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Prospective 2020 MFA Applicant - Need Advice

Tori Alexandra

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Hi everyone!


This may be a bit too early to start asking questions about the next application cycle, but I figured why not. I'm currently a senior in college double majoring in Cognitive Science and Creative Writing and I'm planning on applying to MFA programs this coming fall as a poetry applicant.  I've been a member of the MFA Draft '19 Facebook page for some time now and seeing everyone talk about their acceptances (or lack thereof, I should say) is making me extremely nervous. I really really don't want to have to go through the application process multiple times to get accepted into a program with full-funding that's a good fit, but the more I read the more it seems like that's the way of the game. So far I have 13 schools on my list (U of Michigan, NYU, Hunter, Cornell, Brown, Syracuse, Boston U, U of Oregon, U of Washington, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Temple, Mills, and UC-Riverside) and it will be a real financial hardship to apply to all 13. I'm planning on working full-time after I graduate in a month so hopefully I will be able to save/budget wisely, but presumably some of that money will be going toward paying off my undergraduate loans. I guess what I'm asking is should I take more time off to apply or should I just bite the bullet and see what happens this coming year? I know an MFA is something I whole-heartedly want and I don't plan on relinquishing that goal just yet, but part of me wonders if it's better to just keep writing on my own and submitting to journals (maybe even do a summer residency?). Yet, at the same time, I don't want to walk away from academia for too long..

If you have any thoughts or advice, I would warmly welcome it! I'm also open to suggestions on schools I should add to or remove from my list. I made sure most of the schools were fully-funded (while still being a good fit stylistically) and that the ones that aren't either fully-fund the majority of students or have a few competitive fellowships. If anything looks misguided, please let me know.


Thank you so much!

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It's never too early to start asking questions! Frankly, I didn't do enough of it that. Learn from my mistakes:

  • It's good to cast your net widely, but chances are you can eliminate some of the above programs. It sounds like you've picked programs based largely on funding (smart), but are you sure all of them are a good fit for your creative and professional goals? The best way to find out is...
  • Contact people in the program (faculty and, if possible, students). Not only will this give you a wealth of information, but it will introduce you to the program's staff. If you make a good impression, it will be a major leg up in securing funding (that said, do not contact faculty /only/ for the purpose of brown-nosing. People can tell.)
  • Moreover, while funding is important, apply to a few schools that don't fully fund everyone. There are plenty of good programs that fund a significant number of applicants, and they will be /way/ less competitive. I'd argue that it can be easier to secure funding from such programs, rather than fighting 500 other applicants to get your foot in the door at Iowa.
  • Don't feel pressured to go to school right away. It's not uncommon for people to be out of school for a decade or more before returning. And frankly, our discipline is forgiving in terms of academic rigor. The MFA is asking you to do what you already do: read and write. It's not like you're in a scientific discipline where the field will advance without you. It's okay -- and even advisable -- to take some time off from school. I took a year, and I'm glad I did. It helped me determine that I genuinely wanted to do this, rather than submitting to academic inertia.

Hope that helps!

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3 hours ago, narrativity itself said:

What are your thoughts on reading/mentioning prospective professors' work?  Is it a must for a good statement of purpose?

You absolutely should be familiar with the faculty's work for each program you apply to. That doesn't mean you have to read dozens of novels. Personally, I just looked at the bios and bibliographies of the professors, picked 1-2 per school that piqued my interest, and looked for their short stories online.

Aside from figuring out if the program is a good fit for you, this process will allow you to mention the faculty's work in your SOP. This is vital for many reasons. It shows that you've done your research, and it will also signal to that faculty member that you want to work with them. If you play your cards right, that faculty member may become your advisor and/or help you secure funding (however, every program handles advisors and funding differently).

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