MFA suggestions

So, I’m going to post something I sent to CE a month or so ago, because it is valuable to all MFA applicants.

This is a rough post that will be revised when I think of other things:

When applying to MFA programs, there are several criteria which may be of interest:

1. Funding: almost self-explanatory. If you have a school like UNH
(New Hampshire) that offers no first-year funding (like this year),
why apply? Unless you’re rich of course. I’d concentrate on schools
that give significant tuition grants or offer the ability to teach.

2. Selectivity and cohort size: a program like the Iowa NWP, which
selected only 12/120 applicants this year, will probably be better
than Emerson’s class of 48, taken out of 200+ applicants. Consider
the issue of community. Do you want to make friends, or write, or do
you want both? Do you want more personalized classes? Do you want to
feel like you’re wanted? If you’re one of those 12, you’ll know for
sure that you’re wanted.

3. Location: do you want to live in the
East/West/Midwest/Rural/City? It’s a pretty important question when
it comes to living somewhere for 2-3 years.

4. Teaching: do you want the opportunity to teach, and if you do,
how much do you want to teach? Some programs can have you teach the
first year, while others will save that for the second.

5. Prestige: this could arguably be number 1, but I’m just making a
list off the top of my head, so some of these aren’t in order of
importance. If you’re looking to get a teaching position somewhere
after getting your MFA, it is in your definite interest to apply to
those schools (Iowa cough cough) which will enhance your professional
reputation. If you don’t care about teaching but still want the name
recognition, it’s still ok to apply to those schools, but be aware
that there’s a lot of competition.

To do list:

Take your GREs as early as possible. Take them in August or earlier.
It takes time to get your scores back, and if you take them in
December (like I did), you will disqualify yourself from schools which
require the GRE and have an early January (or mid December) deadline.
More than half the schools on my application list required the GREs.
At the same time, the GRE is not that important. Some schools use it
as a tiebreaker for teaching positions or grants. Some just use it as
a prerequisite for the graduate program (not the creative writing
department). Good GRE scores will still help you a lot, but really,
they’re one of the last things people look at. Don’t worry about the
math, nobody will care about that. Just score well enough not to
embarrass yourself and you’ll be fine 😉

Get all your transcripts ahead of time. This is so important! Know
which schools require one copy of the transcript or two copies of the
transcript. It’s a huge pain to realize you didn’t send in the
required number of transcripts.

Letters of rec: same deal as transcripts. Get those ahead of time,
or use your school’s letter service if you have one. That is a great
resource that will save you time.

GET EVERYTHING IN ON TIME!!!!! Make checklist packets for each school
you’re applying to, so that you know what’s required and when it is
required.

Writing sample: I sent in 3-4 essays, with the longest being 12
double spaced pages. It is in your interest to send something that
shows variety. I can also argue the other side, which says you need
to show strong development of subject, which can be achieved in one 30
page sample. The problem with that is that a lot of long samples that
I’ve seen lately are really really bad. Short essays allow you to
tackle a variety of subjects and tend to establish voice easily. Grab
the reader’s attention immediately. Develop a persona that’s
different. Proofread. Have other people read your writing. Develop
strong self-proofreading skills. Make your first draft as good as
possible in terms of clear writing, then work from there.

One more thing comes to mind: the personal statement. This is very
important in terms of outlining your goals, telling the program why
you think you’ll be a good fit, explaining your influences, and in
general telling the program anything they couldn’t already know from
your application.

Finally: have confidence in your writing. If you aren’t confident
about your writing, it will show.

Take a look at Seth Abramson’s rankings. Those are very helpful.