Applying to an MFA program III: Preparing paperwork.

Welcome to part III of our “Applying to a Creative Writing MFA program” series. Yesterday, we looked at steps we can take to prepare ourselves for a write-every-day / ready-every-day MFA lifestyle. Today we look at the importance of organizing the application process to save our sanity.

Every MFA program has a slightly different application process. It’s easy to get tripped up here. Some want letters of recommendation, others only want references. Some want official transcripts, others let unofficial transcripts slide. Some have an entirely online process, others only accept applications through the mail. A smart candidate will want to compare schools, while having submission information handy. I recommend you be easy on yourself and…

Create a program database.

I’m not an MS Excel expert, so I made a table in MS Word listing the following:

  • The name of the grad school and the city.
  • If the program was an MA or MFA (there’s a big difference – if you don’t know it, you’d better find out what it is.)
  • The length of the program (an MA is typically two years, an MFA is typically three).
  • If it had multiple genres (optimally, I wanted a program with both fiction and screenwriting – this ended up being my deciding factor, by the way).
  • What specific application materials they needed.
  • What day the application materials were due.
  • What day I sent the application materials.
  • What day I heard any response.
  • If this seems like overkill, then don’t do it. Keep track of your proposed life changes in your head. I’m sure it will work out fine. My snarky point, similar to my point yesterday about investing time and money in the application process , is if you’re not willing to do the work necessary to apply for an MFA program, what makes you think you’ll succeed in an MFA program?

    Besides organizing your digital materials, you’ll need to…

    Create files for paper materials.

    I’ve yet to run into an MFA application process which is 100% digital, so be prepared to make your mailing process as smooth as possible. Your files should contain ten copies of each of the following:

  • Resume / CV.
  • 10″ x 13″ heavy-duty Manila mailing envelopes.
  • Unofficial transcripts (only pay for what you need, but order them early).
  • Writing sample(s) with cover sheets.
    Notice your Letter of Intent isn’t in this file. This should remain digital until you print it out per application so you can personalize it to each program. All of these paper materials should be ready to go because…

    January 15th is (typically) your magic date.

    You’ll find this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but grad schools tend to make their decisions early, and deadlines float around January 15th, give or take two weeks. That deadline is there merely as a threshold, not as the day to send things off. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with waiting until the last minute to send your application, unless something could go wrong at the last minute. Do you get what I mean?

    Finally, a word of caution…

    Applying for Grad School doesn’t mean you’re applying for Grad Assistantships! It’s a separate process!

    I didn’t know this and had no assistantships my first year. I couldn’t tell you what ran through my head when applying. Perhaps it was, “Oh, an application for school automatically qualifies me for assistantships.” or “This application makes people want to give me jobs and money.” Whatever the naïve thoughts I had, I ended up without assistance my first year in the program because I made a silly assumption. Either add assistantships to your database or create a separate one.

    Today’s Action Item: Create your database!

    Tomorrow we’ll look at what you can do to build your pool of references and how to procure letters of recommendation.


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

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