Posts Tagged ‘transcripts’

Transcripts for the MFA Application

I’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 she must have done her research!

I agree with Allen about the CV — it should highlight your education and other experience, it should be professional and easy to read, and you’ll probably elaborate on most of those things in your letter or statement of purpose, but the CV brings them all together and is a place where you can list all of your publications (if you have them) without bogging down your SOP. At our program, it’s optional, so don’t stress about it, but do send one if it helps you make your case.

I also agree that the GRE has become less and less important. See if the schools you’re applying to require it, and don’t take it if you don’t need to. If you do need to report a score, remember that most MFA programs don’t care what your score is, but they may be required by their graduate school to use a minimum score as a requirement for admission. They may not publicize what that score is, and they may have some leeway in how they set that score (that will vary by university), but you’ll need to report it if they require it. Then the committee will likely ignore the score once they see you have met the minimum standard.

However, I realized that, though I agree with most of what Allen says regarding transcripts, I hadn’t written about those and there are a few things I can add from a program director’s perspective. For one, Allen says that in her experience it doesn’t matter if you have studied English as an undergraduate. While that’s true for many programs, I also know of some that require a certain number of prerequisite English or creative writing undergraduate courses. Usually, they don’t ask for specific ones, but a certain number of hours of literature. You might be admitted without these, but required to take them in addition to your regular degree requirements.

Our program doesn’t require any prerequisite English courses, and I’m happy with that. We’ve admitted a dancer and an accountant, among others. I’ve probably forgotten more of our students’ undergraduate majors than I remember, since once you’re in the program, it won’t really matter. But your transcript will still make a difference: it tells me things I want or need to know.

1) What you’ve studied

Naturally, we like to see that you’ve studied English, whether or not your major was in English. Many of my best creative writing students over the years have not been majors, so I’m open any major. If you never took an English class as an undergrad, that can be an issue (in terms of your preparedness for our degree), so I’ll want to see evidence elsewhere of your active reading life and of your sophistication as a scholar. After all, some of our classes demand that you do literary research, so you want to show you’re prepared. We also like to see undergraduate creative writing classes in the mix, but if you haven’t had that opportunity, we understand. Things like summer workshops or activity in local writing groups can help your application if you don’t have creative writing classes. So if your transcript has holes, you want to address them in your SOP by talking about what you’ve done since graduation. Most of the applicants to our low-res program have been out of school for many years, so their experience since undergrad should weigh much more heavily than their undergrade, except it does tell about your academic record.

2) How well you’ve performed in school

The one thing you can’t change is your undergraduate GPA, and that can be very important for admissions. Actually, you can change it by going back and taking some undergraduate classes or by enrolling in another graduate program. If your GPA is deficient and you’ve gained a lot of experience and motivation, you may be well-served by taking a semester or two, even part-time, to show that you can now do better than you did the first time.

For our program, you need a minimum overall GPA of 2.75 or a GPA of 3.0 in the last 60 hours of work in order to be fully admitted to our program. If you don’t have that, then taking additional credits might help you bring up those last 60 hours. We consider every semester in its entirety, so if your the 60th hour is in a semester with several other hours, I would have to consider the whole semester. Taking additional classes might even affect which semesters would be considered in your  last hours, which might help as much as earning higher grades.

(These requirements will likely be different for each university on your list.)

3) How you can be admitted

GPA makes a big difference in how we admit students. The choice of whether to admit someone hinges more on their overall academic record and what they’ve done since graduation. I’ve admitted students who were marginal at best during their undergraduate years, yet who had gone on to achieve remarkable things. I want to look at the whole picture, in other words, but I also have to consider your potential as a student and I have to live within the rules of my institution’s admissions policies. Check these out for any school you’re interested in, esp. if you’re worried about your previous record.

I can fully admit someone to our program if they meet our admissions standards or I can conditionally admit anyone to our program if I feel there are mitigating circumstances.

Conditional admission means that you are limited to taking two classes in your first semester (or three if you come to our 1-hour residency), and you must earn a B or higher in those classes to show you can handle graduate school. (You’re only allowed two Cs in your program, so to get one in your first semester would be a very bad sign. Why should we keep taking your money if you’re not going to succeed in our program?) Conditional students are also not eligible for federal loans, so you would need to pay for your first semester out of pocket or with private loans. But once you’ve proven yourself, you are then fully admitted and can study full-time and qualify for loans. I’ve had plenty of people do this and do very well in our program.

So, if you’ve had a rough patch in your academic career, know that we’ll understand. It’s probably something you want to address or even get your recommenders to address in their letters, but it shouldn’t be something that will stop you from earning your degree. You can tell us why you hit that rough patch, if you want to — sometimes it may now be exactly what inspires you to write — or you can simply acknowledge it and talk about the things you’ve done since then that show you can succeed.

If you’ve been a great student but in areas other than Engish, then acknowledge that as well and show us how you combine your other interests with your writing or tell how your journey took you to a love of writing.

Your transcripts are important documents that show your preparedness and your aptitude for scholarly work. They are not the end-all-be-all of your application, but they provide a unique window into who you are that is complemented by your writing sample, statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation.

We do need to see official transcripts from every post-secondary academic institution you have attended, whether you received your degree from there or not. (Some schools make exceptions for transcripts with fewer than a given number of hours, but many do not.) Go back over your transcripts (as I will) and look to see if you transferred any credits from another school. Make sure we have the transcript from that math class you took at community college, etc. Doing that on the front end will make things easier when it comes time for us to make our decision.

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!

Grad Student Admissions!

This week, now that final exams are over and end-of-year meetings have been held, I’ve been able to turn my attention back to admitting students to our Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing. I’ve actually admitted one student, and I have two more forms ready to turn in today. There are several other applications that are nearly complete, waiting only on one or two pieces of information before I can finish the process. I knew it would probably be complicated, but never really guessed just how convoluted that could get. The sheer number of details that have to be tracked down can be a little overwhelming. Not that I’m complaining! But I want to explain that it takes more than reviewing the documents and making a decision.

Several of our students have come in with multiple transcripts from their undergraduate careers. That’s fine, but it means tracking them all down on their end (sometimes students forget about those first two classes taken at community college, for instance), and  on my end it means making sure they’ve all come in, since they come from different sources and get sent to different offices on campus. Most come either to me or to our graduate studies office, but some end up in undergraduate admissions and some seem to disappear into the ether, but I’ve managed to locate most of the ones I should have by now. One young woman had briefly gone to school that is no longer in business, so I had to help her figure out how to order her transcript, which she was able to do by contacting Mississippi’s Institutes of Higher Learning office.

Immunization forms and letters of recommendation are two other fun pieces of the puzzle, both in terms of tracking them down and in terms of reading and evaluating the letters of recommendation. Each application has a rubric, which needs to be updated for each new piece of information. Fortunately, I created the rubric, so it at least makes sense and measures things we actually care about in admitting students to the program. There are several criteria for the writing sample and letter of intent that I’ve already filled out before I invite an application, and then there are criteria to rate the transcript and letters of recommendation. The weighting, of course, is heaviest on the writing sample, and I have left room for comments, where I can remind myself of what I was thinking or add any notes about the student’s file for future reference.

Since I’ve been doing most of this while also giving final exams, calculating final grades, and tying up all the loose ends of a semester, while also trying to get a head start on next semester and communicating with the visiting writers who will be part of our faculty in the fall, I have to reinvent the wheel every time I come back to a person’s file. Fortunately, this week, I’ve been able to put forth a more concentrated effort and make better notes about what I’m still missing, so that when I return to those files, I won’t have to start over from scratch.

All of this makes me very relieved that next week we begin our planning for an automated admissions system. I’m sure that we’ll still have to assist some people with things like tracking down their transcripts or other details, but keeping up with what is here and what is still missing will be easier both for me and for the student.

But mostly, it is very exciting and gratifying that the program we’ve worked so hard to put into place is finally coming to fruition. The prospective students who have applies are for the most part a very impressive group. I’ve had to turn down a couple — or encourage them to wait and give them advice on how they can develop as a writer before they are ready to take this step on their career paths — but by and large I’ve been at the wealth of talent that is out there in our state and the surrounding region. We will have an exciting and dynamic group of students in our inaugural class, students who could vie for a place in any program in the country. There is room for a few more good applicants, but we already have enough of a critical mass to get this program off the ground in style.