May 16, 2007, 11:10 PM
Post #21 of 454
The conventional wisdom is to apply to a huge range of programs to increase your odds of getting in somewhere. I applied to six programs that I was enthusiastic about based on some basic criteria:
Re: [gcsumfa] Choosing an MFA Program (2008)
Ability to mix genres in program
Type of university, big school, small school, etc
Whether I thought I'd mesh with the professors
The first four were pretty easy to find out, although I did have to make some information lists because when you're sorting through all the necessary information when you're looking up dozens of programs, things tend to bleed together. Funding was really important to me because I can't afford paying to get an MFA-a degree that offers almost no financial security once you're done. I don't know what I would've decided if I had only gotten into a program that didn't offer much funding, but I did the research beforehand so I didn't run into that problem.
I applied as poetry, but also write fiction and want to give screenwriting and nonfiction a shot too, so it was important for the program to have flexibility. I'd only been writing poetry for about a year before I applied, so I didn't want to be tied to that genre although my best recent work was in poetry.
The location and type of university were important because all the schools that I've ever gone to, save my Australian university, are within 2 miles of each other. My undergrad university has 2000 people, so I was ready not only to get out of the area, but to experience a big, gung-ho university. I picked an SEC school, so I can check those off. Variety of experience helps writing, right?
The last one, which also might be the most influential on you actually getting into a program, took a little bit of time. I asked my undergrad professors what they'd heard about the different programs and professors, and they were familiar with some of both, so they helped me make decisions. I also tried to find the professors work at bookstore, even using the "Look At This Book" (or whatever it's called) function on Amazon's site.
I was put on two waitlists and was accepted off of both. When I talked to people at the university I ultimately picked, I found out that one of the professors who's aesthetic I thought meshed well with mine really went to bat for me to get me into the program. You may have great grades and test scores, but the people who're in the program, their opinions count the most.
When you've decided what programs to apply to, you shouldn't be afraid to call those programs and ask questions, even just to establish a bit of presence with those programs. They post their numbers for a reason. While I wouldn't go overboard and make an annoyance of yourself, it can't hurt to show interest in the program beyond applying. I was told visiting was key to show your interest in a program, especially if you're on a waitlist. I don't know how true this is, but I was able to visit two school on the way back from a spring break trip, and it was well worth the extra time in the car, even if it didn't sway the faculty either way. I mean, shit, you're going to live and work there for 3 years, great faculty and funding won't mean a lot of you're miserable the whole time.
My basic point in writing this long post was to say that don't feel obligated to apply to a huge amount of programs, especially if you're not comfortable envisioning yourself there. If you apply to 12 programs, 6 that you can really see yourself at, 6 that you have mostly because you want to get in SOMEWHERE and you think that you could manage that with them, from my perspective, save the money and time on the 6 maybes to put towards reapplying next year to your top programs in case you don't get in there. Unless you really really just want to start an MFA program ASAP. Or if you have a ton of programs that you're really in love with, apply to the lot of them. I got into 3 of the 6 that I applied to, so keeping it small worked out for me. If I hadn't, maybe I'd be boring everyone with a different long ass post. Get as much information that you can, start as early as you can, and make up your own mind. Don't be swayed too much by blogs and Best Programs lists, but always keep your ears open.
Good luck. It's a long, drag-ass process, but soon enough you'll be calling grandma to tell her that next fall you're going to XXXX to start your masters. It's a good feeling.