Thursday, October 07, 2010

Mailbag (Oct. 7)

The application season is heating up...where are you all at, with your applications? Lists finalized? Recommendations requested? GREs taken? Manuscript revised?

Give us your process updates, plus the usual back and forth, below.

156 comments:

Renee said...

@ etrangette (from prev. mailbag)

it does look like everything is online now, which is a bit annoying. I already printed Oregon's letter of rec form out and sent it to my recommenders as well. At least they clarified their GRE requirement. I wasn't sure before and they never responded to my email. I wish these schools would stop changing things around mid-application season.

In other news, I've been convinced to apply to Southern Illinois-Carbondale. Any school where people can write about zombies if they want sounds good to me. (Not that I do, but I appreciate the option.)

Blob said...

Re: Oregon

See, now this annoys me. I printed out and double checked requirements only last week, and now everything's different. It makes me slightly paranoid that every school might also be changing things.

And while I'm all for electronic applications (easier for me), all of my recommenders prefer hard copy recommendations. I wish schools would allow everything to be electronic except that. Oh well.

A question about Iowa recommendations: the website specifies that recommendations should be on institutional letterhead. One my recommenders is retired, and therefore most likely does not have letterhead. Do you think they'll be sticklers about this? It's so hard to tell what schools will be picky about and I hate to cause problems with my application over little details.

Zack said...

Happy to finally be able to post something. Here, in no particular order, is my final list for fiction.

Vanderbilt
UC Irvine
Notre Dame
Washington (WA)
Iowa Writers' Workshop
Arizona
UCSD
New Mexico State
Texas State

List used to be twice this long if you can believe it. Wish I could apply to about five more schools, but don't have the money to do it.

Good luck all.

Kate said...

I have a question about transcripts. I have been through last year's mailbag and can't seem to find an answer. When a school asks for all post-secondary transcripts, are they expecting one from each of the community colleges you took classes with AFTER your BA. I have spent the last couple of years dabbling and taken several classes (some writing) without any intention of getting a degree. Do I need to send one of these to each school?
This is getting expensive...

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blob said...

@kate

The answer is yes, though if you never sent them, it's possible they'd never know and it may not be a big deal.

But when I called schools to ask about transcripts the answer all around was basically 'yes, everything.'

thereandbackagain said...

I'm still trying to nail down my final list of schools for poetry - all this talk of tiers (and the fact that I only want to apply to programs this year) has made me think that I really should apply to a couple more programs. Does anyone attending McNeese, West Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas or Old Dominion read this board and want to weigh in on the awesomeness of their program?

I love that McNeese affords students the opportunity to earn your M.A. along with your M.F.A., but I'm worried that their stipend won't be enough to live on.

I'll be applying in poetry....

ChrisLes said...

@ Blob

re: Iowa recommendations

They aren't sticklers. I'm sure they prefer beautiful and official-looking letterhead from those who have it lying around, but there's no downside to not having it. I know I'm going to be writing at least one letter of rec for an Iowa applicant, and I could type it up on the inside of a Franzia box and feel confident it would not alter his chances of admittance a bit.

Chris
Driftless House

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

Long time reader, first time poster. :)

Creative Nonfiction list:

Minnesota
Iowa
Alabama
Ohio State
Wyoming
Montana
Georgia College & State University
University of Colorado @ Boulder
Minnesota State @ Mankato
Kansas
Northern Michigan

Here were my thoughts when forming the list:

After a failed attempt at undergrad in Philly, I have no desire to live on the East Coast. I'm from Iowa.

Things that were important to me were 3 year programs, possibility of teaching, funding, and how I feel that my creative nonfiction would be supported and improved by each institution (personal essays, fragmented essays, lyric essays).

I want to enter in fall of 2011 for sure, as I've recently married and am planning a family. I included Kansas, MSU Mankato, and Northern Michigan based entirely on the fact that they were the programs closest to my current location that I thought I would have a better chance of acceptance than the others, and I really want to start somewhere come fall.

Also, my wife could transfer to Cedar Falls and we could live halfway between Cedar Falls and Iowa City, so that's why I'm applying to Iowa despite the fact that it is a two year program and I'm unsure about the possibility for funding and teaching...and I live in Iowa, so it seemed silly not to.

I included UC @ Boulder solely because I love Colorado. I don't know much about it, and the fact that it has two websites that seem to have wildly different info confuses me.

I'm pretty set on the first 7 schools. I'd so appreciate any info people have on the last 4 programs. Would I be hurting my future job potential/publishing potential by going to one of the more obscure programs? I want to be a professor. Anyone have any personal experience with MSU, NMU, and KU?

And finally, I went to culinary school for a while after my original undergrad failure in Philly. I only did a quarter, and I did it not degree seeking, and the institution was not accredited. Should I send the transcripts for my food safety, intro to culinary skills, and intro to baking classes?

Thank you so much for your help! I've gained so much from this blog. So glad it exists. :)

Writer Dude said...

Ok -- My final list...I promise!

Iowa
Vandy
Michigan
Indiana
Southern Illinois-Carbondale
Notre Dame
Alabama
Ole Miss
Washington U

Purdue and OSU were on the list at one point but they both required a critical essay along with creative writing sample and I think all those are saved on a different computer that took a dump (and admittedly weren't any good -- I didn't try very hard in undergrad), plus I wouldn't have the time or energy to enhance and improve yet another element (sour grapes? perhaps!)

If anyone reading my list notices any of those schools require a critical essay sample, too, please let me know!

Good luck all!

Writer Dude said...

In fiction (see above). Sorry!

Carry on.

Anti- said...

@thereandbackagain

Have you spoken or e-mailed to the director of McNeese's poetry program?

I e-mailed the fiction director a few days back with some questions but haven't gotten an answer. I might as well call his office, but I read somewhere he's stepping down or taking a position at another school. Yet all the info. on the site remains the same...

@All

How soon would I be able to mail my GRE scores to prospective schools after taking the exam? I'm thinking of taking the test in late October, so then I'll have time to send everything, including scores, by early and mid November, in time before Thanksgiving. Would my scores be available for mailing by this time if I took the test on the date I mentioned above? Any advice would be helpful.

Also, for the SIUC - Carbondale student who got back to me in the previous mailbag (sorry I forgot your name/screen name):

What are your impressions of Carbondale? I did a quick search on Wikipedia and it seems to be fairly progressive and liberal (which is good, for me). Would I need a car to get around? I'm a walker, so I hope that's not the case.

Are you teaching right now? If so, how is it? Challenging? Students giving you hell? And how are the program's workshops structured? Are classes large or small?

- J

Renee said...

@ Anti-
I took the GRE on September 18th and got the mailed score report today, although it probably came sometime earlier this week. That makes about a three-week wait.

I second all of your questions about USIC.

Also about USIC: the site says to have your GRE scores sent to the English dept but doesn't seem to give the score code anywhere. Has anyone figured out what they are or should I email them?

kaybay said...

Everyone's applying to Notre Dame :*( Sadness...

Eric said...

The end is in sight (or... the end is nigh!)

- the list is finalized
- the GRE is taken
- Poetry samples have been revised, edited, shuffled, burned, re-revised accourding to each program
- 3 strong recomenders have been locked down and mailed packets (with prepaid mailers, statements, writing samples, etc...)

I hope to have applications in the mail by the next mailbag.

Blob said...

@Chris

Thank you for the reassurance. I felt sort of silly asking the question. But I guess I'd rather be overly careful/paranoid now than later worry that some ridiculous detail may or ma not have had some impact on my application.

I just wish I knew where I at least stood a realistic chance.

many many birdies said...

RE: schools changing information about recs.

Last year I got all my material together for my recommendors in August, and then in October or November I realized some schools had changed their requirements about electronic LORs. I emailed these programs and all were fine with receiving paper LORs.

I also had one recommendor who flat-out refused to do any electronic LORs, and I emailed the schools who said they would ONLY accept electronic LORs and they also didn't mind receiving a paper copy instead. It seems that schools do not want your recommendors to feel unnecessarily harassed, so don't be afraid to ask to be exempt from the electronic-only thing if you need to be.

many many birdies said...

RE: schools changing information about recs.

Last year I got all my material together for my recommendors in August, and then in October or November I realized some schools had changed their requirements about electronic LORs. I emailed these programs and all were fine with receiving paper LORs.

I also had one recommendor who flat-out refused to do any electronic LORs, and I emailed the schools who said they would ONLY accept electronic LORs and they also didn't mind receiving a paper copy instead. It seems that schools do not want your recommendors to feel unnecessarily harassed, so don't be afraid to ask to be exempt from the electronic-only thing if you need to be.

rabbitoutofoklahoma said...

Does anyone have any info on School of the Art Institute of Chicago? I'm unable to find ANY application requirements on their website, aside from the deadline (January 15). Their website is so not user-friendly.

This year I'm applying to

Brooklyn College
The New School
UMass Amherst

neverett said...

@Lauren

I think Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program is 3 years, so you're in luck :) You might also want to check out Iowa State University in Ames--they have a three-year program with generous funding.

Lindsay said...

@ Lauren -- I am at OSU for nonfiction and I love it. But I've said that many times, so all I'll say is, if you have any questions about the program, feel free to e-mail me.

I applied to Minnesota State @ Mankato last year and had a great experience with their faculty, students, administration, etc. They were incredibly kind when I was accepted to the program, and I would have interviewed for a TAship had I not already been accepted at OSU. I've chatted with a few CNF students in the program and they all seem talented and kind and funny. I think it has a different demographic than some of the other programs -- it's more regional, in a lot of ways, I think -- but I've heard that the cohorts keep getting better and better. I was also really impressed by their course offerings (some interesting CW courses other than just plain workshops) and by reading a few of their faculty members -- I highly recommend Diana Joseph's memoir, I'm Sorry You Feel That Way.

Had the funding at MSU been a little better, and had the deal from OSU not been quite so amazing, I would definitely have gone there, and would have been thrilled to be there. Maybe someone with a little more first-hand knowledge will be able to tell you more, but I actually highly recommend keeping them on your list. I think they're a good option for a less-selective-but-still-quality program with opportunities for funding a good community of writers.

WanderingTree said...

Anti & Renee,

Re: Southern Illinois U - Carbondale (SIUC):

Q: What are your impressions of Carbondale?


A: Truthfully, you're either going to be writing or immersed in "English Department Land", so the town itself is inconsequential. There's about one of everything, and I think C-dale is large enough to entertain you somewhat most of the time. Chicago is easy to get to by train and St. Louis and Memphis are only 2-3 hours away. If you are into hiking and other outdoor activities, there are a lot of opportunities for that sort of thing due to the proximity of state parks and reserves. The people here are for the most part pretty liberal and friendly (even the folks in town) and the student body is very diverse.


Q: Would I need a car to get around?

A: Nope. Carbondale has a bus system (free to students) and if you have a bike you'd be absolutely fine to get around just about everywhere.


Q:Are you teaching right now? If so, how is it? Challenging? Students giving you hell?

A: Teaching at any school is what you make of it. Teaching anywhere is challenging and will offer its share of rewards and drawbacks. SIUC helps prepare you to enter the classroom and there is a definite support system to help you develop as an instructor along the way. I still have tons of time to write, and I'm looking at the teaching as a nice way of building up a skill/ education background (you have a few options regarding teaching and tutoring in terms of classes etc.) should I decide to pursue another degree/ remain in academia. For what it's worth, I like the vast majority of my students.


Q: And how are the program's workshops structured?

A: The workshop is pretty standard regarding the critiquing of stories (i.e. the writer remains silent while people discuss their work etc.) but as far as reading texts, doing various exercises, and the overall intensity of the experience etc. it really depends on the professor. You'll get the full spread in terms of teaching styles etc.


Q: Are classes large or small?

A: It's a studio program. You only take two classes (or the equivalent via an internship/ thesis hours/ independent research for you manuscript etc.) and teach two classes. The size of the workshop fluctuates but this semester we have about fifteen fiction writers (I'm not sure about poetry).

The size of each entering/new class ranges from 5-7 writers per genre.


Q: GRE Code?:

A: You can find codes for all schools here -
http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_tclist.pdf

'11 MFA Draft said...

sub

Thomas said...

The list is final!

South Carolina (Janette Turner Hospital be damned)
Alabama
UC San Diego
UC Irvine
Michigan
Florida
Michener
Cornell
Ole Miss
Vanderbilt

I wanted to shoot for twelve - casting my net wide and all that, but there weren't enough programs that met all my criteria.

I've solicited all profs/instructors for recs, and have gotten two confirmed. I haven't heard back from one.

I'm entering the stage where I'm polishing my writing sample.

Renee said...

@ wandering tree

awesome. thank you so much!

thereandbackagain said...

I'm trying not to be completely neurotic about this process, but I'm not doing a good job of that at all.

So, I'm working on my statement of purpose/personal statement/whatever you want to call it, and I have a few questions:

1. I've applied for a grant through an arts foundation in my state. I should hear if I have been awarded the grant at the beginning of December. Should I write the statement both ways (leaving out the grant/saying I was awarded the grant) and wait to send my applications that are due mid-December until I hear?

2. Ditto a creative submission to an international conference held each year in my state...

Do admissions committees care about such things when reading the statement of purpose?

3. Is it really so bad to mention teaching in your SOP? Of course, I'm going to school to become a better poet, but unless I win the lottery, I will most likely wind up teaching at a university. (Right now, my post-MFA plan is to get my PhD in literature with or without a creative dissertation. Should I not mention that?) I've been teaching for 5 semesters now at the university I got my B.A. at - a 2 hour a week supplemental seminar to developmental reading classes some of our students are taking, so I will have taught the equivalent of at least 36 credit hours before I get into a masters program. I don't want to place too much emphasis on the teaching, but I can't exactly say I'm not interested in teaching either.... (I sure hope I'm making sense.)

What do y'all think? (And thanks so much - this board is keeping me saner than I would be otherwise.)

thereandbackagain said...

@ Anti-

I haven't talked with anyone at McNeese, but I think I will apply there and just see what happens. As I've mentioned before, I'm 40 and I'm taking one shot at these MFA programs this year. I'm also going to apply to a couple of back up M.A. programs, just in case I'm not admitted anywhere. I feel pressure (from myself) to get back into school ASAP, especially since I'm not making a whole lot of money in my current position. Now, if they ever hired me full time, that would be a different story. So, wide net - and that includes McNeese. (Though I would still love to hear from current students there.)

Blob said...

@thereandbackagain

I feel you, for sure. I'm also wondering about the teaching thing. In mailbags past people have said that you shouldn't mention teaching. But it's not something I would mention for the sake of mentioning it because I think I should. I genuinely WANT to teach, even if I won the lottery. So not mentioning doesn't seem like a very accurate reflection of me and my goals. But I also don't want them to think I'm doing some cliche cookie cutter BS and turn them off.

Personal statements are such a mind game actually, in many ways, it's the hardest part of the application for me. I know your writing sample is the most important. But my writing is my writing and it is what it is. So while I might stress over whether to send poem A or poem B, it's not quite the game that the statement is. I'd much rather give an interview, sigh.

thereandbackagain said...

@ Blob,

I figure if teaching 6 developmental reading seminars in one semester while taking two classes of my own didn't scare me off of teaching, nothing will.

And as stressful as the writing of the SOP is, I'd much rather do it than have an in person interview! I'd be so nervous, I wouldn't be able to speak! :)

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

My recent article in The Huffington Post on the top underrated MFA programs in the U.S. can be found here. If you like it, I hope you'll consider passing it on via Twitter & Facebook. & feel free to comment in the HuffPo thread!

Best of luck to all,
Seth

Blob said...

@Seth,

great article, but isn't FSU a 2-year program, not a 3 year one? According the PW rankings it's 2 years.

Seth Abramson said...

Blob,

A very long story -- but the P&W listing constitutes outdated info on that score. FSU is three years, their M.A. is two.

S.

Blob said...

@Seth
That's a shame. I've been using the ranking spreadsheet to help me gather info on the schools. In fact, I recently combed through it look for more 3 year schools. I suppose, that's not very useful information anymore.

Seth Abramson said...

Blob,
Sorry, I wasn't clear--FSU's duration is the only known mistake in the entire rankings chart.
S.

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. And while FSU may or may not agree with me on this, I think it was a problem with their website that led to the confusion. --S.

Blob said...

@Seth,

Well in that case, excellent. FSU was already on my list, glad to find out it's 3 years instead of 2. And big program sizes don't deter me at all.

Many programs have websites that are less than clear.

Hannah said...

Hi all,

I'm applying to U Texas and USC for screenwriting, besides my fiction apps. Does anyone know the acceptance rates of these two places?

Treye S. said...

My final list for fiction:

Wash U.
Southern Illinois - Carbondale
Brown
Texas
Iowa
Arizona State
Illinois
Virginia Tech
Notre Dame
San Diego

carrie murphy said...

hi! i am a third-year student at New Mexico State. if you're thinking of applying and have questions, please don't hesitate to contact me through my blog.

we also have a new blog highlighting the MFA program (beginning of a huge web overhaul for the program, so keep watching!)

www.clarabellenmsu.blogspot.com

thereandbackagain said...

More questions! Yay! This time about recommendations.

1. Are y'all using the same 3 people for each school or are you choosing different people based on the school/teaching/academic focus/faculty they know?

2. What all are you including in your packets to the recommenders? I'm thinking of including: easy to read list of recommendations requested with deadlines and special instructions, my writing sample, my personal statement, my CV, and a brief letter thanking them for taking the time to help me. Is there anything that I'm missing? I may be applying to as many as 19 schools (I've just about given up on narrowing it down below that number) and I want to make this as painless as possible.

Thanks again for the help.

Writer Dude said...

@thereandbackagain

1) I am using the same three. Any more than that and my tiny man brain will explode. I got a "sure" from my favorite writing prof from undergrad (we were pretty good friends and we still keep in contact), one of my lit profs (he was my undergrad thesis adviser but we weren't super close), and the Sports Editor of the news paper where I wrote sports (and where I was highly creative and therefore censored writer, but he always enjoyed my attempts at "spicing" up high school sports).

2) I am going to break each school down with the exact instructions needed and all the forms, stamped and addressed envelops etc etc. Also, I will send my resume and statement of purpose. In December I will probably send them each a gift card for their time =)

Carry on.

Blob said...

@thereandbackagain

re: recommendations

1. I do not have the same recommenders. Mostly because one of my recommenders is willing to only do 6 schools. But it's working out well to lighten the load for everyone a bit. I more or less randomly scattered them, I didn't want to over think who was doing what and why. The only one bit of strategy was to make sure my professor who got his MFA at UT, was involved in my UT set. I also have an extra recommender on the side for TA apps.

2. I had one professor specifically ask for writing samples. So, I'm sending everyone forms, envelopes (of course), a small part of my writing sample (4-5 poems), my CV, a list of deadlines and any special instructions, and a cover letter that says thanks of course and highlights anything in particular I want addressed.

Blob said...

Question regarding LSU's application.

All I can find in terms of application information is the application pdf, which makes references to graduate school application. Is there another online portion I'm not finding the link to?

For some reason I'm having a really hard time navigating their form!

(and yes, I lied, my list last time was not final, looks like LSU is making it on)

Skyler Fawkes said...

Have people seen Seth's Top 25 Underrated programs list?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/the-top-20-underrated-cre_b_736052.html

Jonathan said...

@thereandbackagain

All my recommenders had specific (and somewhat different) information they wanted from me. Perhaps you've done this already, but if not you should just ask them exactly what they need. Professors write recommendations all the time, and most have certain preferences as to how it gets done. Better to ask than guess.

@Blob

I had the same experience. As far as I've looked, there isn't anything besides the English Department application pdf. However, that pdf does essentially have all the necessary info on it (it mentions the writing sample, GRE scores, recommendations, SOP, etc).

Jean said...

@thereandbackagain (and other folks re: recommendations)

Wow 19 schools? Have you looked into using a letter service to make it easier on your recommenders? This was a suggestion that one of my professors gave me. I'm using the letter service provided by my school's career center. Basically your recommenders can send them one copy of their letter, and the service will do all the admin work of mailing it out, emailing it, or uploading it to the online application (for a fee of course).

And I definitely second Writer Dude's idea of sending a gift/thank you card after this whole process is over!

Jean said...

@thereandbackagain - and yes I'm using the same 3 recommenders for all my apps.

Blob said...

@Jean

You should double check the requirements of the schools you're applying to. A lot of schools won't accept recommendations from a carrier service because they have forms with specific questions that can't be filled out in that system. Even the ones without forms, often specifically request that the recommender sign the seal of the envelope. Some even flat out say on their websites that the will not accept letters through a recommendation service. It's a pain and it's unfortunate because it makes recommenders have to put in a lot more work.

But, double check to make sure your schools are ok with this system.

Karissa said...

Final list in POETRY:

Hollins
Virginia Tech
Syracuse
Virginia
UNC Greensboro
NC State
Virginia Commonwealth
Bowling Green
George Mason
West Virginia
Michener
Iowa
Michigan
Columbia College

My boyfriend is currently doing his MFA at Hollins, so I'm REALLY hoping to get in either there or at VA Tech so we can live together again. (I'm in Iowa.)

My question, however: One of my recommenders asked me to write him up a memo telling him what I -MOST- want him to emphasize in his letter. Has anyone else had a request like this? I have no idea what to say!

Blob said...

@karissa,
I got the same request. I'm aiming to figure it out and get things finalized this weekend. I have no idea what to say. But I'll probably end up being pretty vague. I feel awkward telling someone how to praise me...

Karissa said...

@Blob

Exactly! His excuse was that there was "too much in my CV that he could discuss." My thought was, "Well... then discuss it all!" ;)

Karissa said...

Forgive me if this is an intrusive question, but I'm about to take the GRE for the first time (gasp!) and was wondering what you all considered to be a "strong" verbal score?

Writer Dude said...

@karissa

I've had a lot of wine tonight so forgive any typos (about to take a flight home for a visit, from Los Angeles to Indiana...want to sleep haha)

I would say almost ALL the schools that even list a GRE preferred verbal score say that they want 600 or better -- from all the schools I looked at (which have been a lot) they either do not specify or they say 600. For the writing portion, I believe most say (if they say at all) 5 or higher.

But there are a lot of programs!

thereandbackagain said...

@karissa

Seconding WriterDude's comment. I did see an "at least 500" on verbal on a website today (can't remember the school, sorry), but the standard seems to be 600 when it is specified.

thereandbackagain said...

Folks applying to Wash U in St. Louis,

Last time I checked their website (before they updated it for the 2011 application season) the application due date was 1 Jan and the cost to apply was $35.

I just checked the site again and the application deadline is 15 Dec and the cost to apply is now $45.

I stopped by the campus last March and was really happy with the look of the campus and the kindness of the graduate program secretary, Kathy Schneider. At that time, I was considering applying for their PhD program. I'm applying for the MFA as a result of that visit, even though the program is 2 years, instead of my ideal 3 year program.

hopefulscribbler said...

Hi all,

I think I'm a little behind judging by the progress others have made. I still have to write my SOPs, polish my sample and take the dreaded GRE. On the plus side, I have three recommenders (but the third I'm a little worried about so I've asked a fourth too), my transcripts ready, and all the online apps near completion. My firm list for fiction:

Michener
Brown
Cornell
LSU
Ole Miss
UNC Greensboro
Syracuse
UC Irvine
U Oregon
ASU
U Michigan

@ Jean

I'm using Interfolio to send out my LORs for the majority of my applications. The following have confirmed that it's okay to do so:

Michener; UCI; Cornell (on their website); Brown (on their website); LSU; Syracuse (on website).

Ole Miss and Michigan will not. Same with NYU. Does anyone know whether ASU, Oregon and UNC Greensboro accept LORs from dossier services? I can't seem to get an answer.

Thanks

Blob said...

re: GREs

After not doing so well on my GRE, I went back and very carefully looked at my then list of 16 schools. Only two mentioned any GRE requirement or number: LSU said that their students generally have a verbal of 600. And FSU said that in order to TA you need a minimum of 1150, but there was no requirement for admission. I didn't come across anyplace with an actual requirement or minimum and therefore decided not to retake my GRE. Don't stress it.

But if you're asking what I consider a GOOD score, it would have to be in the 700s. But schools won't even look at your scores until you've made it into their like pile.

kaybay said...

Hey Blob, where did you find that info about FSU's minimum GRE score requirement for T.A.'s? I'm going to have to strike them from my list if that's the case because my score isn't that high and I have to have a T.A. What a bummer :(

Amanda said...

Judging from everyone else's comments, I think I'm on a decent pace with my applications. I took the GRE this week (verbal score 610 -- not great, but passable), have secured my recommenders, am working on my statements and have two stories (23 pages) in my writing sample polished and ready to go. I'm working on a third story, finishing the statements and getting transcripts around, all hopefully before the end of the month.

The question weighing on my mind today, however, is a little outside this application process. I'm wondering if anyone else is having a similar experience.

Here's my story: I graduated with a bachelor's in journalism in May '09, and was considered a pretty promising student. I worked nearly full-time for a mid-size daily newspaper for two years while I was still in school, went on to one of the better summer internship programs in the country, and scrambled to find a job last year, when the newspaper biz was taking its biggest hits. I found one (albeit it's not what I had hoped for), but I'm extremely unhappy. I knew I wanted to eventually do an MFA in fiction when I was a senior in undergrad, so I'm going for it this year.

The problem is, I just informed my old journalism teacher and one very close friend/my mentor in the business, and they're somewhat upset at my decision to essentially leave journalism for a while and pursue an MFA. I think they understand where I'm coming from, but they're worried about job prospects post-MFA and they just don't want to see me leaving the field.

I'm still applying to all my programs, but their reaction to all this is giving me a bit of a heavy heart. These people were very supportive of me while I was doggedly pursuing journalism, and I feel as if I'm letting them down. Has anyone else experienced old professors, bosses, mentors, etc. becoming chagrined by your decision to pursue an MFA? Is there any way to perhaps assuage their misgivings about the decision?

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

subscribing.

Oh, and fault-listing from last mailbag...

My major problem is clarity. Sounds strange, but I almost never write "realistic" fiction (referring to style here, mostly) and sometimes get muddled in narrative devices. Example: I was thrilled with this non-tradish, super-close 3rd person narration I had going and sent it to my fellow workshoppers. They pointed out, during said workshop, that I had not named my character (intentionally) or used any gender-specific pronouns (unintentionally), and had left them completely in the dark as to the gender of the protagonist (on accident). Haha, whoops. Lots of workshop experience since then, thank goodness, but I still rely a lot on my peers when it comes to gauging audience-comprehension.

Marti said...

@ Amanda: I wouldn't worry about anyone who's upset you're leaving journalism. I've worked in media for several years and in the last two I've seen so many friends get laid off, or constantly worry about being laid off. That's at newspapers, magazines, websites too. I just can't imagine someone not understanding why you would want to leave journalism right now; that lack of sympathy seems ludicrous! In the end, I think an MFA will make you an even stronger journalist if you choose to go back to newspapers. In other words, I think you're making the right decision by doing what you want to do, and I wouldn't worry about assuaging anyone's misgivings. Good luck!

Cam said...

Lovin' this blog! Reading through the old mail bags has been an education. Location is big for me. I'm trying to stick to programs on the western side of the US, with a few exceptions (Minnesota, Iowa).

And now, the list, for fiction:

Iowa
Minnesota
Montana
Arizona State
Colorado
UNLV
Wyoming
Texas Tech
UCSD
New Mexico State

Blob said...

@kaybay

Here's the link to where FSU mentions the information about TAships and GREs:

http://gradschool.fsu.edu/Funding-Awards/Graduate-School-Fellowships

It's not off the English department or Creative Writing page, so it is possible things are different.

I don't quite meet the minimum either, but I'm applying anyway, you never know.

kaybay said...

Blob -

Thank you for that link. Hrm. I'm going to send an email to the program director about that, since it would seem that if those are the minimum requirements for a T.A. and the program is fully-funded, then those would be the minimum requirements for acceptance as well. Some programs seem to work outside of those requirements to a degree (Ohio State told me "not to worry about it"). I'm wondering if FSU is the same. Problem is, that didn't email me back about reapplying and I had to call several times to get an answer, so it may take a while. Grrrr...

lalaland626 said...

I'm stressing about the wildly divergent page requirements for writing samples. Oregon and Minnesota say no more than 25 pages, or the universe will explode and the Duck and Gopher will cry.

LSU, which is near the top of my list, wants "about 20 pages." Problem is, the two stories I feel best about are slightly over 30 combined. I have a short short that got published that I could send with one of the other stories and have just under 20, but frankly, I'd like to send longer pieces.

The schools that make this easiest are places like Florida, which just say two stories. Indiana wants at least 30 pages, so I can send both to those as well.

I was hoping to send the same stories to all schools, but that was clearly a naive thought. I think my two longer stories would be stronger than one 15-pager and another 3-pager, but I don't want to hack off the schools by sending more than allowed. If LSU says about 20 pages, I figure they don't mean 32 pages.

How are you guys dealing with that? If a school wants say, 20 or 25, should I just send a strong longer story of 15 or 18 pages, or throw in a short short as well? I don't want them to think I only have one story to send. If a school only gives me the maximum number of pages (like Texas State with 30), I'm afraid sending in just 16 or 18 would look shoddy.

Amanda said...

@Marti

Thank you for your insight. You're right: I really shouldn't be worried about what other people think, since I know I'm doing what's right for me. It's hard sometimes, though, to shake off the opinions of those who were there for me back in undergrad, you know? Oh well -- guess I should just carry on. I'm still super excited about this application season. Good luck to all! :D

lalaland626 said...

@Amanda: No one can take a serious look at the journalism market nowadays and be truly upset with you for considering other options. If they are, then they're making your career choice about them rather than you, which is what it should be.

I've been doing journalism for nearly four years post-college, after working weekends at a local paper my last three semesters. The market is awful, and so is the pay, and so is the morale at a lot of papers. Knowing I'm applying to grad school makes me feel better on days when my job is totally sucking. I wouldn't mind taking on one more newspaper job (especially in a better location) before I go to grad school, especially if it takes more than one round of applications, but I can't see myself doing this for too much longer. I don't regret my time in journalism at all, but it's starting to wear me down. I recommend trying something else after college rather than going straight to grad school, and you've done that.

If they're upset with you, it might be because they see lots of young and talented writers being driven out of the business because of all the bullcrap going on there now. I agree that it's sad, but it's the industry's fault, not yours or mine or anyone else's.

anotherjenny said...

My list:

Bowling Green
Indiana U
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Penn State
Purdue
Southern Illinois
Syracuse
U of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne
UM, Ann Arbor
U of Minneapolis, MN
U of Texas, Austin
Western Michigan U

I've got my recommenders and have taken my GRE, but I've yet to crank out any formal statements of purpose since it seems like every school wants something a bit different. I have one short story that's pretty polished, but I'm hoping to write something else interesting before applying... anyone else in this boat? Deadlines make me work, and I'm hoping the pressure will induce me to hammer out something cool in the next few weeks. I guess I feel like I have time still? Or is that a bad thing, haha?

Blob said...

@kaybay, let me know if you get in touch with them.

Mike said...

List for fiction (pipe dreams in no particular order):


Louisiana State
Syracuse
Florida
Virginia
Southern Illinois Carbondale
Minnesota
Oregon
U. Colorado
Alabama
Hollins

Adam said...

@Blob - you absolutely MUST apply online to the LSU graduate school!

https://app.applyyourself.com/?id=gradlsu

Good luck!

hopefulscribbler said...

@ anotherjenny

I'm writing something entirely new for my sample but it's been knocking around in my head for some months now and must come out! I like deadlines too...and I'm in a workshop at the moment so I can get some good feedback. Good luck!

Freda said...

For Fiction:

Brown
WUSTL
Southern Illinois-Carbondale
Arizona State
Alabama
Purdue
UNC - Greensboro
Iowa
Vtech
Oregon
Montana

Don M. said...

FINAL LIST-FICTION

Iowa
So. Illinois, Carbondale
Houston
Memphis
Ole Miss
Alabama
McNeese State
Arkansas
Hollins

Karissa said...

I see a few few fellow Hollins applicants -- but all in fiction, if I'm not mistaken. Anyone else applying to Hollins in poetry? :)

Todd Gray said...

Every time I think I've narrowed down my list and cross a school out, I discover a school to add. It's getting time I've just got to man up and decide. Unfortunately, I'm the most indecisive person I know.

Any advice, suggestions, etc are greatly appreciated on my list so far. I write pretty straight-up contemporary fiction, although I like science fiction and fantasy too. I'm not too much into extreme experimentation, although stylistically I am. If anyone sees a school in this list that seems counter to my preferences, please, e-mail me: j.todd.gray@gmail.com

Also, any further suggestions. Primarily, I want to write and be surrounded by a strong writing community. Also, the school's post-placement rating and their commitment to assisting in getting their students published is a big preference.

List (no particular order):
Florida
LSU
VA Tech
Bama
Vanderbilt
Ole Miss
Notre Dame
Cornell
Iowa or Texas (not both)

Blob said...

The recent lists have made me realize how ridiculously long mine is. I know someone here is applying to 19. But my list of 14 seems awfully long.

My original goal was to apply to 10. But I've gone 4 over that and I think I'm sticking with that. More than anything, I feel bad for my recommenders. I guess what worries me is that I didn't really do the schools from each tier system. All of my schools are in the 1st tier. And so I guess I sort of feel like the more I apply to the better my odds. But I have to admit, they're probably not very good odds...

Anyone else spreading out and keeping fingers crossed with unrealistic expectations?

kaybay said...

Todd - NC State for sure. They have a sci fi writer on staff, in fact. Also, decent funding, good location, editing opportunities, teaching opportunities, etc... Also, a higher admit rate. High as in 10%, hehe.

thereandbackagain said...

@ Blob

I was the person applying to 19 (but then I realized that I didn't know how to count, and it's actually 20) in poetry. My reasoning for applying to that many is that I'm only willing to apply this cycle. Beacause I am determined to be in grad school next year, I am also applying to masters programs in literature. However, I really, really, really want to be in grad school to focus on my writing first. I've never been able to have that kind of laser focus on my writing, and it is something I crave. Age is a factor for me as well. I plan to go for my PhD after my Masters. I'm 40 now and would like to have a PhD in hand by 50 at the very latest so that I can get a job, save for retirement, etc. (And this isn't to say that if I don't get in anywhere now, I won't apply again after I receive my M.A.)

With regard to your 14 schools - I came across a post from Seth in the PW Speakeasy forum that basically stated the numbers that everyone says (from Tom Kealy's book) applying to 8 to 12 schools were based on 2004 data. We all know that the competition to get in these programs has risen quite a bit in those six years, and if we want to have a better shot of getting in the first time, we need to apply to more schools. (The post is significantly longer and much better stated, but that's the gist - you can read it here: http://www.pw.org/speakeasy/gforum.cgi?post=295849#295849). So, I don't think that 14 (or 20) schools is really all that crazy. Maybe Seth could weigh in here.

Seth Abramson said...

My current advice is 12 to 15, and (if you're only applying to top-tier programs) 16 to 18 if you can afford it. Remember, with the vagaries of funding being what they are, and the reality that sometimes we apply to programs (and even get in) and then visit them or think more about them and decide they're not for us, the reality is that you're shooting to get into three programs if you can, not just one. And yes, as the OP said, that advice from Tom Kealey literally predated every piece of MFA data collected since January 2007--which more or less is every piece of data collected as part of the national assessment scheme. Before 2007, everything was based on speculation. The current conventional wisdom is based on data re: acceptance rates, applicant-pool sizes, application trends, &c.

S.

thereandbackagain said...

Okay, so here is my FINAL list in POETRY. Twenty schools in order of application due date:

McNesse (rolling, so I'm sending it first)
Michener
Cornell
Washington U - St. Louis
Wisconsin
OSU
Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
Alabama
Kansas
Indiana
Michigan
Virginia Tech
Iowa
Arkansas
West Virginia
South Carolina
Virginia Commonwealth
LSU
Southern Illinois - Carbondale
Old Dominion

I went for mostly 3 year schools where the cost of living is low / very low. If a 2 year school is on the list (Iowa, Michigan, Cornell) there is a compelling reason (for me) why.

I know that I can live pretty much anywhere. I've lived in big cities (Miami, San Francisco, Seattle) and now I live in a smallish town in central Kentucky. I didn't think I'd like it here, but it turns out that I do. We have a thriving literary community in Kentucky - one that I think could rival many other places. What we don't have is a full residency MFA program. It's unfortunate, because the literary folk here are kind, generous, and very active in the community.

I'll be speaking with my recommenders this week about how I can make this process easiest on them. Wish me luck. :)

And good luck to everyone. I'm so grateful this board is here.

Amy said...

This question relates to @Kate's earlier question about transcripts.

Before graduating with my BA, I took a couple classes at a community college while in high school. Are schools really going to want those transcripts if these classes were taken before earning a BA?

Thanks guys!

L.C. said...

After months of expanding and condensing, I have finally arrived at what I'm sure now is my "final" list for poetry.

Massachusetts, Amherst
Johns Hopkins
Washington (St. Louis)
Iowa
South Carolina
UNC, Wilmington
Virginia Commonwealth
WVU
Georgia
Memphis
American

WanderingTree said...

Anti/ Rene,

I've pasted the statement of purpose I used for applications last year if anyone wants another example. I used what I posted as a rough template and tailored the essay for each school.

http://sequoianagamatsu.com

Karissa said...

@thereandbackagain

I'm also applying in poetry and we have a ton of overlap in our lists -- I'm applying to a total of 14 programs, and 6 of those are also on your list -- most notably the ones in the Virginia area. Are you from around there? :)

thereandbackagain said...

@karissa

I live in Kentucky right now, so I'm Virginia adjacent. I like the area enough to want to stay somewhat close, which is why most of the schools I'm applying to are in the Midwest and South. Also, my family is in Kentucky, so being within driving distance is a plus.

ChrisLes said...

@lalaland

My feeling is that if a program sets a firm page limit of 20 pages, they've got to expect a lot of one-story portfolios, and won't think that people who send these have only got one story to show. Programs with a 25-page limit have managed to make things especially awkward for everybody, but likely expect two stories or one 20+ page story. Programs with a 30+ page limit probably expect two stories at minimum, unless you've got some lights-out Alice Munro behemoth to give them.

I've always felt a certain frustration with programs that set restrictive page limits, as the portfolio matters so much that it's inexplicable for a program to be unwilling to read at least two stories of whatever length the writer thinks best. But I'm afraid there's not a whole lot one can do, except to hone and hone, to have faith that programs are willing to read a page or three over their page limits unless they say otherwise, and to point out that, say, the same story that's 18 pages in beautiful Georgia 12-point with standard 1.25 side margins is just 15.5 pages in Garamond 12-point with just-as-acceptable 1-inch side margins.

Once you get into grad school, nobody likes a Garamonder, but when you're applying, hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. :)

Chris
Driftless House

bennett said...

applying in fiction to:

cornell
iowa
brown
houston
hunter
george mason
maryland
siuc
bowling green state
columbia college (chi)
nc state
gcsu
vandy

etrangette said...

Thanks Renne for your answer.

I have another question. Some people were talking about how long it takes to get your GRE scores to send to schools. I was under the impression that you could send the scores to schools immediately after the test is taken (by indicating which schools you want your test sent the day the test is taken). Is this correct?

I'm just worried because I'm not taking the GRE until Nov 20th and my earliest deadline is Dec 1st (granted that majority of the early deadline schools are flexible with receiving supplemental materials after the deadline).

Rags said...

@ etrangette:

On the day of the test, you are allowed to nominate 4 schools that you'd like to send your GRE scores to. This is free of cost.

I think it takes about 3 weeks for your score to appear online (I took my test Sep 16 and my scores became visible a week ago), and only then can you order additional score reports (read: send to more schools). Each extra report here costs $23.

So, I suggest you send your scores to your 4 earliest deadlines on test day (or the ones that are not flexible on late GRE scores).

But, do check two things:
a. Can you nominate all your schools on test day and pay the amount?
b. Can you order additional reports before the official score comes out?

etrangette said...

Thanks Rags, that was a really helpful answer!

And now I have another urgent matter that just came up... of course it is about recommendations which I think is the most stressful process of applying:

The professor of my writing workshop during my last semester of undergrad was on the faculty for the MFA program at UMD. She taught our class as a gradclass to give us a push in the forward direction. She has tremendously influenced my work for the better and I really wanted her to write my third recommendation. But she never responded. I gave her about 2-3 weeks... So I gave in and decided to ask someone more reliable, an English professor who cannot speak of my creative writing but only of my character and academic ability.

Is it bad to have 1 extra recommendation? will the reviewers only pick three to read and then toss out the extra??

Blob said...

@etrangette

I would not send more recommendations than a school asks for. They have a lot of material to go through for each student and sending extra materials that aren't asked for doesn't usually reflect well on the candidate. Plus, it likely won't help you much.

I'm in a similar situation as you. I asked someone, didn't hear back, asked another professor, and then ended up hearing back from the first. But I'm spreading my recommenders out. Only one professor is doing all my schools, the rest are doing spread out, so that every school still only gets 3. One of my recommendations comes from an english professor who also does not know my creative writing. I'm making sure to use him for schools that have a bit more of an academic focus. But in general, I tried not to over think who's doing which school.

I'm hoping to get my recommender packets out today or tomorrow. For some reason, this part of the process is really making me nervous, even though all my recommenders have agreed.

B.Field said...

FOR FICTION (FINAL):

Purdue
Virginia
Penn State
Sarah Lawrence
Iowa
Illinois
Oregon
Notre Dame

Philo Gargantua said...

My list for fiction (final):

Brown
Southern Illinois
Purdue
UNCG
Virginia Tech
Iowa
WUSTL
Arizona State
NYU
San Diego
Vanderbilt
Bowling Green

kaybay said...

Ugh. I need to vent. First of all, to all those wondering about FSU's GRE/GPA requirements for funding/admission, here's the response I got today:

"The application is a two part process. First you have to be admitted to the University, then you have have to be accepted by the department. The GRE scores and the GPA are University requirements. I would not be able to say whether you would be admitted or not. However, from past history what I can say is that some students are admitted "without" funding from the department. It is decided on a case by case basis by the department's application committee."

In other words, I will not be applying to FSU :*( I have to at least have the chance for funding. So, I'm enlisting advice from my peeps: I'm interested in Va Tech, Purdue, and Hopkins. All three have what I'm looking for in a program, but Va Tech has an easier app process and notifies early. Purdue wants a 10 page paper from English class that I don't have and I guess would therefore have to write. Hopkins has a daunting process, too. Any suggestions? I'm leaning towards Va Tech, but I'm willing to lean elsewhere.

One other gripe: I found out that my undergrad is now charging for transcripts (didn't do that last year) and they are $12 (!) a piece! The total cost for that comes out the price of a whole new application. Grrr...

kaybay said...

Hmmm, I just realized that "without" is in shutter quotes in her email. What the HELL does that mean? Why are they messing with my mind????

kaybay said...

Oh, and one more post: I got a response about reapplying to UF and was told that all I need to send is a new writing sample and that I simply need to reactivate my app from last year. I think I still have to pay, but hey, it's $30. Or, as I now think of everything, two f-ing transcripts. Bastards.

Blob said...

@kaybay

ugh, indeed. It might be worth a phone call to really get clarity. I'll see if I can find time during a lunch break sometime this week.

I just sent out my recommender packets today (yay) with FSU on the list. But I might have to reconsider that one. It's an electronic recommendation, so it'll be fine if I don't do them or swap them for another electronic rec school. But I really like FSU and don't want to lose them.

I'm starting to think maybe I should buck up and take the GRE again. I don't have a ton of time, but I could take it mid november and probably have enough time. Ugh.

Blob said...

Also, while it makes sense to have to get into both the program and the grad school, it doesn't make sense for the grad school entrance requirement to be the same as the TAship requirement, especially when an entrance requirement isn't listed anywhere. Hmmm...not sure what the full story is.

kaybay said...

@Blob: Yeah, I agree about it seeming a bit sketchy. I'm confused by the phrase "'without' funding" and why the "without" is between quotes... Is it one of those "we have requirements but I wouldn't worry about it" kind of thing? It's only going to cost me $30 to apply there anyway (unless I have to resend transcripts and GRE score reports, in which case, it's totally not worth it), so I might apply anyway. I'm very curious about your phone call to say the least.

'11 MFA Draft said...

I, too, will join in on the ranting--

Entirely frustrated with the whole process already and I haven't even sent anything out yet.

My biggest gripe is with the letters of recommendation. I won't even get into details-- I'll just say that trying to attain the letters have been the most excruciating part of the process by far. I hate relying on people. (I'm still down one letter and frantically searching for a recommender). I wish the process was simpler, like "writing sample, SOP, transcripts" and boom that's it.

I've also had to chop my list down considerably because of various other factors mostly of the people-in-academia-tend-not-to-give-a-bleep-about-people-who-are-currently-not-in-academia variety, including but not limited to: not replying to emails, website inaccuracies, broken links, switching requirements at the last minute, general incompetence.

I am now staring at a tiny list of 6 schools. Not looking too good. And if I don't get in this season, I'm pretty sure I won't attempt again.

Jeff said...

'11 MFA Draft:

I'm with you 110%. The letters are the one part of the application process that we cannot control. You can do everything right, but if Prof. X, Y, and Z don't write those letters, you'll go nowhere.

Honestly, I think all programs should drop requirements down to 0-1 letters. And I think UMass only requires two letters nowadays. The entire requirement is antiquated and unimportant, in my opinion. Plus, it's a discriminatory practice in regards to older students, some of whom haven't taken college courses in years (or even decades). Insofar as Creative Writing is concerned, the applications should be about the writing, the writing, and the writing. We shouldn't have to have a "sponsor" to get into a solid program.

kaybay said...

I do understand some of the requirements, but some are just silly. Why do I need to send a 10 page paper from an English class? Why specify that the letters must be from former professors/creative writing teachers? That one really bothers me because I feel like my letters are going to be stronger from co-workers, CW mentors, and supervisors.

The biggest irritation of all comes from the fact that I won't even make it past the 2nd read pile for some of these places. I don't understand why schools don't do what McNeese does: send the sample and an SOP; if accepted, send letters/transcripts/fee/etc.

I'm irritated by busting my ass for no reason. But, c'est la MFA vie.

Blob said...

re: recommendations

I wish the process was a bit more streamlined-- a common app rec form or something like that. I feel bad asking my recommenders, amongst everything else they have to do in their lives, fill out 12 different forms. But I like having recommendations. For me, that's an opportunity for someone to speak up for my ability to perform well in an academic setting and my potential for growth as a writer. It's something that I feel good about.

And from the other point of view, I'm sure it's reassuring for a committee to see a strong recommendation, particularly for someone who may not have a stellar academic record, as proof that the candidate will be able to handle the workload and is teachable.

As for them being from a broader range of people, I think most schools will accept recommendations from anyone: coworker, mentor, boss, etc. They just advise a professor, because that's the person that can make the most direct comparison and speak most directly to how someone might be in the classroom/workshop. But I haven't seen any school say they won't accept other recs, just that professors are the most useful. Of course, I think it goes without saying that it's better to have a great recommendation from someone else than a mediocre one from a professor you haven't interacted with in years.

Eric said...

I think "without" is in quotes because the woman is old and thinks quotation marks are used for emphasis.


E

Corinne said...

I agree that the LOR is an unfair requirement for older applicants. I never took a creative writing class in college, and even if I had, that was so long ago I would be embarassed to ask. I have had to rely instead on published writer friends who are familiar with my work. Not a bad option, but not quite the same as having a letter from a writer who is also a professor.

I have recently lost my confidence, and perhaps my courage, but I thought I would post my list anyway. This is for "Fiction"

City College
Brooklyn College
Rutgers, Newark
Syracuse
UMass
Iowa
Michigan
Virginia

Open Spaces said...

Hello,

Is there a funding list somewhere? I know that there is the Poets and Writers Top 50 2011 MFA Rankings, which is very helpful, but I'm wondering if there is a list somewhere that contains a bit more funding detail. Funding is my main concern and I am having a little trouble finding fully funded schools in the northeast.

Thanks for any help!

anotherjenny said...

Here's a change of topic (and tone) from the ranting:

Does anyone else find it terribly difficult to write stories when they're happy?

Thing is, I've fallen in love. Like, no kidding. I've only known this guy a month and we both feel this crazy certainty that also feels not crazy at all, but like the most natural thing in the world, that we're going to be together for the long haul.

Needless to say, I'm pretty tickled. But I've also been good-for-nothing at writing anything serious or that doesn't induce vomiting in my single friends.

I need one more 14-pg story. Thoughts? I could always sabotage my relationship by stealing his kidney. That might create some excitement.

Jeff said...

"Needless to say, I'm pretty tickled. But I've also been good-for-nothing at writing anything serious or that doesn't induce vomiting in my single friends."

I'm not having any problems writing right now.

Man, I'm so happy I'm miserable.

anotherjenny said...

@ Jeff

What are you writing about? What I want to write about is a tough relationship/ time in my life that I recently got through, but I'm having at hard time getting back into that frame of mind.

Adam said...

@anotherjenny:

Why not a story about a woman who sabotages her relationship to restore her creative mojo? ;)

For inspiration, look under "Boys, Wonder."

Blob said...

I am a terrible masochist. I've been looking up old mailbags, the old post of driftless house, and old PW forums from feb/march of last year to read about everyone anxiously waiting to hear and the running lists of acceptances and rejections. I don't know why I'm doing this. It's not helping, only making me even LESS confident than I already was that I'll get in anywhere.

I'm going to be a real stressball come feb.

thereandbackagain said...

@ Blob

I was doing the exact same thing last night. I think that I'm going to have to take up drinking come acceptance season. ;)

Ava said...

Hi Everyone,

This is my first time posting here and my first time applying to MFA programs. It appears I'm behind a lot of you in terms of organization etc. Hopefully I can catch up in time...

I just need to rant a bit about the recommendation process. I'm researching the websites of the schools I plan to apply to, and more and more of them appear to want the recommenders to submit online. I just have one question: are they INSANE? They want professors, they say - do they not realize how busy professors are, and how full of countless emails their inboxes are, and how long it can sometimes take to writing recs, and how by that time the "email solicitation" they sent for a recommendation has probably gotten lost or swallowed somewhere if, indeed, it ever made it through the spam filters at all? And if these professors are writing MULTIPLE recs for various students how do they keep them all straight?!?!

The whole thing is just asinine to me. To be honest, it almost makes me want to not apply to MFA programs at all. I have been out of college over 6 years and wasn't super close to any of my profs, but I had a couple write me recs for a summer program I did post-graduation and I believe they're still on file with the school. I'm hoping one can just be tweaked a bit and redistributed. But then each school has its own "special forms" you need to fill out where the professor is supposed to say if you're in the top 5% he or she has ever worked with and all of this numerical stuff, and I'm like, really guys...? You're charging me $65 to apply and you can't take the time to read what the recommender wrote and evaluate it from there? You're not even going to look at it if you don't like my writing sample!

Would I be "punished" if I simply had each of my recommenders write me something, sign the sealed flap, send 'em all back to me, and I send 'em in with my app, you know, the old fashioned way? Probably. Probably my app would be thrown out! I just cannot fathom wasting that much of a person's time on something that might prove to be COMPLETELY irrelevant. Even my recommender who does have more "time," I would probably have to hold her hand to help her through all the online crap, she's not completely web-savvy...

Am I the only one tearing my hair out about this?

Hillary said...

This is my first comment, but I've been reading the blog for a while. I have a question: does anyone have any opinions/insight on the UMass Boston MFA program? I know it's a new program, but I never see it mentioned in MFA conversations. I've been researching some of the poetry faculty and they seem to be well-respected. I'm trying to finalize my application list and would appreciate any advice on this :)

Jeff said...

I'm writing about a young man who has put himself in a terrible predicament, and he's now forced to choose between either being loyal to his family, or staying out of prison.

@anotherjenny - I think our minds involuntarily push out bad memories to make room for good ones. Unless, of course, you have those indelible Vietnam War-like memories.

Try making a post-event journal. Write down all the things you felt and thought way back when. Don't throw anything away!

Jean said...

To everyone ranting re: recommendations:

I hear ya. It's a big pain in the ass. I was in the same boat (feeling completely annoyed & discouraged that I had ask my recommenders to submit letters online and fill out 8 different forms), until I found a solution: signing up for a letter service through my college's career center.

I've been out of school for 8 years, so I had to pay a hefty $125 alumni membership fee, plus additional fees for each school I want to send to. But in my opinion, it's worth it so that my recommenders can write one letter, fill out one generic ranking form, and the service takes care of mailing everything out. Also - I'll know for sure when the letters have been sent to the service.

I emailed the schools on my list that had (annoying) special requirements. Here's what I found out:

UC Irvine: ok to use the generic form instead of their ranking form.
UCSD: ok to use the generic form.
OSU: ok to use the generic form.
Brooklyn College: ok to use the generic form.
Hunter (website says you need to send the letter in a packet with all other supplemental materials): ok to have the letters sent separately via service
Virginia (website says letters MUST be submitted online by recommender): ok to send letters in hard copy.

It took a little legwork to find out the info I needed, but it seemed like the program coordinators were willing to work with me. It seemed like most of them were more concerned that the letter service retain confidentiality of the recommendations, which it does (I just have to fill out a form).

Hope this helps...

kaybay said...

Ava, I think we all feel your frustrations. I will say that no program (unless they specify otherwise) will look down on an applicant who sent in their letters on their own in hard copy, as long as the seals are signed. Also, if a program likes your sample, recommendations from co-workers/supervisors/mentors will not hurt you; rarely will a person not be accepted based on recs.

I'm mostly frustrated by the fact, though, that my letters won't even be read if my sample doesn't make it past the first round. I don't like paying big bucks and toiling away for nada. THAT makes me a little P.O.'d

Ava said...

Jean and Kaybay, thank you both so much. You have helped me to not feel so crazy/frustrated about this aspect of the process. It's reassuring to know that the application committees are not small-minded beaurocrats who insist everything be done exactly their way (guess I've spent too much time around those types of people these past few years!) Part of why I was freaking out is because I'm 6+ years out of undergrad, didn't write a thesis and wasn't that close to my professors, but I had a couple of them write me works for a summer program I did right after graduation and those were then placed on file for if I never needed them in the future... one of them was from a creative writing prof I loved but who has moved on and is now the head of a department at another university so I *know* she's a busy woman! I'm hoping she can tweak my old letter and make it relevant and then just use that to apply. My school does seem to have one of those services to an extent and I don't know that they even charge for it - maybe they do, I have to ask...

Anyway thanks for putting me "back on the wagon" you guys!

Justin T said...

I'm certain this has been discussed at length before, but one school asks for "20 pages of poetry" and I'm not exactly sure what that means. Would it equal to 20 poems, for instance?

Also, I've decided to apply in both poetry and fiction. Is there anything unique about doing that? Do some schools make you pay the application fee twice?

Blob said...

@ava
I'm having all my recommenders mail me back their letters with a signed seal. Some schools want them with the packet so they'll go with. Any that seem to want it to go separately, I'm just going to go ahead and mail out. I just didn't want to make it any more confusing for my recommenders telling them to mail some back to me and mail some directly. It really is a lot to ask them! I've had one recommender, who's clearly done this 10000 times, he's been very organized and punctual, even emailed me yesterday to let me know his letter for me was done and was just waiting for my packet to arrive! He makes me feel a lot better about everything.

@JustinT
Schools only want one poem per page but a poem can be as long as you want. So basically you can't put 2 short poems on one page. But you can send in a 4 page long poem. If you have poems that are a page and change, you still can't add another poem to that page. So, for 20 pages of poems, for some people that might be 20 poems, for others it might be 4 5 page poems, or it might be 10 poems for someone with poems that are each just a smidge over 1 page.


Is anyone putting a lot of thought into the order of their poems?

Karissa said...

@Blob

I'm obsessing over the order, actually. I don't have a FINALIZED writing sample (partially because I'm still holding out hope of writing a masterpiece in the next six weeks, hah!) but I have a pretty general idea of what I'm including, and I have them in a folder entitled "Writing Sample" -- The files each begin with a number, indicating where in the sample it'll appear.

Those filenames have changed more times than I can count.

thereandbackagain said...

@ Blob & Karissa

Count me in on the obsessing over order. I'm still waiting on a couple of people to get back to me with rankings (top 8, middle 8, don't send unless you have to 8) of the 24 poems I asked them to read. One of my readers (who is also a recommender) was kind enough to suggest an order, so that was nice. Oh, to be a CNF or Fiction writer when it comes to this. I write short poems and so much can go wrong in them. I was workshopping one of my poems last night - one I thought I'd worked the kinks out of - and it turns out I hadn't. Better to know now, but I came out of last night's session a little panicked. Are y'all in writing groups now? If so, are you finding the process helpful or not as you approach submitting your applications?

Karissa said...

@thereandbackagain

I'm not in any kind of writing group. The only other serious writer I have any contact with is my boyfriend -- who is currently in an MFA program. I'm taking a poetry workshop right now, but no one in there takes it seriously -- it's just an "easy" three credits for them. I'm doing this on my own, pretty much, besides the help of my boyfriend and two professors -- neither of whom are creative writing/poetry professors, so that's unfortunate.

Blob said...

@karissa @thereandbackagain

I don't have a writing group either. I've tried to find one that doesn't involve lots of money in nyc, but it's a very hard literary scene to navigate and find your niche in-- one of the many reasons I'm not applying to grad school here, though I love it.
But almost all the poems that will be included in my sample are poems that have been revised, workshopped, revised, and workshopped again. So I do feel some what confident htat they're 'finished,' though I do want to do one more careful edit on them. I am a little worried about the order and which poems to pick. I've found over the years that some of my favorite poems aren't necessarily what other people love best.

One of my old professors, who is also doing recommendations and knows my work well, has offered to help me pick out my sample, but he's having an exceptionally busy year and I feel bad asking too much out of him. So when I do ask for his help I want it to be a 'pick a or b' type thing not a 'here are fifty poems, pick the 10 best!'

Most schools on my list have a 6-10 sample size, so I need to pick carefully what my 'core' poems are going to be. I too have fairly short poems (all are under a page), so I want to make sure I'm careful about what I pick.

lalaland626 said...

Seems like it's a nervous time here at the blog. I'm with y'all. I have a sick feeling in my stomach that while I may be able to get my writing to as close to the best I can do for ME, the others will be stunning and astounding and blow me out of the water and I will be stuck in this town still (been trying to find a new job because of the very real possibility that I won't get in anywhere first time round).

I have two stories. One I wrote in summer, another I wrote last month or so. I feel like the second one is fresher, but there were times after I wrote the first one I thought it had real potential and I liked it. Now I just don't know what to think. I often hate my stories right after I finish them. Ugh. Anyone still wanna trade?

I'm going to the Nimrod conference later this month, btw. You get five pages looked at by an editor, so I'm sending in five pages of my most recent story. Looks like a fun conference.

Gonna send out packets for nine schools. Four require hard copy recs, while five are online.

Open Spaces said...

Is there such thing as a fully funded low-residency program?

Also, does anyone have information on the funding at the University of Colorado? I couldn't seem to find anything on the website, but I may have missed it.

Thanks!

Jeff said...

Blob:

Those are interesting comments you've posted about the NYC literary scene. With so many people, I always figured in would be easy to find a group who shared your interests without having to break the bank. So many bookstores, coffee shops, schools, and libraries.

But perhaps the huge and diverse population actually works against you. It's a cliche of cliches, but there's the needle in the haystack.

Helen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blob said...

@Jeff

re: NYC literary scene

It's definitely a vibrant and happening scene. But it's also so big and spread out that it's really hard to get into. The literary scenes I've experienced in other cities have been a lot more centralized so it makes it easy to find. The one here is full of specialized sections. And finding the right place can be hard. You sort of need a map or a guide, something I haven't found. There are a lot of workshop opportunities, which is great, and would probably help me find a good circle or at least a peer group, but a lot of them are pretty pricey.

There are tons of reading series as well, so there are tons of resources you can take advantage of. But really finding a place in the community, I've found is a challenge, especially at this stage of my life.

Even in a perfectly funded NYC program, I think at this point in my path as a writer I'd benefit from getting away from NYC and learning and getting involved in a more centralized literary community as I find my roots, so to speak. I think when and if I become more established, this city's resources will be a lot easier to navigate and use. Right now it feels a lot like a glass room (you can look, but can't enter).

DMC1985 said...

I`ve also been obsessing over order for my poetry sample. I`ve come up with six possibilities:
1. Chronological
2. By project, either newest or strongest first
3. An inverse bell curve, where you put some of your best first and some last, and what you think are the weakest in the middle
4. Best poems first
5. Build up to best poems
6. Rob Gordon mix-tape style (start it off with a killer, then bring it up a notch, then cool it off a notch).

I`ll probably do it by project, since I tend to write a lot of linked poems. I also assume they will read all our samples, as opposed to an editor at a lit mag, who may only read a few poems or even lines. However, I think Iowa gets something like 1700 apps, so I`m not entirely sure how they pull that off.

It`s especially tricky for schools with longer samples (Minnesota)...it`s like submitting a chapbook.

Renee said...

Hooray! I finally have a third recommender on board! Good thing I've been working on my SOP, though, because she wants to see a copy of it.

Ugh, I've been simultaneously worrying about MFA applications and doing nothing to further my progress.

@ lalaland: want to trade? I have one 15-page story that I suddenly got cold feet about. I had a friend workshop it for me, and I've reworked it a million times, but she's not a writer, and I'm suddenly doubting myself. (It's historical fiction, which isn't what I usually write.)
My email is on my profile.

Man oh man. In the next few weeks I get to finish this job, look for an apartment, move, look for a new job, and keep working on applications...

Jonathan said...

@Renee, lalaland626

I'd also be happy to trade samples with either/both of you, if you'd like. My e-mail is jonathan.v.dunn@gmail.com.

Blob said...

Do people have interest in a yahoo or google group where people can share samples and ask questions about them? Or would people rather work on a one to one basis?

Karissa said...

@DMC1985

I'm stressing over it, as well -- I think I've settled on a kind of bell curve, so to speak, though your mix-tape idea does sound AWESOME. That might make more sense... Hmmmm.

kaybay said...

Jonathon, Lala, Rene - I would looooove to trade with any of you as well. I swapped with Maia and had wonderful results (she has a stellar sample already, y'all :D)

Can I email you, Jonathon?

@Blob - I wouldn't be opposed to a group, but attempts at it last year kind of fizzled :S

kaybay said...

Also, I have a final list (sans FSU):

UF
Iowa
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Bowling Green
North Carolina State
Michigan
Syracuse
Vandy
Penn State
Va Tech
Virginia Commonwealth
South Carolina

Jonathan said...

@kaybay

Fire away! Again, my e-mail is jonathan.v.dunn@gmail.com.

'11 MFA Draft said...

So. I think I finally nailed down a third recommender. I basically had to stake out the campus and hang around the prof's office, accost him outside the door, drag him in, lock the door, and look really menacing yet friendly at the same time.

He agreed, but I'll believe it when I see the LOR in my hand.

God... I hate everything that has to do with LORs. They should be optional.

Soon-yi said...

Hi-

I thought I'd share my just-finished list of poetry programs. I'm feeling really good about the list, really bad about my prospects of getting in!

Iowa
Cornell
NYU
Emerson
VA Tech
UNCW
Alabama
Miami
George Mason
Maryland

Blob said...

If others are interested in trying to give a group another try, I'm more than happy to set one up. Just let me know.

Renee said...

blob, I'd be happy to give a group a try.

Todd Gray said...

@kaybay
I think we're applying at a lot of the same schools! Good luck. I just added Penn State to the list, debating removing Notre Dame though, and considering adding NCstate (but not sure about their funding).

@Blob
I would be interested in such a group.

thereandbackagain said...

Oh no! I'm tempted to apply to the Nebraska - Lincoln MA in Creative Writing solely because Ted Kooser is teaching there. UGH! *I will not change my list! I will not change my list!*

kaybay said...

Yay, Todd! Good luck to you too! Maybe we'll end up getting accepted to the same place(s) ;)

Writer Dude said...

I'd try to be part of said group -- though I'm fiction...

My critique of poetry usually goes as far as "I like it" or "I do not like it"...but I can try!

I think I am going to practically rewrite a short story (a darling massacre) so that extra stress will be nice!

Blob said...

I've never tried it before, but I'm thinking about doing a delayed NaNoWriMo this year. After my applications are done, I'll need a serious distraction to keep myself from climbing up the wall. Jan or Feb might be a good time for me to aim big.

More importantly, I have a question about personal statements:

Are most people doing their statements in a letter form or an essay form? I know this is trivial in the grand scheme of things. But I don't even know what the standard is or what you're 'supposed' to do.

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

I saw someone on here post that they were applying to Columbia College in Chicago for fiction. Last time I checked, they only had a poetry MFA, but I went back to the site, and lo and behold, there was the fiction!

However, I couldn't find anything about funding; anybody have info on TAships, stipends, etc at Columbia College? Also, any other Chicago schools that have good MFA programs? I'd love to live in the area, but so far haven't found a worthwhile program there.

Marti said...

@ Bryan

I don't know much about funding at Columbia College, but I majored in fiction writing there for undergrad and loved it. It's such a supportive, welcoming community. I know many MFAers who are very happy w/ their education there. It's not cheap, but it is a lot less expensive than a typical private school. (Also, the fiction dept. is separate from the English dept., which is maybe why you didn't see the fiction MFA at first.)

Katie said...

Okay, I'm a bit freaked out reading these, as I decided just last month to apply, and am just beginning to narrow down my list and start the application process.

I'm also a bit concerned about recommenders. For some bizarre reason I've spent the better part of the past 17 years as a biologist (please, don't ask, hopefully it will make good fodder for my creative non-fiction writing). This makes finding recommenders a bit challenging. I wonder if it would be okay to get one recommendation from a former employer for whom I wrote a ton of biological reports?

eek. thanks for any thoughts or suggestions.

kaybay said...

Katie - I'm four years out of undergrad and have been teaching for each one of those years. I felt uncomfortable asking my philosophy professors for recs (for a variety reasons, one of which is the fact they know nothing about my writing). I decided to ask a writing mentor, one of my supervisors, and one of my co-workers and knows my "work ethic" and "intellectual ability." I'm hoping it doesn't hurt, but I don't think it will. I'm thinking it's better to get great letters from "lesser" people than weak letters from "better" people. Just my .02

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