, but this year I have a lot more stories to choose from and they're a little all over the place, something that wasn't really the case last year. I have some traditional stories with a "weird" slant, some magical realism, one literary horror-ish story, and one pretty traditional story. I have no qualms about sending Iowa my more traditional stories, Notre Dame my non-linear, MR stories, and perhaps a combo to schools with no clear slant.

There are several arguments against do this. One, many programs don't have a clear slant and want diversity; they might actually like a sample with a different aesthetic and might be bored with yours (they might have even liked the non-tailored one). You might also have regrets when denied admission, feeling that you could have gotten in if you had sent another story. No way to know that, of course. Also, if you are presenting to a program stories with a certain aesthetic and are admitted on that aesthetic, you may run into problems when you have a "different" story workshopped; it could cause a rift between you and your professors, colleagues, etc...


I don't know, I think I'm willing to gamble. My feeling is that every story I write represents me in some way and I'm comfortable getting accepted to a program with any "aesthetic" it falls into. Maybe it's something to put in the personal statement? Something like "I also have interests in non-traditional work"? I don't know. I just can't say no to some of my stories and I would like to send them. I can't decide which one is best because they all have unique qualities. There really is no way to guess, though, what will be considered "best" by others. I think that's the main thing to remember.

Also, about using old stories. I think I'm going to re-use a story, but I will not include it for schools I'm reapplying to. I will use it, however, with some of the new schools. I especially don't want to send it to a school I was waitlisted at, because they're more likely to remember it. I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with sending a good story from last year, especially if that story was mixed in with not-so-good stories, and that was one reason for not making the cut. But, you better be very confident in that story to do that. If it didn't work last year with that school, who's to say it will work the next time? Programs are very fickle, but again, it might not be worth the gamble. Just a thought FWIW :D. Look my use of internet lingo!

Gena said...

Kaybay-- your net lingo is lovely. Or 1337 or something. Whatevs. :). Oh, and I agree with you on most all counts, especially the dangers of sending the same piece again. I think I have a fairly consistant aesthetic, though some stories are weirder than others, and so don't have the "to tradition or not to tradition" problem others do.

Ashley-- Welcome to our crazy gang! Are you fiction, poetry, non-fiction, or unacknowledged other?

And to everyone trading manuscripts, I kind of regret not last year... so whenever I do figure out generally what I'm sending and finish revising it, I'll join your merry escapades.

Gena said...

My spelling is apparently not "Consistent". Le sigh.

Sean said...

it's been a while since i posted..but!

what what are people's experience with the Univ. of Southern maine low res program? In particular their popular fiction track.

Thanks!

koru said...

Minnow,

UVA notifies before the deadline for letting any funded program know: 15 April.

As some of us experienced last year some schools wanted earlier decisions, though they're not actually allowed to do that. And that caused some anguish as we negotiated those situations.

The disadvantage to you by having a late notifier school is that you're on tenterhooks for so long. Some schools like Ohio State notify in January (I think it is the first full-res to notify usually?), and that means people who get in there don't have to wait three more months worrying if they've been admitted anywhere. Which is a great anxiety reliever.

But, UVA's a great program and a wait is just a wait, as long as you can keep sane and writing in that time while waiting to hear.

So just be warned that if you really want UVA as your top choice, you won't be able to make a decision on other acceptances til April. On the other hand, you're not required to make one before April. But picking some schools that notify early also helps with keeping sane, imho.

Minnow said...

Koru,

Thanks for the reply! I definitely hope to avoid any unnecessary stress while waiting, but I'm applying to plenty of programs, so I should have some notifications before April also. Hopefully none of them demand a decision before 4/15!

Minnow

B. Cleark said...

Does anyone know anything about the program @ Hollins in VA?

lalaland626 said...

Gonna keep it quick and dirty here: What MFA programs do y'all (pardon my Texan) know of that don't offer insurance to students, or offer such shoddy insurance it's not worth it? I went without insurance for six months after graduating, and it was nervewracking. It seems like more schools offer something than not, but that's just a guess.

Christopher McCarter said...

I have read about these magical, little programs in Book Arts that delve into both the study of Creative Writing and the Craft of Book Making (See Mills College and their MFA program in The Bay Area, CA).

Have any of you had any experience in these programs? What are they like? What sort of work did you already have in your portfolio in order to apply?

Thank you,
Christopher

Jennifer said...

Re: Some schools wanting decisions before April 15 and koru's comment that "they are not actually allowed to do that". . .

That isn't exactly true.

First, the April 15 deadline rule only applies to FUNDED offers, and so schools can (and sometimes do) demand an earlier decision if the offer of admission is unfunded.

Additionally, not every school has signed the April 15 resolution. Only schools that are signatories to that resolution are bound by it.

So yes, you could get offers where the school gives you a decision deadline before April 15.

Seth Abramson said...

Jennifer,

You're right, but in practice the way it works is this:

1. Programs that are signatories to the CGSR keep funded offers open until April 15 (the only program that is a CGSR signatory that is believed not to follow this policy is Old Dominion, which has thus far ignored requests to clarify their policy -- caveat emptor).

2. Programs that are signatories to the CGSR also keep unfunded offers open until April 15, 2010 -- or later -- because they have nothing to lose whatsoever by doing so, as an unfunded student isn't receiving any money from the program budget, and it's non-dedicated funding streams, i.e. money programs lose if it's not used by April 15, that are often at issue here (along with, of course, not getting the students the program wants, but this also militates in favor of keeping unfunded offers open, in the hope the applicant ends up with no other [i.e. funded] options). In fact, even if such a student accepted his/her offer so late that the program had already offered his/her spot to someone else, the program could technically take both students without losing anything except a smidge of student-to-faculty ratio (which is not to say I recommend waiting until after April 15 to accept an unfunded offer, as most programs will terminate their offer at that point, it's just to say that I have heard of instances in which someone receiving an unfunded offer asked for an extension past April 15 and the program kind of shrugged and said, "Okay, no skin off our backs").

3. Programs that are not signatories to the CGSR put deadlines on their funded offers to try to get you to commit to them before you've heard back from the other programs you've applied to. CGSR or no CGSR, many consider this unethical -- that's why these are called "poison pill" admissions offers. Students should seriously consider avoiding applying to any program that does not comply with the CGSR, as accepting the offer from a non-CGSR signatory basically forces you to waste a boatload of application fees by having to withdraw your application prematurely at most of your top choices. Trust me, this is a terrible position to be in both emotionally and logistically.

4. Programs that are not CGSR signatories will sometimes try to appear generous by regularly offering decision extensions on unfunded offers or else simply allowing such acceptees to respond by the traditional April 15 deadline -- again because it's no skin off their backs. Needless to say, most programs that are not CGSR signatories are largely or wholly unfunded -- in fact nearly all are. I'd say 50% of these programs will give you until April 15 to decide, because why not, while the other 50% (generally the higher-ranked non-CGSR signatories) will put a deadline even on unfunded offers, as it's all they have to offer anyway and they need to make sure you withdraw your applications to everywhere else.

Should applicants consider avoiding a program (UVA) that reports later than 90%+ of other programs and seems tone-deaf to how the MFA admissions process works in the U.S.? Yes, if one is also applying to programs that are not signatories to the CGSR -- otherwise, it matters little.

S.

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

@jonathan, others:

I'd be interested in trading writing samples too. I'm applying in fiction this year, here's my list:

University of Virginia
UC Irvine
Syracuse University
University of Texas
University of Iowa
University of Alabama
University of Houston
University of Arizona
Louisiana State University
San Marcos
Ole Miss
Stanford Stegner

If anyone would like to exchange a story or two, please e-mail me - graememullen at gmail.com.

Caleb said...

Thanks to everyone for helping answer my question, along with all the other questions. What a great community.

Are we already posting lists? Okay!

Applying to fiction programs:

IWW
Cornell
Brown
Wash U-STL
Louisiana State
Colorado State
U of Alabama
Ohio State
U of Nevada-LV
U of Minnesota
U of Wyoming

thanks to trout for the program suggestions.

Nikki Everett said...

Chiming in to say that I'm applying to a few nonfiction programs this fall, just to test the waters. Next year I'll pull out the dozen-plus blitz, but this year, I'm applying to:
1. U. Iowa
2. Arizona State University
3. U. Alabama
4. U. Minnesota
5. OSU

Good luck everyone!

Aaron Apps said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron Apps said...

@Christopher:

You have to consider that book arts programs are more oriented toward design. They make (visual) art books. Mills might have a great (unfunded) book arts program, but the writing aspect of the program is going to be decidedly second or third rate. I believe Julie Chen attended Mills and I’ve seen her question the quality/worth of the content in her books openly in many interviews. That is something to consider, I think (although I also think that artist books are rather wonderful objects in their own right).

There are ways to combine the two interests …if that is what you’re looking to do. Look for MFA programs that have visual arts programs with an emphasis in book arts. Given the structure of many studio programs, you’d likely be able to work some classes into your schedule.

Eastern Michigan’s MA program (Carla Harryman and Christine Hume !!!) seems to be actively interested in promoting interaction with the visual arts.

I was accepted to LSU last year and Laura Mullen also mentioned that they were working on developing this as an element in their program.

Colorado State also excels on this front as well (although I have to admit a previous affiliation with the program and thus a bias). They run a small letterpress (bonfire press) and have a program that promotes collaborative projects between visual arts and writing graduate students.

I’ll be attending Minnesota in the fall and the Minnesota Center of Book Arts is cultural hub for contemporary book arts. It is literally a brisk walk from the creative writing building (1.22 miles according to yahoo maps). They have classes, workshops, studio space/time and so on.

Montana and Boise State are also programs that I would look into on this front although I don’t know any specifics.

University of Baltimore seems to have a very direct interest in book arts. The funding looks far from promising.

There are likely many other options that I don’t know much about. Maybe others can fill you in.

Best,
Aaron

B. Cleark said...

Besides the programs listed under the sleeper programs does anyone know of any other small/under the radar programs?

ashley said...

Gena- Thanks for the welcome! I'm a fan of the craziness.

I'm fiction and very much looking forward to as well as dreading this whole process.

I would also be interested in swapping manuscripts with whoever is willing once I decide what I'm sending in.

Best to all!
ashley

Jonathan said...

If we're sharing lists, I'll chime in. This is for fiction:

Florida
LSU
Ohio St.
Virgina Tech
ASU
Oregon
Old Dominion
UC San Diego

And probably either Texas or Iowa as a pipe dream.

I know I've already talked to a couple of you, but I'll reiterate. If anyone is interested in swapping writing samples, I'd be happy to do so. Thanks!

Jonathan said...

Sorry, forgot to add the contact info.

If anyone wants to swap writing samples, e-mail me at jonathan.v.dunn@gmail.com.

Andrew P said...

Anyone want to swap poetry writing samples? Looking for a little feedback; which poems are the strongest, weakest, overall perceptions, etc.

Write me @ andrewdpayton@gmail.com

Ruin Christmas said...

NC Greensboro never sent me a rejection letter. The online application tracker said that they'd received my materials. When I called twice in April, the person who answered the phone said that the decisions were in the mail. So can I just assume I was accepted and show up?

Seriously, I think that it's shoddy to not bother to even notify applicants who shell out 50 bucks. Also consider the reports of blog posters who said that they were offered spots, then had them taken away. I would discourage others from applying to this program.

Mike Valente said...

Kaybay,

Are you saying that you're going to send a story that you used last year with a new story?

Whenever submitting to anything, I've always been told: Send your best writing. I know it's difficult to discern when it's from your own portfolio. Sometimes, the pieces that you've written more recently will be your best pieces because you've inevitably grown as a writer. So a more recent story will be more "polished". Have you asked a writing prof to examine 2 or 3 of your stories?

Mike

Robin said...

Hey,

Anybody have anything to say about SFSU? Trash talk or good things. Do they offer full funding? They don't have a very high ranking on any lists I've seen, but I'd love to live in the Bay Area, and am kind of into a few of their faculty.

Secondly, in looking for a job, is having an M.F.A. more handy than having a fellowship under your belt? I'm being optimistic in hoping that I'll get to chose between the two, but I'm definitely applying for both.

Thanks!

lalaland626 said...

@Robin, I've heard that SFSU and the Bay schools have very little funding. Which is a bummer, as I just got back from a visit to Northern California and loved it. However, I've pretty much decided if I apply to a California school, it's going to have to be Southern Cal, because the odds for funding in the Bay seem too low. Love to be wrong, but I haven't gotten any decent indicators otherwise.

karmeleon said...

Jonathan and I just traded fiction writing samples. Anyone else want to get in on this? Personally I'd love to get as much input from fellow MFA applicants as possible.

Feel free to shoot me an e-mail - graememullen at gmail.com - if you'd like to exchange work.

L said...

@KayBay @Mike Valente and others

Hi! New here in the forum. Second time applying

I have a question to add about writing samples. I too have heard, send your best work. Send your best work. My best work is what I sent last year: the two stories I sent last year, pretty significantly revised. Is it really a no-no, even if it IS your best work? It would only be an issue for 5 of my (likely) 16 programs because I didn't apply to the rest last year. I really want to send the same stuff . . .

Lucas said...

Hey all,

Posted on here a bit last season. Already living in Norfolk and starting school soon (at ODU). Glad to see people putting it on their list, and, so far, it seems awesome...at least the fellow students I've met seem really cool. I'd talk to people who wanted more info about the school/area.

I'm longwinded when I get on the soapbox, so bear with me:

First, for those applying, I'm going to repeat the advice of others in a slightly more empathetic manner: it is ALL about the writing sample. Maybe it is mostly about the sample, but, if you are focusing on other aspects of your app, stop and use all of your extra time on the sample. Get all the typos out (think that hurt me a bit, though I got lucky and landed where I wanted to). Read your work out loud, sentence by sentence, and don't leave in any clunkers, unnecessary phrases, etc. That sumbitch needs to sing. Tailoring your statements to specific schools is great if you have time, but I think people overestimate the importance of those...at least I know that mine blew and I still had a little luck. If I had it to do over I would have spent more time on the sample, not the statements.
I don't mean to come of as overly intense, but I always read laundry lists of stuff to do to maximize potential success...which seems dumb to me...just revise your sample and be brutal. Get your best grammarian friend to edit; have your most trusted peers read and give suggestions (and expect contradictions here...c'est la vie). The idea that people bank on being "equal" to other candidates but offer a better statement irritates me...this isn't an mfa on selling yourself, this is an mfa in creative writing. The proof is in the pudding.

Apply to a ton of places (this is really, really hard guys). As many as you can afford. And, if you want funding, don't apply to places with bad funding (duh). If you do, you are asking to make a hard decision. There are schools with basically free app processes...send your stuff there (why the hell not?).

I second the advice someone gave before: once you send in all applications, stay away from this site, the site with the dates of acceptances, etc. Take up a hobby. I would venture to guess that compulsively getting on here makes the process 75% worse than it already is (meaning you will be at 175% suckage). All my friends and family repeatedly chastised me for getting on here, and, worse, began checking it behind my back, sometimes finding out that I was apparently rejected before I even knew. Use this site to help with applications, then forget it exists. You will meet a few cool people, a lot of douchebags (sorry, it's true), and it will drive you insane. The site (driftless house?) that posts acceptances dates is even worse. Case in point: my email screwed up and I didn't receive my acceptance email when other folks did, and I checked that site and saw I was apparently out of the running, and I was crushed...couple of hours later, I'm in. Don't do that to yourself.

And, finally, I need to ask Mr. Abramson about something tangentially related to this blog. How could I contact you with a quick question, good sir?

Robin said...

Additional additional question about writing samples:

So if you are submitting your best writing, what if your best writing is a manuscript excerpt? My short stories are unfortunately not as strong as the book I spent the last 3 years sweating into, but I keep reading that it is not a good idea to submit part of a novel. Should I just suck it up and try to write better short stories?

Thanks for the SFSU info, btw.

starrlit71 said...

@Nikki_Everett:

All the same schools as me, also for nonfiction!

Also, general question. Do you guys edit your own work, or has anyone go so far as to hire a copy editor? I'm a little nervous because sometimes I have comma issues. A friend told me that submission committees sometimes toss entire pieces if commas are misplaced and it doesn't seem as though it's serving an aesthetic purpose...that's just gross.

starrlit71 said...

@Nikki_Everett:

All the same schools as me, also for nonfiction!

Also, general question. Do you guys edit your own work, or has anyone go so far as to hire a copy editor? I'm a little nervous because sometimes I have comma issues. A friend told me that submission committees sometimes toss entire pieces if commas are misplaced and it doesn't seem as though it's serving an aesthetic purpose...that's just gross.

starrlit71 said...

@Nikki_Everett:

All the same schools as me, also for nonfiction!

Also, general question. Do you guys edit your own work, or has anyone go so far as to hire a copy editor? I'm a little nervous because sometimes I have comma issues. A friend told me that submission committees sometimes toss entire pieces if commas are misplaced and it doesn't seem as though it's serving an aesthetic purpose...that's just gross.

Ben said...

So, here's a question I haven't seen discussed anywhere. Perhaps it's blasphemous.

Do programs allow one to defer for a year if accepted? Circumstances beyond my control that won't be determined until I've applied might result in me needing to wait a year to begin. I would obviously prefer to defer than reapply if I'm lucky enough to be accepted.

Any experience or insight here, whether in general or with specific programs, would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Seth Abramson said...

Lucas,

I'm not a moderator here anymore, but I'm happy to help if I can: sethabramson@yahoo.com.

As to lists of application response dates, one thing I'll say in their defense is that they're not actually intended to be used in the way people use them -- instead, they're supposed to be historical databases of response times made available to applicants so that applicants can have some sense, in advance, of when the programs they applied to are likely to respond. In the past, folks would get desperately nervous starting on January 15th and feel horrid right through April 15th, i.e. a quarter of the year in total -- the point of application response time databases is to let you view the chart on, say, December 1st and see that, okay, most of my programs respond in March, so I'm not going to get butterflies in my stomach everyday (and having applied to schools on four different occasions -- college, law school, MFA, and Ph.D. -- I can tell you there is no way to avoid getting butterflies sometime) until March. Folks do post their acceptances, yes, but hopefully that's with the aim of expanding the database and helping future applicants. It is not a resource one should be checking everyday, and in fact the prominently displayed warning on the Driftless House blog says and has always said the following:

It is not the aim of this table that applicants check it daily for a three-month period--while it is certainly possible that some programs will break from their years-long traditions and suddenly report acceptances or rejections weeks earlier than they have historically, the chances are small enough that, if this happens, applicants should see it merely as fortuitous (or, as the case may be, not fortuitous) rather than imagining this a justification for making reading the data below a three-month affair.

FWIW. Otherwise, Lucas, you're right on target. (And if folks can't limit their use of places like the DH blog to December and/or if/when they get accepted somewhere, then you're right to warn them off it altogether.)

Cheers,
Seth

Kerry Headley said...

I seriously doubt samples are tossed out based only on shoddy comma work. If your sample contains so many errors that it's obvious you didn't proofread it or hit spellcheck a couple times, well, that's more likely to really annoy readers -- with good reason.

If there is one thing I would do over in regard to my application process it would be to be less obsessive about things like that. Alas, those of us who are anal worryworts may always be that way. I'm nearly as compulsive now as I gear up to start classes in a few days. Best of luck to you all, and don't give yourselves strokes over those kinds of things! If your sample kicks ass, a few errors will be overlooked. Trust.

(Did I just show poor comma comprehension?)

megan said...

@ L:

In the case where your schools are so different from last year, I'd send your "best" even if your best is last year's stories, revised. From going through this whole process, I realize a lot of the "mistakes" I made last year had as much to do with the schools I chose to apply to as anything else - a revised school list could be as much of a game-changer as a new story.

megan said...

Re: the importance of the writing sample.

I agree that the writing sample is everything, but I do have a caveat. I ended up talking to a program director at a program that rejected me, and he told me that my manuscript was "on the line" for acceptance, but that my poor personal statement ended up being the thing that tipped me into the rejection pile (they felt it lacked focus, which it did).

Obviously, if my MS had been brilliant, my personal statment wouldn't have mattered. But I really did do my very best on my MS - I couldn't have made it better than it was - but I COULD have put much more effort into my personal statement (it was truly not good). Which in turn could have meant another acceptance.

So yes, put your all into your writing sample. But also find time to write a kick-ass personal statement. Just don't sacrifice the writing sample for the personal statement.

Haley said...

After months of indecision, here is my final list for fiction:

Iowa
Cornell
Brown
Virginia
NYU
Oregon
Minnesota
Arizona State
Montana

kaybay said...

@Mike -

I have one story from last year that I might use. I've received pretty positive reviews on it, it was *almost* accepted for publication at a pretty decent journal (heh, at least that's how they made it seemed), and many people, including an ALC staff member, told me to put it in my sample again for this year. I've also revised it, so I think it's improved. I'm not 100% sure if I'll use it or not, but it is an option for me and hey, if people are telling me it's good and if I like it, why not? I wouldn't send it to a school I applied to last year, though.

@anyone - I also want to second Megan's advice on the personal statement. Aside from the fact that my sample last year had one good story mixed in with two "eh" stories, my personal statements were almost all the same and definitely lacked focus. This year, I'm digging deep into each school's website and really tailoring each personal statement. Be sure to answer any questions they want answered, but also be sure to give specific reasons explaining why you are attracted the school and program. Muy mportante!

@Gena, Jonathon, and others - I really want to exchange samples, but I don't have a complete one to send, so remember me in the Fall when I feel it's done :)

lalaland626 said...

I love that so many people on here want to share work, and I'd love to as well, but like Kaybay, I won't be done with mine until later. September or October, I'm thinking (would prefer to use November to proof/obsess over other stuff and write personal statements).

I have a short short that's getting published in a small lit mag this month that a friend is encouraging me to put in there, and since it's so short, I probably will. I don't know if I should attach a note saying where it's been published, but I guess I have time.

As for schools that ask for a critical writing sample, I may have to take a couple I really wanted (like Purdue and Ohio State) off my list because I don't know where I'd get one of my old essays from school. That was three or four years ago, and I highly doubt any profs still have them. So it sucks, but I just don't know what options I have. Luckily, not too many schools seem to require that.

Jonathan said...

@Robin

I think the general consensus is that an excerpt from a longer works needs to be able to stand strongly on its own, apart from any sort of synopsis or explanation. If the reader needs a substantial (or maybe even just any) amount of knowledge of the larger work in order to make sense of or appreciate the excerpt, then you might be better off reworking some short stories.

I also think its beneficial to show the judges that you can both begin and end a work, i.e. that you're able to present something in its entirety. Unless the except is a pretty well contained mini-episode, this also wouldn't show through as well as in a short story.

But at the end of the day, your best writing is your best writing. I don't know if there's one final answer. Anyone else?

Julian said...

Hi All,

I'm relatively new to the site, though I've stalked it most of the summer. My current list of schools is:

UC Irvine
U of Florida
Nevada Las Vegas
UNCG
ASU
U of Arizona
Umass
UC San Diego
U of Oregon
Virginia Tech
U V Charlottesville
Brown
Miami U
Penn State
U of Michigan
IWW

Look like a who's who of the tops? I don't want any debt, and I'm young, so I'm in it for the long haul.

My top priorities are funding and location, although I tried to put a few programs in there that had decent (better than <1 - 2%) acceptance rates.

Thoughts? I am excited about the part where everyone talks about where they are accepted and who's gonna meet who where, and I hope I can be a part of that conversation come May.

Julian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
瑞彥強瑞彥強瑞彥強 said...

感謝您願意分享您的生活經驗~~支持您的更新哦!..................................................................

Gershen said...

With writing programs getting trashed, I thought I had to share my own positive experiences in my Huffington Post books blog: http://tiny.cc/3yo7i

I'm writing from the perspective of an author of 19 books, 100s of anthology stories, essays, columns and reviews. You can check me out at http://www.lebraphael.com

rch1601 said...

Anyone have advice on how to enroll in a graduate program as a provisional student as a bridge to earning an MFA? My undergraduate grades are too low and too far in the past to gain me entrance to traditional graduate school admission. I've heard that entering as a provisional student can help get your foot in the door, but I'm unsure of what the process is like. Help!

megan said...

@ lala,

you don't have to put a note in your writing sample about whether or not something has been published; lots of schools ask for publication history anyway, so the information will be in front of them already, and since you are not submitting the story to a public forum of any kind (eg, it's not up for a prize or another publication, it's only being read by a private group to determine admissions), you don't have to worry about giving credit to the original publisher -- UNLESS it's being published in a lit mag where the rights to not revert to you after publication, but that's probably not the case.

Mike Valente said...

L,

If you're sending the same sample to 11 different schools, then I'd say go for it. Regarding the 5 schools that you're reapplying to, I'd recommend sending completely new pieces or at least one new piece. Take what I say with a grain of salt, of course, but unless those older stories were pretty close to getting you in last year, like placing you on the waitlist, you'd improve your odds if you presented new material to the faculty.

Peaquah said...

Hi all -

I'm just popping in while procrastinating about packing boxes to move. A couple of questions about course loads etc. came up that I thought I'd try to tackle.

I'm headed to Michigan's fiction program in about two weeks (to start in September) and I wanted to say that what programs say on the website and their actual policies sometimes differ.

For instance, at Michigan we're required to take a workshop in our genre (fiction or poetry) each semester which totals 6 credits out of our 9 credit course load. For the other 3 credits we take (over the course of 2 years): one lit class, and three "cognates".

These cognates can be graduate history, art, philosophy etc. classes. We can also take craft workshops such as "non-fiction writing" (which I'm taking this fall). There's a bunch of options for cross-genre work, including "poetry for prose writers" and "prose for poets" as well as options to take play-writing etc.

I didn't want a program heavy on the lit requirements, and I don't feel like Michigan is that way *at all* - in fact, for my grad lit class I'm probably going to take a class on graphic novels. My guess would be that *a lot* of programs are more studio-oriented than they first appear.

Michigan seems to have boatloads of money, which means you can get funded internships, travel grants, and award money throughout the year. I just applied for (and received, almost no questions asked) an internships stipend for this fall and spring. I've also talked to current students who have traveled to Hong Kong, Germany, Damascus and England.

About submitting a published story - I submitted one story that had been published, and one that I hadn't ever sent out. I revised both of my stories the summer before applications.

When I went out there in March to check things out I specifically asked about experimental/fantastical/magical work and how it is received in workshop. The profs all said they're seeing a huge upswing in the number of "less than realistic" applications, and they love it. So even programs not traditionally known for "experimentalish" work often like to find it.

I hope this helps, really. I remember how stressed out I was all of last year and I hope this answers some questions. I'll try to check back this week for follow-ups - wishing everyone luck (especially kaybay)!

Peaquah said...
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Justin T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wEEman33 said...

I have a GRE question:

Is the "standard" GRE the one I want to take or do MFA programs require you to take the GRE in "English/Literature"?

Or is this just something that has varies on a school-by-school basis?

敬周喜 said...

幸福不是一切,人還有責任。............................................................

Tory said...

B. Cleark, Julian (& anyone else still composing their lists of schools to apply to), I recommend looking into my program at the Ohio State University. It's a very strong program with great faculty and notable alumni in addition to full funding for three years in a city and state that have a very affordable cost of living. I've blogged about the program at the MFA Chronicles, a blog written by a bunch of current MFA students, so if you have questions you should consider writing one of us as we represent a wide swathe of schools.

Find us at mfachronicles.blogspot.com

wEEman33, any school requiring the GRE typically only requires the general test. A few suggest taking the Literature test, but my understanding is that most people don't take it even when it is suggested. PhD programs in CW are likely to require the Lit test though. Many schools, of course, don't even require the GRE and most that do don't give it much weight in the admissions process.

Robin,
Unfortunately the bay area, while being decently populated with MFA programs, lacks any with even partial funding. Neither SFSU, Mills, CCA nor USF offer money to their acceptees, though UC Davis has a funded MA program in CW. If being in the bay area is a must for you, it is an option though obviously there's a world of difference between the MA and MFA in terms of what you can do with one over the other.

Janet Hendrickson said...

Hi,

I've been wondering if anyone has information on creative writing MFAs in Spanish, either in the U.S. or abroad. Are there many programs out there, and is this a growing field?

Best,
Janet

Smartestmama said...

I'm looking for some general advice about whether I should attempt applying to MFA programs. I'm a stay-at-home mom and former high school English teacher (I also taught a Creative Writing elective). I'm 38, so I've been away from academia for a very long time; therefore, I have no one to write recommendations. I don't plan on applying until 2013, when my little boy goes to kindergarten, so I should have plenty of time to perfect a writing sample and take the GRE. I'm just worried about recommendations and about the fact that my undergrad GPA was below 3.0 (as far as I can remember). Should I try to take some classes or workshops so I can score a recommendation? It will be tough to do that because I'm completely broke, but I'll scrounge up the money somehow. I'm also geographically limited to applying to UVA and VCU (I live halfway between Charlottesville and Richmond). I'd kill for UVA, obviously, but I'm afraid my chances are rather slim. Is this a crazy pipedream?

Robin said...

@Smartestmama

I have similar problem, having graduated from college in '03 and with little cash to blow. I surfed around for a writing workshops with scholarships, and managed to get one. It still costs to travel or take off work, but not dishing out upwards of $700 sure helps. I got one good recommender (I just invented a word!) out of the experience, and could probably have gotten another if I'd been willing to have someone who'd only worked with me for a day write a recommendation for me. Since I wasn't and only had one other recommender lined up, I'm pretty much out of luck for the boatload of applications that ask for 3 recommendations. All in all, it seems like a good thing that you are starting the process early. I wish I had.

Pedro Eler said...

Hey! Great blog! I'm a ficiton writer from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I was just wondering if there are other international writers thinking of applying? If so, pleace introduce yourselves!

And good luck to us all! Applying to an MFA in Creative Writing demands a lot of ambition and confidence! It's a big deal! So, good luck to us all!

x said...

Hi Pedro! I'm applying from Singapore, in poetry. :)

Mary said...

Ben,

About deferring your enrollment. It seems like most schools won't let you. But I applied to Mankato last year and was accepted but I am not attending because I didn't receive an assistantship. I was told that I didn't have to send a new writing sample or anything next year for reapplying all I needed to do was reapply for assistantships. I'm not really sure about the details. So it would seem that I was able to defer enrollment there.

Pedro Eler said...

@x

That's awesome!! To what colleges are you applying?

And to everyone, what are your thoughts on Cornell? I'm applying for fiction there, and it's my dream college, but it's super competitive. Is anyone else applying to Cornell?

Ben Quick said...

RE the advice from Lucas and Megan: It's great.
Read it carefully, and edit the hell out of your sample and personal statement.

The other thing I want to say--especially to all the nonfictioneers reading--is that one sleeper program not to sleep on is the U. of Idaho. It has a great faculty, generally funds MFA students for three years--not as much as some programs, but the cost of living in Moscow is pretty low, especially for a pretty cool town--and the sense of community among students and faculty is strong. If you're interested in growing as a writer more than being associated with the--often outdated--reputation of a program, check it out.

I'm a graduate of the nonfiction program at the University of Arizona, and I can say that same kind of community exists here in Tucson--at least among the nonfictioneers--and that the only real downside of the program is that it's a two year program, though many stay on for an extra semester and get funded. I admit to being biased, but I'm not sure the same can be said of ASU--at least as far as community goes. I can't speak to it's funding. I only mention that because it appears many of you are applying there. Not only that: The Phoenix metro area is a rather bland sh*thole in general. I guess Mesa's okay, if you like living near an artificial lake in the desert, prefer Starbucks to locally owned coffee joints, and Kentucky Bluegrass where there should be sahuaros and ocotillo, but Tucson has retained its cultural identity as a Mexican city--at least Central and South Tucson--and those of us who live here generally love it.

Ben Quick said...

PS: @Smartestmama and Robin. As a single dad, I understand where you're coming from. And I would say don't go anywhere that doesn't fund you. If you're going to invest money in a degree, an MA or MS in something that will give you a very good chance at finding a good job after graduation--especially if you can talk your way into a few MFA or even undergrad workshops--can work out well.

lalaland626 said...

@Ben: Funny you mention Idaho. I was just looking at their Web site the other night. The only thing that gave me pause was it sounds like you still have to pay full in-state tuition and there's no waiver. If I'm reading it right, that eats up almost half the pretty generous stipend right there. Am I wrong? I'd love to be wrong, because it looks like a good program.

The better funded a school is, the better, for me and I'm sure most of the people here. I'm single so I don't have a spouse to support me. I don't even have a boyfriend, and the two cats refuse to work for their food. I'm realizing I may have to get a roommate, and hoping roommates aren't as scary now as they were in college. I might just be difficult to live with, too, which isn't a comforting thought. But I'll worry about that if and when I get in somewhere.

Ben Quick said...

@lalaland626

Yeah, I think you do still have to pay the in-state fees--which eats up around $5,500 out of the $12,600 TA stipend. There are some scholarship funds to be had though, and if you can have $8,000 or $9,000 left over after TA+scholarship-fees, I'm pretty sure you can afford a studio with a little spending money left over. If you're willing to go a few grand in the hole, you can live pretty comfortably in Moscow--like I said, a great little (liberal) town in just about the last place you'd expect one. And again, like I said, it's a top notch program. Very, very underrated. I almost went there.

x said...

@Pedro

Here's my tentative list so far; I'll be cutting a few schools off my list very soon (once I make up my mind heehee):

Wash U St. Louis
UVirginia
Vanderbilt
U Michigan
Iowa
U Wisconsin, Madison
UC San Diego
Virginia Tech
U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Miami
Indiana U Bloomington
UOregon
U Minnesota

I would have applied to Cornell (and some other schools) but they insist that I take the TOEFL. Heh.

said...

人生匆匆-把握當下,支持鼓勵~事事如意~..................................................

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

Just wanted to add my voice to those encouraging folks to post their preliminary and/or final application lists here -- it's incredibly helpful to other applicants as well as for applicants in future application cycles. We all benefit from the time, thought, and research you've put into these lists and into your evaluations of these programs. So I hope as many people as are reading this thread now will post their lists! We thank you in advance! Best wishes,

Be well,
Seth

kaybay said...

Is there any connection to a school's literary magazine and the program itself? Let's say, hypothetically, I get a personal rejection or get published at one, does that mean I *might* have a better chance at admission? Just curious, since I'm sending a lot of my work out to magazines associated with schools, some of which I'm applying to in the Winter. Thanks!

B. Cleark said...

Today, this is my list for poetry. It might be completely different tomorrow.These schools are all located in places that I won't mind spending a few years of my life.
Rhode Island College
Southern Illinois at Carbondale
Chicago State University
University of New Orleans
Roosevelt University

I know my list is short but I am capping my application fee budget at $200.

B. Cleark said...

Does anyone have anything good or bad to say about LSU's program?

Smartestmama said...

Here's another quick question. I taught high school English and creative writing for a few years. Will that help my chances of getting a teaching assistantship?

Ben Quick said...

@Smartestmama:

There is a very short answer to this question: Yes. Absolutely.

Smartestmama said...

@ Ben: Thanks. It seems obvious, but one never knows. I have a lot going against me (I've been out of undergrad for 17 years, I've never taken a writing class and therefore have no recommendations, I'm limited to applying to VCU and UVA because I can't move, and my GPA was under 3.0), so it's nice to know I have one positive thing in my favor!

Kara said...

hello all,

if people are sharing, here's my list of definite schools for poetry. i may add one or two more but i'm definitely applying to these ones...

umass, amherst
alabama
iowa (the writers workshop)
unc, greensboro
syracuse
washington-st.louis
minnesota
montana
vanderbilt
arizona state

thanks for all the great questions and answers. good luck everyone.

Seth Abramson said...

Smartestmama,

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but I'm afraid the correct answer to your question is "likely not." TAships are awarded, almost everywhere, on the basis of merit -- as a creative writer, not as a teacher at the university level. Even programs that ask you to "apply" for a TAship still hand them out, when the chips are down, on the basis of merit -- i.e. on the basis of which students, looking only at their creative work, they most want to come to the program. And offering a TAship is just about their only hook in trying to attract a candidate who's on the fence (as almost everyone is, until they get offered funding). So qualifications for a teaching position are largely useless. Unless, that is, you get an unfunded, non-teaching offer, and then somehow find a way (it's nigh-impossible) to finagle your way into a teaching position in a related department once you arrive on campus (e.g., maybe they can find a CW MFA student a job teaching intro literature, or composition, or at a writing center part-time). The only other time teaching experience comes into play is if they're going to fund two students fully -- one with a fellowship, one with a TAship -- in which case the incoming student with prior teaching experience gets "rewarded" with the same amount of money with much more work attached to it.

I wish I had better news to offer, sorry.

Best of luck,
Seth

Ben Quick said...

@Smartestmama and Seth,

While certainly merit--i.e. analysis of potential for publishing based primarily on the writing sample, secondarily on the letter of intent, and to a lesser extent, grades, letters of recommendation, etc.--is the number one criterion on which candidates are admitted and funded, teaching experience, especially as it shows maturity, is always a good thing. Put it this way: If a committee is looking at two applicants with samples of similar quality, and one of the applicants is a 23-year-old straight out of (insert your favorite expensive liberal arts program here) while the other applicant has real world experience, particularly in the writing classroom, the second applicant is far more likely to be admitted and funded than the first. Also, MFA programs--especially in nonfiction--are looking more and more for writers with stories to tell, and to tell well, and less and less at an applicant's "pedigree" or whatever you want to call it. There is an inexhaustible supply of angst ridden, upper middle class, naval gazing graduates of Vassar or Reed or wherever writing angst ridden, upper middle class, naval gazing memoirs or stories or poems. Talented writers who've had to face the real world from an unprivileged place and have a demonstrable and documented ability to teach writing to others are hard to find. MFA programs are starting to realize this--basically as a result of a slew of articles in Poets and Writers and other magazines calling out programs on the increasingly cookie-cutter nature of their graduates' work. So don't fret. Apologies to Seth, but teaching experience does matter--to a greater or lesser degree depending on the program, of course, but it matters. Cheer up. Maybe sign up for a local writing workshop or two, and sally forth with a head of steam. That's all I have.

Rags said...

@Smartestmama:
I have never taken a writing course either; so, like you, I worried about the recommendation.

So, I went and signed up for a couple of online courses at Gotham. At the end of the class (in end-Oct), I'll be able to ask my instructor for a letter of reco.

Seth Abramson said...

Ben,

I think in a true "tie" between candidates, teaching experience might be one of a large number of factors used to break the tie. There are many others. But I also think true "ties" are rare in admissions, largely for the reason you stated -- i.e., if one person has more out-of-school experience than another, and is consequently (say) more mature than another, that's going to show up in the writing sample, thereby allowing the adcom to make its decision, as it would prefer to do ten times out of ten, based on the writing sample. So I don't mean to suggest teaching experience is a negative -- though in some instances, at some programs, the older age often implied by the presence of teaching experience can be a drawback in an application (which is entirely unfair) -- merely that there are few situations we can imagine where it will have a significant effect on the admissions process. As the question was whether teaching experience would give a candidate a leg up, I really do think the answer (in practical terms, in 90%+ of scenarios likely to arise) is no. And in the remaining 10% or so of cases the impact is still minimal. That said, I have no doubt whatsoever that the OP has numerous advantages in applying to MFA programs that s/he doesn't even realize, and extensive "life experience" (which, again, is important if/as it bleeds into the writing sample) is probably one of them. I've certainly been there myself -- I started my program in my thirties, having practiced law for the six years prior to my application.

Best wishes,
Seth

Rags said...

@ x and Pedro:
I'm applying for fiction from India, and I have these doubts about TOEFL. Is there any way to circumvent it or is it necessary?

Ben Quick said...

Seth,

I think you're right in saying teaching experience is one of many tie-breaking factors. Here's what I see from the bits of biographical information provided by posters worried that they've somehow been out of the academic game too long. And it is a game. Let's not fool ourselves: I see evidence of that critical life experience you speak of. I'm sure it shows in their samples, and I think a lot of folks are far too dismissive of their experiences--the child rearing, the bumps and bruises, being in that place where the rubber meets the road and mommy and daddy either aren't around or don't have the money to fix things--simply because that's the way things have always been. I've had students who turn in well written but fairly bland and impersonal essays tell me such amazing stories about their lives--at an end of semester potluck or whatnot--that I literally want to grab them and scream. "Why didn't you tell me this two months ago?" The response is usually something along the lines of "well, I didn't really think it was all that interesting." The people with the stories to tell, it seems--I mean the powerful stuff that makes us weep and laugh--are quite often the least likely to tell them. However, if they do tell them, and tell them well in their samples--i.e. the highest form of merit capital--they'll be a hell of a lot closer to getting accepted and funded in a top notch program than the trust fund kid with an East Coast private school B.A. and a wad of stock recommendations from famous authors. I want them to know that. Because that, my friend, is true.

Cheers,
Ben

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Ben,

I agree with everything you said there.

Be well,
Seth

Smartestmama said...

@Ben and Seth: I'm glad I asked the question just to see the interesting conversation you two are having. My hope is that my writing sample will be so good that none of the rest will matter, but I suppose there's a part of me that would like to think life experience does matter and that a program would rather have a 38-year-old former teacher who grew up poor in Appalachia and lived a life before deciding to stop ignoring the call to write than a 23-year-old navel-gazer. The proverbial proof is in the pudding, however, so I know it's all about the sample.

The Modern Lady said...

Hi Folks,
As someone who works in publishing I just want to remind everyone that it rarely matters if you have an MFA or not. Don't go into debt to earn one, as I've seen some good friends suffer from this decision. If you need deadlines to write submit to one of several literary journals across the country and join workshops to plug into your local literary community.

For NYC I recommend:

These guys are associated with a journal:
http://www.slicemagazine.org/workshops/test-workshop.html

and these guys have a lot of options:
http://www.sackettworkshop.com/

Pedro Eler said...

@Rags

To what colleges are you thiking of applying??

I have 11 on my list right now, but am thiking of getting rid of Brown, simply because the funding is not that good.

And I'm sorry to inform, but TOEFL is necessary in all programs. The only way not to take it is if your undergrad course was in an English Speaking university in an English Speaking country. Other than that, you'll have to take it. But don't worry, it's super easy.

x said...

@Rags

I emailed each program I was interested in to ask if they could give me a TOEFL waiver, and told them about my qualifications. So far, most of the schools I've emailed are willing to grant it.
They'll need to know your educational background though. One school looked at my SATs and was willing to grant me a waiver after a long period of correspondence. Another is willing to waive it based on my Singapore-Cambridge 'O' and 'A' level English scores.

However, some schools just plain don't understand that there are Asians who have studied and can speak English at a native level- until we take the TOEFL to prove it. (I'm not planning to. The GRE is costly enough for me.)

Good luck!

Laura said...

@ B. Cleark,

If you're applying to Rhode Island College (MA in English with Concentration in Creative Writing, right?), then I would suggest you also take a look at the University of Rhode Island. They don't have an official creative writing concentration for their English MA, but they do have graduate-level creative writing courses with great faculty, a good visiting writers reading series, and a rapidly-growing annual Summer Writing Conference. I did my undergrad degree at URI and was very involved in the creative writing culture there. Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about the school: lauratetreault @ gmail.cm

Victoria said...

Here's my list so far for fiction:

Brown
CalArts
Iowa
UVA
U of Oregon
UT Austin
UMich
UMass Amherst
NYU
Hunter
Brooklyn
Washington U. in St. Louis
Syracuse
Cornell

I based my decision on funding, faculty, and where I could stand to live.

Minnow said...

Hi again everyone! Here is my final list for poetry:

Iowa
Cornell
Virginia
Minnesota
Austin (Michener Center)
Michigan
Johns Hopkins
Brown
UMass-Amherst
Vanderbilt
Washington U. (St. Louis)
Syracuse

Glad to have that taken care of!

vegascetic said...

NONFICTION
Eastern Washington U
U New Mexico
U Idaho
Oregon state
San Jose State
U Iowa
U Minnesota

FICTION
UNLV
San Francisco State

@Ben Quick-- I have a question about U of AZ and Tucson-- how can I contact you? Or, you can contact me-- my email is in my profile. Thanks.

vegascetic said...

Or, basically, anyone who is currently in AZ-- I have some questions about AZ-- especially the Tucson area-- so feel free to email me. Thanks.

Rags said...

@ x:
I was going to do the same thing; mail programs, but I don't have a final list yet. Maybe in a week's time. But I'm glad to hear that programs are willing to waive it. Northwestern states on their website that they can waive it if the medium of instruction in college was English.

@ Pedro & @ Victoria:
My list is very similar to yours, Victoria, about 80%. I'm also looking at UC Irvine and Purdue with interest. And my criteria are exactly the same: location, funding, faculty.

Lucas said...

I wanted to jump into the conversation between Ben, Seth, and (most importantly, as you are the one who needs the info) Smartestmama. I agree with both sets of, er, advice, but I want to reemphasize a few points. I think your bio is far more important in terms of how it is reflected in your ws than in establishing your previous work and experience. Look at it this way: TA offers are like scholarships for athletes. Schools offer the most to the writers they want the most. I met another incoming student at my program this summer and he asked me why he'd received a taship, thinking it was because he'd taught a creative writing class. I explained that he got it because they wanted him to come to the school. This seemed to boost his confidence.

So, my point is this (and it is rather obvious, I'm afraid): smartestmama, use that experience to write a kick ass sample and don't think about your pedigree or other applicants' pedigrees. Applicants are just writing samples to these schools until they are far along in the app process (maybe not until they are accepted and show up in the fall). You are your sample and your sample is you and it is the only significant way to distinguish yourself. All of the other stuff, personal statements included, are irrelevant until you've blown the socks of the readers. There has been some debate about the importance of statements here, and I don't think I've made my point clear in the past: you could have the greatest personal statement in the world, but another candidate with even a slightly better (whatever that means) writing sample has a 100% advantage. Don't forget that, folks.

Mamadearest, have you looked into low res programs? I don't find the idea as exciting as a trad residency, but that is subjective, and you could heavily bolster your list and improve your chances. And ODU isn't too far...just sayin ;).

x said...

What do you all think about the newly-released Poets & Writers 2011 MFA Rankings? :D

*goes back to reading them*

Smartestmama said...

@ Lucas: Thanks for your post, which confirmed what I'm thinking anyway: it's all about the writing. I can't really do a low-residency program because I have to have a teaching assistantship. There's no way I can afford to pay tuition, so without funding, I'm not doing an MFA. If I get into UVA or VCU with funding, then I can commute and won't have to get a divorce and leave my child, so those are the only options. I'm not applying until 2013, and I suppose I'm fortunate because my life won't be over if I don't get in. I'll go back to teaching high school (which is probably what I would do after getting an MFA anyway), and I'll be fine. It would, however, be nice to have a few years to focus on writing and see what I can do.

Gena said...

x -- Just looked them over; thanks for the heads up. Is the "22" selectivity rank for both Arizona State and Johns Hopkins correct? Could they really be tied? I was under the impression Johns Hopkins was a much harder program (percentage wise) to get into... Other than that, no real surprises, I think. Other than, perhaps, UMass-Amherst's sink.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

Anyone applying to MFA programs this year will want to check this out. All the links you need are available at this one link (the Poets & Writers website can be confusing to navigate, so I aggregated all the relevant links in a single blog-post).

I see a couple enterprising folks have already found the article in question.

:-)

Best of luck,
Seth

蕾蕾 said...

Judge not a book by its cover.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

謝謝大大分享!!經典!~(。・ω・)............................................................

Juan Carlos said...

@Janet Hendrickson,

Hi Janet, this may be of some help.

1. Puerto Rico's Universidad del Sagrado Corazon in the Santurce area, San Juan, has the only master's program in creative writing or creacion literaria in Latin America, and it is fully in Spanish. Link here: http://graduado.sagrado.edu/
secuencial_CLT.htm.htm

2. In Spain, the Escuela Contemporanea de Humanidades in Madrid, offers an MA in creative writing, again creacion literaria. Details here: http://www.ech.es/

3. And in the U.S., the University of Texas at El Paso has the first, and maybe the only, bilingual MFA in Creative Writing in the country, in both English and Spanish.

Buena suerte!
JC

pdg said...

Can someone help me out with funding information regarding the schools in NYC? Specifically:
NYU
Brooklyn College

I think these two programs in particular are very strong, but I'd like to hear about their recent success in funding accepted students.

Elsa said...

Seth - how are schools categorized as either 'academic' or 'studio' programs?

Thanks for all your help!

x said...

@Elsa

From "2011 Poets & Writers Magazine Ranking of MFA Programs: A Guide to the Methodology":

"Studio/Academic Orientation
A program is considered "studio-oriented" if more than two-thirds of its credit requirements can be met through workshops, thesis hours, internships, or independent study, and "academics-oriented" if not. Academics-oriented programs in which students take only two courses per semester, one of which is a workshop, are indicated with an "A" and an asterisk (A*)."


http://www.pw.org/content/2011_poets_amp_writers_magazine_ranking_of_mfa_programs?article_page=5

vegascetic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elsa said...

Thanks!

LMeerts said...

Hi folks--

I'm planning to apply to nonfiction programs this year, and I'd like some feedback regarding the programs I'm considering. I want to attend a school that focuses more on the journalistic tradition rather than memoir, a studio program and, of course, teaching opportunities.

Thanks!
Lisa


American University
Columbia University
Eastern Washington University
George Mason University
Hollins University
Pennsylvania State University
University of Colorado, Boulder
University of Iowa
University of New Hampshire
University of Oregon, Eugene

Ben Quick said...

@vegascetic,

Drop me a note at bquick@email.arizona.edu and I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Cheers,
Ben

vegascetic said...

@ Ben Quick-- Thanks! Sent you an email.

@ LMeerts-- Not sure about how the program is itself (although I have emailed a few current students to ask a few Q's-- have not received word back yet), but Eastern Washington seems unique in that you would actually be taking most of your classes at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in downtown Spokane, which is 12 to 15 miles from Cheney, where the actual EWU campus is located. Interesting to note that the Center is closer to Gonzaga University than it it to EWU. So, if you were awarded a teaching assistantship at EWU, you would have to commute 12-15 miles each way, from the Center to EWU... something to consider. I know it gives me pause, anyway. But, if it's a good program, why not?... still waiting to hear from the current students there, however...

Also, I don't think U of Oregon has a nonfiction track... but Oregon State does (further north of Eugene, in Corvallis)

LMeerts said...

Actually, U. of Oregon has a literary nonfiction degree associated with their journalism school. It's a program I'm really interested in.

vegascetic said...

@ LMeerts

Wow, I didn't know that! Pretty cool, actually. I'm checking out the site now. Hmm, I'm not sure if I'd be able to apply, though, depending on what the department means by "for students with previous professional writing experience." I have experience with rejection letters, but that's about it...

j said...

ruinedchristmas,

I was actually accepted at UNCG, and they made little to no attempt at finding me funding. Half the time I called no one answered. I got the feeling that I was disturbing Jim Clark by asking what he could do to help me find funding. As an accepted student, I went through about 4 months of limbo, applying to various positions for funding, and coming up short each time.

As it stands, only one student in Fiction got an RA. No one else got funding. I've deferred until next year, but honestly I don't want to fool with them. The program seems disorganized and mediocre.

Plus, they lie.
The UNCG website still says this:

"Research Assistantships are available to many applicants. An RA’s duties include conducting library research for faculty, helping organize conferences and events, and assisting the Department of English with various publishing ventures. Applicants holding a master’s degree in English may seek Teaching Assistantships. In the first year, TAs teach one section of composition or literature each semester and tutor in the Writing Center. The second year, they teach three sections over the academic year. Students without an MA may seek a TA their second year."

This is a patent lie. No funding is available at UNCG. The sad thing is, they knew about it already, because the admitted students last go-round received no funding. Some second year students even had their funding cut. This year was worse for funding than the previous and next year looks even worse.

Some students have deferred up to 2 or 3 years, so even if you get accepted, there are people waiting in line, including me---which, I hope to God I get accepted somewhere else, because even if I'm accepted at UNCG I might turn it down. I feel bad for those students on the defer list for their third year, still unable to receive funding.

So, this is at least the third year UNCG is bald-faced lying on their website about funding.

Sure Jim Clark et al were upfront with me AFTER I had been accepted about the fact that there is no funding, and even encouraged me to accepted any funded offers (I had none). So, if UNCG is such a strong advocate for NOT paying for the MFA, why won't their website state outright that they are BANKRUPT and CUTTING FUNDING and MAYBE NEXT YEAR THE FUNDING WILL BE WORSE?

Oh yeah, because no one would apply.

And because they know that some people, if pushed, will pay for the MFA. Jim told me numerous times that some people are PAYING out-of-state tuition to attend UNCG this year.

So, to second ruinedchristmas's remarks, DO NOT APPLY TO UNCG THIS WINTER. If you don't get accepted, like him, you'll be treated disrespectfully, and if you do get accepted, like me, you'll get shafted.

j said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
j said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
megan said...

Jumping on the UNCG-hating bandwagon....

I also wasn't notified of my rejection from UNCG until the end of May, even though I emailed and called both the graduate school and the department once a week starting mid-April. When I finally got my rejection, there was no apology for being over a month after the supposed April 15th deadline. When I contacted Jim Clark about this, he seemed to think it was my fault that I didn't know of my rejection sooner, because I had not contacted him -- but I had spoken with many other people at the school who had told me notifications were going out "soon" or were "in the mail," so I had no idea I needed to contact the director himself to get an answer.

I could be wrong, but it was hard not to think that they were either so disorganized that they couldn't bother to make sure rejection notices had gone out, or they were waiting to reject people because they wanted to make sure they had enough acceptees who were willing to come without funding first. I know that's very conspiracy-theoryish and cynical, but if they had shown any remorse at all for not notifying until late May, I would have been more willing to believe it was a genuine mistake.

megan said...

And in regards to funding in general, I'd actually recommend that you speak with someone at the schools you decide to apply to and find out what's what. Several of the schools I applied to last year had information about funding that was outdated or didn't really tell the whole picture, and ended up seeming misleading on their websites.

j said...

Does anyone know if any of the top 50 have free applications (besides Vanderbilt, natch).

Chris N. said...

Seth,

I just saw your most recent rankings in P&W and was wondering if you could clarify your methodology. From what I can tell, the overall number of votes only increased by 19 from last year (from 508 in 2010 to 527 in 2011) and yet you surely calculated more than 19 new lists last year.

At the same time, the total number of votes for certain schools increased by more than 19 votes, which would seem to me the maximum number any school could increase. For example, the University of Michigan increased by 25 votes from last year (from 169 in 2010 to 194 in 2011) even though the total number of new votes was 19. I'm not an expert in statistics, but I can't understand how an individual school could increase by more new votes than the total number of new votes. Even if every single new list included that school, that would seem impossible.

Secondly, I have a question about the graduate placement category. I assume you're referring to graduate placement in certain prestigious post-grad fellowship programs (like the Stegner), but which fellowships are you actually considering? This seems to me a somewhat nebulous statistic as there are many factors that determine post-graduate success beyond placement in fellowship programs. For example, a program might have a recent graduate who wins a Guggenheim, another who wins an NEA, and several others who get into top-ranked Creative Writing Ph.D. programs, but because that program didn't produce any Stegner fellows or Provincetown fellows, they might show up poorly in that category.

I am asking these questions purely out of curiosty. Thanks for taking the time to answer them.

Chris

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your questions. The postgraduate placement category is discussed in detail here; hopefully the information at the link will answer your concerns on that score.

As to the polling cohort, you have to keep in mind two things: (A) With the exception of a small number of subsequent-year applicants, The 527-person polling cohort this year is an entirely different cohort from the 508-person cohort polled last year, so every program was "starting from scratch" this year in the voting (one additional reason, of many, that the 98% similarity of this year's rankings to last year's [as to the total composition of the top 50] is presumptively probative); (B) different individuals apply to different numbers of programs. Consequently, even if this year's 527 had been last year's 508 plus 19 new poll respondents, a program's "vote" total could still go up by more than 19 as not only might the additional voters select (say) Michigan for their application lists, but last year's voters could either "switch their votes" to Michigan or add Michigan to application lists which last year did not include that school (i.e., they could increase the overall size of their "slate" of "votes"). Again, I think reading the methodology article will answer most of your questions.

Best wishes,
Seth

Rags said...

Ok. I've got a short-list of 15 for fiction.

University of Texas
University of Iowa
Cornell
University of Michigan
University of Virginia
Purdue
Syracuse
Brown University
Johns Hopkins
University of California
Univ of Wisconsin
Washington University
Hunter, CUNY
Pennsylavania State University
Vanderbilt

Any thoughts on the list? I've dropped all NY programs (except Hunter) because they're all not fully funded and the cost of living is very high (from P&W 2011 rankings).

What is a good number for a final list? 8?

I'm unable to make up my mind between a Studio and Academic Program. Can somebody please explain:
1. Why should I take a Studio?
2. Why should I take an Academic?

I'm really looking for pros and cons.

Thanks

宜DimpleHollow欣 said...

傻氣的人喜歡給心 雖然每次都被笑了卻得到了別人的心..................................................................

Chris N. said...

Seth,

Thank you for your response. I'd like to say up front that I have no specific qualms with your ranking or your placement of any particular school, but I do still have some questions about your methodology.

If I understand you correctly, the most recent ranking is a reflection of only last year's applicants--the
527 total votes reflect the 527 applicant lists you calculated in 2011, whereas the 208 total votes from last year reflect the 208 applicant lists you calculated in 2010. This answers my question about the discrepancy, but it still raises some concerns.

It seems to me that a ranking that only reflects the preferences of the most recent year's applicants is bound to be somewhat unstable over time. Maybe not this year, but eventually. Even if there's a close correlation between last year's list and this year's list right now, it seems that inevitably there could be some problems in the future. Potentially, an individual program could drop or jump as many as 6 or 7 spots in any given year based on the whims of that particular year's applicant pool's preferences and that could be very upsetting and confusing for applicants--both those who have been accepted and those planning to apply.

In my opinion, you might have a more stable ranking if you used a "total" number of votes that incorporated lists not just from the most recent year, but from the past five years--2500 total votes as opposed to 500. Then, each year, you could subtract both the total and individual school votes from the oldest year (say, 2005), while adding the new votes from the most recent (in this case, 2011).

If you took this approach, the poll would not only have more validity, but it would also be a lot more stable. Over a five-year period, one would still see the gradual ascension or decline of particular programs, but it would be much more gradual and it would prevent radical leaps or falls, which seems an inevitable problem with a year-by-year pool. It would also allow you to chart with more consistency the progress or decline of certain lower-ranked programs, which seem even more susceptible to random jumps or falls, as some receive as few as 4 or 5 votes per year.

Why do I mention this? For the sake of applicants. Whether they admit it or not, all applicants care about the ranking of their school, and it can be awfully disconcerting for an applicant who was accepted into a top ten school to find out the following year that their school has just dropped to, say, #17, simply based on the tastes of the most recent year's applicants. When students choose a school they want to feel that their school will retain their current ranking (or close to their current ranking) for at least the short term, and a ranking that incorporates a larger number votes over a longer period of time would ensure that.

Also--not that I'm advocating for program heads--but it would allow program heads to notice particular trends over time that they might be able to address and rectify. Conversely, if a program head notices that their program might drop several spots one year, rise a few the next, then drop again, they might wonder whether the issue is with their program or just the whims one particular applicant pool.

I realize this is getting pretty, but, lastly, I think that the graduate placement ranking would also be more stable if it reflected a five-year period as opposed to just the most recent year's fellowship acceptances. For all I know it may, but I just wanted to throw that in there.

Thanks for considering my thoughts, Seth.

Chris

Dani said...

@ Caleb

I wanted to apply to the University of Nevada too (mostly because the study abroad aspect looks fun) but I've heard some rumors about the school being "unstable." Apparently Nevada is known for letting people into programs and then dropping the classes they offer until the student can't complete their degree. Have you heard anything like that?

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