How do I decide if an MFA is right for me?
The smart thing to do is to talk with students and/or alumni who are in an MFA program or graduated from one. One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone who earns an MFA necessarily wants to teach, although an MFA is an essential credential if one does; many people who get their MFA do so because they need the discipline a program provides and they want to push themselves into becoming the best writers they can be.
*How do full residency MFA programs compare with low-residency programs?
Low-residency programs don’t require you to live near the program’s campus, and enable students to balance work and family life while earning their degree. Thus, the low-residency format more closely resembles the life of a writer; we generally work in solitude, and have to find ways to make time for our reading and writing while also paying the bills and being attentive to everything else that requires our attention. Writers who graduate from low-residency programs have figured out how to balance that all out, and know it’s possible because they’ve done it. *One of the ways that Solstice differs from other low-residency programs is that it offers an applied track in pedagogy, plus a third-semester internship in which teaching track students gain valuable classroom experience.
How big is the student body? How about workshop groups?
Our student body is fewer than 50 students; workshop groups are never more than 10 or 11 students.
What are the benefits of a small program?
At Solstice, each student is treated as an individual, and receives the kind of focused, one-to-one mentoring during the semester that will help his or her work blossom. But during our 10-day residencies, the intimacy of the group allows people to form stronger bonds, and the emphasis on cross-genre work allows for a broad range of perspectives that many find inspirational.
(From student Amanda LaFantasie): “Take a look at the faculty: http://www.pmc.edu/mfa-faculty--staff, and notice the criss-cross of fiction and nonfiction, nonfiction and poetry, etc. The same kind of creative “cross pollination” exists in the student body, at least in my experience; the poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and YA students feed off each other’s creativity and energy. We all operate under the blanket notion that we are writers first and foremost; in this respect the community is extremely positive and excellent for networking.”
What is the atmosphere like? Competitive? Cooperative
The Solstice MFA Program offers a supportive, non-competitive environment in which students celebrate each other’s successes and everyone—students, faculty, and staff—share a respect for the individual and his or her art. Students, faculty members, and staff often share meals together, and enjoy an informal, non-hierarchical atmosphere both in and outside of the classroom.
How will I meet new people outside my workshop group or genre at the residency?
Students are able to take craft classes in subjects outside their concentration; students from all genres also eat together, and mingle at receptions, barbeques, movie nights, and readings.
What's the average age of students?
The age range of our students is 24 to 70-something, with the average age falling around 40.
Can I talk with my mentor about career options ask for his or her guidance?
Certainly. You can ask the director and assistant director, too—they’re also published writers with lots of experience in the literary world. You’ll also find that alumni can be helpful in this regard as well. At the same time, the Solstice Program offers elective sessions that often provide models and ideas for what we as writers can do in our communities/careers—such as teaching in nontraditional settings, working at literary nonprofits, and—yes, teaching in academia.
What is the process for mentor selection?
During each residency, students complete a faculty preference form indicating their choices in mentors. Students more advanced within the program are more likely to get their first choices than first-semester students, but the selection of faculty members is very rich—there are no “bad” choices! On day 7th day of the residency, students learn who they will be working with for the coming semester. Almost immediately, they start talking with that person about their semester plan.
What if I want to switch to another genre?
If they wish, students are able to explore another genre in their second semester. They need to decide by the end of that semester if they’d like to stay there (switch their focus) or go back to the genre in which they were working in semester one. And note that no matter what your genre concentration, you will be able to take craft classes in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and writing for children & young adults.
I really need to practice reading my work in front of an audience. Will there be opportunities to read my work publicly during the residencies?
Yes! There are informal, student-run readings—one can’t ask for a more receptive and supportive audience—and the program offers a class on reading in public every-other residency.
I wasn’t an English major. Does the program provide assistance when it comes to learning how to write critically?
Many of our students weren’t English majors—and many who were find their critical writing skills are a bit rusty by the time they get their MFA. With that in mind, first-semester students are required to take a class in critical writing during their first residency, and faculty mentors are ready to guide them through the process once the semester begins. Our Student & Faculty Handbook also has a section devoted to an in-depth explication of how to write a craft analyses; it also provides examples.
Why do students have to complete a critical thesis? I am not interested in academic writing, or pursuing a career in the academy.
The critical essay is an essential part of MFA students’ development into mature writers. This work builds on the critical writing and thinking skills students have developed in their first and second semesters, during which they applied close reading, analytical, and interpretive skills to the drafting of short craft analyses on single texts. MFA students must demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental aspects of literary craft and form in their chosen genre. The critical thesis challenges writers to create and build a sustained argument surrounding a single aspect (or a few aspects/elements) of literature and/or literature’s role(s) in the world. Students are expected to choose subjects with some personal appeal; ideally, the thesis topic should have application to the student’s own creative work.
By integrating in their critical essays research, original thinking, and — possibly— experience drawn from an internship, students heighten and deepen their ability to draw insights and models from their reading. These models will help to illuminate and shape students’ approaches to their own creative work.
Students who successfully complete this major critical essay engage as practitioners in a conversation with the literary community.
Does the program guide you on ways to publish your work?
Yes, the Program offers elective sessions and panel discussions on this very topic. Our alumni are having great success in getting their work published.
Are there opportunities to meet literary agents and/or publishers?
Yes, there are regular sessions with agents/publishers/editors at the residencies; often faculty members share their publishing experiences as well.
Does the Solstice Program have an in-house publication/literary journal featuring Solstice students' work?
Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices is a “sister” publication of the Program. This quarterly online literary journal has published the work of our students, alumni, and faculty.
*What will my MFA qualify me to do after I complete it?
The MFA is the terminal degree for creative writers, essential these days if one is interested in teaching at the college level; it also fulfills the requirement for many public school teachers to earn a master’s degree within a certain period of time. But most of our students want to enter our MFA Program because of the discipline such an experience offers and because they are eager to learn how to become the best writers they can be. *Solstice does offer an applied track in pedagogy for students interested in teaching at the college level after graduation.
Tell me more about the Applied Pedagogy Track.
Students interested in teaching at the college level post-graduation can opt for the Solstice MFA Program’s newly revised Applied Track in Pedagogy. Those who wish to undertake this applied track will commit to a related internship in semester three and—over the course of the two-year program—participate in four class units that address the essentials of classroom practice
These units—scheduled as two-hour CC&T courses—will be structured around college composition, as teaching this course is the position most likely to be offered to MFA graduates by colleges and universities. The units will be offered on a rotating basis, one per residency; they may be taken in any order.
Will the program continue to support you as an alumnus?
Yes, the Program keeps in touch with and supports its alumni in a variety of ways; through the monthly e-newsletter, a monthly letter to alumni, and social gatherings at the annual AWP Conference; the Program also allows alum to audit classes at residencies for a reduced fee and has alumni-focused events at residencies. The Graduate Assistant Program also enables alumni to come back and work with the director and assistant director with the running of the residencies, an opportunity that provides experience in event management and teaching (by working one-on-one with first-semester students) and also affords some quality writing time.