Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mailbag, June 18, 2009

It's about time we opened up another general mailbag. Leave your questions, comments and concerns here.


Anonymous said...

Hello -

I'm relatively new to the MFA search. Graduating from Temple University next May. Spent 7.5 as a full-time journalist before going back to school, etc.

Anyway ... I'm looking into nonfiction programs, and it seems there is much more funding -- and more options -- available for the fiction and poetry genres. Am I correct here?

Also, can any current nonfiction students make recommendations? I'm definitely going to need funding, likely of the full variety. :)

Thanks, in advance.


Le Belle Dame Sans Merci said...

Hello there,
I'm pretty new as well...graduated with a BA in Lit and Creative Writing 2 yrs ago. Just now working up the gumption to go to grad school and I'm feeling more than a little bit rusty, lol.

My questions are feel free to answer the ones you're actually up to; any information at all would be tremendously helpful.

Many thanks,

1) How do you handle that gosh darn personal statement? I seem to hit a wall every time a go to write it...I end up sounding sterotypically "college essay-esque"...I know I need something that will catch the panel's interest and set mine apart from all the other applicants, but I'm really struggling for some reason. Any success stories? Ideas? Suggestions? Formulas? :D

2) I was told that having a couple of publications - not too many - under your belt was helpful when applying for an MFA. Is this accurate? I've already got one...but do you have any suggestions as to some good poetry journals that one might apply to as an emerging poet? The New Yorker's just a liiiiitle bit out of my league as of yet. :)

3)How would you rank the programs at Florida State University and the University of Florida? Or is there another Florida school you'd rank higher? I'm a native Floridian, so in-state tuition would be ever so nice on my budget...


People of Faith Against the Death Penalty said...


I graduated from Temple last spring and I'm starting my MFA in creative nonfiction next month. I'm doing a low-residency MFA at Goucher College, and it's relatively inexpensive (about $10,000 per year) compared to other programs. The faculty is also pretty stellar, which is what drew me to the program.

Although I only applied to schools that were supposed to have funding, most of the programs I got in to didn't offer much. A lot of funding was cut because of the recession. I would suggest that if you're not chained to the east coast (as I am), you could apply to more programs in the midwest, where the funding tends to be better.

Good luck, Ross!


P.S. Go Owls!

People of Faith Against the Death Penalty said...


I graduated from Temple last spring and I'm starting my MFA in creative nonfiction next month. I'm doing a low-residency MFA at Goucher College, and it's relatively inexpensive (about $10,000 per year) compared to other programs. The faculty is also pretty stellar, which is what drew me to the program.

Although I only applied to schools that were supposed to have funding, most of the programs I got in to didn't offer much. A lot of funding was cut because of the recession. I would suggest that if you're not chained to the east coast (as I am), you could apply to more programs in the midwest, where the funding tends to be better.

Good luck, Ross!


P.S. Go Owls!

Lindsay said...

I've been looking at MFA programs for about a year now, but recently decided to go into creative nonfiction instead of fiction, so my search has changed a bit. I'm graduating next May (2010) with a degree in English and Women's Studies and plan to go straight into an MFA program, if I'm accepted, but I HAVE TO have full funding. I literally cannot take out loans to pay for graduate school, so if I don't get funding, I'm going to have to go with a Plan B.

I have a couple questions and I'm hoping someone can help me out:

Anyone know anything about Minnesota State at Mankato's program? Funding, competitiveness, etc.? I hardly ever hear anything about them and I don't know if it's because they're overshadowed by other programs but are still good, or if everyone knows something I don't.

Also, I'm basically just looking for any advice/recommendations/etc. that anyone can give me. My current list looks something like this: University of Minnesota, UNC - Wilmington, University of Iowa, Minnesota State @ Mankato, Penn State, University of Montana, Eastern Washington, University of Colorado, and Old Dominion. I'm looking for other schools to look into and other directions to go in. Any suggestions?

Sara Ellen said...


Though I'm not new to the idea of an MFA, I'm really just starting the search for actual real live programs I might apply to and could even possibly attend. I'm, of course, overwhelmed by the choices and the acceptance rates and the mere thought of sending off my little poemsies somewhere and banking a big life decision off of them. To the point: I need help getting started. I'm talking to professors and eagerly awaiting the TK MFA handbook I recently purchased online. But I'm wondering:

--Are there any other handbooks out there that would be helpful to have as well?

--Are there any other ways to dig up information on programs that seem appealing other than their official websites? Specifically, does anyone know much about the rather young program at Vanderbilt?
Full funding in Nashville sounds like a dream come true.

--I'm also trying to decide what to do with this next limbo year of my life, and have a couple of options. I've been accepted into a masters program at the Universitat de Barcelona ("Music, Word, & Image"--kindof musicology crosses literature crosses art history), but I'm also considering moving to New York for the year and hopefully interning at an academic poetry journal. Does anybody out there know/have the time to dish out opinions as to which option would make me seem more, er, appealing to tough programs? I know the writing is the clincher, but does work/academic experience matter as well?

Phew! Sorry for the long list. Like La Belle, *any* help/information would be really appreciated.

Emily said...

Lindsay - I have a friend starting the NF program at Mankato in the fall. She can also give you her personal opinion on a couple of the other places on your list. I will try to put you in touch with her.

Ryan said...

Le Belle Dame Sans Merci - Here are Seth Abramson's wonderful rankings for MFA programs. I am specifically linking you to poetry, but there is also fiction and an all-around ranking.

It seems that Florida is at 22nd and FSU is at 39th on that list.

Here are his funding rankings:

Florida is at 13th and has a really well funded program from what I understand. FSU is at 38th.

As far as being published before you apply for an MFA, I'm not sure how much that helps. If you have a short story in the Paris Review, I'm sure it's impressive, but I know that almost all the consideration for most serious MFA programs is based on your writing sample. Those 20 or 30 pages of fiction/poetry are what you are judged on from what I've read on here and other places.

But maybe someone can speak to that with more authority. I'm in the process of applying myself, for the Fall 2010 so I'm not an expert.

Hope that helps.


Ryan said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Emilie -

Thanks for the info. I'm definitely not confined to the East Coast; in fact, most of schools I'm considering are nowhere near it. As a journalist, I lived in Montana, North Carolina and Georgia, in addition to rural Pennsylvania. Also lived in Las Vegas and Singapore. So I definitely embrace new scenery.

I'm also looking for traditional programs, rather than low-res, so hopefully that will help in terms of funding.

Thanks again. Best of luck at Goucher.


Anonymous said...

Lindsay -

What sucks is this: Just about all of us in the nonfiction boat have very similar lists. Competition is gonna be crazy to get in.

Anyone agree/disagree?


Lindsay said...

Ross: totally agree. Luckily, I think there are fewer CNF applicants than Poetry or Fiction, but still. It seems like there are ten programs that EVERYONE applies to; I'm really hoping to find some that I like outside of the top 10.

Lindsay said...

Oh, and Emily: that would be awesome, thanks!

Kathryn said...

I'm at Eastern Washington right now, and I love the program. It's relatively small, the faculty are fantastic--all published, easy to talk to, etc. The downside is that EWU was hit hard by the economy, and so funding isn't the best. About a third of the 09 incoming class has funding, though that's better than the year before. I didn't get a TA position but I still found partial funding elsewhere (I know you said you need full funding...). Still, I love the program and have the highest recommendation for it. If you have any more specific questions, I'd be happy to help out.

Also, for the person that asked about personal statements...

This probably doesn't fly everywhere, but I wrote a "creative" personal statement, and the faculty later told me it really stood out and impressed them. I wanted to experiment, and I figured any place that rejected me because I experimented with my personal statement wasn't a place I wanted to go anyway. Don't know if that helps.

GCM said...

I remember that there was a comment posted a few months ago regarding the rumor that a new, high-profile author was slated to join the faculty at NYU. Tonight, a friend forwarded an email confirming that rumor. Zadie Smith will be joining NYU as a tenured professor next fall (2010).

Unknown said...

I'm going for round 2 of applying for my MFA this coming year and really think I need a new story or two for my portfolio. I tried to audit a fiction writing class at my local university and the profs there said they're full. I even looked at the community colleges and because I work for a measly hourly wage, I can't take the classes they offer because it interferes with my work schedule.

Speaking of my pathetic salary, are there any online courses out there that are a little less expensive than those at Stanford or even Gotham? $400 is just too much out of my budget right now...I'm barely making rent, so I definitely don't have the extra cash!

On a related note, if no such cheap online course exists, is anyone interested in starting a workshop group of our own to prepare ourselves for app season? Get in touch!

Anonymous said...

I've been a long-time lurker, but this is my first comment. I'm a writer of all trades, but I love nonfiction writing most of all because of how life transforms people.

I'm gearing up to apply to MFA nonfiction programs for the Fall of 2010, and I just recently purchased The Creative Writing Handbook .

I'm looking to apply to the following programs:

University of Minnesota
Penn State University
University of Arizona
Hollins University
University of New Mexico
University of Iowa
University of North Carolina - Wilmington
The Ohio State University
University of Notre Dame

I'm tossing around a few other programs as well (Eastern Washington, for example), but the above mentioned programs are my core focus.

For me, too, the personal statement seems rather daunting, but I've tossed around the idea of trying a "creative" approach as well. Kathryn, can you offer a little guidance as to what worked for you?


SeeMoreGlass said...

kathryn: i too am curious as to what you mean by "creative."

sara ellen: the barcelona option sounds like a fantastic thing to do, if you don't mind getting two masters.

i am taking the gre's next week - highly stressful.

my list for fiction is shaping up a little like:

all pretty tough admits - weird because i am nothing if not pessimistic.

right now my biggest concern is what to choose as a writing sample. my strongest story is also my longest, a whopping 37 pages, which - even if i cut it down to most schools' 25 page limit, would allow me to send only one and i hear that schools like it better when you send two. i was thinking that perhaps i could send a shorter story and an excerpt from the long one, but i don't want the sample to suffer for that...i have shorter things i can send, too, i just have been told that it's my strongest piece.
i know it's pseudo subjective, but any advice on that would be most appreciated.

Unknown said...


I think it would probably be safer to send a solid excerpt of the longer story and another, hopefully strong, story as well. It will show that you have no qualms about writing a lot (wow, that sentence made no sense whatsoever). My best advice for this though is to write a couple of other stories that could pair strongly with your longer one. Get a LOT of people to read it--as many relatives and friends that you can bug--and see what combination is going to be stronger. Overall, you want to send in a collection that represents you as a writer.

I'm applying for fiction too, and all to top programs that probably won't let me in (just a bit pessimistic)--
Iowa, Cornell, Brown, UT, UNCG, UMass at Amherst, UArk, Notre Dame, and Trinity College.

I echo the question on what it means to write a "creative" personal statement.

NoelThistleTague said...


I've been researching MFA programs for poetry in the States, UK and Ireland for a while now, but recently I've come around to the idea that after the MFA, I'd like to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing. The PhD seems like a good option for combining all of my interests: the writing and craft of poetry, translation, teaching, and literary theory and research.

Because, admittedly, I do change my mind about my graduate school track on a weekly basis, I've decided to stick with the MFA rather than the MA in Creative Writing. So my question is: is there any discrepancy in the way PhD programs regard applicants with MFAs from abroad versus in the States? Will, say, an applicant with an MFA from a well regarded 3-year program be favored over one with an MFA from a 1-year program of equal repuation abroad? And, on a side note, are there any other programs like Cornell that offer a joint MFA and PhD in English (with or without creative disseration)?



Jennifer said...

Le Belle -- I followed a formula for my personal statement that I read about somewhere (on one of these blogs or maybe in the Kealey book --- I can't remember where) that really worked for me. The formula was this:

Who I was that led me to be the writer I am today + who I am as a writer today + the writer I want to be in the future.

It was much more of a "professional" statement than a creative one, but I worked really hard on it and ended up loving it. I tailored the "writer I want to be in the future" part to each school, stressing how their program could help me become that writer.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Hey NFers,

I graduated in 08 in NF from the University from Montana. Loved Montana! Know that funding is weird. When I was there app numbers were much lower for NF than other genres (@80 versus 200+), and I was told the general quality is much lower. This means it's much easier to get in. One year ten people were accepted. For math majors that's a one in eight chance.

The caveat is NF only has one or two TAs per year (alternating. I believe the upcoming year would be one), while fiction and poetry are alloted 5 TAs.

Did I know this applying? No. I'm glad I didn't. Montana was by far my first choice, and then I received the one TA and — viola! My advice is cast a wide enough net, but don't be afraid to apply where you really want to attend. Because you never know.

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

Hi Kelly (and other NF peeps) -

Yes, I said peeps. Don't forgive me.

Anyway, Kelly's story really concerns me. I'm really leaning toward nonfiction, but, as several of us have expressed, funding is just not offered at the level it is for poetry and fiction.

Also, through this blog and via private emails, it seems that we're all applying to the same 8 to 12 schools. Kelly mentions Montana. I'm sure most of us plan to apply there. How can that be only 80 applicants?

Perhaps I'm just ignorant (and new) to the whole process. Or maybe I'm just freaking out. Either way, I'm concerned, and I'm putting a lot of thought into submitting for fiction. Ugh, but then there's even greater competition.

Seriously, why didn't I just follow my parents advice, and marry a rich girl?

Half-sincerely yours,


Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Hey Ross/NF applicants,

Maybe app numbers have gone up. I'm speaking for the incoming class of '09. It does seem an MFA stampede in the works.

I'm also guessing people who post on an MFA blog are not necessarily indicative of the general applicant pool. Especially people posting in June. Ha! Obviously, writers considering Montana are members of an elite, high-powered, way beyond average caste.

I confess I love checking in on this blog once in a while. MFAstalgia. But man, when I was applying, I'm grateful I had no idea. I picked 8 programs licked the stamps and let God. All this foreknowledge just might've driven me insane!

Best to all this year, and if anyone has Q's about Montana, feel free to email.

Jennifer said...

It sure took Mississippi long enough to send out rejection letters. Mine came in the mail today. I had completely forgotten that I hadn't heard from them.

insertbrackets said...

Hi Meg, let me see if I can answer some of your questions.

1) Personal statements...ugh, mine was tough. Basically I was sort of sitting around and...much like how my poems come to me...a line, a sentence streaked through my brain like lightning. The tone I established was self-deprecating, flippant and serious. Me in a nutshell. I think you need to write something that sums up who you are and makes you sound like a serious, but not overly serious, applicant.

2) I had no publication credits to speak of when I applied and I got into three well-regarded, fully funded schools. Publication credits are negligible mostly because if the committee does not like your work, appearing in the Paris Review probably is not going to change that.

3) U Florida is on a higher tier than FSU for a number of reasons...primarily funding in conjunction with the three year duration of the program. And Sydney Wade is a sweetheart. I got into Florida but opted to go to Ohio State instead. I have heard that at FSU, Ph D's get more attention and the funding has suffered substantially.

Hope that helped :-D


insertbrackets said...


I will probably be flogged by the program director if I don't mention that Ohio State University offers admissions in creative nonfiction and is a fully funded program in an excellent location, NOT TO MENTION an incredibly supporting community among the students there. I am an incoming student in poetry and I can tell you from my interactions with the NF'ers that they are quite happy with the program.

I should say OSU is an excellent choice for any genre considering the funding and faculty and recent success of our alumni. Check it out!


Unknown said...

Hi everyone, I just finished applying for an MFA last year, so I know right where you guys are. ...Actually, if you're already looking up this stuff, you're farther along than I was at the same point.

I would just say that a lot of the answers to the questions that you guys are asking are already on this website (sometimes they're in last year's mail bags. ...Very specific information in there, about programs, funding, Profs, everything), and Seth Abramson's blog. There's very detailed stuff there if you have the time to look at it.

Around January, I was in email contact with a guy who got into the program I got into, and he was having an incredible amount of success. He got into WVU, Idaho (I think), University of Missouri (something like that), ...all these schools with full funding.

At the time, I was getting rejected at a shitload of schools. I had applied to all of the most highly ranked schools: Iowa, UT Austin, etc. I thought I was a shoe-in, but no dice.

So, while I was getting rejected at all these schools, (over twenty, guys), here was a guy who presumably had a writing sample of roughly the same strength as me having more success because he applied to a more varied selection of schools.

Do it just like undergrad, I say. Apply to "reach" schools, and apply to schools like "these people are lucky I'm even wasting my breath on them. I'm obviously getting into Iowa." Because the reality is you just don't know.
There was a girl on here who got rejected from every one of her programs, she applied to over 10, and got into Michigan, in fiction, from the wait list. That girl could have been going nowhere, but now she's in one of the most highly regarded programs in the country. You don't know what's going to happen.

Also, I would advise getting the MFA Handbook, even if you scour these webpages. That's what the guy who I was in email contact did, and it was clear he knew some valuable stuff I didn't know even though I spent hours on here.

Good luck!

PARTISAN said...

La Belle--

Regarding the personal statement:

I was hitting that proverbial wall well up until the time I sent my applications out. I attempted a more formal SoP and scrapped it almost immediately. It sounded nothing like me, and it occurred to me that it would read as very manufactured, and very unlike my poetry. Like Tory, certain lines and notable topics came to me throughout the process. I wrote them down and incorporated them into my SoP, which I then tweaked for each school. What I came up with was a personal statement that echoed my writing sample: it was personal, serious, very influenced by geographic location, though by no means a gushing personal letter. I think that's a fine line you need to walk. Let your writing give them the details. Allow you personal statement to give the overarching theme of who you are (with one or two select, important bits) and what you want to accomplish with the MFA.

I had a good deal of luck with my applications this past year, and nearly all the schools that accepted me made mention of my personal statement. Had I gone for more of a cover letter approach, I'm not sure how my admissions season would have gone. Don't get me wrong, I don't think a formulaic personal statement will get you rejected, but I think a more memorable one certainly gives you an edge.

I agree with Tory on publication records, too. I had no serious publications to speak of. I honestly don't think it matters.

I can't take the heat, so I don't know about Florida ;)

Sara Ellen said...

Ross, a dowry will do nothing for your soul. Hold steady against the wind!:)

I do enjoy reading up on the blog (even though it does drive me a bit insane, Kelly Kathleen, to know the gritty details--my poems are shaking in their carefully organized computer folders).

Does anyone know more about the "international" program at Nevada? Sounds pretty cool.

good luck to all--
sara ellen

Sequoia N said...

So far this is my list for fiction:

Penn State
Notre Dame
Southern Illinois
Washington U.-St. Louis

All fully funded (or at least the chance of being well funded programs) This is my second year applying.

I'm currently working on a few stories that I hope to include in my portfolio. I suppose this time around, I'm using a different approach and sending different stories to different places. I also hope to get one or two more things published before December rolls around. I currently have two print publications (one based at one of the universities) and a couple online. I know publications aren't a deal maker or breaker but they can't hurt either.

Kerry Headley said...


I'm a CNF person applying for the next go-round and I am not applying to Montana. I'm also not applying to any of the great NYC programs because I've already lived in NYC twice and I'm not into doing that again right now. My advice is to send out your strongest work and try not to obsess over the competition or assume that most of us will apply at the same places. Many people wouldn't consider going to Alabama, but it's one of my picks. Lots of people apply in more than one genre. Seems like a good idea if you have good fiction samples.

Best of luck!

Max Schmetterer said...

I'm a 4th year at U of Minnesota looking into MFA programs. As I'm spending this month studying abroad in London, I wonder if you know anything about how creative writing programs work in the U.K. Are there schools worth looking at while I'm over here? ("Worth looking at" means they offer assistantships and/or tuition waivers)


Le Belle Dame Sans Merci said...

I'm pretty sure the only thing they'd offer is an assistantship (this particular school is not very generous when it comes to financial aid at the Master's level); however, if you don't mind relocating to Ormskirk, you should really check out Edge Hill's Creative Writing Program if your looking at poetry. Professor Pantano - their senior lecturer - is absolutely phenomenal. I spent two years studying with him when he was here in the States. Well worth it! :D

Le Belle Dame Sans Merci said...

you're...not your....sorry Max. Lol.

Andrew Sottile said...

Howdy! I'm in the selection for application process for the Fall 2010 semester. My question is in regards to the writing portfolio. I am somewhat new to creative writing (I only started writing fiction after college following my degree in English Lit) and am wondering about consistency within one's work. Is an MFA program more interested in a writer who can display a certain voice, style, and tone across a collection? Or is a diverse portfolio acceptable? Thanks.

A. Clayton S.

Constance Culver said...

Does anyone have insight on the poetry program at University of Washington? It seems very appealing ( good funding, Seattle, Heather McHugh) but their admissions page has thrown me for a loop...

it states the ideal candidate would have done their BA in English and graduated with a 3.7, while most other programs clearly note that they desire candidates with varied backgrounds. And the big kicker- a critical essay?

I can understand, maybe, for fiction or non-fiction, but for poetry? Critical essays are not exactly a poet's forte...

Does anyone know the purpose they serve?

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

Normally I wouldn't butt in, as I do most of my MFA advising now on my website (see right-hand sidebar), but I felt I did need to weigh in because I don't want this community to back-slide into the days of 2004--when misinformation abounded. I know that sounds horribly conceited, but as most of you know I've spent years doing research about MFA programs (not because I'm uniquely suited to it; anyone could have done this research) and I did it precisely so applicants would know the score. So, to clarify (re: some things I've just recently seen here):

1. There are fully-funded nonfiction programs. More than a few. You just have to look outside NYC, and use the funding and overall rankings to be found on TSE (i.e., The Suburban Ecstasies, the link above).

2. Publication history has absolutely zero to do with whether you get into an MFA program.

3. Programs almost never care about prior employment, internship, or educational history. They care about the portfolio, period (or close enough to "period" to make it so).

4. Competition for nonfiction programs is less than for poetry and fiction programs, not more. First, because there are actually 15 to 20 programs that most people apply to, not 10 (and there are 40+ in total), and second (and more importantly) because the applicant pool in nonfiction is one-sixth the size of the fiction pool, and one-fourth the size of the poetry pool. For instance: One of the most applied-to NF programs is Sarah Lawrence: they get 100 applicants. The top fiction/poetry programs get 400+ apps in fiction and 200+ apps in poetry.

5. Washington (University of Washington) has terrible funding.

Hope this helps. Anyone seeking additional info can visit TSE, and if you have specific questions for me (for those who don't know, I co-authored The Creative Writing MFA Handbook) should see the Counseling Center for Applicants [CCA] (see right-hand sidebar at link above). Please do read the Introduction first, though--it's a prerequisite to posting in the thread.

Finally, if you read the CCA thread you'll see that portfolio consulting is now available (check for the all-bolded posts, there are two or three of them in the CCA comment-fields).


Ke said...

RE: U Washington - Poetry

(1) The faculty is phenomenal across the board--all top-notch poets who are generous and various and well liked, from what I can tell. I was accepted to the program last year and very nearly ended up there. I live in Seattle, so I was able to speak with a lot of students and professors and sit in on some classes (and eat a free lunch on the lawn while the cherry trees were blossoming), plus my current boss is an alum, so I was able to pick his brain. I can't understand for the life of me why there isn't a little more buzz about this program - I got a great feeling about it and was really quite sad about turning down their offer (to take a funded spot at Montana).

(2)Maybe, to some degree, this is the answer: I wouldn't classify their funding as "good," or even "average," but I wouldn't say "terrible" and let that be the end of considering the program either.

They generally have two TAships to give each year in each genre. The program staff seems quite genuinely sad about about this and willing to try and help--I talked to one student who enrolled, spent a quarter in a very cool summer program in Rome as a UW student, then took a leave of absence for a year to gain WA residency (for tuition reasons) before started in earnest...and a professor in the program helped her hatch this whole plan.

There are some chances for 2nd years to pick up funding by working on the Seattle Review, and it seems that everyone who wants one is offered a paid internship of some sort at some point--which can mean a million cool things in Seattle, plus there are students who find TAs in other departments, (though the university as a whole has cut grad positions due to the state budget this year.)

I have some suspicions that the critical essay requirement may relate to both having to rank students for funding and the fact that there's also a really great lit program at UW (though you aren't required to take a lot of heavy lit).

Seth Abramson said...

Whoa, Ke--to be clear, I didn't say that the bad funding at UW is the "end of considering the program altogether." It's strong in poetry, is in a cool city, has a strong reputation dating back to 1996 (one reason there's no particular reason for "buzz" is that the program has been well thought of for many years, including top ten in 1996), and is a good size for a program (not too small, not too large). And it has other attractions. But it's not unfair to say that those who want to be fully-funded at their MFA should not apply to UW, as the chances are simply too slim to be worth the application fee. That's not an attack on UW, that's just how it is. The administration at UW appears to be bleeding the MFA dry--in terms of not giving it room to maintain, let alone expand, its prior funding levels--and there's going to be a consequence to that. Fewer apps, a slightly less accomplished cohort (as a general matter, not speaking of any writer individually), etcetera. Granted, this is something that will only play out over time.


Ke said...

Seth - I'd typed out that post prior to your comment, so my apologies if it seemed directed at you in any way. The volume of time you put into this and TSE is impressive and your willingness to share knowledge is a definite help to any MFA applicant.

CC asked about Washington without stipulating that full funding was an absolute necessity, but with the clear misconception that the funding is great.

I would have applied to the UW no matter what, thanks to personal considerations, but I was surprised to learn what I just shared about the funding situation in March of this year. I was also surprised by how happy the students in the program seemed and how accessible and open the faculty seemed, so I figured that I would try to share both of those things.

What I learned about other programs pretty much just echos what others (including Seth) have already said pretty eloquently around here, so that may be why it seems I only ever comment on the UW...

Anonymous said...

New blog. Comments welcome.

Seth Abramson said...

No worries, Ke.


Whitney said...


I'm a bit late adding to this, but UNC-Wilmington is a good place to go for non-fiction. I had a chance to visit earlier this spring (was accepted for poetry), and it appears to me that a lot of funding is pumped into the non-fiction folks. They also have Phil Gerard there who is a really great, outgoing guy. He's a good writer and he carries a lot of weight in the program. It's worth looking into his work. And hey, the location is nice--Wrightsville Beach is a quick ride over the bridge. The facilities, in general, are wonderful. I was very impressed by the faculty members, as well. Everyone was extremely friendly and I was given a tour of the offices, classrooms and the printing area.

farren said...

Hi everyone. I haven't been back to the blog for a few months (have been traveling, working, living generally offline) and am wondering what happened to the University of Oregon?

I applied last winter and never got my rejection. I also emailed some weeks ago and never got a reply. Any news?

cb said...

Hi all,
I'm wondering if anyone here would be willing to share personal experiences at either Iowa or Michigan. I've noticed that while some schools offer contact information for current or recent students, Iowa and Michigan aren't among them, and it would be wonderful to hear from those who have been students there. I'm most interested in the atmosphere of the student communities (competitive? nurturing? age range?) and other things that are a bit more difficult to discern from official school websites.
Many thanks for any help,

cb said...

P.S. To clarify: I'm interested in fiction. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chloe -

I'm pretty sure Iowa maintains a list of students and email address on its site. I found the nonfiction folks. I imagine fiction is up there as well.

- Ross

Lindsay said...

Question about Pitt's funding, if anyone knows. They say they can offer a "few" TA positions, but I've heard that there is little to no funding in the program - anyone know what the odds of getting one of these "few" positions are?

Emily said...


Iowa is amazing. A very supportive, generous community of writers. The talent level is incredibly high, which made me a little nervous at first, but I soon got over that. Also, because it's a larger program, you usually get a new mix of students in workshop every semester, which I personally liked. Can't say enough about the wonderful community there. It was really everything I dreamed it would be.

Just_Another_Poet said...

I'm only applying to MA programs:

For Poetry:

Ohio University
Miami University (OH)

Why MA? I feel I need more time to grow emotionally. Being in an MA program, however, will allow to 'perfect' my personal style.

cb said...

Thanks so much, Emily! One more specific question, if you wouldn't mind--I'm trying to decide whether to apply right out of undergrad or to wait a few years, and while my instinct is to apply now, I was wondering about the age range of the students at Iowa. Of course, this is something that probably varies a lot from year to year, but it would be great to get your take on the demographics there. I've heard some say the average student age is 28, while others suggest many people come right out of undergrad. I'm really looking forward to working with a diverse group of people, but am curious about the extent to which I might be on the (very) young side.

Emily said...


Iowa admits a fairly broad range. Some people in their 30s and 40s, some straight out of undergrad. The average student (when I was there) was probably mid to late 20s, but there were definitely a bunch of younger students, too. In the end, age doesn't really matter. Some of the best writers were the ones who had come straight out of college.

ChinBoston said...

Chloe, I went to Iowa for undergrad and had a lot of experience with workshop students (some were my creative writing teachers, others worked at the campus paper with me, and still others were my drinking buddies).

It's a big program, so personalities can vary a lot. Most of the people I knew were nice, kind people. But I must share a story about one of the other types.

I was at a party, and I got into a discussion (for some reason) about literature with this guy, and I mentioned that I don't like Emily Dickinson. When he was unable to persuade me of her merits, he said, "Well, that's just my opinion ... as a graduate of the Writers' Workshop."

I told him that it was kind of assy for him to use that as a trump card like that, and he slapped my glass of wine out of my hand, spilling it all over my girlfriend, and then challenged me to a fight!

Over Emily Freaking Dickinson!

So, I think you'll find that most people in the workshop are pretty cool. I did. But then there was this creep. Watch out for him. I'm sure he's still lingering around in the city's writers' bars, waiting to pick fistfights over literature.

Lo said...


I have recently been accepted into the Creative Writing programs at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. does anyone have any insight as to which program has a better reputation? Are there any rankings of UK programs that anyone knows about?

Seth Abramson said...


If you go here, you'll find many links to rankings of British universities, and some of them do break-downs by department (the best one I've found is here). Then you can do a Google search for "global university ranking" and find one of the six or seven extant global university rankings--they won't do break-downs by department, but they'll give you a sense of the overall reputation of the schools internationally. Both have excellent reputations. Congrats!

Be well,

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. The closest you'll get is a ranking of English departments; I don't believe there's a CW Ph.D. ranking for the UK yet. --S.

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.

Jennifer said...

Elad the Great -- Email me, the email address is on my blogger profile.

SeeMoreGlass said...

Elad --
I would find a way of working it into the personal statement, not just because of the grades but also because it's interesting and part of who you are. I would be clear, though, to explain it as a thing of the past, not something that plagues you anymore, and something that has helped you grow as a writer (presuming it seems like all life experiences contribute to one's writing, though, no?)
Others might disagree, that's just my take on it.

Seth Abramson said...


Normally I only comment here, but I'd really be remiss if I didn't tell you that there's no need for you to explain your GPA or mention mental illness in your application. While a 2.99 GPA might miss the graduate school cut-off at a miniscule number of universities, it's not a serious concern, and it's not any concern for the MFA programs (they don't care about your grades). As for mental illness, a) if you're a poet, many, many people in your class will be coming from a similar background (diagnosed or undiagnosed), and frankly the faculty expects this, and b) it really doesn't add anything to your SoP, regardless of genre. While there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or apologetic about in your personal background, it is nevertheless true that you are not (as you know) your medical or mental health condition, and you don't want the adcom thinking of you in that way. Best wishes,


Elad the Great said...

To Jennifer, Seth, and SeeMoreGlass,

Thanks so much for all your advice guys. It's really nice to get some advice from people that know what they're talking about and have been through the process. It's also helped me take a load off my own mind. I think I know what to do now, so thanks again, I really appreciate it.

khia said...


I am an international student (from the Caribbean) interested in pursuing my MFA. I am wondering what are the best funded programs for international students?

Also, which universities have programs that focus on international literature and encourage writers who draw heavily from an international (in my case Caribbean) perspective?

Any adivce that could point me in the right direction would be much appreciated.



123 said...


I never got a rejection from the University of Oregon, either!

SeeMoreGlass said...

Khia -
I am afraid I don't know about funding but the University of Nevada in Vegas has a particularly international bent.

from their site:
"The MFA program at UNLV is an international program, designed so that writers could begin to recognize themselves and their writing in relation to world writing at large. It is our belief that this commitment to world literature makes us different from many traditional creative writing programs."

hope that's helpful!

khia said...

SeeMoreGlass -

Thanks so much for your input. I went to UNLV and their program sounds awesome. My concern is that, there may be only few programs in that vein.

I know that The University of Wyoming has a similar set up, but I don't just want to bet on two schools.

Also (and i admit i was not clear on this), I am looking for programs that welcome international applicants. I have found that most websites concerning the MFA are informative, but none speak to the diversification of their candidates.

I have also looked at programs outside of the United States, but my preference is really to get a degree from a U.S. based university.

If there's anyone else out there with some insight into MFA Programs (fiction) with good funding, an international slant and that thrives on a diverse geographical range of students you input would be much appreciated.



Just_Another_Poet said...


Check out Indiana University. They're the best, in my opinion, in terms of a diverse population of writers. Also to check out: Brown University in RI. Both are excellent fiction programs.

Your welcome,


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

About what creative writing programs are looking for, just a quick response to Seth about his long post clearing up misinformation (and just so it's clear, Seth, I know you have done much more research than me, and I know that you are better informed about the application process, I'm not planning to disagree with you that much):

It seems clear that schools are interested first and foremost in the portfolio, and that does seem to trump most every other consideration. I'd caution people to still be very careful about taking the time to write a quality statement of purpose, as especially at very competitive schools those little things help. I could use a lot of lame anecdotal evidence here, but instead let me point people towards the faculty mailbag on this blog (posted over the winter) where several teachers wrote about their personal reliance on the statement of purpose (after of course the portfolio).

The portfolio is by far the most important part of the application. Admittedly, I wrote a mediocre statement of purpose and it didn't have much obvious effect on my prospects (my portfolio got me in where it did, and got me rejected where it did, as far as I know), but who knows if it wasn't the difference at one or two schools (like the ones where I got waitlisted).

Just a caution to definitely spend time crafting a real statement of purpose.

Laura LP said...

Has anyone found a GRE Handbook/Guide that they find particularly helpful? I haven't done any math since high school.

I know GREs aren't particularly important, but I'd enjoy passing the thing. ;)


Kerry Headley said...

Laura LP:
You can usually find copies of the Princeton Review and the Kaplan guides in the library. Review them both and see which one works best for you before buying anything. I preferred the Princeton Review, but you might not. And I never did buy either one. I just kept checking it out of the library. Good luck!

Laura LP said...


Good advice! How long did you study for it?


jupiter said...

Seth: thanks for everything, made a donation to show my support and appreciation and congratulations on your book of poems, can't wait to read it.
Everyone else: I've been writing a lot lately then going back and revising what I've written, which I find to be frustrating and, just recently, counterproductive. Anybody else in the same boat? Who wants to make up some deadlines and exchange stories?

jupiter said...

does anybody know of anybody else that has already organized a workshop that I could join? Did that sentence make sense? Thanks.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Jupiter,

University of Iowa/Iowa Writers' Workshop is offering an online poetry-writing course this fall, taught by Dr. Jane Lewty, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and winner of a post-graduate fellowship from the IWW (she also holds a doctorate in English Literature from the University of Glasgow). The course title and number are:

Poetry Writing Course: 08C:298:EXZ

Here's the official announcement:

"This is an intensive, graduate-level course for individuals with considerable experience in writing and reading poems. The course explores the tools and traditions of poetry, with the intention of increasing each student's own facility with poetic language. Lessons include reading and writing assignments that complement each other, providing insight into the issues that confront the poet, and strategies--both formal and imaginative--for dealing with these issues within a poem. This course requires prior course experience.

This is a Guided Independent Study (self-paced) Course. You have the option of utilizing two academic terms to complete GIS courses.

Please go here for additional course details and information on accessing this Distance Education Course."

I don't know whether non-UI students can take the course or not, but it's worth looking into. I'd call the English Department or the Writers' Workshop if you have questions.

Best of luck,

The Suburban Ecstasies

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. I think the e-mail for queries is:


Kerry Headley said...

Laura LP:

I don't really remember how long I studied for the GRE. A few weeks? I found the strategies very helpful and made sure I knew how to apply all of them to the verbal sections and I also reviewed vocab as suggested. I didn't obsess over it because I knew it was a stupid, money-making venture for ETS that wouldn't affect my personal school choices very much. If I had cared about the math section I would have spent twice as much time reviewing. I wasn't willing to do that though, and I did bomb the math part. Personally, I don't really care since that's fairly irrelevant. (Though my score indicates a brain injury.) When you register for the test ETS will mail you a CD of prep stuff. I did that too. I have heard on this blog that some people never received that additional stuff though, so be on the lookout for it.

I was this close to not even taking the GRE at all because I considered dropping from my list the ONE school that requires it. However, it's a full funding school, so I sucked it up and did it. Glad it's over, that's for sure. I am free to obsess over my statement of purpose and fine tune my samples.

jupiter said...

Hey Seth,
Thanks for all the information on that; however, I'm actually looking for a short story/fiction workshop so I'm not sure this would apply to me. Nevertheless, it hadn't crossed my mind to look into Grad program's independent courses or workshops so thanks for the insight either way, just gotta get to doing some research. Much thanks,

Unknown said...

To any students moving to Iowa City this fall. My wonderful apartment is up for rent. I hate to part with it, but I'm moving to Houston next month. It's located on S. Summit St., about 10 minute bike ride to downtown (a bus stop is at the end of the block). It's a two bedroom, one of which is a sunroom. Hardwood floors, central air, parking. There's also an unfinished attic solely for your use. It's in a quiet, beautiful neighborhood, and is only a block away from an adorable little bakery called Delux.

It's also listed here:

If interested shoot my landlord an email (her name is Maureen)

Aaron said...

Hey MFA'ers,

Does anyone know any programs that are brand new for 2010?

I believe Seth has mentioned a few that were new for 2009. But it might be helpful to see those again too.

Kate said...


I am applying to MFA programs in fiction this fall/ winter 2009 and have a question about transcripts. Most of the schools ask for transcripts for every "college or university attended". I am planning to turn in transcripts from local junior colleges where I have taken creative writing courses recently in addition to my original undergrad transcript.

I did, however, take one unsuccessful course through th UCLA Extension program, (which I dropped out of due to employment/ work conflicts but after the drop deadline so I recieved an F). Would it be considered somehow deceiptful not to include this in my collection of school transcripts (already totalling 3)? It was not a fiction course and it was the only UCLA extension class I ever attempted.

Thanks for your time.

Christer said...

I'm not sure if anyone is still checking on this post, but I'll shoot anyway. I'm wondering if anyone out there has any thoughts on the second language requirement for the Johns Hopkins program. I mean, they say a reading proficiency is required, but then if you don't pass the test you just end up having to take a foreign language class, and you only really have to pass a test in your second year. I'm wondering, will what I recall from high school Spanish (15 years ago) and maybe a crash course on CD over the winter suffice?


Jennifer said...

Christopher --- I didn't apply to Johns Hopkins because of that pesky requirement. But I didn't even have any foreign language from High School.

Meghan said...

I know this thread is pretty old by now, but here's a question for current MFA students: What's the deal with deferring acceptances? I am gearing up to apply this fall, but I would like to have the comfort of knowing that -- should I get into a top program -- I could defer my acceptance for one year. Do most MFA programs allow this?



Lindsay said...

Meghan - My understanding is that most programs DON'T allow this. You might find a couple programs that do, but after looking at the FAQs for probably close to 60 programs over the past year or so, I have yet to find one that allows you to defer.

Jennifer said...

Meghan: Lindsey is right, it is very unlikely that you would be able to defer.

Meghan said...

Thanks to both of you for responding. I had suspected that, but wanted to be sure.

Greg said...

Hey Meghan,

I believe there are a few programs that allow deferrals, but it is rare. Antioch (low-res), Florida State, and UNH supposedly allow deferrals. I posted a similar question last year:

I think a lot of it depends on your reason for deferring. In my experience, if you have a compelling reason (work/family/monetary situation, for instance) some programs seem willing to work with you. Others have a flat-out no policy.

Feel free to e-mail (it’s in my profile) me if you have more specific questions about deferring. I was in the same boat last year.

Best of luck.

Sequoia N said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...


Unless you feel your one long story is considerably stronger than your two shorter stories, I'd send the two.

I applied last year and had much better results with programs that got multiple stories.

Also, you mention wanting to move into different styles of writing. By sending two stories (assuming the two stories are different) you can display a greater range to the committees. That’s important. I believe they want to see a writer that has room to grow but can already produce consistently solid material.

I think you're right: the quality of writing is what matters. But there are certainly programs that cater towards more experimental writing than others (Brown for instance). If you dig around and see what the faculty write, what the graduates write, what types of stories the affiliated lit journal publishes, etc., etc. you should be able to get a pretty good idea of the aesthetic at individual programs.

General Urko said...

This is just a heads up to anyone applying for next year. The new California state budget is slashing billions of dollars out of the state university system (which includes UC Irvine, UC Davis, San Diego State, and San Francisco State). It's likely at all these programs that you can expect higher tuition rates and less funding as well as other cutbacks (fewer classes offered, fewer visiting professors, etc).

If you're thinking of applying to any of these schools, it would probably be a good idea to keep an eye on them over the next couple months and get as much up to date information as you can as to how the budget is actually affecting them.

Kerry Headley said...

General Urko is right about CA. The budget slashing has been going on for a while. I am skipping CA altogether as an MFA option because of this. I still have in-state residency, which I previously thought would enable me to afford some CA schools. A while ago I decided the budget cuts were going to make state schools too risky to trust for a while. I recently graduated from a CSU school. I got out just in time. Classes and faculty had already been cut. Tuition was raised twice in a year. Admission caps. Registration caps. CA is pretty volatile right now. Definitely keep an eye on things if you want to come to CA.

Stephanie said...

Trying to eliminate schools from my MFA poetry list. What have you heard (good or bad) about the following:

University of Iowa
University of Virginia
University of Michigan
University of Mass-Amherst
Washington University-St Louis
University of Minnesota
Colorado St.
University of North Carolina-Willmington
University of Alabama
Southern Illinois University
Hollins College
University of Arizona
University of Illinois
Bowling Green
Virginia Commonwealth
Boise State
University of Wyoming
Western Michigan
University of Missouri- St. Louis

Robyn said...

@ Lindsay (and anyone else) re: Pitt

Their funding is okay. This year, two students from each genre (NF, F, and P) got full funding through TAships. There are, however, lots of outside opportunities to get funding, but it takes a lot of legwork and persistence. The NF program there is in a bit of transition because of a staff overhaul, so it actually might be a good year to apply.

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