I think this is going to be a long post. We received two emails this week regarding some strange (though not completely unheard of) acceptance policies at the Florida State MFA program. Here's what they had to say:
i've been accepted to the MFA program at Florida State and would like to accept. since this is a new program [i'm guessing that's the cause], i've had a bit of trouble getting my hands on information pertaining to the program. i've emailed several members of the department, getting all the info i can, and i shall likewise ask you if there's anything in particular you have to say about the program. in your book, you profile the MA program, and i suppose i'd like to know how much of that information is relevant to the MFA program. funding, most importantly, is something i'm having trouble getting solid information about.
Florida State has informed me that assistantships will not be offered until after the April 15th decision deadline. this seems odd to me--and contradictory to information in your book--because i don't know how i'm supposed to decide before i know what my funding situation will be. in the handbook you clearly describe scenarios where people are making decisions on schools based on funding. this happens to be how i'd like to make my decision as well. however, as i attempted to initiate a "bargaining" process with Florida State, a faculty member advised me that, if i got an assitantship at another school but wanted to go to Florida State, i should accept the offers at both schools, and then see if Florida State offers me an assistantship after April 15th. i was under the impression that accepting an offer to a school carried a little more obligation than that, but honestly, i just don't know.
and IiI writes...
I have MFA fiction offers from George Mason and
Florida State. While Mason has offered me full
funding, FSU, ranked much below Mason, has offered me
none. I felt somehow insulted, especially cos each of
the four schools who accepted me so far have offered
me full coverage. I contacted FSU, and I was told that
they can let me know only after April 15 if they will
be able to fund me.
FSU has only just started their MFA (they used to
offer only an MA), but they have Robert Olen Butler...
George Mason is ranked #20, FSU is #37, but the
rankings are old... I am inclined towards FSU, because
of their faculty, esp. Butler, Bob Shacochis, etc. But
FSU has been comparatively indifferent towards me.
Apart from the acceptance letter, there has been no
contact from the faculty. On the other hand, Mason has
been sort of "courting" me, the director has contacted
me a few times.
Well, first of all, the FSU Ph.D. and M.A. programs have very good reputations, and their funding is above average. That said, I don't at all like the advice the first writer received about accepting more than one offer. Of course there's nothing illegal about this, but I find it unethical. A deadline is a deadline, and programs should offer as much information to students about funding etc. before that deadline. Students should stick to their word about their acceptances, just as programs should. Otherwise, it works in the disfavor of other students on waitlists or who are "on the bubble."
It's not completely unusual that a program won't know the funding situation before students accept. It may be that the program is waiting on word about funding from the English Department or the University's administration. That said, it's really not a smart policy for programs. If they want certain students, they should be clear about funding, and if there is not funding for other students, then students should be told that.
These are only two emails, and we don't know how other prospective students have been treated by the Florida State program. But the lack of help in this initial stage does not, to my mind, bode well for student support in later stages of the program. It's a definite red flag as far as I'm concerned. If I were one of these students, I'd contact the program again this week, ask, politely, where I stood in the funding situation, and if I didn't receive a clear answer, I'd take one of the other offers.
There was a strange interview with Mark Winegardner, the head of the program, in a Florida paper last year. He was enthusiastic, to understate it, about FSU becoming the best program in the nation in the next rankings. That article is down now, but here's a link to a paragraph from it.
Good luck with your decisions, IiI and AiA. I'd appreciate any comments, from any reader, on this post.