Okay, so here’s a…

Okay, so here's a question for the group mind. What makes a great in-residence MFA program? What, ideally, should such a program offer?

  1. Professors with a great literary reputation
  2. Professors who are great teachers
  3. Tuition under $2,500/semester
  4. Tuition under $5,000/semester
  5. Tuition under $7,500/semester
  6. Tuition under $10,000/semester
  7. Tuition refund opportunities (at least for some students, some of the time)
  8. Teaching opportunities (ditto previous, may or may not come with funding)
  9. Publishing/editing internships (ditto previous)
  10. Beautiful rural location (i.e., Vermont)
  11. Exciting urban location (i.e., Chicago)
  12. Alumni of the program with a strong publishing record
  13. Novel workshops
  14. Short-story workshops
  15. Creative non-fiction workshops
  16. Poetry workshops
  17. Playwriting / screenwriting workshops
  18. An editing/publishing concentration (and workshops)
  19. Translation workshops
  20. Evening and weekend classes (so you can maintain a full-time job)
  21. A speculative fiction concentration (and classes in that)
  22. Good literature courses
  23. Good theory courses
  24. What else?
It would be really helpful to me if you could note in the comments which of these seem most important to you (say the top 5, or just re-order them all). And also if there are more that should be added to the list... *And* if there's anything on here that you consider totally unimportant, or even a detriment.

(Somehow it seems like it would be easier to have this conversation over drinks in a convention hotel bar.)

6 thoughts on “Okay, so here’s a…”

  1. Is the question what I would look for in an MFA program, or what kind of program is most needed and isn’t already provided? Or – are you trying to figure out what Roosevelt most needs to be, in which case I would think that a “good fit” between these questions and the student population would matter more than anything else.

  2. Well, but Roosevelt is hoping to draw from more than purely local students. They’re such a young program; I don’t know that fit is so much of an issue at this point. The question is what they can shape themselves to be, and how they can succeed at that.

    So I suppose of the three q’s you pose, I’d most go for question 2, what kind of program is most needed and isn’t already provided — but I’m also just purely interested in what makes an excellent MFA program overall, one that is attractive to and gives good value to its students.

  3. That’s a really good question, Mary Anne. I think a LOT of prospective students look for high profile writers. (What they’ll want once they get there are good teachers who care about their worknot the same thing necessarily.)

    They’ll want a good lit mag, too, with opportunities to work on it.

    I’ll have to think about the others.

  4. When speaking exclusively about MFA programs, I think cost and flexibility are pretty important. Most MFAs I’ve spoken to seem to very little sense of the program’s standing (or even what they will do with the degree.)

    One MFA program offered me a small stipend ($5000) and nothing else. I turned it down because I just didn’t think it was worth it (and I had better offers).

    Non-fiction is very big, so that would be great, but really any kind of variety will look good. Giving students something the can’t easily find elsewhere. That said, I don’t think translation would be that big of a draw. For some people sure, but unless you want to specialize the program for a very particular core of students, I don’t think it would be a big selling point.

    Lastly, I did look to see what the graduates of a program did. If you can advertise that x-number of alums have published books, etc., that would be VERY interesting to those prospective students.

    Hope that helps.

  5. Nonfiction is coming back into vogue, but there are comparatively few programs in it, or were when I was looking for a program in 2002. So that’s a possibility. My major course-offerings-related complaint about the program I’m in is that most of the nonfiction stuff is either memoir writing or travel writing… which is where the demand is, those being the hot fields, but it doesn’t much help those of us not interested in either. Were there an unlimited budget, a wider range of courses might’ve been nice.

    I personally would want teachers who know how to teach, rather than name teachers; I found my program via the endorsement of one of my undergrad professors. On the other hand, another undergrad professor specifically recommended looking for a program whose faculty included a writer I liked, so this clearly isn’t a universally-followed approach.

    Evening classes are an iron-clad requirement, in my book, but then I’m a night person. But unless your financial aid is such that you’re paying for the students’ cost of living (UMich actually does this, but they have serious cash to throw around), it’s safe to assume at least some — if not most — of your students will be working.

    Especially if you’re going after an editing/publishing concentration, I’d add networking opportunities and some sort of centralized effort to get students jobs after they graduate.

    But I’m not your typical student, so this might not help much.

  6. These are all helpful, and more would be welcome. I will continue to ponder, probably for months, if not years, to come.

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