March 10, 2017
Dear MFA Applicant:
I am writing to inform you that our faculty has not been able to recommend you for admission to the Master’s of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing; however, this year we have been approved to provide you with more than a simple form letter in reply to your application and $100 fee.
The complicated judgment that resulted in the decision to keep you away from the experience and resources you clearly hoped to access depends on our opinions and tastes, but also on a number of less subjective considerations that we have lobbied to make public to you and other of the rejects (sorry, departmental term). We hope the information regarding your specific application that follows is of some use as you find your way:
Report for application 00978:
Use of cliche and posturing in Personal Statement
In paragraph one of the applicant’s Personal Statement, the phrase “dabbled in” is used to describe experience in genres others than those to which the application pertains. Further down, in paragraph three, the applicant, referring to an undergraduate instructor, uses the appositive modifying clause, “with whom it was my sincere pleasure to take Advanced Creative Writing.” In the final paragraph of the statement, the candidate suggests the possibility of completing not
just a single manuscript but the remaining “four titles” in the tetralogy begun during the “fateful summer” between Bachelor’s Degree and the last two years spent teaching English in South Korea.
Indeterminacy of project, redundancy of themes
The candidate’s writing sample is introduced with a foreword that explains the “work contained herein”—not part of the tetralogy, it should be noted—is meant to be part memoir, part nonfiction novel, and part book-length poem regarding the aforementioned years abroad teaching English. The foreword goes on to explain that these experiences abroad served as the applicant’s introduction to the concepts of “foreignness” and “othering” that “dominates our discourse and
public life, in general.” Let this report show that the keywords “foreignness” and “othering” have 1,765 hits among the university’s past 3,000 applications spanning four admissions periods; 7 of these received notices of acceptance from the program, and 6 accepted offers.
Just one odd thing
References to a “service parrot” can be found twice in the writing sample and once in the Teaching Statement. Please note this remains unmentioned in the Personal Statement and the candidate does not list any known disability on the application to the graduate school.
Attempts at flattery (insincere)
In the candidate’s Teaching Statement, which detailed the experiences gained teaching elementary-level language courses to Korean students in Seoul, a claim is made that texts authored by the program’s faculty were integral to the “instructing students in the both mechanics and the art of the English language.” Please note: All of the program’s faculty were named, alphabetically and alongside the title of their most recent publication. The candidate goes
on to contend that the syllabus for this course came together not out of any design, but rather was cobbled together using the books that “happened to be lying around my studio apartment.”
Inappropriate overreach, potential danger, potential delusional personality
The candidate’s application was received on 30 November, and two days later, on 2 December, it was determined that three faculty members (as well as the program secretary) received emails “just to verify” that the application had been received. In the case of the emails sent directly to program faculty, the candidate expressed an interest in “speaking further about any questions” that the faculty might have about “some of the more complicated plot-twists and character
backgrounds” in the writing sample. Signing off the candidate expresses (or potentially warns) that if the “whole thing doesn’t work out this time around,” that there is always next year, when the candidate will “be sure to apply again.”
Conclude report for application 00978.
We know the news that we are not moving forward with your application disappoints you, but we want to express our sincere best wishes for success in your alternate plans for graduate study. We hope that this report provides you with some useful feedback and potential guidance as you continue to pursue your educational goals.
Also please note that beginning effective immediately the Master’s of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing no longer accepts applications in consecutive years from the same applicant, regardless of genre or due to any extenuating circumstance.
Thank you in advance for your observance of this new and important policy.
Thomas Cook‘s poetry is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, his fiction in Bennington Review. He lives in Los Angeles and edits Tammy.