Posts Tagged ‘grad school’

MFA Writing Samples

May 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 those who are applying, I’m sure you send out your work with a fair amount of trepidation. You know that some programs are extremely competitive and your odds are slim, but you hope you make the cut. Other programs like ours may not be quite as overrun with applications (though one day we could be), yet you’re still worried about whether you’ll be deemed “good enough.” It’s easy to imagine the readers of your application materials as gatekeepers who will determine whether or not you should follow your dreams. I’m here to tell you not to think of us that way. Of course you should follow your dreams. It’s just a question of where you are on that journey and whether our MFA is the right next step.

When I open a writing sample, I want to be wowed. I want the writing to be crisp and professional, but even more than that, I want to get to know the writer who sent it. Almost without exception, I find someone who truly wants to be a writer and who may well have the potential to make it. My job isn’t to weed out those who aren’t writers from those who are; my job is to  judge to the best of my ability who is ready for, and who will be a good fit for, our program.

So I’m just as excited to read the writings of those who aren’t ready for our MFA as I am to read those who clearly are. If I accept you into our program, I’ll be asking you to devote a lot of your time and effort, not to mention a sizeable investment in tuition, to pursuing that dream with us. I want to be fair and honest, and I want everyone we admit to be ready to get as much out of that experience as possible. I don’t expect perfection, but I do want to see that you have some idea of what you’re getting yourself into. I want to know that we’ll be able to help you out along your path and that you have a pretty good sense of what that path might be.

We’re more than happy to read your writing sample and your letter before you apply and before you pay us our small application fee. I don’t want to take anything from you other than the opportunity to read your writing as we look for a good mix of writers to be our next entering class. So with our priority deadline coming up on March 1 and possibly room for more applications after that, I’m excited to have some excellent reading in the coming months!

How to Afford Grad School

First, a disclaimer! As anyone who reads this blog can tell you, I am not a financial planner. My idea of debt management is not to go into debt. Seriously. My only major loan was on our house. I pay off my credit cards and have never had a car loan. I thank my parents for much of that, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation for the rest. My parents paid for my undergraduate education (and it wasn’t cheap), and a Mellon Fellowship paid for all but two years of my graduate school — a teaching assistantship and a Fulbright fellowship took care of the rest. So when it comes to funding graduate school if you don’t have a great fellowship, I’m no expert. That’s why I’ve been doing some research.

If you are going into a career with prospects of a lucrative profession upon graduation, then it makes sense to invest in your graduate education by taking out loans. If, on the other hand, you’re going into creative writing or one of the many other rewarding graduate tracks that should make you more marketable, but can’t promise a huge salary (not that those aren’t possible), then going into debt is a riskier proposition. Always remember that the longer you owe, the more you’ll pay, and interest generally begins to accrue while you’re in school, even before you’re required to pay off your loans. The less principal (money you can actually use) you have to take out, the less interest will pile up. So try to find ways to minimize the amount you need to borrow up front, and try to pay down the principal (pay more than the minimum payment) as soon as you can to cut the overall cost of your loans.

Many graduate students typically receive some form of financial assistance from their school. This can come in the form of a scholarship, but more likely will be in the form of an assistantship—either assisting with a graduate faculty member’s research or with teaching a class. Often a teaching assistant begins by leading discussions and doing some grading, but isn’t in charge of a full class. Then after a year or so, an assistant instructor may have complete responsibility for an undergraduate class. Don’t be fooled. This is work! It’s not easy money, but it is a job that is tied to your educational goals, and you learn as much by teaching as you will in your other classes.

If you are in a low-residency program, like the W’s new MFA in Creative Writing, then teaching opportunities may be limited. We’re a small university, after all, and we don’t have a ton of extra sections of classes to cover. Students in our program are not on campus, so there are even fewer sections that would be offered online, and it takes more expertise to teach online than it does to teach in the classroom, since you have to manage the online environment while you’re learning to teach your class. We are planning to offer some teaching assistantships, but those will be fairly limited for now. We ought to have some scholarships available as well, but again those will be limited. Often low-residency programs don’t offer a lot in financial aid, since the expectation is that their students will already be working and will do their degree on top of their regular job. So the first question before you apply may be whether you are ready, financially, to take that on. Here are some resources that might help you find the financial aid you need and make the decision whether you are financially ready to take on the expense of grad school.

If you’re applying to MUW’s Graduate programs, don’t forget to fill out an application for Graduate Scholarships and one for Graduate Assistantships, if you want to be considered for these opportunities. This needs to be done each semester that you are enrolled. These forms can be found on our program’s page on How to Apply.