Monday, August 29, 2011

MFA Q&A: How to Pick a Program

Thanks to my blogging friend Julie Farrar, my MFA Q&A series has an encore to answer her question: How did people pick their programs? Did they visit them first or just go on someone's recommendation?

My answer: For me, low-residency programs were the only option and my criteria for applying were:
1.       Did they offer a creative nonfiction program?
2.       If so, did they have more than two faculty members dedicated to teaching nonfiction? (I wanted to learn from as many people as possible, and also hedge against the issue of perhaps not jiving with the one or two that some programs have on staff.)
3.       Reputation – until Poets & Writers came out with a ranking  – a low-res program’s reputation and quality was a hard thing to figure out, and could only be done by researching the faculty and alumni. One caveat here is that a great writer does not necessarily make a great teacher, thus speaking to alumni is helpful in determining whether that Pulitzer Prize winning author is actually somebody you’d want to study with.
4.       I applied to six programs and was accepted at five. I then asked to speak not only to faculty but also to alumni – this helped greatly in making the decision. But then again, unless you know an alumna/us, you have no idea whether his or her bias matches yours. If I’d had a writer friend back then who had gone to a particular program and was recommending it, I would have given that a lot of consideration.
I did not visit any school beforehand – I assume this would be somewhat standard if you are applying to a campus program. For low-residency programs, traveling around the country just to look at a campus wasn’t practical for me. Plus you don’t spend that much time there – it’s more about who you work with than where you work. But I do love Queens University of Charlotte’s doll-house style campus very much.
Turns out that for writers considering residential programs, funding and teaching opportunities are important, if not the most important, criteria in choosing a program. Unfortunately, these are typically not available in low-res programs. In the end, though, I would say even there the quality and the type of program are paramount in making the decision.


  1. Annetter--you are hereby named as a recipient of the Liebster Award. Read my blog today to learn more about it.

  2. Thanks for the follow-up. If I do start applying in the spring, I know I'm going to feel like I'm 18 years old again and not good enough. But at least I know what I'm doing because of this series.

  3. Thanks to Julie for asking more questions and thus give this much needed series an encore!!! Very helpful!!

  4. Glad you all enjoyed this!

    Julie - if you do apply, keep me posted!

  5. I applied and hope to get into the MFA Creative Writing Fiction program at Queens University of Charlotte in 2012. I lived in Charlotte years ago and know the area quite well. Keeping my fingers crossed!