Saturday, August 14, 2010

What does it Cost to Apply to MFA Programs?

Budgeting. How I hate it.

This week I’m taking a look at my expenses and setting up a budget for the rest of the year. My goal is to cut back on my spending enough to get through application time without having incurred credit card debt. One of the benefits of taking a whole year to work through the application process is that I’ve been able to spread out the costs across many paychecks, but even still it’s too expensive a process to get through without some penny pinching.

How much does it cost?

So far, in straight up GRE application costs, I’ve spent: $160 to take the GRE (includes score reports to 3 schools), plus about $30 in study guides and flashcards. (Luckily, my scores were high enough that I don’t need to take the test again), about $50 in administrative/organizational costs – plastic bin for my notes, folders, pens, notepads, etc., and an additional $20 on guides to mfa programs and reference books (this includes $5 in library late fees). $160 + $30 + $50 +$20 = $260. The internet is a great source for information about programs, rankings, and advice on applications, too, so a lot of my prep materials have been free.

I’ve spent much more than that on workshops and instruction (which will improve my writing whether I get into a school or not): I’ve taken two Grub Street courses at $430 each, attended the Muse and the Marketplace for $310, and spent about $100 on writing guides and subscriptions to writing magazines. $430 + $430 + $310 + $100 = $1270. Ouch.

That means so far this year I’ve spent over $1500 on writing, even without taking into account the costs associated with internet, coffee, or copies. And I haven’t even started an application.

I have every reason to believe the second half of this year will cost even more. Because the acceptance rates are so low at these schools, I plan to apply to somewhere between 12-15 schools. For each school, I’ll pay an application fee between $50-$75, plus $23 for my GRE score report (except the 3 I already sent scores to), $18 for my alma mater to send my transcripts, and probably $15 in envelopes and postage when all is said and done. That’s $128 per school. Figure in printing/copying costs and I’m looking at $2000.

It’s stressful to think that I may spend all this money and still not be accepted. I’ve decided not to apply anywhere I wouldn’t be fully funded, so even my “safety” schools will have an acceptance rate of about 5%; that’s lower than Harvard Law School. I’m lucky to have a good job, and someone to split my living expenses with (and who supports my decision to undertake all this), but how would I ever manage if I didn’t?

It seems incredible to think of how many people are going through this same process, when I look at the expenses. I certainly hope it pays off.


  1. Which MFA program are you thinking of applying to? I have hear lots of good things about the Stonecoast low residency one.

  2. This year I'm only applying to fully-funded, full residency programs, because my #1 goal is time to concentrate on writing, and I don't have enough savings to be unemployed and paying tuition. I'm not set on which ones, yet, but my goal is to decide by September so I can start filling out the applications.

    Have you ever considered doing the mfa thing?

  3. I've considered it, but never hard enough to seriously look into applying. I'll be interested to see how your process goes.