It’s Application Time!

I realized today that I’ve forgotten to talk about myself on this blog; hell, sometimes I even forget to attach my little bio at the end of a post, which just further confuses things. I figured this would be the case when I first started blogging, but today I decided to talk not about Thomas Hardy or John Gardner, but about Ian McCaul (that’s me, in case I forget to put my bio at the end).

In my world, it’s MFA season, and my thoughts can be summed up as, “Ugh.” I really, really want a master’s, don’t get me wrong, and I understand how much time and work it’s going to require. I just wish that I could demonstrate my commitment with a smile and a note from my parents instead of with mountains of applications, attachments, and paperwork.


For everybody who hasn’t applied to a master’s program (I applied to several last year and got rejected) there’s often a general application to the school and some other things you send to your program of choice. The general application can be either a blessing or a harbinger from the deepest level of hell. Some schools’ applications are short and relatively painless, asking basically where you’re from, where you got your bachelor’s, and what your GRE scores are, even though you have to send those anyways. I would complain about the GRE—including the fact that it costs money to send your own scores to a school—but the Internet doesn’t have enough space for me to say how much I loathe that test. Back to the subject at hand, there are other applications that are almost a test unto themselves. One university, which shall remain nameless, asks if you have ever founded an organization dedicated to eradication or opposing racism; nothing makes you feel like a selfish waste of a human like answering no to that question. The only worse moment comes at the end, when the school demands between $50-$100 for the privilege of filling out the application, sort of like buying a plane ticket for someone to come to your house and punch you in the jaw.

Personal Statements

Nothing sums up your failures and lack of accomplishment like having to sum up your successes. As an uninteresting person, I resent having to write one to two pages about myself; I never studied abroad, and my only real hobbies are reading, writing, and snark. I got into writing because it’s one of the few professions friends to grumpy weirdos, and now I feel cheated that I apparently should have spent some time making memories and having incredible experiences or whatever. Mercifully, there are some programs that limit your statements to 300-500 words, and the honesty of the gesture is refreshing: they know you don’t have anything to say, and they don’t care even if you do, so let’s not pretend anyone wants to do this.

Writing Sample

This is the best—and most essential—part of the application, and it should be: if you want a master’s in creative writing, you should, you know, be good at creative writing, and maybe not mind doing it. But remember in school when you would be assigned a book, an amazing book, but you would drag your feet reading it because no one tells you what to do? I have that problem with a lot of things; I intentionally disobey recipes because I and not some cookbook will decide how much thyme goes on my chicken. I revise revise revise on my own time, but when I think about how I have to revise to please an acceptance committee it suddenly becomes a chore instead of an artistic chore. Plus, it’s sort of a catch-22: you need to prove you’re a great writer to spend two years becoming a better writer to get a degree that proves you’re a great writer. Like when entry-level jobs require five years of experience.

So now you know something about me, loyal readers. To everyone else working on their applications: good luck, but better luck to me.

Ian McCaul has spent his whole life in Kalamazoo, MI, except for a brief detour at Grand Valley State University, where he recently graduated with a degree in English and writing. He is currently blogging, volunteering, writing, and applying to graduate schools.