Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Wish I Had Known That...

What, almost a month and no new posts? Ye gads! What is the MFA Blog coming to?!

Well, I guess this is kind of the fallow period in the MFA application cycle. Last year's applicants know where they are going, or not going, by now, and next year's applicants haven't geared up yet (or have they?)

So, I was wondering: maybe those of you who have been through this process before could do next year's newbies a favor by answering this question:

I wish I had known that...

27 comments:

Jesse said...

...in the eternal words of the Triple H theme song, "it's all about the game, and how you play it!"

Karen L said...

Two things:

1.) It's never too early to start any part of the process.

2.) Schedule lots of things to keep yourself busy during the downtime between submitting your applications and receiving your notifications. Preferably things that keep you away from the internet.

Lindsey said...

Hi everyone!
I've been looking over this blog for the past few weeks, and it's quickly becoming one of my favorite traveling companions on the road to MFA school. I'll be applying for the first time this winter, and I already hear the clock ticking, especially when it comes to those life-and-death writing samples. Any advice from you veterans is greatly appreciated!

mike333 said...

I'm in the same boat as Lindsey. I'm going to be applying in the fall/winter, and would greatly appreciate any advice from those of you who've already been through the whole process. I'm particularly interested in those of you who've had to go through the rigmarole of applying to a decent number of schools, because I'm planning on applying to 15 (yikes!).

Inyour said...

If you read the handbook, it says to make a tangible, visable chart/ spread sheet/checklist with all the schools you're applying to and all the requirements. I tried to keep this all in a word document and became very confused. Also double check the requirements of each program; a fair amount of programs bury the information within their website.

Also ask for LORs ASAP! I couldn't apply to a few schools because one of my recommenders got very ill and I missed a few deadlines.

Patrick said...

There's a ton of great advice about the whole process on these sites. One thing I've noticed, though, is that some folks like to make blanket statements based only on their experience and/or situation. It's very easy to get caught up in it all, especially because the entire MFA process feels secretive and elusive. Just remember, no one can tell you what's best for you.

Broad generalizations about criteria, what programs you should/should not apply to, money, location, etc are only opinions.

Linda said...

I'm just gearing up for low-rez programs AND a part-time program that happens to be in the 'hood (Johns Hopkins MA in Writing).

If anyone can share their opinions/experiences on the differences re pros and cons of going to an MA in writing vs an MFA, I would appreciate it. I am applying in fiction. Thanks!

Manley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JL said...

Manley,

I'm going to my first conference this summer too at Sewanee. I don't know much about conferences but my Prof. said that Bread Loaf and Sewanee are "the two big ones." She also mentioned that even though there is workshopping taking place, it's more of a social/networking type of event but still should be very good experience. Congratulations on getting into Bread Loaf!

Jamie said...

Here's something: Though it seems like it when you're applying, getting in is not the end of the race. If you get multiple compelling offers (I had two), choosing can actually be quite excruciating and stressful.

For advice, I'd say after all the apps are gone, try and get out of the "please choose me" applicant mentality as much as possible and remember why YOU want to do this degree, what you want from it, how you like to work, etc. It's counter-intuitive at the time, but I think it will help the fast mental switch you have to make when schools suddenly become the ones saying "please choose me," and you have to evaluate them in terms of how well they'll serve your ends.

Cammie said...

As far as it being too early...

I'm about to start my 4th year at university, but it's looking more and more like I won't graduate until after I complete my 5th year. For all intents and purposes, I'm basically a junior in college because I still have another year to go after this one. I do think I'll be aiming for an MFA after I graduate, though, so I'm starting to look now.

I guess my main question is, when you guys submit(ted) writing samples, did you submit the sorts of things you did on your own time, or did you submit things you worked on in an undergrad workshop or with a professor? Since I still have 2 years, I've got time to flesh out writing samples and develop my own personal voice/style, but since I'll be taking some undergrad workshops and upper-division units, I'm looking for a sense of direction so I know what to work on before I get into the nitty-gritty of applications :)

Hope E. Ewing said...

@Cammie
I took two years of continuing ed workshops to work out the samples I wound up submitting for fiction programs. The first time I applied (last year), they were not near polished enough. The second time around, I solicited feedback from professors, colleagues, and random people I met in bars. I took some hard edits. I got into three great programs. The only advice I'd offer is workshop the hell out of your samples if you have the resources.

Tiffany said...

I have a question: I live in Japan and I would like to apply from here, but I need to take some classes/workshops. Does anyone know of good correspondence courses? Or have any other advice for long distance fine tuning of samples? I also hope to get letters of rec from the classes I take. I have one recommender, but I need two more, and I don't know how else to get them. Thanks.

Delia Feelin Okay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WanderingTree said...

Tiffany (and others that need feedback etc.),

Zoetrope.com is a great resource. A lot of well-known, prize winning authors first got their start on this website. As with any community, you have to give and participate in order to receive. Make yourself known, reach out to people, review other people's work. Try to get invited to private offices where most of the seasoned writers hang out and workshop.

Also, the Mid-American Review offers terrific 9 wk online workshops where you can submit up to three stories for review (and get advice on a bunch of other stuff). It's pretty reasonable compared to a lot of other workshops.

Stanford, Gotham, and U. Wisconsin-Madison all offer online courses. Stanford's can be a little pricey, however, most of the instructors are Stegner Fellows, so you're certainly getting the cream of the crop in that regard.

And sometimes applicants get together online and workshop each other's portfolio stories, so keep an eye out for things like that. There's a Facebook MFA group if you want to reach out there.

Sequoia

Emily said...

Don't be shy about asking for fee waivers. I asked last minute but was still able to get them for four of the seven schools: Iowa, Hollins, Alabama, Arizona.

Also, go with your gut when selecting pieces to include in your writing sample. Don't be afraid of being too experimental if that's your thing. And definitely read what the faculty have written.

Sarena said...

@Tiffany: I put together a list of online writing classes here: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7974095/list_of_online_creative_writing_classes.html?cat=44 Several of the ones WanderingTree mentioned are included!

B said...

@ Tiffany: I've taken online courses with Stanford, Gotham, and U Wisconsin, and my advice is, if you can afford Stanford, go for that. I finished a Stanford online course in May, and don't tell anyone at my undergrad institution, but it was better than any fiction workshop I took in college. Gotham sort of pissed me off for various reasons and didn't really help me much. Wisconsin wasn't good for me because I can't set my own deadlines (but might be great if you can do that!) Anyway, I was amazed with the quality of the Stanford course and can't recommend them enough.

B said...

What I wish I'd known:
1. As Emily said, apply for fee waivers!!

2. If you're nonfiction, don't bother applying for a million "back up schools." Nonfiction programs are very selective, but not as crazy selective as fiction or poetry, and applying to back up schools that aren't quite the right "fit" is just a waste of money. Also, I don't think you're any more likely to get into nonfiction back ups than you are to get into the programs you really like. In my case, I was accepted to most of the programs I really liked and rejected from most of my back ups--probably because they agreed that they weren't the best fit for me. So, that's my long paragraph about why you shouldn't waste time on too many nonfiction applications!

Matt said...

Prt. 1 Hi all, I’m curiously making my way through some of these, but I thought I’d share some of my own “I wish I had known that” info that I recently encountered—even though I’m *starting* (not finishing) the application process. I lately had the good fortune of meeting one-on-one with a very seasoned, published poet whose credits, reputation, experience, education, etc. rather floored me. (However, since I’m writing this sort of spur of the moment and haven’t asked permission first, it’s probably best if I leave him anonymous for the time being.) He was quite kind to take time out of his schedule to meet with me and offer oodles of very individualized advice on questions & topics I’d earlier prepared. One thing that stood out from it all, though, was the following: apparently, even if you earn your degree from the most reputable of M.F.A. programs, that degree is still worth absolutely nothing in itself as far as for obtaining a respectable college/university teaching job. Even more startling: this fellow had *book* publications to his credit—in addition to attending that most prestigious of all M.F.A. writing programs. Not only could he not get any creative writing teaching jobs at even our average colleges/universities, he couldn’t even get *interviews*.

Matt said...

Prt. 2 More surprising still: some years later, he now has additional impressive publication credits, books, and even national awards, and he STILL only works at a local comm. college. (And I work at the same one, so believe me it is not a place you want to linger at if you don’t need to.) Surely there are other benefits to attending an M.F.A. program: time/funding to write, the community, whatever few, lasting contacts made, etc. But I always thought that the degree meant *something* as far as the job market for college teaching was concerned. He put it this way: these days the degree is an absolute minimum in order to teach creative writing at almost any college (now, even comm. college), but you need so, so much more—and just to get the interview. Anyway, probably this is nothing new to many here (perhaps Seth has already covered it), but it was a bit surprising to me—particularly since that was a primary benefit in my mind. So, thankfully, I have this knowledge now . . . , but I kind of wish I’d learned it even earlier.

Matt said...

I'm very curious to know if anyone has any other thoughts to add--relevant to my two posts above. . . . I posted these some time ago. (It seems this whole blog has gone very quiet lately.)

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