Friday, July 20, 2007


I'm very sorry about neglecting the update of my database. I'm behind now and completion of the task will have to be pushed back to the end of August rather than the end of July. I'm spending the summer at Bryn Mawr, helping to evaluate manuscripts for the Hidden River Arts fiction contest, juggling various writing projects, and working on a dissertation that involves interviews with Philadelphia poets within and outside the academy.

So, that thing about my "posting weekly notices about writing contests, writers' retreats, arts festivals, literary journals, and other resources for writers"? Forget that. I think that's REALLY easy to find out about on one's own; one message from me per week isn't going to make much of anything for anyone. Just check out Poets & Writers Magazine, the AWP Website... writers' forums... you'll find more than you'll ever need to know.

Right then. So why not let the topic of this post be: Why I am not applying to grad school? I'll be brutally honest. The answer is that I simply don't have a chance of getting in at this point in my life. I have little work experience and my writing isn't mature enough; I need to work on these for a couple years in order to be a much stronger MFA candidate later on. Furthermore, I'm really tired of studying and would appreciate a two-year break. And preparing for the GRE is torture. Last of all, taking time off school to work will help me build up my bank funds from just a few thousand (which is all I've had in college) to tens of thousands, which greatly enlarges the range of programs I can apply to, and will make colleges less likely to recoil from me--if they see that first-year tuition will wipe out all your funds, they'll probably still be open to giving you financial aid if your application looks good, but if your funds don't even equal one tenth of first year tuition... well, the app's probably more likely to get chucked in the trash.

How long have others been out of school before applying to programs?


Phoebe North said...

if they see that first-year tuition will wipe out all your funds, they'll probably still be open to giving you financial aid if your application looks good, but if your funds don't even equal one tenth of first year tuition... well, the app's probably more likely to get chucked in the trash.

Is that really the case? Most schools have no idea what your funds look like when you apply. While I filled out the FAFSA, I'm pretty sure that, even now as an accepted student, the creative writing department at UofF has no idea what my bank account looks like.

I took off a year from school, and I'm glad I did. It let me save a small amount of money, begin paying off my undergraduate loans (important since I'll now be deferring them for two years!), and buy a reliable car. But most importantly, it helped me to figure out what I really wanted to do with myself. I was originally going to take two years off, but I discovered pretty quickly that working sucks. Go figure!

Unknown said...

I guess the nice thing is that you can never be forced to put your writing pen down--whether or not you choose to attend grad school. The GREs are a terrible hoola hoop that writing MFA applicants confront in selecting any grad school program. I'm not taking them again. It's just as well since I'll probably end up in a program that doesn't even require the GREs.

Do the Stegner fellowships require an M.F.A.? Although, admission is extremely competitive. That's an alternative.

I graduated from Loyola College in 2001 with an English B.A. I am twenty-eight years old. I've been in the workforce for circa seven years. After being rejected by three prominent writing programs last year (the only three I applied to), I've decided to increase the number to at least eight programs for next year. I'm also looking more at several quality programs instead of just prominent programs.

Bolivia Red said...

A few years of life and work experience couldn't hurt at all before diving into the MFA. Our program faculty have talked about preferring students who've gone out into the world for a bit over students just out of undergrad mostly because a little life experience gives you something to write about.

Also, you do risk major burnout by not having some kind of break in between. A break gives you perspective and time to let your brain play in a different context than academia.

That GRE thing? As I understood from many of the schools (even some of the bigger programs) that required it, often the MFA program itself doesn't care about your scores much if at all. It's the Graduate School at the university that usually requires it. That means it becomes merely a freaking expensive technicality. Don't sweat it too terribly much.

I just looked at the Stegner requirements the other day, and it's all about your writing sample. They don't require an MFA, or even publications, though many of their fellows do fit that profile. They take people of all walks and ages, too.

Jason Michael MacLeod said...

I got into Arizona's MFA during the spring of my senior year at Grinnell College. I then realized that there was just no chance my head was going to be in a space conducive to graduate study for a while so I ended up not going. Five years later I started my MFA at Montana instead. I do still wonder where I'd be at now had I gone earlier. No regrets about waiting, however.

Erika D. said...

I began my (low-res) MFA program almost exactly 10 years after I finished college (though I'd done other graduate work in the interim). Low-res programs used to have a reputation for having more "older" writers in their student populations, but it seems to me that the low-res option is appealing more and more to "younger" writers, too. (Or maybe everyone's just seeming younger to me these days!)

Mike Valente said...

Anna -

I applaud your decision to spend some time out of college before applying to programs. Who knows, you may find a pretty sweet gig in a city that you enjoy. Every position and experience that you have serves as a springboard for your next stage in life, and work experience will give you so much more as a young adult, and in turn, you'll bring much more to the table as an MFA student. I like Daryll Lynne's comment, "A break gives you perspective and time to let your brain play in a different context than academia". So true. Anyway, good luck. And no worries on the database. It's still extremely helpful the way it is.

- Mike

Tamiko said...

Anna -

First of all, I want to thank you for your database. Even if it has info from last year, it's been really helpful for me to get a general sense of the programs I'm interested in - and it's so nice to have the links straight to the MFA page. So, thanks!!

I graduated with my BA almost exactly 10 years ago. At the time, I had an inkling that I'd want to get my MFA, but there were lots of other things I also wanted to try out. Now, after having done a whole range of things "out in the world" - from marketing copywriting to being a peer counselor at a rape crisis center - I know for sure that getting my MFA is *really* what I want to do, for all the right reasons. So, yeah, I think take a year or two off is definitely a good idea. I would suggest, if you haven't already, getting a couple of your profs to write you letter of recommendations now, while your work with them is still fresh. I was pleased to find that my professors remembered me after all this time and were happy to update the letters they had written a decade ago!


lkearns said...

Hey Anna,
As someone who went through the application process for grad school not once but twice I can say with complete certaintly that your financial holdings have absolutely no bearing on your acceptance or not. Phoebe is right, you don't even fill out the FAFSA until after you apply and decisions have been made. That being said saving a bit of money beforehand is a great idea and I wish I had saved more, even if you get funding there are still moving costs to consider as well as all kinds of other crap you can't plan for. I think it's great that you are taking a couple years in between to apply, not only will it be good for your writing it will give you a chance to make sure this is what you really want to do. As much as I love school the four years I took in between undergrad and grad were a huge learning experience. Oh, and another bit of unsolicited advice. Don't trip out about the GRE!!! Unless you completely bomb it they are not even going to look twice at it, the graduate school is the only one that cares, and even then there's a pretty low bar. I didn't spend more than ten hours studying for it, working on the sample is a much better use of time! Good luck!

Conor Robin Madigan said...

bolivia red,
that's because they're sick of reading first person novels about having beers on a 22 year old's couch while making out with her best friend's girlfriend. (actually that sounds like a fine novel) But really, I keep hearing MFAW professors crooning about young writers, how selfcentered and tiny they write.(tiny: odd word to use)

Melissa Smith said...


I just graduated with my BA, but I'm 34 years old. I got my first teaching job this fall so I'm hoping to complete an MFA before 2011 on a low res track.

You have some great blogs and I've used your low res and other information to help with my own graduate school decisions. Just wanted to let you know about Naropa's low res MFA program. It's the only one missing from your list (that I know of) on your low-res blog. Is there some reason you did not include it? Best of luck to you.


Unknown said...

There are resources out there for writers, which might serve as an alternative to an M.F.A. You know--writing groups online and regional writing groups. Do a Google search. The NYC Public Library has the Cullman Fellowship. Fellows get an office, a computer, and full access to the NYCPL physical holdings and electronic resources. A stipend of $60,000.00 is given to each fellow and the timeline nine months in NYC. Here is the link:

Amy T said...

I think it's great that you're taking time to do something different! Sis-boom-bah.

I am 32, and am only now looking at going to graduate school. I actually majored in art, but have had an editorial career in the book publishing biz--which is where many MFAs wind up. Still, I want to write for myself, so I hope an MFA will immerse me in the craft and allow me to do that.

But I confess I share your worries about preparation, money, and the blasted GRE. If it doesn't work out for me, I do know this: the bottom line is not the degree, it's that we write. So let's keep doing that, and we'll be fine.

SM said...

I waited over ten years, and grad school makes a heck of a lot more sense to me now than it did back then.

The downside is that my more established life doesn't allow me to move just anywhere, so I applied to the best program in my city and luckily got in. Younger you'll have more options, but older you'll perhaps make better use of what options you have...