Skip to content

Learn from My Mistakes: Advice on Applying to an MFA Program, part 4

2012 June 12
by Timothy

This is the fourth and final post in a four-part series on applying for an MFA. See part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.


At this point in this series, I should mention something that you won’t want to say out loud: you might not get into some of the schools you apply to. Hell, you might not get into any schools you apply to. And that’s ok. If getting an MFA feels right to you, then you’ll apply again. Use the extra time you’ve been given to make your portfolio even better, get more life experience and use that to say to schools, “Look! I’m dedicated, passionate, and positive! I will do wonderful things in your program!”

Throughout the whole application process, from the moment you decide to apply, to the moment the last acceptance (or rejection) letter arrives in your mailbox, keep reading and keep writing. Do this apart from your work on applications and your portfolio. Keep writing because it’s the only way to remember why you want to keep writing.

Here’s what I mean: For awhile while I was applying, I didn’t read a whole lot, and I wrote even less. I mean, there was a ten-day blank in my notebook—I didn’t even write down the weather. Then, after those long days of feeling totally discouraged, I said, screw it and set aside all my application materials, and considered telling my letter of recommendation writers that I wasn’t applying. I was done. I spent the evening reading and feeling relieved. I devoured everything I read. I sat next to my bookshelf pulling collections of essays and poetry and reading at random. I read the latest issue of the New Yorker and fell asleep reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. The next morning I felt invigorated and excited, so I wrote a poem and two more drafts of my personal statement. I had inadvertently reminded myself why I was applying in the first place.

You’re applying to get an MFA in writing, so make sure to remind yourself why you’re doing it. You wrote about why you’re doing it in your statement of purpose, but sometimes you can lose sight of those things, and some of the small things that make you want to be a writer. Keep reading new things and letting yourself be inspired by them. Keep writing new things. It’s easy to spend a few months revising your portfolio, and then simply not write a thing while you wait to go to school. Remember, though: you’re doing this for you not because anyone wants you to, and especially not for the sake of the program. In the end, an MFA program should serve you, not the other way around. Keep writing, keep reading.

And to those of you applying to MFA programs, I wish you a hearty good luck! It ain’t easy, but it sure is rewarding.

This is the final part of this series of advice, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few things. Feel free to leave comments on any of these posts with your own stories and advice. If you’re still feeling lost, you can email me at timothy[at]hazelandwren[dot]com and I’d be glad to share some encouragement. Better yet, contact someone at a program you want to attend and ask their advice.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
2 Responses
  1. October 23, 2013


    It’s been a long time since you wrote your series but I’m in the process of preparing my apps for MFA programs and I found this really helpful. Thank you for posting it.

    • Timothy permalink
      October 24, 2013

      I’m glad you’ve found it helpful! Applying to MFA programs is difficult, time consuming, invigorating, terrifying… I could go on. Best of luck! Stop back and let us know where you’ll be!

Comments are closed.