Questions to Ask When You Write Your Cover Letter or Personal Statement
What faculty members do you want to work with (or share interests with)?
- Take time to familiarize yourself with faculty members, and then find a couple matches. This takes time, research, and intuition. For example, Michelle Herman at Ohio State works with teenage writers in addition to teaching in the MFA program, and she also has a background in chemistry. Amy Hempel at University of Florida is a known dog lover and has worked in rescues and written about working in a dog rescue. Cynthia Hogue at Arizona State University is currently working on a French translation of Joan Darc by Nathalie Quintaine. There may be an affinity here with a person or two on faculty. Maybe you also love translating French experimental poetry! Or maybe you’re writing a novel from the perspective of a teenage boy. Research the writer’s style, content, and interests, and this will help immensely with the statement and your personal understanding or feel of the school.
What additional literary opportunities does the school offer?
- Look at each school’s offerings. Almost all have a special reading series (name it specifically if you’re mentioning it in the cover letter). Others have public studios or programs where students can interact with the community, or literary reviews and journals through which writers can gain publishing experience.
Questions to Ask When You Are Admitted to School(s)
What other funding opportunities does the school offer?
- Some schools offer competitive scholarships in addition to the full funding. And there may be additional teaching opportunities, too. During my MFA studies, I taught winter intersession courses as well as summer sessions to make extra money. I also won a little money from a contest that the university library put on. You may not learn of some of these additional resources until you get there, but find out as much as you can.
What do current students and alumni think of the program and courses?
- Once you’re accepted, you can ask the administrator or faculty member for some student contacts. It can be extremely insightful to get a student’s take on who the best teachers are and why (great writers don’t always make the best or most organized teachers), how demanding the coursework is, how formal or casual workshops are, what teaching is like, what it’s like to live on the stipend, and where the best places to live are.
Do you have the means and time to visit before making a decision?
- Some writers may have the luxury of visiting one or more schools before choosing where to go. This will give you a feel for what it’s like in the program, and you’ll get a chance to meet faculty and students, and see the campus and surrounding environs.