2016, Archives, October 2016, The MFA Years

Navigating the MFA Application Process: An Interview With Sarah Duncan

Image: AI_HikesAZ

How many programs did you apply to? How did you narrow your list down?

I applied to about 8 programs—one of which was not an MFA, but an MA in Expressive Arts Therapies. I could see myself taking a few different paths, so I wanted to see what the applications brought me before I made my decision. I narrowed my list down based on the programs themselves. I was looking for programs that didn’t seem too pretentious or too steeped in the white western cannon; I wanted programs that allowed for other study, like a minor or a dual focus; I wanted programs that allowed for multiple kinds of teaching opportunities; I did look at rank, but not very seriously; I looked at the way the programs presented themselves to students, and if they made it difficult or easy to apply. I also looked at only fully funded programs, because for an MFA I wasn’t looking to go into too much debt (though I don’t judge anyone who does!)

How did you approach your sample? Did you submit the same one to every program?

I took a poetry class a few months before I started applications, which I highly, highly recommend. I was able to submit recent, strong poetry in my sample, and I also was able to have my writing teacher from that class serve as one of my references. I credit that class with getting into a fully funded program, 100%.

Best moment of the application process? Worst moment?

Hearing from Wyoming, naturally.

Worst moment?

Anytime I had to pay a fee of any kind. Those fees are ridiculous. And don’t get me started on how much the GRE is….

What tips do you have for applicants?

  • Take a poetry or writing class before you compile your sample!
  • Ignore Ivy league stuff/status stuff, try and find a school that will actually give you the experience you want.


Sarah Duncan is a queer multidisciplinary writer, performer, educator, troublemaker, and organizer. Her poetry has been published by Ghost House Review, nin Poetry, and Souvenir Lit. Sarah has performed in and curated poetry events around NYC for the past five years, and her writing interests are the personal, the political, and everything in between. Currently, Sarah is getting her MFA in poetry at the University of Wyoming. She is studying queer and critical race studies. She organizes withShowing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and is a local lead for SURJ Wyoming.

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