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!