How to pick an M.F.A. program that’s right for you
Andrea Wilson wasn’t prepared to devote herself full time to earning an M.F.A., yet she wanted the writing community it would provide.
The solution? Cornell College’s low-residency M.F.A. in creative writing program.
“I wasn’t ready for a full-residency program where I took three years out of my life, but at the same time I knew I didn’t want to be in a fully online program,” said Wilson, a student in Cornell’s M.F.A. program and the executive director of The Iowa Writers’ House in Iowa City, Iowa. “I wanted to meet the faculty, I wanted to establish relationships, I wanted to build community, and I wanted to be part of a program that offered all of those things.”
She and her fellow graduate students just wrapped up their second residency of Cornell College’s new M.F.A. in creative writing program on July 8.
The low-residency program consists of five semesters and five nine-day residencies on campus during the winters and summers. It’s designed so students only come to Mount Vernon, Iowa, for the residencies and can continue working from home while earning their master’s degree.
Wilson said choosing the program that’s right for you is one of the most important decisions when deciding to further your education. We asked students and faculty in Cornell’s program for tips on how to choose the right M.F.A program. Here’s what they said:
1. Consider whether you want a full or low-residency M.F.A. program.
“I really wanted to cement the processes I had to work on my writing as a working adult without having to leave my job.”
-Meghan Kuhn, a student in the program.
2. Think about access to M.F.A. faculty.
“The thing that makes Cornell’s program a little different than other ones is you have so much one-on-one time with faculty members. You have the opportunity to work with several different faculty members both on campus when you come here for the residency and when you go back home and do your work in the several months in between.”
-Rachel Swearingen, writer and Cornell College M.F.A. core faculty
3. Consider the location of the M.F.A. program.
“I think the advantage of the low-residency program is that if you come from or have roots in a place, you don’t have to uproot. You get to come for summer and winter comprehensive condensed residencies over a short amount of time and then you get to go back to your home wherever it is and still conduct your studies via correspondence while maintaining your connections to whatever place you are from.”
-Jay Nicorvo, writer and Cornell College M.F.A. guest faculty
4. Think about what size M.F.A. program works for you.
“One thing I think that is great about Cornell’s program is it’s pretty small and the faculty is energetic. Because it’s small it means there’s a lot of personal attention.”
-Shena McAuliffe, writer and Cornell College M.F.A. core faculty
5. Consider the professional development opportunities.
“There are a lot of low-residency programs that are available in the United States, but Cornell’s low-residency program is unique for a number of reasons and one of them is the third semester–the opportunity to create and curate your own professional development project. It’s one of the things that really attracted me to this program, and I think that really sets this program apart.”
6. Think about subject matter taught in the program.
“Cornell’s program has a lot of flexibility in terms of the things that I’m interested in and cross-genre work. I don’t have to just be a fiction writer or nonfiction writer, or a poet. We really kind of intermingle a lot of those different practices. I think all of those inform writing, no matter the kind that we do. So that was very important to me to have an opportunity to really explore writing as a craft and not within a particular genre.”