GalleyCat has recently posted a list of alternatives to MFA programs. Although the website has some reasonable suggestions, it highlights the New York-centric view that MFAs are financially probative. Many programs, of course, are costly. In particular, the ones in and around NYC*, and low-res programs. The ever-present Seth Abramson lists dozens of programs that are fully-funded. You can see how these programs play out in the Poets and Writers rankings. You’ll notice state schools often feature highly in the rankings. This is partly due to the wealth of TA-ships they offer. The consequence of funding opportunities is a high number of applications and high selectivity, often less than 5%, sometimes as low as 1%.
My advice: If you don’t get into an MFA program the first time, read and write for a year, enroll in night classes, pontificate in coffee shops, attend readings and bug the writers about how they got in, work a job that makes you hungry for grad school, then reapply the following year. Many people don’t get in on their first try, especially to programs that are willing to fund you. I have friends and acquaintances that got into top 20 programs on their second or third attempts.
If all else fails, join the Peace Corps! At least, then, you’ll have done some good and some great material to write about!
*Because of the absence of fellowships and scholarships, which cover the high tuition costs, and because of large cohort sizes, the programs at schools like Columbia and Sarah Lawrence have high acceptance rates (around 15% and 20% respectively) and large debt burdens left on their students. The cachet of such programs, glamorized by attending students, often leave these programs in higher esteem than they should be. That’s not to say these programs don’t have stellar faculty and successful alumni, they do. Rather, attending students don’t seem to realize they are paying serious amounts of money to be in their workshops, while several hundred other students across the nation are being paid to attend theirs.