2017, April 2017, Archives, The MFA Years

Grad School Offers: Making a Major Life Decision in Nine Hours

[Featured image: Uditha Wickramanayaka]

So you got into two (or more) awesome MFA programs… Congrats! Now, if your situation is anything like mine, you’re freaking out.

On the morning of April 15th, while I was getting dressed for work, I received a phone call from a Miami area code. My previous conversations with the director about being waitlisted gave me high hopes for the call, but I was too nervous to pick up. Instead, I watched my phone vibrating on the bed. After a minute, I had a voicemail. The director of Miami had called to say she was thrilled to offer me a spot in next year’s cohort. During the previous week, Indiana University had offered me a spot and told me that, for funding purposes, they needed a decision by the end of that day. In order to send my signed copy of the acceptance, I had to make a decision by 6 pm before I left my office.

I had no idea what to do with myself. Between 9 am and 6 pm, I had to make a decision on where I would spend the next three years of my life.

Had I had a tiny bit more foresight, I would have reflected more on the options before that day. I would have gone out of my way to speak with some students currently at Indiana and Miami, but I was reluctant to consider an option (Miami) that might never happen. In the end, I fell back on my go-to. Making a list of everything important to me. Here were my considerations when deciding to accept a program:


  • City
  • Population Diversity
  • Distractibility Factor
  • Weather
  • Travel Costs


  • Faculty
  • Student Diversity
  • “Reputation”
  • Year Established
  • # of Years


  • Cost of Living
  • Stipend Award
  • Tuition Award
  • Healthcare Coverage
  • Job Availability for Partner


  • Teaching Requirement
  • Training for Teaching


  • Conferences
  • Additional perks

Gut Reaction

  • What draws me in
  • Counterarguments

From there, I started filling in all the information I knew about each school. I was brutally honest with myself–about what I wanted, what kind of student I thought I was, what was important to me in a home and school. Afterward, I awarded “points” to each school for each factor it came out ahead. I showed my chart to a couple of family members and trusted friends who agonized with me.

To be honest, I wanted Miami real bad. I had already visited the campus, met some of the students, had several warm conversations with the director, and imagined myself laying out on the beach with a piña colada in one hand and my writing journal in the other. But, going through this listing process helped me see that what I wanted in the short term didn’t align with my long-term goals. In order to afford Miami, it was likely that I’d need to get another job. The closer to campus an apartment was, the more expensive it was. If I wanted to live off campus, I might have to buy a car. That meant even more work and less writing time. What’s more, I know I’m easily distracted by the opportunity to have new experiences. I’d almost always choose going to a museum, restaurant, club, beach, or music festival over sitting alone at my desk and writing. For these two major reasons, Indiana was clearly the choice if I wanted to take my writing seriously.

While I was making my grad school decision in nine hours, it felt very much like life or death. During that time, my dad reminded me that I was exactly where I wanted to be: choosing between two great schools where I was sure to do well either way.

Make your decision and then get on with writing.

[P.S. I’ve attached a couple of documents to this post. You can find the actual “IU vs Miami Pro and Con” list that I used to make my decision. The only information I withheld was the exact amount each school offered me, because this changes so widely from year to year that I don’t want to offer irrelevant information. Keep in mind that these programmatic requirements/ offerings were available in Spring of 2016. Each year changes are made so always do your own research. You’ll also find a Blank Pro and Con List here which you can use to make your own decision. Good luck. =D]