Posted in Deadlines & Reminders

Final Weeks Before Deadlines

For most of you, application deadlines are fast approaching as we enter the last half of November. While this tends to be a stressful time with holidays, visitors, travel plans, wrapping up other work, and so on, create a space for yourself to work on this particular project. Like anything you care about, you’ll have to carve out that time and protect it.

With 2-8 weeks remaining, here is what you need to do:

  1. Create a schedule for working on you manuscript. Determine how much time you need to finish it, and then schedule it into your final weeks. In interviews with faculty at various MFA programs, it’s been clear that the manuscript– the quality of the work and its embodiment of your interests and voice– is the most important aspect of an application. (See how I help writers with manuscripts here.)
  2. Write an amazing personal statement. “I like to get to know a candidate’s life and personality in the letter of intent, but I would recommend against being too confessional,” said Jennifer S. Davis in our 2015 interview. This is a place to really speak for yourself and the trick is in mastering language, tone, and content to create a balance of openness and professionalism. (See how I work with writers on the statement here.)
  3. Get all of your GRE score reports squared away (if you have to take it). According to the GRE website, “Score reports will be sent to your designated institutions approximately 5 business days after your order is placed. For the four recipients you choose at the test centre: Your official scores will be available in your My GRE Account and sent to your score recipients approximately 10–15 days after your test date.” If you didn’t do well on it, you can retake the test every 21 days.
  4. Remind or thank your recommenders.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the online application system. Register so that you have a log-in, and then keep track of all of your usernames and passwords.

Best of luck!

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Posted in Deadlines & Reminders

Three Months Away from Deadlines

This is the first of three posts counting down the months to application deadlines. Each post will help you structure your application process, and provide tips and reminders on the components of the application. Allowing yourself three months to prepare for MFA applications gives you enough time to fully prepare the items each MFA application will require:

  1. An online application
  2. A creative writing sample
  3. A statement (personal and/or teaching)
  4. Letters of recommendation
  5. A fee

Begin the month with some in-depth research on schools. Create a list of schools based on location, funding, faculty, length of schooling, school reputation or ranking, and program size. These priorities will be personal to you, and there is no right or wrong answer. See who you want to work with, and what special readings, programs, and events each school has to offer. Take notes on the programs and explore what appeals to you. The more you familiarize with a program, the easier it will be to write a personal statement.

Continue to write and revise throughout the entire three months. The creative writing sample accounts for 95%+ of the admission committee’s decision. Giving yourself enough time (months rather than weeks) will ensure that you are able to present a thoughtful and carefully crafted story, novel excerpt, or set of poems. Starting early will also allow you to walk away from the work to refresh, calmly problem-solve, and find a trustworthy reader or two to offer feedback on the writing before deadlines.

Now is also the time to save money. The average cost of a graduate application falls around $60-70. If you plan on applying to five schools, that’s a cost of $300-350.  If you’re applying to ten, that’s a hefty $600+. Begin saving for the application fees, and note that there are waivers for low-income writers. These waivers are usually detailed on the application or financial pages of the school.

Posted in Deadlines & Reminders, You & Me

December Deadlines

If you’re applying to December deadline schools like UC-Irvine, Brown, Cornell, the Michener Center, Ohio State, or Vanderbilt, make a checklist of what you still need to do, and stay organized.

GREs: Sign up and take them if you haven’t already. Most schools just want to see that you’re an intelligent human being; the department will have a set minimum score. You don’t need to ace it, but do your best. If it feels like too much effort to take the GRE, compare that effort to how much you may receive in return (funding, healthcare, access to writers, teaching). It may be worth it.

Recommendations: Send requests or reminders to your recommenders. Allowing 3-4 weeks for a recommendation is good form. Be sure to include your CV and a short blurb about the work you completed in the course, with the advisor, etc. Don’t forget to send your recommenders a small gift, card, e-card, etc. You never know when you’ll need help again.

Statements: Draft or redraft your personal and/or teaching statements. These aren’t throw-aways. Consider the purpose of submitting a statement (rather than just the manuscript). The review committee, made up of professors, wants to know about you. You get to speak for yourself here, so make it count. Research the schools, decide who you want to work with and why, look through the coursework, and spend time making sure your statements are both professional and personal.

Manuscript: This is the most essential element of your application. Time and again, faculty will often quantify this as 95-99% of the determining factor for admission. It’s not necessarily important to be extremely polished, but it is important that you are self-aware about what you are doing. Consider what will set you apart. Is the language precise and simultaneously full of depth? Are the characters intelligent, and self-aware? Is there tension, dynamism, a reversal, an arc, a sense of reward in reading your manuscript? Is there emotional investment in the stories? If you’re bored, your readers will be too.  Revise, research, revise more. With so little time to go, it can be difficult to look at your own work from an objective viewpoint. Find a generous but critical reader to help with your manuscript.

Good luck! I’m really rooting for you.

Posted in Answers & Advice, Deadlines & Reminders

6 months away from applications

Summer is almost here, and summer is a fantastic time to start thinking about which schools appeal to you most. This is your three-month cushion for a variety of things: researching schools, brushing up for the GRE, saving money for applications. Why? Fall should be reserved time to work on your portfolio and applications.

When I say “work on your portfolio” this entails all of the time you’ll spend thinking about it and not just time spent at the desk writing or editing. You’ll need some space to be thoughtful about what you’re doing so that your portfolio represents your best work. This is why fall, a season of contemplation, pairs well with the work you’ll need to accomplish.

In the meantime, here are a few helpful questions in considering schools:

  • Where do you really want to go most of all? And why?
  • Are there things you need to find out about MFA programs in general? For example, do you know how a stipend works? Do you know the average course load across schools?
  • Where are you willing to move? How much would it cost to pack up and move there? Is your partner willing to go there?
  • What are your priorities in selecting a school? (Funding, faculty, location, etc.)