MFA Programs and Applications - You're Not Alone

Should I apply for an MFA in Creative Writing?

Lucky versus Fortunate - Are MFA Admissions just a Game of Chance?

What are the benefits of an MFA in Creative Writing?

Picking the "Right" MFA Program

Applying to MFA Programs: How to Write Your Best Manuscripts and Essays

How Does "Life Experience" Apply to Academic Writing?

Will the MFA Workshop Affect My Writing Style?

Coming Soon: Most of the links on this page!


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Would You Like to Study Graduate-Level Creative Writing?

Then you're not alone. Every year, thousands of individuals apply for Master of Fine Arts programs in creative writing. And the number of programs is increasing - with a quick look online, Poets and Writers has ranked 132 full-residency MFA programs as of October 2009. And then there are the low-residency MFA programs, programs that allow you to keep going with your regular life, interrupting it for only a couple weeks a year while you toil away independently the rest of the year.

Currently (as of January 2009), I'm a second-year MFA student at Johns Hopkins. As you'll read in some of the posts here, I feel that I'm extremely fortunate as a writer - during my first round of MFA applications, I was admitted to one of the best-ranked programs in the country (I was not, however, admitted anywhere else, not even my "safety" schools...more on that later). This isn't to say I didn't work hard to get where I am now, but there is a tremendous feeling of arbitrariness when it comes to MFA applications. The main reason for this is due simply to the sheer volume of applicants versus the number of program slots available. Selection committees must winnow down the writing samples to small percentages of those who applied, and then there's no possible way they can e-mail the rejected applicants with words of encouragement, something alone the lines of "we liked your story, please apply next year."

MFA Applications: Luck or Hard Work?

Applying - and getting in - to MFA programs has teh aura of arbitrary attached to it. Fortunately, this urban legend is, to a certain degree, unfounded - hard work and talent definitely pay off. But there's still some pretty Stiff Competition.

Should I Apply to an MFA Program?

It's a very personal decision, one that can hopefully change your life and make it more interesting while providing great writing time. But are you ready to apply? Here are some Things to Consider.

Poetry Is Ambrosia for the Soul

And I highly recommend it for any student of writing. For tips and resources, visit our Poetry Resources Page. Understanding poetic technique is important - it teaches us to write sentences that resonate. It isn't enough to have good narrative and tension and characterization - you want to write stories that make the reader forget it's all a printed dream. And poetry can help you produce lines that glide off the pen and into the reader's soul.

Fiction - The Art of Telling the Story

Are you writing a novel? Do you love short stories? Learn techniques on developing plot, characters, setting, and other valuable skills by visiting our Fiction Page.

This said, I still encourage anyone who's interested to go for it. Admittedly, the application is challenging and stressful. There's real pressure to put forth your "very best" work - first you have to winnow down your own stories to choose the ones with "the best chance" of being accepted, then you edit them the best way you know how, and then you wait. As the months pass, self-doubt creeps in - you wonder if you're good enough, or if you picked the right stories, or "if I should have sent..."

Don't fall prey to this. The best advice I received came from a friend of mine working on her MFA in Theater Management: "You just send them in and stop thinking about them." It's impossible to follow this completely (at least for me...), but it's the best approach. Work your stories, send them in, and keep going with your life. Make alternate plans in case you don't get in. Set it up so your pleasantly excited and thrilled if you get in, but not devasted if you don't. Know that the fact that you are reading this means you're a serious writer - I have never met and MFA applicant who isn't.

Poets and Writers ranks MFA Programs

They don't rank Johns Hopkins as highly as I'd like (not that I'm biased or anything...) but Poets and Writers is one of the most important magazines in the writing community, and their list of full-residency MFA programs provides a great place to start. This is to the list updated in October 2009.

Creative writing MFA programs, from everything I've seen, are very much like NASA - people apply to be astronauts two and three times before they get the nod. Sometimes, the best preparation for getting in to an MFA program is editing the stories to apply. It forces you to evaluate where you are as a writer. It gives an opportunity to really consider your strengths and weaknesses with an eye to how others will see your work. And, of course, it gives you a wonderfully stressful deadline to practice with. (Did I use the word wonderful? By wonderful I mean that the pregnant possibility of a new life as a full-fledged grad student writer might make you want to throw up in the morning).

So with this cheerful thought, read on for tips and advice for ways you can improve your chances of getting in and then - just as importantly - make the most of your MFA experience.


MFA Blog Supports Applicants

If you're applying for an MFA in creative writing (or even just thinking about it), you should check out this blog. Several contributors have been working on it for three years, and it definitely provided some very helpful perspective when I was applying myself. And the blog is run by and geared toward applicants, so the support is genuine. (To give you an idea of the respect the MFA Blog receives, Dinty Moore recently posted there in his role as Director of the MA and Ph.D. Program at Ohio University).

Recommended Links:

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