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How many are an appropriate number of programs to apply to? I’m at 9 fully funded programs applied to and want to keep applying until blue in the face. What do you recommend? How many did you apply to?I think I applied to 8-12? (It was a while ago, so I don’t know the exact number), but if you can afford the app fees and have the stamina, I’d say apply to as many as you can! You never know whick school will end up being the right fitDo know that there are school that will waive application fees. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fee waiver or apply for one :).I applied to 14 programs. I saved up over two years to do it, lol, but yes please look at fee waivers at all your schools — always ask!
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What does the local and literary community look like around your MFA program? How diverse is your cohort, not only in terms of people's backgrounds but also their style of writing? What should a strong personal statement convey? How tailored should it be to the programs I'm applying to? Thank you!I went to the University of Arizona, and it had a strong literary community (lots of orgs, reading programs, a popular local bookstore, etc.), which I really appreciated. In terms of diversity, my program was fairly diverse, though I encourage you to look into how programs support students once they get there. Writing style was varied in each genre. I saw on twitter someone mentioned using your personal statement to explain who you are as a reader, and I think that’s smart. Tailoring it to explain why the specific school is important, but I would really only switch up a paragraph for each school- Iowa City has a great and dedicated small-town lit community centered around readings and independent bookstores. People show up. It’s good. - Echo what Maddie said re diversity. Racially, the fiction cohort at the Iowa Writers Workshop was majority-minority, and I loved that. Writing style was incredibly varied. - Personal statement: convey that you are a person who can get along with other people in community and that you are dedicated to your craft. convey why you want to attend that specific program.
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What is the best advice for someone applying right out of undergrad? How do you make your application look better? Because for people that apply after a few years of being in the workforce, they have more experience and have worked on their craft longer than someone just coming out of undergrad has.This is not super concrete, but just send your best writing. Committees are looking for promise and fit as well as talent, and you never know the specifics of what they are searching for!
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Did any of you bring a creative writing BFA background into your MFA experience? Did that in any way benefit?Not exactly — one of my undergrad majors was Creative Writing. I would say, not required, but a net positive. It is a benefit to have been in a couple of workshops before, formal or informal, and it is a benefit to know creative writing professors who can write you letters of rec. I didn’t have a mentor, but people I know did find theirs in their undergraduate creative writing depts.
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Any harsh truths you would be willing to share on the application process?No harsh truths exactly but basic intel: for most programs all that truly matters is the quality of your writing sample. The statement of purpose’s primary function is to convince people that you are a normal person who is driven enough to write and collegial enough that you will not be a nightmare or a serial killer.
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Would you say it’s more important to pay attention to current faculty members or visiting faculty, in terms of finding out what kind of work the school cares about?The current faculty, I would say, because that’s who you’d be working with longtermCurrent faculty. Visiting may not even be there while you are there. Also always ask in your interviews who will be teaching vs. on sabbatical, etc.
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I worry about not finding work after getting an MFA. How did you deal with this looming question? What did you find work in after?Hi! Quick plug for The Workshop here. Launching in January, we’ll be running a column called The Grind that examines post-MFA pathways folks have taken. Today’s going to be a bit more focused on the pre- and during- MFA parts, but please know that we do know about those very real concerns and will have resources for you to check out.That is super valid. I think it comes down to a two-fork decision tree: 1. Do you want to work in teaching, editing, bookselling, screenwriting, writing web copy, doing curriculum work or something directly related to MFA study? If so, great, your MFA + maybe a little relevant paid internship experience will get you there. I have friends doing all of those. TV writing in particular seems like one place where money is. 2. Do you have prior work experience or marketable nonwriting skills? I decided I did not want to teach without having a book published and so went this route. I work doing a variety of different kinds of consulting and contract work, typically around communications, fundraising, making people websites, etc.
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Any thoughts on which programmes are known for being the competitive/least collegiate?Hi Joe! This is a very sensitive topic for early career writers, and answering it in public can sometimes offend one’s mentors or lead to conflict with someone you really don’t want to have conflict with for the sake of your career. I’m sorry to give you kind of a non-answer here, but you’ll have better luck asking your advisors or mentors in private, or asking current students when you get in someplace.
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Do you recommend that your samples match the kind of writing you want to do in your program? i.e. if you talk about wanting to write a novel in your SOP, would it be ill-advised to send a sample of short stories?I think while it’s important to connect between your statement of purpose and your writing sample, especially when it comes to novels your MFA readers will understand it might be hard to fully represent your novel in a small sample. I would connect to your statement in terms of themes, etc.+1 Annesha. I wrote about a novel in my SOP and sent in 2 short stories, because I thought they were more polished.
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Do you feel like the MFA has moved you to a place where it feels more feasible to have a writing/reading life, however that might look for you? If so, how?I think the realities of life in terms of finances don’t change after the MFA, but I do have a wider community and feel more connected. I go to more readings, workshop with friends, etc. I also will say that getting an MFA was an emotional push: it made me feel like a “real” writer, which, of course, you don’t need an MFA to be a writer, but anything that makes you belive in yourself can push you to invest in your writing/reading
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How many times did you apply? How did you manage your feelings around rejection? (Thank you!)live answered
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What happens once the MFA is over in terms of job searches? Are there many people who go back into jobs unrelated to writing? How did you guys handle the post-MFA period?The Workshop is actually launching a column about this, The Grind, in January 2021! I was a copy editor in undergrad and now edit copy again, but people do pay me more and hire me more readily now that I can say I have an MFA (even though secretly these are totally unrelated skills). I wouldn’t say it’s totally unrelated to writing, but it’s certainly not in academia, which is awesome because I like being paid a living wage and not moving every other year :p. There are a number of livable dayjobs that actually will see your degree as an asset, if you find pursuit of the professor track too punishing, have a family like I do, or otherwise just aren’t into it.
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Would you recommend reapplying to MFAs if you don't get into any the first time you apply? (Worst fear, lol)Yes, reapply! I knew people from my MFA cohort who didn’t get in, reapplied, and are currently on the NYT bestseller list. The desire to prove people wrong can be its own powerful accelerant in a writing career honestly
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Not sure if this wil be answered later: As we know, the writing sample is so important. How did the panelists feel about their own writing samples used on their applications? Did they submit newer works, or older more polished works?Submit the most polished, most workshopped pieces you have. Doesn’t matter the age of the piece, just make sure it is something that has been read by others and that you’ve worked on a bit. You want it truly to be your best work.
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what were your goals going into an MFA program? it’s constantly asked on personal statements and I feel like they want me to be super specific on a writing goal but I don’t have one outside of bettering my writing. is that wrong?I talked about the book projects I wanted to work on. Is there something in particular you hope to write one day? Talk about that!
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For the writing sample: are there any topics or genres that are discouraged (particularly in fiction)?I really dislike how genre writing is prejudiced against in wider “literary” communities sometimes, but I do think it’s getting better. Programs are becoming more and more accepting of science fiction and fantasy, especially. I had one professor tell me that they disliked “genre” writing because they disliked writing that could easily be fit into a single descriptor. But I think that if you are squishing your writing into a mold in order to appear more literary, you might not be happy in a program that works in those conventions. If you’re accepted on the work of your heart, regardless of genre, then you know that that program shares some fo your values. Was that cheesy?Speculative fiction—sci-fi, fantasy, romance, horror—are the things I’ve seen multiple professors just straight-up refuse to discuss and make fun of in workshops. The same profs were totally fine with my magical realist work for reasons that are hard to explain.Agree with Cady and Annesha broadly, but I do also think it’s getting better. In my cohort a bunch of people were doing “genre” work and there were a couple of visiting professors who were very smart about genre writing, but I also think it really helped my friends writing magical stuff for example, to band together in workshop and out, with people who were also writing in that vein and familiar with its canon. TLDR: the other students also matter
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Thanks for your response, Cady — in light of that, is there any general advice you all have for what to look for in order to determine how collegiate/collaborative a program is?It’s a good idea to poke around a little and find someone who isn’t handpicked by faculty to say why their program is great. See if you can meet and speak to students other than the ones the graduate program introduces you to—find them in the Facebook Draft groups, on the website, through your networks, etc.
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Is there a point during the MFA that people usually start worrying about the business-y parts of being a writer? Like, when to start looking for an agent or sending things out to lit mags?I started sending out to literary magazines when I got so sick of my writing that I couldn’t edit it, so I thought, might as well. It actually has turned out ok, even though maybe it’s not the healthiest approach? As far as agents, that sort of just happened, because I have the privilege at being at a program that agents visit. This is maybe a question to ask directors and admins at programs, because agents don’t visit all programs.
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Did anyone consider an MFA/MA, PhD, or other combo degree?Not sure about other people here, but I learned Yiddish and Hebrew in my MFA, then got into a top Jewish studies PhD (which I had to leave for mom reasons). My friend who did a poetry MFA at UVA is now in a Jewish studies PhD at Cornell. There are a fair number of MFAs who go on to apply to PhDs in many areas, and the important thing they look for in applications, my advisor told me, was that you could explain how your MFA fit into your area of interest for the PhD and sort of prove that you weren’t just applying because it felt like the next thing.
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I have never been published, not even in a student journal, because I never submitted my writing anywhere outside of a classroom. I never worked on a literary journal either. Will that make me less competitive as a candidate for places like Iowa, Michener, Helen Zell, etc.?I know multiple Iowa and Zell students who were in exactly the same situation when they applied. It’s 100% not a problem anywhere. You’re actually more likely to hurt your application by getting your work that isn’t ready published prematurely in a venue that isn’t selective, since that will make some professors wonder about your judgment.
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Sarah - How is living in Iowa?Iowa City is a small college town - very white, politically Bernie country for the most part, lots of greek life among the undergrads that might keep you up at night if you live very close to campus. The restaurants are all mediocre, so knowing how to cook is a plus. Rents are generally cheap, and you can get a nice place for not a ton of money, or set up a gorgeous group house situation with studio space etc. The winters are cold — I wish I had had a car. There is a co-op with great food options. My cohort was full of PoC so I didn’t feel too too weird about how racially homogenous much of the rest of the city is. And finally, the University of Iowa has the World’s Nicest Gym….the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. There’s lots of literary community in the sense of events…there’s also sometimes the snideness and insularity of monocultural community. I am glad I went there, and made some lifelong friends. I hope this helps. <3
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I am only applying to schools with funding and wondering In the SOP is it a bad idea or a good idea to mention the fact that being able to teach undergrad students is something I WANT to do? — I have heard to make sure SOP only mentions writing and how you grow as a writer. That’s what I want but I do also appreciate a chance to teach too, but is that a positive to mention?I don’t think it’s a bad idea! I would note how you think teaching will strengthen/grow your writing because the committee is ultimately bringing you there as a writer, but if it’s a big reason you want to get an MFA, it’s worth mentioning
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Do you have any advice that's specific to international applicants? Are there particular difficulties that we can expect when it comes to the application process or funding?I would make sure you have a good funding package as it may be tough to find a job for supplementary income. I think I would advise you to ask if the program has other students with international backgrounds—because it can be lonely in programs with only other Americans. I know I felt deeply grateful for the presence of other international students in my program even after 9+ years of living in the US…a huge source of emotional support and affinity.
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For folks who didn’t get full funding - did your parents help you afford it? Did you take out loans?I think all our panelists and our facilitators got full funding and therefore cannot answer.
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Question for Desiree - what is the difference between Michener and the New Writers Project?Hi Will. NWP is out of the English department at UT. It is currently now 3 years, funded, and you teach. Michener is not out of the English department (it was established separately), but shares faculty with the English department — it is also 3 years, funded, but there is no teaching. Faculty is pretty much shared between both programs.
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What is the work/life balance like while getting an MFA? Is it difficult to have a full-time job and take classes?Funded MFAs will often forbid their students to hold jobs, as in your funding will be taken away if the faculty find out, because the balance is brutal to nonexistent. I have known many people who worked very part-time or over the summers, and unfunded MFAs will be much better at making sure you have time to do your regular job.
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how do you know if your work is "ready" for a program? advice like applying when you're ready, or selecting your best work, is difficult for me because I feel like I don't have a gauge on my own work.If you can join writing/critique groups — online or in person. Maybe your town has communty worshops that you can take for low-cost that may put you in contact with professional writers who can read your work. Try to get expert eyes on your work!!!
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I’d love to hear specifically from POC about what they looked for in terms of community as they applied, because several programs I’m interested in have no current POC faculty, which is disappointing, and I’m wondering how much that should factor into my decision. How did you figure out which programs would value you and your voice?Sigh. A lot of thoughts here. I’ve been disappointed with the lack of POC faculty here, though I knew it would be like this when I came. I said earlier that navigating artistic situations is often a push and pull, and I felt like this was something that I had to give up when I came. However, because my program was larger, even though my peers were whiter than I wished, the number of people around me made it a lot easier to find POC community. And I always had a few if not many people backing up my voice and my viewpoints, and tried to do the same for my friends. It wasn’t perfect. But I didn’t feel alone (and this is very specific to my experience, ofc).This is a really big question in the sense it may mean different things to different POC. I applied to a lot of programs and most of them did not have diverse faculties or cohorts. In my interviews I talked to all the program directors about race (this was in 2017 so Trump had just been elected). And honestly many programs had no idea what to do to diversify either faculty or cohorts. It’s still a huge issue for many programs. But at the end of the day, ask youself what do you need to write? Going to a non-diverse program really impacted me mentally in more ways than I had expected (I had attended PWIs before) but I hadn’t considered just how much my writing was fed by the POC communities I came out of. And not having access to those communities was probably the hardest part of being at an MFA. At the same time, I found what community I could find in order to survive, both on campus and online.. Find your people. They will get you through. And please please talk to other POCs in the program if you can.
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I’m having trouble finding schools that don’t have really low acceptance rates. Are there any schools you can recommend that have higher acceptance rates?Fully-funded programs tend to have low-acceptance rates due to the limited funds. This is a big thing you’d have to consider in your search.
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How is state residency handled? - If I move to a new school for grad school, do I maintain my home state residency: Driver’s license, state I vote in, state I pay taxes etc, or do I get new state residency in the state of the MFA program? (I know its a quirky practical question, but I am an older student and it could be an issue for me, as odd as it seems.)It’s going to vary from program to program. I attended the University of Colorado Boulder’s MFA, and we needed to get new state residency in CO before we started our second year.
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One reason I have been resistant to MFA’s in the past is that I worried that I would start writing to please my professors/cohort. A few friends have said they found in their programs is that everyone’s writing started to sound the same. I was curious if this was the panelists’ experience or if they found that everyone in their cohort honed their own unique voice?This was not my experience, but I would look at the faculty where you’re applying if this is a concern! At University of Arizona, the faculty had wildly different types of writing, so it was impossible for everyone to become a conglomerate because of a top-down phenomenon
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How much harder is it to get into an MFA program when you’re coming from a lower-ranked University?Pre-MFA program rankings don’t matter when it comes to MFA admissions—it’s about the writing!
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i’d love to hear more about balancing work/earning money and pursuing the MFA. Do people work summer jobs? Or part time (or full time) day jobs? How much time do programs afford for you to earn a living outside of them (I know this is different for everyone). Interested in Shelley’s low res experience especially but a question for all…Most people in my low-res program were also working jobs/earning money while earning their MFA. The program asks you to commit 25/hrs week to your MFA and I’d say that’s what I averaged. I worked a lot on nights and weekends on my MFA work.So while my program is funded, Ann Arbor is way more expensive than I expected. I was always basically one disaster away from…well….disaster. I applied to every award and grant I could, and that helped a lot (past students are great people to ask about this) and have been teaching poety in public schools this year. I also did some work for the literary magazines. The most I worked was probably 15 hr / week, which is much less than in my previous life. This year, I also moved out to a town about 20 minutes away that has much cheaper rent. Although I do live in a basement oops.
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For low res, approx how many hours a week were you able to dedicate your program/writing? Did you have to pull back from other areas of your life/work to make time? (I’m in my early 30s with a project manager career. I’m interested in low res, but hard to imagine how I’d carve enough time from my job without totally burning out/not sleeping. That said, cost of living in my area necessitates that I would need to keep this job or something like it, if low res. I couldn’t work part time)Hi Claire! WW asks you to plan to dedicate 25 hrs/week and I would say that’s about how much time I spent per week on average. I am self-employed so it was easier for me to balance school and work in the way that was ideal for me, but plenty of people in the program work full time, demanding jobs while doing the program. Nights and weekends become prime school work times! One friend worked it with his job so that he worked 4 days/week and had Fridays to focus completely on his school work, but obviously not everyone has that flexibility. In terms of balancing burn out, the nice thing about WW at least is that you can take a leave of absence/semester off if life demands it.
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Q for Shelley if there's time (if not I may message you afterwards) - how much time did you spend on your day job when you were in your program? I currently work full time and have two kids (7 and 3). I am itching to do an MFA, will probably need to do low-res, but I don't want to try to fit it in and then find I don't have enough time for it and give it short shrift. But I'm not sure when it will be feasible financially/professionally to try to work fewer hours.Hi Meredith! Mine are 7 and 2 and I had the little one WHILE earning my MFA. I am self-employed so it was easier for me to move my schedule around to accomodate both work and school, but plenty of people in the program work full time jobs. There really is enough time to work, have a family, and earn your MFA with low res if it’s what you really want to do. I’d often work in the evenings, and my husband was luckily extremely supportive and gave me big chunks of time during the weekends.Definitely feel free to reach out to me after if you’d like to talk further! shelley.greenberg@gmail.com
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How is health insurance handled?It unfortunately really varies from program to program, much like with fees that may or may not be covered. I can tell you that my program covered the vast majority of our university’s health insurance such that we paid ~$600/yr. My understanding is that that is low relative to what folks elsewhere had to pay.
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Another low res question, how much say did you have in picking your faculty advisor?In my program, you’re heavily encourage din your early semesters to articulate your goals clearly and then allow the program to match you with the best supervisor for you. You can request to work with certain faculty but ultimately the program has the final say. I only requested for my final semester. Happy to talk about all of this further offline.
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Can we talk more about affording MFA if you’re not in a fully funded program?Unfortunately, all our panelists and facilitators were funded, even if their whole MFA was not, so we might not have answers to this.
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Cady, this is scary: “actually more likely to hurt your application by getting your work that isn’t ready published prematurely in a venue that isn’t selective, since that will make some professors wonder about your judgment.” Should we not include publication? Only include MFA-adjacent lit journal publications? Ack.I would honestly not include any publications that has never gotten a Pushcart or a story in Best American, or mention a grand total of one if it’s a project you’re super passionate about (I will brag about my publication in the hippy-dippy interfaith Jewish mag Tikkun for the rest of my life and don’t care if it’s less prestigious). As we found out in discussion later, Stephanie took a totally different approach to this, and her professors were enthusiastic that she was looking to publish! I think the rules can be very different in poetry, and a new generation of chiller professors is less snobby about previous publications, but I’d still be unlikely to risk it by bragging about Rat’s Ass Review or whatever.
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When a school says that they are cross-genre, what exactly does that mean?This means that you will write in multiple genres.
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How common is it for first round apps to be read by current students/never make it to faculty readers before being rejected?Only faculty read apps at my program, and I imagine that’s similar at other programs but couldn’t say for sure
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Hi Cady, I actually have a question for you re: Jewish Studies. I’m also interested in learning Yiddish and Hebrew as part of my MFA experience because my work is informed by Jewish identity. Did you specifically seek out programs that had Jewish studies departments also at universities. Let me know if you’d rather me ask this question in a different format since this isn’t specific to MFAs.I didn’t specifically seek this out because I discovered it as I went. I will say that while Zell has an excellent Jewish studies program, it didn’t really strike me as a place that encourages students to pursue coursework in other departments as much, and I’m glad Ohio gave me the freedom to take as many Judeo-language courses as I could possibly want.
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Does there happen to be anyone here who writes about ableism? Are there/did your program value your voice?I only started writing about my disability and my daughter’s very recently. I saw other people do it in my program with varying levels of support. It’s better, I have heard, when you have access to instructors with disability.
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I’ve heard that some programs have huge drinking/drugs cultures. Is that true?There are definitely heavy drinkers at most MFAs, but whether this morphs into a whole culture of heavy drinking can depend heavily on how individual cohorts gel in different years.
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this is a question for Maddie - u of A was my dream school. what do you recommend , or where, since u of a is no longer accepting students ?I think it depends on what drew you to it! I liked the experimental nature of the cnf program, so if I were applying this year, I would look where my favorite writers were teaching and apply there. Ander Monson came out of Alabama, so that’s somewhere to consider. Iowa and Oregon were also places I was interested. But if you’re super interested in U of A, you can always transfer or apply next year when I imagine/hope funding will be secure!
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Statistically speaking, how many people from your cohort stuck around the town where you went to school?Quite a few--I'd say 3/4 stuck around for at least a few years, and many of us have actually bought houses and settled. I think a big part of this is that the university's English 101 program is proactive about offering adjunct classes to newly-graduated MFAs and PhDs, so they help ease new grads into the work world.Maybe 1/3 immediately after, though people have moved away since. Some people have families/started families, and others integrated into the community and stayed for that reason
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(Long-shot Q:) anyone have a ton of kids? Like, anyone moved for MFA with a larger family? Also: anyone *not* okay with attendees reaching out with specific q’s later?I have one kid whose disability makes caring for her like having three or four, some days. I don’t think any other people on this panel are parents, but do feel free to email me at cavishniac@gmail.com later.I have a good friend who moved from Philly with three kids and partner for his MFA. It’s definitely possible, but certainly tough. I have two kids but obviously chose the low-res option because moving wasn’t an easy possibility for us given many factors.
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For people who had the option to work on an MFA-affiliated literary journal during their degree, how did you find that experience? E.g. did it factor into your choice of schools? How much of your time did it take up? What did you learn from it?It didn’t really factor into my choice of schools, but it did give me a lot of cool opportunities. Plus, if you’re worried about a resume desert, I have something to put on my CV during the time I was here. I only put in about 6 hours a week, so it wasn’t too much at all. However, I have some submittable fatigue and began to realize that it wasn’t for me, but that’s a me thing.
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thank you for the teaching advice! a HUGE part of the reason I want to pursue an MFA is so I can teach either high school or college and I’ve actually waffled between getting my MFA versus master in ed. is it “bad form” to mention in my statement of purpose that a big part of the reason why I want to get my MFA in creative writing is to teach?Hi, I don’t think so! I would tie it in to how you think it will grow/support your writing since that’s what the faculty is most interested in though
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Would anyone on the panel be willing to read my writing sample?Eshani does this professionally! You should go to eshani-surya.com to learn more.
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Did anyone consider an international program?I do not believe any of our panelists or facilitators considered international programs, which are almost always unfunded.
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Is the MFA stipend actually livable or did you have to supplement with savings?I found it livable if you’re a single person without many loans (University of Michigan). This is exclusionary to many students, and not entirely fair. I ended up turning to the university for grants, awards, and prizes. I broke my laptop and didn’t have money to fix it (thanks Apple), and turned to a women’s student aid fund on campus, stuff like that. University’s are spilling over with money, but it often takes a lot of labor to unlock it.This is going to be different depending on stipend, location of school, cost of living, etc. I had to supplelement with loans because So. California is so expensive and I wanted to live alone. But I had cohort mates that lived together and made it work. :)
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Can you provide any insight into applying to schools outside of the US, any differences to be aware of when applying/attending?Schools outside of the U.S. virtually never have funding, is the major difference. They’re less competitive to get into as a result. Often in the U.K. writing programs will be MAs or PhDs rather than MFAs.
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In workshops do you get written feedback/notes from peers and professors? ( I attend bachelors in creative writingonline so currently mty feedback is 100% written format.)Yes, but also know that each professor will run workshop differently. Some ask that we all provide marginalia and written feedback, and some it’s all oral.
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Question for Annesha- Did you find yourself encouraged to stick to certain conventions for fiction at UMich? Did you often take classes with the poetry MFAers, or were you split up? My work usually falls between poetry and prose, and I was hoping to learn how strict the school is with form.Hi! So it really depends on the professor. I had some professors who were super conventional, and had no idea what was up with my wolf cannibal story or whatever, and other professors who embraced that weirdness wholeheartedly. BUT I did find a huge amount of stylistic diversity among my cohort, so I always had peers who supported my work and made me feel like I can take risks. I’m somewhat like you, between poetry and prose, so I also had an opportunity to do a poetry independent study. I wasn’t able to workshop my poetry / with poets, but I was able to take craft classes in the other genres (including non-fiction).
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Were you exposed to non-American literature in your workshops and classes?Yes! We had craft courses focused on diff types of lit and also had several international students
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If you write in multiple genres (e.g. fiction/non-fiction, poetry…), how do you choose a genre to apply to for an MFA? Do you have to? Any insights appreciated!You do have to at least decide for the sake of the application--because you'll be submitting to different people in the breakup of the program (the poetry faculty or the fiction). And in my experience, you have to choose, because that's ultimately the stamp that's on your diploma, but that doesn't mean you can't look for opportunities to write and learn across disciplines.
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as a semi recently single person in my mid 30s, im a bit anxious about leaving my home of the last 10 years (new york) - but worried about affording an MFA and staying there. any thoughts on friendships/community/mitigating the “chronic loneliness” stephanie mentioned as a slightly older and single person?Sending you a virtual hug! Remember that every other person arriving in your cohort will be in the same boat as you and looking to make friends. I think the *displacement* of the MFA is lowkey valuable — it can give you new perspective and space to really focus on your craft. I felt lonely at my program at first — I missed my partner and ride-or-die friends. But I made new friends, and fucking adore them. And New York will be waiting for you when you’re done, and during the summers off. :) Hope this helps.Totally understandable question! I should say that my MFA had people of all ages, and many were in their late twenties/early thirties at the start, so you’re in good company. I also think it’s scary, but everyone is in the same boat as you, and programs do a great job of creating community!
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For fiction MFA-ers, was there an emphasis in form? (short story vs novel) Did this factor into which programs you looked at? Is the short story… getting any love?In my experience, it is actually a lot harder to write a novel in an MFA than a short story (other panelists feel free to disagree). Even though the industry is built around the novel, it’s a lot harder to workshop because you’re always going to have to do it in bits and pieces. Short stories allow you to focus on a whole, and in my experience it’s generally the novelistwho have more trouble (sorry cut off here)
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Did anyone get help from family to afford their degree? I want to real talk understand how possible it to afford an MFA, and I am curious if people had outside monetary support (which I have heard is true of a lot of MFA students)I definitely knew people who did this, while others took out loans and just sort of never admitted it to their classmates. Taking out loans in secret is far more common than family help, from what I’ve seen.
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How did folx prep/budget time for the application process? Applying to 7-10 programs seems really daunting time-wise, esp. while working a full time job. Any tips appreciated!The good thing is that there's overlap with what programs require for an application; you'll want to tweak statements and writing samples to suit their requirements, but the first application will take a lot more time than the subsequent applications.Hey Nora! Valid. I budgeted two hours every other day for the month of my applying, starting with asking for letters of rec after making my list of schools. Keep in mind that there’s a lot you can recycle between apps. Definitely make a spreadsheet to keep you focused and on track.
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Has anyone applied to an MFA with a chapter of a novel as a writing sample? Though most schools say it's an accepted form, y professors have given me some mixed feedback on submitting like that.I submitted an unfinished short story an called it a “novel excerpt” and got accepted. Whatever is your best. Novels chapters are totally fine.
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Does the length of your sample matter? My pieces are on the shorter end.Every school has a different requirement for their writing sample portion, so it'll depend on where you're applying--some will as for a certain page count, so you can include multiple pieces in one document, but some as for one story (and usually still put a page limit on it so that applicants don't send them novels).
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For prose samples with a comparably large page limit (I’m seeing some that are 50 p!) is there a certain # of pages that you’d suggest making sure to hit? I want to make sure I only send my strongest, instead of filling pages just for the sake of doing so, but… don’t want to look like I don’t have enough, at the same time.The rule people usually give out is to send two things, either two stories or an excerpt and a story. But if you have one thing you love and one you don’t, it’s better to send one thing. It’s always better to only send what you love.
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I have a question about letters of recommendation. I am a recent college grad and only took one creative writing class in college, and I have a great relationship with that professor so he’ll write one of my LORs, but some schools require 3. I have employers that could write one, but I’m not sure that’s what admissions programs are looking for. What should a recent grad who has limited academic experience in writing do for LORs?LORs are for admissions committees to learn more about you and your characater. As long as someone will write nice things about you, that’s fine.
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Follow-up to Annesha- Thanks for your help! As someone finishing their senior thesis on cannibalism in literature right now, that piece sounds amazing! Is it published anywhere yet?Haha not yet!! But that’s an awesome senior thesis :-).
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What are some of the most important questions to ask a program director?Is all funding equal? How many courses do I teach per semester? Is there summer funding? Is there summer health insurance? What opportunities exist besides teaching? Will I teach creative writing? How many credits do I have to take in addition to teaching/workshop? What extracurricular events are there? Can you introduce me to current students?
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I’m curious about background coming into an MFA. I wasn’t an English major and have very little workshop experience (I majored in journalism, so still writing, but very different from a workshop!). Do your cohorts include people from a variety of academic backgrounds? Is this something I should address in my statement of purpose?I had cohort mates who studied in science, math, and many thing unrelated to English or CW. Only address it if it relates to your writing or why you want an MFA.It depends on the program. There are definitely programs with a lot of English majors. But also some programs have folks coming from a variety of backgrounds. In your statement you can totally talk about the ways your other degrees have fed into your interest in doing an MFA/creative work. I was also a journalism major (no English degree) and I talked about how my other writing work related to why/how I want to write fiction.
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My writing sample is going to be a section of a novel, I’ve heard from professors that it’s best to use the first few chapters when submitting a novel excerpt, but I think the beginning of my novel is weaker, and a section in the middle or end would be stronger. Do you think it’s best to go with the strongest section of a novel, or use the beginning even if it’s weaker?Ask someone else to read the section you want to use and ask them if they had any questions. If they seem very confused, then think about if you want to stay the course, or add contextual notes (like a novel synopsis), or what have you.
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I'm an international student and got my B.A. on a visa. Even though I do have "writerly" reasons to want to do an MFA, a huge driver is also that I need a visa to stay in the U.S. This has always been super sensitive and causes me anxiety in literally everything I apply for (internships, jobs, grad school). Does anyone have any advice on navigating the reality of being a non-citizen?A woman in my cohort was a non-citizen, and her student visa process seemed to be the easiest part of her stay in the US--she had the most difficulty when she was working on citizenship after getting married to a US citizen. (I don't know if that helps much, but I do know that it's doable!)
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I’ve heard it’s good to mention in your SOP professors from the school you’re applying to and why you want to work with them. Do you recommend doing that, and if so, any advice on how to do it effectively?I think it's a matter of striking a balance between looking like you pasted a Wikipedia page about the school/looking like you're sucking up and not looking like you even know anything about the school. I'd aim for showing that you're genuinely interested in learning from their faculty for genuine reasons if that's the case, but not fabricating if it's not the case. They do want to see if you actually aspire to their school and not just any school, so if that's the case, it's worth showing.
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What should I focus on in a teaching statement if the only direct teaching experience I have is as a writing tutor in my undergrad program? How can I frame my passion and ability with not that much experience?I think talking about what you’d like to implement is a good re-framing then. What workshop method would you use? What kinds of texts would you assign? How would you make the class accessible and equitable?
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Should I address weaknesses in undergrad (low GPA, etc) in my SOP?I don’t think that’s necessary! Focus on your strengths. GPA also matters less in MFA applications than in many other Master’s.
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Can you speak to the pros/cons of a program that emphasiszes workshops vs a program that emphasizes opportunities for lit analysis? I might be putting that wrong, and I know most programs have both, but I feel like I’m finding some places that are sort of positioning themselves along that spectrum and curious how to think about it.Hi! I attended a “literary”/“academic” program. The main thing in the pro column with one of those is theoretically the prep it’ll provide if you want to go on to do a PhD program. Going into an MFA, I knew that I wanted that door to be open, so I applied to a mix of “studio” and “literary” programs. The range of lit class offerings was actually one of the draws for me at the program I ended up at. I appreciated being exposed to literature that provided context for my own writing. Con was that we had to take as many workshops as we did lit classes, and there were definitely moments where I was like, oh my god, why did I do this to myself, I could be focusing on this stuff from a “craft” perspective rather than a “critical”/“analytical” lens, this is exhausting. If I were to theoretically pursue a second MFA, I’d want to go the studio route, but I do appreciate whatall I learned, and do not regret it.
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what is the difference between MA and MFA? are there fully funded MAs?An MA is not considerd a terminal degree in the field whereas an MFA has more weight and is conisdered a terminal degree. Most MFAs are studio programs, whereas an MA will require more critical writing and analysis.There are maybe two or three fully funded MAs? Not a lot. You can do an MFA after an MA but can’t usually do an MA after an MFA.
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thoughts on applying to MFAs now? should we wait until covid slows down a little bit? since we don’t know if classes will be IRL or notIt depends! I will say that some people will find full funding or guaranteed funding a boon in these times. But if you’re paying or taking loans, things might be different.
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is there a good resource to understand interfolio 101? i find it so confusing… everyone says it’s important to use but i can’t figure out the website!You can email me your questions at cavishniac@gmail.com.
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How much time in total would you recommend setting aside to work on applications?As much as you possibly can. :p
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Who professionally workshops personal statements?Eshani does, and you can find more information/contact her at eshani-surya.com.
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What was the interview process like for you all? How many did you get? What do you think the aim of an interview is?I’ve only heard of one MFA applicant getting an interview, and this was to confirm her English skills. Interviews are far more common in PhDs.
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A couple schools have an optional early app with no app fee for the first round, and then if you advance, you pay the app fee then. My question is, if an applicant doesn’t make the first can you reapply there the same year as that first round is optional?No, when you don’t make the first round, you’re out for the year.
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Why do applications ask what other schools you are applying to?This is for them to see what people are considering them being similar to/personal school ranking purposes. It’s weird research and the question seems intrusive, but it’s just for the schools to compare themselves to other programs.
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If you had it to do over again, would you?Yes!No doubt!yes - it changed my life
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Which schools have the early app with no app fee?University of Tennessee and Ole Miss. McNeese. Unsure about others.
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I’m currently in my first year in an MFA in Film &TV, but planning to leave the program and applying for MFA in creative writing. Will this reflect poorly on me as an applicant?No! I know several people who transferred after a year at one MFA program for another
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Some applications ask for ressume/CV. Is it best to include your regular resume and also a CV that lists publications, relevant coursework, and literary experience?I would only send one thing. I just sent a resume and added 2-3 things I published.
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I might have missed this above. But I would love to hear the temp. of MFA programs and worker unions. Thanks so much!My MFA really fought for us, and the year I left a campus-wide union was formed, which has done a ton of great work advocating for students, faculty, and staff. The MFA faculty is generally on your side and will support/advocate for youCOGS, the graduate union at Iowa is good, and constantly under attack from admin. :/
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Someone above mentioned it looks bad to say where you’re published if it’s not reputable because it makes your judgment look bad… do you recommend not including zines and small press releases? Which publications did you include?I would include only literary magazines that have gotten Pushcarts or Best American inclusion. These are tracked at https://thejohnfox.com/ranking-of-literary-journals/ and https://cliffordgarstang.com/2020-literary-magazine-rankings.
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Has anyone studied abroad as part of their MFA?I don’t think anybody here has. While some American MFAs will fund international travel for research, very few will pay for you to study writing out of the country, and virtually no international creative writing programs are funded.
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For real tho: are the programs that are all that really all that or are the under-the-radar programs what to keep an eye out for?Reputation has its perks! This question depends very heavily on what you’re looking for. Do you want an in with agents or do you want more funding, or maybe to live in a certain area, etc.
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In a resume, is it a bad idea to include publications that don’t correspond to the genre you are applying in (e.g. applying for poetry, but with personal essay/opinion pieces published)?Not at all a bad idea!Not at all! I’m sure a lot of profs would love to admit people with journalism experience, even if they’re writing fiction or poetry now, for example.
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Do you all know any programs including yours if they are accepting applications for the fall 2021 semester, especially with COVID-19 and funding cuts?Pittsburgh and University of Arizona are not admitting, and Minnesota might not be. You can find out more on the MFA Draft Facebook group.
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In your experiences, how much info will programs disclose about their incoming class? IE, if I’m a POC and want to interrogate that I won’t be the only one?They may not know who their incoming cohort will be until April 15, when you will hopefully have already made up your mind. This depends heavily on the program.If people haven’t committed, then they aren’t able to say, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to disclose even if people have accepted their spots, but I would look at the current composition of the students because that will tell you who they’re accepting, who they’re attracting, and if that’s something important to them
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The bulk of my writing portfolio is in the screenwriting/tv writing world, and so my recommendations would be speaking to my (screeen)writing capabilities. I am specifically not interested in applying to a screenwriting exclusive MFA, but wondering if this is a negative in applying to fiction programs?No, it wouldn’t be a problem to have two of three letters, for example, be about screenwriting. I might not do all three.
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Is there a concentrated resource to find summaries or comparisons of the various “aesthetics” or reputations of different MFA programs? I tried Googling but had such trouble finding anything.There likely isn’t one, because these aesthetics can change very fast and dramatically depending on faculty hires.
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@Cady thank you for responding about the aesthetics/reputation question. It was just that I find people casually mentioning that “School A” is known for this kind of writing, and I was just puzzled as to where they heard that.Yeah, it’s one of those things that people talk about all the time but is frustratingly hard to track and quantify.Seconded. For me it was a matter of tracking down faculty interviews, looking at faculty bios, and looking at what/where current students & recent grads had published. Brown and Alabama have experimental reputations and then from there it gets more research-intensive.
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Does anyone have experience disclosing a disability in an SOP? Specifically autism, or a related condition - obviously experiences will differ dramatically depending on the nature of the disability. There are various things I might want to say about how my autism motivates and shapes my writing, but I also have a lot of trepidation about the possible consequences of disclosure.I disclosed my PTSD in my statement and had it brought up repeatedly in ways that were harmful. I think if you feel it’s impossible to discuss your craft and approach without it, you should go ahead, but otherwise, be wary.
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Would anyone on the panel be able to speak to/be comfortable discussing coming from a low-income/working-class background and navigating the challenges that comes with that when entering the world of writing and MFAs? Totally ok if no, just thought I’d throw it out there!I think we’re going to run out of time for this one, but I’m going to include it on our post-Q&A sheet!DM me at @smathewss and happy to talk about it
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