The worst rollercoaster ever: applying for an MFA in Creative Writing

This time last year I was absolutely determined that I had to get back to the USA one way or another. I was visiting Echo in LA when her dad mentioned graduate school and I wrote it off saying that I couldn’t possibly afford it. “You’d be stupid to pay for grad school,” he told me. So I had a quick browse of the courses at LSU and discovered they offered an MFA in Creative Writing. It sounded perfect. A little research later and I realised that a large portion of MFA programs are funded. I was sold. A little more research later and I found out that it is harder to get into an MFA than Harvard Law School. I was officially terrified.

Despite the statistics I trucked on because I have never wanted anything more. I wanted this more than I wanted a little sister when I was nine. It was weird knowing that I was completely in charge of this process. Nobody was telling me what to do, where to apply, when to schedule things for. I took the GRE, I worked on my writing sample,  I asked for help anywhere I could get it. My criteria for programs was that I wanted to be in the South East (to increase the possibility of being close to people at LSU), I wanted a three year program (more time to write and make the cost of relocating worthwhile), I wanted to write non-fiction primarily and I needed to be fully funded. This narrowed my choices significantly but still left me with around a dozen to choose from. In the end I applied to LSU, University of South Florida, University of South Carolina, Florida International University, University of New Orleans, Florida State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Central Florida and the University of Memphis. Florida apparently has a lot of programs that fit my criteria…. In December, out of a combination of fear and procrastination, I sat down with acceptance rates to work out the likelihood of getting in. I had an 11% chance.

By mid January all of my applications had been submitted and for two months I proceeded to jump out of my skin every time I got an email. This was where the rollercoaster really began. You know when you’re at the beginning of a rollercoaster and you’re chugging slowly up into the sky and every click on the track is building the anticipation? That’s where I was. In mid February I reached the top of the first climb when I was accepted to the University of Central Florida, for twenty-four hours I was on top of the world before I found out that I was not in the running for funding. I endured silence for weeks, spent hours on blogs, Facebook pages and websites trying to get any information I could. People would post updates saying they had gotten into schools I hadn’t heard from yet. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I was impatient for the weekends to end so that people would be back in the office reviewing applications. I stayed up late because the time difference meant I could get an email late at night. I opened an email from the University of South Florida and saw the word sorry, after half an hour of moping I actually read the rest of it and realised I hadn’t been rejected but was on the waitlist for a place. Every piece of information was a mixture of positive and negative emotion. It was brutal.

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In the end, like buses, everything came along at once. My final tally (amazingly) was five acceptances and four rejections with three fully funded offers. My two final funding offers came within twenty minutes of each other, the 10th of April was a good day. People say that applying for an MFA is a crap shoot, that good writers get passed up every year because they are not what the program are looking for. Until four days ago I was preparing to find a job and reapply next year. I have been incredibly lucky but I am also acutely aware that I would not have done so well in this process had I not had so much support from my friends, family and teachers.

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Applying for an MFA wound me up so completely that even after I knew for sure that I was going back to America I still found it impossible to relax and enjoy the process. Then I realised that if I could go back in time and talk to myself this time last year then past Megan would probably cry with happiness. I spent my last six months in Louisiana unable to discuss going home because it upset me so much. I didn’t book my flight until a month before I had to leave. Past Megan would not stop grinning at this news, although she would definitely have still gotten too drunk and fallen asleep in Walmart. Somethings stay the same regardless of whether you’re happy or sad. In August I will be starting classes at Florida International University and I am finally grinning like an idiot.

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10 steps to applying for an MFA

  1. Pick a climate, any climate! You want to be sweating 10 months of the year? See how many layers of clothing you can get on at once? Live life like Dorothy? There are MFA programs EVERYWHERE and the beauty of the United States is that it can offer you almost anything!
  2. Take the GRE. Urgh. Although don’t sweat it over the maths section.
  3. Perfect your writing sample and then completely forget about it. It is gone. Do not look at it, don’t even think about looking at it. It’s too late now to be worrying over one adverb on page fifteen.
  4. Worry that your recommenders are going to hate you when they have to submit their letters to so many schools.
  5. Calm down. No, seriously, calm down. I mean it… just… deep breaths. That’s it. Goo-  no! Stop panicking. Calm down. Oh whatever. Freak out. Either way it won’t make a difference, you’re got some waiting to do.
  6. Now freak out! You just got into a program!
  7. Grab a cushion, you’re gonna need it to take the thump out of your bump back to reality as you wait to find out if you got funding.
  8. You got funding? Well NOW you can freak out!
  9. You have three and a half months to sort your life and finances out so you can do this thing!!
  10. Don’t think about the fact that applying to grad school is the hardest thing you’ll do until you go to grad school….
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