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Volunteer Karolina blogs about her decision to apply for an MFA.

This year, I made a big decision for the future of my relationship with writing: I decided to apply to Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs. I wish I could say the decision was a no-brainer, that we were meant to be, but my journey has not been that easy, and it’s taken a lot of good advice to set me on the right path.

I went in circles trying to figure out if getting an MFA is what I want, often getting torn between that and the idea to get a Master of Arts (MA) in English (I figured it would be a more applicable degree for the job market). That’s when I talked to Potomac Review editor-in-chief, Zachary Benavidez, who has a degree in creative writing and English.

While we were talking, he suggested that an MA might be better suited if I want to go into editing (which I think I might). Then he asked why I wanted to get an MFA in the first place and I gushed, “because I love fiction.” And there it was, the ‘L’ word. Zach suggested that I think about what I really want out of my degree, and then he wrote this helpful blog about our discussion.

With a little encouragement from my creative writing professor, Tom Bligh, who for some reason seems to have some faith in my writing abilities, I started considering my options. With his help, I attended another writer’s conference and finished the literary magazine I edited last year, Lighted Corners.

I realized I have a passion for writing and editing, and I started leaning more towards the MFA. I realized that I want more structure for my writing and a greater sense of community surrounding it, both of which I think I could find in an MFA program.

Since I made my decision, I’ve been busy preparing for the next step. This summer, I’ve been diligently researching programs. I got some great advice about what to look for from my friend, poet and writer E. Ethelbert Miller. He told me to research professors and graduated students from each school and find out what they have written to see if it’s a good fit for me. He also suggested looking into the literary communities in the areas where I am applying—the surrounding community for writers, not just the university itself.

My summer has also included tons of studying for the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), reading and editing. Since all of the schools I’m applying to require or “recommend” the GRE, I am taking it and making sure to leave enough time to still be able to retake it if necessary.

As for the reading, I’ve been keeping my nose buried in books because a lot of schools want to hear about your reading list in the statement of purpose/personal statement, and if they don’t, it’s probably still a good idea. It’s a good reflection of who you are as a writer. However, my attention span can be pretty short, so I’m usually reading more than one book at a time.

This summer, I’ve been reading a lot of literary magazines including One Story, Potomac Review, Barrelhouse, Tin House and American Short Fiction. I’ve also been reading several books (at once!) including compilations—currently, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The Writer’s Presence (3rd edition) edited by Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan.

In the moments I find some free time between my internships, my job, studying for the GRE and reading, I’ve been working on editing the stories I plan to use for my writing sample. My journey into this decision may have been difficult, and my preparations may be keeping me very busy, but in the end, I know that this is what I want—this is the commitment I have made to myself and the writing life. And I’m excited!

Have you considered an MFA program? Are you in the process of applying? I’d love to hear your questions and comments!

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