Saturday, August 08, 2009

Mailbag for August 8, 2009

Two things I'd like to highlight from the comments of the previous post: an observation that the general mailbags for this blog are not created with much regularity, and some questions about what kind of posts are most useful. So, in addition to all the usual general questions you might have, feel free to comment on those two issues below.


Nancy Rawlinson said...

I can certainly endeavor (along with the other blog contributors) to open a new general mailbag in the first week of each month. But is that often enough? Would a mailbag every two weeks be better? (They can get awfully long, especially as the application season ramps up).

Momus said...

Hello everyone. I would like to apply to some MFA programs this fall. Obviously, I would like to have some nice funding options. I am geographically tied to the Princeton, NJ area, however. So, what are my options, really? I know about Rutgers (Newark and Camden) and I was thinking about NYU (a funding longshot), but is there anything else out there for me?

Thanks in advance!

yurchie said...

temp - how about Hunter College or Brooklyn College? I recall hearing good things last year about both schools and slightly regretted not applying to either of them. I'm not sure about the funding, but it gives you some options.

Good luck :)

Jennifer said...

temp --- You should buy Tom Kealey's book. I think it has schools listed in it by region. You can get it by clicking on it's icon on this blog's first page.

kaybay said...

What advice can anyone give me on completing applications with little stress? I am a teacher, which means I will have minimal time throughout the year. I was thinking about filling out everything for the graduate school first (letters of rec, transcripts), and then sending my writing samples after that. Is that even doable? Is there any real benefit to applying early? It's only August, but where should I be right now in this process? Any suggestions from those who have already applied?

Jennifer said...

kaybay --- I applied last year, and yep, I started my process during summer.

As a general rule, at least at the schools I applied to, the grad school apps weren't available to fill out until about september. So I started with other stuff.

The first thing I did last summer was write my writing sample, but I'll assume you already have one.

The next thing I did, probably in July, was get going on my statements of purpose. Yep, that was plural. I tried very hard to make each one specific to each school. I also addressed all of my application packet envelopes really early in the game while I wasn't burnt out on the application process yet. I was damn happy about that much later when it came time to actually fill them. Also in July, I ordered all of my transcripts (a pain for me as I went to 3 undergrads and law school).

I took the GRE in August. I also asked for letters of recommendation and sent a packet of instructions and addressed stamped envelopes to each recommender in August.

Once September came and I could access the grad school apps online I began filling them out, 2-3 per weekend. These things took more time than I thought they would. They are all different.

The last thing I did, probably in November or so, was to send my writing sample packets in. I was working on my stories up until then.

I was working a 50 hour a week job while applying, so this kind of schedule may be way to drawn out for some folks. I had to do stuff either at 5am or on the weekends. So this is by no means the only way to go. If you aren't working yourself to death at a day job like I was there isn't any reason you can't start much later.

The benefit of doing stuff this early, is that you get it done. One downside is that your wait to hear from schools is very, very long.

James Wooden said...


In the MFA handbook Kealey suggests finding about 2 hours a week to devote to applications. This way you are not scrambling at the last second to get everything done. Heed the advice of the previous poster, but also I would reccommend making a chart with all the schools to which you want to apply on the left. Across the top list out the various requirements for the apps,ie, writing sample, number of LOR, number of transcripts, GRE requirements, due dates, fees, etc. Then you can check off each box as you go.

kaybay said...

Wow, I didn't expect answers that in depth! Thank you so much! I am finished with my writing sample (at least for now, I definitely plan on revisiting it several times). I will for sure start on my statements of purposes, too, and the chart is really a wonderful idea. I am a right-brained person through and through and I have this bad feeling that I'm going to get overwhelmed with this process and forget things, lose things, etc...

Speaking of transcripts, should I have them sent directly to me or should I have them sent to the schools? Same thing with the letters of recommendation, can I have them give me the letters as long as they're sealed?

I got a little freaked out when I read about transcripts and other materials being lost and some schools refusing to look at writing samples because the applicants couldn't get the stuff in on time. I take some of that with a grain of salt (the old "I swear I turned that in routine"), but some of it is true. I would be irate if that happened to me. Could this have been avoided if the applicants applied earlier? Is there anything you recommend to avoid this?

Finally, thank you so much for you help, Jennifer and Jamie_Mu, I couldn't imagine better responses! You guys are wonderful :)

Kate said...

Hello All. I am applying to MFA programs in fiction this fall and I have a question about the length of the writing sample. I have noticed that the page length really varies from school to school, 20 pages, 30-40 pages. At this point, I have 2 polished stories that I had planned to submit for my writing sample, about 20 pages. Do I need to worry about finishing another story to submit to make it closer to 30 pages? I was trying to be consistent and send the same work to each program. Thanks in advance for any advice.

Brittany said...

Hey guys,

This is my second year applying to MFA programs (the NYC school I got into was too expensive so I'm at it again!). I have a pretty good list going so far for fiction, but I was thinking of applying to one or two Master of Library Science programs this year too, just in case the MFA doesn't pan out for me again. Here's my question:

I'm applying to UNCG for an MFA, but they also have an MLS program. Would it not be in my best interest to apply to both programs, as it makes me look undedicated? Just a thought, thanks for your input!

cb said...

Hi everyone,

With the help of this website and of the MFA Handbook (I'm so glad for both resources), I've come up with a short list of schools. The problem is that the list is really pretty short, and I was wondering if anyone could recommend a few schools to make it longer. So far I have (this is for fiction):

University of Washington
University of Oregon
Brooklyn College

In general, I'm looking for well-funded, larger programs (Michigan is sort of the ideal there), although I'm definitely willing to look at smaller programs, especially if they're on the west coast (like Oregon's). Am I missing strong or up-and-coming programs in Washington state, Oregon, etc?

The only thing I'm really trying to avoid is very hot parts of the country--as a native San Franciscan, I'm most comfortable in fog and rain (weird, I know--hence Seattle!), and having spent four years in college in New York, I've realized that Tom Kealey's suggestion of prioritizing location is a good one.

Many, many thanks for any suggestions!

Jennifer said...

Kaybay --- I had transcripts sent to me and I sent them to the schools myself because I wanted control over it so stuff wouldn’t get lost. But then one school (I think it was UNLV) insisted on having the transcripts directly from the schools, so then I had to deal with that.
The only weird thing that happened to me with things being lost, was that Ole Miss said they didn’t receive my GRE scores. I had the confirmation from the GRE folks so I knew that Ole Miss had to have lost it themselves, but I had the scores resent. This was at the last minute, after the deadline, and it was a pretty stressful situation.

Kate --- Just send your best work. I wouldn’t worry about filling out your sample to 30 pages. I think 2 stories in your sample is fine (I had a 7 page story, a 9 page story and a piece of flash in mine). But maybe others have a different take?

Kerry Headley said...

RE: Application process

My process has been very similar to the one Jennifer listed. I am sending out packets for my letter writers this week to give them as much time as possible and so I can hopefully apply to programs in mid/late October. I just want to be done. (It's true that this stuff takes way more time than you think it will, especially if you are anal about it and obsess about the fact that your future is riding on doing this perfectly.)

I had transcripts sent to me. I'm among those who want maximum control over the odds of things not getting lost.

I also made the chart, as suggested in Tom's book. Very helpful! By the way, buy the book. You won't regret it.

For new folks: you will find that many of your questions have been discussed at length in older posts. Those posts are just as helpful as the new mailbags.

I guess the new season is about here... (gulp)

kaybay said...

Chloe - as a native Bay Area girl myself, I understand exactly what you mean by the heat! I'm in Florida now and I am melting. The humidity makes it like going through puberty again (oh, the breakouts). And worst of all, no seasons! BAH! I miss those dry, crisp Autumns :( and don't get me started on the food, San Franciscans are so lucky to have such a diverse, wonderful food scene.

You won't find comfortable or comparable weather anywhere East, but personally, I would really want to live in Virginia or North Carolina, where the winter can produce snow (yay!), but is still mild. Summers are humid, but not as bad as Florida (seriously, who moves here because of the weather?) There are some very good programs in VA, although maybe not as large as you like. Charlottesville looks beautiful and so does Blacksburg. You also get real college towns out here, unlike a lot of CA schools (plus the funding's waaaay better). UNC-Wilmington is right on the beach (and you can actually swim in it in the summer w/o getting hypothermia), but it can also snow in the winter! Vanderbilt is a great school (albeit small) and Nashville's a pretty cool city (it's Southern without being too Southern) and it also has seasons.

I would recommend Florida State because it's large, but it's hot, and Columbia, because of size, but the funding is slim to none. I don't know your money situation, but if you have the cash, it's a great program.

Momus said...

Thanks Denis and Jennifer!

Here's another question: Can one reasonably commute 3 hours (or more?!?) to an MFA program? Is it doable?

Thanks everybody!

cb said...

Thanks so much, kaybay! Glad to hear from another Bay Area writer, and I'm so glad for your suggestions. I hadn't thought of VA or North Carolina, but I've heard really good things about programs there (inc. UNC-Wilmington and Greensboro)... I'm off to research them now!

Ashley said...

Hi Everyone!Thanks for all the answers so far, they've been really helpful. I'm applying to the MFA program at UT Austin this fall. Although I'm applying to other programs too, that's my dream program. I'm going to visit my family in El Paso (I'm a texan living in the midwest so it would be exciting to go to school back home!) in September, and I'm planning to head over to Austin to see the campus. Is there anything in particular I should do while I'm there that might help my application- and for those that might be in that program right now, can you suggest anyone I should try to get a meeting with?

NoelThistleTague said...

Hi all! This is a bit off topic from what has been discussed so far, but it's a question that's been plaguing me for quite a while now.

I'm applying for Fall 2010. Right now, I have a terrible itch to travel, but thought I would hold out on going abroad until February and travel around from then until May. Yes, right through application response time. I'd have access to email everywhere I go, but not phone. So is this a terrible idea? Is there anyone else out there who negotiated their offers/acceptances (assuming I get more than one!) solely via email? Anyone who didn't visit a program before accepting an offer and still feels like they made a good decision?

I would love to hear any and all opinions. Thank you!

cb said...

Hi Noel,
I could be wrong about this, but I think some programs call admitted students rather than email. I think it's unlikely that they wouldn't follow up with an email at some point, but if, for instance, they call and then send a letter, that would be really unfortunate! Would you be able to check messages from time to time, or would you not have any service for those months? Seems like the best idea might be to ask the programs directly--you could explain your plans and ask if email access is sufficient.

SamStod said...

Is it too risky to submit just one story for my writing sample to the schools who request 20 pages? For the 30 page ones, I think I'm fine, but I don't know if its a bad idea to put all my eggs in one basket for the smaller ones.

Also, my biggest worry is on the general quality of the portfolios they recieve. Are most stories submitted at the level of being published in print magazines, or are they close, but not quite there yet.

Gummy Bear Sacrifice said...

I'm excited about this round of MFA apps! I think that I'm so much prepared this year.

insertbrackets said...

@ Chloe:
I am a California native too (So Cal, but I've been up to the bay on more than one occasion) so I can commiserate with you on location and environment. That being said, I take any questions like these to plug my own program, the MFA at Ohio State University, which I will be starting this fall. It's an excellent, reasonably sized, fully funded three year program. Other schools you might be interested in are Minnesota, Mass at Amherst, Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin. Think about it.

*Note about Washington: last year they accepted 17 students in fiction and poetry, but only one or two in each genre got funded.'s not that well funded, not as well as the others on your list.

@ Ashley:
UT Austin is one of the hardest, if not the hardest school to get into. As with most other programs, you can't do much of anything to increase your chances of acceptance besides putting together your best possible portfolio.

@ kaybay:
I second Jennifer and Jamie's comments, particularly the spreadsheet idea. It saved my life and kept me on track. It's especially helpful when figuring out the page lengths that different programs want for your writing sample, in case you want or need to adjust your stories for that.

*Some notes on my application process:
*Finished the bulk of my writing sample in October/November
*Took the GRE in October
*I finished the applications before sending my transcripts. I had them sent to me first, but it would have been less stressful to just have UCLA send them directly to the schools I applied to.
*I was working a part time job, writing an honors thesis, and going to school full time when I applied. Dedicating a little time here and there is extremely helpful and prevents the process from getting out of hand and piling up. I was actually able to turn everything in about two weeks ahead of time.

Good luck everyone with your apps!

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

Just a brief note to say that (among other recent discoveries) I've found, and want to share info about, what seems to me to be only the third fully-funded program on the entire West Coast of the United States (after Irvine and Oregon). While UCSD is only in their first year of operation, and while it's as small as can be imagined (4 in each of the two major genres will be accepted), the website implies full funding for everyone and the university as a whole is generally ranked sixth or so nationally among all public universities (typically, it's behind only Berkeley, Michigan, Virginia, UCLA, and UNC). Definitely worth a look, especially for poets, as the university is home to the largest archive of experimental poetry in the nation.


Seth Abramson said...

P.S. Also worthy of note: BYU has just started up an MFA program, and for those looking down the line it appears that University of Kentucky is on the verge of doing so also.


shift + a said...

Thanks for the heads up, Seth!
To address the questions of the post, I think a new mailbag on the first of the month would be okay for now, but probably into November and beyond there will be demand for new ones more frequently.

kaybay said...

I think I'm becoming addicted to this blog...... :)

Anonymous said...

Can anyone talk about the CNF funding at Sarah Lawrence and The New School?

Brittany said...


I don't know about CNF, but I was accepted into The New School for fiction and was given a merti scholarship of about $4,500 per year. At many other schools, that grant would be awesome, but at a NYC school, it hardly made a dent considering the high tuition and high cost of living in New York, so I had to turn it down.

Hope that helps a little!

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...


Some schools discourage personal meetings, as they think it's unfair to the people who don't have them. I dunno about UT-Austin, but I think a better bet would be attending a reading or something like that, and if you meet someone you meet someone, because you were in the area...

Just a few thoughts.

Good catch on UCSD, BYU, and Kentucky, Seth.

darkwalker said...

Wow! I'm so glad I found this blog! I bought the MFA book (can't wait for that), and I'm perusing some of the posts on here.

I've been out of college for er...12 years or so, and I'm worried about the letters of recommendation. I doubt if my professors from undergrad remember me (or if some of them are still alive). Should I sign up for a writing workshop or non-credit classes to see if I can find a couple of professors to endorse me? I can't use work references because I don't write for a living (it's a long story--or perhaps a novella).

I feel good about the writing sample. I have a draft of a novel I can pull a couple chapters from and iron out.

Thanks for this great blog!

SAM© said...

Hello everyone. I would like to know if MFA programs are accepting of crime fiction, detective stories, murder mysteries. (My favorite writers: Dostoevsky, Sade, Borges) Blood, sex and intrigue are what make my eyes bulge, mouth moisten, toes curl. If I am lucky enough to make it into a program will my peers greet me with raised eyebrows and smirks?

kaybay said...

Darkwalker and Sam -

If you go back onto the main page and look to the right, you'll see a bunch of tabs. I'm new to the blog too, and asked a couple of questions that were already answered, so you might want to check it out, I've been reading in the applications sections primarily, but the faculty forum is wonderful, because it asks FAQs to faculty members at several programs, and their answers have helped me out a lot.

As for the genre section, I'm kind of fretting a little bit about that too. I like writing weirder stories (my current interest in Tennessee Williams' short fiction is rubbing off on me). There's also a hint of magical realism in some of my work.

There are a lot of varying opinions about this, but I'm still going to send my weird-ish/magical realist-ish stories and hope for the best. I think they're "normal" enough with a "hint" of difference, so I'm just hoping they like the style, voice, originality, etc... I agree that you shouldn't send straight crime drama/horror/sci fi, because the programs are geared towards literary fiction, but if you have work with hints of genre writing, I think you'll be fine. At least I hope ;)

Brittany said...


I have only been out of college for a little over 2 years and I am thinking the same thing--are my old profs going to remember me, and am I going to look like an idiot if I email them and they don't? Definitely let me know what you decide to do, because as of right now I only have possibly 1 recommender.

ramya kumar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ramya kumar said...

Hi Seth. How difficult will be it be for a Chemical Engineer from India without publications/graduate work to recommend her to enter top MFA schools? Will my writing sample and GRE score be enough to nudge past American undergrads who have majored in English? Plus the funding question- will my international student status make it tougher?

Gummy Bear Sacrifice said...

I think another problem I'm having is figuring out which Colleges would actually be interested in my sort of writing. I know Brown and UCSD are out the question, they're all into experimental. But I also love Columbia and NYU, but I'm not sure what their style is.

I write Historical Fiction and I've even heard that most MFA programs do not encourage this type of writing. I find that ridiculous, actually, but maybe it's true?

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

Hi Ramya,

I know you asked Seth, but here are (hopefully) a few answers for you (since these are fairly common questions):

Publications and graduate work don't hurt (and the GRE score won't decide anything, with most schools it's just a prerequisite), but the single most important factor when applying is the creative writing sample. If the sample is a top-notch labor of love, that's a start.

International student status should not make a difference in funding. (You might even consider looking at programs that have a more international bent--I know Indiana is committed to ethnic diversity, I think Michigan is a little bit too, and Las Vegas has a study-abroad component--mind you I'm not saying that any of these programs are necessarily super-international friendly, but these are things you might keep in mind when looking at X or Y school).

You might also be the perfect person to request a consultation with that new ALC Seth mentioned...

Unknown said...

Does anyone know anything about the University of Baltimore? The funding, for example?

And what is the funding like at NYU? Has anyone gone to either of these programs or heard from them?

Unknown said...

@temp (and everyone looking for MFA programs in a specific geographic area)

The Association of Writing Programs (AWP, an acronym you'll become very familiar with if you do embark on an MFA) has a great database on their website. Notably, you can search by state.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Eileen,

As I just wrote for an article (to be published in P&W in November), that AWP register is missing more than 100 programs total, including several dozen MFA programs. The only comprehensive list of MFA programs in the U.S., for better or worse, is the TSE 100. The TSE 100 even includes programs which haven't matriculated their first class yet--that's how up-to-date it is. As for domestic and international CW Ph.D. programs, TSE lists 50+ programs the AWP does not.

Hope this helps. Be well,

Abramson Leslie Consulting

SurvivinginLA said...

For what it's worth, I have a friend attending UCSD in the fall, and she's fully funded.

So that's one to back up the website, Seth!

Seth Abramson said...


Excellent! I am so excited by UCSD. I know it's geeky, but when a new fully-funded program opens--particularly one so strong, and so strongly-located, in poetry--I get excited. It looks like three fully-funded, elite programs on the West Coast now! Thanks so much for the input.

Be well,
Abramson Leslie Consulting

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dani B said...

possible new Seattle-area MFA program in poetics in the next year or two (UW-Bothell):

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetic Culture - pending approval and funding

The MFA in Creative Writing and Poetic Culture will provide a broad interdisciplinary inquiry into creative writing within a changing culture and society. The program will ask students to address the implications of what and how they write--situating their writing in relationship to shifting global contexts; changing demographics; and transforming forms of media. The program will include options for hybrid delivery in the second year.

Interested? Take this short MFA in Writing and Poetics survey.

Gustavo said...

International Students:

Don't worry about it. If they like your writing, they'll get you. You'll work the paperwork kinks (including funding) with the appropriate University office. Here at UMass-Amherst's MFA program I'm not the only international student. And I know there are international students at at least 5 other programs.

Recommendation Letters:

Elsewhere in the blog, I think Tom K. said something that, at least in my case, proved to be true: adcoms don't necessarily want Big Writers to say you're good. They'll assess YOUR writing, not whatever Big Writers say about your writing. They want to know whether three normal-sounding people (i.e., people who hold jobs :)) can vouch for you (e.g., imply that you're not a nutcase; that you're good at group discussion, etc.). In short, I wouldn't worry about not having *academic* recommenders. Sure, it's better if you do, but I wouldn't sweat it. I didn't have *any* writing-related recommenders. And it didn't hurt me.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Hey Darkwalker,

I had been out of school for almost twenty years, so yeah, most of my former profs were dead! I did have one who still walked the earth, then I asked an editor of a magazine I had written for multiple times, and then I took a workshop. The workshop was great because I received feedback on my writing sample and I got a rec out of it. It was also a good "MFA warm up." Kind of a workshop lite.

darkwalker said...

Thanks, Kelly! Thanks to this blog and all the comments I'm feeling a lot better about my chances.

amc said...

kaybay and sam -

my advice (and I think this advice is echoed throughout this blog) is to send your best work. if your stories happen to involve detectives or magically real elements, great. just don't pigeonhole yourself by labeling your work "genre" in your application essay.

I'm starting my mfa at Arizona State at the moment (small, excellent, fully funded program by the way. everyone who's accepted gets a TAship and additional stipend, and there's a lot of funding available for summer travel), and there is a class being taught in magical realism this fall. many of other incoming fiction students have mentioned "strange" and "magically real" elements to their writing, and we all seem to share a love of ghost stories. so you're not alone, and I don't think having a focus of that kind should be to your disadvantage as long as you're open to developing in other areas as well.

Tyler D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G said...


Most schools do ask that you take the GRE (general) test, but not the subject tests. Most schools have this listed on their department websites under "admissions", "admission requirements", and so forth.

Lawrence said...


My name is Lawrence Ross and I'm the founder of the National MFA Association. This week, we launched our new website at We're an advocacy and networking org for MFA students, alums and faculty of every stripe. And we're also there for MFA applicants. I'm a 2007 MFA in screenwriting grad from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and I've scoured this blog to find a general contact email, but I can't find one. I'd like to talk to you about consolidating info at There is a $19.95 annual subscription for members, mainly because we can make sure that we pay for expenses, and also so we can target the workshops and panels to the needs of our members. If you could send me an email at, I'd appreciate it.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Lawrence,

I'm a contributing author, with Tom Kealey, to The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, and one of the moderators on this site. You can e-mail me at sethabramson[@] with any specific queries.

Seth Abramson

yurchie said...

Lawrence, are you serious with this scam?

Seth Abramson said...


Good question, though I spent some time on the website and am certainly interested in what he has to say. Like you, not sure I'm buying. How did the creative writing MFA community never hear about this, or this person, or this effort, before now?


yurchie said...

If I wanted to network with MFA grads/students/people who are applying, I wouldn't need to pay. I'd just go on facebook or twitter or wait, this blog, and network away.

There's no actual proof of benefit from joining, and the legal section reads like a dating website.

Jennifer said...

Yeah, that MFA Association site looks pretty scam-ish to me too.

darkwalker said...

I think they should turn this blog into a forum. I think it would be great for all of us to post topics and talk back and forth. JMO.

Lautreamont said...


I can tell you a) that historical fiction is legitimate and awesome and should never be frowned upon. And b) that if you were to come to Columbia University you would be wholeheartedly supported in your efforts. It is a shame people look down upon historical fiction, especially due to that fact that the vast majority of it is better than the average non-historical story or novel. I believe some of the disappointment in the genre arises from the fact that authors like Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel often make use of historic settings; however, many of these authors also make use of romantic love and first person perspective, neither of which I would ever have removed from the pantheon of fiction.

sh said...

Hey guys!

I'm going to be applying to MFA programs in the fall, and I have a question regarding my writing sample (I know, you've never heard that before).

My best short story so far is what many would consider genre fiction. That is, it's not typical science fiction, but it's definitely leaning that way. It's gotten nothing but positive reviews from professors and peers, and I quite like it, but I'm afraid of including it in my writing sample. Should I go with two or three non-genre stories, or trust that the variety of my work will make up for the inclusion of one genre story?


yurchie said...


Send your best work, regardless of how you think it will be perceived. Good work is good work!

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

(An open letter in regards to the current ranking mechanisms and information for applicants, provided by Seth Abramson)

Dear Seth Abramson,

I am writing to you out of respect for the work you’ve done creating resources for inquiring applicants to the MFA and PhD. in creative writing. I think the goal is admirable, and more, it’s useful. However, it does seem to be always (rightly) a work in progress, and as an interested observer I have a few suggestions.

Suggestion one:

Create or provide a space for an open-source compilation of information, by students in their programs for interested applicants. You’ve in the past favored applicant polling because, you claimed, that applicants would be the most well-researched on what programs have to offer—I will do you one better, and claim that students at each program are most likely far-better researched in the individual particulars (especially given what I think will be a trend towards applicants only or primarily using the preexisting polling, as they did with the previous US News and World Reports or Atlantic Monthly’s rankings). And also given that most applicants are going to be coming to your site, early in the process, and not to individual programs’ websites except based on what they’ve seen from you.

Can you trust the student provided information? I should hope that even in the rare case of the bad apple, his/her compatriots, faculty, you or applicants would call out irregularities.

Should you privilege this information? No, not necessarily, but there are certain quirks that are not widely publicized. The problem is that the programs at some schools suffer from poor marketing—which I agree should be improved—but is often unrelated to the qualities that program has to offer.

For example, the University of California, at Irvine has spectacular funding that is considered less spectacular under your rubric, given the cost of living. Yet they offer all students graduate housing as low as $650 a month. (I know that when the Columbia brouhaha erupted, Rivka Galchen commented on the MFA blog board about cheap university housing they have there as well, so this may be the case at more universities.)

Some schools have other things they don’t but should publicize, for instance my friend at Hamline raved about the opportunity to intern with Graywolf Press.

If students have a place to present compelling information about their programs, I believe applicants will be even better served.


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

Suggestion two:

Find a way to prioritize fellowship and award success.

If funding and selectivity are the best quantifiable indicators for strength of cohort (which you’ve said in the past is one of the reasons to provide a rankings, so that applicants know where other hard-working students are going to be attending), then they are only shortly followed by fellowship success. Unlike book awards or publishing, most folks attending fellowships do so shortly after graduating from creative writing programs. That should be one (although by no means the only) obvious indicator of cohort strength.

I also think you prioritize this kind of success without realizing it. You mentioned Irvine’s weighting towards fiction in the past, and yes, they do let in sometimes one or two more fiction students than poetry, but the fellowship funding is the same, the teaching requirements are the same, the number of and prestige of graduate faculty is the same, etc. The only obvious difference is that a few Irvine fiction writers have had wild, reputation-making success. And yet in the past you have claimed that Irvine is somehow failing to serve its poetry students as well as its fiction students. (Note that I am not claiming that you have claimed Irvine is failing to serve its poetry students (disclosure: I have met some of them, and they are fantastic people and poets), just that you claimed they were not serving them equally).

I know that you have also claimed that awards and publishing are weighted against experimental writing, since the people granting them are trying to predict future success—but I am not sure what evidence is behind this claim. I would say (and it would be equally baseless), rather, that selectors are picking the work they find compelling and the people they want to support.

And, strangely, you also use fellowship information as an obvious qualifier of post-graduate success in the “about us” section of your new ALC.

Which fellowships or awards should qualify? I dunno, take a poll, maybe. The Stegner, Wisconsin’s, Provincetown, Amy Lowell, the Whiting, I am sure there are others I am missing….

Suggestion three:

Create spaces particular for poetry and fiction information. You’ve already started doing this in your polling, so I doubt this is such a major suggestion. And I’m not suggesting that poetry and fiction are completely separate, merely that they might want to offer different things about themselves within programs.


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

First defense: I am not criticizing your work, or the blog’s work. I think it is a very tough job that you do well, but you can’t know everything, and it could use a few suggestions. Since you have attacked people for suggesting that they know as much about what they are talking about as you, and given the staggering amount of research that you have done, and the respect you have within the MFA applicant community, I do think it is important to suggest these changes to you, who can actually do something about them, than to for instance start my own ranking system. And I believe you have a responsibility, given your claim to be the MFA guru (as evidenced by Tom Kealey’s claim that you are), and given your work to maintain that position, that you have a responsibility to make the information as accessible and expansive for applicants as possible.

Second defense: if this is too much work for you, which is understandable, why not open source some of it? For instance, ask people to create the web-systems necessary, or to track down fellowship information, or to e-mail schools asking them to publicize a student-run resource? Perhaps even with students (the crop of them changing annually) having a place to answer questions, also, about their programs.

Third defense: I know that I make a lot of claims about what you said. I am using my last two years of blog trolling, and do not have references for each claim, except for my memory. I do stand by what I have said, though. And I don’t mean any of them as attacks, these are me just trying to represent what you have said as I remember it, with the presumption that you were acting in complete good faith, and that you do have a great command of program and application generalities, if not every programs’ specifics.

You have said that among your goals is to ensure funding and transparency—I agree with both statements completely.

In a past blog-comment you also wrote: “I've written on a number of occasions about the decision to rank programs based on promotional materials, so I don't want to rehash that dialogue here, but one reason (of many) is precisely the "watchdog" function I mentioned above--part of the purpose of these rankings is to give programs the space and opportunity to control their own destiny, not just in terms of their promotional materials being accurate (and showing the program to its best but also honest advantage), but also in terms of understanding which factors matter to applicants, and therefore which factors programs should seek to improve if they want to attract better applicants.”


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

Well, I agree, programs should police themselves, however, in some cases I believe current students would do a far better job, and would be more involved in the process. I also think this would help push schools to be mindful of the needs and desires of most applicants, in terms of accountability and information supply.

These are just a few suggestions I have, as an interested and biased observer. I had a hellishly stressful time figuring out my applications, and I want to help other students have all of the resources and things they need in making their application decisions. And I am one of those lucky few exceptions discussed in the ALC blog thread, though (one of the things that’s made me write this out): someone who had lots of friends and teachers to ask questions about the application process, and who still wanted and needed more information (most of us all were getting our info from the same sources…). I’m basing most of my suggestions on my last year of graduate applications, and on things that have made a big impact on my thinking since my acceptance. And I am coming to you, Seth Abramson, because I do respect and appreciate the work you do to help applicants. Also because I don’t think anyone else could challenge your right to present that information, though I do believe it could benefit from a few helpful comments…

Full disclosure time, just so this isn’t an anonymous trolling: My name is Joshua Gottlieb-Miller and I am currently (and very happily) an incoming student in poetry at the University of Houston, for the MFA.

Again, good luck with your efforts, Seth, as the application season approaches. And good luck also with your new venture, ALC, and with your counseling center for applicants.

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller

Seth Abramson said...


Thank you for the comments; they are valuable and well-considered. Some good news: fellowship rankings are forthcoming this fall; also, there is already a blog run by MFA students, and therefore searchable by school, where you can ask MFA students about their programs. It's a great site, you can find it here. As to favoring applicants over current students with respect to rankings, I can only say that this was given a good deal of considerable and was discarded as an option not just because of logistical issues (which problems were legion) but also because the rankings aren't intended to rank student satisfaction but program features--and all the programs must be judged/spoken on by each "N" in the overall sample if the sample is to have any statistical viability. Only applicants judge programs largely by program features rather than subjective experience, and they look at all the schools while current students are experts (if at all) only with respect to one school. That said, if someone came up with a way to measure student satisfaction, I'm sure I'd use it--I'd just caution that coming up with ranking systems is many times more difficult than seeing problems with ranking systems, and so any quick-fix rubric for gauging student satisfaction would probably be terminally flawed. E.g., it can't be based on votes, because programs differ in size, it would have to be based on percentage of respondents at each school rating their own program high in selected categories, but even then all of the individual schools would have to have a high enough "N" for that data to have merit. Given that I've found the necessary "N" to be around 40 to 50, and (for instance) 40 is the number of poets Cornell has graduated in total in the last decade--and so we'd need 100% participation from every Cornell poetry grad in the last ten years to reach any sort of statistical significance in that category--the problems are legion. I will give thought to what you've suggested, though, and certainly invite others to suggest their own ideas also.

Abramson Leslie Consulting

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. Tom called me the MFA Guru. I haven't taken on that title for myself, though it's true that I don't think others have done the same amount of research (not for lack of ability, but lack of desire). --S. (ALC)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't know, that National MFA Association thing looks pretty questionable. The web site was just registered in June. The "national trade association" for all MFA-related people is headquartered in a lovely 952 square feet, 2BR/2BA condominium in Inglewood, CA (possibly owned by Lawrence Ross' mother) - not that there's anything wrong with starting a business in your spare bedroom, but it does seem slightly premature for Lawrence to be talking about consolidating with this thriving, years-old blog.

I'm sure Lawrence Ross is a nice guy, and he is a published author, e.g., see Skin Game, which reportedly has some smoking hot sex scenes. I wish him all the luck in the world with his NMFAA business venture, and any other business ventures he might be running from the comfort of his couch, but I kind of hope he will stay the hell away from this blog.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't know, that National MFA Association thing looks pretty questionable. The web site was just registered in June. The "national trade association" for all MFA-related people is headquartered in a lovely 952 square feet, 2BR/2BA condominium in Inglewood, CA (possibly owned by Lawrence Ross' mother) - not that there's anything wrong with starting a business in your spare bedroom, but it does seem slightly premature for Lawrence to be talking about consolidating with this thriving, years-old blog.

I'm sure Lawrence Ross is a nice guy, and he is a published author, e.g., see Skin Game, which reportedly has some smoking hot sex scenes. I wish him all the luck in the world with his NMFAA business venture, and any other business ventures he might be running from the comfort of his couch, but I kind of hope he will stay the hell away from this blog.


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...


Ah, an excellent start to the dialogue. And I agree wholeheartedly that more people should chime in with ideas and suggestions.

Yes, there is that new MFA blog, which I think is a fabulous idea. My concern with using that blog as a sounding board for what is good specifically about programs (and not good or bad about students experiences) is that it would come across as boosterism, and would be perhaps too personal a place for the kind of information dump I’m envisioning. Maybe I’m misreading the future of that blog, but I don’t think it will be especially promotional (not that there won’t be any program promotion, and not that there shouldn’t be…).

I would actually agree about not measuring student experience (per se), than applicants, but less because of the statistical problems than I think that most people want to have a good time wherever they go. Pursuant with that the tiered rankings seem balanced overall, compared to applicant polling, but necessarily needing to shift and change over time (which I already assume will keep happening).

So I do think we’ve had a slight confusion over favoring applicants or current students. I was merely referring to the polling of applicants for where they applied last year, which I think most people used as a kind of ranking system (if one presumes that the quality of cohort is strongest at the schools that are most popular, and if quality of cohort is the defining feature of most top programs.) Sidenote: I think it might be too complicated to do, but if that polling system also included a rubric for reach schools or applicant preferences, that might be interesting (although perhaps statistically a boondoggle).

I’m afraid I’m becoming confusing. Oh well.

Intrigued about upcoming fellowship information. And also other people’s comments, suggestions, ideas…

And no offense meant about the MFA guru comment that Tom made. I do respect the time and effort.


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller said...

Oh and by "new MFA blog" I meant "new blog by MFAers." Whoops.

Just_Another_Poet said...

There's only one MFA program I want to attend: UVA.

If I don't make it, though, I have 7 M.A. programs as "back-up"

NYU (M.A.)
Ohio University
Miami University, OH
Southern Mississippi

So that's it. FWIW, I might actually want to do my MFA when I am at least 26 years old.

Granny And The Bunny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie Ingegneri said...

Hi guys,

I'm starting to get kind of concerned about how many of these schools seem to have a GPA requirement. Although I've read the MFA book and the tags on this site already, I'm starting to wonder - am I going to get immediately disqualified because I don't have the requisite GPA? Should I wait an extra year until I graduate so I have the full senior year GPA on there? Or does it not matter if they like my work? I know people talk about addressing it in your personal statement and whatnot, but I'm just afraid that a lot of places might not accept me at all (such as the graduate schools of larger state universities) if I don't have the right grades...

(Which pisses me off to no end, because I think I'm a pretty good writer, and a generally smart person, but my current university is not easy by any means. But maybe I'm just paranoid, and it won't really matter.)

Any insight is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Sequoia N said...


People have gotten into even top flight programs (i.e. Iowa) with less than stellar GPAs (even below the stated requirement). Some schools don't require a min. GPA at all like NYU, Michigan and Brown, Goddard. If you have a school on your list that you're worried about, the best thing to do is call the department. Only the graduate school may care about the GPA but the writing programs MAY have enough clout to work around grad school requirements. Also, many graduate schools just require that you have a GPA of 3.0 for the last 60 credit hours (the last 2 yrs). So if you bombed the first two years, I wouldn't worry about it at all (esp. if it's something like math or science). Don't worry about things like this but as you're still in school, do try to get your grades up as much as possible. In the end, it's going to be the writing that gets your foot in the door.

darkwalker said...

Yeah, my GPA is not that great and I have the same worries. I was a complete goof (lush) my first few years in college until I met my wife. I even had to retake a Shakespeare class because I simply didn't show up for the final and failed it. Yeah, I was that bad.

However I sent an email to the University Arizona and they told me it depends on your writing sample more than anything, and that they'll let people with lower than the required GPA get in.

Having a bad GPA doesn't always mean you're stupid, or a bad writer. Sometimes things just get in the way when we're young. Don't stress it too much. Focus on writing and things will work out for you.

Katie Ingegneri said...

Thanks, WanderingTree and darkwalker! That's good to hear. I just get freaked out's hard not to in a process with such low admittance rates! Good luck with everything!

Lawrence said...

Hey all,

I hadn't checked back in since my first post. For a little background: My name is Lawrence Ross and I'm a 2007 MFA in screenwriting grad from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. I've also written five books including The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities, which has been a Los Angeles Times bestseller and an Essence Magazine bestseller (black books standard). You can see me quoted in a Washington Post article about Alpha Kappa Alpha that ran last week, and a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed on NPR about black fraternities and sororities.

I say all of this as a way to establish my writing bona fides. I decided to start the National MFA Association because after graduating, I found that MFA grads were stuck in their own particular stovepipes. UCLA grads had no idea what was happening with USC grads, and God help you if you want to work with someone in NY at Tisch. After talking with other MFAs, the thought was that like MBA grads, we needed an advocacy and networking org. Thus, the NMFAA was born.

We're absolutely brand new, meaning that we put up the site about ten days ago (a site we don't like because it doesn't function as we'd like, so we're changing it.). So that's why you've never heard of us. But our mission is to bring all MFA'ers together so they can collaborate more easily. As a UCLA grad, I get plenty of MFA info from UCLA listserves. But why can't every MFA'er get that info? That's what we're doing.

And if you're asking why we charge, it's because we're going to hold weekend workshops and panels, and we're not looking to subsidize that, and then eventually end up begging members to pay a fee,when they've grown used to a free service. It's untenable. So we may get less members, but it'll at least let us know where to put our workshop resources.

We hope you come check us out (particularly with the new site up in a couple of days). And if you have any questions, feel free to email me at Seth, I'll email you soon.

Lawrence said...

One quick note: On our reconfigured website (hopefully on Monday), you'll see our first NMFAA events. On Sept. 3rd, we have the first of our An Hour With... series, and we'll be meeting with International Creative Management agent Andrea Nelson Meigs. In late September, we'll have a Twitter chat with author Daniel Pink.

Unknown said...

Congrats, Seth! Such a gorgeous cover too.

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Shane Seen said...

Keep up the good work!
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