Working in the Communication Department of a major university has its benefits for someone like me applying to grad school. It’s apples and oranges of course, comparing applying to MFA programs in Creative Writing to applying to MA programs in Communication—GRE scores to memoirs, college transcripts to personal essays--but I have found a few take aways.
The biggest of which involves the acceptance process. Now for Creative Writing MFA programs there are, supposedly, boards composed of faculty members scrutinizing over every writing sample and application. In my department, we have only one, Director of Graduate Studies, and she rules the roost. Maybe we too have our own board of shadowy figures doing their own scrutinizing, but from what I can see, it’s all her. She’s the Alpha, the Omega, the Tri Lams and the Omega Mus. She makes the calls. And after seeing two classes-worth of her selections, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they resemble her in philosophy, mannerisms, sometimes in even in appearance. She and her female minions of the program are kind of an amalgamation of Kathy and Delores Umbridge—sweet and kind on the outside, holding back the neurotic chaos that lies in wait on the inside that’s unleashed when their perfectly laid plans go awry. The few men who are in the program are all variations of the boy-next-door and not too hard on the eyes either—um, I mean I love chicks!
So though it seems obvious, painfully obvious, I think I can attest that acceptance into grad school really depends on who’s doing the picking. Differing from college applications where you’re justly boiled down your high school transcript and SAT scores, it seems that grad schools want to, well, like you as a person too. They’ll be working with you, not just lecturing at you. Needing to be liked can mean many things, but it seems like a make-or-break component of the grad school application, and like winning the lottery, one that’s nearly impossible to predict.
Play up the Johnny Schoolboy routine, and they’re looking for the rebellious ne'er-do-well whose risky ideas are just crazy, maybe too crazy, to make a mark in the program. It’s too hard to call, and I’m still only running with this “they have to like you” theory. I mean I’m sure there are grad schools out there that just plain hate their accepted applicants, or their rejected applicants for that matter. It just might be that good old fashion bribery is still the way to go.