hyperpoleme24

Caliber of writing for an incoming MFA student?

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Hello there!

I am about to start the final year of my undergraduate coursework and am considering whether or not to apply for MFA (fiction) programs this fall, or to hold out for another year to be a more competitive applicant.

I have been published in the venues available through my school, which is a modest state university with not much prestige but a humble price tag, and have been writing for the school paper. For my senior year, I will hold an editorial position at the paper, as well as the school literary journal. I will also have some teaching experience by the time I graduate.

I am set on pursuing an MFA, and I am interested in attending one of the following programs: NYU, Iowa, UCI, UCR, or possibly Cornell. My backup program is Cal State Long Beach.

While I feel that I am at a point in my development as a writer that it would be advantageous to participate in a graduate level workshop, I am not sure I know the writing level of most students who enter into one. I know that I am one of the more competitive writers in my undergraduate program (which is actually CW, a rare thing), and that you are not expected to submit a sample worthy of publication in Tin House or The New Yorker right away, but I think I need a sample to try and measure my current skill level up against. I've gotten some really positive feedback and encouragement from my writing mentors, but I feel shy about going right up and asking bluntly if I am skilled enough to think of applying this fall.

Is there anyone who is knowledgeable in this subject and would be willing to suggest some reading that is a good example of the caliber of an incoming MFA student?

Much thanks and gratitude.

Edited by hyperpoleme24

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First, if you're feeling unsure about how ready you are, consider waiting. I graduated in 2015, and had originally planned to apply to grad school that fall. For various reasons, I decided to wait a year, and am so glad I did-- I now feel much more confident in my abilities as a writer, and I'm better at articulating what my interests are. It always helps to have more time to read and write, and to think about reading and writing. I get the appeal of wanting to go straight from undergrad to graduate school, but it's quite common for people to step away from academia for a while to work, travel, and try new things. Having those experiences, realizing there are other things you can do with your life besides go to school-- all of that allows you to gain a perspective that I think can only be beneficial, both as a grad school applicant and as a person. Personally, I can't recommend it enough.

When it comes to MFA admissions, the single most important thing is your portfolio. Your personal statement and letters of recommendation are important, too, but everything I have read indicates that other things-- publications, prestige of undergrad institution, GPA-- really don't matter much at all. If you feel you're ready to present a portfolio of your best work and write a strong personal statement, and you have professors who will write letters for you and are enthusiastic about you as a writer and student and person, then go for it. You may want to consider applying to more programs, though, and definitely go into the process knowing what you want and need from a creative writing program in terms of funding, size, course offerings, time commitment, etc. For example, you mentioned NYU and Cornell: NYU is not fully funded, but Cornell is; NYU admits 35-50 students annually, while Cornell admits only eight. If both those options appeal to you, great, but if not, consider what your preferences are and what other schools would be a good fit. 

Finally, if you're curious about how your writing compares to others in your position, reading literary journals that regularly publish emerging writers is a good place to start. Also, MFA programs often provide profiles of their current students, which may include information on where they've been published, so you might want to look up some students at programs of interest to you and track down their work as well.

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On ‎7‎/‎26‎/‎2016 at 3:09 PM, slouching said:

First, if you're feeling unsure about how ready you are, consider waiting. I graduated in 2015, and had originally planned to apply to grad school that fall. For various reasons, I decided to wait a year, and am so glad I did-- I now feel much more confident in my abilities as a writer, and I'm better at articulating what my interests are. It always helps to have more time to read and write, and to think about reading and writing. I get the appeal of wanting to go straight from undergrad to graduate school, but it's quite common for people to step away from academia for a while to work, travel, and try new things. Having those experiences, realizing there are other things you can do with your life besides go to school-- all of that allows you to gain a perspective that I think can only be beneficial, both as a grad school applicant and as a person. Personally, I can't recommend it enough.

When it comes to MFA admissions, the single most important thing is your portfolio. Your personal statement and letters of recommendation are important, too, but everything I have read indicates that other things-- publications, prestige of undergrad institution, GPA-- really don't matter much at all. If you feel you're ready to present a portfolio of your best work and write a strong personal statement, and you have professors who will write letters for you and are enthusiastic about you as a writer and student and person, then go for it. You may want to consider applying to more programs, though, and definitely go into the process knowing what you want and need from a creative writing program in terms of funding, size, course offerings, time commitment, etc. For example, you mentioned NYU and Cornell: NYU is not fully funded, but Cornell is; NYU admits 35-50 students annually, while Cornell admits only eight. If both those options appeal to you, great, but if not, consider what your preferences are and what other schools would be a good fit. 

Finally, if you're curious about how your writing compares to others in your position, reading literary journals that regularly publish emerging writers is a good place to start. Also, MFA programs often provide profiles of their current students, which may include information on where they've been published, so you might want to look up some students at programs of interest to you and track down their work as well.

Thanks so much for the input! Your answer makes a lot of sense. I still have some mulling over to do in regards to whether or not I'll be applying this year, but I do think either way i'll be looking into more schools to apply to.

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I'd caution against the word "backup" here unless a school admits every applicant that apply. Having previously gone through the process, I can tell you that schools don't care about your letters of recs (as long as they're from English professors, preferably MFA graduates) and that Fit is the most important thing.  Figuring out fit is tricky, but I can also say that the University of Alabama likes experimental writing while the University of Iowa seems to prefer journalistic/npr style of writing.

I was admitted with 0 publications into multiple programs.

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