Do You Need a Consulting Firm for Your MFA or PHD Application?
Well, do ya?
I spent most of yesterday, while doing the several things there are to do in a day when one has children, thinking about the back and forth about the new consulting firm that’s been created to assist people in applying to graduate programs in creative writing (I’m not posting any links because links seemed to be flying all over the place yesterday. Best just to say, if you don’t know about them, it’s just as well.). I don’t teach in an MFA or PhD program. I did go through an MFA program and a PHD program, however. While there, I didn’t think about graduate program rankings and all that. I was pretty clueless about, what one might call “The Big Picture,” or what others might call “The Scene.” In many respects I still am. I have this kind-of “just work on the art and forget about everything else because wondering or worrying about everything else will lead you down a cynical path that will come back to damage your art” notion that has kept me, by and large, from most all the opportunities out there. Needless to say, this is not my best topic.
But now that I teach undergraduates, I have to make it my topic. Mostly I think I give them the advice that I imagine we all give: look for the program that might be best for you (which for different people means different things: do you want to work on a literary magazine? Do you want to work with a poet somewhat like yourself? Is location really that important to you?), which might not be the program that other people rank as “the best,” in general (My version of “the best” in anything has never been what others consider the best. I imagine that’s the same for everyone?) Apply to as many programs as you can afford to apply to. Work on your writing sample (but please don’t do it cynically [this really makes me cringe, the pressure people feel to do something that they think will be impressive, and how damaging that might be to their art, even taking into consideration that “experimenting” and “modeling” are important ways to find out things…]). Don’t sound crazy in your Statement of Purpose.
I think what depressed me yesterday was the fact that a consulting firm seems to be necessary for what one really should be able to do for oneself, especially if one comes from a place where one has taken creative writing classes already (so one has—hopefully—modeled the behavior or both portfolio and SOP). I doubt a consulting firm will do anyone any real harm, though. At least no more harm than talking with anyone about one’s work (which, of course, could potentially do one a lot of harm). And if one has some money to spend (I think the amount mentioned is $250 or so?), then that’s their business. This consulting firm is doing what creative writing teachers do already for their students. It’s odd, though, to see a price tag on something I do as part of my job. It makes me feel underpaid.
I can envision that there are good candidates for a consulting firm for MFA or PHD admission out there. If a student has a difficult relationship with the person or people that student would have to work with at their school to put an application together, for instance—or if a prospective graduate student has been out of school for a time, and doesn’t feel comfortable going back to talk to people there (or if they've all retired or are in Europe or crazy or _______), perhaps these prospective graduate students would be more comfortable paying strangers for guidance.
Hmm, which gets me thinking. I’ll tell you what. For $20 I’ll tell you if a consulting firm is right for you.