2016, Archives, December 2016, The MFA Years

The MFA, Money, & Diversity (or lack thereof)

Image: http://401kcalculator.org

This post is about diversity BUT I think it’s useful to anyone negotiating money after receiving acceptances:

Most MFA programs lack diversity. It ain’t a secret; going to school for three years to write stories and/or poetry is probably the bougiest thing you could ever do (besides paying for fluff-n-fold, which I low-key did sometimes when I had a full-time job).

If you’re from an underrepresented community (ie. a POC or a first-generation college graduate), many graduate programs have additional fellowships available to you. Before I started my MFA program, I was working in college admissions at a private school in California. Almost immediately, I noticed a pattern that was killing me: After being admitted to the school, the students who asked for (or demanded) additional funding were almost never the POC or low-income students. Often, when a low-income student didn’t receive enough funding, they’d either choose to go into debt, or they’d choose not to attend the school at all. But, of course, the students who asked for more funding from the college are the ones who received MORE MONEY.

So if you’re an underrepresented minority applying to grad school and are admitted, advocate for yourself and ask about additional fellowships.

For example, one of the programs I was admitted to offered an additional $10,000 fellowship for first-gen college graduates. I had to apply for it. It took 10 minutes to fill out the application and I received the fellowship. That was it.

The program that I currently attend offers a fellowship for students of color called the McNaira competitive diversity fellowship offered at many universities. It cuts your workload in half, so you have more free time to write, or more free time to take on extra work to supplement your living stipend (which is what I’m currently doing). I wasn’t initially offered the fellowship, and was only offered it after I let the program director know that I was going to take a better financial offer elsewhere. And, as I predicted, the program director came back and offered me the additional fellowship; they also found me a job working with one of the deans on campus on diversity initiatives, per my request.

The point is, I got these things only AFTER I’d asked for them. Because, sadly, this is how college admissions works. Education is education, but it is also a business.

Finally, once those acceptances start rolling in, please remember that you are always allowed to ask for more. YOU ARE WORTHY of more. And these programs know they need more diverse voices. Literature needs more diverse voices.

Good luck and lots of love as you finish submitting those apps! <3

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