kurtango

Fall 2016 MFA

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Hello! 

 

I'm creating this thread so that 2016 creative writing MFA applicants can share their experiences with the application process. Feel free to share advice, anxieties, and updates on acceptances and rejections. Also, do not hesitate to ask questions (or  answer them).

 

I will be applying to the following nonfiction programs: University of Arizona Tucson, University of Colorado, University of Montana, University of Iowa, University of Wyoming, University of North Carolina, Notre Dame University, Oregon State University, University of San Francisco, University of Washington 

 

What I've done to prepare so far: 

 

I have my writing sample. It is a self-contained chapter of the memoir I'm working on and would like to finish while pursuing my MFA. For schools that want more pages, I will likely add some flash nonfiction pieces that are on the same topic. I'd like to keep my material cohesive while showing some range.

 

I've contacted professors that I would like to get recommendation letters from but do not have any of them yet. I am actually struggling with this part for a couple of reasons, including our dwindling creative writing department as they replace a number of the staff that recently left. I'd love to know who everyone else is getting recommendation letters from -- professors, employers, who?

 

I'm planning on taking the GRE this summer, I have not begun my statement of purpose but plan on having them done before the Fall semester, and my CV is a work in progress. Am I the only one starting this early? I'm terrified of missing the deadline, and I don't want to feel rushed at the end!

 
That's all about me for now. I'm curious to know where everyone else is in the process and am eager to hear everyone's experiences from here on out. 
 
In the meantime, good luck! 
 
- K
 
P.S. 
I've created a Facebook group for 2016 MFA Applications: https://www.facebook.com/groups/453298914827651/
Edited by kurtango

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I'm working on what might be my writing sample now. It straddles the line of "is this fantasy or magical realism" a little too much for my tastes, so I'll likely write something else.

I'm not sure what programs I'll be applying to for next year to be honest. I'm looking for programs that are a little more friendly to people who don't have undergrad degrees in English-related fields. My GRE scores were pretty average. I don't plan on retaking it since most of the programs I applied to this last year didn't even want it.

I'm wondering if anyone is looking at low residency programs? I thought about it, but my biggest fear is that with full time work and school, I won't have the energy/time to write. One of the things that an MFA program could provide is two years of doing nothing but writing which isn't something I've been able to have. But then again, a low residency program will likely reflect reality as a writer, or something?

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Hello! 

 

I'm creating this thread so that 2016 creative writing MFA applicants can share their experiences with the application process. Feel free to share advice, anxieties, and updates on acceptances and rejections. Also, do not hesitate to ask questions (or  answer them).

 

I will be applying to the following nonfiction programs: University of Arizona Tucson, University of Colorado, University of Montana, University of Iowa, University of Wyoming, University of North Carolina, Notre Dame University, Oregon State University, University of San Francisco, University of Washington 

 

What I've done to prepare so far: 

 

I have my writing sample. It is a self-contained chapter of the memoir I'm working on and would like to finish while pursuing my MFA. For schools that want more pages, I will likely add some flash nonfiction pieces that are on the same topic. I'd like to keep my material cohesive while showing some range.

 

I've contacted professors that I would like to get recommendation letters from but do not have any of them yet. I am actually struggling with this part for a couple of reasons, including our dwindling creative writing department as they replace a number of the staff that recently left. I'd love to know who everyone else is getting recommendation letters from -- professors, employers, who?

 

I'm planning on taking the GRE this summer, I have not begun my statement of purpose but plan on having them done before the Fall semester, and my CV is a work in progress. Am I the only one starting this early? I'm terrified of missing the deadline, and I don't want to feel rushed at the end!

 
That's all about me for now. I'm curious to know where everyone else is in the process and am eager to hear everyone's experiences from here on out. 
 
In the meantime, good luck! 
 
- K
 
P.S. 
I've created a Facebook group for 2016 MFA Applications: https://www.facebook.com/groups/453298914827651/

 

I've heard an array of opinions about recommendation letters. Some say all must be from writers/professors. Some say committees don't even read them, and, at best, they're used as a tie breaker. I think the important take away is ask people who you think will write you a good letter. Personally, all my letters were written by former professors. Two are English professors. The other one is from a different department BUT I'd worked with her closely on some projects and she knows me real well so that's why I asked her.

 

I think it's a good idea to have a rough draft of your SOP done as soon as possible as well because the SOP was a major headache for me, more so than the writing sample. This may not be the case for you, seeing that you are going for nonfiction.

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I'm working on what might be my writing sample now. It straddles the line of "is this fantasy or magical realism" a little too much for my tastes, so I'll likely write something else.

I'm not sure what programs I'll be applying to for next year to be honest. I'm looking for programs that are a little more friendly to people who don't have undergrad degrees in English-related fields. My GRE scores were pretty average. I don't plan on retaking it since most of the programs I applied to this last year didn't even want it.

I'm wondering if anyone is looking at low residency programs? I thought about it, but my biggest fear is that with full time work and school, I won't have the energy/time to write. One of the things that an MFA program could provide is two years of doing nothing but writing which isn't something I've been able to have. But then again, a low residency program will likely reflect reality as a writer, or something?

I would wager to say most programs don't care what your undergrad degree was in.

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Cool that you started a Facebook group! Most of the MFA app action on Facebook happens on the MFA Draft pages, so you might want to join that, too. This year's group has about 1,700 people in it and there's already an MFA draft '16 with a couple of hundred people. It's here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/228419750615188/

Edited by Fruitsnacks

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Weighing in to agree with what emburst has said. Got into two competitive, fully-funded MFA programs this season, and I definitely didn't fit what you might think of as the "perfect" profile -- I graduated from college in 2006, didn't take a single English or creative writing class while I was there, and only one of my letters of recommendation was from someone who'd taught me creative writing (in workshops I took post-college_. The other was from a former coworker, and the third was from a history professor I was close to in college.

 

It really does come down the writing sample and, to a lesser degree, the SOP. And a note about the SOP: definitely get started on it as early as possible! I don't think it's a coincidence that the two schools I got into outright (as opposed to rejected or waitlisted) were the last two that I applied to -- the versions of my SOP that I turned in for these programs were so much better and so much more rigorous than the early versions I submitted.

 

Edited to add: I also had respectable, but not all impressive, GRE scores. 

Edited by eagm

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Weighing in to agree with what emburst has said. Got into two competitive, fully-funded MFA programs this season, and I definitely didn't fit what you might think of as the "perfect" profile -- I graduated from college in 2006, didn't take a single English or creative writing class while I was there, and only one of my letters of recommendation was from someone who'd taught me creative writing (in workshops I took post-college_. The other was from a former coworker, and the third was from a history professor I was close to in college.

 

It really does come down the writing sample and, to a lesser degree, the SOP. And a note about the SOP: definitely get started on it as early as possible! I don't think it's a coincidence that the two schools I got into outright (as opposed to rejected or waitlisted) were the last two that I applied to -- the versions of my SOP that I turned in for these programs were so much better and so much more rigorous than the early versions I submitted.

I agree —I decided to apply last minute after some encouragement from the professor who offered to write me a rec letter. Two of my other recommendations were written by friends who weren't even writers. I had okay GRE scores, prepped intensively the week before and scored around the 95th percentile which I understand to be decent, but certainly not impressive. I also ended up writing my SoP the night before I submitted my apps (I had applied to 15 programs and decided at the last minute to take a creative approach to my SoP rather than the boilerplate "I'm interested in your school because... I have published work in.... yada yada yada"). 

Still, I know I would have gotten into more programs if I had done things by the book. I got into the programs that have a reputation for only looking at the manuscript, and rejections from many, many more. What I'm trying to say is, take everything seriously —there are so many programs that do look at everything, and weigh in on things like rec letters and whatnot. Ask your professors early, and make sure you tighten the hell out of your manuscript. Looking back, my manuscript was riddled with extra modifiers and instances of over-writing. Finish your manuscript a couple months early so you can put it in a drawer and look at it when you're totally removed, and apply a fine-tooth comb to every sentence. Mine was raw, raw, raw. I was extremely lucky that things turned out well for me. 

I also know for a fact that several major programs discourage their faculty from accepting students who apply straight out of college, and that for many programs, coming straight out of college is seen as a big red flag, as they prefer —in their words— students who are at least two to three years removed from college. If you are applying straight out of undergrad, as many people now seem to be, emphasize your maturity and worldliness. Many program directors will appreciate it. 

 

Edited by HeyIowa

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It straddles the line of "is this fantasy or magical realism" a little too much for my tastes, so I'll likely write something else.

 

The key to tipping that balance is to have plenty of mundane, slice-of-life-type stuff going on, throw in a few ethnic characters (preferably Spanish-speaking), and most importantly, don't offer any explanation or rationale for the supernatural happenings in the story whatsoever. Mythology and world-building are the stuff of sci-fi/fantasy, not magical realism.

 

By the way, anyone willing to read and critique a couple of short potential writing sample submissions would earn my undying gratitude.

Edited by TonyB

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The key to tipping that balance is to have plenty of mundane, slice-of-life-type stuff going on, throw in a few ethnic characters (preferably Spanish-speaking), and most importantly, don't offer any explanation or rationale for the supernatural happenings in the story whatsoever. Mythology and world-building are the stuff of sci-fi/fantasy, not magical realism.

By the way, anyone willing to read and critique a couple of short potential writing sample submissions would earn my undying gratitude.

The fantasy aspects are being used to show escapism (e.g. appearing during moments of mental stress), everything else is the story is boring regular old modern day.

I'll read for you if you'll be down for reading for me?

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The fantasy aspects are being used to show escapism (e.g. appearing during moments of mental stress), everything else is the story is boring regular old modern day.

I'll read for you if you'll be down for reading for me?

 

That sounds fine (the story, I mean). If it was people hunting vampires or something, you'd be dead in the water, but it sounds like you're taking a fairly literary/mainstream approach to those elements.

 

And sure, I'll be glad to read your stuff. Just stick to short fiction... I don't know if I have the time or energy to edit a novel. ;-)

 

Sure, send over a copy —I'd be happy to take a look and give you my thoughts.

 

You don't know how disappointed I'm going to be when I find out you're not really Christina Ricci.

Edited by TonyB

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That link didn't work for me.

TonyB, Yea I've edited it twice with the correct link and it's still not working; not sure why. But if you type "MFA Draft '16" into the Facebook search box it pops up. Kenzie Allen is the admin. 

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I'm wondering if anyone is looking at low residency programs? I thought about it, but my biggest fear is that with full time work and school, I won't have the energy/time to write. One of the things that an MFA program could provide is two years of doing nothing but writing which isn't something I've been able to have. But then again, a low residency program will likely reflect reality as a writer, or something?

I've heard many wonderful things about low res programs and seriously considered attending one this fall, but decided on a full time program because I wanted to quit my job and start anew in a different city.

When I was weighing offers, I sought advice from a former professor who got her MFA at the low res program I was considering. She said that she's in a relationship with someone at a full time funded program and has been able to compare. To her, it seems that low res programs don't have the competitiveness and funding awkwardness that full time programs do. And though she saw her cohort only twice a year, she was able to build community with them and keep in touch through non residency periods, and is still friends with some 10 years later.

Additionally, the faculty of low res programs are sometimes superstars from other MFAs across the country. One professor who teaches at both a traditional program and a low res program said he spends more time on his low res students, just due to the mentorship nature of the program.

As far as I know, low res programs offer little to no funding. One of the two I applied to provides strictly need based funding; the other said I received their biggest scholarship, which was $2k per semester. But I mean, the idea of low res is that you keep your job. I'll be making less money this fall at a fully funded program with a living stipend, than I would if I kept my current salary and paid for low res out of pocket.

I have a lot of feelings about low res, haha. Particularly Warren Wilson, which this post is mostly about.

Edited to fix a typo.

Edited by anemoneceremony

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Hi all --

 

I'm entering the game for next year as well, planning on using these forums (and elsewhere) to help trade information and so on.

 

Married with a two-year old in Brooklyn.  We're looking for a big change in our lives, at least for a few years, and suddenly I'm looking at a CW program.  The prospect is pretty fearsome.  I've inhaled a ton of information, am trying to whittle schools down to probably about twelve.  Sweating my portfolio.  I would be entering in on the fiction side.  I'm from Texas, mostly, and received a Masters previously from Indiana University.

 

We've cut horrible weather states out.  My wife has nixed certain other areas, as is her right, and as an interracial couple, I don't think we'd feel comfortable in certain other areas of the country.  Full funding is a must, although we can probably stretch to pay a little bit.  No desire to gather more debt.

 

At the moment I'm thinking Brown, Johns Hopkins, some mix of Big Ten schools, Florida, FSU, Texas, Texas State, Houston, Arizona, Arizona State, Irvine, USC, Riverside.

 

This is entirely provisional.  Even realizing there are no safety schools in CW, I want to try to best ensure my chances are as high as possible.  There are outliers - Pacific NW, Colorado, North Carolina schools, which seem dodgy about funding...

 

Anyway - it's good to know we're a full six months out from the first deadlines...

 

Eric

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Hey ewoj, I just graduated from Texas State as an undergrad, and had the chance to work closely with Debra Monroe on my final honors thesis. She is amazing, and so is a lot of the other staff there. If you have any questions about that school, I can do my best to answer. I was a creative writing minor, so I made the rounds of the staff but don't have as much experience as a major would have. 

 

Anyway, I'm looking to apply to as many programs as I possibly can. I have a few samples that might work (with some polishing), but I haven't really started on any of the other work. I'm starting to feel discouraged by how prepared y'all seem in comparison. I don't even have a complete list. It's hard to know where to apply. 

 

One thing I've been desperately searching for-- would anyone who accepted to a program at some point be willing to share an excerpt of their sample?? I just want to know how I stack up. Honestly, I'm starting to really doubt if I'm even a good enough writer to stand any real chance at acceptance somewhere. 

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One thing I've been desperately searching for-- would anyone who accepted to a program at some point be willing to share an excerpt of their sample?? I just want to know how I stack up. Honestly, I'm starting to really doubt if I'm even a good enough writer to stand any real chance at acceptance somewhere. 

 

You are going to be fine. Your writing sample is worth submitting, you have as good a chance as anybody. 

When I was applying, I was in exactly the same boat where I felt like my wouldn't stack up against the rest of the applicant pool. I think most people feel that to some degree. But it was fine, I got accepted to one of my favorite programs. My writing sample definitely was not amazing work - it probably wasn't even very good. But the acceptance committee saw something they liked, and that's what matters. Keep in mind they're not looking for perfection, they're looking for somebody they're excited to teach.

You are good enough to apply. If you don't get in this year, you've got all of next year to sleuth around and figure out how to improve.

But don't torture yourself by comparing your writing to others' right before you begin to apply, all that's going to do is raise your anxiety about a thousand percent. What is helpful is sending your sample out to people you trust (maybe classmates from your creative writing courses - or even people on Gradcafe) to ask them for advice - focus on improving your own sample as much as you can and don't worry about what the other applicants are doing.

 

Good luck! 

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You are going to be fine. Your writing sample is worth submitting, you have as good a chance as anybody. 

When I was applying, I was in exactly the same boat where I felt like my wouldn't stack up against the rest of the applicant pool. I think most people feel that to some degree. But it was fine, I got accepted to one of my favorite programs. My writing sample definitely was not amazing work - it probably wasn't even very good. But the acceptance committee saw something they liked, and that's what matters. Keep in mind they're not looking for perfection, they're looking for somebody they're excited to teach.

You are good enough to apply. If you don't get in this year, you've got all of next year to sleuth around and figure out how to improve.

But don't torture yourself by comparing your writing to others' right before you begin to apply, all that's going to do is raise your anxiety about a thousand percent. What is helpful is sending your sample out to people you trust (maybe classmates from your creative writing courses - or even people on Gradcafe) to ask them for advice - focus on improving your own sample as much as you can and don't worry about what the other applicants are doing.

 

Good luck! 

<3 you're too kind. The anxiety is killing me haha. D:

It's just hard to keep the faith when you know how low the acceptance rates are at some of these schools. 

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I've heard North Carolina State is a fully funded program, or close to it. They're also amenable to genre writing, if that's anyone's bag. They are cagey about their funding, though, unlike most of the big schools on the Funded MFA list. I've heard it's around 11k/yr, for what that's worth.

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Hey guys! 

I have a question about MFA applications. I read somewhere that most schools don't like to see genre writing and I'm afraid that my writing is, well, GENREish... From those who have been accepted/have applied before, what type of writing are admissions people looking for? And could you give a synopsis/example of what you wrote? I have all of my possible writing samples done (need editing, of course) but I want a general idea. 

This is the list of schools I'm applying to:

Brown University

Cornell University

Syracuse University

Vanderbilt University

The New Writers Project (UT)

Helen Zell Writers' Program (UMass)

University of Notre Dame

University of Iowa

University of Mississippi

Lousiana State University

Texas State University

McNeese State University

The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley (my undergrad and safety school)

Our Lady of The Lake University (new MA-MFA hybrid program)

The City College of New York (CUNY)

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Hey guys! 

I have a question about MFA applications. I read somewhere that most schools don't like to see genre writing and I'm afraid that my writing is, well, GENREish... From those who have been accepted/have applied before, what type of writing are admissions people looking for? And could you give a synopsis/example of what you wrote? I have all of my possible writing samples done (need editing, of course) but I want a general idea. 

 

Every school I recognize on the list is literary. Don't waste the application fee by giving them genre, because they will take your money and run. My professor's advice when I was applying was, "Don't give them a reason not to accept you."

Why are these the schools on your list? It seems to me they wouldn't be a good fit. 
The good news is, there are genre schools out there. 
I don't have a list off the top of my head, but I think New School has one (although I'd be iffy on that because funding's poor), umm... quick google search, Seton Hill... not familiar with that, anyway, this isn't very helpful. But I do know there are schools out there who not only teach genre, they love teaching genre. They'll be excited about your work, and excited to teach you. I actually think there's a forum someone on grad cafe that has a whole list of them - I'll post it if I can find it.

If you're set on that list, you could always write a purely literary story for your application, but they're not going to want you to write genre once you get in there, either. 
My advice is - don't try to make yourself fit the school, find a school that fits you.

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Every school I recognize on the list is literary. Don't waste the application fee by giving them genre, because they will take your money and run. My professor's advice when I was applying was, "Don't give them a reason not to accept you."

Thanks HookedOnSonnets! I will try to look into that.

I guess my second question is what exactly is the difference between Literary and Genre writing and how can identify it in my own writing? I was taught to write what I feel but to have a meaning behind it, never knowing what the difference between the two is. 

Edited by writerman321

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Thanks HookedOnSonnets! I will try to look into that.

I guess my second question is what exactly is the difference between Literary and Genre writing and how can identify it in my own writing? I was taught to write what I feel but to have a meaning behind it, never knowing what the difference between the two is. 

Genre includes sci fi, fantasy, romance, horror, westerns, YA - basically, there are certain rules that if you're writing genre, you're following. For example, in fantasy the rules are you will be in a fantastical setting that has some sort of magical element. If you're writing a western, it'll be set in the old American west and it'll have cowboys. That kind of thing. Usually, but not always, genre is plot-driven. Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and Stephen King write genre.

Literary is a little harder to define - pretty much, if it's not genre, it's literary. If you're in a bookstore and there's just a big shelf that says "FICTION", that'd be the literary section. Usually, but not always, it's character-driven.


These aren't set in stone, there is some crossover. There's magical realism, which has fantastical elements but is considered literary. Never Let Me Go is considered literary even though it's set in the future and it's about clones... same with Oryx and Crake (minus the clones, plus an apocalypse). 

If you want to send me some of your writing I'd be happy to look at it and tell you if I think it's genre or literary, and why. 

Also - I was looking around and so far I've got Stonecoast, Seton Hill, and Western State Colorado that specifically teach genre - so they are out there.

EDIT: Looks like all three of those schools I listed are low-res. Back to the drawing board. There's a funded genre program out there somewhere, and as God is my witness, I will find it.

Edited by HookedOnSonnets

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