Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mailbag, August 15, 2012

Here's a space for questions, concerns, ideas, freak-outs, support, encouragement, etc, etc. This mailbag isn't quite as frenetic as the Facebook MFA Draft 2013 page, where posts can often get lost. So feel free to dig in, share, and let other applicants know: the MFA blog is BACK!

35 comments:

notasuperhero said...

Hello, everyone. I am new to this. I was accepted into the MFA program at Columbia School of the Arts. I am really nervous especially after seeing the campus. I am from a border city in Texas so everything is very different here. I guess my question for everyone in this blog, for those that have dealt with this experience, what is the best advice you can give a first year grad student?

JDEvans said...

I have begun the process of creating my writing submissions for applications and have so many questions regarding what I have heard is good/bad preferred/acceptable/negative. A summation:
1. Novel excerpt vs. short fiction. My head goes in circles; my best writing is a novel but only because it is what I am writing. Should someone put the novel on hold and write short fiction just as a writing sample? Can a novel excerpt show the elements of writing needed to get in?
2. What elements must be present in the writing sample, universally speaking?

More questions to come

Josh

TheIronCage said...

Josh,

There are no universal elements that help or hurt a writing sample. Send what you and others consider your best work. Simply put, it's a crap shoot. Apply to as many schools as you can afford, and don't limit yourself to the top-rated programs. There are some schools where you have almost literally a 0% chance of getting in, so make sure you're wise with where you apply. Seek out faculty that mesh with your interests and aesthetic (it also doesn't hurt to read faculty members' essays on fiction, if you're able to find any). Good luck with your applications.

eddie f. said...

I'm wondering about the GRE's. Haven't started preparing yet. Do my math scores matter, at all? Should I even study?

RJ22 said...

Hello guys and gals,

Does anyone know why the MFA Research Project Blog suddenly went private? I've been using it (very helpful, by the way) for the past few weeks and last night it began asking for a username and password. Please HELP!

Thanks in advance.

Cassandra Morrison said...

Hi, I've never posted on here, but I'm kind of confused as to where to get this information, so thought I would start here! So I applied to MFA programs in 2010, and was accepted to 3 and waitlisted for 3. I had some family complications that kept me from attending that year, however, now I'm ready to go. How do I go about that? Do I need to reapply completely, or should I contact the schools individually? I'm just unclear, I really don't want to go through the entire process again because it's heartbreaking, expensive and time-consuming, but anyway, anyone have any ideas?

Larry Doyle said...

I am writing a story to use as my writing sample. Not too surprisingly, it is taking time. Should I complete the story before I even indicate interest by beginning some of the application process? I will probably limit my applications to no more than three schools, so I feel like I should be ready to roll once I open the door, pop my head in to say hello, and drop off even an electronic form. Something tells me there might be another way of looking at this that I don't see. Any ideas? Should I have the sample typed up and ready for press before even knocking on the admission department's door? Are there other things I should be doing while I am creating the writing sample?

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@notasuperhero -- my advice to you is, talk to second year students to get the skinny on what profs go the extra mile for their students, and what workshops/seminars they enjoyed most. Also, write yourself through the nerves, in whatever form that takes -- a short story about a nervous guy, or lots of journaling, or whatever. Express it, and dive it, You'll do great! Everyone is nervous when they start, even the ones that don't show it.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@Cassandra - unfortunately, you'll probably have to apply all over again. There is no such thing as deferred entry in the MFA world.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@Larry You can actually open your applications at most schools before your have all the elements together. I don't think there's any problem with doing so, anyway -- it all depends on what you prefer and your personal style, so to speak.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@RJ22 Seth has put all his data into the print issue of Poets and Writers magazine, on news stands now. So the online data is offline for 90 days or so, I believe, per his contractual obligations.

TheIronCage said...

@Nancy

Actually, there is such a thing as deferred enrollment. Temple accepted me last year and offered to defer when I didn't take their offer. So, I'm in at least one place this go around.

insley said...

Hideley ho,

Does anyone have recommendations for schools with poetry MFA programs, especially those that focus on/favor environmental/nature writing?

I'm just starting the application process and boy oh boy, do I have a lot of questions. There's so much information out there that I get overwhelmed. Location is not terribly important right now, nor is school size.

Any thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated!

NiniJD said...

@insley
I would look at Iowa State and Utah's poetry MFA if you are interested in an environmental focus. If you are just getting started also, look at P&W's MFA rankings, it is a good compilation of information, but don't limit your search or base it too much on the rankings. It will give you a good starting point though.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@ThelronCage Thanks for the correction. The MFA world is evolving and it's good to hear!

Matthew Welch said...

I am curious on any advice regarding the CV vs RESUME question. The applications I've read most closely say "cv/resume" is that an either or proposition? I have much more professional & volunteer experience than academic & publishing experience. Which way do I go? What in the world do these documents look like? All help will be appreciated.

Matthew Welch said...

I am curious on any advice regarding the CV vs RESUME question. The applications I've read most closely say "cv/resume" is that an either or proposition? I have much more professional & volunteer experience than academic & publishing experience. Which way do I go? What in the world do these documents look like? All help will be appreciated.

Cynthia said...

Nancy,

Thanks for having this forum. I'm interested in doing a low-res MFA, and I'm thinking about VCFA, Stonecoast, Bennington, Lesley, Queens and Warren Wilson. Does anyone have any thoughts about these programs? Are they equally welcoming to novelists? What happens AFTER the MFA? Do they find ways of keeping in touch, or do you feel abandoned?

Best, Cynthia

Jay Scott said...

Hello and thank you for hosting such a fantastic blog. I'm in a situation and feel violated.

I am a 34-year-old, non-traditional student who signed up to plow through four awkward years of undergraduate hell all in the name of moving on to grad school for an MFA in fiction writing. I discovered last weekend that I am not eligible to attend grad school next fall due to my need for a couple of summer classes to finish my B.A. The news devastated me since I've put in three years of hyper-overkill hard work and am now in more debt than I ever imagined I'd be. I've been robbed of a full year.

I don't know what to do with myself now.

Any opinions, thoughts, or ideas? What would you do in this situation?

Thanks,
Scott

Jay Scott said...

Hello and thank you for hosting such a fantastic blog. I'm in a situation and feel violated.

I am a 34-year-old, non-traditional student who signed up to plow through four awkward years of undergraduate hell all in the name of moving on to grad school for an MFA in fiction writing. I discovered last weekend that I am not eligible to attend grad school next fall due to my need for a couple of summer classes to finish my B.A. The news devastated me since I've put in three years of hyper-overkill hard work and am now in more debt than I ever imagined I'd be. I've been robbed of a full year.

I don't know what to do with myself now.

Any opinions, thoughts, or ideas? What would you do in this situation?

Thanks,
Scott

river-ribbon said...

i would take the classes and finish the BA. i don't think it's unreasonable that someone shouldn't be able to attend a Master's program without first completing an undergraduate degree.

Matthew Welch said...

Hi Scott,

That sounds like a challenge. But maybe it's possible to also see it as a gift? MFA applications are so incredibly competitive, now you have an extra year to prepare.

of course the best thing to do is find other writers and polish polish polish your writing samples. And then write as much new material as you can too.

But also it might help to find a whole slew of other things to apply to, instead of MFA programs, this year to "practice." Look around for artist residencies. If you search hard you'll likely find there are a lot that are for emerging artists too. Draft an artist's statement (which is great practice for writing that darn personal statement!) and then throw yourself into the ring. You have nothing to lose! Also try applying for scholarshops for workshops and writing conferences. Gaining these sorts of accolades would only help you MFA application. But even if you don't win any, the process of making yourself fill out the paperwork and complete the application statements will bring you only closer to having that stellar, polished MFA application you dream of.

Oh and I am positive you have a great story to tell. Anyone who has lived enough life to be just completing their BA at 34 has rich stories to tell. The trick is to learn to tell it well.

Best of luck!

Jay Scott said...

Thanks to both of you for the replies to my question/rant. :) Though I might change my mind as early as tomorrow, today I've been thinking to myself, "What if grad school winds up disappointing me as much as undergrad?" I've never asked myself before.

I am a disciplined writer and usually end up with ten or so extra stories outside of writing assignments each semester. Perhaps it'd be best to just continue writing. It's not that I believe I need grad school to become a writer, I just wanted a period of time to focus on nothing but writing and reading literature.

I suppose we'll see what happens!
Thanks again,
Scott

NiniJD said...

I am applying to 10 schools in fiction this year. They have writing sample page requirements between 25-40 pages. My question is, if you have a variation in page requirements like this, are you simply adding and subtracting a piece from your sample, or changing out the stories completely. I am fairly certain I know which 2 pieces I feel are the most polished and convey my voice the most authentically, but one is 10 pages and the other is 22. I clearly can't send them both to a school with a 25 page max, but I also don't want to send only 1 story, especially as I feel the 10 page story is my strongest. I also feel pretty strongly about another 10 page story, but I am concerned about having too many combinations, and if (god forbid) I am not excepted this year, I want to know where to go with my work from here. I guess I'm just unsure as to how I should account for the discrepancy in page numbers while maintaining a fairly uniform application. Thanks!

Jake-Up said...

Hi,

I don't mean to spam in any way, but I want to plug the program I'm currently in because a lot of folks don't even really know about it. (it's new, only began in '09)

I'm entering my second year in Southern Connecticut State's MFA program as a fiction student and I couldn't be happier with how it's gone thus far.

The program is small - only 5 (occasionally 6) people per year are accepted, and you get to work under two fantastic writers, Tim Parrish and Robin Troy. Tim and Robin fight hard for MFA students, and have found nearly every single full-time student funding in some fashion.

Last year, I was awarded the GTA which covered a bunch of tuition and paid out a decent stipend and also allowed me to teach my own section of comp in the spring.

This year, I was awarded a Grad Assistantship through the graduate school (they give out 20 per year, so odds are decent), and that covers a huge chunk of my tuition on top of a very nice stipend. So funding, while you have to do some leg work, is definitely available. There is also a fellowship only for MFA students called the TWiF (Teaching Writing in Fiction) where you'd intern under a fiction professor and then teach your own section of introductory undergrad fiction writing.

It's really a wonderful program with supportive-yet-stern faculty. Tim and Robin push you hard to get to the core of what your writing is about. I feel pretty lucky to be here and would encourage everyone who might be interested in living in Connecticut (it's in New Haven, so essentially smack dab in the middle of NYC and Boston) to apply.

If you have any other questions about the program, I'm happy to answer 'em: jake [dot] goldman [at] gmail [dot] com

Thanks!

TheIronCage said...

Figured this is as good a place as any to share: I just had my first acceptance for a short story arrive in my inbox. Pretty exciting stuff. Now let's hope it ushers in some MFA success.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@ThelronCage. Right on!

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@NiniJD I'm going to post something on the blog soon about how to choose your writing sample - it's a question that comes up a LOT. My quick advice here - don't go over the page limit if you can help it, and it's OK to go UNDER -- even by quite a bit. You CAN convince a program to take you on ten pages, if the ten pages is good enough. It's all they need. Really! But I don't think you should worry about making your samples the same in every case. Just send your best work, for the page limit. I know, I know, easy to say, hard to do, right?

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@Cynthia I think everyone feels slightly abandoned after leaving an MFA program, even the full time ones! It's like leaving a warm fuzzy cocoon where writing matters and stepping out into a cold, hard, indifferent universe. But, not to be too pessimistic, ahem, it's really up to you to make your own community, post MFA. And hopefully the program will give you the tools and community and contacts to do that. Some programs reach out more to their alums than others -- it really varies.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@Matthew Welch Yes, the CV and the resume are the same thing, and I suggest you create one that highlights your most relevant experience and keep it to a page. You don't have to sweat it, really. It's not a huge part of the application. Format it conventionally -- there are lots of examples online you can look at.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@ Everyone. New mailbag up now!

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