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creative8
John Smith


Sep 20, 2004, 1:45 PM

Post #1 of 213 (8711 views)
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Preparing for an MFA Can't Post

Two or three years from now, I'll be trying to get into MFA area . Those who went to MFA schools whether hi-res or low-res. What advice can you tell undergraduates so they can prepare themselves to be accepted at MFA's. or how to get over if you're not accepted at MFA schools.
e.g--be nice to your professors so they can give you letters of recommendation.

please be specific.



thanks
js


(This post was edited by motet on Feb 22, 2007, 6:57 PM)


hapworth


Sep 20, 2004, 3:00 PM

Post #2 of 213 (8696 views)
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John,

You can increase your chances of MFA acceptance if you work on your writing a lot. More than any other part of your application, the creative writing sample will be make or break. GRE scores, rec letters, statement of pupose, grades are somewhat important, but I'm willing to bet that a knockout creative portfolio will overshadow not-so-great GRE scores, rec letters, statements of purpose, and grades.

Do you attend an undergrad institution that offers workshops? Are there faculty members who actively publish creative writing? You should enroll in workshops and/or form close relationships with faculty who can help you with your work. If your undergrad English department doesn't offer workshops or doesn't feature many poets or fiction writers, you might check out opportunities available in your community or online. Really, your writing is your ticket.

I don't know what to say about how to get over not being accepted. Aside from your writing sample, you stand your best chance of being accepted if you apply to 8-10 schools. If you have some sense of how strong your work is, this will help you decide the top and bottom levels of your range. Although others would disagree, I don't recommend taking a shot at Iowa, Cornell, or Cal/Irvine if your stuff's clearly very rough. I see too many students attack "top ten" schools only to suffer rejections. I know successful authors who have graduated from MFA programs like Alabama and Wichita State. Research as many programs as possible and target 8-10 schools that represent reach schools and safety schools for your talent level. For one student, that might mean applying to Iowa on down to Alabama. For another student, that might mean applying to Alabama on down to, oh, I don't know Wichita State. :-)

I hope this feedback helps,

Hapworth


creative8
John Smith


Sep 20, 2004, 3:09 PM

Post #3 of 213 (8694 views)
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Re: [creative8] UNDREGRAD PREPARATION FOR MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Hapworth(why are you named hapworth, I'm sure you're worth your weight in gold).

Very, very good. hapworth. Aside from regular classes, I'm attending workshops of known authors, sit in with literary agents , read Poets and Writers, and interact in Speakeasy.. to get to know writers like you.

good day , hapworth..

js


(This post was edited by creative8 on Sep 20, 2004, 4:25 PM)


creative8
John Smith


Sep 20, 2004, 4:35 PM

Post #4 of 213 (8681 views)
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In Reply To
, but I'm willing to bet that a knockout creative portfolio will overshadow not-so-great GRE scores, rec letters, statements of purpose, and grades.

Hapworth


How do you know if you have a 'knockout creative portfolio" ? What are the contents of a creative portfolio? If you're doing an MFA in poetry, does the portfolio consists of several related poems? If you're doing an MFA in fiction,
does the portfolio consists of a novel or related short stories running on a theme?

The above quote from Hapworth sounds like it's a form of a Stegner fellowship where your degrees or grades or recommendation don't matter but your writing samples do .

js.


(This post was edited by creative8 on Sep 20, 2004, 4:45 PM)


pongo
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Sep 20, 2004, 6:43 PM

Post #5 of 213 (8666 views)
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Humility is a big help (although an author also needs a dose of arrogance, too). Recognize that you can learn from those with greater genius or more experience, and figure out how to do it.

I strongly recommend taking a year or two off between the BA and the MFA. You can work on your writing, get an idea of the job market, and learn your strengths. College is a great time to play in all the fields, but for an MFA you're going to have to pick one genre to work in, and you should know which one you want that to be.

dmh


rutha


Sep 20, 2004, 6:56 PM

Post #6 of 213 (8663 views)
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Just to add (or reiterate) I point I made earlier when this subject came up in another thread, I agree, the most important thing is your writing. But it's also important to note that many creative writing programs are part of a larger English dept, and you may have to meet their requirements as far as GPA, GREs, English background (though I've heard that some are moving away from that and are looking for more well-rounded writers who may not have "traditional" backgrounds). You can still get in if they like your writing but you may not qualify for financial aid (an assistantship/fellowship, etc.). BTW, Wichita State is one of those programs that I applied to and got in, but had a hard time getting aid because I didn't fit the "profile" of an English major grad (I'd never taken a lit course above the 100 level, and their program was rather rigorous in terms of credits in lit that you had to take -- as many if not more as you would for workshops). They did wait list me for an assistantship, but I opted for another program. Hope this helps!


creative8
John Smith


Sep 20, 2004, 9:13 PM

Post #7 of 213 (8652 views)
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Re: [rutha] UNDREGRAD PREPARATION FOR MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

though I've heard that some are moving away from that and are looking for more well-rounded writers who may not have "traditional" backgrounds

rutha
___________________________________________________________

what is a 'traditional' background? Is this a major in Literature or English?
What is a profile of an English major grad? Some of the best writers or poets in literature as history proved don't have these backgrounds. I've read that majoring in English doesn't make you a great storyteller or being a major in Lit doesn't make one a great writer either.

For financial assistance, whose income are they looking into ? My parents or mine(no income at all). In college, they look at your parents' income to get aid. Even then, some students who have received scholarships at Ivy-league universities didn't enroll because they couldn't afford the expenses even though they were admitted.

very, very good rutha--I hope you win a contest one of these days. i responded to your post in contest rules.







(This post was edited by creative8 on Sep 20, 2004, 9:16 PM)


bighark


Sep 21, 2004, 12:16 PM

Post #8 of 213 (8635 views)
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Re: [creative8] UNDREGRAD PREPARATION FOR MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Woah!

You write "What is a 'traditional' background? Is this a major in Literature or English?" Don't worry about this.

There's no "traditional" background for an MFA student that I'm aware of. George Saunders, for instance, is as fine of an American writer/MFA graduate that I can think of, and his undergrad degree was in engineering.

While there are some programs (Ohio State and Western Michigan come to mind) that require students to have an English lit background, I don't think you need to worry about which major your choose. Most MFA programs really don't care about your background, so choose a course of study that interests you. The undergraduate experience is like nothing else you'll encounter in life--you won't have another chance to indulge your intellectual curiosity like this ever again, so study whatever you want.

You write, "What is a profile of an English major grad?"

Your guess is as good as mine, buddy.

You write, "Some of the best writers or poets in literature as history proved don't have these backgrounds. I've read that majoring in English doesn't make you a great storyteller or being a major in Lit doesn't make one a great writer either."

Sounds like your instincts are correct. If you want to study art history or theater or physics or business, go right ahead.

You write, "For financial assistance, whose income are they looking into?"

This is an excellent question. Fortunately, "financial aid" for graduate school doesn't work the same way it does for undergraduate work.

Since you have a lot of time between now and when you intend to apply to graduate school, I encourage you to take a look at the ways different programs handle tuition and financial assistance. You may be surprised at how this works.

For starters, financial assistance in graduate school is nearly always merit based. Your income or your parents' income is never really part of the equation.

Different programs do things different ways.

Some programs offer full tuition remission and fellowship support for their students for each year of the program. These programs are typically small and selective, accepting only 10 writers a year. Fellowship can include a job as an editor on the program's literary journal, a T.A.ship, or graduate assistantship, and usually gives a student between 8,000 and 16,000 to live on for the year.

Some programs offer full tuition remission to all students but fellowship support to only some. Like the above example, these schools are typically small and selective.

Some programs offer tuition and fellowship awards to some students and not to others. These programs are larger than the above examples but are no less competitive. Iowa works this way. In such a program, incoming students are awarded support based on certain rubrics. These awards are granted from both the graduate college and the program itself, so criteria can vary. For example, a graduate college may award a student fellowship support based on a very high GRE score (think 1500 or above) or undergraduate GPA. The program itself, meanwhile, would never consider anything beyond the manuscript as a basis for award.

Anyway, in this model, it's possible for a non-English lit major with a sub-par GPA and poor GRE scores to get accepted to a program like Iowa (one of the finest in the nation) and receive no fellowship or tution support.

Finally, some programs offer little or no support at all. Schools like Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, and most of the low-res programs do not offer tuition remission or fellowship support for first-year students. These are also excellent programs.

You may ultimately elect to apply for traditional financial aid in the form of loans through the program that you intend for a number of reasons. Perhaps you only get a partial tution remission, or maybe your fellowship of 7,500 isn't enough to live on without having to get a job. If you play your cards right, though, you can skip this altogether.

Good luck to you.


creative8
John Smith


Sep 21, 2004, 1:33 PM

Post #9 of 213 (8625 views)
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Re: [creative8] UNDREGRAD PREPARATION FOR MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

very very good bighark. I would like to take credit for the questions of 'traditional' background or 'profile of an English major grad'(they're rutha's).

your answer can be a paper already,"What undergraduates need to know if they want to go for an MFA in creative writing." You are indeed a writer
bighark. You write with much sense. What kind of a hark are you? a Raiders' of the Lost Ark?

with much thanks,

js


(This post was edited by creative8 on Sep 21, 2004, 1:36 PM)


rutha


Sep 21, 2004, 2:04 PM

Post #10 of 213 (8619 views)
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Since I brought it up, what I meant by "traditional" is an undergraduate English major where you've taken a lot of English/American lit classes, maybe some undergrad writing classes too. And big hark is right, there are a lot of options, every program is different, and there are lots of writers from all backgrounds (besides Saunders, Ethan Canin, a medical doctor who I think teaches at Iowa fulltime now after graduating from there a few years back, comes to mind, among many others...)

JS, good luck with your research/decisionmaking --


WinstonAMC


Oct 15, 2004, 3:43 PM

Post #11 of 213 (8576 views)
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Re: [rutha] UNDREGRAD PREPARATION FOR MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I am just finishing up a senior year at a liberal arts school with one of the finer creative writing programs in the country for undergrad and am close to finishing all the workshops here. How much does this experience put one ahead of the game as so many schools accept such minute percentages? Thanks


rutha


Oct 15, 2004, 5:51 PM

Post #12 of 213 (8569 views)
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For MFA programs, it's all about your writing (along with some other things, as we've talked about here), but the primary factor is your work. If you've done a lot of writing in your undergrad workshops, you probably already have a pretty good portfolio of work developed -- that's going to really help you a lot. And the fact that you're serious (as shown by your preparation). I would also think that you've worked with some people who can give you some very good recommendations (and might even have some connections?). So that's my take -- hope it helps.


WinstonAMC


Oct 15, 2004, 7:25 PM

Post #13 of 213 (8563 views)
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Re: [rutha] UNDREGRAD PREPARATION FOR MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks,
Along the same lines, are a couple of good recommendations from famous writers going to be wildly better than a good recommendation from just anyone familiar with your writing. Does it really make that much of a difference?


rutha


Oct 16, 2004, 1:02 AM

Post #14 of 213 (8550 views)
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I'd say that if you happen to have a teacher who is also famous person (somebody like Joyce Carol Oates or Toni Morrison, for instance), then by all means, I'd use them as a recommendation! But I think the bottom line is having a teacher/writer that you respect who can comment in detail about your work and who knows you and your potential -- famous or not. Ideally you'd want someone you've had a class with and who has seen your work develop and grow, who can talk about your ability to work with a story or poem and take it to a polished, final product, and perhaps even how you'd contribute to an MFA program as a participant. My sense is that teachers you have had will most likely have written letters before for other people, and should have a pretty good idea of what a good letter should contain. Again, though, it's all about your writing sample, how it "fits" with what that particular program is looking for, whether they think you have promise and can benefit from the program. In other words, you can be a fabulous writer and still get turned down -- the whole thing, as anyone who's gone through the process can tell you, is maddeningly subjective.

That's my two cents.

Anyone else have thoughts on this?


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Oct 16, 2004, 9:08 AM

Post #15 of 213 (8546 views)
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Having experience in a good undergraduate creative writing program will help you. Not having any life experience between that and your MFA will hinder you. The old saw says write what you know, and there's concern among MFA folk and the literary world in general about overprofessionalizing, about too many writers having nothing to write about except writing. My advice to any young writer graduating from college would be to consider spending a few years in the real world before you jump into the MFA. If you do jump in, it might be a good idea to demonstrate to the committee, ideally through your manuscript but also if possible through your essay or recommendations, a level of maturity and diversity of life experience exceeding that of the typical college senior.

As for the question about who makes the best recommender, the best thing obviously would be a famous writer who knows you and your writing well. But I think the knows-you-well part trumps the famous part. The point of a recommendation is to tell the committee something. I think a recommendation from a famous person who doesn't have much to say is just going to irritate them.

Care to divulge which undergrad program you're in?

Good luck! Keep us posted about what you're thinking, where you're applying, etc.


WinstonAMC


Oct 16, 2004, 7:12 PM

Post #16 of 213 (8529 views)
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thanks for the words of advice, just getting nervous about applying to places. I think you are completely right about not going strait into it. I'm at kenyon and I was talking to my current poetry professor's about mfa programs/advice. She was very adamant about two things: taking a year off at least before you go and making sure you get money. David Lynn, who'se the editor for the kenyon review, walked by and said something along the lines of getting some experience under your belt. So I think what you say is quite true. As far as programs? I'm definately going to apply to a good number of them, Brown sounds appealing. I hear it's focused on experimental writing. I have been doing alot of that since my second fiction class but don't want to be hemmed in by an insistance upon it as there are many other valid approaches to a story. Does anyone know what Brown's program is like more specifically?


WinstonAMC


Oct 20, 2004, 4:02 AM

Post #17 of 213 (8506 views)
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Hey everyone, thanks again for the hope. I was wondering, I am to an extent interested in experimenting but not trying to (hope I am not reiterating something i said earlier) be hemmed in by an insistance upon that. What programs are open minded about such things. Anyone in one that knows etc? Thanks


scheherazade


Feb 20, 2007, 10:48 PM

Post #18 of 213 (8362 views)
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I've wanted to write for most of my life, but tucked it aside throughout my practical teens and early twenties, and only recently realized there's nothing else I want to do. I've started taking some night classes to coax my inner writer out of hiding, but I'd like to eventually break free from the day-job/night-passion life and pursue an MFA in creative writing. Given that I have about a year until the deadline for the next application cycle, and 18 months before the program would commence, what things can I do to prepare myself for an MFA? There are a few ideas that come to mind, and some combination of all may be ideal, but the more time I spend on any one of these pursuits, the less I will have for the others. Which should be my priorities for the upcoming year?

-Taking writing classes at night school; options include focusing within my genre (fiction/novels), sampling other genres (screenwriting, poetry, nonfiction, short story), or taking related (but more marketable) courses like magazine publishing and journalism

-Freelance writing for magazines to build a bit of a portfolio (for schools that want a multigenre portfolio), practice writing and finding ideas, and getting paid instead of paying tuition for the learning experience

-Working at my day job, or picking up a part-time job teaching test prep to gain teaching experience and save money for MFA tuition and living expenses

-Saving up my spare time to read all the great books I've ignored (I was a science major in school, so I have a LOT of catching up to do)

-Living life! Being free to explore and find ideas - but also spending money and not doing the aforementioned things



I'm focused on preparing for the MFA, so what can I do now to best prepare for 18-30 months down the line?


chopsaw


Feb 21, 2007, 7:50 AM

Post #19 of 213 (8349 views)
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Before I did the MFA route I took a couple of writing classes that were very helpful. I also disciplined myself to write every day. I would certainly suggest trying to get some clips under your belt. A good place to start is with newspapers, and then work toward magazines.

The other thing is to read. You must enjoy it. If not, you're in for quite a time. I would suggest grabbing Francine Prose's "How to Read Like a Writer." I'm certain other posters will have some good advice as well.

If you want to write I would suggest that your job be as far removed from writing as possible.

Best of luck with your endeavors.


pongo
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Feb 21, 2007, 11:25 AM

Post #20 of 213 (8337 views)
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I agree that the best preparation for an MFA is to write and read as much as possible, but I don't agree that you should keep your work as far from writing as you can.

When I wrote my first novel, I was working as a book editor. When I was finishing up my MFA, I was working as a staff writer on a newspaper. I realize that not everyone can compartmentalize, but not everyone can't, either.


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chopsaw


Feb 21, 2007, 11:31 AM

Post #21 of 213 (8335 views)
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Just my two cents. I'm certain there are plenty of people out there that can work as editors, copywriters, etc., and write damn fine novels. I happen to be of the sort that needs to break things up a bit.


ghostracer


Feb 22, 2007, 1:25 PM

Post #22 of 213 (8296 views)
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First of all, you're doing a good thing by deciding this early on in the application process that this is something you're going to do this year. I applied (and am currently waiting to hear from six schools, and I'm thinking the 3-4% acceptance rate is going to knock me out of contention) last year, and didn't decide until about July or August. Two things gave me extreme paranoia:
1) Recommendations. This mostly went alright for me, but I had to send in my last rec late to 5 out of my 6 schools. I think they all accepted it, but it drove me nuts for the month I was waiting to attach the final portion of my application. I would recommend you get your recommendations sent to you as soon as possible. That way, you can have them sitting on your desk, waiting to be mailed, and it will motivate you in yet another way.
2) Writing Samples. This is the other reason I don't expect to get accepted--I didn't trust my instincts enough on my writing sample. Instead, I tried writing new stories, making them flashy and silly, and they are probably going to be regarded with contempt. I would recommend doing as much writing as possible up through the summer. But work on short stories, it seems that most schools prefer them, and most self-contained chapters are hard to decide on.

Night time writing classes are good. I took one myself last year, and some of the other students' interest in MFAs opened me up to it. My personal feeling on workshops is that they are most useful for thinking about writing for an audience. I personally didn't submit any "MFA writing samples" to my workshop, and I regret that.

I think writing freelance would be very helpful for your application, but I also think it's pretty hard to find freelance work. Then again I've never forced myself to find any.

Basically it's never too early to start. You don't want to be doing what I did and ruining the holidays in December with frantic scrambling to complete the necessary materials.


flyinghouses.blogspot.com




malber


Feb 22, 2007, 7:31 PM

Post #23 of 213 (8272 views)
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Scheherazade: there is only one thing that matters with MFA apps - the writing sample. If you want to do fiction, you should focus on that, not worrying about freelance writing. Yes, it might be a great experience, and certainly it wouldn't hurt you, but working on your sample (on your own, workshopping it online, in a night class) would give you the biggest advantage.

also, check your programs and see if they require the GRE. its not a huge important thing, but if you need it, getting it out of the way is a plus.

so just write. revise, revise. write some more. that's the best advice i can give you.


scheherazade


Feb 22, 2007, 8:27 PM

Post #24 of 213 (8241 views)
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In Reply To
Just my two cents. I'm certain there are plenty of people out there that can work as editors, copywriters, etc., and write damn fine novels. I happen to be of the sort that needs to break things up a bit.



Unfortunately, I have to agree with chopsaw. I don't think I could write if I spent my entire day with words - I find it hard enough to meet deadlines for my night school workshop on top of a day job where I read research articles and interviews and write reports. And this is a job where writing skills and artistic expression mean very little. I don't think I could handle a job that is any more language-centric and still find the energy to write. But I envy anyone who can!


scheherazade


Feb 22, 2007, 8:57 PM

Post #25 of 213 (8229 views)
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Thanks for the tips. Definitely some important things to keep in mind when during the application process. I still have a few months before I need to focus on the application, but I'll remember to give myself plenty of time. I bought a GRE prep book, and I've been researching on the Internet those sort of application details they don't really tell you on program websites (for example, your 20 page writing sample should probably be composed of 1-2 short stories that you've workshopped extensively beforehand).

I have the application process in the back of my mind, but given that I have some time still, I'd be especially interested to know if there are things I can do to prepare for the degree program itself, especially for someone who didn't major in English or Creative Writing in undergrad. Reading Francine Prose's book is an excellent suggestion - I'm on the library waiting list for that one. I'm trying to spend a lot of time reading, but is it better to push myself to read as many classics as possible, or focus more on books that appeal most to me (which can be classics, but often aren't)? I'm trying to balance between classics and brain candy, because the fun books inspire me more as a writer, but sometimes I'll find a book that is both classic and candy.

I'll probably do a little freelancing, because I feel like that's an easy way to develop my voice but also find material, and doing interviews helps me get over my shyness. Not to mention it pays. Plus, I may apply to a multi-genre program that requires a writing sample in 2-3 genres - so published clips would be a great portfolio addition, and presumably could be something to list in applications for other schools as well. But it won't be my key focus.

I'd still love to hear any other tips about things a person can do to prepare for an MFA - either for the application process or the program itself. Read a lot? Write a lot? Live a lot? Save up? Ideally, you'd do a little of everything, but is there one thing that is most important or most overlooked?

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