It’s after Labor Day, which means another year of MFA applications are starting. Over the past five years, I’ve been writing advice on how to write a statement of purpose, what to include in your writing sample, how to find the best programs for you, etc. The fact of the matter is, from year to year that advice doesn’t change all that much. As our low-residency MFA program has grown and I’ve seen more and more applications, I’ve adjusted or added to some of my original advice, yet those early posts still get the lion’s share of hits, which is fine, since they’re still valid.
Over the years (our program started in 2015), I have tried to give advice, not just on how to get into a program, but on whether to do that and how to afford it if you do. I’ve written on the choice between fully-funded residential programs (great if you can get in and if they’re right for you) and typically not well-funded low-res programs (where you are able to keep your better-paying job if you have one). I’ve also pointed readers to my program’s Guide for Applicants, which combines a lot of this advice in one pamphlet that I hope is helpful for any program, though tailored for ours.
If I had to give advice to someone considering applying for grad school this year, I would encourage them to consider established low-residency programs that know how to deliver distance learning. Compare low-res programs for the two main types: the individualized mentoring model or the online course model (hint: ours is the latter) for their relative strengths and weaknesses and for the kind of experience you are looking for. In the age of COVID, many MFA programs have moved online for the fall semester and probably for spring as well, so it makes sense to compare resident programs with good low-res programs who have established practices. Look at how low-res programs are handling their residency requirements (many of us are holding virtual residencies) and see what resident programs are doing to provide that kind of content that used to be face-to-face.
Who knows what Fall 2021 will bring. Maybe things will be closer to normal by then — we all hope they will be — but if not, a program like ours that is built to work in a distance environment may be your best bet. On the other hand, if you can get funding for a resident program, even if that program starts out online, it may still be your best choice. Consider how you’ll work as a teaching assistant or what other duties might be associated with your aid if undergraduate classes aren’t face-to-face. Fortunately, there will come a time when COVID-19 is not the first thing we think of when making any decision, even if that is hard to imagine right now. Unfortunately, I can’t predict when that will be.
When choosing programs to apply to, don’t just go for the most well-known ones with the most glamorous writers. Do your research. There are many smaller programs with excellent teachers who may not be household names (are any writers household names?) but who will be excellent mentors and even friends, and who attract serious, committed MFA-student writers who will become lifelong writing buddies. Really get to know the programs you want to apply to, and you will write a better letter. You will increase your odds of getting accepted because you will apply to schools that are a better fit for you and you will present yourself appropriately. That’s really all we’re looking for: serious writers who have taken their application process seriously and who will be a good fit for the culture we’ve tried to foster in our programs.
Looking for more advice? Here are my 10 most recent posts in the category MFA Application.
- Do You Need an MFA to Be a Writer?This morning WordPress showed me a link to this post: You Don’t Need an MFA to Be a Writer by Roxanna Coldiron. Though I direct a low-residency MFA program, I couldn’t agree more. I liked the post, but there was no way to comment, so I decided to write my response here. In her post,Continue reading “Do You Need an MFA to Be a Writer?”
- MFA Applications Advice 2020Over the past five years, I’ve been writing advice for MFA applicants. Here’s my latest post and links to more.
- The MFA Writing Sample: How long?Sometimes the best advice is the most practical advice, so with that in mind, I want to revisit the MFA Writing Sample to ask a question about optimal length. Those of us who teach undergraduate writers often make paper assignments that are 5-7 or 8-10 pages. In those cases, hitting the minimum is required, but toContinue reading “The MFA Writing Sample: How long?”
- MFA Writing SamplesMay I just say that one of the tasks I most look forward to this time of year is reading the letters and writing samples from applicants to our low-residency MFA program? I know we won’t be able to accept everyone, but I open each file with a sense of promise and hope. For thoseContinue reading “MFA Writing Samples”
- How to Prepare to Apply for an MFA Program, Part 2So you’ve been writing, revising, reading magazines and books (as I suggested in Part 1 of this series), and you feel like you’re ready to start the application process. How can you navigate the difficult journey to an MFA? Fortunately, there are a lot of resources that can help you choose a program and figure outContinue reading “How to Prepare to Apply for an MFA Program, Part 2”
- How to Prepare to Apply to an MFA Program, Part 1Okay, so you want to apply for an MFA in Creative Writing, but you don’t know whether you’re good enough or where to start. You want to brush up on your writing and you want to put together the best application you possibly can. But how? In this post, I’ll try to give you someContinue reading “How to Prepare to Apply to an MFA Program, Part 1”
- Transcripts for the MFA ApplicationI’ve reached Day 8 in Kenzie Allen’s 10-day course on applying for the MFA in creative writing, and she’s talking about the CV, transcripts, and the GRE. She has a lot of good advice, so if you haven’t taken her free course, you should. She even links to my blog a few times, so sheContinue reading “Transcripts for the MFA Application”
- Revisiting the Statement of Purpose for the MFAThis week, I’ve been learning how to apply to MFA programs in creative writing: I decided to take a free course, even though I direct an MFA program. I’m taking the course to see what Kenzie Allen has to say about the process and to review what I think about it, since I’ve written aContinue reading “Revisiting the Statement of Purpose for the MFA”
- A Few Do’s for the MFA ApplicantA couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled 15 Things to Do Before a Low-Res MFA (plus 5 bonus things). That title was a little tongue in cheek because I’m not a big fan of numbered lists (since there’s no magic number), but they were some good things to at least consider before embarkingContinue reading “A Few Do’s for the MFA Applicant”
- A Few Don’ts for the MFA ApplicantIt’s getting to be that time of year again, when college seniors and graduates planning to go to grad school start thinking about their applications in earnest. I’ve written a fair amount about the process and even compiled some of my best advice in a Guide for Applicants for my MFA program in Creative WritingContinue reading “A Few Don’ts for the MFA Applicant”