Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone should get an MFA if they want to be a writer or editor but it was something I had always wanted to do! I love school.
Why did I decide to go for the MFA? I had 3 reasons 1-I wanted to dedicate myself to studying poetry 2-I wanted to be around a community of writers 3-I was interested in the possibility of teaching at the college level.
I first heard of the MFA concept when I was an undergrad. I went to UNC-Greensboro which has a pretty well known MFA program. I studied with Christine Garren and Stuart Dischell for poetry workshops then Lee Zacharias for fiction. I also had Fred Chappell for a modern poetry literature course. I had a few poems published in the student lit mags but I wasn’t all that involved in the poetry scene (if there was any) on campus. I don’t think it was mentioned as much which I think is a shame. When I took Drama Appreciation we were required to go to a few of the plays on campus which was a lot of fun but I don’t recall the same requirement being made of me as a poet. I did have to give a reading as part of my first poetry workshop, maybe 2 poems and it was held in a building off campus. My first poetry reading ever.
Anyway, it was during my time studying with Christine Garren that I first mentioned I was interested in doing an MFA but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to because I needed to go to work to pay off student loans etc. She mentioned Warren Wilson one of the oldest low-residency programs in the country which also happens to be in NC.
After graduation I tucked all of this away until 2006 (I finished undergrad in 1998) when the urge to not just write but to be involved with writing was eating away at me.
I knew I wasn’t really mobile and that I wanted to stay with my job while I went to school (well, financially I wanted to stay with my job but not emotionally!) so I already had narrowed down my options to low-residency or attending one of the few programs that was within driving distance. I pretty early on nixed the ones with in driving distance because they were still an hour or more away and it would be difficult based on when the classes met for me to really be a productive member of those types of programs so I knew early on I needed to go for a low-residency program.
The list of low-residency programs is huge so how did I narrow it down?
First thing I did was take out schools that required the GRE. I had no desire to go back and take the GRE. I wasn’t a good SAT student even though I always had good grades. There are so many good programs out there that this really helped me to narrow down my choices.
Second I wasn’t keen on having to do a huge paper. I wanted to focus on writing so that also helped me to remove programs from my list.
Then I started thinking about cost. There are few low-res programs that have funding but a few programs (like Naropa) were just way higher then I wanted to take out loans for. Factored into cost was travel. I decided that there were so many good programs on my side of the country (even though I really liked a few on the west coast, especially in Pac-NW) that I’d stick to my side of the country.
Once I realized I was sticking to the East Coast I decided to go to the one program that was in Charlotte, Queens, to look around. I loved the campus and the coordinator that I met with. I realized I only had to have one letter of recommendation. When I applied to undergrad colleges I only applied to one school because I knew it was where I wanted to go. I decided, that at least for this attempt, I’d only apply to Queens. If I didn’t get in, I told myself, I’d go back and apply to a wider variety of schools even though Queens still felt like my first choice. I also read a lot of the writing by authors who taught in the program and liked what I saw. This, however, I caution against. Instead of worrying about what they write, read online to see how they are as a teacher!
Well, I got in to Queens.
And I went.
And I loved it.
I don’t regret my decision but if you are considering this path applying to just one school probably isn’t the best way to go about it but then again do you want to apply to a bunch of places and go somewhere you aren’t as sure about?
Just like the decision whether or not to get an MFA as a writer is a personal decision so is the decision as to where to go. This just gives you a glimpse into how I did it.
Feel free to ask questions!