Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mailbag for 16 December 2007

As always, we're happy to try to offer succor to those travelers weary of the long, winding road that is the MFA application process. We may not be fit, though, to render assistance with your flowery prose.

It's been a long, productive semester and, now it's over, it's hard to believe that only a year ago I was sending off my own bunch of applications. Hopefully most of this year's applicants are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now. Let us know how and where you are with your own efforts, and leave questions, if you got 'em.


Brittany said...

Only two of the schools to which I'm applying require the GRE, but I'm going off of what it says on the MFA page. Please, please, please tell me that I don't have to send them to Graduate School even though the Creative Writing dept. doesn't need them.

Lizzy said...

HI brittany,

I suffered some confusion last year on this issue, too. My default approach was that if the website said anywhere on it that the GREs were required, I specified the CW department when asking for the GRE, unless the website specified that the scores needed to be sent to the Graduate School. Many schols will spell out the codes to supply to ETS when requesting score reports. In those cases, I always used the codes as specified.

I sent out about fifteen score reports last year, to Graduate Programs and CW Depts variously, not always 100% sure of which option to use. But all of the scores made their way to where I needed them, in the end. If in doubt, send it it to CW Department. Someone there is bound to know where to forward the score report if they need to be elsewhere.

Sean said...

Oh thank god for GRE questions -
Somehow or other, i messed up along the way and havent taken them yet. Questions: anyone know what the turn-around time is for the ONLINE version of the test? Part two, if they're late (past the deadline) will schools (specifically UWashington and UVirginia) still look at the rest of the application?


Pam said...

Lord, I just got here. I haven't done anything re applications. I'm enamored of the Warren Wilson program from what I've read here and heard elsewhere. (Anyone know any pitfalls I should look for?)

I'm grateful for this site--makes me feel like I'm not alone.

I do need to go plowing through it in search of info on limited-residency programs, in particular. Anyone who wants to e-mail me back can (presumably) do so via my blogger account.

Pam said...

Oh, hey, I do have a question:

Which limited-residency program is best for older students?

I'd really like a program that draws from a diverse pool of writers. (I've heard many reports that this is true of Warren Wilson.) A homogeneous student body--even for a low-res program--would be a deal-breaker for me at this stage of my life. As a middle-aged woman who's spent over a decade as a pop-music critic, I'm about done with the fish-out-of-water thing.

Lizzy said...

HI pam,

I don't know the first thing about low-res programs, but I bet Erica or some of the others here can offer a comment or two.

However, as a relatively older student at a traditional MFA program, I have to tell you that I think you have the right instinct to look for diversity in a program. I love the program where I'm studying, but it is made up primarily of younger students, and that proverbial feeling of being a fish out of water, as you say, is the one point where I'm still trying to find my level here. It may be unavoidable at more traditional programs, but there are programs like Rutgers' out there that do appear to try to seek a more diverse student body.

Best of luck to you.

Alex said...

7 of 8 out the door.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. I need a drink, or several drinks, so I can stop having nightmares about typos, missing pages, etc. etc.

Special shout out to the letter writer who flaked out on me! Thank goodness I'm a compulsive maker of backup plans.

Hope everyone else is getting things wrapped up and shipped out.

dmdm said...

Speaking of diversity, I've been sort of concerned/puzzled over how homogeneous the faculty of many MFA programs seem to be. The overall quality of the program is what's most important to me, but cultural diversity among the students and faculty also seems important. I'm Latina/of mixed ethnicity and a lot of my writing is about Latinos in the U.S. I don't want to feel like a fish out of water in that respect, either. Does anyone have thoughts on this or experiences they could share?

Quality Control said...

Waking up everyday now feeling like I want to projectile vomit. Applying to eight schools, but really only want Arizona. And some Tums.

iris said...

What is the difference between the statement of purpose and the personal statement, and what kind of subjects are relevant to include in each?

I'm finishing off some January apps and I have an academic goals type of essay mapped out, but a couple schools ask for BOTH a personal statement and a statement of purpose, and now that I've come down to the process of trying to split my ideas up between the two questions, I'm a bit confused.

Bolivia Red said...

First, make sure that for schools that are asking for both, that it isn't just the CW program is asking for one thing (say, the personal statement) and the grad school is asking for the other (an SOP)--in that case, they probably want just one essay between them and are using different language to mean the same thing.

If a school really is asking for both kinds of essay, then they are split roughly along these lines:

SOP--this should be focused on school and career. Talk about why you want the mfa, what you think it will do for your writing and career, what you plan to do with it after you get it (and if you don't plan to use it specifically, explain that). If the school also offers the opportunity to teach or work on a magazine, or some other "work" opportunities, then you'll want to talk about those as well and how you think those opportunities will help you in your writing and your work (if you plan to teach or work as an editor for example). This is also your opportunity to explain anything notable, such as why your undergrad GPA is 1.76 but you're a different (and motivated) person now. If you have a particular skill, background, or experience that might lend a bit of spice and diversity to the program, mention it here (even if you're going to go into it more in the personal statement:(e.g. As a fifth-generation car salesperson, I'm interested in focusing on this underexplored and much maligned segment of the population in my work).

The Personal Statement is more about who you are as a writer and reader (and all around nice person in general) and would cover your history of writing and reading, your first love affair with books, how/why you decided you want to be a writer, anything special about you that makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd--that you're a [fill in the blank] and that somehow informs your writing interests and aesthetic in a cool way and maybe even is going to be your focus in your writing. If you've had cool and interesting jobs or experiences, were born into a family of circus performers or fishmongers or even five generations of car salespeople, you could talk about that here. This is also the place to talk about particular writers and styles you admire and maybe even want to emmulate or try out.

Note that there will probably be some overlap in subject matter and that's ok. Just try to focus the overlap material so it's mainly about the mfa itself (writing and career) in the SOP, and more focused on you the writer (formatively and expressively) in the personal statement.

Anyone else have some pointers?

iris said...

Thanks, bolivia red!

That was very helpful. :)

Now that I've checked it out more closely (some schools indeed appear to be asking for the same thing in two different ways), it appears that it's just University of Michigan that is asking for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose (see below). I actually also asked one of my recommenders (my mentor in my undergrad Creative Writing department) what she thought, and she said about the same thing. She also recommended calling the department, which I will do tomorrow.

Here are the two Michigan prompts; now that I have reread them after studying more advice on SoP's in general, they seem more clearly distinguished from one another (perhaps I was just confused as to the nature of the SoP in the first place):

1) The Statement of Purpose should be a concise, up to two pages in length, single or double spaced, well-written statement about your academic and research background, your career goals, and how Michigan's graduate program will help you meet your career and educational objectives.

2)The Personal Statement should be a concise, up to two pages in length, single or double spaced, well-written statement about how your personal background and life experiences, including social, cultural, familial, educational, or other opportunities or challenges, motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Michigan. This is not an Academic Statement of Purpose, but a discussion of the personal journey that has led to your decision to seek a graduate degree.

Lizzy said...


That's a toughie. It may take a lot of searching. I got a good vibe from the program at Fresno, as far as Latino enrollment. Programs in the SW may offer more heterogeneity, though if you're from the Caribbean and not from the continent, you may not feel anymore at home in New Mexico than in the Midwest somewhere.

Also, one of the guests here the other day mentioned that El Paso offers a bilingual MFA. Junot Diaz teaches at MIT, so a lot of good that does us ;) I don't know if Sandra Cisneros teaches. I know Alex Espinoza is teaching at Fresno. And well, there aren't that many of us... hehehe. But let's change that, eh?

See you there.

Ryan said...

Does anyone know anything about the Temple University (Philly) MA Creative Writing program?

I am entering Temple as an undergrad transfer student in Jan.

Also, do graduate professors ever teach undergrad courses?


Renee said...

I'm putting all my eggs in one basket and applying to Hamline University at the end of January... but first, I must get my writing sample in working order.

If I don't get in, ah well. Maybe I'll go for my MSW somewhere. Hahaha.

Pensive495 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pensive495 said...

I'm in the process of preparing the same thing you are for the University of Michigan. What Bolivia said is right, but make sure you describe your academic background in the SOP as well because it asks for it specifically. What I've gathered from my research is that the SOP should be less casual and more professional. This is an opportunity for you to show that you can write in a more intellectual, clear-cut, and straight forward manner. The Personal Statement should be more casual and you can be more creative with it. So, if it's any consolation, I'm going through it right along with you.

R.T. said...

If the page on the school site says they don't require the GRE (like WI-Madison) then you don't have to send it at all. Usually, if the school wants it- they only want one copy (that's been the case with all 11 of my schools) and they will tell you where to send it- usually the admissions office. The school usually tells you the dept code, too- which is a big tip.

I think it's too late for the online GRE but you could check the website. You get your verbal and math scores immediately after you finish the test- it pops up on the screen. But by mail, it takes 2 weeks to get your writing score. But if you call by phone, I think they can give you your scores pretty quickly and overnight them to your schools.

You may want to check out the Univ. of Oregon. They have a pretty ethnically diverse faculty. And Iowa has Lan Samantha Chang, who does write with a Chinese-American thread and is interested in that experience. If you're in poetry, WI-Madison has a diverse faculty. I've heard Quan Barry read and she is an African-American woman born in Vietnam and writes about her experiences as such.

And when Univ. of CA, San Diego opens in 2009, if you haven't applied, you might consider it. It's in a very diverse location.

TheRant said...

Hey Everyone,

Got a couple questions about TAships:

If you are accepted into a school that gives you a TAship, how many hours a week would you have to devote to teaching, lesson planning, grading etc.? How many classes would you actually be teaching? And would you be teaching from a curriculum of some sort, or is it all based around original lesson planning?


The Rant

Lizzy said...

What do you guys mean by "online GRE"? Is this the computer-based test that you take at a testing center? Or do you mean that it's now possible to take the GRE over the Internet, from home? It can't possibly mean that; ID issues, etc. Right?

Lizzy said...

The Rant:

For every 3-hour course you teach, expect to put in 3 hours in the classroom, 2 office hours, about 3-6 hours planning, another 2-6 for miscellaneous stuff. On weeks when I'm grading, I can put in about 6-10 hours for that, per every class.

Typically, you'll be teaching around a curriculum designed by the rhet/comp program, under their guidance. Sample lesson plans may be available to you. I would bet that there's a number of approaches that English departments take with this, though, so ask around to see what others will tell you.

I hope that's helpful.

TheRant said...

Thanks Lizzy,

How many classes do you teach per semester? and how frequently do they meet? Just from looking around it seems like one or two classes.

I've got two years of high school teaching under my belt and I want to teach while in a program, but I'm also a very slow writer, so I just want to make sure I'll have enough time for everything.


The Rant

P.S. I'm all too familiar with the all day binge grading session...terrible.

Lizzy said...

I think it's typical, in an MFA program, to have a 1/2 load your first year and subsequently, or 2/2 from then on.

My classes meet either twice or three times a week.

There is time for writing. It's a lot less than you'd wish for, I think, but you find a way. Between taking classes and teaching, you're really talking about a full-time load. But since some of those classes are workshops, the writing time is sort of built-in. Later, as you meet your general requirements and load up on thesis hours, there is more time to write.

farren said...

I'm still about a year away from applying to MFA programs, but a mentor suggests I go to some summer writing programs to make connections, develop in-progress work and re-experience workshops. Do you think workshops are a judicious expenditure of time/funds? Does a summer workshop improve an applicant's chances of getting into a quality MFA program?

Sarah & Orhan said...

I think meeting and making a good impression on people *always* helps, as does getting good critical feedback on your work. This could also be a good way to get letters of recommendation, possibly even from professors in the program to which you are applying.

Of course, I have no idea what summer workshops cost, and suspect it varies with the prestige of the program.

Lizzy said...


I don't think it's strictly necessary to enroll in workshops before applying, but many people now enrolled in MFA programs say that independent workshops helped them push themselves to refine their work and take it to the next level. And if you've been out of school awhile, it might be a good way to meet people and get back into the swing of things, as sarah suggests.

I had never been in a fiction workshop before coming to FSU, though I had been in a poetry workshop and in another focusing on writing about the environment, both years ago. I didn't have the time or funds to enroll in summer conference/colony workshops, though I had been looking into the night classes offered by the 92nd St Y in NYC. In the end, I don't think it's strictly necessary, but if you're feeling curious about what you could learn at such a workshop, then I'd say go for it.

Good luck.

Sean said...

hi guys - i need some assistance PLEASE!

I'm hitting Nth Hour, and have mostly everything together. Does anyone know when the University of Washington: Seattle's MFA deadline is? Their site is saying things that are different from what their administrative assistant is saying. I'm also reading that they must BE THERE by the date, versus postmarked by there - can anyone confirm or deny?

Many thanks,

Bolivia Red said...

The main deadlines page [for the English Dept] does say "must be received by the deadline" in that imposing yellow box; if it's at all possible, overnight that thing Monday so it's there on the 2nd. If that's impossible, you could probably make a case for yourself via email that the Creative Writing Program's FAQ does say "postmarked by" and not "received by" 2 Jan (I've pasted it below.) Note that the FAQ says that what you have to have in by the 2nd is the application, money, and writing samples (and I would take this to mean the SOP and critical writing sample, too), so if your profs haven't sent the recommendations or your GREs have just been ordered, you have some breathing room there.

Good luck.

From the FAQ:
What if I miss the January 2 deadline?

The application, fee, and writing samples must be postmarked by the deadline or the application may be rejected. The other materials (letters of recommendation, GRE’s, TA application for example) may trail in later, but if the file is not complete by the time faculty are ready to review it, it may be rejected. In that case, you would need to apply again the following year.

R.T. said...

The "online GRE" is just the computer-based GRE. It's better than the paper one because:
1. There are more testing dates available.
2. You get your scores for verbal and quant. right at the end of the test- they just pop up. But you'll have to wait for the writing score.

But no, you can't take the GRE online at your own house.

Suzanne said...

It is not even possible to take a paper-based GRE in the US.