mfa programs

Interview about the MFA Application Process

Whittier Strong, an MFA applicant, sat down with TellTell to give us the low-down about the application process. Check out his website here What schools are you going to apply to? University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of British Columbia-Vancouver, University of New Mexico, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, Ohio State University, University of Guelph-Humber, University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University-Camden

How did you narrow down your process? What were some of the important factors for you? I had a number of factors that cut my list pretty quickly. First, I wanted to study creative nonfiction, which automatically eliminated many schools. I also have a keen interest in playwriting, so I wanted to attend schools where I could either study that as a secondary emphasis or could slip in playwriting classes as I was able. Health concerns keep me out of hot, humid climates, and my inability to drive restricts me to cities with decent public transit. I wanted opportunities to teach. Lastly, I wanted a decent chance at funding, though I'm willing  to take on some debt for the Canadian schools, since it gives me the wonderful opportunity to study in a foreign country.

When are you moving and what are you planning on packing? Though I have a year to go, I'm giving great thought to my packing. I know I'm going to have to get rid of a lot of stuff. I'm okay with this, as I have too much stuff to begin with. If I end up at the University of Minnesota, this will be the easiest move--I'd likely be moving just a couple of miles. (I will definitely be moving out of my current home, however.) For most of the schools, I will probably travel by Greyhound and pack my maximum four bags, and then have some things shipped out to me (my bike, my printer, my guitar, my most essential books). If I end up at Alaska, I will have to come up with an even leaner plan. I've had to get rid of virtually everything I own as part of a move more than once in my life, so none of this really concerns me.

What are 5 things that you are DEFINITELY NOT taking with you and why? -"Non-essential" books. If I *know* I'm never getting around to reading it, and it's not essential to my career in the near future, I'm (quite reluctantly) getting rid of it.  Lots of my trinkets I've collected over the years. I want to only keep the ones that have the deepest meaning to me. And a lot of things, like programs from shows and such, could be pared down to a page or two and put into scrapbooks. - Furniture. Given the way I'm moving, it's absurd to think I'm keeping any of it.  Cookware/flatware/etc. Same reason. All easily replaceable. - My jewelry-making supplies. Since I went back to school, I no longer have time for the hobby, so it's all sitting and collecting dust.

What do you hope to get out of your MFA? I hope to teach. I'm not of the mindset of "oh, I won't have any of it if I can't teach college-level creative writing". I'm definitely open to, for instance, teaching composition, especially starting out. My background is in philosophy, so I'm used to academic writing, and teaching students to think critically is as much a part of my values as teaching them how to tell their story. I'd be open to teaching high school, as well. I think you have to be open to multiple possibilities, not just because the teaching market is tight, but simply because life is unpredictable. If you can be completely satisfied with multiple scenarios, that is ideal.

What do you think that MFA will offer you that you couldn't get elsewhere? I'm looking forward to the opportunity to spend time with a group of people for an extended period focused on exactly the same thing I'm doing. And, of course, the MFA opens up the possibility for me to teach college.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Well, where I see myself is irrelevant, because life is unpredictable. What is my ideal, though? I'd like to have my thesis published and be in my first teaching position. And if this happens to be in Canada, that may be perfect--though I know I need to spend more time in the country before I know if this would be better for me.

Low-res vs. full-residency: How to Choose

Low-res programs Low-res MFA programs are just as good as full-residency programs but there are both good and bad things about low-res programs.

Low-res programs are good if:

  • You have to work/support a family
  • You have an established career
  • You don't want to move
  • You have enough money to spend (many times the funding for low-res programs is much lower tahn for full-res)

Low-res programs are bad if:

  • You want to teach (you don't get to teach at a low-res program and this could affect your chances of getting into a PhD program, or even getting a job after school. You have to take this into consideration when deciding whether or not you want a low-res or full-res program.)

What you need to remember is low-res programs are just as good, if not better, than full-res programs. Make your decision on whether or not you want a full-time school experience, or not. It's pretty much as simple as that. If you can afford it, and you'd rather keep your current job (or if you are already established in a career) then choose a low-res program. But if you want to be surrounded face-to-face with other writers with whom you can collaborate, if you really want that teaching time, or if you believe that being a full-time student will benefit your writing, then choose a full-res program.

Check out P&W top 10 low-residency programs

MFA Programs How Do I Choose?

There are a gabillion of MFA programs to choose from. So how do you know which one is the best for you? Well, you can do what I did which is scour the internet for information, or you can check out this link to PW's MFA information. Poets and Writers has great ranking information.  



To make my search easier I first found 20 schools I liked based on

  • Location
  • Program Offerings (2 year vs. 3 time etc.)
  • Professors
  • Cost
  • Funding Options

Then I created an excel sheet that was split into categories titled "School Name" "Application Fee" "Application Date" "Full Funding Y/N" "Location" and so on. This made it so much easier to narrow my choices. I was able to get my list down to 13 and then I applied. In my opinion, it's a good idea to start with location first and then go from there!