Some answers about transcripts

Occasionally I like to look at my blog’s stats page — okay, I’ll admit it, more than occasionally, and sometimes often or esp. when I should be doing something else important, I look at my stats. I try not to be obsessed, but I like to see what interests people. The stats include search terms people used to access my blog.

Today, I saw an interesting question, and I thought I would answer it. In case you’re still looking to find out “do I need [a] transcript at muw even if I didn’t finish at the school I was at,” the answer is “yes.”

Whether you’re thinking of applying to our low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing (and I assume you are, since you landed here) or whether you’re applying to any other graduate or undergraduate program, The W needs to see every transcript.  We evaluate your entire record, and we need to know that you left your previous schools in good standing.

Generally this isn’t a problem (though I know that ordering transcripts can be an expense and a hassle). I’ve had several students who have had multiple transcripts to submit, and even some who started another program and then decided not to finish. It is good to address that decision in your letter of intent, so I know why you didn’t complete a program. But the fact that your plans changed isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Low grades in a program you quit might be an issue, though if there is a good explanation, it’s something to consider.

We do occasionally find out that a student hasn’t reported a transcript from another school — I’ve had this happen when it’s listed on another transcript (and yes, I do need the original transcript from each school attended — the only exception I’ve encountered was when a single class was taken at another school but credit was granted by the school whose transcript I had under a dual-enrollment or cross-registration agreement). I’ve also seen cases where financial aid turns up evidence of another school. I say all this to reiterate that it is much better to be up front about your academic record than to avoid submitting a partial transcript.

We care about your complete academic record, and I would prefer to know right away if there’s a program you didn’t finish than to find out later. We learn a lot from transcripts, and it is more than just your GPA. We learn about your academic history, the kinds of classes you’ve taken, and your preparation for our program. Even if you were in a completely unrelated program (let’s say you started nursing school and then decided you wanted to be a writer), I still learn about the breadth of your interests by seeing that transcript.

But transcripts aren’t everything. There are certain minimal requirements, such as a 3.0 GPA (but we still can admit conditionally if it’s lower and your writing is good) and some background in writing or literature (even if it wasn’t your major). Letters of recommendation, your writing sample, and your letter of intent each tell another side to your story. If you’re worried about a transcript that either is from an unfinished program or is not as good as you would like it to be, then fill in that story by highlighting your experience since that program. We have highly successful students whose academic record wasn’t stellar, but whose work and writing since they were last in school convinced me that they had potential to do well in our program.

So if you wrote that search term, I hope this post answers your question. And if you weren’t the one to write it, but this post answered some of your questions, then thank the person who did write it and thank WordPress for reporting those search terms in my stats!

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Danyelle on January 27, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    Great blog! If you’ve been out of college for a while and don’t have anyone to write recommendations what would you suggest we submit instead?

    Reply

    • My first suggestion is to try to contact some of your professors. I’ve written for quite a few students who have been out of school for awhile. That’s not a problem. And I’ve received letters from professors who are retired or have moved to another school, but are still willing to write for a former student. If you don’t have an academic recommender, then I would suggest finding someone else who knows you or your writing. I’ve had recommendations from magazine editors who’ve worked with an applicant, or from their employer. I’ve had letters from someone who’s had an applicant in a weekend (or longer) workshop. If you haven’t done any writing retreats or workshops, you might consider doing that before applying to an MFA program, since it will help you decide whether a more extensive degree program is really what you want to do and if you’re ready for that. But you could also get a letter from someone who’s read your writing — it helps if they have some publishing or teaching credentials.

      There really is no substitute for letters of recommendation, but you can be a little creative about who to ask, if there’s really no one from your academic past who can write for you. But don’t assume you can’t find someone. Do some searching, and you can likely find a former professor — then get up the courage to send them an email. The worst they can do is turn you down, but you’ll never know until you try. And think about the people in your life now who could write for you. Anyone who isn’t a family member would be a possibility, though of course, it’s best to pick someone who is in a position to write a good letter (boss, fellow writer, published author, volunteer coordinator, etc.).

      Reply

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