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umass76


Jul 29, 2008, 2:29 PM

Post #126 of 344 (9082 views)
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Re: [writerteacher] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

WT,

Good point. Another wrinkle: I'm not convinced programs--or at least all programs--are looking for "polish," or equate polished writing with good writing. Some are looking for "promise" (innovation, daring, intuition) with suitable polish and a clear ability to achieve it fully later on, and are indeed wholly comfortable that such polish will come eventually--helped along the way, and helped enormously at that, by a few years working on craft in the MFA.

I have a feeling a lot of "polished" but largely uninspired fiction and poetry gets turned away from MFA programs every year.

S.

MFA Rankings & Acceptance Rates at: http://www.sethabramson.blogspot.com/


(This post was edited by umass76 on Jul 29, 2008, 2:30 PM)


Raysen


Jul 29, 2008, 2:30 PM

Post #127 of 344 (9080 views)
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Re: [writerteacher] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

writerteacher, I do agree with you that the selection process is very subjective. And I did not mean to put down those excellent writers who did not get acceptance letters from MFA programs. The main thrust of my post was that there are a lot of "bad" (as I view them) writer-applicants out there and I was merely playing the role of a cheerleader for all the good writer-applicants who are worrying about the 1-4% acceptance rates.


aiyamei

e-mail user

Jul 29, 2008, 3:43 PM

Post #128 of 344 (9065 views)
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Re: [Raysen] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Great post, Raysen. I was laughing. I'm wondering, though, how you explain that so many of these terrible writers from your group got into the nation's best programs? It kind of undercuts your thesis, doesn't it? If these terrible writers are getting in, then it really DOES seem random, like as if the 1% acceptance rate should be seen as precisely a 1% chance, for one and all.


Raysen


Jul 29, 2008, 4:25 PM

Post #129 of 344 (9052 views)
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Re: [aiyamei] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Great post, Raysen. I was laughing. I'm wondering, though, how you explain that so many of these terrible writers from your group got into the nation's best programs? It kind of undercuts your thesis, doesn't it? If these terrible writers are getting in, then it really DOES seem random, like as if the 1% acceptance rate should be seen as precisely a 1% chance, for one and all.


Yes, you're right. My example does undercut my proposition! LOL! I guess I was trying to say that if some of these terrible writers got in, so can you. Heck...I'm not sure anymore.

I'll just revert to what writerteacher said -- it's (mostly) subjective.


v1ctorya


Jul 29, 2008, 4:45 PM

Post #130 of 344 (9044 views)
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Re: [Raysen] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, I was told by a prof. at a university that it really is a greater percentage depending upon your work I guess. that whole cut the wheat from the chaff type stuff. So if your work shows promise, maybe half of those who submit show promise, so instead of competing against 300 apps you're competing against 150.

But it's all really subjective on their part. They can be searching for the diamond in a rough because if your writing makes Joyce cry with its beauty, why do you need a writing program?

IDK, I'm just getting all worried as I hear how tough it's becoming to get into a good program, and I had to turn down my offer froma good program a while ago (for reasons Seth offered in this blog or another, I only applied to about 5, got into one, then stuff happened and I didn't trust that area to continue my medical issues, wanted a place with a better hospital system.)

I'm applying to about 13 places, but already all oogy about it.

(I also don't like the idea of saying people in your writing group suck. I tend to think it's just a different taste at play. For instance, I'm looking for a new writing group not because I think mine has bad writers, but because what they write is not what I tend to like to read, though they can do it well.)


daleth


Jul 29, 2008, 6:44 PM

Post #131 of 344 (9020 views)
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Re: [Raysen] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Returning to the topic of Fiction Acceptance Rates:

My belief is that the acceptance rates for applicants is somewhat misleading. (People should correct me if I'm wrong) I'll give an analogy first. High school basketball. Let's say the they cut 90% of the kids who try out. All kids who are trying out are 5'5" tall and there's one kid 6'3". Sure, the acceptance rate is 10% but if you're 6'3", I think you have a better than 10% chance of getting in.

My point is, obviously, that the applicant pool is not filled with Michael Chabons, Deborah Eisenbergs, and John Cheevers. It's filled with Joe Bores and Jane Blands. ... So, even if a school admits only 1-4% of the applicants, my guess is that (...and it's only a guess), that roughly 50% to 66% are terrible writers with no potential or hope for improvement. That increases your odds.

So, if you can write and write fairly well (but not perfect) and the rest of your application can't hurt you too much, don't worry about your prospects. If the bozos from my writing groups can get in with their sloppy writing samples, so can you.



That's a great point. I completely agree. I only applied to one school (Michigan). Before applying I actually went over and talked to one of the professors (well-known writer whose name I will not drop) about applying, and he cautioned me about their low acceptance rate, warned me not to get my hopes up, etc. I could not have cared less about the acceptance rate, for the very reason you cite. And I got in.

It's worth pointing out to people who actually can write that they shouldn't let low acceptance rates send them spiraling into despair. I mean, I would not recommend only applying to one school if you're geographically mobile and intent on getting in on your first try, since that's more of a risk than you need to take; and I would recommend, before applying, doing what you can to get a realistic perspective on the work you've produced so far (since that--and not your talent in and of itself--is what your application will be judged on). Join a writing group, take a class, yada yada--get some outside perspective on your work. But then, apply to the schools where you actually want to go; don't let their acceptance rates put you off.


Daleth Demented (Blog)


suzhounese



Jul 29, 2008, 8:58 PM

Post #132 of 344 (8994 views)
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Re: [daleth] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

I also wouldn't fret about it. I applied to the one school that I wanted to attend and it worked out. We all think that we can write or else we would not bother applying.


spamela


Jul 30, 2008, 1:04 PM

Post #133 of 344 (8937 views)
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Re: [yeahyeahyeah] Popular vs Literary [In reply to] Can't Post

I met a student at the Writer's Workshop last year who was writing fantasy. Really, the popular vs. literary distinction is blurred anymore. I used to work in genre publishing and the truth is, genre fiction is the best bet for making money in fiction publishing if you want to have a career primarily as a writer (and not, say, a writer/teacher). It's all too easy to get stuck in mid-list hell by having a lit fic book that doesn't sell. Then you're kicked out by your publisher and have to start all over again with a bad track record.

There are some programs that specifically cater to genre writers, but really, I get the feeling that most programs will give you guidance to write what you want to write if you're producing good work.


Raysen


Jul 30, 2008, 1:43 PM

Post #134 of 344 (8924 views)
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Re: Popular vs Literary [In reply to] Can't Post

You know, when I made the ultimate decision to write for the rest of my life (not too long ago), I embarked on my first project: a thriller. (Because thrillers sell!)

I decided that my protagonist was going to be a former Navy Seal on a personal mission to retrieve his kidnapped sister. (Okay...don't laugh just yet...) (...and why did the kidnappers just happen to kidnap the sister of a former Navy Seal? How unlucky...) So, I went to the library and did some research on the training of Navy Seals as well as info on various guns and knives. My story was set in Thailand, so I did some research on Thailand. Well, after one year, I finished that 260-page novel. I set it aside to let it age and pickle with time.

Then, I read some books on how to write and took some workshop classes and read some really good books (Ishiguro, McEwan, Dickens, Wharton, etc.) and a bunch of really good short stories in anthologies (just to get the lay of the land).

After a year, I reread my Navy Seal novel and I couldn't believe how crappy it was; how hokey and unbelievable the plot was, and how shallow the characters were. It was just plot-driven.

I never sent that book out. And I'm glad.

Now, I write mostly introspective short stories based on my life. I do very little research because everything is from my life. I had my stories workshopped and everyone loves them (or so they said), including my MFA-grad teachers. I hope they weren't just trying to boost my ego. Objectively, I look at my work and I like them.

I think if you've got the talent and a knack for research, go for the genre work, if that's your thing. I personally like Stephen King, but I know I couldn't do the stuff he does. It would feel forced and dishonest, like my first novel (unpublished) about the Navy Seal guy on a vengeance. (Hmmm...sounds like Rambo)

That said, one should probably spend one's MFA years learning the craft, not necessarily learning about a particular genre. But if you can do both, that's great!

p.s. that one year I spent writing my first (disastrous) novel was a very valuable experience, btw.


(This post was edited by Raysen on Jul 30, 2008, 1:49 PM)


ejdifili
Emily

Jul 30, 2008, 3:36 PM

Post #135 of 344 (8891 views)
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Re: [Raysen] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

My point is, obviously, that the applicant pool is not filled with Michael Chabons, Deborah Eisenbergs, and John Cheevers. It's filled with Joe Bores and Jane Blands. Most of them can't write to save their lives.


I worked at a nationally recognized literary magazine for a few years, and I can share my experience in assumption that the pool of submissions we had was similar to what MFA programs receive.

We did get some number of stories that most literary-minded people would consider objectively low-quality. That is, work that was poorly edited, full of cliches, and showed evidence that the writer had probably had very little formal instruction about writing or literature in general. But really, those submissions only made up a small percentage of submissions. Then, you get an even smaller percentage (out of maybe 200 stories per month, we're talking 1 or 2) that really knock everyone's socks off across the board.

Most of what you get are stories that are actually good, but neither indisputably amazing nor obviously horrendous. Then, the problem is sifting through them and deciding which ones--if any--are worthy of publication.

On one hand, I think it would be foolish to forego application to MFA programs due to intimidation by a hypothetical pool of writing samples. Of course, not everyone applying for an MFA is John Cheever. On the other hand, it's equally foolish to assume that the majority of applicants are talentless idiots, and that your own writing will inevitably shine as superior to all. In my opinion, that kind of thinking can get you into trouble; personally, a little anxiety and competition helps me work harder and edit more closely. As I have posted previously on this forum, the MFA application process was a very humbling experience for me. When I applied, I had no realistic idea of the vast numbers of people who apply to these programs nationwide. Iowa alone received over 900 applications last year, and I'd wager that at least 800 of them represented what most would recognize as "decent" writing.

The moral of this story: you very well might be a phenomenal writer, but so are a lot of other people out there.


blueragtop


Jul 30, 2008, 4:04 PM

Post #136 of 344 (8875 views)
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Re: [ejdifili] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Boy, do we have a totally different take on this. In my opinion, out of the 900, it was easy for Iowa to get down to 100. There's no way that 800 people applying had solid work. Hell, even in top MFA programs only a few talented people really stick out. Whether people want to admit it or not, most writing out there is just plain awful.


umass76


Jul 30, 2008, 5:44 PM

Post #137 of 344 (8856 views)
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Re: [melos] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Melos,

I don't know what your experiences have been, or what your observations are based on, but as a former Poetry Editor for a literary magazine I can say Emily's 100% on the mark. Those who haven't edited often assume that the slush pile is not only horrific but huge; the reality is that perhaps 15% of submissions are immediately seen as low-quality, about 10% (at most) are immediately seen as highly publishable, and the other 75% (to 80%) is in a huge gray area of competent but uninspired work. I have no doubt MFA applications are the same way. Anyone who thinks 80% of the people committed enough to writing to pay $1,000 to apply to MFA programs are atrocious writers is engaging in some wishful thinking. Iowa had about 950 fiction applications last year, and my guess is that 200--at the very most--could immediately be placed into the "definitely no" bin at Dey House, about the same number in a "definitely of interest" sort of pile, and the rest represents competent but uninspired work which is good enough to get someone into an MFA program somewhere, but the question is A) which one, and B) whether in the individual reader's opinion potential talent is seen above and beyond the mere technical competence on display. Applicants to a school with 950 applicants would do well to see themselves as part of an applicant pool of 950 people--no more, no less. And that doesn't (by any means!) mean don't apply (I don't know that anyone on this board has said that), simply that one should be realistic and take calculated risks--which means applying to a range of programs (in terms of class sizes, applicant pool sizes, acceptance rates, reputation scores, etc.) and not just running it up the flagpole of every single top ten program and seeing what sticks, or re-assessing MFA acceptance rates in a way that unrealistically makes every program seem eminently accessible. That way lies heartbreak and frustration.

My two cents,
Seth


(This post was edited by umass76 on Jul 30, 2008, 5:47 PM)


Clench Million
Charles

Jul 30, 2008, 6:31 PM

Post #138 of 344 (8847 views)
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Re: [melos] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Boy, do we have a totally different take on this. In my opinion, out of the 900, it was easy for Iowa to get down to 100. There's no way that 800 people applying had solid work. Hell, even in top MFA programs only a few talented people really stick out. Whether people want to admit it or not, most writing out there is just plain awful.



On the question of literary magazines, I agree with melos. I've worked for several literary magazines, including a few high quality and well regarded ones, and at least 50% of submissions can be tossed out after a page. And I'm probably on the generous end... most readers I've seen can and will toss 95% or more of the submissions they get after a paragraph or two. The vast majority of submissions to literary magazines are either unreadable or technically competent but completely devoid of art, fire, blood, originality or inventiveness.

In the bigger name literary magazines I've worked at or read for, the editors would have loved to publish from the slush pile. They were desperate too. But the editors were typically lucky to find one story and one or two poems from the slush that were worth publishing and instead had to rely on solicited work or work by regular contributes.

I disagree with melos on the level of MFA program applications though.

With a literary magazine you are looking for something that is publishable and most of what you get is not. But with an MFA application what you are looking for is hidden talent. You are trying to see who has something that can be nurtured. Whose future work might be publishable.

The standard being judged is completely different, I think.


Yugao


Jul 30, 2008, 7:00 PM

Post #139 of 344 (8832 views)
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Re: [melos] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Boy, do we have a totally different take on this. In my opinion, out of the 900, it was easy for Iowa to get down to 100. There's no way that 800 people applying had solid work. Hell, even in top MFA programs only a few talented people really stick out. Whether people want to admit it or not, most writing out there is just plain awful.


Ethan Canin said that when he first started teaching at Iowa, about half of the application stories were bad, and that now hardly any are. His statement is from the Atlantic article, Where Great Writers are Made. Now, I don't know if he personally takes a look at all the application stories or not, but it was an interesting comment on the applicant pool.

When applying, I assumed that there were going to be many other strong applicants. Even 100 strong applicants out of 900 makes for plenty of competition.


(This post was edited by Yugao on Jul 30, 2008, 7:01 PM)


dorchester


Jul 30, 2008, 10:07 PM

Post #140 of 344 (8804 views)
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Re: [Yugao] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

 
I was a TWF at Iowa a few years back and did some of the preliminary readings of applicants work, and I have to agree with Seth on this one. About 10% were definitely yes, 10-15% were definitely no, and the other 75-80% were maybes. The reason for this was because most students entering grad school still have some developing to do. In some cases, the stories were incredibly tight and polished, but not all that engaging; in other cases, the writing was incredibly original and innovative, but kind of out of control. An argument could be made for admitting either type of applicant, but it's always a tough call. Personally, I tended to give higher marks to the applicants who were taking more risks, but that's just me. In the end, it was usually left up to the faculty to decide, and they have such a good eye for talent up there, such a good track record with picking great writers, that they seemed to consistently make the right choice.


Raysen


Jul 30, 2008, 11:09 PM

Post #141 of 344 (8788 views)
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Re: [dorchester] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I was a TWF at Iowa a few years back and did some of the preliminary readings of applicants work, and I have to agree with Seth on this one. About 10% were definitely yes, 10-15% were definitely no, and the other 75-80% were maybes. The reason for this was because most students entering grad school still have some developing to do. In some cases, the stories were incredibly tight and polished, but not all that engaging; in other cases, the writing was incredibly original and innovative, but kind of out of control. An argument could be made for admitting either type of applicant, but it's always a tough call. Personally, I tended to give higher marks to the applicants who were taking more risks, but that's just me. In the end, it was usually left up to the faculty to decide, and they have such a good eye for talent up there, such a good track record with picking great writers, that they seemed to consistently make the right choice.


After they divide the applicants into the 10% YES, 10-15% NO, and 75-80% MAYBE, I'm guessing that they go to the Personal Statements of the YES candidates. If they get 1,000 applicants, 10% is 100, which is more than the 60-70 they accept each year. The Personal Statements will put you over the top.

Just guessing, of course.

If the Admissions Committee just get to my Personal Statement, I'm confident I'll get in. But my writing sample? I don't know. As others have said, it's very subjective.


dorchester


Jul 30, 2008, 11:39 PM

Post #142 of 344 (8775 views)
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Re: [Raysen] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Raysen,

It's been a while, and I don't want to make any claims about how they do things at Iowa now, but my sense is that if they're actually reading your personal statement, then that means you're in close contention for a spot. I also want to add that all of the submissions are read by the director, Lan Samantha Chang, even the 10% marked "definitely no," and that all of those submissions in the "maybe" and "definitely" category are read by at least two faculty members. So, in other words, even if two TWFs give a submission the highest marks possible, the faculty could still turn the person down. Similarly, if someone falls into that gray middle ground, the faculty may see something the TWFs don't and decide to admit that person anyway. It's a very democratic process, I think; lots of checks and balances. So, if you do actually end up getting in, it means that at least five or six people have read your submission and been impressed. And considering who some of these people are, that speaks very well of your future as a writer.


Raysen


Jul 31, 2008, 12:19 AM

Post #143 of 344 (8764 views)
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Re: Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Reading all these threads...sometimes, I read some of your posts and I feel totally pumped and confident and other times, I'm a wreck and often wonder how deeply I will fall into depression if no one accepts me. LOL!


mpagan


Jul 31, 2008, 11:26 AM

Post #144 of 344 (8715 views)
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Re: [Raysen] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think when you commit to being a serious writer you are always going to vacilate between confidence and depression.

As for acceptance rates- the different views above in this thread shows you how unpredictable this process can be.

assume no safety - but put all your energy into your work, which is all you have in the end.

I went through this process last winter - it sucked - but I learned tons.
applied to 11 schools - most top tier - rejected at all except for one (Michigan) - my first choice - yes even over Iowa - just my personal pref for what I wanted from a school. But I too would have been depressed if I did not get into one. But I was also prepared to carry on and attend more workshops and finish my collection no matter what.

So to me getting accepted to MFA programs boils down to a convergence of faculty and program preference and your particular voice - a perfect storm if you will of events - a phenom you can't anticipate no matter what you know about the weather out in MFA land.

Hey! Can you believe I just got a second rejection from one school last week? I laughed - but it still triggered my anxiety from the winter - trust me this is going to suck - sorry. But know that your writing should be the thing that gets you though this. Oh - and lots of Happy Hours with friends who don't understand your pain, but listen anyway; and ice cream.

Good Luck


(This post was edited by mpagan on Jul 31, 2008, 11:27 AM)


daleth


Aug 1, 2008, 12:15 PM

Post #145 of 344 (8637 views)
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Re: [umass76] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Doesn't that actually support what Melos said? He/she said, out of the 900 applicants to Iowa, it was probably easy to whittle it down to 100. In other words, just over 11% were so good that they had an actual chance of being admitted. That fits with you saying "about 10% [of submissions]... are immediately seen as highly publishable." The work is whittling down from that 10-11% to the number that you actually have room for. Sure, 75-80% may be competent or even pretty good, but id you only have room for, say, 5% of all the submissions/applications you get, is one of those competent-or-pretty-good people going to be admitted (or published) over one of the phenomenal writers from the top 10-11%? I can't imagine why they would be.


In Reply To
Hi Melos,

I don't know what your experiences have been, or what your observations are based on, but as a former Poetry Editor for a literary magazine I can say Emily's 100% on the mark. Those who haven't edited often assume that the slush pile is not only horrific but huge; the reality is that perhaps 15% of submissions are immediately seen as low-quality, about 10% (at most) are immediately seen as highly publishable, and the other 75% (to 80%) is in a huge gray area of competent but uninspired work. I have no doubt MFA applications are the same way.



Daleth Demented (Blog)


daleth


Aug 1, 2008, 12:20 PM

Post #146 of 344 (8631 views)
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Re: [mpagan] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Congratulations on getting into Michigan! It's a great place. I think it beats Iowa hands down, but I'm not exactly objective. :-)

Re your application experience, I know what that's like: for undergrad, I applied to five schools and got rejected by all but my top choice. Weird how that happens sometimes. It's like... destiny, man! :-)


In Reply To
I went through this process last winter - it sucked - but I learned tons. applied to 11 schools - most top tier - rejected at all except for one (Michigan) - my first choice - yes even over Iowa - just my personal pref


Daleth Demented (Blog)


umass76


Aug 1, 2008, 1:54 PM

Post #147 of 344 (8606 views)
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Re: [daleth] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Daleth,

I was referring to the initial read, not the final selection. Meaning, every school has a pile of applications they create during the admissions cycle called something like "definitely a candidate," and 10% of applications can, when read by the first reader, be immediately seen as belonging in this pile. But of the 75% to 80% I've suggested are in a "gray area," a large percentage will end up in the "definitely a candidate" pile, too--that initial 10% may have struck that particular first reader pretty hard, but almost certainly a different first reader would have been struck by a moderately different 10%. That point of disagreement is reflected in the fact that the 75%/80% grouping contains many manuscripts which some readers, but not others, will like. And if those "some readers" are the final decision-makers, we see how that 75%/80% pile is and was always in play.

Look at it this way: if latent talent is difficult to spot in young fiction writers (as it is, because only a percentage of them are already writing publishable work, which is no slight to them, given their just-out-of-college age), then the only possible point of agreement across several application readers will be "sufficient technical competence to one day achieve professional gloss." What I'm saying is, up to 85% (10% plus 75%) of applications will meet this standard, and then the issue becomes the soft science--really, near-magic--of trying to spot ingenuity, innovation, verve, nerve, daring, imagination, and so on. It's actually quite hard to get readers to agree on that (because so much of it seems to be, at times, wrapped up in individual aesthetics) and therefore all manuscripts which meet the technical proficiency requirement are "in play."

Out of a pool of 900 applicants, that's way, way more than 100. More like 700 or so.

Be well,
Seth


(This post was edited by umass76 on Aug 1, 2008, 1:55 PM)


daleth


Aug 5, 2008, 1:57 PM

Post #148 of 344 (8479 views)
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Re: [umass76] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Umass,
A selection method that reduces 900 apps to 700, when you only have ten spots to fill, isn't much of a selection method. It sounds like what you're describing is the absolute first pass, where the evaluators toss out a bunch of "definitely nots"--but it seems totally unwieldy to me for a school with ten slots to fill, and limited numbers of people on the evaluation committee, to give serious consideration to seven hundred applicants. In other words, they must go through a couple more passes to whittle the 700 down to something manageable. If they didn't, the process would just be completely unfeasible.

Even assuming every faculty member in the department is an evaluator, how many faculty members would you need to read that many stories in that amount of time--particularly given that applications come in during the semester, so it's not like the faculty members have tons of free time to devote to the process. Some schools get two or even three stories per applicant! Just given the limited nature of time itself, there must be a few passes: "Out of these 900, which are the definite nos? <Toss them out.> Okay, out of the remaining 700, which stories are the worst? <Toss them out.> Okay, out of the remaining 500..." And so on, until they're left with the best X number of applicants--with X being a number small enough for the admissions committee to give serious attention to in the time available.

And while of course there are always subjective, aesthetic concerns in play, when I was at Michigan a faculty member told me that if any reviewer said no to a given applicant's story, that applicant was removed from the pile of potential acceptances. That's how you whittle 900 applications down to five or ten slots. And that's what it means, or at least that's what it meant at Michigan at that time, to be in the top 10% of applicants: there are some applicants that all the reviewers agree are contenders. When you have 90-100 applicants that everyone thinks are contenders, you're simply not going to sit around debating whether to admit an applicant that Professor X thinks is a contender, but Professor Y thinks is not.

Now, obviously the situation might be different for poetry, just because a reviewer can read 10-20 pages of poetry much faster than 25-50 pages of fiction. But just talking about fiction--I mean, picture the stack of paper for each applicant; picture just the stories, not all the other things they submit (rec letters, etc.). Now multiply that by 900. Yikes! That has to be slashed before they start giving anyone truly serious consideration. So when it comes down to it, it probably is going to be the top 10%--that group you referred to as "definitely candidates"--that gets the serious consideration. It may take a few passes to whittle down what exactly that group is, and to determine whether the applicants who are right on the fringes of that group should be seriously considered or not (as you noted, "a different first reader would have been struck by a moderately different 10%," so the fringes could contain applicants that not quite all readers liked). But that's how it's going to end up shaking down. That's where the evaluators are going to start debating aesthetic preferences, considering recommendation letters, and so on.


Daleth Demented (Blog)

(This post was edited by daleth on Aug 5, 2008, 2:07 PM)


umass76


Aug 5, 2008, 3:02 PM

Post #149 of 344 (8451 views)
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Re: [daleth] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Daleth,

I'm afraid you've made your point only by changing the terms of the question. The original question--or, rather, the original point--was made by Raysen, and it was that "most [MFA applicants] can't write to save their lives," and that therefore the practical acceptance rate for a writer with any kind of talent whatsoever is much higher than the listed rate. Specifically, Raysen said that, in any given applicant pool, "roughly 50% to 66% are terrible writers with no potential or hope for improvement. That increases your odds....so, if you can write and write fairly well (but not perfect), don't worry about your prospects [of getting in]." It was that comment I was responding to, by way of pointing out that because, in fact, most applicants are actually able to write "fairly well," no such discounting of acceptance rate can be hypothesized. You, in contrast, agreed with Melos--and therefore, by extension, Raysen--who proposed that it was "easy to whittle it down" from 900 applicants to 100 for the very reasons Raysen had put forward.

But now, with your last post, you've agreed with my assessment instead: "Sure, 75-80% may be competent or even pretty good..." Now, if the question originally on the table was simply whether or not it was "easy to whittle down" 900 applicants to 100, we could say, sure, even if 75-80% of applicants are "competent" or "pretty good" (your words), a unanimous faculty vote at the average MFA program will separate the wheat from the chaff pretty quickly, and reveal "pretty good" as being "not good enough" for the top programs.

That's true.

But that wasn't, actually, the original issue. The original issue was how sanguine a writer who can "write fairly well" should be about getting in--i.e., whether they're competing against 100 other applicants, or, as I proposed, 700. As to that, I think you and I are in agreement. We're only in disagreement if you change the phrase "fairly well"/"pretty good" to the new word you've used, "phenomenal," as if to say that any writer whose work is "phenomenal" need not worry about competing against 900 others. Well, that's true also. But it's likewise true that, out of 900 writers, less than 10 are phenomenal, which means that, of the 900 people reading this thread and wondering whether it is (per Raysen and Melos) easy to dump in the bin the work of most of the other 899 applicants they'll be competing against, only 10 of those 900 can answer "yes." Which would make Raysen's entire point pretty minimal in its application or relevance to this or any other audience. The point was only interesting if it was true as applied to those who write "fairly well." Now that you've changed the terms of the discussion, of course it's relatively easy to make the point.

Two other thoughts: one, every program (that I know of) requires a unanimous faculty vote for admission, because every school (with the exception of about five or ten) accepts few enough people that it's altogether reasonable to expect the faculty can all agree on every member of an entering class. Second, at some places, like Iowa, there are readers other than the faculty, so yes, in fact, there are enough readers to give every manuscript--apart from the 200 or so (out of 900) in the "definite no" category--"serious consideration." But it would be a mistake to think that the "faculty unanimity" phase comes before each and every applicant must individually impress at least one (usually two) individual readers. And since pleasing one person is much easier than pleasing (say) eight or nine, a lot of writers will actually move on to the "faculty unanimity" phase which, in your vision, are instead weeded out immediately. That's incorrect. Which, once again, emphasizes why Raysen's view, and math, are likewise incorrect.

Be well,
Seth



(This post was edited by umass76 on Aug 5, 2008, 3:03 PM)


Raysen


Aug 5, 2008, 3:05 PM

Post #150 of 344 (8446 views)
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Re: [umass76] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Don't put much stock in what I said. I was merely guessing based on my experiences in writing groups. I have no other basis in fact of the quality of the writing samples by the actual pool of MFA applicants.

I defer to the opinions of those people who were actually involved in the Admissions process, and it appears that some are represented here in this forum.


(This post was edited by Raysen on Aug 5, 2008, 3:06 PM)

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