Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mailbag (Nov. 3)

Not a new mailbag, but an up-dating (literally) of the old one.


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Sara said...

Thank you Chris and others for your comments. This is helpful in editing my statement of purpose.

FZA said...

haha, Kaybay, forget misery, obsession loves company. And I am, totally obsessed.

The worst part is that it's not even productive obsessing. When I was still building my list, arguably I was obsessing over what I was dealing with. But now, I have essays, essay, essays to write and I'm not doing them, thinking about them, or doing anything that can build towards completing them.

But yes, I have mfa brain. I have plenty of other distractions, but somehow I'm finding lots of time to obsess.

ChrisLes said...

@ Open Spaces

I do: I live in NE Portland, in Irvington. Maybe I've seen you at some Powell's readings, or at Wordstock?

I don't think sending a portfolio to us on November 7 is too late, because while some of us are sure to be booked up at that time, there are enough of us that it's pretty likely we can find someone who will be able to read your work and get back to you on the short side of our 14-21 day window, and very possibly in less than two weeks. Of course, you probably want your portfolio back at least a week before your first deadline, for revising, but if you sent right on Nov 7, you'd be likely to have that, even if you have deadlines on Dec 1. Last year we were pretty busy through Thanksgiving, working as fast as we could to read over people's work as slowly as we needed to, to be thorough and thoughtful yet still get it back to them in time enough for our comments to be useful. I'd imagine it will be the same this year.

Shoot us an email at driftlesshouse [at] yahoo and I'll get you tentatively set up. It might be helpful to include any pre-Dec 15 deadlines you're facing, so we know just what you're up against.

Driftless House

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...

Blob/ Rebecca,

Re: "Snobbery" across genres and multi-genre programs

Well, I think there's always going to be what you could either deem "snobbery" or "just plain cluelessness about other genres" in just about any program. By and large, writers tend to stick to their genre. This does not mean that fiction writers cannot write successful poetry and vice versa, but I think it's less common esp. among people just entering MFA programs. Fiction writers and poets really do live in different worlds in many respects and speak in a different language. However, I think many programs esp. in the top 50 are small enough where writers of all genres can't afford not to get along and "be friends" to some degree. At SIU, I don't really see any major divide btw. poets and fiction writers. There's a lot of crossover and we're all very friendly. Of course, I think SIU is one of those programs that is more open to (and encourages) work in other genre (and not just poetry and fiction). We're actually required to take one workshop outside our genre. There's a lot of freedom here via independent studies, taking outside courses, and the professors here do have backgrounds in other mediums.

Rebecca, it looks like you have a good list with regards to your interest, but since it sounds like you want to branch out quite a bit, I'd recommend reaching out to professors and current students to see exactly how flexible the curriculum really is (i.e. if you have the option to vs. you are required to). Last year, I found out that one of the programs I got into wasn't as flexible as I thought it would be (based on the interdisciplinary background of one of the faculty).

Karissa said...

@Blob & Kaybay --

I feel the same. The first thing I do when I get online is check the MFA Blog. It's pretty much always an open tab on my browser...

Anonymous said...

"Fiction writers and poets really do live in different worlds in many respects and speak in a different language."

Too true. Even after getting my degree in English I'm still not much of a poetry fan. The only poetry I've ever really liked was Keats. Or Shakespeare. Otherwise I've found it rather tiresome (no insult to those who like and write poetry, it's just not my cup of tea!).

@Blob (and others)

I don't think telling you not to obsess will help, but it might. I've obsessed over applications to other things before, and it just makes you stressed and a little crazy. Maybe take a few days off from the blog and your application would help? I've lived on internet forums and blogs before and although helpful, sometimes too much of them just makes things worse and more stressful.

I'm blathering, but I'd thought I throw in my two cents.

FZA said...

I think the problem for me more than anything else is that I work 9-7 or 8 m-f. And working on my applications during work is a no-no, wasting some time throughout the day on the blog, however, is kosher. Everyone wastes a little internet time after all. My job hours also make it so that I'm unlikely to work on applications during the week at all. I come home tired. Plus, as someone who works off of momentum rather than a few minutes here and a few minutes there. So not being on the blog during the week sadly won't help my application much at all. I do most of my work on weekends, but even that is slow. I'm an essay procrastinator and probably always will be, sigh.
I am however taking a week off for thanksgiving and have hopes of knocking out as many applications as I can in that sweep, especially those due in December.

Re: Poetry & Fiction being too different worlds

The wise and wonderful Jaqueline Woodson told me in a workshop once that 'poetry is prose with line breaks, thinking of it as anything else will just muddle things.' Yes, that's a simplification. But the point is, the two worlds don't need to be thought of so differently. I realize that they are thought of that way. But they don't have to come from separate halves of the brain.

I think poetry is often overly mystified and romanticized. When really it doesn't need to be.

Having said that, I don't have problems with the programs being treated as vastly different. Though I do like some programs particularly for their cross-genre opportunities, such as UT-Austin.

Just my 2cents.

FZA said...

Yikes, forgive my typos. Using 'too' for 'two' = shameful.

Ava said...

I'm sure this has been asked before but I don't have the time right now to read through all the comments and try to find it -

How are you guys handling trasncripts? Are you having your college send them directly to the programs? Or directly to you (in signed envelopes), and then you mail everything out altogether? Is it "bad" to do everything piecemeal? I guess it's tougher to know if everything got there that way. Advice is appreciated!


Anonymous said...


I also work full-time, but can basically do what I want when I don't have any work (which is more often than not). I'm surprised your employers would let you surf the internet but not write - any reason why? Seems a bit backwards. And I feel you on being tired: I sometimes fall asleep by 9:00 and just can't get anything done when I'm exhausted. I don't do much at work yet it's tiring all the same.

FZA said...

Well, a lot of my work requires being on the internet so it's harder for me to appear blatantly off task! Plus, checking personal email or facebook briefly is something pretty much everyone does. It's something that can take 2 minutes here or 5 minutes there. Writing on the other hand would be carving out a junk of time to do something entirely not related to work. I suppose I could use my lunch break, but honestly I don't have that kind of discipline. So weekends and thanksgiving it is.

I keep putting everything on to thanksgiving. I hope I'm actually productive! But a full week with nothing else but occasional socializing does seem like a good time to knock out a lot of stuff, esp. considering that my writing sample is essentially done.

Marti said...

@ Ava
My schools are sending me the signed/sealed transcripts, and then I'll send them out. Just seemed easier that way. I have three undergrad schools, and the thought of filling out three separate transcript request forms with 11 different MFA addresses just wasn't appealing.

Lindsay said...

re: Multi-genre programs/cross-genre writing

I completely agree with WT about cross-genre writing. I don't think it's really that much of an issue. I'm in nonfiction at OSU, but for the most part, we all hang out together -- poets and prose writers alike. We occasionally make jokes, like, "And those of us who write ALL THE WAY TO THE MARGINS..." but it's always good-natured and I've yet to hear any comments saying that one genre is "lesser" than any of the others.

We also have a lot of cross-genre work. People change genres in the program and almost everyone takes a workshop outside their genre at some point. OSU's system is great -- you can take any of the regular workshops, as long as you have permission from the instructor, but we also have "B workshops" in both fiction and poetry, for those who haven't written in those genres before. From what I understand, usually one of each is offered each year.

PAH said...

@ Blob and Kaybay

Oh, I'm just as obsessed...just much creepier about it, as I am more of a voyeur on this blog. If I knew more about anything I'd weigh in more.

I check this site multiple times a day and I always know how many comments have been made in each topic that interests me so I know if there have been new ones ;)

This will be 214

Writer Dude is always watching...

cinequill said...


I'm working on the 'Publications' section of my MFA (Fiction) applications. I would really appreciate it if you would comment on the following:

I have not sent out my short fiction to publications. However, I do have nonfiction publications such as magazine features, a book chapter, and an essay in a journal.

Do I mention these or are they specifically looking for fiction published in journals, anthologies, etc?

Thanks a lot!
Hopeful at 34

Marti said...

@ cinequill
Hey there,
I'm in the same boat. All my publications, save one, are journalism, but I'm definitely including them on any pub list—not that I think the programs care whether you've published anything, but at least it shows we have an interest in writing and publishing. And that we've been semi-productive since college.

Kaushik said...

Are there any international students out here?
Does anyone know if programmes will be willing to relax the TOEFL requirement on applications? I'm a student in India applying to various MFA programmes. I'm currently finishing my Masters in English and all my schooling has been in English-medium as well.
I really feel like writing the TOEFL is unnecessary, and with the amount of money I'm already going to be spending on applications, I'd rather not spend more on writing this exam. Given my educational background, will TOEFL scores still be a strict requirement for a student from India like me?

FZA said...


Every school I've seen has a TOEFL requirement. I don't think you'll get away with not doing. It's not for the program so much as for the grad school. You can try emailing a couple programs and seeing what kind of response you get. But I'd be surprised if they wave the requirement all together.

I know some grad schools don't require TOEFL scores if GRE verbal scores are above a certain amount. That might be your easiest out. But I think it's a fairly high number.

Ava said...

Thanks Marti! Wise words. I just sent requests out to my two schools having them send 16 signed/sealed forms to me and only 1 to a program which apparently wants them sent directly, I'm not taking chances. I was a transfer student and one of my colleges didn't charge (although my brother said they once sent the WRONG TRANSCRIPT when his friend was applying to law school... yikes) and the other charged $5 a pop. Ugh. I'm not applying to 17 schools (wish I could!), some of the programs just want 2 copies.

Was anyone else a transfer student in college? I am not sure what to put for my GPA. I had awesome grades at my first college and less awesome grades at my second, but it is considered a much "better"/tougher school. I still got above a 3.0. Actually I think online, most of the apps want you to separate out your schools so I'll just put the two separate GPA's. Those online forms freak me out a little though, because I'm not sure if it's clear to the recipient that I was a transfer... anyone else in a similar boat?

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ Ava

I've taken classes at 6 undergraduate schools. You are not alone. Each set of transcripts is going to cost me on average $38. :(

Anonymous said...


You only have to pay $5 for a transcript? Oh man, lucky! Mine are $15 for just one. Like I've said before, how some of you can afford to apply to 10+ schools amazes me!

FZA said...


I entered this world knowing full and well that come feb/march other people's postings of acceptances/rejections would likely drive me crazy. But honestly, the worst part for me is always uncertainty. If all acceptances have heard and I haven't, I'd feel better crossing that school off the list than waiting and waiting. And sure I might get surprised with an acceptance down the line, but I'm ok with that.

I know it's a bit of masochistic game, but at least I know what I'm getting in to. And ultimately it won't influence my decisions.


I can only "afford" to apply to 14 schools because I'm refusing to calculate or think about what it'll actually end up costing me. If it comes down to it, I have savings that I can reluctantly dip in to. But I've also temporarily quit a very expensive hobby to give myself more time and $$ for this process.

Kaushik said...

@ Blob,
Thanks for the info. I'll get in touch with the programs.

Regarding writing samples, most programs ask either a few short stories or a novel excerpt. Is it fine to send both - that is, a novel excerpt as well as a short story that fits within their page limit?

PAH said...


From what I can gather -- as long as that is your best work and as long as the Program doesn't specifically ask you not to send Novel excerpts, that should be perfectly fine.

Though for novel excerpts, I think it's best if it is somewhat self-contained. A particularly strong scene that can still make sense without the missing exposition. I would find it difficult choosing what excerpt to send...but that's just me.

FZA said...

thought I'd pass this along:

I'm sure no one had quite this hard of a time getting a recommendation ;)

dadofwriter said...

@Blob Lol I was about to post that link!

Unknown said...

Wow, this blog is just a wealth of information. Thanks to Tom & Seth, and to everyone for all the great comments.

I have been a follower of the blog for almost a year, but am finally taking the plunge and officially joining the "MFA Fall 2011 Draft" for poetry.

Some general questions:

-Most websites have not specified whether the 10-15 page portfolio should include one poem per page. George Mason's site was very clear about this (which I found refreshing), but they require that there should only be one poem per page....

For programs that don't specify, is this a good practice? I was leaning torwards including more than one a page to showcase more of my work, but perhaps I should be focusing on just including my "best work"? Whatever the hell that is.... so subjective, blah.

-George Mason also thoughtfully explained that applicants should send transcripts from any "degree granting institution" that they attended.

I technically have transcripts from five different schools (took college classes for credit in high school; transferred to another University; studied abroad, etc. etc.-all these credits counted towards my degree) Should I send all these transcripts when the website does not specify that they only want transcripts from degree granting institutions?

I hate to be a little Annie Anal Pants, but those fees really add up!

Thoughts, anyone?

FZA said...


I've seen several schools specify that they want one poem per page, I think it's the way to go. Also, in terms of reading, it makes it easier for the committee to be able to separate all the poems out. I also think the general rule is quality over quantity!

As for transcripts, I called all my schools about study abroad, the general consensus was that if I studied for only one semester and all my credit hours, course names, and grades were reflected in my primary transcript then I would not need to send study abroad transcripts.
Also check language carefully a lot of schools say they need transcripts only from institutions where you received a degree.

I am on this blog way too much. Really I'm just on the computer way too much.

Rags said...

@ Kaushik:

Hey. I'm applying from Bangalore.

I mailed each of my schools about the TOEFL. Everyone was pretty adamant I take it, except maybe 4 schools who were kinda ambivalent about it. "Ok, don't take it, but when you come here, you'll have to take another test."

My recommendation is take it and send it to everyone. In some places, your TA depends on that.

Kaushik said...

@ Rags,

U of Virginia's website is quite clear that if you've studied in an institution where English is the primary language of instruction, the TOEFL isn't necessary.

Brown U returned my query with the same answer. I've written to other universities on my list, but they haven't responded yet.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Blob! That helps a ton.

I also spend an obscene amount of time reading this blog- it has already answered so many of my questions.

Now it is really down to the writing I guess! :) Gosh, I just want this so badly- I hope I don't suck. I feel like the Rudy of MFA applicants.

Thanks, everyone, and good luck!

PAH said...

rudy, Rudy, RUDY, RUDY!

Slow clap? No? OK.

Does anyone REALLY feel confident? I do for like .4 seconds every day and the rest of the day I look in the mirror and yell insults at myself in German. And I don't know imagine how weird that must be!

Carry on.

Unknown said...

Writer Dude,

Gotta love the slow clap! Would it be too vainglorious if I joined in on a slow clap for myself?

My co-workers think I have cracked up, giggling to myself in my office... shit, maybe I am starting to go a little crazy.

But thanks for the comment- it makes me feel better that other people may feel the same way :)

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

Great movie floating around our English department today that addresses all the reasons why not to get a PhD in the Humanitiies. Pretty sure it applies double with regard to MFAs.

So you Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities

FZA said...

Am I feeling confident of my chances of getting in anywhere? No, I don't think anyone can really feel confident in this process.
But do I feel confident? Yes, sort of, yes. I feel confident that I am ready for grad school, that I can handle and do well in an mfa program, and that I'm putting together a writing sample as strong as I can right now. And I guess that's better than nothing! If I don't get in anywhere it'll because I'm not good enough or because they were just too many good candidates and I wasn't 'better enough.' But it won't be because I didn't put in a proper effort or because I'm not ready.

I've also done some thinking/re-thinking about what my options are for 'the future' if I don't get in and how I can continue to pursue writing without an MFA. After realizing I actually have some considerably exciting options, I feel less frantic and depressed at the prospect of not getting in. Yes, I still want it as much. But I feel more prepared for the failure.

Karissa said...

So, in regards to HYSTERICAL the "So You Want to Get a PhD" video floating around, I wonder:

What are everyone's ultimate goals with the MFA? Are you just aiming for time to write? Do you want to teach after the MFA? Go on and do a PhD? A creative PhD or a critical PhD? Is the ultimate goal to become a professor?

It's so interesting to me because everyone I know in MFA programs has such divergent ultimate goals with the degree!

PAH said...


That's exactly how I feel. Whereas with undergrad, you just kind of go because you are expected to (which is an awful system because how can you expect an 18 year old to make life decisions like that haha), now I feel more grown up and ready to enjoy and get more out of graduate school. I am also putting way more effort in the App process than I did when I applied to 2 schools as I graduated undergrad (without looking at anything but location...funding? what?)

The getting in is a different story -- who knows!?


My main goal is to be part of a community of writers and to stall "real life" for a little bit, allowing time to just write. I would love to be a teacher or college professor, so that is a route that could happen...but that's long-term and can change. Short-term is time while I still have the energy and dreams to write (ie still dumb and optimistic).

Carry on!

Unknown said...

Ahhhh, I relate so much to that last comment Blob.

I have been considering an MFA for quite awhile now, although I had a pretty good job as a lawyer until last Friday when my firm told me that they didn't have enough business to sustain my position as an associate.

Being let go was a shock, but not such sad news, because aside from the decent paycheck, I literally hated every second of it. Not because of the people I worked with or even the nature of the profession itself (although a good portion of it is pretty reprehensible), but because it really wasn't something I was passionate about.

And I know that this sounds incredibly cheesy, but poetry is the thing I always come back to because it truly matters to me- when I read a poem that I relate to, I feel it in my gut...I feel that rare swelling of emotion that surprises you when you connect to something that matters to you- the language, the images, the narrative, the human condition.

Some people have religion, or booze, or sports, etc. etc., but reading and writing poetry is it for me. After 4 or 5 years of screwing around with my life, doing something I wasn't crazy about, and to basically have it all amount to nothing, I know that I don't want to waste any more time. When I reflect on my life, I want to know that I spent most of my energy doing something I love.

So even if I don't get in to these programs, or "make a good living," or meet everyone else's expectations, if I know that I am in pursuit of something I care about, I think I'll be OK. And there is something to be said about that, or at least I hope so.

Even now, on this blog, the sense of community is amazing. Writing can accomplish so much and bring so many people together... who wouldn't want to be a part of that?

Wow, this level of sentimentality must be unrivaled. Sorry for unloading my sob story on you guys :) Just so many emotions! haha

FZA said...

re: 'the future'

Ultimately, for me, I love school and I love writing. I can't think of any place I'd rather be than the classroom. I've always felt that way. My plan is to go on and get a PhD, either critical or creative-- I think I would enjoy it either way. If there was no MFA, I'd be pursuing graduate studies in English/Literature. I would love to teach in a university. But if I can't, my second choice would be to teach high school. I'm genuinely looking forward to teaching, regardless of the level. Plus either way, I at least get summers to work on my own work.

If I don't get in to programs, I might just pursue my Masters in Education so that I can teach high school english. Or find another job, or see if I can re-figure my job in a way to give myself more time to work on writing.

FZA said...


Yes, ye, yes.

STC said...

@ Meghan --

Hear, hear. =)

kaybay said...

Meghan -

And some people have religion, booze, sports, AND writing ;D

Karissa -

I thought that video on the PhD was hilarious and pretty dead on (forwarded it to a couple of my colleagues in the English department, by the way). "I got an A on my Hamlet paper," "I want to be a college professor," and "I will write about death" made me pee myself, but only just a little. Good stuff.

I am pursuing this degree because I think it will jump start something with my writing "career". I liken it to someone trying to become fluent in another language. Sure, he/she could learn the language while staying close to home, but spending a few years in another country, forced to speak the language with native speakers and forced to be immersed in the culture, will do a hell of a lot more for the person.

I'm willing to be "slave labor" for a university to have that experience and to possibly have the ability to make a career out of writing. Quite frankly, I already grade a bunch of crap for little pay and a whole lotta disrespect. I have zero concern whatsoever with having teaching a college class or two.

I don't think I want my PhD, only because the job prospects really are that dismal. I wouldn't mind looking into professional writing or (maybe, possibly) freelancing. If all else fails, I'll go right back to teaching.

Jeff said...

That movie's hilarious.

Nick said...

@ meghan

Get sentimental. It's cool. Writers tend to respect heartfelt candor. Your story of giving up the law is inspiring. Here is John Keating (played by Robin Williams) from DEAD POETS SOCIETY:

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! ... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless -- of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer: that you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."

@ everyone

While I may not rival the likes of kaybay and Blob for page views of the MFA Blog, I check this site more than necessary. I earned a Master's in Creative Writing (not an MFA) with a concentration in fiction earlier this year and am eager for more, hopefully on a full-time basis. I'm approaching the current MFA application cycle with a typically American sense of gambling gusto: all in for high stakes -- pony up a grand or two now for possibly tens, even hundreds, of thousands later. I'm applying to a bunch of programs because, of course, this beast's nature is exceedingly subjective. We don't know which readers at which schools will appreciate our work. In terms of formulating my list and devising my strategy, this blog has been incredibly helpful. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Tom Kealey, Seth Abramson, the other blog contributors, and, of course, the legions of posters. Reading the MFA Handbook by itself probably would have been sufficient to guide me, but this blog has been great for gaining a broad spectrum of opinions and timely updates on every imaginable aspect of the process, especially relating to individual programs. That said, it's time to cut the cord. Time that I spend here is largely wasted now. I should be devoting any and all free minutes/hours to jumping through application hoops and doing so as thoughtfully as possible.

Some of you might have caught the link to Ben Mauk's NINE (OR SO) SUGGESTIONS FOR APPLYING TO AN MFA PROGRAM on this blog a while back. If not, here it is again:

Even though I differ with some of his points (i.e., #4 ~ casually disregarding requested writing sample lengths), he offers a lot of solid, witty counsel. Suggestion #6 relates to our dear MFA Blog. Give it a look. I'll wait ...

I hereby pledge to take Ben's advice to "stop visiting completely once your last application is out." However, instead of waiting two or three months, I'm going cold Tofurky -- I'm vegetarian -- right now. The next two months I'll spend on applications. Then early next year I'll focus on completing a draft of my novel in progress, so that I have a head start when I enter an MFA program (notice I didn't let myself say "if"). Who knows, I might allow myself one last peek here on April 15th to close the loop. Wish me luck practicing restraint. Good luck to all with your applications and responses.

Parting thought: TV, films, websites, blogs, email, texts -- I enjoy them all, but at what point do they steal time from writing to such a degree that an artist's attention span, focus, and sense of purposeful drive become effectively compromised? What would Saul Bellow say?

"I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction."

Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kaybay said...

Tehehe, was anyone else thinking about the girl in the above-referenced video when Nick posted the thing about Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society??? I was! Oh, man.

Unknown said...

Ha, Kaybay, good point earlier. We writers must multitask like anyone else!

Nick, thanks for the wonderful post. That Dead Poets Society is so darn inspirational, no wonder everyone wants to go to grad school in the humanities (and write about death).:)

I need to put that quote by my bed, or have it tattooed to my arm or something (or my back, as it is pretty long...but then again, harder to read...hmmmm).

Anyway, good luck everyone, I am pulling for all of us!

Momma said...

Just took the GRE today. Ka-ching. So glad that shit is in the bag. I WILL NEVER TAKE IT AGAIN.

Next order of business - personal statement. Sigh.

Is it bad that I cut class to think about MFA applications?

S.A. Williams said...

Hey all,

I was wondering if anyone knows the state of Iowa State's financial aid package? The most I've found out so far on the university's website is that there is one fellowship, and the wording suggests that only one incoming student a year qualifies for it. I'm also aware of the assistantships, but don't want to completely count on them (in case I don't get one). What I'm most interested in is whether the program is fully funded, or if at least tuition is covered.

Almond Punch said...

Anyone applying to Johns Hopkins?

I noticed that they "strongly encourage" applicants to take the English Literature GRE.

I felt discouraged to apply when I read that. Unfortunately, I just don't have time to study for that test -- it's gigantic -- and I don't see the point in applying to a place knowing that I have an incomplete application.

Those of you who are applying -- are you going to take, or have you already taken, the subject test?

Momma said...

At Fire Snake:

It's my understanding that all students in the program are fully-funded. I don't know the specifics, but 'cording to Seth Abramson, this is true.

dadofwriter said...

@Almond Punch
Son is at Johns Hopkins and he took the GREs (required) but NOT the English Literature GRE. So you can get in without this. He was accepted because Alice McDermott loved his writing sample. As you read over and over again its the writing sample thats 95% of the adcoms decision.

FZA said...


I'd be curious to hear how your son is enjoying his experience at John Hopkins. I removed both John Hopkins and UVA from my list early on after hearing what a competitive environment both programs had. Undoubtedly, I'm sure some thrive with competition. But it didn't seem right for me. And while my list is done, I'd still be curious to hear how a current students find the environment and whether the reputation holds true.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

Regarding page lengths-- is around 5 pages over or under a big deal? I don't have the luxury of having a lot of stories that are different page lengths to mix and match, so if I have to get my 30 page portfolio down to 25, I'm going to have to cut out chunks of one of my stories. I'd really prefer not to do this.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee said...

@ Jami- I can't give you any sort of conclusive answer, but I'm finding UMass's 20-page requirement kind of ridiculous (so short!) and am sending them 24 pages. They can deal with it.

Eric said...

Is anybody else applying to Minnesota for poetry? I'm curious as to how many poems/pages you are sending. Their "up to 25 pages" lends itself well to fiction, not so much to poetry.

Right now, I'm sitting on fifteen poems to send them.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

@ Renee--
That is what I'm feeling, too. My two strongest stories are 14-15 pages each and I feel like it's against my best interest to just send one of them plus a five page one-off.

STC said...

@ Jami & Renee --

I hear that going under the page limit is more than OK, but you should really try to avoid going over. It makes sense; these professors have to work through a massive pile in a short period of time and probably won't be thrilled to come across a thick sample they know is going to take them longer than usual.

You get only one in this thing. To include a sample over the page limit might prematurely bias the readers against your sample before they even read the first word.

PAH said...

@ Jami & Renee

Four words (and two numbers):

8 point font and .04" margins.


FZA said...

writing sample sizes are so funny.

It makes me glad I'm a poet and a poet who writes short poems. So each page = one poem.

Though, it'll be tricky figuring how many and which ones to send. Most schools say 6-10. But I think U.Washington has something like 15-20, which seems excessive.

ChrisLes said...

Re: Page Limits

I always feel for fiction writers applying to programs that refuse to take at least 30 pages, because the programs are doing themselves a disservice there, and putting their applicants squarely in a lose-lose situation. Can writers prematurely bias admissions committees against them? Absolutely. Single-space and god help you. Tiny fonts / tiny margins, god help you. Use paper monogrammed with your own initials in Harlequin romance font and god help you (I have pictures). Go over what is already a generous limit and god help you there, too. I read for a lit mag that takes submissions up to 10,000 words, but 10,001+ is auto-reject.

This kind of thinking must exist in the MFA world, too, but one hopes it's not at programs that limit you to a frustratingly short sample. When I was a reader, we all developed a pretty good technique for writing samples that went on too long: we stopped reading them. I like what's in the Stegner FAQ:

Q: My fiction manuscript is 9,100 words; do I have to cut any of it?
A: Long applications won't be disqualified, and no one is going to count. However, the selection committee reserves the right to stop reading any applications that are heinously over the word limit.

That sounds about right to me. What's left is just to estimate what's acceptable overage and what's heinous overage and not push the boundaries just to give them more of you, only to give them what is essential. I think it's almost a universal truth that everyone's stories could be a little shorter, but if you've cut to the bone and it's still a few pages over, just go with it and have faith. If they like it, they'll keep reading; if they don't, they may have already stopped.

Driftless House

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

I have put together a few of my "if I had known then what I know now" thoughts about writing samples based on what I have learned in my program since I began over a year ago. The post is for fiction applicants and the focus is on what to do during those last-minute revisions. . .

You can find it here:

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

@ Chris,
Thank you so much for your detailed advice. I'll try to cut as much as can without losing the feel of the story and if it's still a page or so over, then I'm just going to hope it won't count against me.

Eric said...

Hi Almond Punch,

I was accepted to JHU's program last year without taking the English Literature GRE. It's by no means required.


Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

Oh, this is finally starting to feel real. Just dropped off the last packet for my final recommender. I'm taking the GRE next Saturday and the Lit GRE the following Saturday. I will be ordering transcripts this week. I'm still working on my statement of purpose (right now, it's awful, but I'm hopeful), and I've been workshopping my poems for the past few months. I've started working on filling out applications online. Phew. I might get through this after all.

FZA said...


Where are you applying that you need the lit gre? It seemed like only PhD programs had the requirement. Are you also applying to PhD programs?

Good luck to you with both GREs, i'm sure you'll feel huge relief when it's over!

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ Blob

I'm applying to Cornell's joint-degree MFA/PhD program, so that's the only one I'm taking it for, but I'm sending the scores to a couple of other schools that say if you take it to go ahead and send the scores (Wash U and Indiana). I don't expect much from my lit score. I haven't had the time to go back through all my texts and prep for it....

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

I'm going back through the transcript requirements of schools I'm applying to, and I am a little confused by Alabama. Does anyone know for sure how many official transcripts they need? On the MFA site it looks like they need one sent to the graduate school, but on the graduate school site they are asking for two (but I can't tell if they mean one official and one unofficial sent to the MFA program). Thanks in advance.

FZA said...


I think alabama just needs one official and one unofficial. That's what I plan on sending. Though, I could be wrong, of course.

My plan for the day has been to get at least one draft done of a letter of intent. So far I have 0 words. very productive day so far.

Momma said...

Does anyone know if Brown's MFA program is 2 or 3 years? I can't find the information on their site.

Jonathan said...


According to the P&W rankings, 2 years.

Matilda Frankenstein said...

Does Boise State require the GRE? I have searched their site and can't figure it out. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Karissa said...


Ah, another Cornell joint program hopeful ;)

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ Karissa

Yeah. Every time I say I'm applying there, I follow it with "of course, I'm not going to get into Cornell, but I have to apply."

It's my dream program, especially considering that my original plan was to apply only to PhD programs.

Oy. Fingers crossed for us both....

Katie Oh said...

just started my first online application, umass amherst, deadline december 1st. it kind of feels like all my internal organs exploded at once. hopefully i won't feel as anxious next year! i'm anticipating having to re-apply. i figure better to be prepared for rejection than to be crushed.

on the plus side, i'm pretty confident that my first sample story is almost done. a few minor line edits and i think it'll be good to go. 17 pages. now, to work on the rest...

how's everyone else coming along? anyone else started drinking and crying yet? no, just me? :P

kaybay said...

Hi Katie Oh, just finished my Halloween festivities. I'm going to be a little sleepy tomorrow :D

I'm pretty much done with my SOPs, but I'm going to let them sit for a little bit and revise them when I go to finish the application. I have all of my transcripts in, I'll probably order GRE score reports some time next week. I have two finished stories that I know I want to send, but I'm definitely still revising. I'm going to be for a while now. I also want time to let them sit and then go back them. I'm going to spend the next couple of days starting applications (humdiggity). I'm happy with where I am right now, to be quite honest. I still have a while until I'm finished, though.

I'm actually waiting until late December to have everything finished. I don't want to stress and send stories that aren't ready. I have almost two months. I'm not going to worry.

I'm not going to worry. I'm not going to worry. I'm not going to worry. It helps to repeat it :D

Katie Oh said...

you're way ahead of me, kaybay! i still haven't hammered out my SOPs yet. i have the middle chunk of it written but have nothing concrete. and i haven't even taken the GRE yet [november 12th, gulp]

not going to panic. not going to panic.

Loren said...

Hi all. Sorry if this question has already been asked. I was wondering if you can start and save an online application. I am not anywhere near ready to submit my packet entirely, but I would like to start chiseling away at these monsters.

Loren said...

And also, I am really worried my list of schools is a bit... ambitious. I was hoping people could give suggestions for good solid schools with admission ratings that aren't slim to none.

Thanks guys

Momma said...

@ Loren:

Yep, definitely. All of the online systems have functions that that allow you save and come back to an application.

@ kaybay:

You def shouldn't be worried! Statements pretty much done? I'm so impressed! I did two schools and feel utterly exhausted. Only fourteen more to go...Not to jinx it, but I have a feeling you'll do great, especially with the great waitlists you got last year.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

@ katie
I feel you on the GRE- I'm taking it this Thursday and I want to die a little bit.


I finished doing all the online application stuff (that is, filling in all the blanks) minus actually uploading my SOP and writing sample.

I'm giving my recommendation packets out this week, which is a bit late, but I'm still in school now so I can just pop in on my recommenders whenever, so it makes it much easier to keep tabs.

I keep eating and eating my stress away. I'm going to balloon to 300 pounds by the time March rolls around.

Karissa said...


EXACTLY!!! I say the exact same thing! "I have to try!" :)

Bryan said...

Yowza, after reading these comments I feel way ahead of the game! I've got six (out of ten) complete applications submitted and received by my programs; now I've just gotta write a couple more extra essays (for TAships, etc) and fill out the final apps and I'm finally DONE!

Now (and for the past three months) comes the "dear God, I'm nowhere near good enough to get in ANYWHERE" agonizing stage, soon to be followed by the "waiting ravenously for the mail(wo)man every day even though it's only January" stage. Fun fun.

@thereandbackagain: I know what you mean about Cornell (Brown too). I'm just going for the MFA there, but it's still one of those "I won't get in, but might as well try" sort of things. :P

Andrew P said...

I wonder if anyone knows, if I was to get my transcripts sent out to the schools now, would they be able to keep them on file even if I haven't submitted my application? I have started the online applications, but have not actually submitted. Same question applies to GREs. Can I send my scores before I actually apply?

Andrew P said...

I wonder if anyone knows, if I was to get my transcripts sent out to the schools now, would they be able to keep them on file even if I haven't submitted my application? I have started the online applications, but have not actually submitted. Same question applies to GREs. Can I send my scores before I actually apply?

FZA said...

Geez, Bryan, way to make us all feel bad! (I kid, I kid)

For me, the statement of purpose/ letter of intent has been such a huge block. I know I need to just get a draft on paper so that I can revise, rewrite, etc. But for now, I just have a huge mental block on the whole process. I don't even know how I want to think about approaching the process, whether I should do letter or essay format, whether I should focus on what's gotten me to where I am or what I hope to accomplish in the future, how to talk about my aesthetics, etc.

It's just one of those things were I'm convinced that they're looking for something in particular, and I'm too focused on finding that to write.

Once I have at least a draft done, I'll feel so much better.

I really need to focus on getting all my december applications (about half of my 14) out the door over thanksgiving week and as many others as I can. It's the only real 'free time' I'll have between now and christmas. But I'd hate to enter that week without even a rough draft of my letter of intent.

I also keep reminding myself that both Michigan and UCI require both a letter and a statement and that many schools have TA application essays as well.

the duchess said...

I am applying to approx 15 programs - and it seems most schools strongly prefer online letters of recommendation.

I have 3 recommenders on board, but I am a little worried about having them each get 15 emails asking them to upload the letter and fill out a recommender form.

Should I ask several of the schools if I can submit via mail so I can send the recommenders a packet of materials instead?

What are some other people doing in this situation?

Momma said...


Every single school that said they prefer recs online and or ONLY accept recs online said that they actually don't mind receiving hard copies. I sent Cornell, Austin, etc, etc emails, and they tell you where to send the hard copies of recs.

I agree that you don't want to burden your recommenders too much.

FZA said...

@the duchess

I'm applying to 14, and used paper forms for any school that gave a choice on their website, I found that about half of mine did.

For the others I went with electronic recommendations and while the thought of it makes me nervous, I've actually found the process to be fairly flexible in order to make it as easy as possible. All but one school (Oregon) has allowed me to send the request to a recommender whenever I'm ready, even if the application isn't ready and have the options of a 'reminder' email. The other nice thing is you can send a request to one recommender at a time, you don't have to submit all three at once.

I had one recommender email me and let me know that his letter for me was ready. Once he told me that, I went ahead and had all of his recs sent so that he could do everything at one time and be done with it. The rest have not gotten to writing my rec yet, so I'm going to wait a bit to send them out. I don't want them to get buried.

I think the biggest thing, is not to drag things out. I can imagine it being both annoying and inefficient for recommendation requests to trickle in over the course of several weeks. If possible, try to submit all your e-recs on the same day for a recommender. I had all my e-requests for one recommender in about an hour one saturday afternoon. And sure enough, he went ahead and did all of them a couple days later (except for oregon, which will have to wait).

I'm a little worried about my other two not getting things in, but I've sent them both lists with schools and due dates all the hard copies, so I just need to make sure I remind them mid november (my firs app is due Dec 1st).

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ duchess

Just echoing what Courtney said. I'm applying to 20 (19 of which need recs), and the idea of burdening my referees with four different ways of submitting their recommendations made me squeamish. I went ahead and emailed the programs and all were fine with hard copies mailed in to them. I'd just email them for peace of mind, but they seem very responsive and helpful. Good luck!

PAH said...

@ Duchess

It's a burden, yes, but something most professors are used to and understand it kinda comes with the territory.

Like it's been said, most schools are pretty lenient when it comes to accepting hard copies...I wanted to weigh in, though, because I asked my recommendors first and they all seemed to prefer doing it online when possible (like I said, I'm sure you are not the first person they have written recs for -- so it might not be as "cumbersome" as we think)...that said, it's still a good thing to be ahead of the game, as clear as possible in your packet, and also appreciate (send a gift -- I sent them gift cards to Olive Garden...who doesn't love Olive Garden?) And I'm not waiting until AFTER they do the favor to send the gift...I sent it with everything...Bribes work better that way ;)

Carry on!

STC said...

I'm using Interfolio. I called all my schools this morning to check whether they accepted this service, and most of them do. (Got answering machine at three places.)

So now I pay a little extra -- fine, more than a little extra -- but my letter-writers, who strongly prefer e-recs, only have to write and upload one document.

Now I can keep modifying my list if I need to. The worst part about the letter of rec thing is how you can't really change your list once you've sent out your packets. You have to finalize your list three months or something before apps are due. That drove me crazy. Was researching programs all the night long.

However, I am pretty sure I am farther behind than everyone on this blog in terms of completing applications. I'm so far behind I don't even want to tell you specifically what I have not yet done.

FZA said...

@Maia, sending my recommendation packets is exactly what saved me from obsessing over my list indefinitely!

Thank god I had to at some point be 'done.' Otherwise I would have agonized and revised and revised and stressed and changed it and gone back to where I started from. Obsessing over my list was keeping me from going forward in the process because for some reason I felt like I couldn't do anything until I'd done that.

Now that my list is 'done' I feel great. Sure there are moments when I go 'eek, did I do the right thing?' But those are inevitable. And I also know if something major happens that turns me very much on or off a school my recommenders would likely be ok with one or two swaps/additions. But I'm not planning on it. For the most part I'm happy, I would love to attend any school on my list. The only real negative is how competitive they all are. But I guess that's the nature of the game.

FZA said...

Curious as to what people's thoughts are on the environment of a really small program.

I have some very small programs on my list and while the programs sound wonderful, I'm a little worried that the programs might be a bit too small. I can imagine that after workshopping with the same small group, they'll stop being very useful relatively quickly.

I was wondering what other people thought of very small programs (like 5 per genre small) and whether this is a plus, a negative, and how you see it working?

If there are current students at programs like this reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Karissa said...

Okay, so I just want to say this to people who will understand it...

I had two letter writers lined up, fully prepared. I had another in mind, but was scared shitless to ask her since she's a notorious hard-ass (and is my boss... yikes). I finally got up the balls to ask her today and she wholeheartedly agreed to write me one!

YAY! One thing checked off the list.

PAH said...

@ Blob

I think, like with all things, there are pros and cons to smaller programs.

Obviously if you fit in well and the group were all very close-knit and everyone respected each other...I think it could be pretty amazing. Even competition changes completely when under these conditions and i think is a good thing.

Also, the smaller the cohort, the closer you can work with the staff (of people who SHOULD know what they are doing).

However, with larger groups you'll get more fresh eyes on it...BUT also, there is a better chance of "blending in" during larger classes. I think a larger environment makes its harder to really dig into a piece so a lot of your feedback might be very superficial....and then you have to move on to the next piece because of time.

I like smaller (my undergrad school had like 1100 students...and the writing program had like 15 -- and I was the only fiction guy amid future journalists and lawyers) so I am used to it too. And also, there is the whole thing about smaller schools accepting fewer students so its harder to get that sucks.

kaybay said...

Thanks, Courtney! That's sweet! This is your second time applying as well, right? I think most second-timers will see better results after giving it the old college try again. Here's to hoping you (and all of us) get the news we want :)

the duchess said...

Thanks everyone for your input.

I noticed some online applications only send the email to recommenders once you submit the entire application online - eek. Therefore I think I am going to try to do the mail packet route wherever possible. I just hope the USPS doesn't let me down.

I really want to apply to 15 programs this year, but $ is tight. I keep adding and subtracting Michigan/Minnesota/Wisconsin. I'm not sure I can handle the winters.

Best wishes to everyone.

Katie Oh said...

I didn't actually do a paper packet for my recommenders... should I have? I emailed a prof a recent sample [she doesn't teach at my school anymore] and the others either have my work in paper form or won't be speaking to my work, rather, me as a person. I only have three mail-in recs, too, and the rest are online. Did I just screw something up? Oh dearz.

PAH said...

@ Katie Oh

Here is what I sent in my recommender packet:

A thank you letter (with some personal detail that might help with letters), my current resume, (1) writing sample I will be using, detailed instructions for each school with deadlines, and any addressed/stamped envelopes needed. And a gift card to Olive Garden.

The instructions for schools with online apps pretty much list the deadline and this "When I do the app, you'll be emailed the rec form -- I will also email you to confirm reception".

But that's just me.

Katie Oh said...

see, I originally had a plan like that hashed out, then at some point I abandoned it. I did send each of the letter of rec writers a list of the schools I'll be applying to and if I'll need a physical copy [I'm just sending mine, sealed by them, with my applications if the schools need hard copies] or if they're online ones.

Also I was under the assumption that one sent thank you gifts after the applications were out? Am I doing all the things wrong?! [Either way, I'll probably just send the thank yous in late Jan/early Feb? Or should I send around the holidays? See, this is why I shouldn't be doing these apps at all. :P]

PAH said...

I was going to do the gift afterward...but then I thought "These guys need to say great things about me" -- bribes work better preemptively, as opposed to hindsight.

And I have 1 wildcard recommender who didn't love me as a student (ie good grades, little effort) but I think we respected each who knows what he might say. Olive Garden might fuzzy up his memory ;)

Katie Oh said...

luckily two of my rec writers know me well enough that they didn't need any more of my personal info, which makes me super-pleased. the other is my "wildcard"--she's a pretty big name but just had twins and won an amazing prize from another school so will be teaching there in the spring--so i'm worried she won't get done in time.

which brings me to my next question: at what point do i ask about the letters? should i email the week before thanksgiving with more specific deadlines? [my first app is due december 1st]

FZA said...

@Katie Oh

I sent my recommenders a packet mostly because to print out forms and give them envelopes. Since they are doing me a favor, it didn't make sense to ask them to print out their own forms, find correct addresses, address their labels, and pay postage. So I sent everything pre-printed, stamped, and addressed.

And since I was sending that stuff anyway I figured I'd send some other stuff just so they had everything at hand. Here's what I sent:

A cover letter, saying thanks, and letting them know what was in the packet.
A list of schools with deadlines and the type of recommendation (paper, paper with form, electronic)
My resume (just in case)
3-4 Poems (just in case)
All the printed out forms paper-clipped to their envelope

They'll get gifts from me in Dec, once I'm done with apps!

FZA said...

oh and also, Katie Oh, I don't think you screwed up. If you feel like sending envelopes and forms and such (which I think is nice) you can still do that. If not, I'm sure they get plenty asks without.

Katie Oh said...

hmm. I'll have to double-check; i don't think any of the three schools that need paper letters have extra forms to go with them. I was going to just have them hand the paper letters [sealed of course] to me and I'd drop them in my packet with my other materials. Should I have them send the letters directly to the schools [for which I would definitely acquire postage and envelopes for them] instead?

Anonymous said...

All of my recs will be paper via my university's letter service. The schools can deal, especially if I'm paying $50+ to apply.

Oh how I wish this process was streamlined like AMCAS for medical schools (I work at a med school, so I get to see it in action). Although I guess they are applying to med school, so I can't envy them too much.

FZA said...

@katie oh

I'm not in the same state as my recommenders, so having them handed to me is not an option!

Some schools specifically say whether they want letters sent by the recommenders or in the packet. I tracked this information on my spreadsheet. I think it makes sense to have your recommenders send everything to you and then you can figure out whether to mail them out or put them in your packet.

It seems like the schools that would rather have the letter sent directly might be worried about 'foul play' if letters come in with the packet.

Honestly, the whole process has a lot of little details. Too bad you can't just submit one electronic application and then just check a box for which schools you want it sent to. I guess I could deal with separate transcripts and GRE scores being sent. But it would be so, so nice to tell recommenders to do one letter and to have to fill out just one application!

STC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Momma said...

@ kaybay:

Nope; first time. I just have a very unoriginal screen name. I think there were two Courtneys last year.

Anonymous said...

Heyo. Been busy with work and applications.


Anyone sent the McNeese application (either currently or prior to this MFA Season)? How long do they take to respond (if they like you, that is)? I sent my packet (letter and sample) about two weeks ago.

Also, for SIUC folk: is the GRE required or "strongly recommended"? The app is due Feb 1st, so there's still some time for me to take the test if the former's the case.

Sorry for such basic, nagging questions, but I thought I'd ask here since responses are quicker in the mailbag than sending an e-mail to the programs.

Ava said...

I was thinking about Thank You gifts for recommenders, I had a couple of profs write me recs during college but didn't think to do it at the time (whoops).

Maybe this is a weird question but may I ask how much those gift certs are for? $20? $25? $15? What is considered appropriate?

Thanks guys!

Katie Oh said...


I'm doing $25 gift certs to places I suspect they'll like. All bookstores, actually, but ones that are a bit more tailored to their interests.

My dilemma lies with my third recommender, who has moved someplace I've never been to. What's a good failsafe gift card? Can I assume that there are Barnes and Nobles everywhere?

FZA said...

I think it's pretty safe to assume there are Borders and Barnes & Nobles everywhere.

I'm planning on getting my recommenders silk paintings/wall hangings. I wanted to do something a little different. Even if I don't get in, they are all professors I love dearly, who made my college experience so much better and taught me a lot. They deserve presents just for that.

You got me. I'm totally stumped on the statement of purpose. Desperately seeking guidance.

PAH said...

RE: Gifts

I sent $25 gift cards to each. I know where they all live and I know an Olive Garden is close and who doesn't love Olive Garden ;)

(if anything they can go, eat some bread and salad and get a bottle of wine)

@ Katie Oh

Amazon? Borders and Barnes & Noble gift cards can also be redeemed even if they live in the remotest of areas, all they need is the interwebz and a mailbox.

Anonymous said...

I just write thank you notes after the letter is completed. I think just making sure you acknowledge that your recommender has done you a huge favor is enough. I'm not against gifts, I'm just too poor to be shelling out $25 a pop for gift cards. :) (how many times have I said I'm poor on this blog? EGS IS POOR, just in case you were wondering.)

STC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Momma said...

@ Anti:

I emailed my writing sample + letter/statement to Alex Taylor at McNeese Sunday afternoon . I'll let you know if I hear anything in the next few weeks/months. We can keep each other posted. It's weird how on their website they don't give any sort of timeline. I may ask Prof. Amy Fleury and/or (Prof?) Alex Taylor for any information. Amy, anyway, seemed really nice when I emailed her. I'll wait at least a month, though.````

Karissa said...


What the hell do I do with student loans from undergrad if I'm graduating in December, yet not enrolling in an MFA program until August? That's longer than the six-month grace period...

Does anyone have any experience with this?! I'm freaking out!

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

Blargh! I just went to the career center at my university (is anyone else here still in college?) to get some help with my SOP. She asked me what the deadlines were for schools, and I said my first one was December 1st, and she gave me the "oh honey, you should send each one in at least a month early."

what?! is this necessary? She said it makes it look a lot better to get everything in quicker and that the committee will give it a more detailed look that way.

I *wasn't* freaking out before because I thought I had time, but now apparently my school wants me to hurry it along and I'm running all over the place again!

PAH said...

@ Karissa


After you graduate you should not have to start paying student loans for 6 months -- I believe almost all lenders have this grace period (of course interest is still accruing). You would then want to file some paper work with your lender eventually during this period (when you get accepted woot!) that you are attending graduate school and the loan is again put on hold (and of course, interest will accrue).

You can also file for forbearance, if the timing doesn't work out, which can give you another 6 months (with interest accruing).

@ Jami

Fuck 'em. ;)

Make sure you send your best stuff and send it any time before the deadline and if they like it you'll get in. I have not heard of any committee saying they liked the writing of a candidate less but he mailed his app 2 weeks earlier so he got it...

To quote the wonderful Douglas Adams:

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

We are writers not accountants...deadlines are an abstract concept that we are lucky to's been hard for me and I don't have a single SOP or APP out...and I'm awesome.

Glad I could help.

FZA said...


It's somewhere in this blog, I believe. But a year ago, a couple years ago (?) they did a Q&A with people who worked on selecting committees and I believe someone very explicitly said that it doesn't help or benefit you at all to get applications in early. As long as you make the deadline you're good to go.

But it does stress me that UMass is my first deadline because not only do they have a more involved application, but they're one of my top choices.

Momma said...

@ Jami:

I'm a senior in college, too - and I feel like that makes this process even more of a shit show. Actually, I suppose it's just a different kind of shit show. It's nice that paying for MFA applications isn't taking money away from paying the rent or whatever - but it's annoying that most nights I have so much shit to get done for school that I can't devote necessary time to my applications.


I echo what the others said. Don't worry about it.

Katie Oh said...

@ Jami and Courtney

I'm in the same boat! Senior, interning, working, writing an 80-page thesis of fiction. woof. Just had my first panic attack last night, which I think was just a compounding of all of that. Thankfully I'm better today and I think I'm ready to take this on! So I'm going to take those little positive moments and milk them for everything they're worth.

Let's do this!

Momma said...

@ Katie Oh:

Panic attacks = most annoying things ever. Sometimes, I swear I get them for no reason. At all.

We're def in the same boat. I'm (supposed to be) writing a thesis, working, doing normal school shit, and applying for MFA programs.

I know next quarter things will die down, but then it will be the stress of waiting!

@ everyone:

What stage are you in your life right now? Age-wise? Career-wise? What unique challenges are you facing applying for MFA programs?

PAH said...

@ Courtney

Your ruse to ask "everyone" about their current life stage to find out more about me has are the answers you are seeking:

26 (last Monday!)

Undergrad degree in Writing/Communications.

I have had a lot of jobs (including video game tester for Guitar Hero!) but am currently a desk jockey in Sherman Oaks, CA (LA)...I don't much care for it but it could be worse.

Only challenge so far: self-doubt. With samples and's a mind-lay (sorry about the f-bomb earlier...I'm cleaning it up). But I'm better than everyone else, so I don't think that's a problem any more ;)

Carry one!

kaybay said...

Courtney -

I am a 26 year old high school teacher who is waaaaay too tired for all of this. I'm glad I got a lot of it done over the summer, because I'm pooped ever since school started. I just went to go revise a story and really half-assed it because my brain isn't functioning properly. I need some sleep!

The financial thing is dragging on my right now. I know I can afford the app fees and score report fees and transcript fees (I sound like the Grinch, "fees, fees, fees, noise, noise, noise"), but it's still a pain in the ass when you actually go to press the button that will deduct the money from your already feeble paycheck. Bleh. I hate when I have to go pay for the application itself. I have to space it out.

That's the one concern I have about this whole thing. It's going to be tough giving up my steady paycheck for a meager stipend. It's going to be tough moving (and hoping I can afford that). It's going to be tough having enough money to get me through August, since you don't get paid until mid-late August in some cases and loan checks don't come until September (I think). That means I need to kick my shopping and dining out habit and save some money for a change. Crap. Why do Ross and Marshall's and TJ Maxx tempt me so, with their cheap but oh-so adorable clothing! Why, oh why, do restaurants offer food cooked so much better then mine?! Why, dear God, do they clean up after me and wash my dishes?! Oh, cruel world!


Katie Oh said...


your comment reminded me of one of my other questions. [assuming i get in] at what point is it advisable to move to the school's location? i was hoping to get in at least half a summer's worth of employment [to pay for apartment deposits, etc]

also, i feel you on the fees. some days i look at the grand total and want to cry. all this for no guarantee!

FZA said...

aaah, where am I in my life? That's a great question.

I actually consider myself to be in a very, very lucky situation. I'm working in a one-step up from entry level position at an organization that is very good at furthering careers and promoting from with in. Deciding to go to grad school now would be considered foolish by many, considering that. I also have another opportunity on the wings for a career venture that would bring me less money, more work, but would also be a great experience, (look good on my resume), and would give me half the year off to travel/write.

Like I said, I am very, very lucky to be where I am now. But having the options I have makes me know all the more that now is the time for me to pursue my MFA. It's not something I'm doing because I can't think of what else to do or because I've run out of options. I'm doing it because I really, really want to and I'm ready. I thought about applying my senior year of college, but if I had done that it would have been because it was the easy thing. Because I'd rather deal with school than the 'real world' and because I didn't know what else to do. But now I'm ready.

I'm 25. I spend too much time on this blog. And right now my biggest challenge is my statement of purpose. I'm ready to be done and put it all in the hands of the mfa gods.

Momma said...

@ WriterDude - I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about :o)

I feel ya with the self-doubt business. It's hard to feel confident in this market.

@ kaybay - The money issue blows. I still haven't figured it out. Likely, I'll be using part of my undergrad loan reimbursement to pay for most of the fees. Is that bad? Probably. I haven't even considered the issue of saving money for moving. Shit. Should probably think about that. I can barely afford my car insurance! Let alone save money! Ahhhhh!

@ Blob: I hope I'm not just applying because I'm scared of entering the real world. I'm sure that's a part of it, but mostly it's because I want to write. I want to write so frickin' badly. All the time. I make time for it, but it'd be nice not to have to make time for it. To just have time for it.

I'm echoing Katie Oh's question about when people plan on relocating (assuming acceptance).

FZA said...


I didn't mean to imply that you or anyone else shouldn't apply right out of college. It just wasn't the right time for me. I didn't need it/want it enough. I would have gone to 'any graduate' school just as easily. The urgency I feel for it now is the proof I needed that writing really is what I want to do.

re: relocation
oy, I feel like I'm getting WAY ahead of myself even thinking about this. But I imagine that I probably wouldn't move until the month of classes/orientation. The best/easiest roommates will probably be fellow students, so it makes sense not to relocate too early. I figure if I have 2 weeks before classes start that's plenty. I'll also say that if I end up anywhere within a 10 hours drive, I'll feel less stressed/nervous about any moves.

PAH said...

RE: relocating

I'm excited to do so. If I get in I might quite my job fairly early and take the summer off...go to Europe for a bit and waste all my savings. Then find a place to live a day or two before classes start ;)

I'm Cali now...all the schools I'm applying to are close to HOME (the real home) in the Midwest. Big move...

FZA said...

Is it obnoxious to mention people we've worked with in the past by name in a personal statement?

UCI seems to encourage it. But I'm not sure if it'll come off as pathetic name dropping.

@Writer Dude
The three 'big move' schools for me are UCI, Oregon, and Washington (Seattle). Everything else seems 'not so bad.' I'm in NYC right now but home, home is Atlanta, which makes Florida, FSU, and Alabama very location appealing.

Sarah said...

GRE rant:

In my Sunday night MFA application prep stupor, I accidentally ordered two sets of scores that I didn't need. I e-mailed and called customer service immediately to try to fix the order. The phone rep said the order hadn't yet entered the system, so I would need to call back Tuesday or Wednesday night. I called back a few minutes ago, and the new rep kindly informed me that they had already sent my scores and that nothing could be done.

They never responded to my e-mail.

WHAT A FREAKING RACKET! I'm really angry and out $50.

Jonathan said...

It's really interesting to hear a little about some of your lives! I'm 23. Last May I graduated college, last June I got married. I was sorely tempted to apply last year in the midst of finishing school and prepping for a wedding, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to give it my best shot. And I really only want to do this once, if at all possible. So this year is (hopefully) a transition year between schools. I'm working an easy (and very low paying) job, and devoting a lot of time to applications. Things have been relatively unstressful.

I'll echo WriterDude and Courtney. Self doubt is definitely more crippling than any one piece of the application, not that the writing sample and SOP, plus the cost of everything, haven't also been difficult.

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

I graduated with my B.A. in July, and I turned 40 in September. I've been teaching for the past year and a half at the university I graduated from (a class that comprises 20% of the students' overall grade in the class my class supplements) which may seem crazy since I only graduated in July, but somehow they made it work. (It was especially nuts when I was teaching six classes and taking two last fall). I have a background in marketing, merchandising, and computers. Fun, fun. Nice to hear more about y'all. :)

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

@ Courtney and Katie Oh,
Do you sometimes worry about our (relatively) young age in applying to these programs? Sometimes I have these terrible visions of everyone else being very cosmopolitan and well-lived and I'm straight up out of college.

In other news,

I really love reading everyone's little personal histories! If only we could send these in instead of an SOP...

I'm 21 and a senior at a little liberal arts college. I'm majoring in psychology and up till about a month ago was planning on going into social work right away. And then my creative writing advisor asked me, "Have you thought about grad school?" and then everything derailed (in the best way possible.)

As far as relocation goes (and I can only dream about having this problem!), I would probably travel all summer and then move right before I started my program.

Katie Oh said...

@ Jami

sometimes i do. i mean, i sent a story to a friend to read and she said that, while it was solid, it was "undergraduate." which, i mean, i get, i'm 21, i don't have a lot of life experience yet, but it still was a little disheartening. my professors insist that it's not the work itself but the potential they'll see in it, which is giving me a little bit of hope.

i mean, i'm still not that optimistic, but if it was entirely unattainable, i wouldn't apply. previous grads from my program have gone directly from our school to brown, columbia, and iowa, so i know that people my age can do it. i just have to hope that i can too.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

@ Katie Oh-
Oh no, I definitely feel for you with the "undergraduate" comment. Sometimes I get nervous and wonder if I'm jumping the gun on this too early. I wonder if taking a few years off to write would be more beneficial. Then again, I'm way too excited about this whole process and the idea of being in school again that I can't just wait.

In it for the long haul...

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ katie oh,

unless someone applying to mfa programs has a ma in creative writing, the tag of "undergraduate" could probably be applied to their writing. sure, your writing matures as you age. that's mostly a matter of perspective, but i have mad respect for a lot of writers here locally who are in their early 20's. talent is talent. age limits don't apply.

Momma said...

I'm definitely worried about the age thing. I mean, I recognize how much I've improved as a writer over the course of my undergraduate study. If I were to take time off, I would undoubtedly improve even more (assuming that I would actually be writing, practicing my craft). Many older people (even in their mid twenties) have the experience that time brings on their side.

That said, I think everyone deals with the question, "Am I good enough?" It's so impossible to know for sure...I mean, I like what I write. But a lot of people like what they write.

I'm terribly pessimistic about the whole process, but I recognize some people, even those as young as 21 and 22, are accepted to these programs.

So no reason not to try.

PAH said...

RE: Age.

I applied to MFA programs my senior year in undergrad. My writing wasn't as sharp and my SOP was a joke, nor was it "grown up". I wasn't nearly as well read (and I am not very well read now, actually). I applied to two schools based on a whim, I didn't know this website existed (was it as awesome as it is now 4 years ago?), I was completely unprepared, and I may have missed the deadline for one of the programs. I got rejected by both.

My point is ... for all you slightly younger bucks ... if you're here and your organized and you are going at it 100%, all or nothing, metaphoric balls to the walls, then at least that's something. I would guess many younger applicants have less "experienced" writing but also have less passion for it--or at least more excitement and less hunger. I had a professor who said, and it came off a little surprised, "Oh. You're still writing. That's a good sign." If you have that separation and you are still writing just for the challenge and enjoyment...then you know it might be something you want. This doesn't mean that you can't feel that way about writing while still an undergrad...but how many people have you heard say "I've always wanted to write a novel" -- well, no you didn't or you would have. I think that's what the time off did for me...made me realize there's a difference between wanting to be a writer and being a writer.

Did my writing get better the 4 years I've been out? Yes. Would it have gotten even better had I applied (for real) and got into a program right after school? Hell yes.

TL;DR If you have the time and resources...go for it. If you don't get in, then keep your head up and write.

Carry on!

STC said...

Here's what I think -- if you get into an MFA straight out of school, you must have some serious talent. It's my understanding that schools do value candidates who have had some life experience under their belt, not to mention artistic maturity, and if you managed to convince them that you already have what it takes as a college senior -- and there plenty of people who do -- I am impressed.

I am glad I didn't apply to MFAs my senior year of college. Number one, I wouldn't have gotten in. I didn't start writing literary fiction until my sophomore year of undergrad, and some of those early stories were so bad I would like to pretend they never happened. (Although I feel that way about some recently-written stories as well.) Number two, I wouldn't trade for the world the experiences I've had so far as a free and working adult. I'm nearly unrecognizable from the person I was when I graduated college -- hardly know what I still have in common with myself -- and I'm grateful for the experiences that have deepened my sense of pride and added new and rich dimensions to my identity.

Tuesday night is soul-baring night.

Anyway, the way I see it, if you are applying fresh out of college, it's a win-win situation: either you live in writing wonderland for a few years, or you strike out and try out a few other fantastic things first.

Bryan said...

Re: Age

I also applied directly out of college at 21. I hadn't been writing for very long, and my stories were definitely pretty amatuerish (not that they aren't now :)). I only applied to five schools, didn't take the GRE, and my SOP was more of an afterthought. I tanked.

Now I'm 24 and trying again; this time I feel waaaaaay better about the whole thing. Three years of writing solidly has vastly improved my chances, I think, so here's crossing my fingers. This is not to say that you CAN'T do it straight out of undergrad, just that I wasn't in a place to be successful. I needed more writing experience under my belt.

Background time! I'm a freelance writer right now, though I have no respect for the company I'm saddled with and my day to day job is Boredom with a capital B. Fiction (and music) is about all I've got to make my brain move, so I'm holding on to it for dear life.

FZA said...

re: Age

To be perfectly honest, my writing has not improved much at all since college. In fact, the meat of my writing sample will be pieces I wrote for my senior thesis. My writing could have, even should have, improved, but it didn't. Here's why: I was a creative writing major in college and I wrote a lot, I workshopped a lot, and I edited a lot, a lot. In many ways, I was 'at the top of my game.' After I left college I assumed I would have plenty of time to write in 'my free time.' That proved to be a joke. I don't have free time. I certainly don't have time to focus and concentrate on something like writing. I have limited time to write.

But this is exactly why going into the 'real world' was so, so crucial for me. Now I know what kind of lifestyle I need in order to include writing in it. While my actual application may not look any stronger. I am a much, much better candidate than I would have been right out of college for these reasons:
1. having been out of school for awhile, I miss it desperately, which means I will have a much greater appreciation for it and will likely work harder.
2. Going from an undergrad creative writing major to an mfa would have felt too much like a continuum. I'm not sure at that stage my writing would improve that much from an mfa program. It would to a certain extent of course. But now I'm in a much, much better position to really benefit and learn from the program.
3. After I am done with my mfa, I will have much more realistic expectations of what I can and should do afterwards than I would have if I went straight. I likely would have completed my mfa and still thought I could write in my free time with a big office job (best of both worlds). Knowing that is not the case, I know the kind of work/jobs/lifestyles I need to pursue in order to make writing part of my life. I know what works for me.
4. I'm more sure that I want this. I left college thinking I would be happy doing a number of things. And while that's probably true, I know now what it is that I really, really want to do.
5. I am in such a better place financially. If I had done this out of undergrad, I would still be very dependent on my parents. That's not the end of the world, they'd be happy to help me out, especially since my college was free. But, I feel much better going into this process knowing this is something I can do on my own (with funding, of course).

In summary my application would likely look almost the same coming out as an undergrad, but I'm far more ready for it now. of course that doesn't mean this applies to everyone or even anyone else. We're all so different.

PAH said...

RE: Soul-Baring

We keep it up and our SOPs will write themselves ;)

Loren said...

Hi friends,
I'm applying to a school that needs a statement of teaching philosophy... I have no idea what that should look like, include, etc. (Probably not a good sign on my part, but what are you gonna do, right?) Any tips?

Katie Oh said...


I was just going to discuss how I would teach a lit or creative writing course and what I found most valuable in my courses of that nature. Which sounds very broad, but the ones I have to do are 1-2 pages, so I'm not expecting to go very in-depth.

FZA said...

I'm looking forward to writing the TA application essays. I'm really excited about teaching. I'm actually having to stop myself from writing about that in my letter of intent, since I've heard it's not the best thing to do. From all the essays I have to write-- TA apps, personal statement, letter of intent, creative autobiography-- it's the one I'm most looking forward to!

But honestly, I wish they'd just interview me instead of making me write essays. I love interviews!

Eli Lindert said...

So I think I've seen this confirmed before, but one more time-if I am re-applying to the same schools as last year and did not re-take the GRE, I do not need to re-send the results, correct?

Karissa said...

Re: "current life" --

I'm 22 on Saturday, and also a senior in college, graduating in December... yay, only six more weeks of undergrad!

I also work as a writing teacher and editor, as well as being a nanny! :)

Re: the age thing --

I don't have that concern, really. I think this was a big concern for me prior to seeing my boyfriend enter into his MFA program where, at 30, he is one of the oldest people there. I am confident in my writing, my academic background, and my life experiences, and I know this is what I want to do, so I'll be fine in a program, even if I AM the youngest one there. :)

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

Handing out my LOR packets today! I know... late. I'm in this whole game late. But as long as I git'er done...

Loren said...

Thanks to Katie Oh and Blob for responding to my posts. I'm sure there will be many more paranoid questions to come.

re: age/background

I'm also a young'n, 22. Graduated in May. Found a job teaching English in a little isolated town in Spain, which is doing wonders for me as far as time to write goes. Would have never been able to do these apps in Austin. I don't know how most of you are doing it with school, and/or long work days. The only thing I'm worried about age-wise is the SOP "what do you want to do with this degree" question. No idea.. Spain has given me the time to write, I just want the community the MFA can provide. But after that it's all question marks.

Kate said...

Does anyone have any information, good or bad, about the MFA at UC Riverside. I was looking over their site and was intrigued...

Kate said...

forgot to subscribe

Momma said...


Your confidence is inspiring! I truly believe in my writing, and really, that's the only thing that's sustaining me throughout this entire process. Most of my self-doubt does not come from the question of how I feel about my own writing, but rather, how the selection committees will see it. I'm a good student and a strong writer, and I hope that I will be able to convey that reality to schools in my application materials.

Hannah said...

what are everyone's thoughts about sending one story versus two? I have a 13 pager and then a longer one that could be sent out with the first one or on its own. I'm comfortable with the writing for both, but the plot and structure of the longer one is better, or at least more interesting. Should I send it on its own, or would it better my chances to send them both?

PAH said...

@ Hannah

I'll be the first to beat a dead horse. But others feel free to grab a club -- but make sure to stretch first.

Send your best work.

The advantage of sending two pieces instead of one is a chance to illustrate range -- maybe the POV is different, the themes, the overall style, setting, tone...something.

However, if they are very similar or one is significantly weaker (ie not ready), I wouldn't send two just to send two. You won't be penalized for sending only one longer story -- especially if that one story is amazing.

Carry on!

Unknown said...

re: age issue

Dead-ish topic, I know, but I'm going to throw in my stats, too.

Second time go-around at 22. While I totally respect the people who are coming back to this years later and speaking of a new urgency in going back to school, I must say... the young can be kind of desperate too.

Like most people on the blog, it seems, I'm teaching for a living. Elementary & Middle School for me. And I am desperate to leave. I dream of having off of work, being free of screaming children, and having a modicum of energy left at the end of the day for writing.

I actually took two vacation days off (today and tomorrow) to work on my applications, because I was getting NOTHING DONE. My writing sample isn't finished. My SOPs are not started (except for the skeleton of last years, which was terrible). My last letter writer hasn't even gotten back to me, and I haven't had the time or will to pester him.

@Maia especially... win/win is not exactly going on right now for all young people. Especially in certain cities. If I DON'T get into a school, I'm going to have to move. There are just no jobs for me, other than this public-charter-hell, where I am.

So yes, I am young. And yes, my writing may be more refined, better defined, or just plain better when I get older. But I know what I want to do, and I now know (for sure) that I cannot do what I want (write) while continuing in the jobs I can get.

Sorry to sound crabby. And all this rant was to say is, yes... you all are correct. Any age can get an MFA, depending on skill, and any age will bring its own downfalls to starting an MFA, especially in a new city.

So... yes. Carry on. And good luck getting everything in before our first deadlines! (For me, it's Minnesota on 12/1).

PAH said...

@ Hannah

And I don't mean your question is dead horse...but the stock answer "send your best work" -- didn't mean to sound like an ass ;)

I asked a similar question a few months ago when I first came across this blog and got similar answers. At the time I was planning on only sending one story. Now, I'm sending two -- neither of which are the one long story I had in mind when I asked the question.

If both pieces are your best and show your skill and range -- send em. If you have doubt about the strength of the shorter one and are unsure but are afraid you'll look bad with only one story, I wouldn't send it. But that's just this dude's opinion. Would love to hear others.

When trying to make an impression, 1 strong story is better than 1 strong story and 1 OK story.

Katie Oh said...

@ Writer Dude

I'm curious: what about programs that have a page range as opposed to a limit? i know some are 20-40 pages, wouldn't it be bad to only send something that's 15ish?

I'm personally sending two stories. One is pretty well-polished and the other will be rougher, but the concept/characters are a little more interesting. I think between the two they're going to represent my range pretty well. I'm anticipating them hitting around the 30 page mark, so I should be good. But UMass wants a max of 20 pages so I'm only sending the polished one.

I just wish they'd all agree on a standard sample length.

PAH said...

@ Katie Oh

That's a tricky one.

I know I read on one site (Iowa maybe -- who allows a giant range) that they are "looking for quality not quantity".

And I think it depends on the strength of the second story. If it is good and shows your range and skill but just not AS GOOD as the other -- send it. But I guess my posts are warning against sending anything for the sole reason to hit a certain page number or to "bulk" up your sample.

I don't know exactly how the process works and I'm sure every program is a little different...but if you indulge me as I strap on my tin-foil hat...I would say that most stories are not read from beginning to end anyway...though this is just a theory. At least not until they are weeded out down to a smaller list of "has a chance" applicants.

If you don't get in, you don't want to be asking yourself if it's because that damn extra story you sent. Likewise, you don't want to be asking yourself if it was because you sent only one story.

There is still time for many I would say do whatever you can to make that second story stronger -- if it just isn't working, send one.

PAH said...

(writing is one of few things that really isn't very 'flukey' -- it's hard work and damn near impossible to 'get lucky'...if you can write an amazing story once you can probably do it again).

Katie Oh said...

@ Writer Dude

Thanks for your input. I'd never considered that they wouldn't read the whole thing (totally the optimist in me) but that actually makes me feel a little bit better.

And I think I'm going to send the second story. It's one of those that I wrote a first draft of almost two years ago but it's stuck around in different incarnations. Can't shake it, may as well put it out there.

FZA said...

Are you all asking friends/colleagues/mentors to help you pick which pieces to use in the writing sample?

I'm struggling to find objective advice/ determine on my own what are my strongest pieces. I have some idea, but not confident.

I too am frustrated by varying sample sizes for poetry. Most schools want 6-10, which seems reasonable, but some want 15-20, which I CAN do, but not nearly with the same amount of quality. Plus that seems like a lot for them to read..

PAH said...

@ Katie Oh

That's just a theory. With schools that get hundreds of submissions I would just find it hard to believe they really read every sample, cover to cover. If I were in charge I could read the first few pages (sometimes the first few sentences: "It was a dark and rainy day..." REJECT). I would guess they do a first pass for potential talent and then have a smaller pack they read more carefully.

Again -- I am NOT the authority on this. If anyone knows more about the process...that'd be fun to know! Share por favor.

Jonathan said...

@WriterDude, Katie Oh

I think you're dead on, WriterDude. If memory serves, George Saunders said something similar when interviewed in Tom Kealey's MFA Handbook. He said he would start reading an applicant's first story, and if it didn't grab him after a few pages, he would put it down and pick up story #2. And if that didn't interest him in the first couple pages, he would move on to the next applicant.

All the more reason to make the stories as polished as possible. I don't think readers are petty and will reject you for one awkward sentence or minor typo, but the fact is they probably are looking for reasons to stop reading. I wouldn't count on a strong ending making up for a weak beginning.

PAH said...

@ Blob

I'm having the same problem -- I sent about 4 stories out to friends, family, and old profs and everyone says they're good but everyone has a different favorite and I get little to no feedback on which would be best in the writing sample.

My good friend and former writing professor gave me the best feedback -- but for only one story, his favorite. So I don't if that was his way of saying just send this one.

I'm sure with poetry it's even harder to find people who can both appreciate and contribute.

At this point...with deadlines approaching...I'm just picking ones I think are strongest. I'll let you know how that goes in February/March.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

@ Katie Oh, Blob, Writer Dude, etc...

I feel all your pain! Just yesterday I met with my advisor/professor and he suggested I send a completely different second story than the one I've spent the past two weeks polishing, in order to showcase my range better (the original two stories I was going to send out are very similar.) I agree with him, but now I have to completely change gears!

In happier news, I took the GRE today and scored 700 in both verbal & quantitative, which I am very pleased with. Now I only hope I sent my scores to the right schools (the abbreviations on the screen were so confusing!)

Loren said...

@ Blob and writer dude.. and everyone else

I'm having the same problem as far as getting real input on my samples. I don't know if this is some sort of taboo on here, but I would be willing to give my input in exchange for yours. We are all busy, and maybe it wouldn't be possible for something like a line edit, but overall opinion and major problems/strong points might be workable, don't you think? Anyways, I'd be willing to, regardless of us possibly competing for the same slots. Just a thought.
email me:

(PS I would be useless at looking over poetry)

Katie Oh said...

@ Jami -

What was the GRE like? I haven't done much research as to the actual way the test is given. Are you just clicking on a computer? Can you review/go back/change answers? I take it next Friday, I'm not super-worried but I'm hit/miss with standardized tests [got a 32 on my ACT and then like a 1700 on the SAT, a weird difference] and a lot of it comes down to the way it's set up. Any advice?

PAH said...


Good scores! Congrats! Just another thing you can stop worrying about so I'm sure that's a relief. And you beat me, which is hard to do given my sheer awesomeness (in verbal anyway -- I think I got ya in math by just a wee bit...not that that will help me at all...I'm pretty sure I was the only one in my undergrad writing program who didn't take a single AP English course and with 4 AP calculus credits hehe).


No taboo. I just might take you up on that. I am almost ready to send one and another I'm still hacking away at...but I hope to be done and "happy enough" with them by this weekend. Some strangers' no pressure grain-o-salted opinions would be helpful. And this goes for any other fiction peeps (I, too, am useless with poetry)

Ava said...

@Jami I took the GRE's this morning as well! You beat my score by a little bit... but I'm happy with it because I felt SO sick during the second half of the test and wasn't even sure if I should go with those scores - if it hadn't been for the sheer dread of having to go through the torture all AGAIN, I might have considered canceling, but I'm glad I didn't.

I think 710/20 is about as high as anyone even does on the Verbal? Is this true?

@Hannah - I had at least 5 friends go to MFA programs directly out of college, all about 22. So I certainly don't think you'll be alone in that regard! I am 28 now. I'm glad I waited just because I wouldn't have made the most of it at that age, but it sounds like your situation is very different from how mine was. Even now I'm not sure I'm totally prepared, but I'm going to give it a shot this year and see what happens...

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STC said...

@ Writer Dude & Others

RE readers -- I wouldn't send stories to family or friends for purposes of evaluation; I'd stick to your most literary readers, preferably English professors, literature lovers and/or gifted writer friends. At the risk of sounding really elitist, I'd say most people who aren't entrenched in the literary world know what they're looking for in an enjoyable read but won't necessarily be able to recognize or articulate the characteristics of a competitive writing sample. It's like giving a child a glass of Aldo Conterno and a wine from Wal-Mart and asking her which is which. Not that literature should always be inaccessible and opaque, but I think, for purposes of applications, you want a literary critique, not a layperson's critique.

Of course, even if you do narrow it down to your most discerning readers, they'll often disagree (just like in workshop). Everything about art is subjective. But the "voting" technique is a superficial way to judge the strength of your work; I would instead ask two or three of your most trusted literary colleagues to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each piece and then make an overall recommendation. Quality of critique over quantity.

FZA said...

re: writing samples

Indeed it does seem that everyone is useless looking over poetry. I've asked some writer friends of mine who enjoy poetry to read my samples, but they don't write it, so their take is a little different. I have a professor, one of my recommenders, who offered to read my sample, but he is so terribly busy that I hate to send him 17 poems and say 'pick the 10 best.' I think I could go to him with my final 10 and say 'what do you think?' He's also already seen most of my poetry, and I'm pretty sure I know which ones are his favorite. I am sadly, also a bit afraid that he has an inflated opinion of my worth. He's my biggest cheerleader, my biggest supporter, and has been a huge help thus far in the mfa process.

I also write fiction, so I'd be happy to read other people's fiction samples. It's not what I'm applying for so I won't be competitive about it at all :)
And I really do love reading other people's work

kaybay said...

okay, I feel like the only questions I ask about the stupid-ass GRE. I took a practice test pretty casually today, without studying vocab or anything, and got a 560. When I took a practice test the first time, right before taking the actual test for the first time, I scored a 490 (and totally freaked out). Lets even say that means I could score a 580 or higher after studying vocab words and what-not. Should I re-take it? The only problem is time. I would have to take it in the next few weeks here.

Goodness, we're getting close to the end, y'all!

FZA said...


I think you and I are in the same boat of not being too happy with our GRE scores and constantly worrying and thinking that we maybe should re-take them again. And I know that today's posts of people's good scores is very, very discouraging. But I think it's important to at some point truly convince yourself one way or the other. For me, committed to a re-taking of the GRE is something I should have done a month ago. So, instead, I have committed to believing what everyone says 'your GRE does not matter for an MFA.' I have committed to believing it, I have committed to believing in my sample. And, most importantly, I've come to peace with the fact that if I don't get in anywhere, it's not going to be because of my GRE score. If I get in and don't get funding, I might blame my score. But, I just need to believe that my score doesn't close the door on me.

If you want to re-take it, Kaybay, if you think it'll make you feel better in feb/march or even in may or june when it's mostly all said and done for, then do it. Just do it. But if you don't think your score will really improve that much or if you don't think it's worth distracting time from you sample, which is what I would advise, then just move on from it. Leave it behind and don't look back. It's what I've had to FORCE myself. I'm going to be ok and so are you.

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

Hm. A simple yes or no would have sufficed.

FZA said...

Kaybay, I wasn't trying to upset you or preach to you. I was trying to provide solidarity as someone else who has struggled over and over again whether to re-take my stupid GRE, and trying to give you the reasons why I have chosen not to, without too strongly pushing you yes or no because you have to do what at the end of the day gives you the least regrets and the fewest what if's while using your time wisely.

For me that ended up being 'no.'

I'm sorry if my post came off as anything else than that.

kaybay said...

So, you're saying I should... retake it?

I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

Jonathan said...

I think it's a good reminder from Blob that the GRE is ultimately not that important. The test takes up an amount of time, worry, and money that is WAY out of proportion to its value in an application. But those are the breaks, I guess.

Gummy Bear Sacrifice said...


I'm applying to 15 schools. It took a lot of strength just to make myself do that. I was proud of myself for finally getting on it, then my parents try to convince me to apply to only 3 so I can "concentrate" on them. I tried to explain the logic of applying to many and they just went on about making a strong application for 3 to 5 instead of being mediocre for 15. I feel a little immature but it's like, shut up! I'm already on thin ice with myself because I'm tired of applying to MFA programs and I don't need them weighting down my already reluctant wings. [/rant

Momma said...

Gummy Bear:

Sorry. It's annoying when people don't understand at all.

Just re-assure them that you've researched this considerably.

But yeah, I totally understand the urge to just call them stupid faces.

Gummy Bear Sacrifice said...

Courtney-Thank you for humoring me. Many people do not understand this process unless you're in it.

I have a quick question for the masses applying to UT Austin. Do you think I'll be shooting myself in the foot if I send 1 short story instead of two? I know they "highly discourage" novel excerpts, which is my other sample, so I don't want to send anything highly discouraging. But I'm also afraid that I may be putting myself at such a disadvantage.

FZA said...


Take all of this with a grain of salt, since I'm obviously no expert and furthermore, I'm not even applying for fiction... but I think sending more than one story is always a plus because it gives the committee a second chance if they're not sold the first time around. Also, I can see committees reading the first couple pages of each story rather than reading any one story all the way through, in order to save time. When I used to read for a literary magazine I would read the first page or 2 of every story and the first half at least of every poem. But if I wasn't excited by it after that much, I often wouldn't continue. I know this isn't totally fair, but when you have stacks of things to read, you have to be efficient. Committees may not do this, but it's something you have to consider. Having more than one story gives them TWO chances to start and want to keep reading your stuff.
Of course, if your one story is much stronger, the advice is always to go with your strongest work.
But I also think it's easy to get caught up in what excites us more, not necessarily what's better. I have poems that I've edited and edited and read and read and read at readings that now when I read I have a 'meh' reaction just because I'm bored with them. I have new poems that I think are great and super exciting, but that might be of lesser quality than that old tried and tested poem.

I always think back to that story in the MFA Handbook that Tom tells about picking his sample. He had one tried and tested story and 2 two more experimental stories that he wanted to submit because they excited him more. A friend of him told him to absolutely send the tried and tested. So he sent one experimental and the 'old standby.' Later, after getting into the MFA program one of his professors told him that it was the tried and tested story that got him in and if he'd send two stories like that experimental one they likely would not have taken him. (Sorry to Tom if I haven't told this story 100% accurately.)

Also, re: people not understanding the mfa process:

I've started citing acceptance rate percentages whenever I talk about the process. I know those numbers aren't totally accurate often, but they do instantly make people realize how competitive and what a crap shoot this process is. So, after saying that, when I mention that I'm applying to 14, everyone seems to understand why. My brother and dad both even asked if I should apply to more!

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy to read over anyone's work if they'd like. My own stuff isn't ready for other eyes yet (yes, I'm slowpoking it), but hopefully it will be soon.

I could read over either genre but I definitely know more about fiction than poetry.


Jami Nakamura Lin said...

re: GRE

@ Katie Oh:
My recommendations: study study study vocab words. I borrowed a pack of 500 GRE word flashcards (Kaplan publishes it, you can buy it at Borders I think) from my friend, and I only started studying about ten days before, and I thought it was stupid, but it helped me so much. At least fourteen words I studied were in the questions, and I would have definitely gotten them wrong.

It's on the computer, and you *cannot* change answers. The difficulty of your next question depends on if you got the last one correct, so it is especially important you get the first few questions correctly, otherwise they'll downgrade you to a lower bracket with easier questions but also a lower total possible score.

Don't fret too much! It will be fine. And it really doesn't matter.

On that note:

@ kaybay, Blob, etc.
I'm fully also of the school that the GRE is meaningless in MFA applications. In my mind, we take it because we're forced to take it, because the graduate school (not the program) requires it, but I think our GRE scores are the most inconsequential of any other thing we're submitting.

I'd also love to read/give feedback on anyone's work!
jamilinzi (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

clarifications to my jumbly post:

1) I would have gotten them wrong (if I had not studied the flashcards)
2) You cannot change your answers once you go on to the next question.

Jonathan said...

re: GRE

Aside from Jami's great advice, I'd also recommend taking plenty of practice tests. They were as helpful to me as anything. The GRE website offers a free download that includes two, both are which are the same structure and look as the actual test. Plenty of offer websites also have free ones.

Caleb said...

I know people ask this about writing samples all the time, but I'm wondering about the SOP: how big of a deal is it to stick to word limits? I'm having a hard time fitting all the information some of the programs ask for into the 500 word-limit statement they want. Should I just send my SOP the way it is, or will I be pegged as someone who can't follow simple directions?

PAH said...

@ Caleb

I would try to cater your SOP to what they ask for. If yours is 511 words, I doubt that would be a problem, but if they are asking for 500 words and you submit two full pages then that would show me two things...

1) You aren't great with following instructions (many writers are lil rebels without a cause, so this might not be the worst thing in the world)

2) You probably made 1 stock SOP that you sent to all schools.

Now I'm not saying sending the exact same letter to every program is terribly bad -- but I would recommend you try to tailor each SOP to the school you are applying. And this means keeping it within (or close) the limits asked for.

Just my opinion. I'm incredibly lazy, so my own answer frustrates the hell out of me.

Carry on!

Momma said...

@ Caleb:

I know it's hard, but I'd try to stick to word limits. It'll make them roll their eyes before they even read it if they see the statement is especially long. This is the reaction I would have, at least. If the directions specify a 500 word limit, I wouldn't go beyond 530.

Cornell asks for a statement that's 1-2 pages single-spaced, which is very generous. I started with theirs, and ended up writing about 1 and 1/4 pages single spaced. When I went to do Austin's (350 word limit, WTF????), I thought it'd be impossible to narrow it down. Only, I did, and I still managed to keep to gist of my original statement.

It takes some fiddling, but it's possible. I have three statement prototypes that all have the same opening paragraph. One is 350 words. One is 500ish words. One is 800ish words.

Remember to personalize the statement for each school, and you'll be fine.

Bryan said...

Nothing important to contribute except my (somewhat sketchy) skills as a fiction critiquer.

bryancj82 (at) gmail (dot) com

I'd like to get some feedback on my stuff too!

Karissa said...

OKAY, quick comment re: the GRE --

For those of you who are getting pumped over your practice tests scores, STILL STUDY ANYWAY.

I took four practice tests and scored 690 on all of them. Let's just say that yesterday when I took the actual GRE, I did NOT score a 690...

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