Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mailbag (Nov. 3)

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


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Jeff said...

I'd like to make a post about workshop format because I'm curious if there's a standardized version for all programs. I'll go first, but I'd like to hear how my experiences compare with yours.

Before class, of course, each student should have read (and re-read) all the material on the sheet for that day's class. Critiques and written responses are part of the deal. Once in class, one student starts, and we travel clockwise (or counter-clockwise) around the table, giving our critiques. The student whose work is being discussed cannot say ANYTHING, not even to clarify, but s/he may ask questions at the end of the critique. Always, the instructor goes last so as not to influence the students' opinions.

Before class is over, more work is turned in to make a worksheet for the next class. The English office makes the copies, does the binding, and places it in a closet for students to gather. But with everything going green, I imagine this will come to an end very soon.

Ruin Christmas said...

Similar (in this particular workshop anyway) except for the following:

1. Instructor goes throughout, not last.
2. Students bring copies of the story for everyone.
3. Participation by the workshopped student was never expressly forbidden but has not yet happened (unwritten rule?)
4. The workshopped student always speaks at the end for a few minutes and asks and answers questions

'11 MFA Draft said...

My experiences have varied. I've taken three workshops with different instructors in undergrad.

First experience: Author not allowed to talk until the end. Went around the room twice-- first go round was to say positive things, the second time around was for "things that needed to be worked on." During this time, the instructor commented throughout, sort of guided the conversation like a moderator.

Second experience: For the first half, we had to pretend that the author wasn't in the room. Everyone got a chance to go over pros and cons, while the author was silent and took notes. Instructor spoke last. Second half, it was like a Q & A where we got to ask the author things like "what were you going for with this scene?" etc.

Third experience: This was a complete free for all. The author talked, the instructor talked, everybody talked, and in no particular order. Then, if time allowed, we went line by line, paragraph by paragraph and commented on things.

In all of the workshops, it was up to the author to print out their stories and bring them to class for the following week. Or, they could leave the stories in the instructor's box outside the office door to be picked up.

This was undergrad, so naturally there were people who didn't show up from time to time, or who "forgot" to bring their stories, and others who didn't take it seriously or even bother to read other people's work. I can honestly say that out of all my undergrad workshops, there were only like three people who I thought were truly dedicated to writing and getting better at it.

That's why I'm applying to MFA programs. I figure in grad school, everybody will be like that. Serious about their craft, eager to read great stories and to write them. I hope so, anyway.

'11 MFA Draft said...


STC said...

Question for everyone:

My understanding is some applicants pay a great deal of money to consult with professionals about their writing samples and statements of purpose.

Man. People just make tons of money off our desperation, don't they?

What worries me is that the MFA selection process might become (even more) biased in favor of those people who can afford to hand over that kind of dough.

What does everyone else think about this practice? How common is it? Is it worth it? Is it fair?

Jeff said...


We live in a world where money can tilt the scales in someone's favor in a variety of ways. Money can buy a better education, better healthcare, better lawyers, etc.

Even without these professionals, you're already having to compete with people whose parents paid for their undergrad degrees at Harvard and Notre Dame. They didn't have to work. They have platinum cards with no ceiling. They sport $60,000 cars. You know the deal.

But I don't care; I'm not impressed because money can't buy talent. Thad Sappington III and Cookie Longstockings can blow a wad to have their manuscripts critiqued if they want. But at the end of the day, it's just another writing sample. And I'll put my best work up against it any time.

Seth Abramson said...

"...some applicants pay a great deal of money to consult with professionals about their writing samples and statements of purpose."

Sadly, this is true. It's called college tuition. Most applicants have consulted extensively with undergraduate creative writing professors, each of whom is paid around $90,000/year to not only teach poets and writers in $3,500/semester creative writing courses but also to work with students one-on-one on the poems or stories they will use to get into an MFA program, write letters of recommendation for them, and so on. That's what $3,500/semester buys a college student.

Fortunately, there are also services for non-traditional students, or students who were unable to secure that kind of attention from professors while in college, which cost much, much less. Driftless House charges less than 1/10th of what the average college course costs for substantially more one-on-one attention than any single college student receives in a single college class.

One can't apply to MFA programs these days without outlaying $1,000+ in application fees and other essentials (e.g., transcript fees, campus visits where possible, ink and paper and postage, &c), so it's true that some folks add to that $1,000+ an additional couple hundred dollars--the equivalent of applying to three or four additional programs--in order to better prepare themselves for the application process. Of course, those expenditures are only providing the same sort of services college students pay thousands of dollars for; that is, no one is having their poems written for them.

I tend to think that one applicant spending $900 on applications versus another spending $1,350 is not the difference between a millionaire's child and a working-class kid. The real difference is undergraduate preparation; when I applied for my MFA, I had never had a single professor offer me a single comment on any poem I'd ever written in my life, even as I was "competing" against undergrads who had taken as many as seven college courses in creative writing--all of which were, in every sense, pay-to-play MFA-preparation courses.


FZA said...

Inequalities towards people with money start so early on that it's almost pointless to worry about them at this stage. It starts as early as your parent's education and how they speak to their children, what kind of schools someone can afford to go to, SAT prep classes, college tuition, etc. The list is long and starts out of the womb. And while all these things help, it's not worth becoming discouraged over.From my understand, MFA programs are looking for potential more than polish.

Re: Workshop formats

I've been lucky enough to be a part of several different workshops, all of which used slightly different format. Universally, the person who was being workshopped was not not allowed to comment either at all or until the very end, but even then only to ask questions that weren't answered, not to defend anything. The idea is that if a reader picks up your work, you won't be there to explain things to them either.

The format that I liked the best is when each session focused on only 2-3 writers, who would either submit longer works of prose or a packet of several poems. On the workshop day, the other workshoppers would have already read the entire submission and then either choose what parts of a longer piece they wanted to talk about or which poems. I liked this format because it gave the workshoppers less reading, but more importantly it gave the person being workshopped a lot more careful time and attention, rather than rushing through in an effort to get to everyone.

I've been in workshops before where the leader has attempted to make it a 'first let's go around and say what you like and then let's go around and say what you would change' type format. I was not a fan. It restricted us from talking about the piece fluidly and as a whole or from really getting into a conversation about certain aspects.

The hardest thing about workshops, in my opinion, is that a workshop is only as good as the other attendees. Even the best workshop leader can only do so much to salvage a workshop made up of people who aren't engaged and committed to critically reading their peer's work.

Open Spaces said...

Does anybody have experience with Driftless House? I'm considering using the service but don't know anyone who has used it.

Bryan said...

@Marti (from previous mailbag)

Thanks for the info on Columbia College; it sounds like they have a good program, and I know a few people who did their undergrad in poetry there as well.

Full funding is a must for me, and I can't find anything on the Columbia website about it. I don't know if that's because they don't offer funding or if their website isn't very comprehensive. I'd also like to teach, and I don't see anything about TAships either. Anybody have any info on the MFA in fiction from Columbia?

jdubs said...

Do college creative writing professors really make $90,000 a year?

Speaking of which (somewhat), I have been thinking more about faculty lately. Not that I need to study with my favorite poets, but that I want to study with good teachers, and a few of the faculty lists I`ve checked out, almost every poet has another teaching position, either at a low-res MFA or in Provincetown or someplace, or maybe that they teach in the Midwest, but live in New York.

Should I/we be uneasy with this? Will these professors provide less attention and support? As my friend said to me the other day, you never hear established writers talking about the wonderful funding or teaching opportunities they received with their MFAs, but often about the mentors they found.

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...


The fact that professors also have teaching gigs at low-residency programs, summer programs, or [enter your other "side" teaching gig here], has little bearing on how much attention you would get at a residency program. Yes, these professors will occasionally be at "away games", but they will be around 90 plus percent of the time. It all boils down to if the person in question is a good teacher/mentor or not for YOU. If he/she isn't, then the rest is moot pt.

And I warn against choosing programs because of faculty (for your dream mentor). Yes, we all do it to some degree, but folks should remember that just because someone is a great writer doesn't always mean that they will be a good teacher/mentor. Your writing/ personality may not gel with them and where would that leave you if you chose a program based solely on faculty? The only real way to get a better sense of faculty (and I say this with the caveat that said professors don't know you or your writing yet) is to contact current students and ask them what their relationship is with various professors, what teaching styles are like, what the atmosphere of workshops and forms classes are like etc. While contact info for students at current programs is available on the web (many students have blogs or have their email listed in contributor notes for online journals), and I'm sure most people would be more than happy to give their two cents, this is more of a matter for after you've been accepted to places. In the end, as someone else said, it's more about who your peers will be than anything else.

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...

With regards to professor salaries:

90k is within the ballpark for tenured faculty. Obviously it depends on the institution but tenured professors (even CW) do make pretty decent money. It's a way of having your cake and eating it too. There's a reason why landing such spots is incredibly competitive (esp. in the humanities where there aren't many options outside of academia that directly tie into ones field). Also, at many institutions, professors also have other titles and responsibilities whether it be leading committees (i.e. diversity, budgets, special programs etc.) or being a dean/ director of a certain aspect of campus life, which generally comes with a pay bump (sometimes quite a considerable pay bump).

jdubs said...

Thanks Wandering Tree.

I wasn`t necessarily talking about picking a particular faculty member to study with, but at certain programs almost all of the poetry faculty members have other jobs, and I was wondering if that signals something about the program (maybe a lighter teaching load, or maybe more ambitious and busier professors).

FZA said...

I just want to echo what WanderingTree said about faculty. I've experienced first hand being very excited about working with a certain writing and being disappointed when he was not particularly committed to teaching. I would hate to pick a school for that reason. And for that reason I did not end up applying to American University despite my favorite contemporary poet being on faculty. Other than him the program had little draw for me.

Though I suppose faculty might play a bigger role in determining which school I go to, if I get the extreme luxury of having a choice. Currently, though, I will say, my first choice is probably UMass, partly for funding, TA opportunities, and the 3 year duration. But also because I've heard nothing but great things about Dara Wier as a teacher and mentor.

Anonymous said...

I've applied and been accepted to two MFA programs. I am happy to say that I did it on my own and was just honest.
The statement of purpose is where I was able to tell the story of why I started to write in the first place. I didn't go crazy with "big words" or become too eloquent because that's not who I am. I did ask a professor of mine if he would take a look at the statement to offer a little advice, and all he did was suggest tweaking a few sentences for grammar. My work was accepted, but I don't think I was really ready for a grad program. I lasted a year and decided to go back to get a 2nd Bachelors instead. So I'm working on a 2nd Bachelors in Theatre (first is in Psychology), and I've also applied and been accepted to an MFA program back at my alma mater - This statement of purpose was even more relaxed than the other, expressing my desire to teach the "crap" English Comm classes. I submitted my more recent (aka better) work, including the short play I wrote at KCACTF last winter.

The email I got back said that they were very pleased to say that I had been accepted, that my work was very strong, and that I would be a fantastic addition to the program. Talk about motivation to keep writing!

As for workshops, typically they have been run as students read their own work (sometimes others read it - which can be AWESOME for me) and then criticism happens clockwise, author says nothing until the end.

This worked out well because I could take notes and not worry so much about answering questions - I'd be able to do that later. This way I could just focus on what the others are saying and try to hear what they mean.

This is a huge post, I guess I had a lot to say (darn writers *grins*).

STC said...

@Jeff, Seth, Blob, Etc, on costly MFA writing sample consultations--

Don't most MFA programs require a Bachelor's at an accredited institution? The consultation services aren't geared toward those who were less able to afford undergraduate writing workshops; every applicant has already shoveled over the dough for an undergraduate degree.

As for those who paid for an undergraduate education but chose not to take writing courses: writing sample consultation services do not advertise exclusively to applicants who did not study creative writing in college, or to those who did so but are several years out of the game (comme moi). My understanding is that these consultations are a supplement to, not a substitute for, the undergraduate writing workshops you may or may not have had, and that applicants who participated in undergraduate workshops are more than welcome to seek this additional guidance with their sample.

"I tend to think that one applicant spending $900 on applications versus another spending $1,350 is not the difference between a millionaire's child and a working-class kid."

No, but the willingness to spending hundreds of dollars on a part of the application process that is not absolutely essential may suggest a certain ingrained attitude toward money that is more likely to appear in a moneyed applicant.

Let me be clear -- I'm not saying these services bias the selection process in a significant way. However, I find that these services 1) do not necessarily level the playing field for non-English majors; 2) may hurt the odds of acceptance for an applicant with low financial resources; 3) intensifies the already cutthroat nature of this process.

kaybay said...


anotherjenny said...


I need to churn out a 14-pg story to add to my other 16-pg one to meet the 30-pg requirement of most of the schools I'm applying to.

But all the stories I keep starting want to be longer than 14 pages... aka, I keep getting to pg 5 or 6 and realize that I'm never going to make it be only 14.

What the hell? I'm patently against crippling a story that wants to be longer with a 14-pg limit, but I also need a story.


I know I need to limit my scope. I'm learning dialogue-heavy is bad. Maybe something first-person that takes place in a set time, like on a bus ride? I've also been toying with tying together some short 2-pg vignettes I've done, but I don't want it to come off too diary-esque.

lalaland626 said...

Well guys, I'm having a serious money issue that may keep me from even applying anywhere.

I was talking to my mom about a job interview I got hours away back in my home state, and she made the very good point that if I get into grad school next fall and get this job, I'd be moving twice in nine months or so. And she said there's no way I/we can afford that.

And she's absolutely right, but my gut feels ripped open. I want out of this place so badly it hurts, yet I also feel like I've already wasted too much time not in grad school, or at least not trying to get there. I thought if I moved twice in a year, it would be a bit problematic, but a good problem because holy crap, I got into a funded grad school! I rule!

But now it's not, because moving is damn expensive, and I make very little money anyway. I just don't know what to do now. If anyone has ever dealt with anything like this, please let me know.

I was already to come on here and start sharing some samples, too. Blah. Sorry if this is too off-topic, but I don't know anyone else who will get how much this means.

Open Spaces said...

Aren't there a couple of schools that do not have application fees? Also, aren't there some schools that will wave the fee under certain circumstances? In addition, you may want to search for small scholarships (if you haven't already). Sometimes small scholarships (i.e. $500) provide just enough to get you over the hump. You are certainly not alone when it comes to facing limited options do to finances. But often there are resources that can help. Good luck!

Marti said...

@lalaland626 I'm confident you can make this work! Sure, moving *can* be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. I had to make a temporary move recently, so I just got rid of everything except my dog (of course!), laptop, and some clothes and books. I sent a few boxes via UPS, and took everything else in a suitcase on the plane—much cheaper than moving all my furniture and a gazillion boxes and renting a truck. On another note, didn't you say you worked in journalism? If you need extra cash, you could always pick up a job somewhere online like Demand Studios; you wouldn't get rich but it would probably help to pay for your apps, at least. I'm sure there are a million other solutions; these are just off the top of my head.

Unknown said...


Oh my, I feel your pain. I certainly know what it's like to work ridiculous hours at a newspaper, make next to nothing and struggle with the grad school app process. I also know what it's like to be forced into moving a lot in a short time period -- last year, I moved from the Detroit-area to Indianapolis to another Indiana town an hour away in the span of five months. It wasn't by choice.

My advice, for what it's worth, is to do everything you can to defray the costs of applying to grad schools, if that's ultimately what you decide to do.

Here's a link to the CIC FreeApp site. Three schools have already gotten back to me and said they'd waive my applications fees. It'll probably work for you, too.

I know you're struggling with whether you should consider taking a new job in a new town right now. It's absolutely understandable that you want to get out of where you are; that's how I feel right now, too. However, I've decided to give the frantic job hunt a rest, for many reasons. The main one is because I just don't want and can't afford to do the musical-cities moving game again. I made the (probably dumb) decision to just plow through the day job and focus on my applications.

It might come back to bite me in the ass, but focusing on the apps is the right decision for me now. I may not get in anywhere -- and I'll cross that bridge when I get to it -- but it's not going to hurt my chances to try as hard as possible. It would, however, hurt my applications if I'm dealing with the stress, financial and otherwise, of moving for a new job.

Hope that helps. That's just my philosophy -- you may disagree.

Jeff said...


University of Arkansas is a school that is fully funded and has no application fee. You send in your package and if they like it, you apply for graduate school, paying the standard grad school application fee.

Is wish it was like that all over...

hopefulscribbler said...


I feel for you. If I get into any of my programs it'll go something like this: "Hooray! I got in!" and then "Shit. How the hell am I going to move from London back to the United States in three months, when I did the same in reverse only a year ago and I really don't have any money to speak of!!!"

Marti's suggestion to get some online work could help. I'm currently doing some tutoring on the side which is paying for my applications but I'm always on the brink of giving up my job because I loathe it so much I daydream about spontaneously combusting at my desk.

Trouble is, my job pays for everything else and that's not an insignificant amount! Ultimately though, I've made the decision to stick it out and work hard on my applications in the hope that I'll get in somewhere. Come April, if I've been rejected from every program, I've promised myself I'm going to leave my job and pursue something I really care about. It helps.

If the MFA is your goal and you're really worried about your ability to even apply if you move, maybe it's best to ride it out where you are?

Chin up, and keep us posted!

Kristen said...

Sorry if this question has an obvious answer. Just wondering: should I be submitting my online application forms before I start having supplemental materials (GRE scores, transcripts, LORs) sent? I know in some cases the answer might be institution-specific (Pittsburgh are adamant that you need to do your online app first), but I'm just curious what happens if a school gets a transcript from someone they've never heard of - do they begin a file? They wouldn't chuck it, right?

Kristen said...


You're applying from the UK and might have to face making a decision about a program and moving in a few months? ME TOO! It's nice not to be alone.

hopefulscribbler said...


Hello my international friend! Thankfully, I've done this twice before so if you're new to it and need any help, just email me - I've activated my link.

Good luck!

inkli__11 said...

has anyone figured out a way to get u of oregon to send online letter of recommendation requests PRIOR TO submitting writing sample, sop, etc.? i wanted to send all my online form requests at once so as not to confuse and drive my letter writers insane. unfortunately the online system is really making that difficult. i am not even done with my sample and won't be until well near the deadline. damn.

FZA said...

I posted this question on the last mailbag just before this one came up. I'm going to throw it out again, sorry for the repeat!

Are people doing their personal statements in essay form or as letters? I know it's just a detail, but I'm trying to figure out if there's a preferred approach or method to this madness.

Anyone have thoughts?

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Maia,

I didn't say that consulting services are marketed only to those without a B.A.; I said there are a hundred different reasons why such services would be a leveling of the playing field for those who did not take costly CW courses in college or did not take courses that can now help them in the admissions process. For instance, someone applying to an MFA directly from their B.A. may well be in a workshop in the semester right before they apply, so they can work with a professor on their portfolio; meanwhile, someone who even graduated two years ago no longer has access to that resource. That's one example, but there are many: For instance, I wasn't even writing poetry when I was in college, so even though I had access to CW courses I didn't make use of it, meaning that when I applied to MFA programs I was at a severe disadvantage.

Consulting services aren't obligated to refuse to work with those who have access to co-equal resources--i.e., they're not obligated to refuse to work with undergrads who presently have access to CW professors and are applying to MFA programs--for many reasons, not least of which that not all CW professors are created equal in terms of either ability or willingness to do the work they're being paid to do (like work with students one-on-one). But on an even more basic level, some applicants may replace the help they could otherwise get from a professor with the help they could get from a consulting service (e.g., because they don't want to bug their professor that way), so you can't at all assume that such services create a "cumulative" benefit for such applicants, and frankly even if they did it might be a disadvantage--too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil a writing sample.

You wrote: "...the willingness to spend hundreds of dollars on a part of the application process that is not absolutely essential may suggest a certain ingrained attitude toward money that is more likely to appear in a moneyed applicant." I disagree. If the difference between a strong sample and a weak one may well be $87,000 in strings-free grants at Texas versus $150,000 in debt at Columbia, many applicants--of whatever socioeconomic class--might think a $300 (say) investment now is worth saving $237,000 six months from now.

All that said, I agree that those who are financially disadvantaged are sometimes hurt in the application process--but they're hurt by dozens of things, and this is just one. For the not-so-well-off there isn't anything easy, ever, about trying to live as a poet or writer. Not before the MFA, not during, not after. But I also don't think the line between the have and have-nots exists in the $300 difference between the $1,200 applicant and the $900 applicant.

Be well,

Jean said...

@ Blob, my SOP is in essay form.

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...

Ben Percy (Southern Illinois MFA alum, Iowa State and Pacific MFA program Faculty) on Residency vs. Low Residency:

MFA Residency Vs. Low Residency Considerations

popsicledeath said...

I've had several different undergrad workshop professors, and only one was particularly different from the tried and true methods we see over and over again.

In his class, the writer leaves the room. Why? Because the workshop isn't designed to 'give advice' but for everyone else to hone their critical eye, which is hard to do in undergrad classes especially where the writer is sitting right there. People are people, and when the writer in question leaves the room, the discussion gets pretty honest, pretty quickly.

And the discussion, annotations and feedback aren't designed with the 'this is what you're doing wrong' or 'this is my advice to you' model, as the other workshops were that I experience. In this one professor's workshop we're always working through the filter of 'if this were my manuscript, this is what I would do' so we're not just giving advice to another author, but working through our OWN style and technique as a writer.

After workshops the professor conferences one on one with the writers who got workshopped, so they still get their 'advice' it's just coming from him. And having the pleasure of sitting in on workshop conferences of other students as a TA, and of course my own with the professor, I'm sold that this is an effective way. Instead of hearing a million 'you need to do this' sort of tidbits from a classroom discussion, he basically figures out what you're trying to do, and points you in the direction of doing it without bogging the writer down in a million little nitpicky opinions that may or may not even be valid for the writer so much as for the person giving feedback. You know the type of comment where you want to yell 'no, that's how YOU want to write, but not me!'

The entire process is very selfish, as it should be, in the best possible ways because everyone ends up learning more than if they just concentrate primarily on their one chance to get advice and largely check-out during the 'give advice to others' (as I'll bet happens plenty even in MFA classrooms). Instead, the entire semester except for your workshop day is all about you, and what YOU would do if you were in charge of the piece being workshopped.

Workshops always seems not-quite-perfect, but I really like this method, personally (and professionally I think I'll do it if I get to teach ever).

Also, people still get their annotations back, if they're really that interested and feel the need to 'get advice' but usually writers get pretty confident, pretty quick that they don't need advice, because they're giving themselves a ton of it every week by the way we're working through other student manuscripts.

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

FYI - I started my application at Illinois - Urbana-Champaign last week and got an email from them today about electronic LORs. I emailed back asking if it would be okay to have them mailed (since I won't be able to afford the application fees until the 1st of December at the earliest) and they said it wasn't a problem - just mail the LORs to the department directly.

Karissa said...


Essay form for my SOP.

Jeff said...

I received a quick and helpful response from the University of Wyoming today regarding their program.

If we have to e-mail questions about applying, I think the promptness and attitude of the reply is indicative of what we might encounter if we make it into that program.

I think it was Tom Kealey who stated in his MFA Handbook that a program's website may also be an indicator of the nature of a program. If, for example, the site has several dead-end links, contains dated information, and otherwise looks and functions as if no one cares what they're doing, then this likely says something about that program.

This is why I appreciate quick and professional responses. If you call and never get a response, or if sending an e-mail is something akin to pitching a Post-It down a dark well, I'd avoid it like a restaurant that stacks up too many violations during health department inspections.

Marti said...

Does anyone know the specifics for FSU's manuscript req? The website says "10 poems, a story, or a chapter from a novel." I've emailed two people there, but neither knows the page limit and they claim that info is on the website. (If it is, I can't find it.)

kaybay said...

Marti - there is no page requirement. They really do just want one story, even though that's a little scary. Honestly though, for those asking for 20 pages or less of a story, I'm probably going to send one 15-pager. So, I guess it's pretty common to ask for one story. But, yes, a little nerve-wracking :/

Karissa said...


TOTALLY agreed. When my boyfriend was applying to MFA programs last year, we encountered many contacts from various programs who weren't exactly on the ball.

He ended up attending the program that had the friendliest, most prompt, helpful people manning the phones/e-mail inbox. :)

Jeff said...


You're so lucky to have a partner who's also involved in the fine arts. A have a friend who's an accomplished author, and his wife's a great poet. A perfect match, really.

Jeff said...

After reading Seth's "Top 25 Underrated Creative Writing MFA Programs," I'm making a slight adjustment in my 12-program lineup by dropping Montana and adding a lesser-known school that's 100% fully funded.

I was loitering online recently, and I came across a site where borrowers who were being victimized by Fannie Mae could air their grievances (or trade horror stories, if it's that bad). Now more than ever I understand why Seth stresses funding, funding, funding for a creative writing degree. You can't get away from student loan debt. Running up a tab for a fine arts diploma just doesn't appeal to me, especially after reading some of those defaulted loan stories. Why borrow money when you can earn it and get teaching experience at the same time?

Be careful.

Jennifer said...

Blob, way back when I applied I did my SOP as a letter.

Unknown said...

Do you have any suggestions about what kinds of questions to e-mail directly to a representative of the department? I don't want to pester them with questions that I can find on the website or seem like I'm asking dumb questions, but I'd also like to touch base before I apply.

Karissa said...


Yes, it's wonderful at this point because we can work together through the MFA process and we each always have someone to give us feedback on our poems, but I do foresee a potential problem when it comes to trying to get jobs in academia after graduation, haha ;)

Jennifer said...

Ulysses--Why do you think you should "touch base" before you apply? I wouldn't recommend doing that--I think you should only email the program if you really need a question answered that you can't find an answer to any other way. Most of the folks who run these programs are seriously overburdened as it is, especially during application season.

Unknown said...

Subscribing. Wish I was ahead in this game, but I can't seem to get things done. My last SOP was essay style. My new one is not completed yet. :(.

Courtney said...

I spent so much time on this blog last year and the year before searching and wondering and worrying and hoping. I wanted to check in quickly in to wish you all well and to report back on my experiences.

Im a first year fiction student at Arizona State. I'm living in a dream, people! I'm surrounded by incredibly talented and kind people with whom I spend a great deal of time. We quickly became family. The living is cheap and the stipend covers everything. AND my husband found a job! There are (paid for) opportunities this summer through ASU to go to Prague, Greece, Singapore, Montreal or London. Maybe Argentina. I'm teaching one class. Writing every day. This is what the MFA is about! Time to write with enough money to get by and still be able to afford beer and go on adventures that inform writing. Good luck everyone! The agony will have been worth it by this time next year!

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

My goodness, kst -- sounds awful. Would you mind sharing which MFA this is?

I believe most MFA programs don't accept transfer credits. Not sure.

It's not too late to apply to schools this year again, though. Maybe you could reapply to schools now and go somewhere else for next fall? Could that be a possibility?

Adam Atkinson said...


I'd advise against sharing what MFA this is on a public forum, at least until you've a) made the decision to leave and b) found your way out, be that starting a new program next fall or simply taking time away. If you decide to stay, and someone at the program sees this, it could make the situation there even more toxic.

That said, let me agree with Maia that the environment sounds highly undesirable, especially when there are PLENTY of positive, supportive communities out there! If I were an adviser, and my student were having doubts this severe, I'd want to know--perhaps the folks up top need a wake-up call about the culture they've fostered, eh?

FZA said...


I know people who have transfered programs in the past. I do not know, however, if they were able to transfer credits. It might have been 'starting over,' which if you can get funding may not be such a bad thing. But at probably makes sense to call and ask about transfer procedures at a handful of schools just to get a sense of how the process may work.

I think working the office of any graduate program (but probably especially an MFA program) is a tough job. I can imagine people have to answer the same questions over and over again and deal with people filled with anxiety. Having said that, I just wanted to share that the people in the UT-Austin office seemed incredibly efficient, competent, and terribly nice/friendly. Too bad they have such a low acceptance rate. They definitely seem to have an organized and well run program.

FZA said...

has anyone started their apply texas application for UT?

The grad school online app requires that you select a major from their drop down menu, but they don't have creative writing as a major. They have MFAs for theatre, an English MA, and just English. I'm inclined to go with English, but then there is no way to specify that you're an MFA candidate. Am I missing something?

inkli__11 said...

blob, it's there. took me a long time to find it, too. it's not under english. i forget where it's listed but click in the box and start typing "w-r-i..." and it should scroll right to the WRITING MFA program.

inkli__11 said...


i think columbia college has pretty bad funding. i got in there with a graduate instructor assistantship last spring and it turned out that the assistantship would only pay for the equivalent of one workshop. maybe they have a few fellowships (follet?), but i'm not sure if any are full-tuition (or if more than one or two students get them).

Adam Atkinson said...

@Blob: inkli is correct! Michener is entirely distinct from the English Department, hence the lack of lit or teaching requirements, and the strange (in my opinion) coexistence of an English Department MFA in Playwriting and a Michener Center MFA in Playwriting, if I understand things correctly.

Jeff said...

Courtney: Thank you for sharing your opinion about Arizona State. Now I feel like I made the correct decision about putting on my application list!

Blob: I agree with you about Michener (Texas). Every time I've made contact, they've been professional and thorough.

jdubs said...

I have a quick question about the GRE requirement at Iowa. Does anyone know a) if it`s OK to send scores only after acceptance since they only matter for funding, b) send copies of scores instead of an official report?


Unknown said...


That is a great question! I've been wondering the same thing. Since Iowa doesn't require the GRE for admission, I'm inclined to forego the extra report fee and just send a copy of my scores along with my application. However, this is IOWA, and I'd hate to hurt my chances with them at all over a $23 fee.

Does anybody know what would be best for this situation?

kaybay said...

I truly can't imagine that Iowa that would not require the GRE and then prefer candidates with good scores. Obviously, they don't care much about that score. I'd only send it if you have amazing scores (a la 1400 +) and only because doing so might open you up to more funding. They're not sadists, people :D

FZA said...

re: Iowa

I've actually been advised the opposite, Kaybay. It may not be true, but I've been told that unless a school specifically says they don't want the GRE (ie Michigan, UCI, etc) that you should send the scores because it makes you look like a more complete or serious applicant, even if your score isn't stellar, which mine certainly isn't. My score won't probably help me that much when it comes to funding. But I plan to submit it to Iowa anyway based on this advice.

kaybay said...

Meh. I will not be sending my scores. For me, my scores would actually have the opposite affect; they would make me seem *less* competitive because, well, they blow. I'm choosing to leave a little mystery. Let 'em think I got a perfect score ;)

I just can't imagine that for a school clearly stating that scores are *optional,* (this is a studio program, too, mind you) they secretly place a lot of emphasis on them. That not only sounds illogical, but it sounds like a whole lot of trickery. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be a part of a program like that anyway. So, I'm fine with them rejecting me for that.

kaybay said...

affect, effect? God, I hate the English language...

FZA said...


I don't think the idea is that they put emphasis on the score. And the score won't likely have much impact on admission decisions. But from my understanding, they don't want to exclude people who haven't taken GREs but would rather that students did take GRE, like many schools require. I have yet to found any school that implies that they put any emphasis on the GRE score, just that they need it. And I wonder if Iowa is either transitioning in or out of that and that's why their wording is the way it is.

'11 MFA Draft said...

I won't be sending my GRE scores to Iowa either. Actually, I won't be sending my scores anywhere because I didn't apply to any programs that require them. I know that many schools claim that scores are just a "formality" but other schools have "preferred performance" measures, like a high GPA or a benchmark GRE verbal score.

Not saying that people shouldn't take the GRE or send their scores, but I think sending your scores just to send them-- especially if they aren't stellar and if they are not required-- is probably a waste of money. At the very least, definitely don't send them if your scores are particularly bad-- these schools receive hundereds of applications and, I imagine, aren't afraid to reject an application on the smallest of grounds.

Boise,Idaho said...

Hi all,

I just wanted to let you know that if you have any questions about UNM's program, I'd be happy to answer them. I was so happy to have people willing to answer all of my questions last year! I'd like to pass on the favor.

FZA said...


I recently sent off my packets to recommenders, so I feel like my list is 'closed' in a way. But I also have some great recommenders, who would likely do another school for me/swap a school if need be. I'd crossed UNM off my list just before sending the list because articles about the faculty tensions made me very nervous about the current environment there.

I couldn't find any current students, just kept hearing about the faculty tension and how many were looking for employment elsewhere and that some had already left, such as Joy Harjo (who I love). A big part of me wanted to say that a news article will obviously exploit the 'exciting' parts of the story. But the whole thing made me nervous.

How have your experiences been there? Is the tension noticeable to the students? is it improving?

Also, are what genre are you in?

Any thing you feel comfortable sharing would be greatly appreciated. It's a school I really did want to apply to.

Karissa said...

Re: Iowa GRE scores

Coming from Iowa, I've had contact with quite a few IWW graduates, and through them, my understanding has always been that for Iowa to consider you competitively for TA-ships, you need to send your GRE scores. They don't consider the scores for admittance to the program, but they DO consider them for those positions.

Jeff said...

No surprise that I'm not sending my GRE scores to any other school that makes it optional. My reasons?

1) Scores aren't impressive
2) Ridiculous cost for transfer

I'm pouring everything into my writing sample. It's the only chance I have because it's the only part of my application that has a glimmer of winning over the decisive parties.

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

Is there anyone else here *not* an English/Creative Writing/related major? I'm majoring in psychology, and have only very recently decided to switch career paths and go for my MFA.

The problem now lies with recommendations. All my creative writing classes have been with one professor, and obviously I need two more. My other professors in my major can attest to my readiness for graduate school and undergraduate work, but not to my creative writing. What is a girl to do? My only other option I can think of is to ask English professors who I have only had one class with and don't know me well at all.

kaybay said...

Jami, I majored in philosophy. I've also been out of undergrad for four years now and don't think my profs would be enthusiastic about majoring in creative writing. They'd probably also respond with "who?" if I asked. So, I went with a writing mentor (a colleague with an MFA herself), one of my supervisors (the head of my department at the high school I teach at) and a co-worker who can attest to work ethic, intellect, teaching, yada yada. I'm going with the "it's better to have excellent letters from 'nobdodies' than weak letters from 'somebodies'" school of thought. Perhaps it'll backfire on me. Who knows?

Anyone else tiring of getting bogged down by mundane details? Either these places want me for my writing or they don't. I really, really don't care about GRE scores/letters/personal statement/GPA. Not that I'm going to poo-poo them; I'm going to put as much into them as I can. I just really could care less about those things, in the grand scheme of things. I've spent far too many hours thinking I'm "not good enough" because of my GRE score, average GPA, and letters from non-professors. I'm just kind of getting tired of it. If they love my writing and reject me because of the little things, then so be it. This is not the end-all-be-all of my existence. I'm not dogging anyone else for caring but I just don't. I really don't.

Sorry for being so negative and sorry for the rant :/ It's over now, I promise!

L said...

Anyone reapplying to Washington University at St. Louis? I applied last year and it is one of the schools I am reapplying to this year. Some of the schools hold transcripts, GRE, letters of rec--wondering if WashU does this? They haven't responded to my email. One of my recommenders wants to use the same letter as last year. Thanks if anyone knows the answer to this!!

popsicledeath said...

To people who changed majors (or those like me that found a mentor early so took classes primarily from one professor and am continually screwed on letters): if you have to get non-writing related recommendations, try to have them focus on your contributions to the classroom community sort of thing, and abilities as a student, and abilities as a teacher (if any, or if they're willing to work in the area of hypotheticals).

Then at least the recommendations aren't a total wash or seem fabricated as if someone is trying to speak to your abilities as a writer but clearly can't, so end up being general and the situation obvious.

And the non-english undergrad thing should be clear with transcripts and whatnot, but I would still make a point of mentioning it in your statement, just to re-iterate your background so there's no confusion.

FZA said...


I've started to look at online forms the last couple days and the details on them are stressing me out. I really do not want to fill out my resume in little boxes in 14 applications. Why can't I just upload my resume? It's the same amount of reading for them! I'm also over thinking little things like 'relevant job experience.' What on earth IS relevant??

I will say though, that my recommendations will probably be one of the strongest parts of my application, so I'm happy to have that as part of the process!

'11 MFA Draft said...

I think my recommendations will be the weakest part of my application. None of them speak to my creative writing ability at all-- I got two recommendations from the director and assistant director of the writing center (where I tutored), and one from an english professor (not cw but lit). I'm heavily relying on my sample and statement of purpose, and my GPA is decent... however, it hink these things will hopefully outweigh any so-so letters. I forgot who said it-- maybe Jeff?-- but I agree: I feel that letters of rec are a bit antiquated (but, to show a bit of contrariness, I still wish I could have got better letters.... every bit helps). words words words come on march hurry it up already

FZA said...

I don't think people who don't have creative writing recommendations should worry or stress. The committees will have your writing samples, they know how you write. They don't need a letter to tell them that. However, I think these letters are still valued because they can provide insight to things that are important and not found anywhere else in an application. The recommendation letter can indicate whether someone is easy to work with, is teachable, will participate well in workshops and give to other students, and whether they're hard working and devoted.

An MFA program, from what I know, is like a small community. Of course all the programs want good writers. But they also want people who will work well in that community as someone who will both get the most out of the experience, but also someone who will give back and contribute. The only thing that can really provide any insight towards that is a letter of recommendation, which is why I think it's far from an antiquated practice. I think it makes sense that a creative writing recommendation is preferred, but not because it talks about your writing, but because it can talk about you in a workshop environment. But I think any letter that can talk about you in a classroom setting, in a group environment, or your work ethic/dedication to your craft is very valuable.

M. Forajter said...

I'm only applying to Notre Dame, SIUC, UIUC, Columbia College & MAYBE Madison. Is this wise? Should I expand my list?

I'm hesitant to go out of state or too far from Chicago because my husband is currently in school himself (Late-start undergrad!). I need funding, so Columbia will only be viable if they offer me some sort of tuition remission, which I know they don't really do.


Karissa said...

Re: letters of rec --

Of my four LOR writers, two are lit professors, one is the director of the writing center where I work, and the other was my pedagogical theory professor.

I figure that admissions boards can judge for themselves through your writing sample and publication credits whether they think my writing cuts it -- They'd rather have people tell them about things that aren't self-evident, such as leadership, teaching ability, dedication to studies, etc. etc.

jdubs said...

So I`m still not 100% clear on Iowa. If the GRE`s are funding related, could I send them only if I get accepted, or do they decide funding at the same time as acceptances?

FZA said...


All the people I know who have gotten to MFA programs have been notified of their funding status when they were notified of their acceptance. I think planning to send it later, will push you out of funding contention, unless funding spots open up via a wait list. If you need/want funding, you should probably send your scores.

jdubs said...

Thanks, Blob.

Karissa said...

I agree, re: IWW.

I'd say better safe than sorry and fork over the $23.

'11 MFA Draft said...


Blob's right, people generally hear about their funding at the time of acceptance. If your scores are good, then send the 23 bucks if your budget allows.

However, if your scores are bad or even ho-hum, I'd think twice about spending the money to send them, especially for a school where the GRE isn't required.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I'm biased, though, because I think the GRE is crap and 23 bucks is a lot of money (it is for me, anyway).

Don't know if I'll get blasted for this, but I honestly think that schools look more at your GPA than the GRE (relatively speaking of course, neither of these things are even remotely as important than your sample or even your statement of purpose).

[sticks out tongue, braces for punches]

Adam Atkinson said...


If you're willing to go as far as South Bend or Carbondale for a Chicago-based relationship, you may want to consider adding Indiana, Michigan, Purdue, and/or Washington to your list. With the MFA admissions process as competitive as it is, more is better! If you have a regional constraint, I say go nuts in that region!

darlene said...

Hey all,

I can't seem to find any straight forward information on this, so I figured I'd post it here. I recently got arrested for something very minor. I didn't have the three dollars to pay for my parking one night so I followed another out of the lot and got arrested for "Theft of Services." I ended up being put on probation before judgment which means if I'm good for a year they'll remove the incident from my record.

I consider myself an honest person and I've never been in any type of trouble before. I'm worried, however, that this will keep programs from accepting me. I'd be more than willing to explain the circumstances but it seems most applications aren't even asking about criminal records. I fear that they'll run my social security number and see this before I can explain.

I just don't want to spend 1000+ dollars on applying if something like this will keep me from getting in. I'd greatly appreciate any advice/information/opinions that people have.


'11 MFA Draft said...


Since what happened wasn't a serious offense, I'd say that you're fine to apply. However, if you are really concerned, you can mention it in your statement of purpose. Hope that helps.

'11 MFA Draft said...

I just read what I posted and realized it might come off the wrong way. Obviously your purpose in an MFA program would not be theft of services. =) What I meant was, if you want to, you could address the situation in your statement of purpose in the same way that, say, a student with a low GPA or GRE score does. Don't dwell on it in your statement, of course, but if you feel it is necessary to mention, just gloss it over or turn it into an amusing anecdote.

I personally think you shouldn't have any issues, though. There are a lot of faculty members in english departments-- especially in creative writing-- that have done much worse, I'm sure.

So-- apply! Enter the 2011 MFA Draft along with the rest of us! (sorry, I'm a bit hyper today)

Jeff said...


The only crimes most of these programs are concerned with are violent crimes. After the shootings at Virginia Tech and the University of Arkansas, schools want to keep out people who have issues controlling themselves insofar as violence is concerned. As a matter of fact, the only questions of this nature that I've seen on applications specifically ask about crimes of violence and/or felonies.

I don't think they care about people who steal...parking.

Jonathan said...

Regarding IWW and the GRE...

I was under the impression that Iowa was fully funded (i.e. all admitted students received full funding). It doesn't make sense to me, then, to say that the GRE would not impact admission but WOULD impact funding. Are there students at Iowa who don't receive funding? If not, the GRE would have to either impact both funding and admission, or neither. Can anyone clarify?

Katie Oh said...

Hey guys! I'm back with a slightly dumb question. I have my list finalized, my recommenders all sorted, my GREs scheduled, and my statement started [and I still feel really unprepared? uh oh.]

My question: UMass's website says 20 pages of prose. Is this a minimum or a maximum? I've Googled around but can't seem to find an answer. If it's a maximum, I could really only turn in one story, which seems... silly? I dunno. It's worrying me because it's the first deadline I have.

Bryan said...


I was considering Columbia in Chicago as well until I found out that their funding is absolutely abysmal. Even if you get the entering graduate scholarship and all the other scholarships the school offers throughout your tenure, you'll still end up over $20k in the hole. I don't know what your funding situation is, but that ain't happening for me.

On a side note, have you found any good schools for fiction in the Chicago area? The closest I've found is UIUC, but something IN the city would be awesome.

FZA said...


Fully funded does not mean that all students admitted get funding. Fully funded means that all students who GET funding get a full tuition waiver plus at least $9,000 in stipend (it could be $8,000, I can't remember exactly). Some 'fully funded' schools fund a low percentage of their students, others a high amount. Some fund all admitted students (such as Michigan and UT-Austin). The funding ranking might help with determining percentages.

But the best way, I've found, to tell if all students are funded is to see if they have TA applications or not. If they do, you can be pretty sure that at least some students do not get funding.

Iowa, I think, has a fairly generous percentage. But not all students are funded.

Seth, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Jonathan said...


Oops, sorry for not being clear. I'll rephrase a bit. I was under the impression that Iowa was among those who fully fund all their students. I remember from Seth's data (unavailable until 2011) that there were approximately 34 (and here I could be off by a couple) programs that fully fund all their students. And I thought Iowa was among them. I guess that's really the point in dispute.

Jonathan said...

Also, just a minor point, but I'm pretty sure that to say a program is fully funded is to say that it fully funds all it's students. I remember Seth coming in last mailbag and announcing something like, "UNLV is now the 34th fully funded program." And I think what he meant is that UNLV offers full funding to all it's students. I mean, you wouldn't say a school was fully funded if they only fully funded 50% of their students. And as always, someone please correct me if I'm off base.

FZA said...


I do not believe that Iowa fully funds all their students. Also, if you go look at Seth's methodology on PW, you'll see his exact definition of 'fully funded,' which does not, according to his ranking, mean that all students are fully funded, just that the funding is full. There's also a post from him in the last mailbag (or maybe the one before) further clarifying this point, after some questions I had.

I do know people who have gotten into Iowa, without funding, and therefore chose to go elsewhere. but I do not know the numbers of how many typically get full funding from Iowa.

Seth Abramson said...

A fully funded program is one that fully funds all its incoming students. The IWW is a fully funded program. --S.

FZA said...


Thanks for you clarification and sorry for my mis-understanding. Do fully funded programs fund their incoming students differently? Would some get more money than others?

I know one person who turned down Iowa because of funding. So I had assumed that they didn't get good funding. Although I suppose they could have just gotten much better funding elsewhere.

And then I guess this all then brings us back to Jonathan's original question: why does the website specify that GRE scores are only needed for funding?

Jonathan said...


I think our disagreement was over the difference between saying a "student" was fully funded and a "program" was fully funded.

And perhaps the person you know turned down Iowa because their funding was less than another program, but not because it was non-existent.

Also, I'll echo your question (which echos mine): Why does IWW phrase their GRE requirement that way?

FZA said...

@Jonathan and others

Here is the exact wording from IWW:

"Admission to the Workshop is based on your writing sample and not your GRE scores. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop does not require GRE scores for admission. However, student applications that include GRE scores may be more competitive for a greater range of financial assistance. "

So it seems like there is some difference in the amount of funding one might receive.

My GRE score definitely won't put me ahead of the game. But I think submitting it might be smart regardless, so I probably will.

Seth Abramson said...

At many programs, not just Iowa, all students are fully funded per the minimum standard but some students cross that threshold by a little and some students by a lot. It's not a question of "tiered" funding (a term Tom Kealey devised to denote a situation in which some students get full funding and some get no funding) but merely that there are different revenue streams extant at almost every program--for instance, a program that fully funds all incoming students may assign some incoming students a 1/2 teaching load teaching Composition and others a 1/1 load teaching Creative Writing, and the former student may actually end up making more money because they're teaching more, even though both students have full funding. At many such programs it is awards from the Graduate College or the university as a whole -- rather than the MFA program -- that offer "topping up" fellowships which increase an individual student's financial aid package. Most such awards require the MFA program to nominate a student or students, and one of the factors considered by the Graduate College or the university for such awards is the GRE. So the IWW is saying, we don't care about the GRE, but if you have a good score we might be able to use it to nominate you for even more money via university-wide fellowships and grants.


Jonathan said...

Thanks Seth! That's very helpful.

'11 MFA Draft said...

Hence, the reason I think one shouldn't send their scores unless they are pretty darn good. Save as much money as you can, peoples! 23 bucks is like 10 cups of coffee. 23 bucks is more than I have in my account right now.

Boise,Idaho said...


Honestly, really honestly, I feel no tension at all! I'm in poetry, and I work with Lisa and Dana regularly, and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. They are always available and happy to look at my work. Another great part of our program is the other students I work with. I feel we have a great community here, and they are truly smart people--great writers, all of them. I haven't felt any cut-throat competition, and I haven't heard of it either. My peers are willing to give me constructive advice in and out of workshop. We even meet on Saturdays sometimes to workshop/submit to journals or contests, and we hit the farmers markets and library book sales when they occur. I'm friends with nearly everyone in my cohort, and most people in the one above me. A few of my peers/friends are also TAs like me and we are in a group in a class specifically for TAs during which we design sequences for the following 6 or so weeks of class.

As far as my writing goes, ABQ and my workload totally allow me to get a lot of work out. I feel productive here, and though I have a lot of free time, I always feel busy. I also work with Blue Mesa Review, which has given me other opportunities.

One more interesting thing is that here we're encouraged to genre blend if we'd like, so I'll also be taking plenty of fiction courses. My friends in fiction love the profs, and I've also heard excellent things about the main prof in nonfiction. I'm always encouraged to take a class from him.

If you, or anyone else interested in UNM's program, would like to contact me, just shoot me an email at

Again, just to touch on the "hot" issue one more time, I think that the issue has passed. There may of course still be legal issues, but never has it affected my experience as a student, or even just as a person, so really in that way it isn't any of my business. I feel fortunate that it never comes up, and that as far as I've seen, UNM's program is happy and healthy with talented and respected writers teaching us.

In email I can give you more specifics about my mentors and the writers in other genres. I've met everybody and they're all very friendly. In fact, that's probably how I'd describe the program--warm and close-knit.


Jami Nakamura Lin said...

Thanks for your responses regarding the LOR! A few more questions:

1. Seth, you mentioned that the Iowa Writers' Workshop is fully funded. What about their creative nonfiction program, which is, strangely, within their English department and not under IWW?
2. Is it completely inadvisable to submit nonfiction work as fiction? I would like to apply to some fiction programs, but as I'm under a time crunch, my only stories that are even worth a shot of sending are creative nonfiction. However, they're first person and would not be automatically pegged as being nonfiction. Should I just not apply to fiction programs at all? Thanks!

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

I would like to clarify that the schools I'm talking about don't have a separate nonfiction program I could apply to.

Sally Jane said...

For those of you looking for a writing opportunities during the winter, check out the new Florence Writers Conference sponsored by the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. It's January 2nd - 12th, and the workshops are Non-Fiction with Matthew Klam and Fiction with Ursula Hegi. So send in an application by November 1st and spend 10 glorious days in Florence, Italy!

STC said...

@ Bryan --

Technically Northwestern has a program, but I don't know anything about its funding.

There are a bunch of state schools in Chicago listed on the "additional rankings" link on the P&W article:

What do you think of University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign? Not Chicago, but it's another fully funded Illinois program, and pretty highly ranked.

Bryan said...


Champaign is one of the schools I'm applying to, near the top of my list. Thanks for the help!

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

If you haven't voted already, don't forget to vote in the 2010 TSE Poll at this link (see top of right-hand sidebar).

And don't forget to post your application lists in this thread, if you're willing!


FZA said...

I have a question for those currently working:

When are you telling your employers about applying to programs?

My dilemma is that I'm at a job I LOVE. I'm lucky because if I don't get into an MFA program, I have a good job that I can happily continue. But I'm worried about telling my boss about applying. I know my odds of getting in anywhere are slim, and most people don't realize just how competitive MFA programs are. I don't want to tell people and then not get in and have people at work think I don't really want to be there. I think that could put me in a bad position and make it likely that someone else could be given my job. On the flip side, my job and the relationships I have here are important to me. I want to do what's best for the company AND maintain the relationships and connections I've made here down the line. I'm afraid that if I do get in and don't tell people until after the fact, they won't be happy that I didn't tell them when I was applying. It's something that's causing me quite a bit of stress, actually.

What are other people doing?

PAH said...


I'm not telling anyone at work. I don't overly care for my job and will probably end up leaving next year even if I do not get into any programs -- so it's a little different for me.

I think it all depends on your relationship with your co-workers and boss. Many places would probably rather not hear "If I get into school, I'll be leaving you all", while some places would be tickled pink for your opportunity.

My decision not to say anything is because 1) It's been really easy not to (I deliberately keep all work people away from facebook, too haha) and 2) we won't hear back from admissions until next spring and won't be going to school until next fall...I feel there is no need to tell anyone.

In the end, for me it's like telling my current employers "Hey, I like it here but I will be applying to other jobs and interviewing...if I get a new gig, I'll go...if not, can I stay here?"

Some things are best left unsaid.

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ Blob - I've told everyone where I work, but I teach at the university that I graduated from, so everyone knows everything about me (and me them, it seems). I do keep emphasizing the level of competition with regard to getting an acceptance (just in case I don't get in - I don't want them promising my job to someone else). In terms of leaving the position with enough notice, I figure that it isn't much of an issue since we'll know if we've been accepted (and where we are going) well in advance of the fall semester. Four months notice is more than enough, I'm thinking. :)

And speaking of telling people about applying to these programs, are y'all as tired of telling people as I am that while you appreciate their faith in your writing, that there is no guarantee that you will be admitted anywhere?

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...


You can articulate it just like you have here (Here's what I'm planning/ I love my job/ the chances are slim but . . .). Personally, I'd just keep it to myself with the exception of co-workers that you are close to. Unless your boss is giving you a recommendation, it really serves no purpose in telling him/her about your future plans. You'd still be giving your company A LOT of notice if you get accepted given the fact that you'll be hearing back in Feb and March and most programs don't require you to be on campus until early to mid August. Anyway, that's my two cents.

FZA said...

Thanks for everyone's thoughts.

I'm having a hard time getting a read on the situation. I work in a rather close-knit group hug environment. So I do think if I were to get in, people would be disappointed I didn't tell them when I was applying. But it's still a work environment and I've seen people laid off. I don't need a work recommendation, so I'm fine on that end.

In a way I might screw myself a little either way. I figure I can stall at least until Dec/Jan when I'll have to officially decide whether I'm telling people or not. If I do get in, I'll be planning to leave work probably in June/July to spend some time at home. Of course, that's still technically plenty of notice.

I have seen others go off to grad school and people were generally excited and happy for them. All of them told people when they were applying, but all of them also got in and weren't applying to such roll the dice programs.

Yes, I've started citing acceptance rate statistics whenever I speak about applying. Otherwise people just don't seem to get it. But people keep saying 'oh, you'll get in!' One can only hope...

Jeffery said...

What's the consensus on submitting already published work in the application? Is that a no-no? Maybe one published piece and one unpublished?

Just curious. I sent one previously unpublished and one published story last time around and it didn't seem to matter (as in I didn't end up getting in anywhere with funding).

Anonymous said...

I'm new to the blog and was also thinking about sending a previously published work with my writing sample. Any thoughts?

Bryan said...

Final list for fiction:

University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Washington U., St. Louis
George Mason
U of Oregon
U of Texas at Austin
Colorado State University
Indiana University


Jeff said...

Just a word of warning to those who may be informing employers about their decision to apply to graduate school. When I asked my employers for a letter of recommendation, they surprised me with their reaction: they fired me.

Honestly, I didn't really care that much. I wasn't happy there because they were behaving like the type of employer who would do such a thing. Kinda like being in an abusive marriage, and then you find out your spouse cheats on you. Are you surprised? Shouldn't be.

I'm single. No kids and no runaway mortgage. I have unemployment. I have beaucoup savings I haven't touched yet. And I have options. But not all of you are in the same spot, so please be careful.

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...


Programs really don't care whether or not portfolio pieces are published or not. If they don't like the story (published or not), it's moot pt. I like to think of it this way:

A lot of insanely talented writers are not yet published due to several factors including not knowing how to submit to journals (or even knowing which journals to send to), the fact that many journals have a less than 5% acceptance rate (and this goes down to 1% or less for many university based literary journals), and the fact that polishing a story coupled with the publication process often takes a long time (sometimes years if you look at how writers talk about a story's development in the back of prize collections). A couple of people in my first year cohort are definitely contenders to be in any given top tier journal but have just not thought about sending out their work yet. This may be due in part to age, their views of themselves as writers, other things going on in their life (i.e. being a student vs. seeing themselves as a writer etc.).

Additionally, there seems to be two camps of thought at MFA programs: Students should get their work out into the world vs. Students aren't ready to publish yet. I think there is wisdom behind both of these camps in that many people (esp. younger or inexperienced writers) send out their poems or stories way too soon. Of course, if we want to be "working writers", developing professionally during ones tenure as an MFA candidate is pretty crucial in landing fellowships, residencies, and getting jobs in an incredibly competitive field (if that's your goal) etc.

Now, so far I've mostly addressed publication as more of an achievement vs. a reflection of the writing, which is where I think publishing might play a factor in admissions. Regardless of whether or not you cite a story as published, a published story has been through a vetting process. It has been seen as worthy by other pairs of eyes and, in some cases, has been through a rigorous editorial process. Now, I've seen people on the blogs say things like programs are looking for promise not polish. Sure, there's something to that belief but there's also something to be said about having your cake and eating it too. But, as I said in the beginning of this post, it all comes down to whether or not a faculty member likes your story and thinks you would be a fit for the program. While polish, promise, and publications may help raise eyebrows, none of these things will guarantee admission in a process that is highly subjective.

PAH said...

Regarding sending published work...

As far as I have read and discerned, it would not hurt you at all to send published or unpublished work -- the basic axiom to any question regarding the SAMPLE seems to always be "send your best work".

I don't think it will necessarily give you a leg up, but it shouldn't hurt you.

If it is your best, send it. If you have better unpublished piece, send it.

If you don't get in, I'm okay with you blaming me.

Nick said...

@ Blob

I admire your being considerate of your employer. I also enjoy a personal connection with my colleagues. However, as some have suggested, you don't owe anyone advance notification. Two or three months would be plenty of time for your organization to hire a replacement. Say we don't get accepted, the funding isn't sufficient, etc. It will be worse to have to tell our sad story repeatedly around the office and be a lame duck to boot. I had a colleague at a nearby desk who applied to law school twice a few years back. The first time she did not gain admission and had to reapply. Both years she had to engage in frequent speculative conversations with fellow staff members. Put yourself in that position. Will you want to have to discuss your chances whenever you are at work? Imagine you miss out on the first few schools; your stress level will be up already. Don't make yourself an anxious neurotic fearing certain colleagues will think you selfish if you happen to surprise them with a resignation in the spring. It's okay to disclose on a need-to-know basis.

Anonymous said...


PAH said...

@Jeff and Blob (re: telling work)

I would not be surprised by that reaction, Jeff. If you tell an employer you are looking for work elsewhere, most would probably terminate on the spot. If you were interviewing at other places, you'd be terminated on the spot. Of course is this isn't the rule, but it's how it works.

On the other side, people look for work and land jobs all the time without saying a word to their current employer until the deal is done. It's part of the work world...people come and go and people are even sad and disappointed when our friends leave without much notice...but it's just the way it is.

On that note...I wouldn't tell your work you were leaving until a month or less before you go. The conventional "2 weeks" would even be will seem cold, but if you are unsure of your employers' reaction, then keep it to yourself, imo. If you give too much notice, you may find yourself unemployed for summer.

Anonymous said...


Good Lord, that sounds like it would be a shitty place to work if they fired you over asking for a rec.

nd I agree with others: unless you're asking for a rec from your boss, a two week notice is perfectly acceptable. You don't even need to say you're going to grad school. Just say thank you for the opportunity of working but you have decided to move on to another venture. Easy.

FZA said...


your story really is the ultimate fear. I'm fairly confident that won't happen to me. Too many people have gone through the grad school process before. I'm just worried about what could happen if I don't get in. But at the same time, I don't think 2 weeks notice will cut it for me. I not only want to be respectful of this company that has been so good to me, but I also know how important this relationship could be for me down the line. I want to keep the door for future employment or help in finding future employment elsewhere as wide open as possible. If I knew I'd get in, even one place, I'd tell them in a heartbeat right now. And by them, I really only mean my boss. But still.

I suppose everyone is right though, I should at least wait until I'm lucky enough to get an acceptance. And chances are, with my crazy list, I may not even have to worry about telling anyone anything. Sigh.

In other news, I'm considering doing a delayed NaNoWriMo this year. I've never done it before. And November will likely not be possible with applications looming. But I'm thinking February when I'll be obsessing over my phone, email, mailbox and literally chewing my hair out just waiting, it might be good to focus my energy on something a little more productive. Anyone else with me? we can peer pressure each other!

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

Oh, how am I ever going to survive this process? I finally got the courage to ask for a recommendation from my mentor and former professor. He's a busy man, and he has already been so generous with his time that I hate to ask him for anything. He's written me amazing recommendations in the past, so I don't doubt that he'll do them for me. I just don't know how many he'd be willing to do. (And I'm that crazy person who will be applying to 20 programs.) *sigh* One recommender is in place. I'm 98% sure of the other one. All I need is his acceptance. *fingers crossed*

Momma said...


When is enough enough in regards to the writing sample?

Right now, I have two pieces that I consider to be my best work. They're third or fourth drafts and very polished. Further, they're quite different from each other yet representative of where I am as a writer.

I sent along the stories to a writer friend, and he gave me some awesome constructive feedback. So now I'm planning on making some changes to my sample...The problem is, do I send the sample out again? For more feedback? The thing with writing is, it could almost always be better.

Should I wait until the last possible moment to send my packets, so that the writing sample is as far along as possible?

Margaret said...

This is (I'm positive) my final list for fiction.

UNC, Wilm.
NC State
W. Michigan
Iowa State
Washington, St. Louis

Jeff said...


I would back away from those writing samples for a few weeks. Give yourself enough time to make further revisions later on, but for now just let them cool off. Work on other parts of the application process for now. In a few weeks, go back to the samples with a clear mind and a new eye. Then, look at your friend's feedback and decide if you want to revise.

Anonymous said...

I attempted digging through the comments of older mailbags, but there are too many to dig through, so I'd thought I'd just ask here. Minnesota's website says that EVERYTHING is to be submitted electronically. But my rec letters are being held via an service like Interfolio through my undergrad university. Has anyone already contacted U of Minnesota to see if they could mail their letters of rec or if it's just absolutely forbidden?

FZA said...

One of my wonderful recommenders just emailed me to let me know he has completed and mailed my recommendations back to me. It's only one out of 3, but it's still a nice comfort/relief to have!

But all of a sudden I'm filled with this tremendous fear of letting my recommenders down. I'll hate to go to them in 4 months and say 'thanks for all your work, I didn't get in anywhere.' This process is so filled with anxiety!

FZA said...

Also, I'm planning to send out presents of appreciation to my recommenders in december, any thoughts or ideas for these gifts?

Anonymous said...


I'd get some nice chocolates or candies, especially if you can get something local. Plus a thank you card, of course. I still need to send one to one of my recommenders...

jdubs said...


I`d go with a gift card to Powell Books if I were you. Unless you`re anti gift card, or know a specific book to give a recommender. Or there`s a good independent bookstore in the city where your recommenders live.

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

@ DMC1985 / Blob

Unless, of course, your recommender happens to own the only independent bookstore in your town (as one of mine does). :)

I'm glad people are talking about getting their recommenders a little something. I wasn't sure if that would be appropriate or not. Since I hate asking for favors, it is good to know that a little something in return wouldn't be considered inappropriate.

I just hear back from all my recommenders (nice, since I just emailed them last night). They are all on board, though the one who I am counting on most seems a bit unnerved by the number I need, so I'll need to work with him a bit.

C. said...

Hey guys,

Is anyone deciding between sending two or three short stories for Iowa? The website asks for "two or three stories," ranging in length from 30-80 pages. I'm thinking of sending three, which will just be under 70 pages. Does anyone think that's too much considering all the other MFA programs ask for 30-40 pages? I know they already have so much to read. If I had to cut one, I know which one I would, but I feel like they all have different strengths and represent me well. Is there any advantage to sending three?

Thanks for any input.

kaybay said...

This question is for any lurker enrolled or previously enrolled at Ohio State. I'm bothered again by Ohio State's 1200 minimum GRE requirement :*( Do you know anyone admitted to the program with a score less than that minimum? I was told to apply anyway by an administrative assistant with the program, but I'm still getting discouraged. I'll probably end up applying anyway, since it's a top choice of mine, but I'd love a little reassurance that it can (and does) happen. Oh, bother :/

Jonathan said...


I'm only sending two stories to Iowa (about 35 pages), but admittedly my situation is not yours. I only have two stories that I would even think of sending, and it's too late for me to write a third.

The simplistic (yet true) advice is to send only your best work, so if you like all three stories equally and think they show your diversity, it won't hurt to send them all. But if you like two of them a lot and one of them less than a lot, I would definitely only send the two. There is no fundamental advantage to sending three stories. The advice I've heard on this blog and elsewhere is that you should never feel pressure to approach/meet the maximum page limit just for the sake of doing so. If a program asks for 30-80 pages, 30 great pages will always beat 70 good ones.

Open Spaces said...

When a program that does not require a GRE score says that Teaching Assistantships are available on a competitive basis (available to 70% of students) . . . what is this "competition" based on? I have a high GPA and an advanced degree, but I have no previous teaching experience. Does the lack of teaching experience pretty much put me out of the running?


Open Spaces said...

I should add that I'm looking at Umass and U of Colorado and trying to decide whether to apply. Does anyone have experience with these programs in terms of funding?

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

Going off on what Open Spaces said, other than the GRE, is this "competition" based on the writing sample? If there are limited fellowships too, is that basically based on what sample the faculty likes most?

'11 MFA Draft said...


responding to Q#2

It depends. Obviously, it can be done, especially if the piece "reads like fiction." I mean, does the piece have the typical short story elements-- i.e., does the character/narrator change in any way; is there enough dialogue as opposed to narration/exposition; is there more of a story arc with plot-like characteristics, etc? If so, go for it. If not, I wouldn't.

I am also applying to nonfiction programs, mostly, but am also applying to one fiction program. For that application, though, I am using an older story I wrote specifically as fiction. So I guess I am kinda in the opposite position as you right now. I have written mostly fiction in the past, but am currently concentrating on nonfiction. I have one piece that is ready, and am currently working on a second piece to include with my application packets. I, too, am under a time crunch.

In any case, one thing's for sure-- picking nonfiction really has a way of narrowing our options, don't it? (Speaking of narrow options, not only did I pick NF but I also chose non-GRE programs). That said, I don't blame you for trying to pick up a couple more programs by doing what I affectionately call "playing the genre line."

Don't know if that helped any, but there it is anyway. =)

'11 MFA Draft said...

On giving recommenders a thank you gift:

I will definitely get my recommenders something, for sure. However, I was thinking of not sending anything until I got word on whether I got accepted into a program or not. I figure I could thank them now, but then if it turns out I won't be MFA-bound afterall, I'd hate to have to send them a thank-you-for-nothing letter. Dear recommender, You've failed me. Live with that. Signed, '11 MFA Draft.

But then, if it turns out I get in, I could stencil my hand onto a card, give 'em all an "actual size" high five.

Seriously though. If I waited until I got word, would that be in bad taste? What do you guys think?

PAH said...


If you are going to thank your recommenders with a gift, I would not wait.

1) You're not really thanking them for getting you into a program, you are thanking them for taking their time to help you maybe get in.

2) If you don't get in, let's face it -- chances are it wasn't because of the LoRs.

3) You will probably have every thing sent out before Christmas/Hanukkah, so why not use that festive time to send out your Thank You present. Tis the season to be giving!

They will be (sure, not just as) disappointed (as you) that you didn't get in...but it could come off as bitter grapes if you are only grateful if you get in..."Thanks for trying" is much better "No, thanks for nothing."

You don't want to burn bridges...there's always next year!

FZA said...

I agree with Writer dude, if you're going to do gifts for recommenders do them before you hear back from schools do it because they did you a favor. They could have easily said they were too busy to write your recommendations, it's not technically part of their job description. Chances are, they believe in you and want you to get in. Also, by sending gifts before you hear, you really don't have to worry about saying 'thanks anyway, but I didn't get in.'

Sigh, is it February yet?

Aelfkin said...

Hello, everyone!

A question about transcripts: I completed an AA, spent one semester at a university, then transferred to a different university and will graduate from there in December. I feel pretty sure that I should include transcripts from my AA school, but do I need to send from my one-semester university? I'd rather not.

Also, my partner went to college right out of HS: few semesters at a community college, one at a four-year, then took 20 years off. Came back in got an AA, and will get his BS from a different uni in December. Does he need to include those two schools' transcripts (from 1970s) in his application? Obviously, he would Much Rather not.


FZA said...


My guess would be yes to all transcripts. Though make sure you read the language on websites carefully. Some say things like 'all transcripts from institutions from which you've received a degree,' which obviously means you don't have to send all those transcripts. But some say 'all.'

I spent some time calling programs on the phone to ask which transcripts they really did need in regards to my study abroad. There big issue in terms of transfer credits is this:
Anything for more than one semester absolutely needs it's own transcript.
Anything courses that are not listed with name, grade, and credit hours on your primary transcript need their own.

But honestly, it might be worthwhile to call any programs you have questions about them. The phone calls were quick, easy, and people were very helpful.

'11 MFA Draft said...

@Writer Dude and Blob

Actually I was trying to be humorous. Of course I wouldn't literally send my recommenders a "thanks for nothing" letter or gift. Also, I don't presume that my LoRs will be the reason I get in or not... I mean, c'mon.

I did genuinely thank my recommenders for the letters when I picked them up. Chatted with them for a while, etc. I also don't think it would be seen as sour grapes or that I would burn any bridges if I didn't send a gift. If that were the case, academia is pettier than I thought. =)

Writing all this has made me realize a two things:

1) What the hell am I posting such a question in the first place? I have absolutely no money, so gifts are out of the question right now. However, if I do get in-- scratch that, WHEN I get in (there is too much "oh, it's impossible" on this board, let's see some confidence, people!)-- I think I will try to hand deliver a gift (chocolates/candies sounds good whoever mentioned that), even if I have to borrow money. Imagine this scene: I show up, smiling face and all, with a box of See's Candies. Recommender: "What're these for?" ME: "I got into U of SUCH'n'SUCH's MFA Program! So, I'd like to thank you. You've helped me get there." Recommender: "Hooray! For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good felloooooow..." Me: "That nobody can deny!" Then, if I stick around, maybe I'll be able to snag one of them chocolates.

2) This whole MFA application process has really been messing with me. I get pretty anxious and it comes out it weird ways. I post stuff on here, kind of like a release, though once or twice I've gotten pretty obnoxious-- I even cussed out an anti-mfa troll once, the post of which was thankfully pulled by an administrator-- ah, I dunno. Just look at my blog, I have turned this application process into a mock sportscenter, playing with microsoft paint and espn images, when I really should be finishing up my writing sample.

Anyhow. Sorry for the long melodramatic post. Good luck to all fellow applicants and godspeed February-March-April, the only months that seem to matter these days!

'11 MFA Draft said...

Ps: I am going to try not to post again until I get my writing sample finished. That said, I will leave you with something Jo Ann Beard said in an interview that I thought sounded pretty funny:

"Academia. Sounds like a nut."

Gummy Bear Sacrifice said...


I'm back for another year of pain. Funny enough, I'm a little less frantic this year or maybe I'm just used to rejection by now, I don't know.

PAH said...


I got the joke (a la Homer Simpson: "I get jokes") -- but the nugget of concern was in there and that's what I was trying to address. I guess I was saying not to wait to thank them -- and admittance shouldn't matter. If you DO get in and are feeling extra giving a that point (and who wouldn't) go ahead and give give give.

As far as anxiety goes...yes, the process doth blow too much, methinks.

FZA said...

@11 MFA and others

I think the process is making us all ramble a little/a lot. But that's part of the joy of this blog. Where else/to who else will we ramble?

I would be so much less anxious about the work and the waiting if I could guarantee at least one acceptance. Like in college, I knew I'd at least get in to ONE of my schools.

kaybay said...

Maia - Aww, that's sweet :D I'm probably going to apply to Ohio State anyway, but it still gets me down :( Look at that, I've gone from happy emoticon to sad emoticon in one sentence, and all because of the GRE. Cursed thing.

11MFA - What was your last screen name?

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

Here's my list, for nonfiction (except for Illinois- then fiction.)

University of Pittsburgh
University of Iowa
University of Illinois
Florida State
Portland State
Iowa State
Penn State
Miami of Ohio (MA program)
Louisiana State

Jami Nakamura Lin said...

oops, and by McNees I clearly meant McNeese.

Aelfkin said...

Thank you, Blob. I'm going back through the application information, and some schools do say "from all attended" while others are more ambiguous, so I will contact them.

Another question-- If a school wants a CV and three recommendations, should the References on the CV be the same individuals who provide the recommendations, or is this the place to introduce additional individuals?

Thanks, all!

Anonymous said...

Man, I love this blog!
Anyone applying for low-full res combo??

Also, can't make up my mind about Goddard. I realize their tradition among low-res, but their website and application process just gives me the idea that they won't do enough teaching/mentoring... I don't know. I keep deleting them from my list and bringing them back... Any thoughts on Goddard?

Scout said...

My list in poetry:

UOregon, Eugene
Oregon State
Wash. Seattle
Univ. Victoria

Unknown said...

hey all -

two questions:

1. re: recs: is it better to use a rec from a published author (not at all well-known but has a book out) who has taught me writing, or a former boss who is the editor in chief at a major publishing company. the author would be effusive about my writing; the editor would say i'm a great person and editor and he'd recommend me for anything. is it better to go for clout in the field or a rec that speaks more to my ability as a writer?

2) is anyone else applying to some fiction programs and some poetry programs?

thanks for any and all thoughts!

(and i'll post my list as soon as i know it!)


Adam Atkinson said...


My experience is that programs are reading your recs for signs that you are capable of serious, studious, self-motivated graduate-level work. (Oh, and also, you won't be crazy.) So I usually err on the side of former teachers.

As far as applying to some fiction and some poetry, I definitely know some people who've done it! Honeybadger did it last year but ended up having much more success on the poetry end of things. (She got into Michigan and ended up choosing Cornell--holy crap!)

But the point is she had strong manuscripts and interest-level in both genres, and she didn't know how things would turn out (Nobody ever does!), so she covered her bases. If you're into both genres, and you think you can enter a solid mss for both genres, I say go for it!

FZA said...

so because I have no life and because I clearly like stressing myself out, I came across this old post:

It talks about basic gpas and GREs needed for grad schools. It makes sense, I get it. But I was wondering what 'acceptable GREs' even are? Have people found any luck finding a range of typical GRE scores at any given school?

I'm running out of time to decide if I need to retake it.

On one hand, I'd hate to waste time and stress over something like the GRE. I'd also REALLY hate to take it again and not really improve my score. I took the SAT twice and my scores were different by 10 points, which in my opinion looked worse than if I had only taken it once. Granted, I actually did ok on my SAT.

But I'd also hate to not get in anywhere and think it had something to do with my damn GRE score keeping me out of the grad school.


Unknown said...

thanks, adam!

one more question: what do people know about Bowling Green?

Anonymous said...


From what I can tell, most schools want at least a 600 Verbal for the GRE, and a 3.0 undergrad GPA. So if you're in that ballpark I wouldn't stress.

FZA said...


Thanks for your response. My GPA isn't a concern luckily, just my GRE.

None of my schools have any programmatic guidelines or requirements (except possibly FSU) that I can find. My question is not about programs about about grad school requirements, which will not favor verbal scores over math. It seems like when and where the GRE matters it does so because of the graduate school acceptance not of the program acceptance, if that makes any sense.

Trying to figure out the best way to find 'graduate school requirements'.

Anonymous said...


Then I think it might be time for a mass email to all of the schools where you can't find an exact score. I haven't found a school that required a score higher than 600, but if you're worried I would just ask. :)

Renee said...

@ aelfkin

I just wasn't going to put references on my CV (they already have references in the form of recommendation letters) but what do I know?

PAH said...


I would find other things to stress about (God knows there's plenty).

From what I've heard, if a program likes your sample and wants you in, they will make it happen.

But to quote Renee: "But what do I know?"

If you don't get in anywhere I am okay with you blaming me. After all, I will blaming most of you.

kaybay said...

@Blob - the vast majority require a 500 verbal score or more and a 1000 overall. The only exceptions to this that I've run into are Ohio State (who might not even care about it anyway) and U South Florida (who a lot people aren't applying to anyway). I really can't think of any others. In fact, I emailed Iowa about their feelings on the GRE and was told emphatically that admittance is based on the writing sample.

I'm in the exact same boat as you are and fluctuate between telling ETS to fuck it and wanting desperately to retake the damn thing. I actually took the test twice (a couple of years ago) and got a whole ten points more on the verbal the second time *hooray!*. This is after bombarding my brain with several hundred flashcards and feeling pretty confident afterward. Until I saw my score. Lo and mother-fing behold they are planning on removing analogies and sentence completions NEXT year! Bastards.

Because I don't foresee me pushing the 600 mark for the verbal section and because I didn't have any success in the past with retakes, I'm *most likely* not going to retake it, but it is still a possibility. I'm going to take a practice test and see what my progress is. I don't foresee there being any progress, though :*( So sad.

You know what, ETS can fuck it. And suck it. And pluck it. And maybe even struck it. Oh, no, that last one doesn't work...

Damn you, ETS!

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...


Bowling Green (BGSU) fully funds students via teaching positions and provides opportunities to work on the Mid-American Review, a pretty well-regarded literary journal edited by Michael Czyzniejewski, author of Elephants in My Bedroom. I wouldn't be surprised to see BGSU climbing up the top 50 in the next few years since they really are a strong program in many respects. A lot of their graduates continue to publish well in terms of books and lit journals.

Aelfkin said...

Hello, everyone!

I just heard back from the University of Wyoming, and even if you have an A.A. or other colleges attended, they only request a transcript from the college you received your four-year degree at. Hooray!

Unknown said...

I don't see many folks listing Florida as a choice. The fiction and poetry faculty are excellent, the program is extremely small--6 per genre, the program is three fully-funded years with a fat stipend--esp. given the low cost of living, the university is beautiful, the student population is diverse, and Gainesville is 60 miles to either coast. Y'all should consider this fine program.

kaybay said...

Shhhhhhh, Adama, shhhhh. Florida is one of my top choices (I have four, haha :D), don't let anyone else know how awesome it is. It's mine, all mine! Muahahaha.

FZA said...

Florida is also on my list (for poetry). The three year program and the funding, as well as the faculty make it a big hit. My family is also in Atlanta, so being driving distance to home also is a plus for me.

The small size is actually a bit of a negative for me. A class size that small makes me worry that I'll end up feeling a bit claustrophobic. I have some other itty bitty size programs on my list, but it is something that makes me a bit nervous!

STC said...

I think some of these questions may have been asked before, but I can't remember the answers:

Is FSU's program two or three years? The rankings list it as two, but the "underrated programs" article mentions it is three.

Also, does anyone happen to know if Butler is still active on staff?

And finally (sorry), is it a fully funded program?

I've been squinting at the size-6 font of their website for twenty minutes and can't find this information.


Lindsay said...

@kaybay -- I'm a first year at Ohio State and there are SEVERAL of us who had lower than a 1200. I had a 1050. Your GRE score would affect funding -- that is, you would most likely get a teaching assistantship instead of a graduate school fellowship for the first year, but you would still be funded -- but not the acceptance. As far as I can tell, they consistently accept people with scores well below the 1200 "minimum." I think that minimum might be there as an English department thing for MA/PhD students, or possibly because of the graduate school fellowship requirements.

Feel free to e-mail me if you have any other questions about the program.

kaybay said...

Wow, Lindsay, you just took a giant load off my shoulders :D Thank you for posting that information! I might hit your email up for a question or two, but honestly, I've heard so many good things from OSU that I might not need to ;)

Staci R. Schoenfeld said...

Just a heads up about South Carolina. The due date I had in my spreadsheet from a couple of weeks ago was Jan 15. I was just on the website and the deadline to be considered for fellowships/assistantships is Dec 15. (It could be that I had the wrong information down in the first place, but y'all might want to check your calenders.)

FZA said...


Thanks for the heads up. I'm sort of afraid that every deadline I have on my master spreadsheet will be changed/is somehow wrong haha. But as it is, I have such little time to do applications that I'm trying to do as many as I can (hopefully all) over thanksgiving (I'm taking the whole week off) and that has to be before any deadlines.

Mike said...

did anybody else bomb the analytical writing portion of the gre?

I did fine on my verbal and okay on my math but got a THREE (10th percentile!) on my analytical writing. I'm pretty slow when it comes to formulating an argument for an essay and ran out of time on the first last word was "detr", halfway to becoming detriment.

My guess would be that if the verbal score was to bear weight, then the analytical writing would bear some weight, too, esp when admissions is considering someone to TA an ANALYTICAL WRITING course like freshman composition but I've only heard talk about the verbal score.

unfortunately for me, the analytical writing must come into play, too, right?

FZA said...


I didn't do great on my writing GRE too. I don't know why I never bothered to open my damn kaplan book to the 'writing' section and at least see what the format was. I didn't even know there were two essays or that one was supposed to asses an argument. I'm sure an extra 10 minutes spent reading that chapter could have raised me at least half a point!
But I did ok enough that I'm not going to worry about it. In general, I just need to keep convincing myself not to worry about the GRE. Everyone says, don't worry, it doesn't matter. Everyone says as long as they like your writing they'll get you in. Now we just need to convince ourselves!

On the plus side any grad school requirements, don't take the writing score into consideration, so on that end you're 100% fine.

kaybay said...

I'm just curious (this is for my own sake) how far along everyone is in this process. Is anyone finished? Anyone done with their sample?

Karissa said...


Definitely not finished. I have a narrowed-down selection pool for my Writing Sample, but it's by NO means chosen. I have my recommenders notified, CV updated, and am taking the GRE in a week and a half (yikes)... But just started last night on crafting a Personal Statement.

FZA said...

Re: application status

I have taken my GRE. My recommendation packets have been sent out, one has even already been sent back with all the letters completed! My writing sample is 'complete' in terms of writing, but I have not yet selected which out of about 14 poems will make up the 6-10 most schools request. I have some idea of which ones I like, but am going to look for some second opinions.

I have started about half of my applications online. And by started I mean, gotten my log-in, filled out my name/address, and snooped around to see the format/set-up.

I have not started or even started to think about my personal statement, letter of intent, and TA application essays (some schools will have me doing all three) or my critical writing sample (at least one of my schools require it for admission, and at least 1 more for TAships).

Whew, this is a LOT of work.

Jennifer said...

I have seen that some folks are applying to my wonderful program at George Mason.

Please take advantage of the open houses offered this fall if you can. There will be campus tours, and information sessions with students, and opportunities to attend both classes and readings.

Find information about it all here:

Karissa said...


How are you feeling about the critical essay requirement? I'm finding it a bit intimidating, wondering how much they really care about its quality/length... Hah!

FZA said...

It's one of those things that just adds to my pile of things to do. I'm planning on digging through my old college papers and finding one that's decent and sprucing it up as much as I can. I'm not terribly stressed about it, but I am daunted by the amount of work it might add.

On another note, I thought this website might be helpful for some:

It calculates GPAs quickly. I've come across online applications asking for specifics such as major gpas, minor gpas, gpas for the final 2 semesters, and gpas for all 'relevant classes.' I knew major and overall, but all the rest I had to calculate. This website saved me a lot of time.

kaybay said...

Holy Schnikes, I just spent $120 on f-ing transcripts. This better be worth it!

Katie Oh said...

re: being finished

I'm about 85% done with one story and I haven't even touched the other one yet. The mostly-finished one is sitting at a steady 17 pages and I think I'll be aiming for about 15 for the other. It's currently at 5, ack.

I have my GREs scheduled, my deadlines mapped out, and a list of places I need to send my transcripts. And 1/3 of my letter of rec writers totally up to speed with the status of my progress.

I think I'm just going to devote a day in mid-November to do everything I can app-wise and see where I am. UMass has one of the bulkier applications (with the Fellowship apps and stuff) and it's the first one due, time-wise, so I figure that'll be my trial run.

That is, of course, if I can figure out what the deal is with their sample. Their website says 20 pages with no further clarification. Anyone applied there before and know what the deal is? Is 20 the min or the max?

Scout said...

@ kaybay

I applied last year and I have to say - it's nice to see a familiar 'face' up here on the boards.

As for the process...I have a general SOP written, to be tailored for each school. My writing sample (poetry) is pretty much done (I'm working on order) and I'm sending out my rec-writers' packets tomorrow. Whew. But I've also been seriously procrastinating school work (I'm getting my MS in library science).

To all - I'm not in the MFA program at Illinois, but I am taking an undergrad poetry workshop within the creative writing program (I'm a library science student at Illinois) and would be happy to answer any questions you might have about the program/central Illinois.

portia dot elan dot c at gmail dot com

Sara said...

I am applying to several multi-disciplnary MFA programs, but not all of them are mult-disciplinary. MIn my statement of purpose, I conflate expository and creative writing with writing poetry because it is part of my process as a writer and I enjoy writing in different genres. That said, I'm curious (particularly for those programs that are not multi-genre focused), does a disciplinary snobbery exist within MFA programs? (Makes me visualize faculty luncheons like a high school cafeteria - are the poets on one side and the other writers on the other? ) ;)

FZA said...


My guess is that it depends on the program. A lot of programs encourage students to take workshops in other genres; while in others you can't take workshops in other genres for credit.

I want a program that encourages cross-genre experimentation. My poetry improves from my fiction, and my fiction improves from my screenwriting. For me it's all related.

But, I know there are others who have little to know interest in taking classes in an other genre. Similarly, I'm sure there are professors who don't want their fiction workshops to be flooded with poets who aren't as advanced in their technique, or vice versa. So I think it totally depends.

In many cases, it's pretty easy to tell just from websites!

What programs are you applying to that are multi-genre?

Karissa said...

Yes, I know I'm jumping the gun, what with not even being in a program yet, but I'm just curious if anyone else is already stalking the Academic Jobs Wiki?

This might be because I had a friend finishing her PhD applying for jobs last go 'round, but I became quickly obsessed with the Wiki, haha!

FZA said...

No wiki stalking for me, just obsessively reading old mailbags, hoping to find some kind of magic secret that will make this process easier. Yeah, no luck so far.

I just need to write those damn personal statements AND not to forget the essays for TAships.

ChrisLes said...

@ Rebecca

Certainly not all writers wish to have their disciplines conflated. For instance, at Iowa, the poets regarded the fiction writers as beings so square and ordinary-minded that they were almost not artists at all, and we fiction writers regarded poets as mad narcissists unconcerned with connecting with any readership because they were never going to make any money anyway. Then at the end of every year we had a softball game to decide who was right.

In seriousness, though, I wouldn't recommend treating all creative writing disciplines as one in Statements of Purpose sent to single-discipline programs. Someone looking only for poets, say, might find your conflation of disciplines troubling, and unfortunately there is already so much awful poetry out the world written by otherwise-masterful fiction writers (and vice versa) that they won't have far to look to find a support for their skepticism.

Best of luck,
Driftless House

Sara said...

The programs I consider multi-genre are: UT Austin, John Hopkins, University of Washington, Colorado State, UMass Amherst, and UNH. I question the strictness of disciplinary specialization in the following schools: U of Iowa, Cornell, Denver U, FSU, and SUNY (Albany), and U of Montana. All but 3 are MFA programs. Three of them are PhD.
Any feedback you have on how open these programs are to multi-genre exploration is helpful. Again,I am applying for poetry, and that is my focus; however, I think it's invaluable to have a wide breadth of experience.
Thank you!

STC said...

I have a big question:

I did the Teach For America thing and for a couple of years was a part-time student at a university in order to obtain a "Transitional B" teaching certificate (not a Masters). Should I send transcripts from that school as well as from my undergrad? I took maybe three classes.

Open Spaces said...


I just noticed in your profile that you live in Portland. I live just outside of Portland. I'm planning on sending my manuscript to Driftless House on November 7th. I would send it earlier, but I need to wait on a paycheck. Anyway, I was wondering if you thought this is too late (most of my applications are due Dec 1 - Jan 15). I imagine you guys are pretty busy this time of year.


many many birdies said...

@ Rebecca, re: multi-genre programs

I know at UNH most people take courses outside of their genre. You can take workshops outside of your genre as long as you get permission from the instructor. There are also courses that are kind of half studio/half academic, and LOTS of people take those outside their genre (you don't need permission to do this). You can also have professors on your thesis committee who are not from your genre.

kaybay said...

Blob, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I'm totally glad to see someone just as obsessed with this as I am. It seems like most people just casually log on here and post infrequently, but I'm almost always thinking about finishing my apps, looking at programs, looking at cities in which the programs are located, checking this blog/P&W, posting, etc. It's really quite ridiculous. I don't follow any other blogs, I don't have a facebook/myspace page (hell, I got my first cell phone three years ago and I'm 26!), yet I don't want to miss anything from this damn thing. I know that the MFA doesn't mean much, I know I'll probably be disappointed if/when I attend a program, but in the meantime, I'm completely obsessed. I'm sadly glad to see someone who is equally obsessed as I am ;) Yes, it makes me feel better.

Hello, my name is Karen and I'm an MFA-aholic.


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