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Questions, Answers

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 5 months ago

Questions & Answers


There's a lot of information here, but I'll leave this space for asking questions (and answering them). Anyone may do either. Just add your Q like so:


Q: when do grad school deadlines usually happen?


And then leave a blank below. Anyone else can edit the page, fill in an A, and away we go. I do think that once answered questions should be left up here, since others will surely share them.




Q: Ok, so here's a question to get the ball rolling: For a portfolio, is it better to have one super polished story/essay/whatever or have several less revised pieces? For example, a portfolio for one school I'm interested in is supposed to be 25 pages, and I have a 15 page essay and a ten page essay I'd like to submit. Should I spend most of my time making one of them really strong, or should my time be divided evenly into two less polished works?


A: It probably depends on grad schools, and I don't feel confident speaking for all admissions committees, but my thinking is that your portfolio is to show technical skill, brilliance (ideally), range, but mostly potential. Possibly the very high-end schools are more interested in seeing your ability to produce finished work (this is why it is extremely hard to get into a place like Iowa without high-profile publications; what they want is a proven track record (well, among other things) because the continued quality of their brand is important, and also because I don't think some of the very high-end schools are even really teaching institutions at all*, so they don't expect to teach you as much as they expect you to produce good work while you're there meeting their faculty, agents, and so on).


I think it really depends on the piece, and the writer, and the program, but your best bet is to turn in your very best work, but it's also good to be able to show a range of pieces (if you turn in only one piece, you take a risk of it simply not interesting the reader of the application--it's probably better to show off two at a minimum. (But again if the one piece is totally kickass, well, that trumps everything else (provided that the reader agrees). I don't think it's a good idea to turn in five 5-page essays, though, at the other extreme, or twenty 1-page essays, because most graduate programs are more interested in seeing a writer's ability to explore an essay/story in depth. So a 15-pager and a 10-pager is probably good. In poetry it's easier because most of us write short, so one naturally shows off a bunch of poems (10-15). In poetry too, though, I think it's good to show a variety of kinds of poems you can write or are interested in.


* the asterisk here is because a good rule is: the more well-known the writer, the less teaching they do at whatever school they are at (and very often the teaching that they do is not particularly hands-on; there are a lot of stories with the very high-profile names running poor workshops). This means that if you are going to a particular program wanting to work with a particular name, be aware that you may not get to work with them at all, or if you do, sometimes it's not what you had hoped. The best workshops and classes I took in grad school by far were with people that I didn't know and hadn't heard of until I got into the program. —Ander




Q: How important is publication to graduate schools. I feel I speak for most undergrads when I say that I don't have any publications outside of fishladder or the Lanthorn literary issue. Is this going to hurt my chances? Should I wait a year and try to get something into a  larger literary magazine?



A: Not really that important except perhaps with the very high-end programs. Publications show a certain kind of ambition as well as a certain amount of luck. And if you have an impressive publication, that gives people another reason to take you seriously, to give your writing a closer, more serious read. Many (or most) MFA programs want successful applicants to be able to show focus and ambition, which is not always something that people have (or can articulate) coming directly out of an undergraduate degree. Typically time off between school and school can give you more of a sense of what you want to do, what kind of work you want to accomplish in graduate school, which can also demonstrate itself nicely through the personal statement. So: Not having publications isn't a strike against you, though having publications would work in your favor. —Ander





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