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Choosing an MFA Program (2008)
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hamholio


Oct 13, 2007, 6:36 PM

Post #251 of 454 (4171 views)
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     Re: [SweetJane] List of schools so far... [In reply to]  

nice work with the condoms on the salt shakers, btw.


writerteacher


Oct 13, 2007, 8:56 PM

Post #252 of 454 (4159 views)
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     Re: [Clench Million] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  


In Reply To
Columbia is an excellent MFA program. The students work is high quality and alongside UCI and Iowa it has the best alumni success.


Hey, Clench --

I have no doubt Columbia's program is excellent, but I'm curious: how do you define "best alumni success"? Seems to me there are lots of criteria, from percentage of graduates who sign with agents within x months/years of graduating, to signing book deals, to book sales, to film options, to critical acclaim, to entering the canon (yeesh, how many authors can claim that in, say, the last 50 years?), to literary awards and prizes... to simply working as a writer, or landing a teaching job (at a prestigious program? a mid-level program? gah!), or editing, or working in publishing in some capacity...

I'm not pickin' on you, just curious about your, and others', take on alumni success.

Best regards,
Elizabeth


umass76


Oct 13, 2007, 9:54 PM

Post #253 of 454 (4143 views)
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     Re: [hamholio] List of schools so far... [In reply to]  


In Reply To
...as long as I don't look at Kealy's blog or Seth Abramson's abomination, it'll be okay. . .



"Abomination"...lol...! You probably don't want to know, then, that data collection for the 2008 version of the LJPW Poll has just been started...

-- Seth Abramson


(This post was edited by umass76 on Oct 13, 2007, 9:56 PM)


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 14, 2007, 3:16 PM

Post #254 of 454 (4091 views)
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     Re: [writerteacher] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

Elizabeth:

I think it is a fair question. There certainly isn't any definitive way to measure it, unless you were going to assign a point scale for each literary award, each magazine published in, book sales and so on. Still, I think there is a general consensus about this in the publishing world. Tom Kealey noted on his blog what I've heard elsewhere, which is that UCI, Iowa and Columbia are the three programs editors will pay attention to because of alumni success. The Atlantic's recent article on MFA programs listed those three (along with UVA and BU) as Five Programs with Notable Alumni, etc.

I would assume people are mostly taking into account the number of published graduates and the degree of their fame or regard in the literary world. You are correct that there are a ton of factors to take it, but most of them overlap to a large degree. Writers who are "entering the canon" certainly signed book deals, had critical acclaim and probably won awards and prizes.

It is too bad that alumni success is so hard to definitively measure, because I suspect in a lot of ways it is one of the most important factors. It should help show how well a program is actually teaching its students (both in terms of craft and practical writing world concerns) and at the very least should give a good indication of the quality of the peer group a program offers.


lmbuckton


Oct 15, 2007, 7:39 PM

Post #255 of 454 (4009 views)
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     community... [In reply to]  

is there a general consensus of programs that a strong, cohesive sense of community amongst its writers? i read that montana seems to be very community-based but was wondering if anyone else had any specific insight...


HopperFu


Oct 15, 2007, 8:04 PM

Post #256 of 454 (4003 views)
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     Re: [lmbuckton] community... [In reply to]  

In general, the biggest problems with a 'sense of community' are:
a) funding
b) the size of the city

A) If everybody gets the same funding, that eliminates a major source of conflict (particularly if the funding is up for grabs after the first year, so people are competing as well as being jealous)
B) If your program is in a bit city like New York, there are just a lot more things competing for attention. I think that this (B) is probably not as big of a deal, though in small towns people tend to hang out together more by default.


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 15, 2007, 11:24 PM

Post #257 of 454 (3970 views)
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     Re: [HopperFu] community... [In reply to]  

From the experiences of people I know at various MFA programs, I don't really believe that funding has much of a bearing on a "sense of community" at all. The only exception seems to be when the funding changes and thus you have to compete with your classmates for funding, which seems like a bad idea (even more so because it would probably keep students from experimenting since they would feel the need to turn polished stuff the teachers will like the most...)

My program has unequal funding, but I've never noticed it causing the least bit of competition. Honestly, no one ever even talks about it. It certainly hasn't hurt any sense of community.

My guess is that the biggest factor in whether a program has a sense of community or not is how the program is structured. If it is a program that is designed to let students have full time jobs and where you are only required to attend a workshop and maybe one other class a semester, then there won't be much of a community. If it is a program that requires you to have several classes a semester and you are regularly on campus and interacting with your peers, then the community will be stronger.


bklynwrtr


Oct 22, 2007, 7:31 PM

Post #258 of 454 (3864 views)
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     Workshop size... [In reply to]  

Throwing myself on the mercy of my fellow 'Easiers...I am looking for (or would like to initiate) a discussion on the pros and cons of a big admit program (say, Iowa) vs. a small (Cornell).

To those in Iowa-esque programs: are your workshop groups rotated? Or do you have the same people in your workshops for the two years? Or is it one big workshop? Do you wish for a smaller group, or do you find the big helpful?

To those in Cornell-esque programs: do you ever wish for bigger groups? how do you keep things fresh? or because of the smaller program size, do you spend more time working alone and one on one with profs?

Thanks! I poked around the site, but couldn't find what I was looking for...tho' I admit the size of things is overwhelming me some...


(This post was edited by bklynwrtr on Oct 22, 2007, 7:47 PM)


hamlet3145


Oct 22, 2007, 9:25 PM

Post #259 of 454 (3845 views)
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     Re: [bklynwrtr] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

At Montana, where the total program size is about 40 writers, there are generally two poetry workshops per semester as well as two fiction. (And one non-fiction as well). You just sign up for the ones you want--there is no administrative grouping. And it's not much trouble to cross genres if you'd like.

As one who would find a 10 person program claustrophobic, I dig it.


rpc
ryan call

Oct 22, 2007, 10:05 PM

Post #260 of 454 (3826 views)
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     Re: [bklynwrtr] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

at mason we have medium-large-type workshops (we average, i think, 14-15 incoming fiction writers a year), but the upper level workshops cap at like 10 people i think...id rather have a smaller workshop though, but the bigger group of writers lets you pick and choose a smaller, core group; these fellow writers tend to stay with you throughout the program, either in formal workshop classes or in informal workshops/"hang-out" type get togethers...


<HTMLGIANT>


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 22, 2007, 10:42 PM

Post #261 of 454 (3815 views)
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     Re: [bklynwrtr] Workshop size... [In reply to]  


Quote

To those in Iowa-esque programs: are your workshop groups rotated? Or do you have the same people in your workshops for the two years? Or is it one big workshop? Do you wish for a smaller group, or do you find the big helpful?


At Columbia, you pick a new workshop teacher each semester and your group gets rotated that way, as different people pick different teachers. Second years get priority and there are a few teachers who most of the second years go for, making it so you tend to be with other first years in your first year and other second years in your second year. I think it is nice to get fresh blood in your workshops and fresh workshop leaders too, especially when they are all great as has been the case for me so far.

Workshops range from like 7 to 11 people. Most have about 9 I think, which is the ideal number for my tastes. I wouldn't want it any smaller.
Bigger program doesn't mean bigger class sizes (at least in Columbia's case). It just means more teachers and classes to choose from, which is helpful for your writing I think.



HopperFu


Oct 23, 2007, 9:00 AM

Post #262 of 454 (3773 views)
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     Re: [bklynwrtr] Workshop size... [In reply to]  


In Reply To
To those in Cornell-esque programs: do you ever wish for bigger groups? how do you keep things fresh? or because of the smaller program size, do you spend more time working alone and one on one with profs?

I like the size of Cornell's program. Because of the size of the program (eight students in each genre at any one time) and the number of profs, there is a lot of access. The profs are all wonderful in the amount of time they are willing to spend with you and they all seem quite open to working with graduate students.

As for keeping things fresh, because the workshop leader changes each semester, that has a large impact, as does the change from year to year (four students leave, four come in for each workshop).


I certainly would not want a bigger group in workshop. Eight is plenty big enough. I'm not sure about a bigger group to draw from. I guess it's a little bit luck of the draw; I feel like that with the group we have now, even with the people that I argue with on a regular basis, most of the time it leads to really interesting discussions of the work and is, I think, the kind of energetic criticism that you want in workshop.


bklynwrtr


Oct 23, 2007, 10:15 AM

Post #263 of 454 (3759 views)
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     Re: [HopperFu] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

Thanks! Those are very helpful answers -- I appreciate it!


rpc
ryan call

Oct 23, 2007, 12:11 PM

Post #264 of 454 (3736 views)
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     Re: [Clench Million] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

i think that's an impressive workshop size (i mean how small it is), given how many writers columbia tends to accept, right?


<HTMLGIANT>


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 23, 2007, 12:51 PM

Post #265 of 454 (3722 views)
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     Re: [rpc] Workshop size... [In reply to]  


In Reply To
i think that's an impressive workshop size (i mean how small it is), given how many writers columbia tends to accept, right?


Well, I don't know how other large programs operate, but for Columbia we just have more teachers and more options, not larger class sizes (well, probably some of the seminars are larger, but the workshops aren't). My first two workshops were 9 students and my current workshop has 11. I think 12 is the largest they allow and I've heard of some that were smaller, 7 students.

Personally I love the system. On the one hand there is a trade off, as you can't really have one workshop teacher for 3 or 4 workshops (although if you really clicked with a teacher you could probably take them multiple times). But on the other hand you get a wide range of both student and professor input. And since Columbia has such a diverse faculty (from widely experimental writers to more typical domestic realists) you really have a lot of options and chances for new perspectives.


bklynwrtr


Oct 23, 2007, 12:56 PM

Post #266 of 454 (3720 views)
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     Re: [Clench Million] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

Clench -- (and others at programs with "star" teachers):

How much do they tell current students about these teachers' availability? For instance, Richard Ford at Columbia. Do you know he will be there in 2008-2009, and plan your schedule accordingly, or do you assume these teachers are one year bets at best, and you have to scramble to get them? Does seniority come into play?

Was more information revealed to you once you were admitted?

Did anyone while applying contact these schools and ask what the teachers' committments were?


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 23, 2007, 1:34 PM

Post #267 of 454 (3706 views)
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     Re: [bklynwrtr] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

I think the information is widely available and the office is fine telling you, although I personally never asked (just got the info from current students when I was applying). Although I can't say for sure if they know the details of every adjunct teacher for the future or not.

For Richard Ford, he has taught at Columbia awhile I think and he teachers one master class a year. So he is a regular, but not a full-time teacher. The rest of the "star" teachers (Ben Marcus, Richard Howard, Sam Lipsyte, Paul LeFarge, Nicholas Christoper, etc.) all teach a workshop a semester and a seminar or lecture each semester (except Marcus who only teaches a workshop due to his numerous administrative duties.)

So Columbia's teachers are pretty regular. I haven't seen anyone have a problem getting someone they really wanted at least once or twice. Like any school there are certain "star" teachers who get brought in for a semester just to teach a master class or a seminar and maybe don't come back for whatever reasons. But at Columbia at least, it isn't the case that there are just figurehead people to lure students who don't ever teach classes.


aluminum


Oct 23, 2007, 3:09 PM

Post #268 of 454 (3683 views)
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     university of oregon [In reply to]  

Is there anyone here who currently attends the University of Oregon (in Eugene)? Kealey rates is as a "top twenty" program, but I would love to hear more about it from someone who knows firsthand. I am wondering about faculty, class size, quality of life in Eugene, Oregon and of course, funding...

Thanks!


jamx85
James

Oct 23, 2007, 9:27 PM

Post #269 of 454 (3630 views)
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     Re: [HopperFu] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

My experience in a smaller program (Purdue, 4 per year) has been similar to HopperFu's. There are stylistic differences varying from absurdist to realist even among our group of eight, and while workshop discussions can at times be intense, they are always tempered with mutual respect. On a personal level, I feel a close relationship with my fellow first years, including the poets. But that may be attributed to the luck of the draw, as Hopper has astutely noted.


James
Fiction Editor
Sycamore Review


calumnia


Oct 23, 2007, 10:39 PM

Post #270 of 454 (3606 views)
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     Re: [tyakabob] Choosing an MFA Program (2008) [In reply to]  

I am looking for relatively similar criteria and have been having trouble finding programs that allow you to mix genres. Would you mind telling me how you found them?

In Reply To
The conventional wisdom is to apply to a huge range of programs to increase your odds of getting in somewhere. I applied to six programs that I was enthusiastic about based on some basic criteria:

Funding
Ability to mix genres in program
Location
Type of university, big school, small school, etc
Whether I thought I'd mesh with the professors

The first four were pretty easy to find out, although I did have to make some information lists because when you're sorting through all the necessary information when you're looking up dozens of programs, things tend to bleed together. Funding was really important to me because I can't afford paying to get an MFA-a degree that offers almost no financial security once you're done. I don't know what I would've decided if I had only gotten into a program that didn't offer much funding, but I did the research beforehand so I didn't run into that problem.

I applied as poetry, but also write fiction and want to give screenwriting and nonfiction a shot too, so it was important for the program to have flexibility. I'd only been writing poetry for about a year before I applied, so I didn't want to be tied to that genre although my best recent work was in poetry.

The location and type of university were important because all the schools that I've ever gone to, save my Australian university, are within 2 miles of each other. My undergrad university has 2000 people, so I was ready not only to get out of the area, but to experience a big, gung-ho university. I picked an SEC school, so I can check those off. Variety of experience helps writing, right?

The last one, which also might be the most influential on you actually getting into a program, took a little bit of time. I asked my undergrad professors what they'd heard about the different programs and professors, and they were familiar with some of both, so they helped me make decisions. I also tried to find the professors work at bookstore, even using the "Look At This Book" (or whatever it's called) function on Amazon's site.

I was put on two waitlists and was accepted off of both. When I talked to people at the university I ultimately picked, I found out that one of the professors who's aesthetic I thought meshed well with mine really went to bat for me to get me into the program. You may have great grades and test scores, but the people who're in the program, their opinions count the most.

When you've decided what programs to apply to, you shouldn't be afraid to call those programs and ask questions, even just to establish a bit of presence with those programs. They post their numbers for a reason. While I wouldn't go overboard and make an annoyance of yourself, it can't hurt to show interest in the program beyond applying. I was told visiting was key to show your interest in a program, especially if you're on a waitlist. I don't know how true this is, but I was able to visit two school on the way back from a spring break trip, and it was well worth the extra time in the car, even if it didn't sway the faculty either way. I mean, shit, you're going to live and work there for 3 years, great faculty and funding won't mean a lot of you're miserable the whole time.

My basic point in writing this long post was to say that don't feel obligated to apply to a huge amount of programs, especially if you're not comfortable envisioning yourself there. If you apply to 12 programs, 6 that you can really see yourself at, 6 that you have mostly because you want to get in SOMEWHERE and you think that you could manage that with them, from my perspective, save the money and time on the 6 maybes to put towards reapplying next year to your top programs in case you don't get in there. Unless you really really just want to start an MFA program ASAP. Or if you have a ton of programs that you're really in love with, apply to the lot of them. I got into 3 of the 6 that I applied to, so keeping it small worked out for me. If I hadn't, maybe I'd be boring everyone with a different long ass post. Get as much information that you can, start as early as you can, and make up your own mind. Don't be swayed too much by blogs and Best Programs lists, but always keep your ears open.

Good luck. It's a long, drag-ass process, but soon enough you'll be calling grandma to tell her that next fall you're going to XXXX to start your masters. It's a good feeling.



ptld


Oct 23, 2007, 10:41 PM

Post #271 of 454 (3606 views)
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     Re: [jamx85] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

i can say that this is also my experience at syracuse (5 fiction students this year normally 6). as said, the work varies from absurd to realist (and in our case 1 student writes fiction more typical of african literature). workshop is intimate, which at first made me slightly nervous, but i can't now imagine a better scenario. i think it's especially perfect for anyone hoping to workshop novel chapters. i've also become really close with our poets. sharing work across disciplines has actually been really fruitful.

had i ended up in a larger program, i'm sure i would have been happy as well. i do want to reiterate that having an intimate readership is really advantageous to workshopping a novel. also, we have the advantage that even though only 6 students are normally admitted per genre, it is a three year program so there would typically be 18 fiction and 18 poetry.


__________



Oct 23, 2007, 11:36 PM

Post #272 of 454 (3598 views)
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     Re: [ptld] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

Sweet...thanks for answering just about every question I had about Syracuse!

But this leads to one more. There only five in your class; is this because they found only five, not six, qualified applicants? Or was it something less sinister-sounding to future applicants?


six five four three two one 0 ->


ptld


Oct 23, 2007, 11:49 PM

Post #273 of 454 (3593 views)
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     Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

nothing sinister. one person for personal reasons had to defer, which typically they don't allow. apparently these were extenuating circumstances.


mlpurdy
Moriah Purdy

Oct 24, 2007, 12:43 AM

Post #274 of 454 (3581 views)
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     Re: [jamx85] Workshop size... [In reply to]  

Hi all - Haven't been around since last year... figured I'd drop in. I just started my first semester at George Mason University in Poetry (and I couldn't be happier - let me know if you have any questions... about anything).

Just a plug for "larger" programs... GMU accepts around 10 to 15 poets and fiction students, and slightly less than that (8 or less) for nonfiction. The workshop sizes vary, but they generally have around 10 to 12 students. GMU makes this possible by having more professors on faculty (for me, a good thing), and here especially there is a broad range of styles (esp. in poetry) so the workshops are facilitated by writers interested in different questions. Not that your professor makes the workshop, but it certainly makes a big difference. It also provides MFA candidates the opportunity to meet and learn from a variety of students--over the three years of the program--who are doing (at least here) drastically different things in their work. This was (and is) appealing to me, and many of my peers here. Also if you don't mesh well with one professor or group in workshop, there's always the next one. In a three year program with around 30 to 45 students per genre that makes for several very different workshops during your time in the program.

Some other things to consider... some smaller programs fill their workshops with upper level undergraduates. Plus, let's be honest, smaller programs accept fewer people per year and are therefore harder to get into. I applied to 13 programs, and probably 3/4 of those were programs that took less than 8 new poets per year. I got into two smaller ones, waitlisted at a larger one, and into GMU, and I count myself very lucky! Not to be a pessimist, those rejections landed me exactly where I feel I should be, I'm just saying that I highly suggest that you try to be open to a wide range of programs, and that includes size of workshops/incoming classes.

MLP


HopperFu


Oct 24, 2007, 9:18 AM

Post #275 of 454 (3549 views)
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     Re: [mlpurdy] Workshop size... [In reply to]  


In Reply To
... some smaller programs fill their workshops with upper level undergraduates.

I've never heard of that, but man, that would totally piss me off. It seems like a really bad call for a graduate program to allow undergrads into workshop.

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