I have a history of not listening to my gut, and it has always got me into big trouble. Listening to everyone around me except my own heart has put me in the wrong colleges, the wrong majors, the wrong jobs. Not listening to my gut has put my life in jeopardy. I have had to learn to listen to my gut, and I am finding that this is nowhere truer than in the search for a good Creative Writing MFA program.
When I look for five different opinions on the pursuit of a good grad program, I get ten different responses:
“You have to look for a potential instructor who writes like you. You’ll learn more from someone with a similar style, and the school is more likely to pick a student who is a good stylistic fit with their staff.”
“Nonsense! So many of the big-name writers do very little actual teaching in these programs. Besides, just because someone writes well doesn’t mean they can teach worth a lick.”
“It’s like real estate: Location, location, location. If you’re not in love with the place you’re living the next two to three years, your work will suffer and your whole quality of life will go down.”
“Whilst I don’t suggest going to someplace you’ll be miserable, bear in mind that you’re only going to live there two or three years–that’s nothing. Besides, if you are going to be a college instructor, you will have very little say about where you live after you graduate.”
“It’s all about the benjamins! You’re daft if you take out one red cent in loans for an MFA. Go only where they will pay you fully.”
“If a program fully funds me, but their alumni have zero track record of developing anything resembling a career, what does that say about the program? Taking out a little to go to a program with a proven track record will pay off in the long run.”
And on and on it goes. I really can’t keep up with all the contradictory advice I get.
So that is why I’ve decided to go with my gut. I know myself better than anyone. (I did not believe that for many years.) I know what sets of circumstances will work for me and which won’t. And no matter where I apply to, there are always X-factors no one can predict.
With that, I’m feeling pretty secure about my list of schools. Each has great upsides and some drawbacks. There is no perfect program; they will all have drawbacks. It’s a matter of whether you can live with the drawbacks.
What I am insecure about, though, is how public I should be about my list of potential schools. I know that no matter what school I post, I will get a Greek chorus offering 155,309 reasons why I shouldn’t go to that school, and I don’t need that drama. Also, how much are the schools I’m applying to going to be looking over my shoulder to see where else I’m applying? When I applied to Bible college, I had to list on the application where else I was planning to apply. Though grad school is hardly Bible college, I don’t know if it’s standard practice for them to know where else I’m applying, and whether their knowing will have an impact on whether they accept me.
I’m sure all this will work out in the end. I am excited at the prospect of moving on to the next phase of my life.