Thursday, October 28, 2010

Applying to MFA Programs

This is the time of year when prospective graduate students consider creative writing programs (MFA, MA or PhD.)

I worked towards my MFA at Sarah Lawrence College from 2003 – 2005. I always say that it was a gift to spend two years immersed in poetry. After working abroad in Florence, Italy, I was happy to come home to the New York City metropolitan area. Being surrounded by other writers, as both inspiring and challenging as that was, and having the time to write, I was able to read widely, practice and improve my craft skills and participate in the poetry scene in New York City.

Of course, nothing is perfect. It would have been easier with more funding. Being close to my family after having lived abroad, it is possible that I was distracted from my writing more than I would have been elsewhere.

Studying at a small liberal arts college means close attention from the faculty, especially at SLC, but it also means that there aren’t teaching opportunities on campus. The program helps to set up teaching opportunities in the surrounding areas and perhaps a lighter (or non) teaching load means that the students can focus on their own writing more fully. I picked up a class at a nearby community college during my final semester with the thought that I might enjoy it and want to pursue that route. The experience helped me to eventually land a full time teaching position at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

So how do you make your own decision about what kind of degree to pursue and where to pursue it? You could start with Poets & Writers 2011 MFA rankings (a controversial list for sure, considering that part of the information was gathered from perspective students, rather than current students or alums). The magazine offers some additional information about full-time and low-residency programs.

AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs offers a guide to MFA programs. New Pages includes a list of MFA, MA and PhD programs in creative writing.

Of course, there is also Anis Shivani’s fiesty article, “MFA System Corrupt And Undemocratic?” published
recently in the Huffington Post. You’ll want to follow it up with the lively response, including the comments section, on the MFA Blog.

For more useful sites to help you in your research, see Erika Dreifus’ list of links.

When you are looking into various programs, I recommend asking the following questions:
What kind of funding is available? Will it continue every year that I’m enrolled?
How many subject classes (vs. workshops) will I be taking?
Are there opportunities to teach?
Are there internship programs or on campus jobs available?
Is there a literary journal I can work on in order to gain publishing experience?
How available will the faculty be to work with me?
How many faculty will I study closely with (thesis, independent study, etc.)?
How many courses are required?
How large are the classes?
Can I take language classes and/or translate work into English?
How strong is the alum network?
How expensive is the area?
Will there be job/social opportunities outside of the school?

Feel free to ask additional questions or share advice below in the Comments Section.

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