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sanssoleil
Chris
e-mail user

Mar 14, 2006, 1:22 PM

Post #1 of 26 (2592 views)
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Previous Degrees Can't Post

I'm curious as to what everyone here studied as an undergraduate (or graduate student, if you're getting another MA/MFA). Do you think it has any bearing on your luck with admissions? Etc? Anyway, I studied film theory and production, and did not take a single lit class during my college career. Might this hurt my chances?


sibyline


Mar 14, 2006, 1:40 PM

Post #2 of 26 (2580 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I did English Lit for undergrad, with a focus on Renaissance Literary History and Theory, so no relationship to fiction at all. I also didn't take any creative writing classes, even though Seamus Heaney, Jamaica Kincaid, and Jill McCorkle all taught while I was in school (how stupid was I? very stupid). I also have an MFA in Photography, and I didn't take any creative writing classes during that time either. I took my first one online in about March of last year, so my credentials are weak as far as that's concerned.

My sense in meeting with Cornell faculty and corresponding briefly with Michigan people was that they didn't care at all about my credentials, but were mainly focused on the quality of my writing sample. But after they determined that my fiction was up to snuff, then they appreciated my literary criticism and college teaching background because I have a head start in terms of taking literature classes / teaching undergrads and all that.


eirene


Mar 14, 2006, 1:41 PM

Post #3 of 26 (2576 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Chris - My majors were Latin American Studies--mostly history--and Spanish, which was all lit, all espanol. I took a few writing classes, but the bulk of my literature courses were in Spanish and their sum total is random: 19th century South American novels, Spanish civil war stories, Chicano poetry... My English lit training is close to nil. But hey, I'm a big reader, and I think having studied other things helps rather than hinders. Other experience, academic and otherwise, hopefully translates to interesting writing material. My current workshop instructor has her PhD in biology, and late in life embarked on her (pretty successful) fiction writing path. As far as admissions chances, I too worried about my relative lack of an English background, and the way I see it, it depends a lot on the program. Some seem to be more wedded to the general English dept. than others, i.e. UW-Seattle, U-Houston, so it may be more of a factor. UHouston, as I recall, says your app has to fulfill English dept requirements after it's been selected by the CW people, and those reqs include upper-level English courses in undergrad. However, I applied anyway. Still haven't heard from them. Who knows?


sanssoleil
Chris
e-mail user

Mar 14, 2006, 1:54 PM

Post #4 of 26 (2557 views)
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Re: [eirene] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

The reason I asked had a lot to do with the U. of Washington FAQ page, actually, where they explain that most successful candidates have English degrees. Or something to that effect. I believe most schools probably judge on the writing sample alone, but I feel like Washington is a school where previous academic experience really helps. On the flipside, my film experience probably helped me get into Cal Arts.


orangegirl


Mar 14, 2006, 2:16 PM

Post #5 of 26 (2543 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

i majored in sociology as an undergrad, finished law school with a j.d. last year, have never taken any sort of literature or english class, and most of my work, research, and writing experience pertains to the death penalty. i have no idea how this has reflected on admissions, if at all, but one school did gently suggest that i immediately start reading a lot in preparation for teaching next year when they called to offer me admission. (they have no way of knowing from my on-paper record that i read tons of fiction and always have, and i foolishly didn't mention this or any knowledge of fiction authors in my statement of purpose... which was mostly about the death penalty. yeah, i regret that.) i have taken a few creative writing workshops, though you'd only know i took one from looking at my application package. (another thing i regret-- how hard would it have been to list the others???) that instructor wrote me a recommendation.

i'm definitely nervous about my knowledge of fiction relative to future classmates, but i'm trying to reassure myself by reading my way through the brooklyn m.f.a. booklist (even though i'm not going to brooklyn and didn't apply there), which i found online:
http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/graduate/mfa/r_list.htm


LaurenAnne


Mar 14, 2006, 2:44 PM

Post #6 of 26 (2514 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey. I've been wondering the same thing. I only took one creative writing class in college, but honestly, while I was applying, I figured that lots of people trying to get into MFA programs were in the same boat. My thinking was that if I'd had the courage to do what I really wanted to--write--in college, I'd have gotten the education I need then, and I'd simply be doing it now, not applying for another expensive degree to study it some more!

However, now that I've been rejected from two of the four places I applied, I wonder if my tendency to assume that everyone in america thinks exactly as I do has failed me again.


(This post was edited by LaurenAnne on Mar 14, 2006, 2:55 PM)


Ms. Mystery


Mar 14, 2006, 2:51 PM

Post #7 of 26 (2509 views)
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Re: [LaurenAnne] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm coming from a much more traditional writing background: a double major in Creative Writing and English with a minor in jazz performance, lit mag staff experience, student reading series emcee, current poet in the schools, and so on. Sometimes I wish I had taken a few more detours on the road to the MFA, but I guess this is me, I guess. I get the sense from most programs that they enjoy having students from different backgrounds and value the difference in perspective. Because really, anyone who doesn't value those things is kind of wack.


Aubrie


Mar 14, 2006, 2:52 PM

Post #8 of 26 (2506 views)
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Re: [LaurenAnne] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey LaurenAnne - I feel the exact same way. I studied Anthropology, but have always known that I wanted to write. (In fact, I actually started as an English major, then wussed out and changed my major.)
But I too have been rejected from two schools already, so perhaps the admissions comittees do not see things the way I do.

Or maybe they just don't like my writing sample. :) or rather :(


LaurenAnne


Mar 14, 2006, 3:00 PM

Post #9 of 26 (2496 views)
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Re: [Aubrie] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm pretty sure we got rejected from the same two places. So, solidarity on that.

Anyway, to me the question of what people have studied is more about how *prepared* everyone else is--if your sample is awesome, I'm sure the schools wouldn't care what you majored in, but your sample is more likely to rock if you've been studying and writing fiction seriously for years, no?


eirene


Mar 14, 2006, 3:02 PM

Post #10 of 26 (2493 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I looked at that UW FAQ page too, and it does seem like they emphasize academic English experience. Again, I think it's b/c that dept is close to the rest of the English dept -- I know of someone who got her poetry MFA there, then went on to do her lit PhD there -- transitioned right into it. Anyway, I applied there too, and I'm just dying for word. I'd love to be closer to home (grew up in the area) and the program is great. So I hear you. Fingers crossed for both of us!


augustmaria


Mar 14, 2006, 3:03 PM

Post #11 of 26 (2492 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm finishing up a BFA in Creative Writing and English Literature right now. Over the past four years, I've taken workshops in: Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Screenwriting, Writing for Young Adults, Novel Writing, Advanced Poetry, Advanced Fiction, and I'm currently doing an Advanced Novel Writing independent study with three other students. I'm also a TA for Fiction Writing this semester, as well as serving as Editor of the campus lit journal and interning at the poetry press on campus. I know I wouldn't have stood a chance without the experience I gained from taking so many workshops. Maybe I ran the risk of having my work too "workshoppy," but I still have no real idea as to what that means, exactly, so I'm not worried about it.


HopperFu


Mar 14, 2006, 3:24 PM

Post #12 of 26 (2475 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I was a poly sci major with a concentration (i.e. minor) in Gender and Women's Studies. Maybe three English classes my entire time in college. In retrospect, wish I would have been an English major. Little freaked out about taking graduate leval lit classes, but I guess I'll deal. Or flunk out.


theapplepicker


Mar 14, 2006, 3:35 PM

Post #13 of 26 (2462 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

My academic career is so long and winding. Long time ago, I had a major in creative writing, but that was a long time ago. (And I didn't graduate with that degree; I transferred.) Eventually, I earned a BA in English lit (and as far as I'm concerned, I'm still woefully under-educated in English lit).

After a year off from school, I went back and earned another BA. This time in linguistics.

My feeling is that writing workshops are very useful in helping you prepare your work. At the very least (or maybe this is actually the ideal), you should have a talented and trusted critic/friend comment on your work from time to time.

After that, I think English lit degrees are really most useful for writers who want to teach English lit and writing. You can have any other degree in the world or no degree at all to be a good to great writer.

My studies outside of English lit have been far more helpful to my writing, I think.


franz

e-mail user

Mar 14, 2006, 3:41 PM

Post #14 of 26 (2456 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

My background is pretty standard-- English literature with a studio art minor at the University of Iowa. I did take undergraduate workshops at Iowa though, and spent a lot of time in the Dey House, as I also was lucky enough to do my honors thesis with James Alan McPherson as my advisor. I think that MFA programs are just as interested in life influence, so I made sure to emphasize my study abroad in Venice and India as ways in which I broadened my understanding of the world.


Franz Knupfer, author of short stories and novels


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 25, 2006, 3:28 AM

Post #15 of 26 (2350 views)
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Re: [franz] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

My background is heavy English. I took 7 creative writing classes in college, a few of them were independent studies. I've had 5 different writing profs. I won all the major undergraduate prizes in English and completed unprecedented work in my major. I have a 120 page thesis on a literary criticism topic spanning the history of the English language. I was also a TA in college, and I taught at the Yale English Language Institute. My advice: you don't have to do what I did. Just tell good stories.


(This post was edited by rapunzel1983 on Mar 25, 2006, 4:34 AM)


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 25, 2006, 3:44 AM

Post #16 of 26 (2346 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

What does "unprecendented work in my major" mean?

Pesonally I went to school for philosophy but ended up double majoring in English and Creative Writing. I won two awards, basically best poet and best fiction writer of my class. The CW major was selective, picking I believe 9 students total in all three genres. I minored in philosophy.

I'd never really done any creative writing prior to college. Basically my first real story was written when I was a junior in college. I can't really say how it affected my applications, I have no idea.

College was fun times though. .


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Mar 25, 2006, 3:46 AM)


viviandarkbloom


Mar 25, 2006, 4:06 AM

Post #17 of 26 (2338 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
My background is heavy English. I took 7 creative writing classes in college, a few of them were independent studies. I've had 5 different writing profs, most of them famous. I won all the major undergraduate prizes in English and completed unprecedented work in my major. In addition to my novel, I have a 120 page thesis on a literary criticism topic spanning the history of the English language. I was also a TA in college, and I taught at the Yale English Language Institute. My advice: you don't have to do what I did. Just tell good stories.


... I dropped out of high school... after a few years of sitting on the couch I went to community college... transferred to a four-year... no honors... I'm not very honorable. Although in theory I'd like to agree with you (and even though my GPA is pretty good), it's hard not to feel insecure about my academic background.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 25, 2006, 4:20 AM

Post #18 of 26 (2336 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

Unprecedented work means work that's never been done before. "Unprecedented" is not an adjective I came up with. The chair of the dept used it. I had a certain achievement that was entirely new to the school. I'm still wary of being too specific about myself on the internet. Although I've basically given in everywhere else. I'd prefer not to discuss my thesis topic. But if you want to talk about it, I can do so privately.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 25, 2006, 4:28 AM

Post #19 of 26 (2335 views)
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Re: [viviandarkbloom] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

Viviandarkbloom, creative writers like an education like yours!! Kevin Canty dropped out of high school and got a GED. And his first short story was picked up by Esquire or something like that.

My college thesis advisor was also a drop out.

Everyone in this field hates highly academic people. I've gotten so much crap about my education that I'm pissed off I wasted so much time getting it. I am pretty sure nobody cares.

Btw, viviandarkbloom, did you read Ada, or Ardor? The appendix? That's one of the books that inspired my novel.


soft petal


Mar 25, 2006, 4:52 AM

Post #20 of 26 (2331 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

Surely the Associated Writing Programs don't hate highly academic people. I've heard of a mutual disrespect between English and Creative Writing faculty at many places, but I've never heard of an admissions committee dinking someone for education. There are so many MFA students from Ivy League backgrounds, it makes me wonder if I should've sent my family into huge debt back when I had the opportunity. I know I could be wrong. But it does seem anyway that when so many places are looking for those simple, quiet manuscripts, that Ivy League background might place one's manuscript above others, all things equal. Go into any modern art museum, note how everything could have been produced by a five year old, listen to the docent explain how the artists were Ivy League geniuses, and were therefore more worthy of exhibition than those five year olds. Something I've been chewing on...


jennymck


Mar 25, 2006, 12:17 PM

Post #21 of 26 (2315 views)
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Re: [soft petal] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

For my BA I did a double major in sociology and gender studies. But I also went to a wacky, alternative school, and I was worried how MFA programs would take that. The school has a pretty strong rep, but offers written evaluations in lieu of grades, so no GPA, lots of "independent research," and weird classes like "Apocalypse Studies" and "Space and Specularity" or whatever. I took lots of "normal" classes, and a fair amount of lit coursework, but it wasn't so canonical, a lot of classes like "Asian Feminist Writings" and "Women and Narrative," so I've always felt underread in the canon. But, anyway, I was really worried about my untraditional transcript, but it seems so far like it hasn't been much of a problem. No one has raised any eyebrows about it. So I'm thinking it really is mostly about the writing sample, less about what you did in undergrad.... Sorry about all the quotation marks.


vitadimanche


Mar 25, 2006, 12:36 PM

Post #22 of 26 (2305 views)
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Re: [sanssoleil] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I had a triple major in French, Literature and Education. My undergrad doesn't have just a Creative Writing major, it's included under literature. I took workshops almost every term of undergrad in short story, personal essay and not until my senior year poetry (what I ended up applying for). I was more focused on the French major for most of my undergrad and spent a year studying French literature in Paris, then came back and decided it'd be fun to take a poetry class since I'd never done so and BAM--my life changed. I was always a writer and always thought it was something I wanted to do, but I'd always written not-so-good fiction (I was a lot better at personal essays, at least). When I started writing poetry, my poetry prof told me I had to go get an MFA, which I'd never considered before. I was in a 5 year BA/MAT program, and already slated to spend my first year after undergrad student teaching and earning the MATeaching, and I was really committed to becoming a HS English teacher, and then, someday, getting my PhD in comparative literature. My thesis was the translation of a contemporary French novel which fulfilled requirements for both the French & literature major, and then I did a bunch of stuff for my Education major.

So I had decided not to get an MFA. And then I started teaching and I had a nervous breakdown. I felt the trajectory w/poetry that had begun my senior year was cut short and I felt I would perish if I didn't take time to focus on my poetry for awhile. (I know, a bit overdramatic, but isn't that what nervous breakdowns are all about?).

I am pretty sure that my MAT did not help me get into any grad schools. I don't think anyone at a grad level will care an iota about it, since teaching degrees are not thought necessary at a post-secondary level, but I know the work I did and my teaching experience will help me when I teach college. Because, honestly, 18-year-olds aren't that different on the other side of the summer. I teach that age now, and often feel like I'm teaching college freshman.

Anyway, that was very long-winded and more than you asked for.


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 25, 2006, 1:53 PM

Post #23 of 26 (2280 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I understand, for a forum like this I try to remain as anonymous as possible.
Although I'm never sure why I do...

but congrats on all that

(also, scanning my last post I should have said I wrote my first story second year, not junior.)


viviandarkbloom


Mar 25, 2006, 1:54 PM

Post #24 of 26 (2280 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Viviandarkbloom, creative writers like an education like yours!! Kevin Canty dropped out of high school and got a GED. And his first short story was picked up by Esquire or something like that.

My college thesis advisor was also a drop out.

Everyone in this field hates highly academic people. I've gotten so much crap about my education that I'm pissed off I wasted so much time getting it. I am pretty sure nobody cares.

Btw, viviandarkbloom, did you read Ada, or Ardor? The appendix? That's one of the books that inspired my novel.


Did I read Ada's appendix? I wrote the appendix.


augustmaria


Mar 25, 2006, 2:00 PM

Post #25 of 26 (2275 views)
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Re: [viviandarkbloom] Previous Degrees [In reply to] Can't Post

I actually laughed out loud at that. Oh, Nabokov humor...

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