It’s Been A Long Time Since I Graduated From College. What Do I Do For Recommendations For An MFA Program?

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To apply to a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program, one of the highest paying master’s degree programs, you need to submit several components. Besides a transcript, portfolio and personal essay, you will most likely have to submit letters of recommendation. While it may be easy for current college seniors and recent college graduates to think of a few professors who would be willing to write them a recommendation, getting these recommendations a lot more challenging when you have been out of school for several years.

Who Should You Ask for an MFA Recommendation?

The letters of recommendation you submit for an MFA program should always say something positive about you and your abilities to be an asset to the program. However, different schools may focus on recommendations that address different aspects of your candidacy. For example, one MFA degree program may put more value on a letter of recommendation that highlights your academic performance and abilities, but another MFA admissions department may be more interested in what your recommender has to say about your artistic talents or your character.

Ideally, your letters of recommendation for an MFA program will come from past college instructors in an area related to your intended field of study. Former instructors are the ones best able to speak to the quality of your past academic work. Some MFA programs require at least one or two of your letters of recommendation be from a college instructor, and most schools strongly encourage you to seek recommendations from former professors.

However, you may be able to identify other relevant and powerful sources of recommendations for an MFA program if you think outside the box, as artists are generally good at doing, anyway. If your current job includes a component that’s relevant to the field in which you’re pursuing an MFA, like writing or design, you may get a glowing recommendation from a supervisor or colleague. Perhaps you took other artistic training workshops outside of a college environment since you earned your bachelor’s degree. An art teacher who instructed you in a less formal capacity may also have valuable insights into your abilities and could even speak to your artistic growth since finishing college.

There are certain people that you should not ask for a recommendation to an MFA program. You should never ask someone to be a recommender if you did not have a good relationship with them in the first place, such as if you performed poorly in their class. You also shouldn’t ask for a recommendation from someone whose insights would not be considered relevant to the field you’re currently pursuing. Even if you had a great relationship with a professor in another field, if they cannot speak to your abilities in your area of MFA study, their recommendation is likely to carry little weight.

Other potential recommenders could include anyone from the manager of a gallery at which your work is sometimes displayed to a freelance client or member of an arts nonprofit with which you volunteer.

Asking for a Recommendation When You Haven’t Graduated Recently

IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain

There’s a good chance that you’re far from alone in having a considerable gap between when you graduated with your bachelor’s degree and when you began applying to MFA programs. In 2016, the median age of MFA students was 27.3 for full-time residency programs and 35.4 for low-residency programs, according to Literary Hub. Assuming that many of these students completed their undergraduate degrees straight out of high school, it has likely been five years, or even ten or more years, since they graduated.

When asking an instructor from an undergraduate college career that concluded years ago, there are some important steps you can take. For one thing, make sure that you ask the professor for a recommendation well in advance – at least a couple months – of when you actually need the letter. Remember that, to accommodate you, this instructor will have to fit your request into the full workload they are already carrying.

It’s also a good idea to provide the recommender with any materials that can help them, such as a portfolio or manuscript you’re submitting, a resume or C.V. and your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school. If a few years have passed since you last caught up with your instructor, you should remind them which undergraduate courses you took with them and fill them in on what you have been up to since graduation.

Of course, you always want to be polite when asking a former instructor for a letter of recommendation and when following up on requests and deadlines. Coming across as rude or entitled may cause an instructor to turn down your request for a recommendation.

Additional Resources

Do I Need to Take the GRE to Get Into an MFA Program?

How Does Someone Apply for an MFA in Writing? Do I Have to Have Been an English Undergraduate Major?

How Many Pages of Writing Do I Need to Offer for a Writing MFA Portfolio?