How many programs did you apply to? How did you narrow your list down?
In 2013, I applied to eleven programs. I was accepted to four prorams, and was on the waitlist at two others. I did not do a lot of research, because I had been on the fence about applying to graduate school until the start of my senior year of undergrad. I made what I think is a pretty common mistake: I applied exclusively to very competitive programs with ideal funding packages. I’m not suggesting not applying to dream schools, but I just want to stress the importance of widening the net and looking for what educational environment is best for you. Ultimately, the funding didn’t work out at the programs I was most passionate about attending, so I opted to wait and reapply.
During the 2014 application period, the grace period for my undergraduate loans came to an end. In my gap year, finances were really tight. I knew I wouldn’t be able to apply to as many programs as I wanted to, so I had to make a much more focused list. Over the year, I bought or borrowed books from every fiction professor who taught at a school I was applying to. I read as much as I could get my hands on. I thought about who wrote things in styles I could identify with. Then I asked around on the draft about those professors.
I ultimately applied to 6 programs. I got into three, with two waitlists, and am now happily at GCSU.
How did you approach your sample? Did you submit the same one to every program?
My sample changed depending on where I was applying, and the page limits. Essentially I had three separate pieces that I would mix and match. One was minimalist, one was slightly experimental, and the third was very experimental. Based on my understanding of the program, I chose what I thought was appropriate. I generally sent the minimalism and one of the two experimental pieces.
Best moment of the application process? Worst moment?
It’s hard to think of a best moment that isn’t a phone call or e-mail of acceptance. Those are pretty special, but a lot of people apply more than once, so there has to be something positive to come away with either way. For me, that was just the feeling of accomplishment. If you’re working on multiple applications, it’s overwhelming. It is a difficult task to keep all of the applications separate, remembering who wants or doesn’t want what, but put the same focus and energy into each.
The worst moment is probably opening the Austin website to see the short rejection their application website reveals. I can laugh about it now, but the rejection from Madison that said “Dear First Name Last Name” was pretty rough.
What tips do you have for applicants?
The best advice I can give to any potential applicant is to focus on reading and writing. You learn a lot about a program by reading the work of it’s faculty and recent graduates. You learn a lot about yourself through writing–and really, what you put in is a reflection of what you get out, regardless of where you end up. The writing sample is the most important thing, so treat it like it’s important. Follow guidelines!
Roe Sellers is a first-year MFA fiction writer at Georgia College & State University. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Penn State in May, 2014. Originally from Baltimore, Roe is a die-hard Orioles fan. When he finishes his MFA, he hopes to break into film, rebooting the Jaws franchise by writing a new script from the shark’s point of view.
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