0 Answering the Most Frequently Asked Questions

Almost November... must be "Freak Out About MFA Applications Time"!

But don't worry, we've addressed many of the most frequently asked questions below. And of course Sally Jane, Nancy, and many others will answer any new questions in the latest mailbag. Hang in there!

-- Tom Kealey

1. If you can afford it, apply to between 8 and 12 programs. The selection process is unpredictable. Keep your options open.

2. When considering programs (and this is my advice, and not often the same advice of many other people): Consider location, funding, and teaching experience, in that order. Make a list of places where you'd like to live and where you could stand to live. Think about your financial situation (and don't drop 35K a year on a writing program), and select programs that meet your funding needs. Consider whether you'd like teaching experience or not. Using these three items, you can get your list down from over 100 to about 20. Then, factor in program reputation and professors and anything else you deem important.

3. Keep in mind that some programs offer 5 slots a year (i.e. accept 5 students), while others will offer 30 or more. Try to choose a good mix between small and large programs so that you'll have options.

4. You'll need some combination of writing samples, personal statement, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, undergraduate transcripts, and maybe a couple other items. Your writing sample will count for about 90% of your acceptance or rejection, so be sure to make it count.

5. The MFA degree is an artistic degree and not primarily a professional degree. Don't expect that the degree will get you a teaching job and a book deal. Expect that you'll spend two to three years focusing closely on your craft within a writing community. It's an MFA degree, similar to MFA Art degrees.

6. Ask for letters of recommendation from people you can count on. (i.e. People who will actually write the letters and who will say nice things about you). Getting someone dependable is more important than getting someone famous. Generally speaking, you'd like to have two letters from teachers and one from a former boss, or editor, or fellow writer. But go with what you've got.

7. For your personal statements: Come across as formal and friendly. Come across as a serious writer and a dependable person. Discuss your life experience, your goals, and the reason you want to take this time. The letter should be no more than 1.5 pages.

Bonus: Once you've been accepted at (hopefully more than one) programs, get in touch with current students and ask them about the atmosphere there. You'll learn a lot by getting the ground's eye view.

0 Mailbag - October 28, 2012

Looking at the mountain of apps and wondering how to begin?  Editing your writing sample and feeling anxious?  Killing time before Hurricane Sandy cuts your power?  Then post your questions, concerns, and advice right here!

0 In Case You Were Wondering What NOT To Do....

0 Residencies – A Step towards the MFA? An Alternative?

Over the summer I was fortunate enough to be offered a residency at betterArts in the North Country of New York.  Besides swimming in the crystal clear lakes and eating veggies fresh from the organic garden, the residency also gave me the time and space to do a lot of much-needed writing free from the demands of my “real” life.  I loved every second of it.  And it also got me thinking about writing residencies as a concept – I already have a MFA, and I work at a writers conference, so why is applying for and receiving a residency important?  And is it important/interesting to everybody?
For those of you applying to MFA programs this year, do you think having a residency on your résumé helps?  What are the pros/cons for choosing a residency over a conference?  If your reason for joining a MFA program is to devote time to writing, is attending a residency a viable alternative? Post your comments below!

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