Monday, August 29, 2016

Back to School: MFA Week, Day Four

Welcome to Day Four of our special Back to School: MFA Week! Six SCBWI-MI members (representing three different MFA programs) answer a question (or two) a day for six straight days. It's everything you ever wanted to know about getting your MFA.

Just joining us? Go here to read the first post in our MFA series. Day Two. Day Three.

Team MFA: Jennifer (Jay) Whistler, Diane Telgen, Anita Pazner, Erin Brown ConroyRebecca Grabill, and Katie Van Ark.

How did you research MFA programs to find the best fit for you?

Before Googling the basics, I set out my criteria. I wanted a small program (didn’t want to be  a number); instructors who were still currently releasing books/continuing to be published; and a once-a-year residency, instead of two (because of logistics with kids). That made the list smaller. Then I called the places, to talk with the directors and at least one instructor. If one or neither had the time of day for me (and quite a few didn’t), they were immediately scratched off the list. Then I applied to the four remaining on the list. I was accepted into two and chose the one with the teachers from which I believed I could gain the most - Western State Colorado University.

Jay: I live in a community with a well-respected state school that does have an MFA program, and one of the faculty is actually a National Book Award winner. But the children’s writing program did not have any children’s writers on the faculty. So that was a no right from the start. I knew I couldn’t go away to school, so I started with the entire list of low-residency MFA programs for children’s writing in the country and narrowed down based on factors such as when/where the residencies were, faculty, and national rankings. Once I had a list of four, I investigated the program details itself. One program was very academic, which I liked, but the generative portion of creative seemed to be lacking as a result. I felt like I would basically be getting a lit degree, not a writing degree. Once I had it narrowed to two campuses, I made plans to visit them both, but cancelled the second tour after I visited VCFA. After five minutes on campus, I knew this was the right fit.

Rebecca: I googled like crazy, ordered brochures from everywhere, and actually applied to and got accepted to both Hamline and Vermont, and I spent time on the phone with alumni and faculty of both. While I LOVE Vermont’s program and love that it was the First of its kind, I felt Hamline had a more commercial vs. literary focus, which was what I wanted. Plus some of the faculty at Hamline, well, I was crushing out on a bunch of them (their books!), so the decision was (fairly) easy.

Anita: I also Googled programs and even looked at the University of Michigan’s combined masters and PHD program, but it was not specifically geared toward writing for a young audience. When I discovered the Vermont program was a terminal degree in writing for children and young adults, I was intrigued. Mainly because Oakland University, near my home, recently created a new undergraduate program focusing on writing for children and young adults. And they need professors. But the biggest reason for me to attend VCFA was the people. Deb Gonzales, a former SCBWI regional advisor and VCFA graduate, held an event in Ann Arbor and brought in a few other graduates, instructors and some students. I was sold.

What’s available after you graduate?

Diane: I’m really looking forward to the Alumni Mini-Residencies that VCFA hosts each year for program graduates. It’s a long weekend with faculty workshops, readings, and a masterclass with a visiting writer, but they also host agents and editors and you have an opportunity for one-on-one consultations with these industry professionals.  

Rebecca: Hamline has a vibrant alumni network. We have grads in every area of publishing: illustrators, authors, agents, editors. We have a FB group that is a tremendous resource. Whether I want to know, “Hey, what MG novels involve boys and dogs?” or “Has anyone worked with DogBoy Press?” I’ll have an answer in minutes (or at worst, hours). Plus every residency holds an alumni weekend at the start with workshops and lectures involving publishing professionals Just for grads. Since I had babies #4 and #5 after graduating, I’ve yet to make it for an alumni weekend. But I want to!

Please join us tomorrow for MFA Week, Day Five! Team MFA will answer the question, "Do you think having those three little letters--MFA--after your name will really make a difference in your career?"

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