Best Worst Advice When Applying to Creative Writing MFA Programs

So you’ve decided to apply to MFA programs. Congratulations! You think this could be your way out, or your way in. Maybe you have spent the past three years waiting tables and writing. Maybe you just graduated and can’t get enough. No matter what led to this decision, it is a good one. And you’ll never know if you don’t try. Which that leads me to divulge the first bit of the best worst advice: don’t. even. try.

Just apply to your top 3 program choices— you’ll be good to go!

With hundreds of programs available to you all over the country, it can be an overwhelming task to apply. Luckily for you, you don’t have to. As previously mentioned, you’ll be best off not applying whatsoever but, if you insist, don’t bother applying to more than a few schools. No need. Yeah, most programs typically admit six to twelve students from an applicant pool of hundreds. And yea, funding can be limited. But the metapoetics of your work right now are irresistible. So keep it limited to only a few programs. Better yet, only apply to Iowa.

The writing sample matters somewhat

It is okay that you wrote these poems wine drunk over the past year. And that no one besides you knows that they exist. You know what rhymes with workshop? The world trying to change you. Revision is for the birds. That piece of writing you threw down while people watching on your lunch break is perfection as is. Don’t worry if there isn’t enough time to pull a strong writing sample together, your GRE scores and GPA will fill in the gaps. You already took the GRE right?

All the schools and programs are the same so don’t bother tailoring your application to any which one

In fact, don’t bother checking the application requirements, or the personal statement guidelines, or confirming any deadlines. The acceptance committee will admire your defiance. It will most likely be seen as the sign of a true artist: too creative to adhere to such social constructs. FYI, I would change the institution name as needed though. Unless you don’t have time. No biggie.

Submitting a subpar application is better than not submitting one at all

You haven’t had the time this year to really focus on your MFA application(s) like you wanted to. Go ahead and submit that application regardless. It’s all a crapshoot anyways. And honestly, everyone else is probably doing the same thing. You’ll be glad you did when you don’t get in anywhere and realize that you had the time and money to waste.

It is totally cool if your mother writes one of your recommendation letters

The best thing about your mom writing a recommendation letter? UM, EVERYTHING. She’s gonna say that your writing is awesome, that you are an amazing big sister/brother, that you always help with the dishes and, most importantly, that you are polite. Do yourself a favor, have your mom write one letter, have your dad write another, and—if you can pull it off—have your dog write one too. I mean, they know you best right? #trust


Full disclosure, I applied to 10 programs. I gave myself a year to pull it all together. I took the GRE, as a few programs do require it. I shamelessly started a kickstarter to fund my application (and GRE) fees. This was mostly just a place for my family and friends to conveniently contribute. I had several excel spreadsheets to keep it all organized. I reached out to my best bets for reccommendation letters, including a past college professor, two published writers/mentors, and a professional reference that spoke to my experience with mentoring youth. And I gave them plenty of time to get the letters back to me. I worked on my application packets nonstop. I shared my personal statements and poetry with friends of mine best suited for the task of proofreading. It takes a community. You don’t have to do it alone. But if you are alone, as many of us writers are, there are amazing resources to be found on the Internet. The point is, do it like you really want it. If you work at it regularly, cover all your bases, seek outside help when appropriate, stay organized and determined, you got a good shot. All we are all doing is trying. So try really hard.


Adele Elise Williams is an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. She is the poetry editor for the minnesota review.




One thought on “Best Worst Advice When Applying to Creative Writing MFA Programs

  1. Pingback: Best “Worst” Advice When Applying to Creative Writing MFA Programs, Part II: Actual Advice | The Minnesota Review

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