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grad school/college dilemma: advice?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
So, I've been 'threatening' to go back to school for my Master's for about six years now. Well, now I've decided I need to get my stuff together and do it. In an ideal situation, I'd handpick which schools to apply to, and they'd all have PhD programs as well... and they'd all be close... yeah. Not gonna happen. I don't just want my advanced degree(s) in English, I want them in Creative Writing... so I think I can handle doing an MFA program.

Here's my dilemma: I've been out for ten years, and most of my professors are one of the following: moved elsewhere, retired, or dead. Yeah, I had a few older profs. The other thing is that I'm concerned most may not remember me. It has been ten years. I honestly don't know if I was that memorable of a student. I don't think my writing was memorable...

So, I have a time crunch here. If I want to apply for Fall 2009, the deadline is February 1st. Less than a month. Most of the other stuff is easy... filling out paperwork, etc... I can handle that. Transcripts... also easy enough. It's those recommendation letters I have to have from former professors which gets sticky for me. I found emails of four profs. I know one, if he really is still alive and actively reading emails (Professor Emeritus, i.e. retired old curmudgeon... okay, crazy curmudgeon), would remember, if his memory is jogged well enough. He went so nuts over one of my poems in Poetry class that he used it as filler for the Lit. Annual... but stuck it up front behind the 1st place story and 1st place poem, not in the back with the other filler poems... says a lot, at least to me.

The other three profs, I'm not so sure of. I live too far away to drop by... so I can't go talk to them personally. I don't know if they'd even remember me. Two of them are husband and wife (I assume they're still married... heck, they still work in the same department)

I am contemplating this because I've been encouraged to go back to school... my career counselor prompted me to go back for a few art classes to veer toward design... which i like, but Writing has been a long time passion of mine, and I do want to teach college someday. I want to help spark that same passion in the next few generations... I was looking at my options... I can go design... which is cool... but it'll still take at least a year or two to get the certificate/AA degree to get a viable job somewhere. I can continue art classes until Fall... but if I'm going back to school, why not go back for what I've been wanting to go back for? I just have this hurdle of those letters...

Any advice? Tips?

One kicker for me is that my dream school/program is a distance program in Colorado... with a bizarre residency setup... I love their program... most others are REALLY more conservative and strict. I'm a little fearful of that. I want a program where I can explore my abilities as a writer... The local program is in transition... from an MA to an MFA, if the state approves it. It's better, but their graduation requirements scare the bejeezus out of me.

Then again, I love challenges... okay... I'm putting this out there... any ideas? encouragement? Advice is what I need... but encouragement always helps.

Thanks!
Amanda
post #2 of 11
My advice is to write your own letters of recommendation and then send (or hand-deliver) them to the professors for their signatures. Include a cover letter giving details about when you took their classes, and any other information that will jog their memories about who you are. Also include info what to do with the letter after it is signed.

Ideally, you can take the recommendation letters you wrote to see them in person, they will sign on the spot and you are finished. Otherwise, include a addressed and stamped envelope for them to put the signed letter in.

Don't be modest in your recommendation letters, just tell it like it is and play up all the good stuff.

Generally speaking, professors absolutely HATE writing recommendation letters, especially for students they hardly remember. You will be doing them a great favor by writing the letters yourself. In fact, if you don't do this, most professors will drag their feet and you will not get a letter for MONTHS, if ever, or they will ask you to write the letter yourself. And unless the letter is completely ridiculous, they will sign it 100% of the time.


Good luck!
post #3 of 11
p.s. Writing your own letters of recommendation is very standard procedure these days. It's perfectly legit... as long as you don't sign it yourself.
post #4 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by SwampWitch View Post
My advice is to write your own letters of recommendation and then send (or hand-deliver) them to the professors for their signatures. Include a cover letter giving details about when you took their classes, and any other information that will jog their memories about who you are. Also include info what to do with the letter after it is signed.

Ideally, you can take the recommendation letters you wrote to see them in person, they will sign on the spot and you are finished. Otherwise, include a addressed and stamped envelope for them to put the signed letter in.

Don't be modest in your recommendation letters, just tell it like it is and play up all the good stuff.

Generally speaking, professors absolutely HATE writing recommendation letters, especially for students they hardly remember. You will be doing them a great favor by writing the letters yourself. In fact, if you don't do this, most professors will drag their feet and you will not get a letter for MONTHS, if ever, or they will ask you to write the letter yourself. And unless the letter is completely ridiculous, they will sign it 100% of the time.


Good luck!
Quote:
Originally Posted by SwampWitch View Post
p.s. Writing your own letters of recommendation is very standard procedure these days. It's perfectly legit... as long as you don't sign it yourself.
Half the time when you have to write letters of recommendation, you end up asking the (former) student what they want/need you to include. It's a lot easier if you're given one that you can either "approve" by simply signing it, or which you can add to.
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
My problem with writing my own is that I am horrid at writing things about myself. I have no clue what they would put into the letters...

You're not supposed to be stressed out until AFTER you get into grad school... yeesh.

Amanda
post #6 of 11
I am currently in a PhD program in Medical Genetics. I know the whole Science vs. Arts thing, but in terms of admission things aren't really different.
First, I caution you about writing your own reference letters, as my faculty (Medicine and Dentistry)compares them for writing style, and if they "can tell" that application gets put on the bottom of the pile (I volunteered to be a student member on the committee who reviews apps in my first year). Believe it or not, people often submit almost identical ref. letters when they write them themselves - and if you are applying to a place where people are experts at writing styles, this is not a good idea. If the reference letters state only facts and no opinions you should be ok (eg. Ms. X was in my class in 2004. Her grade was A+.) Problem there is, generic reference letters like that score you no points.
I would suggest you find different more recent references. Because you have been out of school 10 years, it will mean more to have people familiar with your work ethic/goals/dedication NOW vs. what they were 10 years ago. We also checked reference letters for timeline and duration of the relationship; and I remember a discussion about a 5 yr old relationship being discussed as an invalid reference as after 5 years such a reference would not likely be possible. I would be very skeptical if someone couldnt present me with a reference of someone who has known them IN the last 10 years. When we have applicants who have been out of school a few years, we usually DONT get reference letters from old profs. SOMETIMES the undergrad advisor, but usually they come from Current/previous employers/supervisors, volunteer coordinators or the like.
As for choice of program, select one that is in line with what you want to do more than one that is convenient/easy etc. If your ultimate goal is teaching at any level below college, perhaps you should apply for a Masters of Education program and specialize in fine arts. There is more funding available to education students than arts students as a general rule.
I think continuing education is always a great thing, and wish you the best of luck in pursuing your Masters and/or your PhD (* if you THINK you might eventually want to do a PhD, check if the schools allow you to transfer. I am saving 2 years off my PhD timeline because after completing one year of my masters, they accepted me directly into PhD program with 1 yr of credit)
post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Februa View Post
I am currently in a PhD program in Medical Genetics. I know the whole Science vs. Arts thing, but in terms of admission things aren't really different.
First, I caution you about writing your own reference letters, as my faculty (Medicine and Dentistry)compares them for writing style, and if they "can tell" that application gets put on the bottom of the pile (I volunteered to be a student member on the committee who reviews apps in my first year). Believe it or not, people often submit almost identical ref. letters when they write them themselves - and if you are applying to a place where people are experts at writing styles, this is not a good idea. If the reference letters state only facts and no opinions you should be ok (eg. Ms. X was in my class in 2004. Her grade was A+.) Problem there is, generic reference letters like that score you no points.
I would suggest you find different more recent references. Because you have been out of school 10 years, it will mean more to have people familiar with your work ethic/goals/dedication NOW vs. what they were 10 years ago. We also checked reference letters for timeline and duration of the relationship; and I remember a discussion about a 5 yr old relationship being discussed as an invalid reference as after 5 years such a reference would not likely be possible. I would be very skeptical if someone couldnt present me with a reference of someone who has known them IN the last 10 years. When we have applicants who have been out of school a few years, we usually DONT get reference letters from old profs. SOMETIMES the undergrad advisor, but usually they come from Current/previous employers/supervisors, volunteer coordinators or the like.
As for choice of program, select one that is in line with what you want to do more than one that is convenient/easy etc. If your ultimate goal is teaching at any level below college, perhaps you should apply for a Masters of Education program and specialize in fine arts. There is more funding available to education students than arts students as a general rule.
I think continuing education is always a great thing, and wish you the best of luck in pursuing your Masters and/or your PhD (* if you THINK you might eventually want to do a PhD, check if the schools allow you to transfer. I am saving 2 years off my PhD timeline because after completing one year of my masters, they accepted me directly into PhD program with 1 yr of credit)
Considering I'm applying for a writing program... I have a feeling they'd be able to tell.

I can probably ask my volunteer coordinator for one, that's current. My problem is that nothing recent has anything to do with my major of interest. I currently work retail, in a fabric store. While i have been doing some writing on my own, nothing is published as of yet. Maybe I'll wait... as much as I don't want to... focus on the design stuff for a year... work on gathering letters from folks I can ask personally. Then apply for Fall of 2010. God, that seems so far away... but if in the meantime I can get my certificate in Sustainable Building Design (I'm a green building lover), and get work in that area, then I can eventually get my stuff together and get into grad school later... my only problem with waiting again is that I've been saying I'm gonna do this since 2003... I'm 36 years old... I don't want to wait forever...

And if I get an MFA, it's terminal... there is nothing after it. I wish there was... but what I've seen is that if I get my MFA and get published mainstream... I have a chance of teaching at university... I've seen many professors who only have MFA's or MA's but are published in fiction by a well known publisher... they do get the teaching jobs... because they actively work 'in the field'

Thanks!
Amanda
post #8 of 11
I thought you said you need the letters from former professors? Hopefully, you wouldn't write one form letter and send a copy to each professor! Seriously, if the professors don't remember you very well, you will have to write in the letter the good things you did while in that class. And like jcat pointed out, the prof will usually add a note or two in his/her handwriting, which also authenticates the letter.

If you need recommendation letters from people you know, that is different, most people will write a recommendation letter now and then. But profs get asked this all the time and I know from experience that the majority of them either never write the letter, or drag their feet for months and months.


edit: This might help...

Writing Your Own Letter of Recommendation
Do not be surprised if a person you are asking for a recommendation asks you to write a first draft of the letter that he or she will then modify and sign. Begin by providing an accurate assessment of your strengths without dwelling on limitations. Letters of recommendation are intended to be positive and realistic evaluations of performance, competence, and capability. Do not be shy in communicating your strengths. Look at the following suggestions:

List your strengths, talents, and abilities. These may include diligence, punctuality, leadership, reliability, enthusiasm, creativity, independence, teamwork, organization, etc.
Highlight your strengths and accomplishments without bragging.
Choose several of your qualities and strengths that match the current situation; do not list everything you have ever done.
Use a professional vocabulary and style; write as if you were the employer providing the letter.

http://www.writeexpress.com/recommendation-letters.html
post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 
I just looked at the PSU website once again... they have a form that you have the person fill out. and the graduate program application is a single page with no other info... well, odd. I may just wait... I hate doing that, but I don't have 'several weeks' as it states below. I can certainly get the general school application in tomorrow (if i work on it tonight), and then work on everything else... but we'll see... it depends on how complicated the general application is. It'll still take timme t oget all my transcripts ordered. I'm still trying to keep my head above zero in my poor whipped checking account, from being sick last fall.

One thing I've been told is that as long as the application itself (or in this case, applications) is in by the deadline, you're fine... if other things, like letters and transcripts come in shortly after the deadline passes, it's okay... I can't remember who told me that...

Quote:
How to Apply

Students must send two separate applications: to the University and to the English department. Please keep in mind that the University application must be sent several weeks in advance of the Department application.

You may also fill out a separate application for a Graduate Assistantship. Graduate Assistantships provide tuition remission and a stipend for three terms throughout the school year, along with tuition remission for summer term. For more information about becoming a graduate assistant, contact
post #10 of 11
I would write to the professors anyway. When I asked my professors to write letters for me, I gave them each a sheet with "reminders" to give them stuff to mention in the letters.

I think it is OK if some supporting materials come in late, particularly letters of recommendation... professors are sometimes so busy that they don't get things done in a timely fashion.

Get extra copies of everything you send. I applied to 5 schools: one didn't get my transcript, one didn't get a letter of recommendation, and one didn't get my GRE scores!

I remember that two of the letters were supposed to be from professors in my department... in your case, since you've been out of school for a while, it might be acceptable to obtain letters from former employers (if you worked in a related field).

Good luck!
post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 
The jobs I've held in the last 5 years or so have not been English/Writing related.

I've been looking at their website more... they have an option for taking graduate classes without being admitted into the program to 'see if you like it' sort of thing... I may apply for that... I can take up to 16 units that can be transferred... I think that may work for me for now... I've filled out the application and will mail it off tomorrow. I put a copy of the official transcript (yes, still sealed) in with it. They only require it from the Baccalaureate school... so unless they ask for my other transcripts, I think I'm okay.

My only concern with doing that is if student loans will still apply... we'll see. I can take a few classes and work my way up... I can maybe take a class a term... who knows...

Thanks everyone for your advice and such...
Amanda
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