Best “Worst” Advice When Applying to Creative Writing MFA Programs, Part II: Actual Advice

So! You have decided that this year is the year to apply to MFA programs. You are ready to eat, sleep, breathe, panic, breathe again, drink, and embody creative writing theory and workshops. Maybe you’re fresh-faced and naively eager for the application process, maybe it’s your third go-around and you’ll be damned if you get waitlisted again, and maybe you’re already regretting this decision—we all know how unpredictable the reasons for acceptance are at any particular school. The factors are too many to name for why X gets accepted to all four of her prospective schools while Y waits on five of their eleven choices to even verify they’ve received his application and, well, we won’t even talk about Z missing their phone call interview due to a wrong number. There’s only so much we can control before the committee takes our application (and sometimes our life) into their discerning hands. This guide is to offer just a little bit more control as you begin piecing together your very best self to all twenty of your top choice schools. (No judgement, we applaud your tenacity.)


Photo by Zfootage

  1. Do your research. Yeah, we’ve all heard it, we know, but make sure you’re aware of who teaches there this year and the next (Good luck to you if you fawn over visiting faculty in your statements when they won’t even be employed there by the time you arrive.) and what their work is (Read at least a book by all faculty in your emphasis.), who’s graduated recently from there and what their work consists of (Skim a bio at least.), and how the program operates: is it low-residency, a three-year academic and studio program, research-based, fully-funded, partially-funded, a cult that requires your undying devotion and first publication rights? Make sure they are a best fit for you before putting in your time and effort on the application.


  1. Be Prepared. Very simple. 2a. Save your money. 2b. Know each school’s deadline. 2c. Know what material each school requires for a complete application. Spreadsheets are very helpful here.


  1. Make it easy for your recommenders to, well, recommend you. Provide clear instructions for each school that includes: how they need to submit their recommendation (online, what’s the email or server; in paper, give them a stamp and envelope already addressed) and by when. (Provide the absolute deadline date.) Also provide samples of your written work, better if it will be your submission so they can use you to promote you, and your personal statement for each school. Try to provide at least the drafts if timing does not allow, so they too know why you want to go there and can reference it while praising your good qualities.


  1. Spend an equal amount of time, if not more, on your personal statements as you do on your writing sample. The school needs to know who you are as a student and as an individual, what you can do and have done as a writer/person in the literary community, where you want to go as a writer, and why their specific faculty and institution will help you get there. Throw in some knowledge about your chosen genre’s history (who’s influenced you) pepper it with clear and concrete reasons for why you are a terrific literary citizen, add a dash of earnest hope, and you’ll at least get them to read the whole thing through.


  1. Finally, send in your best work. Obvious, but make sure at least two other people agree that it is your best work (five or more if you have such an honest and productive support system), know that you have edited and revised and worked towards your best work, and then for the kicker have these people tell you what they think is your most riveting piece. You want to start with your absolute best writing, and you may not always know which that is. Every poem or short story or excerpt should be able to demonstrate your skill and promise. You deserve to be accepted, so make sure the committee knows that by the first line.


We hope this was somewhat helpful; we hope you don’t stress out too much, and we hope you get in! Who knows, maybe we’ll see some of you next year at orientation.

For even more application advice, check out Adele William’s article “Best Worst Advice When Applying to Creative Writing MFA Programs.”


Makensi Ceriani is a first year poetry candidate at Virginia Tech. She is a poetry reader for the minnesota review.


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