Monday, April 16, 2012

If I Had Known Then What I Know Now....

April 15th has come and gone, and hopefully all of you are starting to make your plans for next year, whatever and wherever that may be. As you are taking what feels like your first deep breath in months, I'd like you to reflect on your application process. Are there things you wish you had done differently? Something you should have known but didn't? Any advice to pass on to next year's application pool? Please post your comments below. And good luck to everyone!

54 comments:

Kyle said...

I do wish I had understood the importance of starting the financial aid process with every school you're applying to, whether you have an answer from them or not. As one who got acceptances relatively late, I was too late for a number of grants I would otherwise have been qualified for.

Also, do your taxes early, since Federal aid is a budgeted number, and once it's gone, it's gone!

coderam said...

Follow up, promptly, with both the graduate school and the department, to verify receipt of the application and all supporting materials. Do this even when it seems like you don't need to.

TheIronCage said...

Prioritize. Figure out exactly what you want out of a program (i.e. 2 years vs. 3 years, etc.) and apply only to programs that fulfill your criteria.

Research. Out of these programs, figure out which ones offer the specific things you're looking for. Are they fully funded? If so, is it through assistantships, fellowships, or both? Also, familiarize yourself with the faculty of the schools you're considering. This requires a lot of reading, but so does getting the degree. I did this all rather haphazardly and spent too much money applying.

Lastly, don't procrastinate on your writing sample. For this batch of applications, I started my sample in August and finished it in October. It yielded one acceptance with no funding, one wait list that's still pending, and 18 rejections. If you're applying again next year, start now.

Art Film for Girls said...

I decided to apply in mid-October and that gave me the absolute minimum amount of time to get all my applications in by January 1st or around there.

If I could do it all over again, I would give myself more time for sure! And I would save more money to apply to all these schools: application fees, transcripts and recommendations (if you use Interfolio) add up.

This produced 4 acceptances (3 with full funding, 1 with none), 1 waitlist, 1 I never heard from but can assume rejection, and 7 rejections.

I've tried to look at what each school required (some required academic research papers for Fiction MFA's and some didn't, some required Teaching Philosophies and some did not...) to try and make sense of where my weak spots were/are, but ultimately, I don't think there's any rhyme or reason for any of it...except people's tastes and assumptions.

I have been the happiest I've been in years--once I turned in the applications and throughout this waiting process because I worked so hard to keep myself busy...I wish I had "kept myself busy" with all these fun activities (including some not-for-credit writing classes) during the last few years... :)

Jeff said...

Don't underestimate location. There is absolutely no point in applying to a program located in a place where you'll be living in misery (or poverty). Consider cost of living. Think of the weather. Think of crime and traffic and pollution. You're going to living and writing there for 2-4 years so try and make sure you'll be happy.

MisterSammie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mari said...

I probably would have given myself time to take the GRE twice, double checked on those programs (like American University) which require an earlier application if you want a GA'ship. I also might have waited to find out where my boyfriend is going to do his post-doc... We were applying at the same time: there was so much coordination involved and so much stress, and I ended up having to make my decision before I knew where he'd be. If I had postponed a year and spent my time ghost-writing his dissertation, maybe we could have come up with something more convenient (that said, it looks like he'll be in Pittsburgh or Athens and I'll be in Morgantown, so that's not so bad).

Cookette said...

I wish I would have done just a little more research on the schools. And I wish I was a little more organized about submitting application materials. For such an organized person I did a terrible job at keeping track of what I submitted, when I submitted it, and where. I did end up getting accepted somewhere but the process was much more hectic than it needed to be.I'm reapplying this year for financial reasons and now I feel better about what needs to be done to lessen stress as much as possible.

Know your budget ahead of time so you can start saving over the summer. I didn't realize how important location was until the school I got accepted to were places I didn't want to live.

My advice to any future applicants is start early and stay organized. Use a chart if you have to. I have one that someone might find useful for keeping track of application materials. Just let me know.

popmartyr said...

Don't overstate yourself in your letter of intent. I proposed a highly dense incomprehensible thesis of sorts that I wanted to work with, and in the end, every school I was accepted to was famed for its experimental/ philosophic edge. I was rejected from plenty more humane programs that might have suited my style better. I'm not an experimental poet, but I guess I will be soon. Its easy to alienate yourself in your letter. Be humble -- even innocuous. They want to see in your letter what they'd like to see in your work: graceful implications. It comes down to "show don't tell."

Bob Bobberson said...

My advice would be not to listen to MisterSammie, who seems to forget that only three Ivies even offer an MFA, and that in most other areas, the University of Iowa falls into the category of 'Podunk State U.'

That's nothing but foolish, elitist nonsense.

kathryn said...

Get everything done early--especially the letters of recommendations--because something always gets lost. Also, just because there's a deadline doesn't mean you should procrastinate your essays until said deadline. Applying to grad school should be something you're excited about, not something that stresses you out so much you lose the excitement.

Alyssa C. said...

Wait until you have the best offer in hand from your top school to accept; there is a LOT of shuffling in terms of funding and waitlists that happens in the last week and even after April 15th, so it may be possible to get something you wanted but did not think you could if you are patient and persistent!

Monica said...

@Bob, I gotta agree with you. Name recognition doesn't mean much to me. Sooo many great writers come from small po-dunk schools. Not only that, but I think the key to success in finding a teaching job afterward has a lot to do with publication credits and teaching experience, regardless of what school you went to.

Unknown said...

I agree with Bob Bobberson and Monica. MisterSammie was probably trying to make himself feel better about the fact that he accepted at Columbia w/ no funding and declined a Podunk State U school w/ full funding, and then changed his mind and lost his place at Podunk.

Another bit of advice on the writing sample -- ask trusted peers or writing friends to read and rank your stories/poems in order of best to worst, and put the one voted best at the front of your writing sample.

Sally Jane said...

I would also like to chime in re: reputation/rank of any particular program or school. I have two friends, both excellent writers, who both graduated in the same class from IWW. One now has a published novel; the other is a high school guidance counselor. What happened? One finished her novel, the other didn't.

The name brand of your graduate program ultimately means nothing if you don't produce the work. So in choosing places to apply, I would strongly suggest looking at programs that will allow/require you to complete as many quality, full-length projects as possible. The degree will mean nothing if you have nothing to show for it.

radio said...

@unknown i also read when mistersammie mentioned giving up his place at irvine to go to columbia. and, like another contributor suggested, i have a hard time believing that everything mistersammie is saying is the truth. anyone even half-serious about an mfa would have quickly learned that irvine far outranks columbia in both poetry and ficiton. i suspect that mistersammie got into columbia, then lied about getting accepted by irvine to make columbia (and himself) look better. i just can't imagine anyone so silly as to reject a free ride to a far better program in order to pay $100,000 in tuition, $20,000 in other academic expenses, and $40,000 minimum for housing and food, all for a more crowded, less regarded program (which also happens to require more academic credits outside workshops) just for the name recognition.

MisterSammie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curious said...

Irvine is a suburb of LA. There are no cow pastures in sight. It's odd, Mister Sammie, that you care so ardently for an "ivy league pedigree", yet maintain complete indifference to the distinctions within the writing and publishing world that don't rank Columbia on top. Do you just want an MFA to feel good about yourself? I'm confused.

Unknown said...

I echo Curious's question. And if you truly believe that Columbia is the better route, MisterSammie, why, then, did you previously change your mind and see if Irvine could take you back? But really, congrats on "having more money than you know what to do with." And for the record, I'd pick pastures over crowded, noisy Manhattan any day. But whatever inspires your writing, I guess.

tori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
popmartyr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
popmartyr said...

Ya'll need to go easy on Mr. Sammy. Columbia has its problems, but writing at an ivy league in New York is nothing to turn your nose up at. I know the teacher - student ratio isn't hot, there's no funding, and it's heavier on academics, but it's still a wonderful accomplishment, and New York is probably the greatest writer community in the world. Any writer needs more support than you all are giving him. If he can financially manage Columbia, than more power to him.

TheIronCage said...

Getting things back on topic, I'll add that for as much awesome information as the people on this blog provide on the application process, I would recommend avoiding it during notification season. It's ruthlessly efficient at driving a person mad.

Claire said...

I think I underestimated just how much last-minute shuffling goes on. If you have waitlists, be patient and prudent until April 15, and keep in mind that unexpected things happen even a few days after that date. It is really, really, really not over until you have an official rejection.

ARugs said...

Submit work that shows who YOU are as a writer. I made the mistake of submitting two drastically different fiction pieces in an effort to show my range, and as a result got only one waitlist this round. I truly think that was my biggest downfall and will definitely be more conscientious of that next year.

Also, make best friends with excel and make spreadsheets for all the requirements for each school you're applying to and create a system for checking off each item. Sit down for one or two afternoons and bang out the online apps as quickly as possible so you can focus on your sample and SoP.

radio said...

what ARugs said is very interesting. i'd like to ask, does anyone else agree or disagree with him/her? i was planning on submitting application this winter, and i was gonna do the exact thing ARugs said was his/her downfall: submit two short stories with very different writing styles. any advice?

Kyle said...

@radio, is it a cop-out to say, "It depends on the program"?

Seriously, it's perfectly OK to call up early in the application process and ask to speak to someone who can tell you about the program. When you're on the phone, ask them if they'd rather see a writing sample that's most typical of your work or something that shows your range.

I sent different samples to different schools depending on what the program emphasized (my stuff with gay and female protagonists went to the school with the social justice emphasis, my commercially successful stuff went to the school with the commercial emphasis, etc.), so I'm a big believer in tailoring the sample to the market.

Kyle said...

Here's one for older folks like me.

I wish I'd known I was going to need to go trolling for a 40-year-old vaccination record before I'd be allowed to enroll...

ARugs said...

Hmm, I think that it could depend on the school but I feel like it is better to be consistent within each app. If a school can't get a sense of who you are as a writer, then how will they know if you're a good fit for their pgoram? What are other thoughts?

Mari said...

@ARugs

I showed range, but I used my statement of purpose to kind of connect them. I explained that even though the stories are different, they're exploring the same themes and experimenting with variations on similar literary techniques... you know? And then I really talked about why- in reference to my favorite books and stories.

Gabe said...

Not to sound too cynical, but throughout the process, make sure your are informed by facts and not a PR machine. Make certain any claims that a program makes broadly on its website or in other promotional material are backed up with actual support in the program.

A program that says it stresses the importance of community engagement, for example, means nothing if there is no institutional support or connections to community organizations at the school.

A program which brags they have gotten world-famous authors for their reading series (or who give a list of 5 authors who have read in the past) means nothing if the authors they get when you attend are all friends of the professors. (Not to say that famous writers are better writers. They’re not. But if it matters to you, make sure that you’re really getting it.)

A program which claims they encourage multi-genre work means nothing if that program doesn't have faculty that teach all of the genres they flout on their website.

Faculty and administrators of MFA program aren’t evil and they’re not out to sucker you, but sometimes they will speak of the MFA program they want to exist at their school, not the MFA program which currently does exist.

How do you make sure you’re not getting hoodwinked? Ask questions of as many people as you can without being obnoxious. If a program has a specific component which seems especially interesting to you, ask to speak to faculty or students about that element. If you are accepted to a program, ask to speak to current students about what they think of the school. Don’t be afraid to ask them about the strengths and weaknesses of the program as they see it. If you have even the slightest worry that something might be too good to be true, it is much better to follow up before-hand.

BJH said...

Send stories, not a novel excerpt, even if the program claims to be happy to consider the latter. They're reading so much in such a short period of time, who can blame them for not being willing to engage with something long and incomplete?

I applied to 5 schools and the only offer I got was from the one that insisted on stories only. I've been working on my novel for over 4 years, getting detailed feedback from my agent at every stage. It's undoubtedly my best work, but the excerpts I submitted got me nowhere. The stories that got me accepted are 5+ years old. Perhaps others will disagree, but if I was applying again I'd stick with stories.

Also, don't take the GRE lightly. My solid score has made the difference between getting a TA position and missing out, and the funding that offers means I should emerge from the program debt-free.

Finally, keep writing, and do it because you want to, not because you want to apply for an MFA! It saddened me to see people on here 'going back to rework my sample' after getting rejected. Don't think of your work as just another piece of material to submit!

Best wishes to all - not sure if this forum kept me sane or drove me mad, but either way I would have been lost without it...

radio said...

did anyone visit the campuses prior to applying? if so, did it help when u applied (maybe when writing the personal statement)? i am thinking of driving down the east coast next week to check out a few campuses, but am wondering if it's worth the cost. also, if u did visit the campuses, did u schedule a meeting with faculty or current students? please let me know. and any advice concerning visitations would be appreciated.

Jeff said...

Radio, the time and the cost are the main impediments that kept me from visiting campuses before applying. My professors told me to wait and see which programs accept you, then visit (if possible). I realize that visiting a campus first will have a bearing on whether you even apply, but there's not much we can do.

It is SO EXPENSIVE traveling these days, whether you fly or drive. Then you'll need a place to sleep if you're far from home, so add in the cost of an overnight stay. Oh, and if you have to ask for time off from work? Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching...

JDEvans said...

Site administrators:
When do the 2013 applicant posts begin?
How does one enter the Facebook page for MFA applicants 2013?
Resources?
Guidance?
Guidance.
Guidance!

Thanks so very much for your work on this site and for applicants in general. I have taken a 12 year writing hiatus to now pursue my MFA. As a father of three, and a professional editor and college administrator, I am certain I would not have returned to my dream if not for continuously checking in with this blog and the community it created.
Thanks to everyone who creates, posts, shares and dreams of the writing life in the past years-you have left a wellspring of wisdom and guidance for those of us now navigating.
You are all my inspiration and I look forward to being an active member of this blog for the next year!
Thank, again.
J.D.

TheIronCage said...

I have now learned, as well, that you shouldn't take it too seriously if you receive two rejection letters from one school. Apparently Boise State really didn't want me. Heh.

Pebbles said...

1. Expect to not know what to expect.

2. Don't bother checking the status of your application daily... I kept checking, and it ruled my life.. and in reality, if they want you... they will call you on the phone or contact you in another more personal manner.

3. Funding is somewhere over the rainbow, and if you want to go ONLY if funded... then you may have to turn down one or more GOOD acceptances to wait to be funded.

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Sylvie said...

Hi Everyone,

I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this, but here goes.

I'm planning to apply in poetry for 2013, and I'd like to get a list of schools I'm applying to going as soon as possible. I'm wondering if those in the know can help me out with that.

I'm ideally looking for programs that don't require any teaching, and will also consider programs that let you teach creative writing (but don't overload you with courses). Schools that require you to teach freshman composition will be a definite no for me. (I have reasons for this which I could explain, but don't want to bore you all with them unless you are really interested).

So I'm wondering if there's a list out there somewhere of programs with no teaching requirements or programs where you get to teach creative writing. If there's not a list, if anyone knows of programs like this, please let me know. The only one I know of so far is UT-Austin (Michener), and I'm definitely going to apply there, but I need more options as I know Michener is extremely competitive.

Of course, this is not my only concern regarding which programs to apply to, but its the one which is the toughest to figure out. I know I could just go through all the MFA program websites and figure it out one by one, but that will take a lot of time. Even advice about how to search this more effectively would be welcome.

Thanks for any help anyone can offer.

Cathy said...

The vaccination record was also a surprise to me!

And don't forget once you accept an offer--REGISTER FOR THE CLASSES YOU WANT ASAP. I'm already on a wait-list for a class...in June.

Sally Jane said...

Sylvie:

I'd like to recommend that you add Stony Brook Southampton to your list of possibilities. There are creative writing teaching opportunities, but none of it is required.

If you'd like me to send you the program brochure (it's beautiful), just email me at sallyjane.kerschen-sheppard@stonybrook.edu

Best of luck to you, and keep checking this blog. There is a lot of valuable information here!

Nontradgrad said...

What about Goddard?

seoinheritx said...

wow its a great blog.... must be great to see you write a book

Lia said...

@Sylvie,

Indiana is a great program. Grad students teach Engl comp *and* cw classes.

Marco Moreno Flores said...

Can anyone advise me on whether purchasing the book "Creative Writing Mfa Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students (Revised & Updated)" is worthwhile. It was published in 2008, which means its information was compiled even before that. Anyone think it's out of date, still relevant?

Katie McGinnis said...

Oh gosh, YES. YES. I applied to way too many schools. It was a total mistake, IMO. Tops 15.

I wrote a 2,000ish word FAQ basically detailing everything I did wrong here: http://katiemcginnis.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/the-mfa-faq-the-odds-and-ends-of-applying-for-mfa-creative-writing-graduate-programs

Jackie said...

I would like to state that it is very important that you make sure you check your credit score before being awarded a graduate PLUS loan. I was accepted to California College of the Arts for this fall. I had paid my intent to enroll, housing deposit, had my plane tickets, everything. I found out from the Dept. of Education ONE WEEK before leaving that I did not get this loan. There was no co-signer option for me. I was forced to cancel my enrollment, and am devastated, to say the least. Also, I would say that CCA is not an idyllic school, unless you are a trust fund baby. It is a private school, and funding for graduate students is slim. In fact, I think I may have been totally scammed, to be honest. (75 bucks for the application fee...). I was totally enamored with living in San Francisco and attending an art school. Don't make the mistake I made.
I am not sure if I even want to try again...but I really do want to attend an MFA program. I want it sooo badly. I am wondering if I can get any/all advice on how to better decide where to go. The only other schools I applied to were University of Arkansas and University of Missouri-Saint Louis. I did not get accepted to either. I did not do all that well on the GRE. Not terribly, but not great. I really don't want to blow the money on it again, but I may have no other choice. I only had a 2.97 GPA when I graduated from undergrad. I was excited about this school, because they claimed to base their decision solely on your work. I also had good recommendations, but after all this time has passed, I don't know how to go about getting those again. I figure my professors have long forgotten me by now. I am totally lost and disheartened. I know I am a great writer, but I just don't see how I can find a school that fits me, that I can actually afford to attend, and that is somewhere that I will be happy. HELP ME DECIDE.

Megan said...

I'm a recent college graduate who, up until this point, has maintained that I'm "not ready to go to graduate school." I've always wanted to wait until I could practice my craft enough to attend a Top-tier MFA program, and attend whole-heartedly. I want to go at a time when I am ready for the undertaking, and able to produce my best work. Also, I wanted to wait until I could AFFORD graduate school, although many of the programs I am interested in claim to be "fully funded."

It is now September and most programs accept applications between October and January. Theoretically, I still have plenty of time to work on my application materials, collect letters of recommendation, etc.

I've been wondering if applying this year might not be a bad idea. I'm feeling very motivated to begin the application process, and have been feeling really invigorated in my writing these days. My only fear is that I lack the discipline and maturity necessary to do well in an MFA program.

So, I'm thinking about applying to four or five schools this cycle. I'm considering about twelve right now-- most from the Poet's and Writer's Top 50 list, and some not.

I do not want to get sucked into the glitz and name recognition of a "Top" program, but I am afraid this is already happening.

Really, I just want to attend the best program that I can--a place where I can learn from distinguished and experienced professors, study fiction writing and/or creative non-fiction, work with a talented and driven group of writers, attain a spot as a TA/GA, leave the program debt free, and enjoy a low to moderate cost-of-living.

I would appreciate any advice folks can offer--specifically on whether or starting the application process this late in the year is a good idea, or schools and programs I should consider.

Thanks!

Kyle said...

@Megan, don't worry about not feeling ready. Those who do are usually the ones who aren't. But at the same time, don't use the P&W rankings as the ordered list of schools you want to be in. Every ranking system is flawed in that it must set criteria, and those criteria may or may not be the same as yours. Rather, go through the list and see which ones are the type of program you want.

Is it important to you how many of the program's grads get academic jobs, or is it more important how many of them are publishing? Check it out. Do you want to teach while you're in school? Some programs require it, others discourage it. Do you think you'll learn best in a literature-intensive program or in a workshop-intensive one? Different programs have very different styles.

And, most important, get on the phone and check out the personality of the program itself. You want to go someplace where you'll get along well.

At the end of the day, lots of people come out of top-ranked programs and go nowhere. A motivated individual can create opportunities to learn in even the worst program. Look at what you need, and go after a program that can provide it.

jzz said...

Unless you are straight out of undergrad, "fully funded" really means, a huge pay deduction from your current job.

15,000 stipend per year which is on the high end of most MFA programs, amounts to working a 7.00 an hour job, which in many areas of the country is *BELOW* minimum wage.

Outside the humanities, fellowship stipends regularly go for 25000-35000 a year! 40,000 a year is not unheard of.

Out of college for about 7 years now and being 30, I make the equivalent of 25.00 an hour plus full benefits, paid vacation and health insurance...But even my first job was making 36,000 dollars. So even these "fully funded" programs are a misnomer, I would save more money going to a school at night and paying out of pocket or doing a low res program than quitting my job for a full time program.

So if you are already in the job world and over 25 or so, definitely something to consider.

R.T. said...

MFA info on fully funded programs: http://affordingthemfa.wordpress.com/

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