Applying to an MFA program I: Why apply?

Welcome to part I of our “Applying to a Creative Writing MFA program” series. Today we ask ourselves the tough questions about whether or not we feel we’re ready for an MFA.

There are many reasons to pursue an MFA. Perhaps you want to teach English writing and/or literature. Maybe you’re looking to break into the writing biz with the proverbial Great American Novel. Or it might just be you want to improve your writing and reading abilities. The reason is wholly unique to each individual and so long as you know why you want an MFA, no one can judge you for your reasons. Yet if one is to fulfill their MFA dreams, what realities must they first confront? Here’s a list of what to consider before you jump into the MFA application process:

Applying to MFA programs will cost you time and money.

That’s just the way it is. Consider your expenses:

  • $25-75 application fees to each MFA program you apply.
  • $10-25 fees per official transcript.
  • S.A.S.E.s for those who write you letter of recommendations (we’ll talk about references later).
  • Stamps and envelopes for sending applications.
  • Travel expenses for visiting grad schools (more on this in a later post).
  • Time spent preparing application material – individualized letters of intent, writing samples, resume, gathering materials, etc.
  • $100 or so for the GRE exam (I only applied to programs which didn’t require this score, of which there are plenty) so I saved this expense).
  • Even if I eliminate my travel expenses, I spent close to $600 on the rest. Remember, you’re investing time and money to set up the next two or three years of your life. You wouldn’t buy a house without putting in the time and effort to do the research, would you? Okay, bad example…

    Not only does the application process cost money, but…

    The MFA isn’t free.

    If you have a trust fund, my hats off to you and your dreams.

    For the rest of us, there are options, some better than others. Some MFA programs have lucrative assistantships which pay for tuition, some fees, and provides a stipend; this is the case with my program where I get to teach intro-level composition and creative writing to pay my way through school and get some grocery money on the side.

    This seems to be the exception to the rule. Some grad assistantships only cover tuition, while programs simply have no assistantships whatsoever (what’s your deal, Hamline?!). That leaves financial aid, if you’re into paying off loans, or balancing grad school with a full-time job. If you’re a “full plate” kind of person like me, you’ll have a grad assistantship, plus loans and a part-time job. It keeps me busy, it keeps me frustrated, but like other less-than-ideal life situations, one finds ways to make it work.

    If you’re going to put in a lot of hard work and cold cash, you’d better ask yourself…

    How will an MFA better who I am?

    Your reason(s) for pursuing the degree are one thing, the realities of what you’ll leave with may be entirely different. You may find you’re not that great of a writer, or dread teaching, or lost interest and lack passion for the material. Is this a lesson you’re willing to learn by spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars? This, of course, is a worse-case scenario, but let’s face it – not everyone goes on to get their graduate degree, and not everyone survives a regimented grad program. This is about facing facts about who you are, how you stick to things, and if you can commit to your craft, your education, and a new lifestyle.

    These aren’t easy things to think about, but if you’re not honest with yourself at the beginning of the process, something tells me you might be in for a bumpy ride.

    Today’s Action Item: Make a Plan!

    Today is a day for dreaming a little. Write about why you want an MFA in Creative Writing. What do you want to get out of it? How will you pay for it? What’s the alternative to grad school? What if you put it off for a year? Two years? Where will you live? Who else is affected by this decision. Give this exercise at least thirty minutes of your time. Set it aside and come back to it later tonight to read it. If things look positive, and honest, maybe it’s time. If things don’t look quite so positive, but you still have interest, decide what needs to change. Remember, this is your life we’re talking about here!

    Tomorrow we take three steps toward preparing ourselves for the MFA lifestyle.


    [tags]mfa application, creative writing mfa, grad school application[/tags]

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