At Cornell, we are just now digging in to the massive pile of first reads for next year's fiction MFA class. I'm not going to discuss how we make our decisions, but I can tell you that all previous volume records were broken this year--by a huge margin. And I suspect most other schools are experiencing a similar surge. Who wouldn't want to shield themselves from this economy, and live for a couple of years in their own imaginations?
Anyway, a few tips for those of you who are hoping to be accepted into an MFA writing program this year, to keep you from going too crazy. First, don't spend too much time on the MFA Weblog or other websites and forums--you will drive yourself bananas. Second, don't worry about getting your first choice. Really. If you're any good at all, you will do well wherever. Third, don't worry about not getting in anywhere. If you're any good at all, you will do well without doing it in school.
Yeah--easy for me to say. But it's true, and you all know it. MFA programs are great resources for inspiring writers, but you don't need us. You can be good without help--at least without the formalized assistance of an academic program.
When you get rejected, don't take it personally. How people react to your writing is entirely personal and idiosyncratic--we choose the students we think we want to work with, not the students whom we consider most likely to end up with a three-book deal at Knopf (if, in fact, such contracts even exist any more for literary writers). And so you are not being rejected by the establishment itself--you're being rejected, this time, by a handful of people who don't share your taste. If we don't want you, you probably don't want us, either.
If you get in somewhere, go read your future teachers' work. It's helpful for you to know where they're coming from--and it's helpful for your teachers to be able to refer to their own writing experiences and have you know what they're talking about. If you don't like your teachers' work, no problem--our advice, if we're doing our jobs, is not intended to make you write like us, but to make you write like yourself, only better.
Finally, you may feel, at some point along the way, that the whole world of writing is entirely insular, a tightly-knit community of snobs whose job is to hold back the deluge of wannabes and up-and-comers. Don't succumb to those feelings. Certainly there's as much nepotism, logrolling, and favoritism in publishing as in any other line of work, but the world of writing has little to do with that. The writing is the thing you can control--the publishing is a crapshoot. Focus on the former, no matter what news you get this month.