2016, Archives, March 2016, The MFA Years

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With David O’Connor

Image credit: Giovani Racca

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?

Ah waiting, waiting, waiting–is a choice. I applied to 10 programs from Rio de Janeiro. I was single, teaching ESL and managing an Irish Pub. The World Cup had just finished and I had enough savings to walk away and write. I found a position through Workaway that would cover my room and board for four hours of daily labor. I picked the remotest, most beautiful place that would have me and went there to write a novel. I ended up writing poems and reading too much Bolano. I could not put down 2666, which says much about my mindset. I applied for fiction but now I only wanted to write poems. I was anxious and angry. I wrote some good stuff. The rejections started to roll in and I almost bought a fisherman’s shack. If I didn’t get accepted, I would write from there, forever. Seriously, that was plan B. Or I might try again next year. But we all know no one needs an MFA to write. There was a weak internet connection so I stayed off social media, which helped.

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

Write daily. An MFA is secondary, and will be there when your writing is ready. Apply early and don’t rush. I spent hours and hours heart-wrenching my SOP. I ranked the programs and cities. Facebook Draft helped. I couldn’t even find New Mexico on a map until I read a motivational post from a current MFAer. (I now blame her for everything!) But yeah, patience and focus on the work, not the bells and whistles.

Biggest high? Biggest low?

The Low Point

That bloody Michener rejection. Then the others. San Diego blasted another hole in my hope and confidence.

The High Point

The acceptance email and realizing I could pay the rent and eat with the TA-ship.

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

I would have applied ten years ago. I thought I didn’t need anything or anyone to write. I was rebellious to community and going back to formal education. I thought I could do it all on my own. You can, but an MFA speeds up the process. I would recommend really analyzing the teaching loads and the teaching content because that seems to be the only thing that drags me off-track. Although it’s better than digging coal or mixing cement, choose the lesser load. Ask if there is summer work or funding. Also, treat the application process, as a learning experience. Process is the point. There will be grants, agent queries, publication pitches, scholarships, Ph.D. programs, cool residencies and a cornucopia of other opportunities that require the same application-skills. Intent. Purpose. Why me? Why this? Why now? Why not? May I seduce you with that perfectly placed semi-colon?

Learning how to persuade and entertain opens doors and application is the master-key.

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