Mar 20, 2006, 8:58 PM
Post #20 of 59
The PhD programs I applied to are as subjective as MFA programs, because of how interdisciplinary they are in nature and how few applicants they accept each year, and I felt a lot things "repeated" from my MFA application experience (5 years ago).
Re: [sibyline] 10 things that I have learned...
But, reflecting upon 5 years ago, this is my advice:
1. Research the whole program. There will always be things you wish you had known about before the fact, once you arrive, but research the program THOROUGHLY--who the department administrators are, who the program director is, what the funding situation is like, how long professors have stayed at the program, the situation of funding as a first year as opposed to a second year, etc. How many lit classes will you need to take? How many workshops? How many forms classes? What are the expectations of your thesis, and how long will you have to do it? How many readings will you have to give while you're at the program? What can you learn about the program offering career guidance for when you're on your way out the door at the other end? Does the program get local/community support with programming for readings, events, etc. (i.e. is it seen in a favorable light--would going there bring a sort of harmonious experience for you also being a resident of the town)...
2. Hop on the web and research the towns the schools are located in. First think about whether or not you could afford to live in the town with the funding you would realistically get, if you are accepted. Can you afford rent, utilities, some groceries, public transportation/car expenses, etc.? Where is the nearest airport, and are plane trips to places you realistically would visit expensive? What's the public transportation like in the town, and what are the town's resources and entertainment options like? With the resources you have, can you afford to consider this option? If you needed a summer job between first/second or second/third year, would one be relatively easy to find?
3. Make a list of what the pro's would be and what the con's would be of attending that one school. EVERY school has good things and bad things about it, and you need to figure out what works for you (i.e. for me, UF was my first choice from the get go--I go by gut instinct 99% of the time--and I knew moving from Boston to Gainesville would be my biggest compromise--but I knew that once I found a bar, a coffee shop, a book store, a CD store, a place to hear music, and one or two other "staples" as far as landmarks are concerned, that I could survive and, more likely than not, be totally fine. And I was.). And remember, when you are waiting to hear from schools that no school is perfect--no town is perfect. It kept me in check when I applied to MFA programs, and it made it easier to deal with the schools that didn't accept me (for those schools, there was no longer a list of good things and bad things to weigh against other schools).
4. As much as I wanted to read the work of each poet in the programs I applied to, I wanted to make sure that I talked to students in the program about their experiences with thees poets as professors. There is a HUGE difference between a great writer and a great professor--but sometimes you can link the two and see, once you get feedback from current students/recent alums, how the writer's teaching strengths/weaknesses are exemplified in the things that person can encourage you to do with your writing (i.e. Sidney Wade opened me up to more wimsy and abstraction, and William Logan opened me up to be a more critical reader of poetry and to not discount poems that are focused on rhythm, structure, meter, and form just because that's what I first see in the poem. I don't love William's work, but he has become one of my best mentors; I like Debora Gregor's work decently enough and find something expert about her writing, but she is the worst teacher I have had in my entire life.)
5. Apply to as many schools as you can afford to, but also apply only to schools where if you get accepted nowhere else you can feel excited to go there. Because even with gut instincts, you really never know.
6. Always secure one more person than you need to fill out your recommendation letters. Most schools will generally accept 4 if the requirement is 3 or 3 if it's 2. You never know who will screw you over at the last minute (I got screwed over when I applied to MFA programs and almost screwed over with the PhD applications--thankfully I had back ups each time).
7. Even if you are unsure that you will *actually* apply to the school, go straight ahead and have your transcripts, GRE scores, and other "paperwork" items sent to each school you are considering, and do it early on. For the schools you *actually* apply to, send fee as a money order just to be extra-safe.
8. Keep an organized filing system of EVERYTHING, and keep photocopies of everything you send (or even transcript requests you fax to old schools). You never know who will lose what.
9. Help your recommenders out by being super-organized and giving them more time than they say they need and more time than is reasonable for you--it's a courtesy to them, and it's good practice to you. When you send them forms, send everything in a very clear-cut, exact, organized sort of way. Maybe this is me and maybe it's being anal, but it helps me each application I send to do this. For each recommender, in a file folder, I have:
- All of my forms in order alphabetically by school I apply to
- Stamped envelopes for sending the reco letters clipped to the form
- A post-it affixed to the reco form with three dates on it: my submission goal date, my "realistic submission date," and the absolute final application deadline.
- A post-it affixed to the reco form with a list of poems submitted for my writing sample
- One copy of the personal statement that I have "mutated"/will mutate to accommodate each school I am applying to.
- An updated copy of my curriculum vitae
- A copy of any transcripts showing grades I got in these people's courses, if they are my professors, or recent copies of papers I wrote for them or poems I worked on with them OR, if it's someone who I otherwise know or have not worked with in a while, a list of achievements since we last worked together
- One "manuscript" in alphabetical order of all the poems I am using for my application submissions.
- A thank you note.
(like I said, I know that's super-anal, but the way I see it, my recommenders are really busy--the more I can do to help them out and make this a no-brainer, the easier it will be for them. Except for the times I have been screwed over, I have had--according to what recommenders have told me for when they send stuff out--less than 1 week turn-around for my recommendation letters to be sent to my application schools.)
10. Even after I send my applications off, I went back and re-read the work of the professors in the program--not to read with the context of "what can I learn from this professor?" but just to go back and read for pleasure. And to fall totally and completely in love with their words, lines, images, and metaphors. Because, well, it's poetry and I love poetry, first and foremost.