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MFA Fiction Programs - Questions & Concerns
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Dec 30, 2008, 9:58 PM

Post #226 of 347 (15123 views)
Re: [germericanqt] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Just to clarify, Utah is ranked as a 'Top 5' PhD program by Atlantic Monthly - curious where you heard the #2 ranking? I don't think it matters much, though, rankings are pretty arbitrary - I think they can help you narrow the choices, but not definitive. Regardless, Utah is an awesome, well-respected program.

As far as the choice of MFA vs PhD - I would say it depends what you want out of a degree - it is true that a PhD may make you a more attractive candidate for teaching positions, but it's also a different degree from most MFA programs. I'm curious what you perceive to be the disadvantages? One obvious is that the BA->PhD will take you minimum five years. My experience has been that the focus on the study of lit and crit is higher in a PhD program than in most MFAs (most, not all!) in that you'll likely take more literature classes than workshops, and the year or more you spend studying for comprehensive exams is all about literature and criticism. I think that studying literature is as useful to a writer as taking workshops, so this might be what you're after - this was ideal for me, but if you feel like you're more interested in a 'craft' focus, the MFA might be a better choice, but again, this depends on the program. For example, if the ideal program for you is the Michener - I'm guessing a PhD program is very, very different. For one, in a PhD program you'll teach. At Michener you won't, but you'll also make more money at Michener. Also consider if 'time to write' is high on your list of reasons for grad school that a Phd doesn't really offer this (at least in the first 3/4 of my program) - I have time to write, but not any more than I did before I was in grad school. The difference is that all my time is devoted to thinking, talking, and writing about literature, which is great. Another consideration is that PhD programs are in some ways more competitive tham MFAs in that most applicants already have MFAs. I'm not sure how this works with BA->PhD admissions, in that you'll only be competing with (I assume) very talented people without MFAs, but I would cast your net as wide as you can - apply to as many programs as you can afford to and see what happens. Another thought is that it won't hurt you to go get an MFA and then pursue a PhD, which is what most of my colleagues have done. It'll take you another couple years to do, but if you're not really sure you want to commit five years to a PhD you might have a better idea of what you want out of the degree(s) after getting a 2 or 3 year MFA. It probably wouldn't hurt to go talk to the faculty at Utah, as well, if you're in the area.


Dec 30, 2008, 10:38 PM

Post #227 of 347 (15108 views)
Re: [owenj] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post


Just to clarify, The Atlantic Monthly didn't rank programs, Utah or otherwise. Salt Lake City is gorgeous, and Utah is a fine program (though, in poetry, the recent loss of Donald Revell to UNLV was a major blow) but the Atlantic article you're referring to contained a series of non-exhaustive "lists" (i.e., the author explicitly stated that other programs could have made each list, but were excluded for reasons that are unclear; it is for this reason that the list Utah appeared on was called "Five Top Ph.D. Programs in Creative Writing," and not "The Top Five Ph.D. Programs in Creative Writing"--the syntax was crucial and intentional there). In saying that Utah is ranked #2, the OP was referring to the only ranking ever done of Ph.D. in Creative Writing programs, the small and unscientific one (albeit more scientific than anything attempted by The Atlantic Monthly) here.

Best wishes,


Dec 30, 2008, 11:10 PM

Post #228 of 347 (15095 views)
Re: [umass76] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Seth - Oh yeah, thanks for clarifying - the distinction was clear in my head, but right, Atlantic Monthly's list wasn't a ranking. I think the Atlantic Monthly's lists do a great deal for the reputation of the programs that did get mentioned (for whatever reason AM had for listing them) simply because it's the Atlantic Monthly, so in that sense their list is as valid as any attempt at a scientific ranking as far as the perception of the program. I think it's useful to attempt to quantify as much data as is available about a program as you've exhaustively done, but as far as how a program is perceived, the Atlantic Monthly lists go a long way toward the reputation of a program no matter how they're compiled. With PhD programs, as with MFA programs, I think it's hugely important to apply to as many programs as possible and go visit, sit in on classes, etc - I know many people who were admitted to programs with fantastic reputations and faculty only to thrive elsewhere with perhaps lesser known faculty and/or less funding based on talking to current students and getting a feel for what the grad student community is like, which to me, is as important as the more quantifiable aspects of a grad program. And, I know at least a few people who went to what they perceived to be 'better' programs, or programs with more money, only to be miserable because of the environment. Anyway, I don't think I'm saying anything that hasn't said before, but I think it's important to gather as much first hand information, especially with PhD programs, especially given the lack of data about them (compared to MFA programs.)

I'm certain Utah will find a great poet for Revell's vacant position, though, and in general I think it's a gamble to go to any program based on faculty for just that reason - you never know where they'll end up.


Dec 30, 2008, 11:24 PM

Post #229 of 347 (15082 views)
Re: [owenj] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey there O.-- just want to apologize for starting my post with "just to clarify." I wasn't mocking you, I totally hadn't realized you started your post that way, it was an accident. I was sincerely just trying to clarify the one issue. Be well, --S.


Dec 30, 2008, 11:26 PM

Post #230 of 347 (15079 views)
Re: [umass76] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Seth - haha, no sweat at all - I didn't take it that way - the clarification was a helpful clarification of my attempt to clarify.

Justin Bryant
e-mail user

Dec 31, 2008, 1:42 AM

Post #231 of 347 (15066 views)
Re: [owenj] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

It was a kind of jaw-dropping shock when those Atlantic rankings came out last year. I was in the NYU fiction program at the time, and never expected the program to make a top 10 list. I think they award a lot of 'star quality' points for people like E.L. Doctorow (who, admittedly, was incredible as my thesis advisor), Yusef Komyunakaa, Sharon Olds, Phil Levine, Francine Prose, and now Jonathan Safran Foer. And fair enough, those are big names. But the funding is very hit-or-miss (getting better I hear, but too late for me) and the program requirements are honestly not very challenging, to the point of almost being a joke (70 page thesis minimum for fiction, no foreign language or literature courses required, the craft classes very uneven in quality).

What I will say for NYU is that some of the lesser-known writers are simply fantastic instructors. Chuck Wachtel, Nicholas Christopher, and Irini Spanidou all just can't do enough for students, to the point of encouraging students to send them previous drafts or extra work, being very generous with their time, and in general, being obviously and completely dedicated to teaching, not just picking up a paycheck. And students on the poetry side say that Yusef, for one, is the same.

Overall tho, I was still surprised to see NYU make that list. I'm not going to dispute it though, as it certainly can't hurt me.


Feb 4, 2009, 5:04 PM

Post #232 of 347 (14813 views)
Re: [germericanqt] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

did you end up applying for the U of U ba-phD thingie? I applied to the U of U for the regular phD track (i have a fiction mfa) and am getting really anxious. My friend got an acceptance call from them just about a year ago (tho' he ended up pursuing his phD elsewhere). I really love Melanie Rae Thon's work. and the area's so lovely. That's cool you did your BA there!

Oh, the waiting. Arg!


Feb 4, 2009, 5:09 PM

Post #233 of 347 (14805 views)
Re: [theootto] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

I did apply for the BA-Ph.D track. I think it's handled on a different time scale/in a different way than the normal Ph.D acceptances. I could be wrong though.

I'll let you know if I hear anything. Two of my recommendation writers are involved with the creative writing grad program, but I doubt they'll tell me anything ahead of time. The first reported Utah Ph.D acceptance from last year was this week, so we'll see what happens. Good luck!


Feb 4, 2009, 5:12 PM

Post #234 of 347 (14802 views)
Re: [germericanqt] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the info! (Everyone has been so quiet lately, it seems!)

Good luck to you, too!


Feb 26, 2009, 8:54 PM

Post #235 of 347 (14553 views)
Re: [theootto] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

I haven't been accepted but I would like to know if there are any alumni out there from the following programs who can tell me anything about their experiences (I'm in fiction).

Va. Tech
UC Irvine
UMissouri St. Louis
UWAsh -- Seattle


Feb 26, 2009, 9:03 PM

Post #236 of 347 (14546 views)
Re: [Audreyhurston] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Please don't double-post, Audrey. Chances are people are going to read both threads.


Feb 28, 2009, 9:04 AM

Post #237 of 347 (14414 views)
Making a 2 year MFA into a 3 year MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Has anyone ever negotiated a third year out of a two year MFA program? If so can you share how that was accomplished?

I'm interested in this because one of the interviewees in Kealey's book says that he really needed that third year of his MFA program to develop his writing to a point where his characters were at a distance from himself.


Feb 28, 2009, 9:13 AM

Post #238 of 347 (14411 views)
Re: [germericanqt] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Not obsessing just kind of wishing that I HAD applied to UC Davis but that's just because I'm scared of living in the midwest and with my current acceptances and rejections the midwest looks like A HUGE strong contender but a few more acceptances in other regions may come through and I still have to visit the cornfields to overcome my fear.


Feb 28, 2009, 12:02 PM

Post #239 of 347 (14369 views)
Re: [Khalilah] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Why are you scared of living in the Midwest?

I've lived in Ann Arbor these past 4 years for undergrad ... great town :).


Feb 28, 2009, 12:45 PM

Post #240 of 347 (14340 views)
Re: [swiviol] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm from New York and have lived mainly on the east coast i.e. always had the ocean within a 2 hour drive or cheap flight even when it meant going to Mexico (from Texas). Its just something I've never been exposed to -- the middle of the country, landlocked.


Feb 28, 2009, 1:29 PM

Post #241 of 347 (14316 views)
Re: [Khalilah] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

I moved from eastern Maine to Indiana and I'm glad I got out of the east coast for a while. Remember an MFA is only for two or three years and the midwest isn't another planet, just another part of the country full of good places and good people. I find getting out of my comfort zone is stimulating to my writing and to my personality as well. New places = good.


Feb 28, 2009, 1:51 PM

Post #242 of 347 (14293 views)
Re: [augustmaria] MFA vs. Ph.D [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks Kate. Good to hear and encouraging to think about since region is important in my work. I plan to visit at the end of March to see for myself.


Mar 10, 2009, 6:42 PM

Post #243 of 347 (14147 views)
The ideal MFA candidate [In reply to] Can't Post

From the FAQ page on the University of Washington's MFA site:

What is a profile of the successful applicant?

Most successful applicants to our program have GRE scores above 600, a GPA of 3.7, majored in English, completed at least two writing workshops in his/her genre at the advanced level, and have completed his/her undergraduate degree within the last 2-10 years.

I don't satisfy most of this requirement and yet, I got into a couple of good MFA programs. (was also rejected by three good programs as well) The only requirement I satisfy is the GRE score. All else...ppphhhhfft!

I think this statement in the UW site scared me off applying to that school.


Mar 17, 2009, 10:42 PM

Post #244 of 347 (14017 views)
Re: [Raysen] The ideal MFA candidate [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey everyone,

I have a question. Is it possible to work full-time and get an MFA full-time? With a program like Columbia's?



e-mail user

Mar 17, 2009, 11:21 PM

Post #245 of 347 (13987 views)
Re: [mollygolightly] The ideal MFA candidate [In reply to] Can't Post

Without a TA, you would have time to work. But then it kinda defeats the purpose -- time to write.

I had a TA and thought I would try to work part time but abandoned that idea quickly. In retrospect, I'm %100 glad I focused on my MFA. An MFA is an amazing, but brief (!) experience. You simply won't get as much out of it if you are tethered by work.



Mar 18, 2009, 8:41 AM

Post #246 of 347 (13923 views)
Re: [mollygolightly] The ideal MFA candidate [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm at a place where it's possible to work your class schedule around a traditional, 9-5 job. I even spent my first year working full time while going to school full time.

I don't recommend it.

Full time work takes bandwidth away from your writing studies, and full-time writing studies takes bandwidth away from work. Throw classes and readings into the mix, and you won't have time to do work or school properly.

And that's not even going into the sacrifices you have to make to get a work-friendly schedule. I mean, if the school's most famous, talented, generous writing teacher only works during the day, you'll never get a chance to take any of their classes.

Lots of MFA students work. I'm not trying to dissuade you from working. All I'm saying is it's not a good idea to pursue a traditional, 9-5 full-time job while going to school full-time at the same time. And that goes double if you're at a place like Columbia or my school, SAIC, where tuition isn't remitted for every student.

Good luck


Mar 19, 2009, 1:24 PM

Post #247 of 347 (13787 views)
Re: [mollygolightly] The ideal MFA candidate [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Molly,
Personally, I wouldn't recommend that anyone work full-time unless you're in a low-residency program. I considered life as a part-time student with full-time employment, but decided to quit my job since part of the reason I was unhappy was because I didn't have enough time to write. It's definitely a big adjustment to go from 9-5-er to student. I knew I wanted to go back for my MFA so I put money aside for tuition while I was working. Now I only have to earn enough to cover my living expenses.

I'm at Sarah Lawrence and they're very accommodating when it comes to balancing work and school. Some of my classmates work FT and are students PT, and some have worked out independent study courses to suit their schedules. I'm sure that other schools are just as flexible. At SLC it's okay to change between PT and FT status if you feel overwhelmed. They also ensure that the PT schedule doesn't jeopardize your financial aid. Talk to someone in the programs you're interested in to find out what your options would be. That way, you'll be able to come up with a more realistic plan and figure out where you'll feel most comfortable.


Mar 25, 2009, 12:18 PM

Post #248 of 347 (13643 views)
Which genre? [In reply to] Can't Post

I thought I would throw this out there, among all the people wiser than I . . .

If you had to choose one genre to focus on for two years, would you go with (a) what you love but aren't good at (e.g., literary journalism) or (b) what you're "good" at (I mean, relatively speaking) but don't necessarily love (e.g., fiction).

If that's too vague, how about this: Do you feel that it's possible to reinvent yourself as a writer, or do most of us pretty much need to work with the kind of talent we seem to have, such as it is, and develop that to the fullest?

Thanks in advance if anyone is still around here and would like to throw in two cents. I really, really appreciate it.

--Lapwing/Pointless Joyce Reference


Mar 25, 2009, 12:51 PM

Post #249 of 347 (13620 views)
Re: [lapwing] Which genre? [In reply to] Can't Post

This will sound cheesy, but my gut reaction is to tell you to do what you love. But that may be the idealist in me. The question is, you say you "aren't good" at literary journalism, but what does that mean? Does that mean you're just a beginner at literary journalism, and have a lot to learn? Where are you in your developmental arc?

Being practical is important (ironic, because pursuing an MFA degree to begin with is probably one of the most impractical things you can do), and you wouldn't want to pursue something that you have no talent with. As an undergrad I took computer science, failed horribly, then switched to biology and continued to fail horribly. But then, it's so hard to quantify talent. Is talent the ability and desire to work 5 hours straight on something that most people wouldn't spend 20 minutes on? I hated computer science and biology. It was awful hard to wake up at six or seven in the morning for organic chemistry lab, yet I practically popped out of bed on the early mornings where I had creative writing classes. It was so easy for me to do that. Again, this is kind of obvious and cheesy, but passion, and the hard work that invariably follows, counts for an awful lot in whatever you do.

My MFA Blog -- Watch me slowly lose my sanity.

(This post was edited by moomoocow42 on Mar 25, 2009, 12:53 PM)


Mar 25, 2009, 1:28 PM

Post #250 of 347 (13588 views)
Re: [lapwing] Which genre? [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with moomoocow42: do what you love.

It's not like being "good at" fiction (i.e. your fiction has drawn more external encouragement than your literary journalism?) will realistically open any doors. With all the rejection that comes with being a writer, you've got to be doing what makes your gears grind.

Plus, I'd imagine that fewer people are pursuing literary journalism careers. That's a somewhat irrelevant incentive.

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