MFA Research Guide
The application process for the Master of Fine Arts degree can be arduous and time consuming, but proper preparation and research can make the ordeal far less stressful.
Factors to consider when researching graduate programs:
- The availability of teaching assistantships
- The size of the program
- Their approaches to workshops and coursework
- What members of the faculty are currently teaching at the program
It is important not to rush through this process. Taking the time to seriously consider your needs is instrumental in finding the program that fits you.
While it is a good idea to pick multiple schools when applying for any graduate degree, it is especially important for the MFA. Because the selection process depends a lot on a matter of taste and preference, applying to multiple programs increases your chances of acceptance. It is usually a good idea to apply to as many programs as fees allow.
The Application Process
The personal statement is much like an introduction. Without giving too much information or taking up a great deal of time it allows prospective programs a brief presentation of your goals, interests, and commitment to writing. It is important to be formal and clear. And remember that cliché is never an attractive quality in a writer. Strive for originality without spectacle and remember that this statement, although no more than 1-2 pages, is representing you as you seek out an eligible program.
The Writing Sample
Once you’ve selected the programs you’re interested in, it’s time to start putting together your application materials. The writing sample is an important part of your application and is by far the most influential aspect. You should give yourself a lot of time to work on it. Asking a professor experienced in the MFA process to look over it would be incredibly beneficial, providing you give them plenty of time in advance. Fine tuning and revising your writing sample should be taken as seriously, if not more so, as the rest of your application materials.
Not all programs require the Graduate Record Examinations but there are quite a few that do. The requirements for admission of the school you’re applying to should be on their website. But in the interest of providing yourself with more options, if you can take the GRE it would be a good idea to do so. Register early, preferably during the summer, because students nationwide are registering for the same exam. Finding an available testing center and a decent time slot becomes more difficult the longer you wait to register.
Letters of Recommendation
Most MFA programs require two to three letters of recommendation. This is another part of the application that should be thought of earlier rather than later. Request letters from professors that you respect and have a good working relationship with. Some MFA programs require attachable forms to go along with these recommendations. Getting those forms to these professors should be done as promptly as possible. Make sure that your professors have the correct mailing address for the programs you’re applying to.
The MFA program will require the transcripts of any university you have attended. If you are a transfer student, get in touch with past schools you’ve attended and request they be sent to your programs of choice. It is better to do this early so that your application isn’t hindered by missing documents. Transcript Request forms can be picked up at the Registrar’s office or downloaded online. Several MFA programs require you to send your transcripts be sent to graduate admission office and the individual program you’re applying to. It is imperative that check each program to see whether or not they require multiple transcripts be sent.
Often, programs have separate forms for teaching assistantships and financial aid. If you’re interested in applying it is important to make sure you’ve filled out the paperwork and submitted it with the rest of your application materials. Most programs’ websites have checklists for applicants. Before sending off your application, you should review these lists to make sure there’s nothing you’ve forgotten.
May – June – July – August
Summer is an ideal time to research programs you’re interested in. There are plenty of resources available for students pursuing an MFA (listed below). Spend ample time looking over the program’s website and attempt to get a feel for whether or not it will be a good fit. If you do find a program that peaks your interest it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the faculty in your discipline. If feasible, visit a handful of the institutions you’re applying to. Environment should be just as important a factor as ranking, financial assistance, and opportunities. If accepted, this is where you will be living and writing for an extended period of time. It is important to consider your surroundings.
The summer is also a good time to work on your writing sample, one of the most important aspects of the application. Spending time on this during the summer frees up a considerable amount of time during the fall semester and allows you an opportunity to redraft or edit the piece later if it doesn’t meet your standards.
This is also a good time to prepare for the GRE. Some students use this time to study for the examination while others decide to complete them during the summer. In either case, because of the high demand for seats at testing centers it is a good idea to register for a time that suits you before they become unavailable.
At the beginning of the semester, it may be worthwhile to request a professor in the English department, preferable specializing in fiction or poetry, look over your writing sample and give you feedback. This can only increase your chances of getting accepted and most professors are more than happy to lend a helping hand if you give them enough time.
The beginning of the semester is also the time to begin requesting letters of recommendation. Remember to select professors with whom you have a good working relationship. These requests should be made early so as to give professors enough time to formulate and write their letters without being rushed.
If you haven’t done so already, register for the GRE.
October – November
This is the time to begin your applications if you haven’t started already. As in any process, there is always the chance that someone—whether they are yourself, the post office, or the office of the program you’re applying to—will make a mistake. Giving yourself plenty of time before the deadline will allow you to correct any mistakes without having to rush or panic.
Remind those you’ve requested letters of recommendation about upcoming deadlines and provide them with the information they need in order to send the applications. If there are any programs that request electronic submissions, make sure your professors are made aware when emails containing the link are delivered.
December – January
Most deadlines range between mid-December and mid-January. Hopefully, all of your applications have been submitted in full. Congratulations in successfully completing your MFA applications.
Poet’s & Writers Magazine
An extensive database of MFA programs. The database allows you to search for schools by state, gives the names of a program’s core faculty members, the genres it supports (i.e. poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction), the total size of the program, and the deadline for each school, available funding and employment opportunities like teaching and research assistantships, and the program’s literary publications.
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs
An extensive database which allows you to intensively customize your search by genre, program type (studio, research, low-residency, etc.), and location. It even allows you to search for specific faculty members and find the programs they’re associated with. The search provides a lot of information, including:
- The contact information for the institution
- A program description
- Core faculty members and recent visiting writers
- Degrees offered and genres
- The type of program
- Length of residency
- Semester hour requirements (and additional requirements)
- Application and deadlines and requirements
- Average annual cost and financial information
- The Association of Writers and Writing Programs
Creative Writing MFA Handbook
Advice regarding applying for the MFA degree. The blog’s regular contributors are at various different places in their writing and academic careers. Some of them are instructors at MFA programs, some already hold their fine arts degree, while others are in the process of earning them.
Articles that deal with the process of selecting an MFA program