Applying to an MFA program V: Visting grad schools.

Welcome to part V of our “Applying to a Creative Writing MFA program” series. Yesterday, we examined strategies of building our reference pool. Today we have a word on why visiting grad schools is worth your time, effort, and money.

It’s probably been a while since the college visits you took during high school, and those were just to get excused days away from the daily grind of seven-period classroom days. If you’re balking at the cost of college visits, let me say it right now:

Visiting MFA programs before you “buy” is worth your time and money.

You’re going to learn things about the program, the campus, and the city you’d never learn on a website. I spent January of 2005 jet-setting the nation. I visited seven schools, applied for four of them, and applied to two others. That meant a trip to San Francisco and Miami/Fort Lauderdale. I don’t understand folks who can buy a car on eBay without test driving it, and I need to “feel” a college if I’m going to wander it’s hallowed halls for the next three years. I just wasn’t excited about the two colleges I applied to but didn’t visit. And of the colleges I visited, I flat-out hated two of them. One in Fort Lauderdale had open-air hallways in their English building. Meaning, instead of air-conditioned corridors or utilizing the recent invention of walls, the entire hallway system was open to the outdoors for any bird, lizard, or hurricane that felt like flying, leaping, or pummeling it’s way in to do so with great ease. Plus, it was hot, and that’s in January. Those aren’t details I’d have picked up on their website!

I also had a great time visiting the cities. I found I enjoyed Fort Lauderdale, but not the programs / campuses. I fell in love with San Francisco and a program and it became my top choice for a while. Knowing what you want out of the city and exploring it will help you decide if you can live while you study. After all, life isn’t only book learnin’ – there’s the development of street smarts to consider. Speaking of smart, let me tell you right now…

Skip the admissions tour.

Of all the campus tours I took, not one made me want to attend the program. In fact, one tour guide was so disinterested in walking me and my friend around I felt like a burden. At another, all the information they had was for potential undergrads, not grad students; they kept apologizing in their presentation whenever it covered an aspect of being an undergrad only.

Tour the campus on your own. Do contact or stop by admissions for general literature about the campus, but that’s all you need. I love admissions, I’ve worked with admissions and they’re great for potential undergraduate students, but they seldom have what an MFA candidate is looking for. Your best bet is to…

Make a visit with the English Department a priority.

Email and websites only go so far. There’s something about personal, one-on-one contact which can help put you on the mind-map of English personnel. Of the programs I visited, I spoke directly with the head of the program at three, and someone involved in the program at another two. I struck out at a couple because I visited campus over winter break. One program, University of San Francisco, even had three informational meetings to attend, and each had over one-hundred potential students – all for approximately fifteen MFA candidate slots. It was a fascinating session, but it put a lot into perspective for me.

I spoke with the head of the program I’m currently enrolled in over email, then in-person during a summer visit back to Minnesota in 2004. It may be no coincidence that the program I pursued earliest is the one I chose, but if you know how to sell yourself in-person as well as you do on-paper, a campus visit is the way to go.

Today’s Action Item: Set up your campus visit!

You should already have at least one grad school in mind by now, so get cracking and knock on their door. Send an email to Admissions, the English department, and the head of the MFA program telling them you want to visit. Response time will vary because most colleges are on winter break, but someone will get back to you soon (Admissions will likely be first).

Tomorrow we send off our applications!


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

1 thought on “Applying to an MFA program V: Visting grad schools.”

Leave a Comment