2014, Archives, July 2014, The MFA Years

Researching the MFA

When you’re applying to MFA programs, research is your best friend. Taking the time to figure out what you want out of a program will help you narrow down your list, find places you love, and maybe even keep your application costs down (it can get expensive, believe me).

There are a myriad of things to consider when you’re compiling a list: What’s your desired program length? Do you want to teach? How much do you want to teach? Do you want to be able to take classes outside of the creative writing department? Does location matter? Do you want to do cross-genre work? Are you interested in a specific cohort size (large, small)?

And on and on and on… that’s why it’s helpful to ask yourself these questions early on.

While I was finalizing my program list I created an Excel document that contained all of the application information for each program. I was better able to keep track of deadline dates, sample lengths, which schools had received my recommendation letters, and everything else.

I’d recommend starting a document like this while you’re still in the research stage. It will help you figure out which programs have similar requirements and also which programs have requirements that are vastly different from the others (this realization is sort of what led me to drop one of the programs on my list pretty late in the game). You can easily delete and add programs as needed.

Screenshot of my Excel document
Screenshot of my Excel document. Click on it for the full size.

I’ll leave you with some websites and blog posts that helped me while I was doing research. All of these links are great resources and cover everything from creative writing program details to writing a statement of purpose.

  1. AWP’s Guide to Writing Programs is an amazing resource. You can narrow down programs with a number of different search options. MA programs and low-residency programs are also included in this database.
  2. Some nice MFA application dos and don’ts from Elise Blackwell, a creative writing professor at the University of South Carolina.
  3. Timothy Otte gives advice on applying to programs, including compiling a portfolio.
  4. Advice on writing the dreaded statement of purpose.
  5. Last but not least, a funny take on applying to MFA programs from Tin House. Like any good satirical piece, there’s some truth behind it.

Do you have any online resources you found helpful when applying to programs? What other criteria did you use to narrow down your list?

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