Monday, June 01, 2009

Mailbag, June 1, 2009

Leave questions, concerns, and problems regarding the Creative Writing MFA here.


Sharanya said...

Hi, I'm Sharanya, and I'm a student from India. I wanted to know if we're required to have our undergrad transcript ready before we apply to any university, or if we can send it along later when it does arrive, in case of acceptance. Will my application, in short, be rendered invalid if I don't send in my undergrad transcript with the other requirements?

I'm in my last year of a Literature major (BA), and I graduate only next year, in June. The applications close in early Jan, so I'm wondering if it's possible for me to apply this year...

Sharanya said...

Ps: I just, I mean just discovered the Transcript section in the archives, and I think my question has been more-or-less answered in the post titled "Incomplete Transcript" from exactly 3 years back. But I'd still like to know (yay, paranoia) if this is a requirement for International students, or if the same rule applies to all.

SamStod said...

I've created my current list of 13 schools to apply to - 5 tier 1, 3 tier 2, 3 tier 3, and 2 tier 4 schools. I'm only looking at schools with full funding, so that means the majority of these have pretty small acceptance rates.

My concern is that when looking over the requirements for these, a LOT of them (over half) say "required 3.0 GPA"

Well, my freshman year was about 5 quarters and not very productive. After two years, I took a three-year break, then ended up doing well when I came back, but with around 90 quarter hours valued at about 1.7, it's kind of hard to bring it up. My cumulative GPA was only 2.7. I have three very strong recommendations set up by well-respected professors at my undergrad university (OSU). I'll also have been out of school for 2.5 years when I apply for MFAs.

How much of a stickler are schools on the GPA requirement? Should I e-mail them to see if it is really required, or just much easier to get by the graduate school. I don't want to get any of my applications thrown out because I don't meet a requirement for applying.

I know that the writing sample is by far the most important aspect, but how much of a disadvantage am I going to be at?

Adam Palumbo said...

Hi, I was wondering what sort of information there is about the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. I have explored their website extensively; they have a plethora of alumni doing very well in publishing their work and recently announced the return of the Hopkins Review, but I can find precious little information on the types of financial aid (TAships, fellowships, grants) that the MFA program there offers. Any sort of information on the situation at JHU would be greatly appreciated.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

Just a note to say that while you should try to get your answers answered here first if at all possible, if (and only if) you're unable to do so, please visit the CCA for additional assistance (though it's vitally necessary to read the Introduction, at the link, before posting). Again, I don't want to detract in any way from this mailbag; I just know that, in any thread, certain questions won't or can't be answered, and that's where I'm happy to step in to assist at the CCA, even though I won't be participating in mailbags going forward. Best wishes, all,

Seth from TSE

Eric said...

Re: Sam

I was in your same shoes applying to schools a year ago. My undergrad GPA was 2.46, yet I was removed from school for about three years, and I was incredibly worried about how that might impact my application. The short answer is, schools don't care what your GPA is. Literally. I was accepted and waitlisted to several schools, and will be attending the University of Illinois next year despite my general horribleness in undergrad.

HOWEVER, you absolutely should communicate with schools that explicitly list a 3.0 GPA requirement. When compiling my list, I had to strike several schools off of it after communicating with them via email, telling me that a low GPA would endanger my application. There were some schools, too, that told me to go ahead and apply, and that they look at the holistic application. Basically, it all depends on the program. Some are autonomous and don't have to necessarily adhere to the requirements of the Graduate school, while others have to. Email the schools -- for the most part, they'll be more than happy to answer your questions.

James Wooden said...

Sharanya: You will need to send transcripts as part of your application. If you are accepted you will need to send a second set verifying that you have earned your BA. Also, as an international student you will have to be very proactive with the grad school at which you are (I hope) accepted. A friend of mine who finished a BA in the UK has had to constantly communicate with the graduate school (not so much the English dept) she got accepted to. The program accepted her based on her writing sample, but the graduate school had trouble deciphering transcripts from a different educational system.

Sam: I used my personal statement to explain the difference in grades from when I first started college over ten years ago and my grades now. Do not devote paragraphs, but a line or two might be written to explain your gpa.

Adam: All admits to the writing seminars are guaranteed funding through TAship (you teach an undergraduate intro to creative writing course). Tuition is waved. The stipend varies from year to year, and right now I think is about 17,000 a year. This is competitive with other tier-one and tier-two schools. Remember, as mentioned in the MFA Handbook (1st ed) teaching is a requirement, not an option. Other schools, Michigan stands out most in my mind, grant fellowships that do not require teaching. Granted, these spots are way more competitive.

Joshua Duncan said...

I feel like a dope for even asking this question, but I want to get the details right.

The writing sample--12 point font, double typed, 1 inch margins?

Like I said, I feel like a dope for asking, but paranoia has already set in. I need to know.

James Wooden said...

Joshua: depends on your genre. Fiction, yes use standard formatting. Poetry need not comply to such rigid constraints. Everything else, personal statement, statement of intent, anything in essay form, use standard formatting. But always check the applications. Unfortunately you won't be able to do this until application season actually starts and schools open their applications. The electronic applications will be much more specific than the program websites. For the most part, you will be uploading a file that will be converted by the application software into a pdf. Though some schools (UMass Amherst I recall) will have you type/paste directly into a text box. I think many of these questions will be answered when you all have access to the actual applications.

Anonymous said...

I'm heading to Brooklyn College for fiction in the fall, and I admit I'm more than a little intimidated. (I did my application process by picking an area, NYC, and then apping from what looked to be the top programs in the area) I wasn't expecting to get into any of my fiction programs, and hilariously didn't get into any of the poetry programs I applied to. As someone who has spent most of my time writing poetry the past three years I feel woefully unprepared for this coming semester. I guess you could say I'm a little concerned! I was also a psychology major in college, and feel absolutely under-read as far as general literature and lit theory.

...and on a related and yet similar note, does anyone have any tips for searching for housing long distance? And I've been told that it will be hard to find an apartment to rent for August-onward if I look now, but it makes me nervous to leaving it to too much later in the summer.

marsupial said...

A--I'm giving up my Brooklyn apartment to attend UNCG in the fall. It's right by the subway line that will take you to Bklyn College. If you want to hear more, email me at kjolis at gmail dot com.

Mozelle said...


You obviously have fiction talent or they wouldn't have accepted you. If that's why you're feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath. And don't sweat not having encyclopedic knowledge of the literary "canon". It's very unlikely that you will be forced to take a test or something your first semester to ascertain whether or not you are some literary poseur. If a concept or work you don't recognize is mentioned, go track it down.

I'm moving from Alaska to Virginia this summer, and I've never been there. I cannot afford to fly back and forth to find a place to live, so it's all or nothing when I leave here. I'm using Craigslist for the area, as well as various rental sites, which I have used to locate real estate companies that handle rentals. In addition, contact the school and ask to be connected with current students. They will be the best sources of information about housing options and opportunities.

Band Practice said...

Hi All,

I'm interested in applying for MFA programs in playwriting for the 10-11 year. My wife is receiving her Ph.D. in Neuroscience this year and she's looking for post-docs. Can anybody tell me about playwriting programs associated with the following schools? Also, if there are schools NEAR these that have good programs, could somebody fill me in?

San Diego


cath said...

I just saw this article in The New Yorker: Should Creative Writing Be Taught?by Louis Menand

June 2, 2009 4:47 PM

cath said...

Hi Ryan-
I know that UC Riverside, which is about an hour or so outside of San Diego, has an MFA in writing for the Performance Arts. Also, UC Irvine, which is about 2 hours from SD(depending on what part of SD you are coming from and traffic), has an amazing program. SDSU also has a great MFA program. (I am from SD, clearly.)USCD also has a playwriting MFA, and just started an MFA program in Creative Writing. Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

Marsupial - Oh, wow! I dropped you a line!

Mozelle - thank you for your words. It's hard to just, calm down and evaluate it logically sometimes!

Sharanya said...

Thanks Jamie, this really helped.

Gracie said...

Hi Seth,

Can I get your thoughts on NYU's faculty versus Columbia's faculty, especially when it comes to poetry? NYU seems to have a more experienced (read older) stellar line-up, but are they available to their students? CU seems to have a younger faculty (also very talented), but I've heard they are very much available to their students. Regardless of where I go, can I anticipate public readings where I can experience both faculties' writing?

Also, money aside (as I could potentially get more funding from CU in my second year to break even with what I've been offered at NYU), which program do you think would be more rigerous for a poet? NYU is only 36 credits and CU is 60.

Thanks for any advice.

Unknown said...

in response to the New Yorker's article: basic writing (aka..freshman composition, Effective Writing 101,...etc...) will always need qualified professors teaching it. The questions start popping up when one talks about Creative Writing and CW programs. IWW's track record speaks for itself.

Unknown said...

Creative writing gets the short end of the stick when it comes to fine arts. There is no question that Julliard, Peabody, and the Berklee College of Music are worthy investments. I think its part of the "CW MFA Fund" or "Writers Fund" mentality. James Michener saw fit to leave behind a CW/ CW MFA legacy. Stegner did the same thing.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi there Gracie,

In a recent change, I now only answer questions here. It's only a) because I was getting too inundated in several different locations (P&W also) to answer questions in multiple locales, and b) because I'm absolutely broke and am slightly more in the "consulting" mode now than previously. If you read the Introduction to the post at the link you'll understand (though obviously whether this interests you or not is your call). Best wishes,

Be well,

Unknown said...

Thanks Catherine for the link to that article.

Unknown said...

So I've started to narrow down the MFA programs I will being applying and at the same time have started to put together my writing sample. However, as I am perusing university websites in regards to the sample, one question pops up: what is the protocol on submitting previously published work(s)? Some university explicitly say not to, but some do not mention their stance on this topic. Is it uncouth, or, since it most likely is my best writing, should I submit it anyway?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cath said...

Hi Vince-
No problem!

Lincoln Michel said...


Having known a lot of writers who went to both NYU and Columbia, I think I can confidently say Columbia's program is far more rigorous in the sense you are asking. Pure numbers game, as you point out. At Columbia you are taking a workshop plus three other classes a semester. At NYU you are taking a workshop plus one other class.

Public readings in New York are abundant so shouldn't be a problem at either university.

I'm probably not qualified, as a fiction writer, to speak to the two faculties though.

James Wooden said...


I wouldn't worry about using published work in a writing sample. It is only a problem if, as you mentioned, the school specifically states that you can't. I think it was in the first ed. of the MFA Handbook that Kealey says to send your best, published or not. Moreover, many schools will have you submit a CV (like Michigan) and most applications will have a specific text box that has you list previous publications.

Lincoln Michel said...


I have to admit I'm surprised any school would ask you not to submit published work in a writing sample. The MFA application committee isn't a magazine, they aren't going to publish your work, right?

Definitely send your best work, published or not.... unless a university expressly forbids it, I'm sure they want your best stuff.

Jennifer said...

Sethers -- What school asked that applicants not submit published work? That makes no sense to me.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the input Lincoln.

Jennifer, I have seen a few programs decline published work in my internet searches. The University of San Francisco is the only one that I have looked into further. Their website says: "Writing Sample - The sample is 10-15 pages in length and may consist of fiction, nonfiction or poetry. The sample can be a single piece in one genre, or several shorter pieces in different genres. The sample demonstrates your imaginative and creative talents, and your serious interest in writing, as well as your understanding of grammar and syntax. It should not include school or work assignments, or work previously published. Prose should be double-spaced and set in 12 pt. type."

There are a few others out there, I was just too lazy to find them.

Aaron said...

Hi all,

I am going to be applying to some schools and I wanted to ask some things:

1. I just received my MLS--and I would much rather find a staff/faculty job than work again as a GA. How likely would my chances be of landing such a job in this dismal market? Do you think programs will assist me in finding such a job or am I all on my own? Would the tuition waiver of staff/faculty jobs be as substantial as that of the programs normal funding (and would there be a similar waiver for my wife to begin a MA in another department)? Anyone have any experience to share?

2. Can I get an MFA and then apply for PHD programs to continue studying the overlapping area of my MLS and Literature degree (digital humanities)? Or do MFA students need an MA in Literature to enter a PHD program?

Aaron said...

Let me amend that last post by saying that an MLS is a Masters of Library and Information Science. MLS degrees lead to full time academic Librarian positions. However, we learn many skills synergistic to administrative positions, and serve as project managers, program coordinators, and researchers among a variety of other positions. So I am not just looking for an entry-level librarian position. Though working in the library or IT would be logical, as well.

Unknown said...

it's been over four years since i've worked in libraries. based on what i've absorbed from your two comments, it would be best for you to speak with at least one CW MFA director...shoot them an email and ask politely what your chances are of getting into a CW MFA program. Another option (for you) is to head straight into a Phd program since you already own a masters degree. Good luck!

Unknown said...


TK's book is something you might want to pick up.



Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...


I would consider what your eventual goals are. There is no reason not to get an MFA before getting a Ph.D. if you are interested in pursuing writing as a goal in and of itself.

The MFA is not necessary for applying to Ph.D.s, but a masters degree certainly won't detract from your eventual application. And if you apply to MFA programs that are not studio based you will be studying literature at the graduate level. Some programs are more geared to that than others.

QueerActivist said...

I am a senior starting the grad school search, and I haven't decided yet whether to go for my MFA in Creative Writing, or to pursue a PhD in my other major (Women's Studies). To be honest, I probably won't decide until after I apply to both types of programs, and choose from where I get accepted. I was wondering what experiences other people had in apply to/choosing between an MFA in Creative Writing or an advanced degree in another field? Some of the schools I am thinking about applying to for Creative Writing also offer advanced degrees in Women's Studies and vica versa. Do you think it's a good idea to apply to two different types of programs at the same college? Will the admissions committees look at my application as less serious because I have such varied interests? I feel that my interdisciplinary background makes both my academic and my literary work richer, but I'm not sure how that will be perceived.

Anonymous said...

Hi Seth & everyone -

I'm relatively new to the MFA search. Finishing up my undergrad at Temple University next May, and pursuing the nonfiction MFA for fall 2010 admission.

Anyway ... a question about the writing sample. Many programs say something to the effect of write 20-25 pages or 30 pages maximum. Others say, like Penn State, simply say "30 pages." Am I correct in assuming this is a maximum number of pages, and that 22-25 pages (via one or two stories) would suffice? Or is 30 the minimum?

Sorry if this is a) a stupid question and/or b) already been answered in a previous post. As I said, I'm new to the search and this blog.

In advance, thanks.

Ross Markman

Jennifer said...

Ross, I thought of those numbers as a maximum. My sample was only three stories: one 9 pages, one 8 pages and one 1 page piece of flash. It worked for me, I got in.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, that's awesome. Do you mind if I ask: Where were you accepted?

cb said...

Hi everyone,

I too am an incoming college senior, finishing up at Vassar in May and looking forward to exploring MFA options in more depth. A question I've been thinking a lot about is whether to apply to grad school for the fall of 2010 (in other words, going straight out of undergrad), or to wait several years to gain more life experience. I know this is a personal decision, and it's probably tough to offer definitive advice, but it would be really helpful to hear the thoughts or suggestions of those who chose either of the two paths. I'm nervous about going in at 21 and working alongside students who might be much older than me, but I'm also very motivated and have been sure for a long time that this is what I'd like to do. I've taken just about every writing class my college offers and really look forward to the idea of grad school workshopping--so a big part of me is eager to begin that process. It would also be wonderful to hear from anyone who is/has recently been in an MFA program about the average age of students in their program--I'm curious to hear whether there tend to be a sizable amount of students just out of undergrad.

I also had a smaller (and, I promise, shorter!) question--looking at apps, it seems that the statement of purpose is part of the grad school application, which (to my understanding) is looked at more by the graduate school itself as opposed to the specific MFA program. Is the statement of purpose still read by the MFA program? I'm wondering whether experience included in the statement of purpose should be repeated in the writing sample cover letter, if this is what's read by the MFA evaluators--or if they read the grad school app in its entirely as well, making that repetition pointless.

Not sure if that was much shorter after all! : ) Sorry for the long questions, and many, many thanks for any help.


James Wooden said...

Chloe: regarding SOP, I think it depends on the school and the admissions committee. Most adcoms will at least glance at your SOP. SOP are used to see an applicant outside of the writing sample. Some applications require a biographical statement rather than an SOP and the adcom will definitely read that. One of the schools I applied to, instead of an SOP, required a critical essay on one of the pieces I submitted. The SOP is not what gets you in, that's all writing sample, but at the same time it isn't something one should approach as unimportant.

Your question about going to MFA from undergrad is a tough one. I have always heard one should wait at least a year. Going straight into a graduate program doesn't give you much time to recharge and you may burn out. It's my personal opinion that if you have just finished your undergrad and you're only 22 then you should absolutely wait. Honestly, the things 22 year-olds write just are not that interesting. You and every other English major, or college graduate, has just gone through the same experience, and if an adcom gets 100 writing samples about college life, about going to parties, or studying in the library, or getting high and running around in the park, or a college relationship that didn't work out, what will set the average 22 year old apart?

Remember, this is just my opinion. I'm sure many recent young college graduates have had some interesting experiences, and I've known people to go directly to grad school and do well in a creative writing program. My suggestion is to do something else, something outside of school. Join the workforce, join americacorps, get outside your comfort zone. That said, it's a tough economy right now, and if you can't find work and an MFA looks like your only option, then go for it.

Jennifer said...

Hi Ross -- George Mason.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer -

That's fantastic. George Mason is one of the 12 programs of which I plan to apply.

Are you fiction, nonfiction or poetry. If nonfiction, please share your thoughts on the program and your experience with funding, etc.

Email me at

Thanks so much.


marsupial said...


If you have the drive and desire to apply to programs straight out of college, and you have the financial means to pay for the application fees, then do it. We can't presume to know what you're writing about, whether it's about college life or something more unique. Bottom line is, if the adcoms like your writing and want to help you develop it, you'll get in. If not, you can keep writing and you'll get in eventually. But if it's something you want, there's no fault in going after it at such a young age. And if you don't get in and are determined to try again in later years, more power to you.

Elad the Great said...


First off I would like to say what a great help your blog has been in my search for an mfa program that fits me. Kudos for all your great work.

Anyway, here's my question: I know that Undergrad grades don't matter so much, but I haven't even hit the 3.0 mark (okay, I have a 2.99, so... yeah). The reason for this is because I am bipolar and didn't know it during my first three years of school. Obviously, this didn't help me too much with getting good grades, and became a really big problem towards my junior and senior years.

Okay, so here's the actual question: Do I bother to explain all this and go on to explain that now I'm a good, sober, medicated young boy, or do I just let my writing speak for itself? If I DO tell them, should I also provide a letter from my psychologist to explain my medical situation?

Thanks for all your help.

kaybay said...

Elad the Great, I'm sorry to hear about your situation, but glad to hear that you got things in order. I am a teacher at a high school right now and I know that having documentation of any disability is incredibly important, in fact if you do not provide any documentations, the school CANNOT make accommodations for you. Most students think that they don't want to be "treated any differently," but I would recommend it just in case a serious situation comes up. Don't make it a part of your application (you could include it in your SOP if it's relevant), but do provide something for the school itself. I have a student that's bipolar and if I weren't able to communicate about him with our psychologist, it would be difficult to teach him. But, it HAS to be documented. GOOD LUCK!