Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mailbag for Monday, 29 October

Post your questions, comments, or coping strategies for all things MFA. Well, all things about MFAs in creative writing since I don't have the first clue about art or dance.


Quality Control said...

Stylistically, I would compare my work to that of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, not in terms of talent but in tone and purpose. A little cultural observation here, some self-deprecation there. Nothing epic, but I feel it's where my strength is as a writer. That said, no MFA program advertises itself as one made for more humorous writers like myself. But where should I be looking when it comes to this brand of nonfiction? Any schools you would reccommend?

Chris said...

Hey all! I'd love some help with whittling down my list of programs to apply to.

I write somewhat comedic but still thematic fiction, often set in the midwest. I am also interested in gaining more editing experience at a lit magazine (I currently edit for the Southern Indiana Review). I love the east coast, but will go anywhere but Southern California.

I've been researching like mad, and have a pretty big list of schools that keeps changing on a whim. I had a good 15 programs to apply to, and needed to drop some from the list to get my application fees down. But I feel at this point like any I drop are dropped for fairly arbitrary reasons. If anyone would like to take a look at my obsessive spreadsheet (which might be useful to someone out there, as well), any advise would be welcome and appreciated. I don't know the faculty very well at most places (a name here or there), so perhaps that's where the most useful help would be.


noah m. said...

chris: my old poetry professor said that Pitt's fiction program is a little "thin" right now. take that for what it's worth, but he's pretty in tune with grad programs. i'm from pittsburgh (a great town), so i was looking pretty hard at it, but now i think i might pass. can any recent/current pitt students confirm/deny this?

Chris said...

Thanks, Noah. What do you know about Chatham in Pittsburgh?

melee said...

I had a poor (okay, it was horrendous) undergraduate GPA. It was around a 2.6. Somehow, I got into a English MA program at a state university which is where I am currently. I've gotten my act together for the most part and have a 3.7 GPA. I still want to pursue the MFA though! I'm planning on applying to 12-15 schools including Bowling Green, UNCW, Maryland, Arizona, and Purdue among others. I'm stressing out about my pitiful undergraduate performance though. Is my undergrad GPA going to eliminate me from the running? Should I address this issue in my SOP?

Meredith Ramirez said...

woah, chris, i love the spreadsheet. we definitely like funny here at cornell... you might also want to consider alabama... i know the chair of the department and she's fantastic at humor. this is not helping you narrow things down, i know. i'm not a fan of places that don't offer full funding for all students, so i'd be tempted to eliminate those. also, i wouldn't call cornell 50/50 lit/cw... more like 70/30 unless you're a nerd like me.

noah m. said...

chris: i don't know a whole lot about chatham. i saw one of the professors (Marc Nieson) who does memoir and fiction read and he was really good. the program has a special interest in nature, travel and childrens writing. they're also seem to focus a lot on how to publish and how to make a living as a writer. my impression is that they're much more open than many programs to stuff that wouldn't neccesarily be classified as literary. the school is located in one of the nicest parts of pittsburgh. undergrad is all girls.

Cory Harris said...

Am I crazy for applying to 17 schools? I was very apologetic to my letter writers (and am making sure everything is as easy for them as possible), and I know I'm paying a lot in fees and GRE scores and transcripts and stuff, but I want to get in THIS year. I'd hate if I left a school out and didn't get in. I'm not that confident in my writing (fiction), although I'm not sure that it's necessarily a bad thing. Of course, my biggest concerns are not getting in at all or getting in at multiple schools and having to choose. Anyway, here's my list, in no particular order:

Ohio State
Penn State
NC State
UNC Wilmington
UNC Greensboro
Notre Dame
University of New Hampshire

I'm going after possible full-funding, of course, and would be happy at any of these locations. Am I setting myself up for a world of hurt?

Chris said...

Great White, I say apply to as many as you can afford. I'm doing the same (although I can't afford as many). Does it cost to send your GRE scores to each school? If so, I wasn't aware of that expense.

Side note: Wilmington's program looks nice, but that town sucks. It's a strip mall on the beach, basically. There are much nicer NC cities.

Jensen Beach said...


it costs $15 for each school. you get 4 for "free," though, when you take the test.

thanks for posting your spreadsheet, by the way. good stuff.

i agree with applying to as many schools as you can afford. maybe, you know, like 35 would be a bit odd, but 17 seems ok. can't hurt. maybe the experts here know of some reason not to do this, though?


Chris said...

Hey Jensen, long time no hear!

Sarah & Orhan said...

Hi Chris,

Here are some questions that might help you narrow the list:

1) Does the literary magazine have an assistantship attached to it? (That is, would you have a chance editorial experience that came with course release?)

2) How often does the graduate assistant change? In theory, and in reality? In some programs, the same person or people seem to get the plum positions over and over, and in others there's a deliberate effort to share those positions around.

3) How many credits per term/year does the tuition waiver cover, and are summer courses covered? Some programs are very generous, and others say you may only have X credits covered, and only if they are taken during terms when you're actively working in your assistantship area.

4) Are undergraduate courses relevant to your degree covered as well? (For example, foreign language courses, or any course that might give you grounding for your writing -- e.g., in your case a history of the midwest perhaps.) Even if you're not currently interested in undergrad courses, what the program does/doesn't cover can indicate how open a program is to exploration into areas that aren't directly aligned with the MFA.

Jensen Beach said...

Hi Chris,

good to "see" you too! I just went to your blog and left a comment there.


Chris said...

Great comments Sarah. Many thanks!

Lizzy said...

great wife cory,

If you can afford it and you have the energy, sure, go for it.

Make sure, though, that you aren't actually shortchanging the quality of your application packets by spreading yourself so thin. I remember that I pretty much wrote tailor-made SOPs for all eight schools I applied to last year. I would've applied to more schools, but I was exhausted.

The key is to focus on quality of your application packet first, then to try to send out as many as you can. At least that's how I see it.

Good luck!

Chris said...

I've made a copy of my spreadsheet for anyone who would like to use it for their own ends. You can view it here, and if you'd like to edit it, just drop me a line at writetodickens[at]gmail[dot]com, and I'll add you as a contributor. Maybe we can make something really useful out of it?
Or you can just make a copy for yourself and change it to suit your needs.

Man, I love spreadsheets.

Chris said...

Uh oh, looks like my link didn't work. here it is again...hope this one works!

Jensen Beach said...

Ok, probably a dumb question.

When a school asks for a resume to be included are they asking for a CV? Or is there some other kind of resume? Like some kind of list of awards, publications, education outside of Uni, etc.? It gives a 750 word limit, which seems awfully long for a CV.

If it's the latter, anybody have any tips for format?

Sorry for all the questions,

Chris said...

I second your question Jensen. I have no idea what they're looking for with the resume either. One school I'm applying to--U of Michigan--asks for a curriculum vitae resume.

Jensen Beach said...

glad it's not just me. i keep running across things and thinking, should i know about this? usually i don't have any idea. these days i spend a great deal of time confused about stuff.

Sarah & Orhan said...

Chris, you're most welcome. Thank you for sharing your awesome spreadsheet! I wish I'd had something like that when I was applying to MFAs in 2000.

I thought of another question you (and others) might want to ask -- does the TAship include summer teaching? My program had a 1-1-1 load for MFA assistantships (meaning one per semester and one in the summer), which meant I got more teaching experience, but also meant I couldn't get a summer job to supplement the paltry stipend.

Anonymous said...

I'm applying to several programs, some of them don't require the forms while others have strange forms not entirely related to creative writing. Is it okay to ignore the university's generic recommendation form and instead just have my professors write letters on official letterhead?

Bolivia Red said...


You should probably use those ugly university forms, especially if they say required. I know all the ones for schools I applied to required that the front part of the form be filled out but offered the recommender the option of including their comments in a letter instead of putting their comments on the little box on the form.

Since the TAships often come from the English or Rhet/Comp program and not directly from the creative writing program, those departments often have their own forms that ask questions about your competence as a teacher/grad student in general.

Bolivia Red said...

melee--not to worry. You've redeemed your bad undergrad gpa with a good grad gpa. Mine rivaled yours in badness and several schools accepted me. What they're looking for with that number is the fact that you can successfully complete graduate courses--and you've already proven you can. We've talked about this a few other times on the blog (july and august), but rest assured you're fine. You can probably cover it with one line in your SOP. (I never mentioned it.)