Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mailbag, June 2008

Questions and comments about the application process, anything and everything, right here.

Summer writing tips, coping strategies, and fabulous reads included free of charge.


Jennifer said...

Hi Y'all, sorry if the answer to this is posted elsewhere and I just can't find it . . .

A question about the Johns Hopkins language requirement. . . this means that if I have no foreign language proficiency at all, I ain't gettin' in, right? They don't let you take the language once you get there, it is a prerequisite for admission, right?

Any insight would be much appreciated!


werther said...

as someone looking to polish up some stories and possibly obtain a recommendation letter i am curious to hear opinions on attending a workshop before applying to mfa programs.

does anyone have any experience with classroom vs. online writing workshops? are they worth the cost?

specifically, has anyone ever taken a class at the writers studio in nyc? are there any other workshops that you'd recommend attending?

Adrienne said...

Does anyone know anything about the program at Hamline University?

I came across it randomly and couldn't find out much info from the website. I sent off for some information which shed some light on the program and got some really nice emails from the program assistant.

I like the idea of a small school in St. Paul but the lack of information on the website and the fact that the program seems to be reletively unknown makes me wonder if this is program has much to offer. The people seem friendly but information is hard to come by unless you want to straight up ask for it and I'm not really at a point where I think I want to be emailing people to talk about programs.

If anyone knows anything about it, please let me know.

Jennifer said...

Hi Werther -- I am in your position, and I am taking 2 online classes with Gotham. Initially I wasn't too thrilled about the idea of an online workshop, but it has been a great experience, better than some of the in-person workshops I have done. In Fiction I, you upload stories for critique twice during a 10 wk workshop, so you could polish 2 stories.

PARTISAN said...

Werther-- I'm doing just that myself. Starting today, actually. It's been a few years since I've been in the workshop environment and while I'm really looking to polish some poems, I'm also looking to possibly obtain a recommendation letter.

Having spent 4 years in classroom workshops (and taken two online ones as well) I feel like both are certainly worth the cost--it's simply what you're willing to put into them. I know many people who have received better feedback through online classes than in an actual classroom while I know others for whom the online aspect really doesn't give them much drive. As for myself, I'm more interested in "in person" workshops, and signed myself up for one at my local adult ed center (which happens to be a fantastic resource nestled between LOTS of super expensive ivy leagues in the city which I could never afford.) Basically, it's been a while, and I want to have the chance to polish up a bit more before i start finalizing this portfolio. I don't think it can hurt, either way.

PARTISAN said...


I don't know a whole lot about the program at Hamline, other than what a few of my friends who attended have said. They have nothing but nice things to say (it is very cosy and friendly and the Twin Cities are, of course, a great resource) but they also mentioned that it was a place where students tended to really take their time completing their MFA. Like 5 years or more. It seems to be sort of geared towards those settled in the area with obligations that don't allow them to move, though that being said, there are truly GREAT writers that come from that program (okay, a few of my friends included ;)

Adrienne said...


Thanks. I wonder if you are expected to take quite some time to finish and a heavier course load is discouraged? I guess if that's the case, enough courses might not even be offered per semester for me to graduate in 2-3 years. That would be something to think about. But I think the fact that people have good things to say about it speaks for the program. So I guess it's still a possibility. ^_^


I've never taken an online workshop and while I think it would be just as beneficial on the writing end, I'm not sure how a reccommendation would be, since you will never have formerly met or interacted with the professor. Of course, like I said, I've never done it but that would be one reservation I'd have.

Ann said...

Does anyone have experience with the program at UT Austin? If so, please share!

Keely H. said...

Anyone have any thoughts on the New School's MFA program?

I like the idea of going to school in New York City and I love their writers colloquium format. My main concern is whether or not there'd be a snow ball's chance in hell at getting funding. Their website rather idealistically mentions that no one should decide against applying for the program for financial reasons, but was also unhelpfully vague on exactly what funding options are available. I would also like to practice teaching writing while in grad. school. I emailed the program about TAships, community writing workshops, and whatnot but they haven't gotten back to me. Anyone have any insights about whether the New School offers teaching opportunities?

morningstarslave said...

Peace everyone!

So does anyone know anything about the University of Nebraska Low Residency MFA? I was just accepted there for this coming summer session. I also have applications pending for Chatham University, Murray State University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in writing for children and young adults. I have heard good things about VCFA but other than that I don't know much about any of these schools other than what I can read on their own websites. Any thoughts would be much appreciated! Thanks and rock on!

carrie murphy said...

to any poets interested in taking an online workshop: kim addonizio is offering 2 summer sessions,

ONLINE 1: JUNE 30--AUGUST 18 / $450.


i took one with her last year and it was really great, well-organized and inspiring. to get into the workshop, go to kimaddonizio.com, read the info on her site under workshops, and send her one or two poems. definitely worth it

Leslie said...

As someone who often teaches in the type of community-based workshop where people often look to polish work and get letters of rec, I offer a few suggestions (they may be obvious, but you'd be surprised):
--take the class seriously (i.e. don't skip, do the work, participate)
--read the teacher's books and engage him/her in conversation about them (brown-nosing? or smart?)
--be generous to your fellow writers; you'll find people at all levels, and you can find something to learn from most of them. Don't assume that someone who may not be up to speed on their writing isn't a good reader/writer; don't automatically dismiss their comments b/c you didn't think their story was good.
--ask the teacher questions about his/her MFA experience, conferences attended, etc. Focus less on "how can I get published" and more on "how can I become a better writer." You will get a glowing letter, I promise you!

R.T. said...

Hi Jennifer-
I'm starting at Johns Hopkins this fall. Yes, you must have a foreign language under your belt. You will not have the chance to take language courses once you begin the program. On the application, you have to list your proficiency and in the first year of the program, you have to pass a translation test. However, I'm not 100% sure that not having a language would bar you from getting in. I just know that all the students that get in are (somewhat) proficient in another language.

Hope this helps!

realitywrites said...

Hi, I'll be going through the MFA application process for the second time this year, after turning down a few acceptances last year and getting a better idea of what I want/need in a program.

I'm considering applying to a couple programs that have students major in two genres. My primary track is poetry, but I have written a short story and some creative nonfiction before, and I have been in workshops for those genres. After finishing a poetry manuscript, I could see myself writing a novel or memoir one day.

My question is, can anyone who is familiar with double-genre porgrams speak to how experienced you need to be in the secondary genre? (And should you speak to this in your personal statement?) The applications I've looked at seem to require you submit in only one genre, and then choose your second later. So naturally, I'd apply with a poetry sample, and then go from there (assuming the stars are aligned for acceptance to one of these programs.)

Jennifer said...

Hi realitywrites -- I am applying to U of Tex, which requires a primary and secondary genre. I am going to include in my personal statement information about the theater career I had in my 20's and how that experience relates to my desire to do playwriting as my "secondary." So yes, I am putting it in my personal statement, but only because I have that unique reason to do so.

My "primary" is fiction, and I will only be submitting short stories with my application.

science fiction writer said...

Does anyone have any information regarding the completely online MFA degree at National University?

I already have an MA, and would like to avoid travel at al for a MFA.

one seven five three poetry and prose said...


Before applying to MFA programs last year, I joined a local and relatively informal writing workshop. When I joined the workshop I was pretty rusty, but quickly re-learned a lot of stuff about writing that I didn't even realize I had forgotten. I couldn't be happier with my decision to join the workshop and to shell out the bucks that it cost.

If they exist where you are, I would highly recommend joining an AWA workshop. They are usually relaxed, but taught by very smart writers who have probably been through the MFA process and have some information that might be useful to you.

Also, you may find out that there are some writers in the group who haven't had the same writing experiences that you have had and they will have suggestions that you have never heard before. I found the workshop particularly useful due to the confidence that it built in me.

Best of Luck...

Warren said...


I've been thinking about Columbia's application.

Specifically the essay:

"No more than 1,000 words, applicants should provide a response to a work of literature in their concentration written and published within the past ten years."

Does anyone, especially current Columbia students, have any advice?

I am considering a long list of books, but I'm open to suggestions.

I’m wondering if they are looking for a deconstructive masterpiece or if the University is just trying to gauge what the applicants read and how good they are at reading it...

And, is it also supposed to be indicative of how an individual would critique/analyze his classmates work in a future workshop setting?



Emma Gorenberg said...

Hi dwa--

I applied to Columbia this past year and was accepted, and although this does not by any means mean that my essay was a masterpiece or even what they were looking for, I'll just say how I went about it. Hopefully it will help!

I would guess that they ask for this to gauge our ability to respond to modern writing in a thoughtful and intelligent way. I would guess that they think it does have a correlation to how we would talk about our fellow cohorts, but I don't think that they are looking for Harold Bloom here.

I think it's a good idea to write about something you like. Not to say that it should be all glowing praise, but picking a collection that I liked and figuring out why I liked it was a good place for me to start. I think it also shows them something about who you are as a writer.

I also don't really think it's necessary to find an obscure book just to show that you are well read, unless it's a book you truly want to write about and you shed some new light on it. I would think they'd rather hear an applicant speaking in a fresh way about a more mainstream book than write something vague and uninteresting about a book that they've never heard of.

In the end, all I can say is that it helped me to write on a book about which I was passionate. 1000 words come easily and well when you have something to say.

Suzanne said...

Keely H. - I am currently on the waiting list for New School, but I attended the open house last fall and two friends of mine were accepted, so it is not like I'm an expert on their financial aid, but I learned a little bit. At the open house, we were told that everyone who is accepted gets some amount of funding, but almost no one gets a full ride. My friend who is attending the program told me that TAships are not available until the second year. (Applications come out second semester of the first year.) I don't know what the financial arrangement of that is. Both my friends who were accepted were offered no more than $5,000 in scholarships. I don't know if this is typical, though.

Hope this helps, and good luck.

No One New said...

hello all, i have slowly been making the transition from lurker to active blogging participant here, and thought i'd pop in and get some opinions about my prospective list of MFA programs i'll be applying to in the fall (for POETRY):

(in no particular order)
Brown University
Indiana University
Johns Hopkins University
University of Massachusetts
University of Michigan
University of Washington
Syracuse University
Cornell University
University of Minnesota
University of Iowa

yes i am aware of the selectivity of these programs, but i have mulled it over and these are really the ones that i feel are the best for me. i am mostly interested in which ones people favor one way or the other. finances are one of my primary concerns, which is why Columbia is absent from my list.

i took NYU off...was that i good idea? i am nervous about NYC being a little overwhelming for me (i go to school in LA but live in the desert) and am unsure about the funding. anyone want to argue against my decision?


& for those of you interested in a CA MFA program, a new one is debuting this fall!

...at UCSD of all places!

there's nothing up yet, so i know NOTHING but this is an exciting prospect as they have some reputable people on their faculty, like sarah shun-lien bynum and rae armantrout.

i guess email the address provided to find out more (like funding, expected class size, etc...) and report back if that yields something. i would myself, but i am trying to get outta CA.

hope this is a worthwhile contribution!

realitywrites said...

hey Jennifer - yes I'm thinking about applying to UT, too. I figure it's good to have one big gun in my list again :)

Lautreamont said...


All I can say is please please please visit these places you are applying. When I visited Johns Hopkins, for instance, I found it to be in a part of town that was slightly terrifying. Cornell was also a school that was high on my list till i actually visited it and found very little of worth in Ithaca besides the college. However, I also want to say that I am in new york city right now and it is dirty, hectic, expensive, exciting, and insane. So I agree that this place can be a little much, I just think that if you are going to spend 2 to 3 years somewhere it might as well be somewhere you want to go. Frankly, I never wanted to study in NYC, it was just that the new school and columbia had such amazing faculties....

Unknown said...

I have to let everyone know that JHU and it's surrounding neighborhood--known as Homeland and Charles Village--attracts many college age townies. JHU does not insure dormitory housing for all four years of undergrad for its students. Housing is competitive surrounding JHU. I would also like to let everyone know that the area can be rough from one block to the next. I've known young people who--unfortunately--have had their cars stolen from a parallel park position near JHU.

carrie murphy said...

jhu isn't in a terrific area, but it is an area that has been solidly collegiate for decades and has recently had a great deal of beneficial construction (restaurants, condos, shopping). by exercising a bit of caution and common sense, anyone attending hopkins should be able to get by just fine. there are plenty of other close neighborhoods too--hampden, woodberry, remington, roland park, etc.

Maria said...

(1) Do ANY MFA programs accept January applicants? Or does anyone know where I might be able to find this information?

(2) I disagree with Lautreamont -- I think Ithaca is a beautiful town with lots to offer! But, of course, it isn't anything like NYC.


Warren said...


N.C. State accepts spring applicants (is that what you mean by January?). The deadline is Nov. 1. I don't know anything about the quality of the program, but you did capitalize "ANY", so I thought I'd share.

- lenny

Lincoln Michel said...


I would definitly think that Columbia is looking less for a "deconstructive masterpiece" and more for a gauge of how much you will be able to contribute as a seminar and workshop participant. Unlike some other programs that only ask you to take a handful of classes, Columbia requires more seminars and craft classes so maybe wants to look closer at how students can contribute to them.

That said, I would not worry too much about the book essay. Your creative manuscript will still be 90% of your application.

I would just pick a book you read recently from recent history that you both enjoyed and have something interesting to say about. I don't think you need to worry too much about what your book pick will "say" to the application committee, just go with something that strikes you.

Good luck

No One New said...

thanks lautreamont,

if it were feasible for me, i would go for a visit. my finances at this point, though, have disallowed me that opportunity. i am not too worried about "rough" areas, having grown up in some fairly rough parts of the CA Inland Empire (aka Methlab Central, USA).

i am wondering if nyu might be better for me to apply to than jhu since it is a bigger program, the aid situation isn't too terrible, and i like the idea of NYC more than i do the idea of baltimore.

and i thought i had everything figured out @_@!

Just_Another_Poet said...

Hi. I never comment here, though I do lurk. But have any of you heard of some good, solid programs that aren't in a dangerous city. I have had WU, JHU, Rutgers, etc. in my list of programs to apply but most (if not all of them) are located in so-called dangerous cities. I suppose I am a little too shaky about this, but I want to be safe, so do you know any programs?

Lincoln Michel said...


There are a lot of programs in safe college towns. UVA in Charlottesville. Iowa in Iowa City. New York City is rated as the safest major city and has been for awhile: New School/Columbia/NYU/etc. UT-Austin in Austin.

Really though I think you can assume most programs are in either safe cities or in safe areas of a city. It would probably make more sense to make a list of the few dangerous programs to cross off your list than to start from scratch with a list of safe ones.

That said, I do agree that you should give a lot of thought to location. You are going to be spending several years of your life in whatever MFA program you go to, so it is best to go to both a program and a city that excites you.

best of luck,

Lincoln Michel said...

Although I must admit that Baltimore is a tad sketchy and is normally ranked as one of the most dangerous cities...

Lautreamont said...

Shit, my comments have been overblown. "Dangerous" cities are some of the only truly wonderful cities in America. Before 'beautification' new york was dangerous and also beautiful and different and unique. (Ghostbusters 2 and Taxi Driver offer good examples) But now there are more cops here than people and it is not like it was when i was young. I have to say that Johns Hopkins and Cornell are both badass schools with supremely bad-ass faculty. I know some of you must go there and you guys are in a small and elite program with horrendously good funding. SO all i want to say is please don't take "dangerous" cities off your lists, take off cities that you visit and don't like! That is all I meant by my last comment.

Annabelle said...

I know this is mostly a personal question re: relationships and the MFA but if anyone has any insight it would be greatly appreciated.

Right now, my boyfriend is doing his PhD with 2+ years left. I have been living across the country from him for about a year now (finishing up my BA) and we decided enough is enough- we need to be closer to each other, i.e. no more than a couple hours drive/train ride. There are three programs near him that I would consider, one of which is a "hell yes, I would give my left arm to go there" and two others which are relatively new programs but seem to have good funding (my highest priority.)

So. If I apply to only those three, am I missing out on the other schools that I would apply to if I wasn't thinking about distance? Should I only apply to the "hell yes" school and pray? Should I just suck it up, get a real job and wait until next year to apply, when I could go anywhere in the country with only a semester away from each other (assuming he finishes on time- which I've heard is pretty iffy for PhD programs, although less so in his field than in the humanities/arts)

I know this seems a little silly but what do you guys think?

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

I was there for a week or so and I thought Baltimore was a beautiful city with gorgeous architecture and a unique culture. A few years ago, I wandered around and happened upon Edgar Allen Poe's grave site.

Yeah, the city's decaying, and yes there is some crime and poverty. But shows like The Wire and John Waters films only show one or two sides of it. Certain parts of L.A. can be 'scary,' and I live nearby. Seattle also is rough in areas, and they have a problem with hiring and retaining police, but it's one of my favorite places to visit and I'd love to live there.

I guess if you don't like 'urban' settings, then Baltimore's not for you. I'd go to Johns Hopkins in a heartbeat if they accepted me. Where's your sense of adventure, peoples?

Emma Gorenberg said...

Hi Cotton,

I think a lot of what you're asking are personal decisions--things that can only be decided given your particular values. It's an interesting part of the MFA degree given the wide age range of people applying. For example, location for me probably mattered a hell of a lot less than one of my cohorts who is moving his whole family with him in August.

I think whether you'd be "missing out" on other programs depends entirely on what you want from the MFA. For you, being close to a significant other is a huge part of your positive experience, and that's valid.

But still, you're obviously still concerned with getting the best education possible. And you seem willing to consider waiting a year. Why not apply this year to the "arm-and-a-leg" school, hope for the best, and then if you don't get in, widen your application pool next year when you are able to consider more locations?

Unknown said...

I hope I didn't scare anyone away from considering Johns Hopkins. Applicants need to remember that just the school--over all--has a great reputation. It draws some of the world's best and brightest...so the added high ranking of JHU's MFA program means it should not be dismissed by anyone serious about writing. If you think your stats and writing have what it takes, apply to JHU and see what else they might have to offer in areas such as financial aid and TA opportunities. Just be smart about where you choose to live near JHU.

Jimmie R. Markham said...

I'm curious to know if any of you good folks have an opinion about the Online Bilingual MFA program at UTEP. From what I've been able to gather, it's the only program of its kind. It's both a completely non-res program and a bilingual creative writing program. Here's an article about UTEP's program from Inside Higher Ed.

Most (if not all) online degrees lack credibility, but this one seems different, especially since UTEP—in addition to its online MFA program—also has a residential MFA program.

Not only that, but the the thought of perhaps studying with the next Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and doing so even though he or she hasn't left Colombia) is intriguing to me.

Daphne said...

good lord, chances are none of you are going to get into any of these schools anyway, so why get on your high horse worrying about crime? It's about the writing. Just chill, and if you can, go somewhere you won't be impoverished to the point of not having mental energy for your writing. Otherwise, what's the point?

Unknown said...

sadness lingers...your horse is obviously taller than all of ours. the rest of us contend with being human.

PARTISAN said...

As I'm narrowing down my list of prospective programs (poetry), I'm also wondering if there are some special gems that I haven't even considered, namely in places I'd really like to live.

As a New England girl, Chicago has always really appealed to me, though I can't seem to find any programs there which really strike me. SAIC seems too experimental for my tastes, Columbia College doesn't seem to offer the best funding, nor does Roosevelt or Northwestern? Are there others I don't know about or am I judging these ones too harshly?

Money is number one for me and the discussion ends there. I'll be paying off my BFA for the next 15 years and have no desire to go further down that hole, despite the fact that I will overlook some truly great programs.

My (somewhat) narrowed down list of programs includes, in no particular order:

UIllinois-Urbana Champaign
Notre Dame
Michener Center
Indiana University-Bloomington

I'd like to include a couple other "sleeper" programs in there, namely in the Midwest, West Coast on Mid-Atlantic, that also offer good funding. I've been told Purdue, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame are considered sleepers but there has to be others which will leave me feeling even a little bit safer. I like my selection, and feel confident in my portfolio, but I would certainly like to include a program or two that are off the radar, and especially a program in Chicago.

Many thanks in advance.

Jennifer said...

sara e.g. -- I highly recommend Columbia College Chicago, I went there for undergrad (in theater) and it was the most wonderfully creative time in my life thanks in large part to the incredibly diverse and open environment of the school. I took one undergrad poetry workshop and I remember it like it was yesterday (which it wasn't) because it was so great.

I have lived in many places and for me there has never been anything like Chicago to stimulate my creativity.

All of that said, I don't know anything about Columbia's funding. . .

MC said...

sara e.g.,

Let me start by saying I think you have an excellent list. None of the programs you listed are easy to get into, however, but that's OK. That's the risk of this crazy process.

In terms of another suggestion, I notice that Iowa is absent from your list. I see no reason why you shouldn't apply to the "best." My only regret is that I didn't apply there myself. I'm thrilled about my eventual choice, but I suppose I let others dictate (in part) the boundaries of my capacity when I should have done so myself. Just a thought.

You've already listed some of the best sleeper programs out there. Try looking at the University of Idaho. Robert Wrigley is a remarkable poet, and I know they've increased their funding this year. You may look at Arkansas and Ohio State as well.

My best to you this coming season of applications.


captain america said...

Hey Sara e.g.,

I like Chicago too and it's a shame that there aren't better funded programs there.

Northwestern just started an MFA program (it used to just be an MA). The thing is, it's through their School of Continuing Studies which is tailored for working people so all the classes are at night. If you're willing to work full-time at Northwestern, you can get an 85% (or maybe it was 75%) discount on tuition. But it could take you about four years to complete the degree.

I think the list you have is great by the way.

PARTISAN said...

m.douglas--thanks very much. I feel really good about my current list, and I'll happily consider UIdaho and Ohio (I can't really see Arkansas being a spot I'd want to spend any time in, so I'll leave it at that ;)

I suppose I left out Iowa because I included Michener, but in all honesty, I might as well apply to both, right?

In any case, thanks for your comment.

jennifer-- I'm excited to hear such positive things about the school. It's tough because while the program seems very appealing (and I was actually on a panel in my BFA program to search for a new director and we interviewed a faculty member of Columbia College whom I was MORE than impressed with) but I've also heard they really lack in funding. Their website says some scholarships and fellowships are available, which I tend to read as: obviously we have a couple fully-funded spots, but not for everyone. I've tried to make it a rule to only apply to programs which try to offer full funding for all admitted.

I think I'll have to research further, but thanks for your feedback!

PARTISAN said...

oh, and m.douglas-- What program did you end up at? What thrills you about it? I'm interested to hear perspective from inside the belly of the beast!

PARTISAN said...

captain america--

A true letdown about Northwestern offering those night classes (though it's obviously ideal for many people.) Sadly, I'm done with working full time at a university and trying to take classes after five (and when I say done I mean I still work a full time university job and just quit the class part.)

It leaves me a disgruntled, young poet, and no one likes that ;)

MC said...


I'm on my way to Purdue this fall. I had to turn down some great offers (which might have more to do with luck than talent), but I went with my gut and I have no regrets.

I'm sure I'll have better information in the future (and Bolivia Red may want to verify this as well), but what currently impresses me about the program at Purdue (in addition to the extraordinary faculty and wonderfully supportive colleagues), is the amount of money and time they offer you. You complete your coursework the first two years, and the third year is entirely dedicated to your thesis (also fully funded). The TA workload is also relatively "light" when compared to other equivalent programs.

To make this post more applicable, however, because many of these programs offer great funding as well, I guess I should emphasize my belief that the issue of funding itself should be paramount when making these decisions.

Feel free to check out my blog in the coming months for a better picture of my MFA experience.

My best to you,


Emma Gorenberg said...

Hi Sara,

What about Montana? I've heard good things--and according to their website about half of their students are awarded T.A.'s.

And if you're interested in the mid-Atlantic, how about JHU? Certainly not a sleeper program, but worth a shot! Mary Jo Salter is really wonderful.

Re: the Iowa/Michener issue, definitely don't leave out a school because you think you have others like it on your list (although in reality, I've heard that those two programs are indeed very different). The truth is is that despite any two schools having a similar rank, it's going to be a different set of individuals evaluating you. I briefly considered leaving out the school that I am going to next year (Michigan), for some reason I can't even remember now. I'm so glad that I didn't! If you can afford the application fees, give yourself as much of a chance as possible.

captain america said...


Yeah, I tried the whole working full-time and going to class thing too. It was horrible. Anyway, I know some of the Columbia College faculty. If you don't mind my asking, but who did you guys interview? I'm so curious.

PARTISAN said...

captain america--

I thought if I visited the faculty page at CC it would jog something, but alas, that was 2004 and I have no memory of his name. All I know is we spent an "interview dinner" with several faculty as my university discussing hand-bound chapbooks and I believe he may have gone to SAIC for his MFA. He was on the younger side, and when offered the position turned it down. We all more or less attributed it to the old "I'm afraid that rural college towns in Northern New England will turn by urbanized spouse against me" syndrome.

Who knows. They hired someone else and I graduated shortly thereafter.

Matthew Mahaney said...

Sara e.g,

I'm applying for poetry to a few midwest and mid-atlantic schools too, and some "sleeper" programs I found/decided to apply to are Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, and Southern Illinois. VCU is the only one of these 3 that doesnt fully fund everyone, but it funds like 75%, and pretty well. I, too, refuse to pay for an MFA, and have made funding my first priority. (I also have a list of 14schools so far, since I really don't want to have to redo the whole process of applying)

bookfan said...

Problem re: references-
Its been over ten years since I graduated from college. I had 2 majors: 1) psychology and 2) an interdisciplinary combined political science/philosophy major. I wound up going to law school and becoming a practicing lawyer.

My problem is that I don't know what to do regarding the 2-3 letters of recommendation that are needed for MFA applications. Do I just get recommendations from current and former legal employers? (They can attest to my professionalism, but have never read any of my creative writing). Or should I try to get recommendations from non-writer friends who have read some of my stories? Also, I have a relative who has always liked my writing, and she has actually been published by a small press, but her work is so avant garde that I am concerned that any reference from her would hurt, rather than help (also, concerned about how an MFA program would view a reference from a relative!) Also, I was wondering if enrolling in an online creative writing course could help produce a reference, and how an MFA program might respond to that.

Any advice?

I also had a question regarding the definition of "publication." When I was in college & law school I had some stories published in the campus literary journals. Does this count as having published work? Is this something that I should mention in my applications?

Thank you for all of your help!

Warren said...


Buy this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0967759404

Light House's Ultimate Math Refresher for the GRE, GMAT, and SAT.

It teaches you the math you need to know in an extremely straightforward way. It is also cheap. If you do the exercises in the book and comprehend them you will do well. When I prepared for the GRE I had not done math in about five years (since high school and I really didn't do that much math in high school). This book helped me break 600 in the quantitative section.

- dwa

Jennifer said...

Hi Bookfan -- I am in the exact same position you are regarding references. I'm a lawyer too, and I've been practicing for years.

I am asking for refs from 3 sources: First one is from a guy who ran a local writing group I used to go to; the second is from my teacher in the online fiction workshop I am taking (Gotham! Can't recommend it enough); and the third is from a woman I also found online who runs a writers retreat in Maine - I will be heading up there in August to get her help in refining the stories I will be submitting with my portfolio.

I highly recommend going the online workshop route to get some recommendations. Look at Gotham Writer's Workshop.

T.G. said...

Hi folks, I'm new here. Great to commiserate a bit with people in my situation. Fun to read this blog.

Forgotten - great advice to Cotton. I would also suggest she apply to the one school she really wants and next year reapply again and widen the net when she has more options. I'm doing a version of this.

Jennifer - Gotham was a great way of getting another recommendation for me too. So is attending a conference. You meet workshop leaders who can be potential recommenders. And of course your writing professor is the best way to go. I will likely use all 3 of those sources.

Cotton - We actually have a lot in common: same school, major, writing professors, etc. I've seen your name on the board by the Eng. Dept. at least once or twice now. Although we haven't met. Funny!

T.G. said...
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PARTISAN said...


Thanks for recommending those three schools! They were currently off my radar but now I'm thinking that both VCU and Southern Illinois would be good choices for me.

And as a far as applying to 14 schools or more, I feel exactly as you do. I would much rather shell out extra money in application fees than have to go through the whole process again next year (which anyone runs the risk of anyway.)

Jennifer said...

Hi y'all. . . I found a great website with all the free math help you could want for the GRE. I thought I'd share:


Babelle said...

Sara e.g.--You might consider Washington University in St. Louis, too. I came close to going there (went for Ohio State instead) and while I didn't visit, I've heard really great things about the faculty (I'm in fiction, don't know about poetry), and someone else who was accepted there told me she had a fabulous experience visiting.

Bookfan--I was in a similar situation (out of school seven years when I applied). I got one of my references when I took a class from him at a summer writers conference, and the other two were former English professors of mine--it was just a matter of emailing them. You might be surprised at how well some of your professors remember you--if you had a great experience with them, chances are they'll remember you as a student, I would think.

Also, I think it's Kaplan that puts out GRE practice software--that was a huge help to me, more than books--lots of built in math and vocabulary drills. And for what it's worth, one of my recommenders, who teaches in a creative writing program, told me no one even cares about your math scores.

PARTISAN said...

Hi Samara--

I'm curious: what was the deciding factor for you in choosing Ohio?

I've also heard that Washington University in St. Louis is a really great program, but a trip to St. Louis a few years ago sort of put a bad taste in my mouth about the area.

I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on Ohio come fall!


bookfan said...

Any experience with non-credit online continuing educ. writing classes at the University of Wisconsin? The classes seems to be less expensive than Gotham...

Jennifer said...

When is everyone filling out the actual grad school applications for the programs they are applying to?

I won't be sending in my portfolios until November because I want time to work on stuff and make it the best it can be, but I'd like to start getting some of the paperwork out of the way.

I think some schools don't even let you do the application until September??? Anybody know about this stuff?

PARTISAN said...

A question to those applying for poetry: Is anyone else finding it troublesome that most schools require 10-15 poems while others, like Notre Dame, require 20?

In the grand scheme of things, there is a massive difference between 10-15 poems and 20. We're not talking fiction here, people.


No One New said...

haha, i was just bitching about that to my mom this morning!

it's really frustrating how much the manuscript requirements for poetry fluctuates among the different programs, huh?

Luke Johnson said...

Hey all,

A few quick points:

-I can't believe someone said Ithaca didn't have much to offer!! If you're a conservative dead-set on chain restaurants, then perhaps you may not like Ithaca. But it's a incredibly liberal city, with great local restaurants (staffed largely by graduates of the reknowned Cornell Hotel School), surrounded by natural beauty (over 200 gorges within 10 square miles, all at the bottom of a pristine 42-mile long lake). Okay, sorry, I just love that city so damn much.

2-Sara E.g.,
I agree with everyone else that you've got a great list. UNC-G is great about funding everyone they take from out of state, UNC-W didn't have the funding when I apply but seems to be a rising program. I'd look at Hollins University (where I ended up choosing over the previous two.) They give full funding with stipend to half the students they accept, and Roanoke is a pretty cheap town to live in. Other schools to consider: George Mason, Southern Illinois (already mentioned), and VCU. Though VCU isn't as good as the others with funding, they do have Bob Hicock and David Wojahn...

3-As far as manuscripts go, I wouldn't fret too much about the different page requirements, send your strongest work. If they want 10 and you send 8 great ones, I think you're better off than showing them pieces that aren't your best work.

-And now, heading into year two of my MFA, anyone have advice about applying to PhD programs? ;)

Unknown said...

I'm searching for info about MFA programs with the best teaching of writing programs to help narrow my list for fall 2009 applications.

I hope the new CW MFA Handbook will have some info about this (and on best nonfiction programs) and was glad to hear the new edition might be published by fall.

Any insight or advice about the best or innovative pedagogy programs?

Thanks much.

Babelle said...

Hi Sara e.g.--
I went to an open house for accepted students and had a great time. I love the faculty. It's not a super tiny program, but it's not huge. It's three years. That, and my husband had some good job prospects in Columbus. It was a lot of factors. If I had to choose one, I'd say faculty and funding, and the fact that I'll be closer to my family.

PARTISAN said...

luke--thanks for the feedback about page requirements. i was of the mindset that if you don't submit exactly what they specify that they wouldn't even consider your application, but apparently it's not as strict as i thought? i'm certainly glad to hear that, as i don't think it will be a problem to get the page length, but i don't want to stress too much over it, either.

and thanks for recommending Hollins. i'll have to look more into it (my friend was accepted this year into the MFA program for dance but turned them down because he didn't get funding). hopefully there's better luck with writing? are you into your second year there?

thanks again.

Luke Johnson said...

Hey Sara E.g.--

I'm just about to start year 2 here at Hollins. A good place to start looking for info is this website:


Serving as the webmaster there was actually my stipendiary duty for the first year, but the FAQ section is probably helpful to look at, as it goes a little beyond the normal questions. Again, the funding changes from year to year, though I suspect it should be going up as the Creative Writing department just received a $5 million gift and established 2 new graduate student fellowships. But right now, I think they fully fund with stipend 4 out of 12 in the first year, and give partial funding (more than half) to another 4. In the second year, everyone is eligible for 4 teaching fellowships that come with full funding and an additional stipend. Okay, enough with the self-promotion. I'd love to hear more about the program at VCU if anyone has any info...the faculty seems superb.

chris.inkspot said...

Hello all,

I've got a couple of questions regarding MFA programs. I did my test run on applying last winter and got into Columbia in Chicago, and waitlisted at UMass in Boston, but due to financial issues was unable to attend either. This time around I've focused more on State Schools (better funding but also I need to take the GRE's now)and I wanted to get some feedback on a couple of issues.

the first is are there any additional schools that I should look into. I'm looking for programs that offer a good balance between workshops and lit courses. I also want a program that has a decent Modernism department, since graduating I've spent the past couple of years studying DADA (I know I couldn't pick a more obscure Modernist movement could i?)and I want to be able to continue this at the graduate level. I also need programs that offer almost full funding ( I racked up 70K in undergraduate debt). And the most important is a strong community of grads that support each other. Below are the programs I'm looking into any additions or advice would be appreicated.

Rutger's Newark (getting back to my NJ roots)
UMass Amhearst
University of Michagan Ann Arbor
University of CA Davis
U of T Austin
U of Nevada Las Vegas
Saint Mary's of CA

I am also having a problem with recommendations. I have my former professor and a former grad student/friend who is now a adjunct at a college, but my third recommendation writer and undergrad Thesis lead i fell out of good graces with. What are some ways to get a new third.

thanks for any advice

Jennifer said...

inkspot -- Maybe think about UVA and U Montana?

On the reference front, I am taking an online workshop partly in hopes that the teacher will give me a recommendation. I think some other folks are doing that too. You might also just look for a local writers group, join, and then after a while ask a fellow group member to write you one.

chris.inkspot said...

thank you jennifer.

Eli said...

Hi everyone,

I've been searching this great blog (and other websites) for ages, sniffing out information about the mfa.

My question may have been answered already, but that answer remains elusive to me. What I'd like to know is how funding works for international students.

I'm a UK citizen and want to go to the US to do my MFA; i'm, like many potential students, considering only programs that offer good funding. I was on the University of Oregon MFA website earlier and saw that the situation for funding its students seems to be different for international students, and that you needed to fund your first year yourself in order to go there (provided, of course, you were accepted).

Can anyone enlighten me as to whether foreign students are expected to pay full tuition in most places, or whether we can be partially/fully-funded like US students?

Also, does anyone know of a list indicating good funding options for us international students? I don't think Seth Abramson has got round to that yet.

Thanks so much!

Eli said...

Just an addendum - I have tried really hard to figure out from MFA program websites whether there are funding/no funding differences for international students, but U of Oregon is the first I've seen clearly specified.

So far, I've assumed funding is the same, but this has alerted me to the fact that perhaps we get a rawer deal. I know international tuition usually costs more.


Mike Valente said...

Werther -- Being out of school for several years and majored in something non-English and non-Creative Writing, I found the two in-class writing seminars that I took to be extremely helpful. I was able to write two short stories that I used for my applications, have them read by peers and writing instructors, and basically learned that an MFA program was something that I wanted to pursue.

Tory -- By 'LA' do you mean Los Angeles? I'd add 1 or 2 programs in sunny locations.

Someone else asked about the page limit for poetry at Notre Dame versus other schools -- I'm not sure why the discrepancy,

Nichole Gladney said...


Everyone. I just received notification that I was accepted into Spalding (low-res) for nonfiction. Are there any others attending Spalding this fall?

Nichole Gladney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

i find that annswer on other post als o so sorry to disturb you ..........


Unknown said...

Hi, can anyone give me some insight on UTEP's online creative writing program? Completely online is appealing, but I'm also hesitant. No face to face interactions is the part that might be an issue. Any thoughts or suggestions will be appreciated.

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