Request - The Low-Residency MFA Program for Creative Writers.
Here's the second question that came by request mail recently...
Why did you decide to get an MFA, what do you think the pros/cons of your MFA experience were, and how did you like the low-residency option? Also, what factors influenced you to choose a low-res program vs. a traditional, on-site program?
This is a long story, but I'll try to make it concise as possible (and probably will not succeed).
Here's my MFA story--
I applied to the MFA program at the UW when I was 28 or 29 and was rejected.
I was truly disappointed. I hadn't applied to any other programs as I don't think I had even considered moving or going somewhere else and 2), I kind of thought I'd get in.
I had moved out of the city to live a "writer's life" and was, but I really wanted to return to school to continue my learning and studying of other writers.
I also wanted to have a child.
At age 30, I became pregnant with my daughter.
For me, there was no way I could have been a full-time grad student. I was completely overwhelmed as a new mother and the UW was a 2 hour commute (one way) from my home. I knew I still wanted to go back to school, but this was not the time for me to start graduate school, at least, not one where I needed to be on campus every day.
When my daughter was 2 or 3, I started looking into over options to get my MFA. There weren't as many low-residency programs as there are today, but there were some good ones.
Here were my top picks-- Bennington, Warren Wilson, Vermont, and Goddard. (I still sometimes get that giddy feeling when I see the word Bennington, as for some reason, I was really connected with that school.) T
Problem was, all of these schools were on the East Coast and I was on the West Coast. 9-11 was still in a knot in my stomach and the idea of leaving on a plane to leave my 2-3 year old for 2 weeks a year seemed awful.
I told my husband -- what I wanted was a low-residency MFA program that I could drive through, with a strong faculty, that was connected with a well-known and well-respected college.
Within a year or so of saying that, a brand-spankin' new low-res program was created at Pacific Lutheran University that was only about 90 minutes away from my house. The program lasted 3 years and I would only have to go to the residency once a year for 10 days. And the faculty? Awesome! Marvin Bell, Sharon Bryan, Albert Goldbarth, Peggy Shumaker, David Huddle, Guest poets Linda Bierds, Natasha Trethewey...
It was perfect for my situation.
Enter the Rainier Writers Workshop.
I applied, was accepted (my writing had definitely become stronger at 33 than at 28) and I began my first residency, August 2004. (I cannot believe that was 6 years ago.) I graduated in 2007.
For me, a low-residency MFA worked because I did not want to be on campus every day and have a 4 hour commute time. To me, a new mom at the time, it was just too much time away from my daughter and I wasn't going to miss out on her early years to get this degree.
So I found something that worked for my life.
Honestly, it was probably one of the best things I have ever done. It ranks up there with getting married, traveling to Europe, adopting a greyhound, kayaking with Orcas, and having a child (not in this order, mind you.)
One of the things I liked about the low-res option was that I thought it would teach me how to write when I wasn't in class all day or a "full-time student."
I had to find time to do all my work, reading, etc. in the middle of regular life--one that included a daughter just starting preschool, P/T time, a working husband, a home/mortgage, bills, etc--there was no dorm or "taking time off to go back to school." My life was moving forward and if I wanted to return to school, I had do it as my life was going on with or without me. I needed to add school to my life, not take myself out of my life to go back to school.
So I found a low-res program that worked for me and began...
(con't - Tomorrow: The Pros & Cons)