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Applying for MFA 16 yrs after undergrad...help!

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This forum has been great to read. I am beginning to put together apps for MFA in printmaking and am feeling pretty insecure. Have been out of school for 14 yrs! Anyone else out there like me? Thoughts on how important undergrad transcripts are at this point? My undergrad GPA wasn't spectacular. I have a fairly strong resume and I will be taking a graduate printmaking class before applying (need a LOR) and am considering taking an art history or two to strengthen my undergrad GPA. Necessary? Other option is to focus on my portfolio, statement and LOR's and hope my undergrad transcripts aren't weighed as heavily. I would really appreciate some feedback!

Thank you in advance!

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This forum has been great to read. I am beginning to put together apps for MFA in printmaking and am feeling pretty insecure. Have been out of school for 14 yrs! Anyone else out there like me? Thoughts on how important undergrad transcripts are at this point? My undergrad GPA wasn't spectacular. I have a fairly strong resume and I will be taking a graduate printmaking class before applying (need a LOR) and am considering taking an art history or two to strengthen my undergrad GPA. Necessary? Other option is to focus on my portfolio, statement and LOR's and hope my undergrad transcripts aren't weighed as heavily. I would really appreciate some feedback!

Thank you in advance!

This is going to be a long post, but I want you to understand this. I do understand where you're coming from, and I think that my experience will help you.

Well, I lost my way and obtained my undergraduate degree in 1994 (from a good private school), and then lost my way further when I obtained a law degree in 2000 (from a top 20 school). Only now am I getting around to do a Masters in Architecture (what I started out wanting to do in the first place but got sidetracked a long time ago, before I was badly counseled by physics professor and my architectural history professor retired conveniently as soon as I got to undegrad). I'll be honest. Undergraduate transcripts were important, as maybe the gpa and maybe the school where you graduated, but probably the most important things are the good relationships with the professors at a city college that I've been taking night classes at for the last 8 years (to change my career from misguided law to architecture) and my ability to write a good essay. Personally, I think it would be good for you to take classes at night (or in the day if you can do it) so that you ('a') get back into art and build good relationships with professors, and ('b'), most importantly, get back into the academic environment so that you are not shocked when you first attend a lecture and get the syllabus in the masters program.

I know for I gave up a profitable career in order to follow the career within which I was truly interested. It's hard. It's hard mostly because there is generally lack of emotional support from others--people don't like change, especially in their friends or relatives, so they do things subconsiously many times to keep you where you are--unintentionally though. I had to take a crap job in the day time to survive in San Francisco (as a secretary in bad places and sometimes good places), and I chose not to take the bar because that brings in so many more economic handcuffs (well, it was circumstasnce that determined that). So, I've been taking 3 and sometimes 4 classes at night after work 5 pm. for a while--looking at the light the end of the tunnel, distant on the horizon. But, the classes got me more involved, and while I droned away at work, I lived for the classes at night. The kept me focused on my purpose--to learn and then apply. The classes introduced me to new ideas and new ways of thinking. And, most importantly, I got really good letters of recommendation from great people who I would otherwise not have had, YEARS after I obtained my undergraduate degree. They would know that my focus and determination were not a fraud.

Also, while my night classes and full-time work did not allow me to build up a portfolio like I would have liked, I WAS able to build up a portfolio. Since you're going to go into a MFA program, I highly HIGHLY recommend you take printmaking or similar classes to not only show your enthusiasm but to build a portfolio. You will not only build a portfolio but you can ask your professors to look at your portfolio to get a good feel about it. (Studio time at night is generally figure drawings classes and print classes, not the architectural drafting classes that I truly needed to get into graduate school.... however, you know what? I'm going to Georgia Tech this fall, if I ever find out the loan information, he he). I would also recommend that when you're building your portfolio you go to a good school (as close as possible) and check out the portfolios that have been submitted by other applicants. I didn't. But, if I had, my portfolio would have been far more stellar because I could easily do what they did, and better. I just didn't think about it until I didn't have the time. But on the good side, the difference I think between you and I and other "yung'ens" who get into the same programs is that we know we have 'limited time'. We are there to do great, and get out and then make a name for ourselves. Though I had lots of starts and stops at the city college, I racked up enough classes. And you know what? I was able to get straight 4.0 in the architectural classes that I took, all like 20 of them, along with the other classes that I took.

I understand what you're going through, but believe me when I tell you that the hardest thing you have to change is mindset. You HAVE to believe in yourself and your determination will take you anywhere. I'm serious. I'm not being cliche'. Most people give up. Most people don't show up. Show up. Be in class. Talk to professors. Become the star of the class. Do not be ashamed. Make a point to embarass yourself constantly. Make a point to yell out the wrong answer. It helps people laugh. It also makes it easier for you to yell out when you know the right answer. It's easier the next time. Determine yourself to do it. Take as many night classes that you feasibly can. This gets your recommendations and good portfolio pieces. The portfolio pieces can be used in your application. Also, I would also encourage you to take five classes regardless of your printmaking and art skills: general math, geometry, trigonometry, algebra and advanced algebra. You do not need more math on the GRE but these classes in the quantative section, but you need it to be fresh in your mind. (What I didn't do.) I would take the last algebra class as close to the final GRE that you take, but before you start taking the GRE class (because they're lots of algebra on the GRE, and you'll be wasting your money for the class). You need the math fresh in your mind. Do not just get As in the math classes. Study to get As in the class and ace the GRE. (My algebra class was like 4 years before I took the GRE, a big mistake on my part, though not critical.)

From what I see in all the crap that people spew about their GPAs and this and that on this site or others, it's only to make others feel worse. In reality, it's bunk, and they're mainly just self-conscious about their standing with other academics--and they have to compete against something. In reality, a high gpa only means that you were lucky and you were in the right program for you. (When I was in law school, I kept having to read the same paragraphs over and over, and I was bored out of my mind, and I couldn't stand anyone, and they bored me, blah, blah, blah. It was because I was bored with the topic. I did well mind you, but only because I had to put in 3 times the effort that everyone else did, and then become really depressed in the process.) If you are interested in what you are doing (I mean really interested), it will soak in easier. You'll learn like white sponge in cola turning brown. It will still be hard, but time will pass far more pleasantly. If you get into a program that you like, you'll get good grades because you'll spend the time--you'll invest the time--to get better grades. The 'causes' that you plant in yoru present fruit with 'results' that either benefit your future or negatively impact your future. However, let's be honest, the graduate school will look at mainly the last 2 years of your gpa. However, depending on your program they might take into consideration the later classes that you take after you obtain your undergraduate degree. Some won't. Focus on the ones that put you in the best light. But, I doubt that it's the main factor given the incredible portfolio that you will have for the arts program. Let's face it. Mainly scientific and brainy programs focus on grades in their discipline. People who are interested in science or some programs take a lot of them, but they would fail in any art class. Art programs focus on classes in their disicipline also, but their discipline is art and so its more representative than quantitive numbers.

Another thing you'll need to overcome is GRE fear. My recommendation, take a class, and do stellar in the class. In contrast to what I did, take the class about a year in advance (not just before). Take the class (I reiterate) and then take it again right before the exam. However, after you take it the first time, you ABSOLUTELY need to take the GRE to get a FEEL of the exam, and then immediately cancel it. I was scoring 730 v/780q on the exam in the class and then freaked out because I've always feared tests (because it mattered), and my grade dropped. I didn't believe I deserved 730/780, and I created a self-perpetuating effect. (Minorities, gays and women somettimes do this a lot...because we only have to look society as represented in the t.v. and news to hear how 'stupid' we are, how 'fat' we look, and how someone else 'deserves' something more. It seems that we are the only ones who really question where we belong, and do we belong in some programs. Regardless of how much a jerk someone else will be to us, we have already said the same thing 10 times to ourselves before they've opened their mouths. We are almost always our worst critics.) I was nothing short than devastated, even though I got a good grade and a very good score on the writing section. Little did I know that even with the drop, I was better or the same as almost every other candidate who got into a top 5 program in architecture--it was just that my portfolio sucked. Like, it was as if I put pictures in a garbage back and threw it over a fence for people to rummage through. Maybe the raccoons went through it, I have no freaking idea. Granted, I still did come out with high GRE scores, and a good portfolio apparently. But my momentary lapse of personal forgiveness kept me from getting the best score I possibly could. This will not happen to you because you will believe in yourself.

Spend the money to believe in yourself and that you can take the timed test. I know it's expensive, but you're spending the money on yourself. It will set you back about $2,000 for the classes, but do it. Seriously. I had to get on my feet from almost being on the street, and then pay off $26K in credit cards when I left law school, and take secretarial jobs because no one would hire me, then eventually pay off all my debt, then finally get a job that would help me live on my own in SF, which allowed me to pay for the night class, and then finally be able to take the GRE class. But, you must do it. [Personally, I recommend Kaplan's Online class, but that's because i could do it at home religiously like I was taking a class over the summer. Also, I tried taking the in-class programs, and I would always have to quit half-way through my temp jobs at the time got in the way or something. Take the on-line class if you can. Make it as easy as possible.] Then, you're going to kill me, but before you take the GRE that you want to SCORE, take the class a second time and then, since you've already been under the time crunch and since you've already seen the hell that the computer test puts you in, you'll JAM. You really will. It's important that you have a righteous belief in your ability to not only compete with other but to succeed where others fail. Others fail because they see failure in their own selves. You will not. Because failure is only a belief in your own sense of lack--a lack that has no reality and is only based on fear. You MUST get over the fear. Don't fear the 20 year old who'll get into grad school and then piss their mommy and daddy's house away. Be indominable, be strong, know yourself, follow your heart and mind. But, at the same time, when you succed, and when you get the high gpa, and when you get into the program, don't be a jerk about it. Make sure you help someone else succeed too. Help another person to believe in him or herself.

But for you.... Do it. Don't just talk about it. Prove everyone except that voice inside you wrong.

Good luck.

Send me an e-mail if you need any other advice, even if you think what I said is bullcrap.

Edited by johnrarch
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Hi there –

Although GPA is a factor, it doesn’t necessarily hold the most weight for your MFA. If it is a weak spot, you will be provided with opportunities to explain what you've done since then. What they really pay attention to (from interviews/correspondence) is your work, vision, references, and statement. They look for things that they feel you could add to the class that they don’t already have or might help balance/be compatible with/contrast. A lot of programs focus on building a class and choose candidates that round it out; this might differ between small, experimental programs and larger, more traditional ones. Focus on refreshing your portfolio and arranging a consistent body to submit. The average amount of images is 15-20; send at least the minimum, but don’t send the max unless you believe in those pieces. Also, if you can…go to open houses (or online) and visit schools to get a better idea of what students are doing to see if the programs are right.

1) GRE: Most of the MFA programs researched or applied to didn’t require GRE scores, HOWEVER, a few of them do. Those tend to be the programs located in university settings, rather than independent art schools. Just check early so that you have time to prepare as johnrarch wisely suggested.

2) Tip: When researching, check two sections (if applicable) for application requirements. The first is the general graduate admissions section of the college or university; the second is the department. Try to find a page for your department and see if they have specific requirements. If you post images online, most schools charge and the fee is not always upfront so budget an extra $30 – 60 for emergency fees ($10-15 per department).

3) Printmaking: The graduate printmaking course sounds like an excellent idea! You’ll have an opportunity to be advised by a new face and get a nice trial run in critiques. Sometimes (and I use this lightly, because not all that many programs allow outside courses), you get to receive credit for the course if your program has electives. I’m considering doing this myself if I don’t get in this year. :)

4) Art History: Hmm. This is trickier. Many art history departments are stingy with their graduate courses going to “outsiders”, which might limit you to intro courses which won’t transfer as graduate electives. If you just want to refresh, I would suggest going to a used bookstore/library and getting the latest copy of a general art history book, another on the latest techniques in your specialization, and check out some books on theory and current artists that interest you. Get reading lists or ask graduate students for their lists/syllabi. Sit in on some lectures. That will save you $. If it’s just something that you want to do, then by all means take an art history course. Take it easy though, since there’s a lot of writing involved and you’re just heading back.

I understand your insecurity! I was enrolled at 16, got chicken pox (seriously), burned out, married/divorced, worked 70 hr weeks, took a class here and there and finally graduated last December at 32. Annoying…yes. Embarrasing…sometimes -- but I left wiser and with an extra degree dammit. It can be intimidating when you’ve outlived many of your peers, but still feel a little behind. You can do this though. Some of the best graduate students that I’ve met were returning students.

Edited by soootired
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@sarah_dee --

You're very welcome!

Hopefully we didn't run you off. A lot of us on the board tend to make such lists because we want to share everything that we wished someone would have told us before we got started with the application process. Just whack us with a newspaper if we're a little hyper. It's not the process itself (mostly waiting), but the varying and specific requirements that make it complicated. If you keep files or a checklist of things needed from each school and deadlines, it will be much easier.

What is most important is that you are comfortable. Who wouldn't be on that gorgeous campus? Wow CT. I also returned to studio coursework after 10 years and it took a few months to a year to get (solidly) back into creating art/discourse in an academic setting, so a program like yours will likely be beneficial for your particular goals of an MFA. Also, look into some residencies if you're game.

Good luck to you!


Congratulations on your accomplishments! You should be very proud of yourself for what you have done. I'm proud of you and don't even know you. I understand what it means to prove yourself, as I am 2/3 of the categories that you listed and challenged about one ridiculous thing or another on a daily basis. Not to mention exaggerated purse clutchings [and I'm a petite female w/Muppet features (Lemur eyes. Hmm. Actually that could be a little scary.)]. As annoying as it can be, it's a person's right not to love us all (non-abusively). That's life. I consider myself blessed to have been exposed to a variety of nationalities, political leanings, and economic strata since birth; meaningful relationships with people who are different from yourself is often insurance that these situations don't weigh you down so heavily when they come. (big hug) Sorry, I had Pollyanna-cil with my juice this morning....

@anyone else considering returning to school:

Do it! I don't know anyone who's regretted going back for complete personal fulfillment or goals.

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Thank you both so much for your thoughtful responses. After reading them and doing a bit more soul searching and reality checking I'm considering a post baccalaureate program at Lyme Academy of Art. http://www.lymeacade...ccalaureate.htm

will post more when I learn more.

Sarah Dee:

You should check out your city colleges and see if there are less expensive art classes. There might be. At least in San Francisco, the professors at the City Colleges work at Berkeley, Stanford, the Art Institute, or the California College of Art, or they're really good professionals. I'm not certain about it there, but if you get a good professor or professional who works with another reputable school--it's double the bang for your buck at less the cost. However, I'll tell you, if you join either school, and you're at least half time, you can defer all of your student loans! :) (If you already have an undegraduate, you don't really need a degree, you only need to take as many classes as you can to fulfill the requirements of the school that you want to get into, and also the classes that will really edge out your portfolio!)

Good luck whatever you do!


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