A Prospective MFA Student Seeks Advice
I received this message via the blog, and I’m enlisting everyone’s help responding to it. Please chime in!
I have been looking at MFA programs in creative writing and have come across a problem. First, I live in Ohio where OSU is the only viable option for me to drive every day (and even that is 45 minutes one way). So I’ve been looking at some other options, mainly low residency programs. I’ve looked online and there seems to be a prejudice about which programs are best/worst.
How would I go about finding out if the programs I’m applying to will be a determent or a help in applying for work or getting published? My current choices (after OSU) are Eastern Kentucky University and Spalding University. They are not too far for me to drive once a semester or so to complete the low residency requirements.
I’m going to share a few immediate thoughts (and questions), and then I’ll open things up for comments from our sage readers.
1) I’m not exactly sure which programs this writer is perceiving as “best/worst,” though I have a few ideas. But I’m a big proponent of writers trying to match programs to their specific goals/needs. What might have struck one discussion board participant as “bad” may have been a bad fit for that person, but what if our correspondent has completely different professional goals or interests? Similarly, someone waxing eloquent about a program might have very different criteria for what a “good” program provides than our questioner does.
2) I think one aspect of what this writer is talking about is the level of support and guidance different programs offer their alumni. And given the extreme youth of many low-residency programs, that can be difficult to gauge. In my contribution to the revised edition of Tom Kealey’s Creative Writing MFA Handbook, I say this: “It isn’t necessarily fair to compare the records of new programs with ones that have been around for decades, but it is absolutely fair to ask how programs and their faculty help students transition into careers as professional writers. Relevant questions might include: ‘What happens when a faculty member thinks a given story/poem/essay is publishable?’ or ‘What counseling is offered students for post-MFA publication and job options?’ Although some people may insist on the MFA’s purely ‘artistic’ purpose, many others approach it as a professional degree. Ostensibly, you’re receiving some real training for the time, money, and effort you’re devoting here. If that matters to you, make sure it matters to the program, too.”
3) I know Ohio is a large state, and I’m not at all sure where our correspondent is living, but I wonder if she has considered all the low-res programs in Ohio/Kentucky? There are some others in those states, and they’re listed here. I’m thinking of Ashland and Murray State, for example, although if our correspondent is a fiction writer, she probably won’t be interested in Ashland (which offers concentrations in poetry and nonfiction only). By the way, I’m not at all sure she’d need to drive every day to OSU, or to any other campus-based program, for that matter.
I think I’ll pause here and ask others to share their thoughts and insights. Hope this helps!