How many programs did you apply to? How did you narrow your list down?
I applied to seven MFA programs. I narrowed them down based on price and reputation. I looked for schools that weren’t very expensive, but would still give me a decent education. I made a spreadsheet comparing prose, cons, deadlines, and application fees. It also helped me keep track of which ones I’d submitted fees to, where I’d been accepted, etc.
How did you approach your sample? Did you submit the same one to every program?
For my sample, I simply compiled several stories that I’ve written. I used all of the stories that I’m most proud of having written, because I couldn’t imagine coming up with something new for the application. All of the pieces I used had been heavily workshopped by my undergrad classmates and writing peers, and heavily revised, far prior to me even deciding to go to grad school. I made the decision to go when I was already very close to all of the deadlines, so I more or less cobbled it all together last minute. That being said, I used what I considered to be finished pieces. I used that sample for all of my applications.
Best moment of the application process?
The best moment of the application process was getting my first acceptance. A program director called me personally to congratulate me and give me the news. It was a very small program, so they liked to reach out to their potential students directly. The director gave me glowing feedback on my sample and said he’d love to have me in the program. As a writer who has yet to be published, this moment meant so much to me. I felt validated for having decided to go to graduate school.
What tips do you have for applicants?
Use a spreadsheet to keep everything organized. Narrow down the schools you really want to go to versus the ones you’re unsure about. This will save you a LOT of money on application fees. Don’t start the application so close to the deadlines, like I did. Don’t write new work specifically for your sample. Or if you do, make sure it’s heavily revised and workshopped before you submit it. It needs to be polished. Write a cover letter from the heart. I gushed about my passion for writing, how I’ve been writing my whole life, and how I always dreamed of going to graduate school. I was sincere without being over-the-top about it, so try to keep a balance between expressing your passion and enumerating your desirable qualities. Above all, let yourself forget you even sent out the application. Drink some wine, hang out with friends, and let the responses roll in.
A. A. Malina is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing from Mississippi University for Women. She received her B.A. in Creative Writing from DePaul University last fall. In addition to writing her own short stories, she recently co-founded and currently co-edits a literary magazine for creative fiction, called Cat on a Leash Review. When she’s not doing homework, writing, editing, or working, she’s relaxing in her studio apartment in Chicago with her dog-like cat, Nomar.
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