The MFA application process can be a chaotic, stressful experience, so you’ll want to do everything you can to minimize stress. The best way to do this is to keep as organized as possible. This is important not only for yourself but for your letter of recommendation (LOR) writers. Your former professors, bosses, etc. have been kind enough to agree to help you out, so you’ll want to make the process as easy on them as you can. Now, if you’re anything like me, you might not be the most organized person (honestly, I live 98% of my life in utter disorder). Personally, I’m not a fan of lists and I don’t like spending a ton of time arranging anything. But, I knew I was applying to 15 schools and I knew I would miss a deadline or forget to submit a required document if I didn’t become organized and fast.
So here are my tips on the best and easiest ways to organize so that you can conquer the wild beast that is the MFA application.
1. Make a Spreadsheet:
Once you pick your list of schools, pop open a word document or excel spreadsheet and arrange your schools by application due date.
I included a lot of information in my spreadsheet like:
-Due date (obviously)
-Application fee (applying is pricey so it’s nice to keep track of your costs)
-GRE requirement (include the school GRE code if the school does require scores)
-Transcripts (how many are required and what form: hard copy or digital)
-Letter of recommendations (how many and how to submit them)
-Page limit for the writing sample (I was fiction, so this was in page numbers, but number of poems works too!)
-Other required documents (expository writing samples, personal statements, etc.)
Personally, I had an overall excel spreadsheet and then a word document with further information where I copied and pasted exact information from school’s websites. And BOOM, I had all the information I needed all in one place and I didn’t have to go hunting for it. This saved me a lot of time, because believe it or not, school’s websites sometimes are very disorganized and information is hidden all over the place. It’s like they expect us writers to be treasure hunters or something.
2. Make a Spreadsheet for your LOR Writers
This spreadsheet is pretty simple. Include school name, due date (I bolded this, just so it really jumped out), and exactly how to submit the letter. Some schools require letters to be emailed, while others require it be uploaded on the school’s applications. Others require a mailed hard copy, which brings me to my next point…
3. Mail a Packet for your LOR Writers
Even if you just have one school that requires a hard copy letter to be mailed, give your LOR writers a packet, because it’s really not nice to make them provide their own stamps/envelopes. I sent my LOR writers a manila envelope with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes and a short explanatory and thank you letter. Make sure you make the due dates very visible and specify if it’s a received by date or a postmarked by date. Also, make sure to email your LOR writers a few days before each deadline to (nicely) remind them.
3. Set Your Own Deadlines and Keep Them
You NEVER want to leave applications to the last minute. At least not if you don’t want to induce mind-numbing stress and possibly blow some hard earned cash. I pretended all applications were due 15 days before their actual deadlines. This gave me a nice cushion, in case I realized the deadline was a received by date rather than a send by date, or found out that I had forgotten a certain document. And believe me, if you’re applying to a lot of schools (which a lot of applicants do) you probably will miss something. I knew so many people who were forced to overnight a needed document and that sure isn’t cheap.
I know you’re probably really busy, but seriously, don’t procrastinate on these applications. You don’t want to do that to yourself; MFA application season is already full of such doubt and anxiety that you really don’t want to make it worse.
I had a pretty smooth MFA application season with relatively minimal organization and effort. So just put some time in at the beginning to get your information straight and you should be fine!
by Michelle Donahue