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Choosing an MFA Program (2008)
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vronsky


Aug 18, 2007, 8:42 PM

Post #126 of 454 (5314 views)
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     Re: [MissEsquire] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I was accepted to Wisconsin & had a chance to interact with some of the people there. I haven't actually visited, though, and I chose to go to another school, so maybe this should be taken with a grain of salt. With that in mind: First off, everyone I talked with was extremely generous and kind, the program director especially. And the poetry faculty is really good -- Quan Barry was a big draw for me, for instance. And it seems like a very nurturing up-and-coming program -- I mean, the size could be a bad thing, but it could also mean that you'd get a lot of attention. There are lots of fine emerging writers in and around the program (I know at least two poets from Michigan who'll be in Madison for grad programs this fall -- one in the MFA and one in the Lit. PhD -- and the fellowship program draws a lot of good folks, too). Lots of fine established writers come there to give readings, too. Madison seems inexpensive and fun -- the large network of NASCO co-op housing really appealed to me.

I seem to recall that the MFA & grad school brochures from UW weren't particularly detailed...but UW's MFA website has tons of info. Also, it's probably one of the classiest looking MFA websites out there.


(This post was edited by maggiekate on Aug 18, 2007, 8:44 PM)


MissEsquire



Aug 19, 2007, 12:34 PM

Post #127 of 454 (5268 views)
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     Re: [bighark] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  


In Reply To
Frankly, I don't know what MissEsquire was expecting on her Madison trip. Showing up unannounced in the middle of the summer was supposed to get what? A backward-walking tour guide and a signed copy of Birds of America?

Some programs tolerate visitors. Some would reserve the welcome mat for admitted students only. Until you get your letters of acceptance in February and March, it's hard to judge a program on friendliness.


I didn't really know what I was expecting either (and didn't show up in the middle of the summer; rather, during the school year), but hoped to perhaps get some info on the program (ie. literature) since I was passing through, anyway. Obviously, I don't know any more about Madison's program than the next guy and wasn't expecting a grand welcome. But it would have been nice to have come away with a pamphlet.

It seems silly to me to view choosing a school like a courtship ritual out of a Jane Austen novel. If I'm in town, I'm not going to wait for my written invitation to see the campus of a school I'm considering or grab some more information on a program.


mingram
Mike Ingram

Aug 19, 2007, 12:35 PM

Post #128 of 454 (5268 views)
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     Re: [Clench Million] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  


In Reply To
Well... this is both true and untrue. Yes, all universities have some amount of crime going on and all university papers have police blotters. Howver, there is a big difference from a crime blotter filled with talk of student pranks and people getting busted for marijuana usage and blotters filled with reports of rape, burglary and armed robbery.

Some areas and cities are far safer than others. This isn't a myth.

That said, I agree with the comment that to really judge risk you'd have to factor in location in the city. Most college campuses are pretty darn safe. Attending, say, Georgetown in north west DC and living near campus is going to be a lot different crime wise than attending a school in the south east and living away from campus.


Yeah, having moved from University of Iowa to Temple (in Philly), I can tell you those are pretty dramatically different police blotters.


__________



Aug 19, 2007, 11:36 PM

Post #129 of 454 (5202 views)
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     Re: [mingram] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Then there's the times when the campus is the dead center of the danger zone!

I encourage any Houston acceptees to visit first. Spend a day or two on campus. Bring a checklist. Were you injured during your robbery? How many times were you caught in the middle of a Vietnamese gang shootout? Did you have trouble firing back because they were only ten years old? If any of the answers trouble you, you might reconsider Plan B.



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SaraBellum


Aug 20, 2007, 3:27 PM

Post #130 of 454 (5150 views)
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     Re: [Junior Maas] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Also, did you find suddenly that you were actually on the set of a movie? If you answer 'yes' to that question, then disregard all previous answers.


---------





Shari85


Aug 21, 2007, 1:47 PM

Post #131 of 454 (5077 views)
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     Re: Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I'm considering Columbia Chicago. After four years in the country (U of Illinois), I want to try life in the "big city". The boards don't give a ton of info on Columbia Chicago...any opinions?


bighark


Aug 21, 2007, 3:13 PM

Post #132 of 454 (5062 views)
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     Re: [Shari85] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

There are better ways to spend thirty thousand dollars than attending an MFA program that makes its students take classes with undergrads.

Columbia has a lot of growing up to do. I wouldn't recommend it.


(This post was edited by bighark on Aug 21, 2007, 3:30 PM)


rooblue


Aug 21, 2007, 3:27 PM

Post #133 of 454 (5056 views)
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     Re: [bighark] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I agree with Bighark on this. The program seems so proud of its "unique" workshopping format, which to me (an MFA grad) just looks sort of ordinary and provincial. If you want to be in Chicago for your MFA try the Art Institute's program. Rosellen Brown, who's a fine writer and a lovely, lovely person, teaches there.


Clench Million
Charles

Aug 27, 2007, 1:40 PM

Post #134 of 454 (4917 views)
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     Re: [Shari85] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I agree with the other posters. What I've heard about Columbia Chicago isn't very good. The faculty is pretty weak and I remember the director getting slack for ranting about other MFA programs not hiring faculty with books out and then getting appointed head of Chicago and quickly hiring teachers with no real publications. And classes with undergrads is just a no no.


drfleming


Sep 1, 2007, 8:48 AM

Post #135 of 454 (4773 views)
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     Re: [jlgwriter] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I highly recommend UBC at Vancouver's low-res program. One of the big pluses is that you have to write in three genres, and it's a studio program - meaning, almost all of the work is creative writing workshops. The instructors are excellent in all genres. It's a challenging program, but you can still work full-time while pursuing the degree, and people attend from all over the world. (Last year, the translation class I took included someone from Japan, Toronto, and me (Austin)). I had attended an MFA program in the states prior to this program, and the UBC program has been so much better. I'm nearly done with the UBC program (just have to complete my thesis), and the idea that I once pursued a single-genre program seems impossible to me. The single-genre model seems limited to me now.


SoniaGirl


Sep 1, 2007, 9:05 PM

Post #136 of 454 (4725 views)
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     Re: [drfleming] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Hello, been reading these posts for months now (so helpful!), but it's time to make application decisions and would love some advice/feedback. While I can move wherever I'm accepted (single, no kids), I'm 40 and the idea of starting over in a residential program is, well, intimidating. But at the same time the idea of taking such a risk is very exciting.

I've been considering, among others, Indiana, the Univ. of New Mexico, UC Irvine, and UBC (even though the idea of leaving the country makes me even more nervous). Has anyone on this board attended these programs? Any advice to share about the faculty/curriculum/townlife or university life esp. as it relates to surviving financially? The idea of adjusting to a stipend is something I can't quite wrap my mind around.


somag


Sep 4, 2007, 3:55 AM

Post #137 of 454 (4625 views)
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     Re: Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Hi - I'm a very recent lurker; just last month or so, recently started researching the mfa question. at this point, i'm considering both low-res and traditional programs. it will take me a while to sift through the possibilities, but here are some opening questions:

Anyone have experience (or second hand info) on UNLV's program? I'm intrigued by their concept - world lit focus, etc., seems up my alley. But I don't know anything first or second hand about it yet...

Thoughts about programs that are better/worse for writers of color? Both in terms of faculty and student makeup, and terms of stylistic/aesthetic diversity and diversity of cultural frameworks for literature (what's presented, read, etc, and how).

thanks


__________



Sep 4, 2007, 2:25 PM

Post #138 of 454 (4580 views)
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     Re: [somag] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Diversity is very important to Indiana, in terms of both the work they select, and the color and sexual orientation of their students. There are many takes on whether such a program is 'better' or 'worse' (i.e. does their diversity end simply with color, or does it extend to other areas, such as diversity of thought?).

It's tricky. Many schools have a diverse faculty, and their web sites all have the obligatory line or two about commitment to this and that. You never know. And you never know who'll make up your entering class.

My feeling (as a white guy semi-worried about diversity) is just to go with the faculty that feels right. For instance, Iowa doesn't sound like the most diverse place, but my favorite African American writer--heck, one of my favorite writers, period--is James Alan McPherson. He's there, and I figure I'd learn a lot from him, irrespective of web site diversity statements.


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Zash
Zachary Ash

Sep 5, 2007, 4:14 AM

Post #139 of 454 (4510 views)
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     Re: [somag] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

UC Riverside's MFA program, which is relatively new, claims to be the nation's most ethnically/racially diverse.


Clench Million
Charles

Sep 5, 2007, 1:40 PM

Post #140 of 454 (4474 views)
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     Re: [Junior Maas] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Yeah, I don't want to rehash that argument, but I will say that in my experience such things tend to be particularly interested in demographic diversity that is obsessed with itself. Which is to say, programs that tout their diversity tend to not want poets who happen to be black or novelists who happen to be gay, but in poets that write about blackness and novelists who ponder the issues of homosexuality. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it seems to often result in a rather superficial diversity, especially given how many MFA students end up being middle/upper class from large liberal cities.

That said, if just demographic diversity by itself is important to you I think it would probably be a safe bet to look into larger programs in urban areas. Going to a larger school in Boston, New York or Chicago will probably get you a pretty diverse student body. At least in my experience.


wildflowerfever


Sep 5, 2007, 3:15 PM

Post #141 of 454 (4450 views)
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     Re: [Clench Million] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

It's important to point out that the fiction and poetry programs at Columbia College are entirely separate. The poetry program, while new, has pretty well respected faculty (and all have at least one book out). And the MFA poetry workshops are never offered to freshman. Neither are the poetics classes.


SoniaGirl


Sep 5, 2007, 9:09 PM

Post #142 of 454 (4417 views)
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     Re: [Junior Maas] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  


In Reply To
My feeling (as a white guy semi-worried about diversity) is just to go with the faculty that feels right. For instance, Iowa doesn't sound like the most diverse place, but my favorite African American writer--heck, one of my favorite writers, period--is James Alan McPherson. He's there, and I figure I'd learn a lot from him, irrespective of web site diversity statements.


I've been giving the importance of ethnic diversity a great deal of thought for several months now, as I attempt to determine where to apply. (I'm Puerto Rican, orig. from NY--very diverse. Now living in west Florida--not so much). And well, I've accepted that the comfort level I believed ethnic diversity would automatically confer may well be "fictional."

Not one of the writers I've worked with the past two years as I worked to get my late-in-life BA were latino or black or anything but white. But does that mean there wasn't a diversity of thought (like someone--Clench?--said). No it doesn't. My fellow students and writing partners were incredibly diverse in terms of life/writing experience and intellectual sensibility. But most importantly, they were invaluable in helping me craft better, stronger prose.

Yes, I would LOVE to work with someone like Sandra Cisneros (if the Macondo workshop ever opens up to the public please God!) but can I live with it if I can't? Yes. After thinking it through, yes, I can.

So to follow up on Junior Maas's comment, after months of angst, I'm focusing on programs that offer writing & lit class that are challenging, interesting and taught by instructors whose work I admire--and who I hope are also great teachers.


cellularsoup


Sep 6, 2007, 11:48 AM

Post #143 of 454 (4380 views)
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     Re: [motet] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

does anyone know what the finance situation is at sarah lawrence? the website is pretty vague about funding. any insights?


Clench Million
Charles

Sep 6, 2007, 1:11 PM

Post #144 of 454 (4364 views)
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     Re: [SoniaGirl] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

No no, that isn't what I said. In fact, you seem to be agreeing with me. I'm saying that merely looking at ethnic or sexual diversity is a pretty shallow way of looking at diversity. Getting 5 liberal 20 year olds from new york in a room, even if all from different ethnicities, will probably get you a less diverse group of people on a meaningful level than taking 5 black guys or five white guys of different ages from different parts of the country and different economic backgrounds.


hamlet3145


Sep 6, 2007, 2:45 PM

Post #145 of 454 (4346 views)
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     Re: [cellularsoup] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I know one of our new students turned down Sarah Lawrence to come to Montana and that funding was a factor in that decision. I also vaguely recall reading or hearing that they don't actually have TAs as such? (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong).

And in other news, does anyone have/know of a list of the 10 oldest MFA programs? I know Iowa is the oldest, but there is article in today's newspaper HERE which lists Montana as 2nd oldest. This surprises me enough that I want to fact check.


Lyz
Lyz
e-mail user

Sep 6, 2007, 2:58 PM

Post #146 of 454 (4342 views)
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     Re: [motet] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

But what about MA programs? I live in Iowa and barring the Writer's Workshop, there is only UNI's MA in Creative Writing.

Since I can't move for a while (married, job, no $, house, etc.), I am also applying to low-res programs. But I am worried that if I don't get into Iowa or the other low-res programs and chose to go to UNI for the MA that it may have a negative effect on my goals (allow time to focus on craft, write, get published, teach, be a part of a creative literary community, become involved in lit mags).

UNI does publish the North American review and when I talked to them they seemed eager to let me be a staff member, but I was wondering if anyone had thoughts on this situation. Would you get and MA before an MFA? Why? Why not? Is it a waste of time? And, are there negative perceptions of UNI's MA program?


http://shopoftheheart.blogspot.com


Lyz
Lyz
e-mail user

Sep 6, 2007, 3:25 PM

Post #147 of 454 (4331 views)
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     Re: [Clench Million] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Yikes. Should you really apply to 12 programs? I was thinking 6 or 7. One safety, one dream and the rest inbetweeners. Is that a bad strategy?


http://shopoftheheart.blogspot.com


Clench Million
Charles

Sep 6, 2007, 3:53 PM

Post #148 of 454 (4323 views)
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     Re: [Lyz] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  


In Reply To
Yikes. Should you really apply to 12 programs? I was thinking 6 or 7. One safety, one dream and the rest inbetweeners. Is that a bad strategy?


I'm not sure if that question is directed at me, but since you are quoting me I would say that my advice would certainly be to apply 12 great schools over 1 great, one "safety" and 6 inbetweeners.

For a school to truly be a safety school it would have to be a pretty weak program. Even the largest programs that are good will be taking 10% of applicants tops (maybe a bit more counting in people off the waiting list, but still) and in my personal opinion any program that would be taking such a higher percentage of students as to count as a safety is just not worth it.

I think one thing to keep in mind is that you only get one MFA experience. This will be 2-3 years of your life. It isn't worth going to a program with bad faculty and weak students over a good program just because you get a little more money or its a little closer to home. Extenuating circumstances might exist, but for most applicants I'd make a list of the best programs, then narrow it down (based on location, faculty you like, funding you think you need, etc.) to ~10 schools. At least for your first try.


It is hard to say if you really need 10 or 12 schools. Obviously some people get into 2/4 schools they apply to and others fail to get into any out of fifteen. There was a recent article (The Atlantic??) talking about how in the top programs apparently most people who get accepted go to the schools. Sometimes no one gets off the wait list. This seems to be evidence that the majority of schools have certain aesthetics they are going for and that even if you get into Johns Hopkins you might fail to get into UVA or Iowa. If you get into Syracuse you might fail to get into Columbia, UT-Austin or UCI. etc. This is why 10 or so schools is a good idea.


v1ctorya


Sep 6, 2007, 3:57 PM

Post #149 of 454 (4320 views)
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     Re: [cellularsoup] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  


In Reply To
does anyone know what the finance situation is at sarah lawrence? the website is pretty vague about funding. any insights?



They have a lot of money, they don't give it out (at least not to MFA students!)

Def. be careful what you wish for. I got into one of my top three last year, and once in, became one I wondered why I applied too.

Do your research!


hamlet3145


Sep 6, 2007, 3:59 PM

Post #150 of 454 (4320 views)
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     Re: [Lyz] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Hi Lyz,

I was in the same situation as you when Iowa State still offered an M.A. in Creative Writing. (It has since been replaced with an M.F.A. in Environmental Writing). I had applied to MFA programs, got into a few, and on a whim I also applied to Iowa State due to their substantial Pearl Hogrefe fellowship which provides full funding for the 1st year and a TA for the second. I got it and went because of the great funding. For all intents and purposes it was an MFA. The structure and scope really wasn't all that different from what I'm doing at Montana now. I did a poetry thesis, took workshops, read submissions at Flyway, etc. So the $64,000 question then is: if I basically did an MFA at Iowa State, why bother with a real MFA at Montana? A couple of reasons. The "F" in MFA is fetishized to the point that it can have a major impact on your future job options. By and large MFA = terminal degree, even if, with the growing popularity of the C.W. Ph.d. programs that becomes debatable. Also, though ISU faired decently in that infamous US News Ranking from '97, Montana is just more of a "name brand" and that brings with it more options/connections. Finally, I just wanted to work on my writing more so when I got in it was a no brainer.

"(allow time to focus on craft, write, get published, teach, be a part of a creative literary community, become involved in lit mags). "

These things you mention can all be done with an M.A. at UNI with the caveat that you would likely have a much harder time getting a tenure track teaching position at a 4 year university. That said, for C.W. positions your publishing record tends to be the most important thing. If your goal is to be an adjunct at Kirkwood they aren't going to care much except that you have a master's degree. If you want to teach at the University of Iowa or Cornell College or Coe, you are likely better off with the MFA (again understanding how much publishing trumps everything). Getting to work on the North American Review is a pretty big selling point though. They are the oldest literary journal in the country and have even published Mark Twain. (And, if you can excuse the momentary & shameless self-promotion, myself in the next issue as well). Is getting an M.A./M.F.A. a waste of time? If you can afford it and don't have anything else pressing to do and use the time to your advantage, then absolutely not. But do I feel I needed to get both? Not at all.

--Jason

P.S. One very real benefit that my M.A. has provided me while pursuing an M.F.A. was the ability to hired on as an adjunct for teaching summer courses at the local community college. My peers with only B.A.s were just not eligible.


(This post was edited by Hamlet3145 on Sep 6, 2007, 4:07 PM)

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