Reflections and Musings on Being Accepted to UMass Amherst's MFA in Poetry Program

by alexandalex

Applying to MFA Poetry programs is a daunting task. I was just accepted into a top program and would like to share some of the things I did that may have helped me stand out.

This was the second time I applied to UMass Amherst's MFA program. After I was rejected from Brown, the University of New Hampshire, and UMass Amherst last year, I started doing some investigating. What I found is that there is a lot of confusing information out there about what MFA programs are looking for and how writing is assessed. I may not answer all or any of your questions in this article, but it may be helpful to see how I made this personal dream a reality.

The Search for Acceptance

It's not a science, but here are some things I've figured out along the way

If you are reading this article than you are probably where I was in the Spring of 2011- confused, bewildered and deflated by a rejection from one or more MFA programs.  Let's be honest, in the convoluted world of academia there are few things more painful than putting yourself out there as a writer and being told "you are are not good enough."  


You may already be a follower or at least be aware of the MFA Blog (If not, you probably should be) and be a bit overwhelmed by the years of accumulated advice and recommendations.  I know that I was.  On the other hand, it is an excellent place to find some answers to the kinds of questions that most MFA hopefuls are and have been asking for a long time.  Don't get overwhelmed!  The fact is that MFA programs are strange beasts.  Although they reside within looming and enormously intimidating universities with massive applications and a myriad of diverse requirements, I have been told time and time again that all the programs really care about is your writing sample.  Everything bureaucratic aside, your main focus should be those 10-20 poems (my only experience is with poetry programs, I have no experience with fiction programs).  Your writing is who you are and what you are capable of, so if you have any doubts about the quality of your writing focus on your poems rather than on your resume, personal statement, or those lovely short answer questions.  


I have only just recently been accepted into UMass Amherst's MFA in Poetry program (an excellent program with an excellent reputation), so I do not want to suggest that I know everything there is to know on this subject.  After my first cycle of rejections, I decided to explore some ways that I might improve ande deepen my writing.  My suggestion to you if you trying to improve your chances for next year is to reach out into your community.  Luckily for me I had just moved to Amherst, MA where there is a vibrant writing community that orbits UMass Amherst.  Especially in college towns like Amherst, MA, it is easy to find small printing presses or book stores that act as hubs for writers and lovers of literature.  In Hadley, MA, I was told about Flying Object, a small printing press/book store/art gallery/workshop space, by a member of the MFA program's faculty.  After emailing back and forth with this professor and perusing Flying Object's website, I realized that several area poets offered inexpensive five-week poetry workshops.  This changed my writing and subsequently my life.  The five weeks I spent in this summer workshop allowed me to take a fresh look at my writing and introduced me to a wide array of contemporary writers who inspired me to no end.  My guess is that if you look hard enough you will find poets offering workshops or doing readings.  Find these people and these places!  I decided to take one of these workshops on a whim and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.


Here is the bottom line:

  1. Make connections!  Contact the program's faculty, you never know what one of them might share with you.  
  2. Take any opportunity available to get outside feedback on your writing.
  3. Get exposed to new writing.  Just like the study of anything, the more you read the more you learn to recognize what you love.
  4. Don't lose hope!  There are so many factors contributing to the acceptance or rejection of an applicant.  

Recommended Reading

An MFA program guide and poets that might change your life
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Poetry. In THE TREES THE TREES, the follow-up to Heather Christle's acclaimed first collection, THE DIFFICULT FARM, each new line is a sharp turn toward joy and heartbreak, ...

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The Man Suit

The Man Suit, a darkly comic debut from poet Zachary Schomburg, assembles a macabre cast of doppelgangers, talking animals and dead presidents in poems that explore concepts ...

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Updated: 03/04/2012, alexandalex
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alexandalex on 03/10/2012


Angel on 03/04/2012

Congrats on your acceptance!!

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