Wednesday, August 25, 2010

the perfect program

 Pull up a chair and pour a cup of coffee. This MFA thing is just beginning!

As you all know (and will continue to know, especially as deadlines loom) I am applying to MFA programs this year, for the second time. I have a solid list of possible schools and I thought I would share my criteria for two reasons. The first is to demonstrate the thought process currently spinning through my head as I attempt to make a decision that will affect the rest of my life. The second is because maybe you, Dear Reader, know of a school that fits my criteria perfectly, which I have overlooked. Feel free to share those in comments, along with advice, suggestions, and anything else you think would be useful.

Now, everyone is a unique and special snowflake, so my reasons and standards won't be universal. That said, my ideal MFA program:

Is located in the Eastern part of the United States.
I don't want to move back to New York, but I would like to be within a ten hour drive of home. I want the option of visiting on the weekend, attending weddings, birthdays and other special celebrations. I want to be a bigger part of my family, and moving a day closer will be a big help.

Offers tracks in both fiction and creative nonfiction.
I have always written fiction, and I don't think I'll ever stop. However, the creative nonfiction class I took last year (along with all the essays, memoirs, and nonfiction books I've read since) have really opened my eyes to the possibilities of other genres. I'd like the option of studying both genres and seeing where I end up.

Is a smaller program, with 10-15 students accepted each year. A writing community that extends beyond the classroom.
I like to feel special and have lots of attention paid to me. I want to work along side other writers who are also passionate, excited about their craft, who read books and go to readings and have pot lucks. I want to find comrades and cohorts, as well as mentors and muses.

Has a solid history of funding.
While I don't necessarily need a full ride, I do need at least part of my tuition paid. I don't want a repeat of last year, when Greensboro couldn't offer me a dime, because turning down one awesome school was hard enough.

Is located in a place where Nathan could easily find a job.
Not really sure about that right now, but I guess just somewhere with trees and things, that isn't being hit super hard by the recession.

Has a low to average cost of living. Is home to a smaller city, or a very big town. Has an active populace, art, music, culture, and a nice dog park.
I don't have any desire to live in a big city, but I need someplace larger than Nacogdoches. A vegetarian restaurant would be nice, or at least options for dining out that don't involve Tex Mex and fast food. Also, outdoorsy places - hiking, proximity to the ocean or the mountains, a running or cycling community, museums and coffee shops, a place that welcomes dogs and a small house with a big yard. Okay, so this last section is basically a dream list but I might as well shoot for the moon, right?

So that's my current criteria. Will I find a program that fulfills all these areas, and will they think I am just as perfect? Probably not, but the chances that I can find a program that comes close enough are good. I'm feeling excited. I'm feeling ambitious. I'm feeling inspired. And best of all, I'm feeling like this might just be my year. Sure, I've got a ways to go before I actually send in my applications, but I'm off to a good start, and way ahead of where I was at this time last year.

Fingers crossed, y'all. Fingers crossed!


  1. hOOOORAY for Optimism!! Stay motivated! You have really outlined a great life for yourself. I would LOVE to be in a place like that: bigger, better, scenic... but I love living with John more, so I'll be sticking around here for a little while longer!

    And consider this - wherever you go, Nathan is going to have better chances of finding a job than he did here...and he found one rather quickly, right? I remember him being all 'pitchman' at a garage sale. That dude can SELL. Wherever you guys end up, you'll both be just fine!

  2. Matt and I both liked Columbus, Ohio (and of course, Madison, WI). There is a future for you there.

  3. You might check out the University of New Hampshire. It's beautiful and in a great location. Not sure where your family lives in NY, but it's about a 9 hour drive to Rochester or 5 to the City. We have tons of trees! I wouldn't say the cost of living is low, but the only taxes here are property taxes.

  4. Thank you, friends!

    @Erica - I hear you! I wouldn't be thinking about leaving unless I could take Nathan with me. Luckily, we're both at a point in our lives where we're ready to go!

    @Jen - I would love Madison, but they're only accepting poetry applications this year. If I have to do a third year of applying, they'll be back on the list. I'll look into Columbus!

    @Clarice - Thanks for the recommendation! My family lives on Long Island, so that sounds like a great place, proximity-wise.

  5. Just to echo one of the other comments. I lived in Columbus for seven years, and I miss it a lot! It's not the most amazing city in the states, but it has a great restaurant and bar scene, bike paths, dog parks, the best ice cream in the world, and there's always something going on at OSU.

    Good luck!

  6. Syracuse! I don't know if it fits your criteria, it'd just be cool for you to be an hour away. Also, Nathan would have the entire freakin' Adirondacks. Or hell, even one of the SUNY schools?

  7. Chrissy, you should look at OU's MA program. It's not a true MFA, but if you're willing to have a more English-y education, it really seems to fit all your criteria. Small creative writing program, great, great instructors in both fiction and non-fiction, huge funding, Athens (while smaller than Nac) has all of the things you listed and certainly has a lot of trees and such. Plus, you'll have two years of teaching experience.

    If the MA thing bothers you, it's not that different - you might have to take more Lit classes than you're used to, but I was easily able to fit 2 extra workshops than the required 3 in my schedule.

  8. You will find the perfect one. I believe!

  9. @Moda and Mike - Okay, Ohio is sounding better. I will look into it. I would really like teaching experience, as I think I'm meant to be a professor. Thanks for chiming in! I seriously appreciate it.

    @Michael - Syracuse actually has a good writing program, but I don't know if I want to live in New York again. Though it would be cool to live near you guys... Ack! Too many choices!

    @Stokat - Thank you for believing in me!