Feb 5, 2008, 2:02 PM
Post #36 of 104
I edited the original post to try and focus the discussion that this hopefully creates:
Re: [Taryn_S] Financial Assistance for MFA Programs
I would like some truly candid information about MFA programs. A lot of talk seems to be true, but turns out to be not quite the whole truth.
Can we have a brass tacks, honest discussion about the funding situations of various MFA programs? Is money a problem at this program? Does it struggle to fund its students, and how much does it really give its students? What is it actually like to teach there?
Maybe another, closely-related thread would concern programs' true climates. Anonymous posters can provide the real scoop on programs, and the web can, with good economy, do what it should. MFA programs are much like corporate administrations and chefs in that they are masters of dressing up and dissembling. Tom Kealey's Creative Writing MFA Handbook was a start along the path of clinical dissection, but his book is flawed on many counts. For instance, he's clearly biased toward UMass. (I'm going to take the first step and try to inject some liveliness and candor into this forum. I've posted a behind-the-scenes piece about UMass in the UMass (Fiction) thread.)
I feel this kind of information is crucial. People want to know as much as they can about a place before they spend two or three years of their lives there, right? Let's make our own Speakeasy Handbook. We can have school-by-school breakdowns, like the Kealey book, only more comprehensive and representative of the reality of the program. This should make it much easier to know what you're applying to and potentially attending. I have a feeling that a lot of other applicants would like to know this information, but that it is not discreet to ask someone these questions face to face or even via email. Aside from anonymously donated synopses, this information remains unavailable to the applicant until he/she matriculates, and has to find out the hard way. Contributors should be very familiar with the program, and willing to be as honest with themselves and others as possible. Let's work on a blueprint to follow for these school-by-school breakdowns (please offer your suggestions):
I. The Program
i. Specifically how many people out of the total number are funded, and exactly how much, all told, do they get? Are there any bonuses or fees that add or subtract from this sum?
ii. Health insurance? If so, what kind of coverage?
iii. Is there a graduate student union, and if so, how active are they in pursuing the student's interests?
iv. Does it seem that the program is financially secure? Does it seem that money is simply not a concern?
i. Give an honest, brief evaluation of the overall climate of the program. How does it stand in regard to other programs you may know of?
ii. Good Faculty. Any great teachers and mentors? Who will work to get you published?
iii. Bad Faculty. Who is a dead weight, a total disappointment, and/or an unavailable name?
iv. Is there strife among the professors? A division past, present, or impending? Who does not get along with who?
v. When you look your professors in the eyes, do you really believe that they care? Who are these professors?
vi. Among students, is there a clear hierarchy (usually determined by funding)? Is it reinforced by awards (monetary and titular)? Is it tolerable?
vii. How about the workshops? Are they the best you've ever had? Are they a total waste of time? Hellish, nirvana-inducing, lifeless, electric?
viii. How would you rate the intellectual capacity of your peers?
ix. What portion of them do you really respect as writers?
x. How many of them do you hang out with on a regular basis? How many can you simply not stand?
xi. How diverse is the student body of the program, really? What about your peers' economic background?
xii. Is there an irritating dynamic peculiar to this program? Anything especially wonderful that isn't easily discernible and/or not usually noted?
C. General Direction of Program
i. How is the program regarded within the university? Is it omnipotent, inviolable, unassailable? Is it marginal? Is it the university's dog or its crown jewel? Is the university rather like a passing tuna, and simply indifferent to the piece of driftwood otherwise known as the program?
ii. Where do you see this program going? Is it teetering on its last legs, puttering along on the fumes of past glory? Is it wildly promising? Is it really going to ascend into the glorious ether and blow up the next US News ranking like the program's website would lead you to believe? When you look around you, do you really think your peers are destined for literary greatness? Does everyone believe in and love the program? Are the professors and students gutturally invested in it, or just leaning on it for a paycheck or a prestigious degree?
iii. Does the program care about its alums? Do you sense that your professors and peers will still care about you after your degree has been minted?
iv. Would you rather have attended another program? Any regrets?
That was all I could think of, for now. I am hoping that we can
compile an online handbook of all MFA programs out of candid, anonymous
reviews. This way, those who have been admitted can know these things
without having to risk annoying or indiscreet questioning, and
potential applicants can better narrow down which schools they will
(This post was edited by guidedvoices on Feb 5, 2008, 7:05 PM)