2015, Archives, January 2015, The MFA Years

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Sarah Abbott

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year.

What did you do to get through the post application period?

I signed up to take a self-defense class. It was my last semester of undergrad, so it was an “easy” credit hour, but it conveniently allowed me to punch and kick things every time the waiting got to be too much, or when I got another rejection from a dream school. The physical activity helped clear my mind and press reset. Staying busy with other things, as hard as it may be, is much more useful than researching when your schools notified over the last ten years or checking Draft for the millionth time.

What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying?

I was lucky enough to have several great mentors. They all independently told me not to pay for an MFA. Fully funded or bust. I know this is standard advice, but the fact that they all said it reinforced to me how important it is. On April 1, when I had been accepted to a program I loved but hadn’t yet heard about funding, it was so tempting to just say yes and take loans if need be. I wanted to be there. But my mentors’ voices were in my head, and I waited until April 17–when I finally received full funding–to accept my offer. It was hard but very worth it.

Biggest high? Biggest low?

I’ll start with the biggest low because I want to end on a good note! The biggest low for me was in mid-February. I’d gotten nothing but rejections, from most of my dream schools no less, and all my well-meaning friends and family kept asking if I’d been accepted anywhere yet. It was hard (and awkward) to keep telling them no. I’d known, odds-wise, that straight rejections could happen, but it still felt like everything was crashing. The biggest high was getting full funding at UK (even better than the initial acceptance), because that’s when it became a reality that I would be working on my MFA next year. I had the biggest smile on my face the entire day.

What would you do differently if you could apply all over again?

I had a lot of time to think about this, since in mid-April I was pretty much resigned to applying again. For the imaginary second round, I would scrap my sample and write something new (with enough time to revise, of course). I was comfortable with the writing I submitted–it did represent my best work to date, and it was more polished than anything else I’d written–but rereading it later, I realized I hadn’t pushed the stories or my characters hard enough, hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. It was the best I had done, but not the best I could do, if that makes sense. I would aim for powerful writing over pretty writing.

I would also change a few of my schools–I’d be a little more open on location and a little more honest with myself about what I wanted in a program. It made little sense to apply to Alabama when I wasn’t an experimental writer and didn’t see myself becoming one, for example. (They just have such good football, though… Mostly joking. Mostly.) When a rejection came in and I didn’t really care, that told me which schools to consider crossing off the list in a second round. I’m glad, of course, that I am where I am at UK. But the long weeks of March and April showed me a lot about myself and the decisions I had made during my application process.

Image: Matthew Hester

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.