Four MFA Programs and a Question

Well, a question for me and a question for them, anyway.

For Me: How far away is the next finish line (my advanced degree) exactly?

Before deciding on graduate school as the first significant step to my next grand adventure, I had my eye set on one school. Focused attention for focused results and all that jazz. However, the prep work beyond saving money (to move cross-country and get a refurbished desktop computer and and paying the application, and not necessarily in that order) could take longer than the program itself.

If I’m going to take care of babies that call me “Mommy,” I’d like to do that sooner rather than later.

Graduate programs in creative writing require in their application process:

  • the writing sample;
  • all undergraduate transcripts;
  • three Recommendation Letters;
  • a personal history statement;
  • a statement of purpose; and,
  • (some, not all) a project proposal.

The program I originally considered also required GRE scores and being translator-fluent in another language. Studying for a major test that I may have to pay to take multiple times and going hardcore on the Duolingo front just to apply means the base timeline of Apply Until Accepted + Length Of Program would have a third leg of time that could just be done on my own time without it actually affecting the timeline of my next 20+ year adventure.

Strikes one (standardized test) and two (time spent learning language to apply) against that program.

Now, back to the bullet points, the Personal History  Statement could (and would) touch on previous issues in my academic career that left me with solid-but-less-than-stellar transcripts. But those same issues left me wondering what to do about the Recommendation Letters.

Googling was not helpful. Most advice came down to visiting old professors to jog their memory (if it has been a few years since they taught you) and making them more inclined to write you a letter. But I don’t want to jog their memories, I want to rewrite them in light of the fact that at no point in my academic career did anyone have any idea that I had OCD let alone the compulsion known as Pervasive Avoidance that made getting homework done the struggle that it was.

And since randos on the internet were being shockingly unhelpful, I decided to pose the question to the program I’d initially been interested in, plus three more selected for being (1) fully-funded, (2) near my sisters and the babies (my niece and nephew), and (3) well-designed programs with no GRE or foreign language requirement.

For Them: What do you recommend for applicants with Zero Professors in their life who they can ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

The school I’d initially been interested in auto-responded saying the intern in charge of answering such questions would be out of the office until such-and-such a date. So where’s the intern who’s job it is to answer the question when Intern Number One isn’t there? And how do you not have a a back-up in your budget, aren’t university interns unpaid?

Strike three, you’re out.

The other three programs all responded, and they all started their responses with something along the lines of it really is preferable to have the letters come from former professors. BUT they all followed that statement with a BUT followed by the following goldmine:

  • you should at least get the letters from folks who are qualified to assess your current academic ability;
  • you should get the letters from folks who can assess your potential for success in a rigorous graduate program;
  • you should, in a paragraph or less of your Purpose Statement or Personal History Statement, briefly explain your situation;
  • you can get the letters from anyone who can speak about the excellence of your writing;
  • you can get the letters from anyone who can comment on your work ethic/seriousness as a writer/etcetera; and,
  • one school even said the requirement is generally waived for those out of school for a while.

It’s not as much about who is writing the letters as what is in the letters: ability to do what is required of me, creativity (always), commitment to show up and be present.

Now, I haven’t shared which schools said what because there’s something beyond the list of alternatives that I wanted to share:

If you’re thinking about graduate schools, get in touch with them with any questions you have because how they treat a prospect is important information to have PLUS you get to here from the horse’s mouth what is you want to know.

As googleable as everything is, google doesn’t have all the answers. Also, you’re looking at graduate school, you should how this research thing works beyond wiki by now. Just saying.

Also published on Medium.