5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Applying to Grad School

I am not going to graduate school this year; I guess the timing wasn’t right.  Eventually, I will apply again, and I will be better prepared when I do.  Here are some of the things that will make my next application season (and yours, I hope) easier.

  1.  It’s expensive.
    I only applied to two programs, and neither required a GRE.  I still spent around $250, between application fees, ordering transcripts, and the financial aid form – which, yes, costs money and not all graduate programs take.  Budget accordingly, but also plan ahead so you don’t spend more than you have to.
  2. All programs are NOT created equal.
    I knew this, hypothetically, but hadn’t considered all the facets of it.  It’s more than the faculty; each school has its own focus, its own funding, and its own reputation.  These things are dependent on the program itself, not the school.  For instance, I assumed Columbia was a top MFA program, because Columbia University is an Ivy.  But between poor funding and a “high” (read: 20%) acceptance rate, it is actually looked down upon in MFA circles.  I mean, I still want to go.  But it’s something to think about.
  3. READ THE APPLICATION QUESTIONS EARLY.
    This is where I made my biggest mistake.  I gave myself a month to work on the application with the earliest deadline.  After that, I had two weeks for the other.  I assumed that would be plenty of time, because the questions would be similar and I just needed to tailor my general answer to each specific school.  In my case, I found out they were completely different questions and I would have benefited from working on them simultaneously.  Pay attention.
  4. There is a support system.
    There is an MFA Draft Facebook group every year.  Columbia had its own as well.  No matter what program or concentration you are applying to, thegradcafe.com will connect you to other people going through the same process.  I didn’t discover these resources until I was playing the waiting game, and I feel utilizing them may have improved my application.  Now I know for next time.  Which brings me to my final point…
  5. You will probably be doing this again.
    Most programs are tiny.  It’s part of what separates graduate school from undergrad.  Don’t take rejection personally.  I was shocked as I scrolled through the MFA Draft Facebook group and realized how many people were on their third and fourth attempts.  It’s nothing like applying for college.  You can try again if you don’t get the one you want or if the funding doesn’t work out.

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