Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chelsea Biondolillo - to MA or to MFA, that is the question (2013)

Evening, y'all. I am not from the South, but I've lived in it for several of the last 15 years.

This season was my second round of applications. Last year, I applied to seven MFAs and was rejected by every one of them without so much as a wait-list. I spent the last year writing, revising, and submitting to online and print journals along with literary blog/mag hybrids. It seems to have helped: my feedback this year has been knee-knockingly encouraging. Just when I really needed it.

Much of the last year was also devoted to researching programs, talking to professors, weighing the different programs against my long term goals--I ended up applying to a mix of MAs and MFAs.

Right now, five schools have extended offers, and a couple more have me hanging on the line. I plan on graduating from somewhere in two years, but I am not sure where, yet. I am trying to decide between pursuing an MA in English with a Creative Writing focus, or an MFA in nonfiction. I have become the queen of overthinking, overanalyzing, and compulsive list making.

I like the MA for the additional lit foundation, and marketability it would lend me as a future prospective teacher. (I would apply to an MFA or PhD after graduation.)

I like the MFA for that solid--or nearly solid--year of writing a thesis. I mean writing is why we're all here, right?

Not to mention that each of the schools have their own strengths and weaknesses. Ayiyi.

There's still a month to go, and I am sure there yet remains a course catalog out there I can cross-reference to the Farmer's Almanac. Got any runes I can borrow? Can anyone pitch a lucky number my way? Do you know which colors are most auspicious for Oxen/Geminis?

Next time I drop in I will talk some more about what I see as the pros and cons of each program. Maybe I will have even picked one.

'Til later, CB


  1. you're a Gemini. Of course you're conflicted. :P

  2. "I have become the queen of overthinking, overanalyzing, and compulsive list making."

    You'd fit right in with our nonfiction MFA people with that!

    I don't know what programs you've been looking at, but we take as many lit classes as we do workshops (and you could use your elective credits to take more lit classes if you were so inclined).

  3. I vote MA. Had I gone straight into an MFA I'd have gotten poor funding or less options. Because I went into an MA that funded me, I got 1) the better lit foundation of which you speak, 2) the benefit of being around academics who think different than I do and thus expanded my ideas about creative writing in ways I could not anticipate, 3) the advantage of various courses like folklore (a specialty at the university I am at--whatever university you go to is likely to have some cross curricular strengths) 4) the time to get published in a real live print magazine (creative nonfiction), and earn a monthlong fellowship at the Norman Mailer colony, 5) lower competitive mean spiritedness because my friends and I are all working on very different projects, 6) enough time to complete a 60,000 word novel as my thesis in my second year 7) more connections with various MFA professors via interactions at AWP and working with them in my capacity as an intern at a journal--now if I want to find out about their programs I know better how to find out and who to contact, 8) age, age, age. I'm two years older but as I was very I unwise two years ago I'm four years wiser.

    If I were to apply for an MFA now I suspect I'd get better funding or better options, but oddly, I feel my MA was so good I may not apply for the MFA.

  4. Isn't that the dilemma, though?

    If the MA was so good that a person might not apply for the MFA, imagine how good the MFA would have been (so good they don't need to apply for a PhD, for instance...)

    Though all of those are good reasons for attending an MA program, and it sounds like John truly benefitted from his time there. Really not attacking the quality of that education, which in some cases is going to be stellar.

    Ultimately, though, the decision is going to come down to the programs themselves. Where's the better funding, what are your classmates like, is your emphasis on the academics or the writing?

    Some MA programs are going to be better options, some MFA programs are going to be worse options, but in general it should come down to what the specific program offers...


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