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!

0 Mailbag, Friday Sept. 7, 2012

Keep the questions, support, rants, vents, and ideas coming!

0 Preparing Your Manuscript

Here are my questions: what do you do to prepare your manuscript for your applications? Do you workshop? Exchange work with a few trusted friends? Revise quietly, alone? Pray?

What do you consider ethical, or unethical, when it comes to getting help? There has been a lot of debate over the last few years about fee-based services and freelance editors (and, full disclosure, I am a freelance editor). Where do you stand on the issue? Have you used such services? Would you consider it? Why, or why not?

0 Mailbag, August 15, 2012

Here's a space for questions, concerns, ideas, freak-outs, support, encouragement, etc, etc. This mailbag isn't quite as frenetic as the Facebook MFA Draft 2013 page, where posts can often get lost. So feel free to dig in, share, and let other applicants know: the MFA blog is BACK!

0 Low-Residency Experience: Writing to the Finish

I have one semester left in my low-residency program at Queen's University of Charlotte. I am overwhelmed by:

  • How quickly time has passed. 
  • How much writing I've done in the past year and a half. 
  • How much more writing I will be doing in my final semester. 
  • How much revision I have to do this summer on my thesis.
  • How absolutely this was the best decision I've ever made.
The third residency/semester, which began in January for me, pushed my writing. Not only was I submitting new work to our workshop, but I began to seriously revise an old piece or two. Not just glance through, or make some quick changes based on recent critiques, but doing the hard work of taking something apart and putting it back together again. And then, taking it apart. Again. There are still a few pieces left, rolling around on the floor, here  - no, there. Can somebody tell me what to do with that chunk of flashback that will not go away?

There's also the reading to keep up with and this May residency, my fourth, included a few books that I could not put down. I think I've mentioned that, at Queens, we're required to read in all genres. I've found I really like the creative non-fiction selections almost as much as fiction.  Angelhead by Greg Bottoms and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn (nope - haven't seen the movie) were two of my favorites on the list. I read Angelhead in one night. It was that good. For fiction, the Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake rocked my world.

Technically, I have the summer off. The first draft of my thesis (a collection of short stories) is due to my advisor in October. A few weeks later, my craft paper will also be due. However, there's that whole job thing. So I plan on spending this summer doing some serious revision on the stories. That break it apart and put it back together kind. 

The idea of spending my hard-earned eight week break from the public school system writing...well, this makes me giddy. Seriously. 

This plays into the best decision I've made...every instructor I've had at Queens has given invaluable lessons on craft and provided one-on-one, detailed feedback. My fellow graduate students are like family (Cue the violins. Maudlin is what happens the day after you return home from residency.)

In September, I'll go into academic mode and work on the craft paper and plan for my teaching seminar. I'll also submit pieces throughout the semester for workshop. This is why some folks choose to defer their final semester but I'm going for a January graduation. 

Both drafts will be turned into my advisors (one for thesis, one for craft) and I'm certain, that by November, I'll take a few things apart. And put them back together again. 

0 If I Had Known Then What I Know Now....

April 15th has come and gone, and hopefully all of you are starting to make your plans for next year, whatever and wherever that may be. As you are taking what feels like your first deep breath in months, I'd like you to reflect on your application process. Are there things you wish you had done differently? Something you should have known but didn't? Any advice to pass on to next year's application pool? Please post your comments below. And good luck to everyone!

0 Camp for Writers (2012)

*Just in case you were in the mood to fill out MORE applications (at least it will be a distraction from checking your email umpteen times a day), I thought I would re-post my blog on summer writers conferences. Enjoy!*

Trust me, no one loves the solitude of writing more than I do. I crave small, dark rooms. I relish working alone and in silence. If it were possible to write in a vacuum, I would. But I know, and we all know, that we can't. We need other people, not only to read our writing, but to critique it, massage it, cajol it, and sometimes even like it. So we join writers' groups, or apply to MFA programs, or apply to writers conferences, all in hopes of finding that writerly community where our work, and our personalities, fit in.

So how many of you are considering (or are already planning to attend) a writers conference? I've been attending the same conference for nine years now, and I can't imagine a summer without it. *FULL DISCLOSURE - I work for the Southampton Arts Summer Conference, so yes, I'm biased.* Having said that, there are a lot of conferences in the country to choose from, so you'll need to figure out what you are looking for in a conference experience before you find the one that is right for you. Are you looking to study with a particular teacher? Are you looking for industry contacts/meet-and-greet opportunities? Are you looking for a friendly, fun atmosphere or a more competitive one? Are you looking at conferences that are sponsored by MFA programs that you would like to apply to next year? It's a good way to learn about a program without making a commitment. It also gives the program a chance to learn about you, which may help them when assessing your MFA application (and a letter of recommendation from a workshop leader never hurts either).

So what interests you about the conference experience? What would deter you? I'm more than happy to give advice based on my own conferencing adventures. Let the comments begin.

0 Where Are You Applying? Part 6

Three more weeks until April 15th!

0 Where Are You Applying? Part 5

Are we in the home stretch yet? Hang in there, folks!

0 Where Are You Applying? Part 4

And the posts just keep on coming! As usual, use this thread to post your lists of applications, acceptances, rejections, and waitlists. Fingers crossed for all of you!

0 Where Are You Applying? Part 3

The previous "Where Are You Applying?" and "Where Are You Applying?" Part 2 are up over 200 comments now, so I'm starting another one to keep it reasonable. Please post where you are applying, which program (fiction, poetry, CNF, etc.) and if you've heard anything back yet (acceptances, rejections, waitlists, etc.)

0 Where Are You Applying? Part 2

The previous "Where Are You Applying?" post is up over 200 comments now, so I'm starting another one to keep it reasonable. Please post where you are applying, which program (fiction, poetry, CNF, etc.) and if you've heard anything back yet (acceptances, rejections, waitlists, etc.)

0 Mailbag (2.14.12)

Feel free to post questions/pertinent information here. Happy Valentine's Day!

0 Southampton Writers Conference

Southampton Arts, Summer 2012
Session I: July 11 – 15
Session II: July 18 – 29

Creative Writing
Visual Arts

Our Distinguished Faculty and Lecturers include: Roger Rosenblatt, Melissa Bank, Emma Walton Hamilton, Stephen Hamilton, Ursula Hegi, Matt Klam, Jules Feiffer, Meg Wolitzer, Nick Mangano, Marsha Norman, Annette Handley Chandler, Robert Reeves, Lou Ann Walker, Julie Sheehan, Billy Collins, Scott Sandell, Donald Sultan, Steve Miller, Christina Lazaridi, Eric Fischl, Keith Sonnier, Frank Pugliese, Paton Miller, Paul Chojnowski, Daniel DeSimone, Angela Scott, Kathryn Markel, Mitchell Kriegmann, Jon Robin Baitz, Jay McInerney, Mary Karr, David Rakoff

Courses in Acting, Bookmaking, Children's Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Directing, Filmmaking, Fiction, Memoir, Playwriting, Personal Essay, Poetry, Portraiture, Printmaking, and Screenwriting

Southampton Arts
Stony Brook Southampton
239 Montauk Highway
Southampton, NY 11968

0 Another Response to Shivani

Over a year ago, I wrote a response here to one of Anis Shivani's Huffington Post blogs about creative writing MFAs. He has struck again and, along with several of my colleagues, I have responded, this time on the Huffington Post itself. I hope you'll check it out. I direct the Arkansas Writers MFA Program as well and I hope you'll take the seriousness with which we take this subject as an indication of how seriously we take our students' educations.

0 Where Are You Applying?

Let the lists begin! Please post where you are applying, which program (fiction, poetry, CNF, etc.) and if you've heard anything back yet (acceptances, rejections, waitlists, etc.)

0 Mailbag (1.17.12)

Feel free to post questions/pertinent information here.

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