The questions below are answered by the program director.
When is the deadline for applications?
Because we need to have a pretty good idea of how many students will be attending the summer session before we send out contracts to visiting faculty, our posted deadline is February however we know that not everyone is able to meet that deadline.
We frequently will allow applicants who are having difficulty getting their full application package together by that deadline to have as much time as they need–so long as we are aware of your intention to apply. Contact us as soon as you know you are interested and we’ll help you get started with the application and set up your file.
If you are interested in the program and the deadline has already passed before you have gotten in touch with us the first time, don’t worry. Let us know you’re interested and we’ll discuss options.
When are acceptance notices sent out?
We let applicants know as soon as the decision is made, which is entirely dependent on when the completed application is submitted. We don’t begin review of an application file until everything required is in place–this includes all relevant fees, transcripts, letters, and so forth.
In my first summer, what classes am I allowed/required to take?
All students are required to take our two foundational courses their first summer. These classes are Narrative Theory and Practice (which covers terms and principals of playwriting) and Playscript Analysis (which provides a baseline of important dramatic works and how to approach discussing them in a dramaturgical fashion).
These two courses are required the first summer so that all first years have an opportunity to form a peer group and gain a common language for all the course work which will follow.
This does not, however, mean in any way that the first summer encourages a “Hollins voice” or will shoehorn our students into any specific approach to their own work. We are dedicated to helping our students find their own way. These courses merely provide a useful common toolkit to begin that exploration and development.
How many classes can I take each summer?
The program is designed as a succession of six-week intensive summer sessions and we anticipated that most students would take two to three courses each summer. Some students, however, do take four classes, but that is the maximum number of courses allowed. It is simply impossible, given the rigor of the courses and the expectation of excellence, to take more than four courses in a six-week session and do well.
How quickly can I expect to graduate?
It is possible to complete all 60 credit hours for the degree in three years. To accomplish this, however, it requires taking at least three courses each summer as well as additional courses as Independent Studies during the normal academic year. It is more common to complete the program in four to five summers.
Many of our students are already teachers who are expanding their portfolios, and so they see having more time to complete the degree than a traditional program as an upside, because the more summers they spend in the program the more visiting faculty, guest artists, and fellow students they are able to build personal and professional relationships with before they graduate.
What can you tell me about letters of reference?
Letters of reference are a very important part of your application process, not just a hoop to jump through. Give serious thought to ensuring they are significant, supportive, and above all, relevant.
An artistic director, literary manager, or famous director of a major theatre looks great as a reference, but most people entering grad school are going to find those kinds of references difficult to obtain.
A lot of programs ask for three letters and not coincidentally, are looking for people who can speak directly to three specific things: Your talent as a writer, your ability to handle the academic rigor of a graduate program, your potential for success in the field. My suggestion is to try to get references that can each speak in general about all three of those things but then be very specific about one of them.
Find someone who can speak about why they think you are a talented writer. If possible, ask another playwright, a director, or even an actor.
Find another someone who can speak to your academic ability, especially if that ability is not reflected in the grades on your transcript. A supportive teacher is better than the head of a department who hardly knows you.
Find someone who can speak to your passion and commitment to pursuing your dream, and if possible, mention how you have helped others to do so.
Where possible, make sure those someones are accomplished themselves so that their evaluation of you carries weight. You want references who know you well, will describe you favorably but not with faint praise, know something about the program you are applying to and your goals, and willing to take questions about you over the phone.
Lastly, remember that your reference is putting their reputation at risk by writing your recommendation. Don’t ask if you aren’t reasonably sure they’ll say yes. If they do say yes, don’t make them regret it.
What do you need in terms of a resume and transcripts?
The need for official transcripts is obvious. We need demonstrable proof that you have obtained your undergraduate degree. If your undergraduate degree is not from an accredited college or university, a special request for a waiver of that requirement must be made to the full Grad Council and approved by the vice president for academic affairs.
And, we need all transcripts from every academic institution you have attended, even if you didn’t graduate from them, your grades there weren’t good, or you don’t think the field of academic study represented by them is relevant to your M.F.A.
Are you really going to look at my grades?
Will you reject me if my undergraduate grades are terrible?
Not necessarily, but we do use past performance as an indicator in determining if you are up to meeting the demands of graduate level study.
A lot of people who do extremely well in graduate school have undergraduate grades they might be less than proud of. Don’t try to hide them. Don’t decide not to submit a transcript just because it reflects progress in an unrelated field or a degree you didn’t complete. Address those issues in your letter of interest and speak to both your desire to make a stronger showing in this program and discuss some of your strategies for doing so.
Don’t obsess about past grades. The quality of your writing sample, strength of your letter of interest, and the enthusiasm of your references will likely outweigh that D– you got in calculus.
Often I hear people stressing over their resume or CV…even about what the difference between a CV and a resume is, and which one is appropriate, how long should it be, and how much not having a bunch of professional credits on it matters.
To all that, I can only say, “Relax.”
A resume is geared more toward employment and a CV (Curriculum Vitae) is geared more toward academic achievements, so a CV is probably more appropriate. There are lots of good examples online on how to craft a good one.
As for credits, we don’t want you to prove you don’t need the instruction in order to get into the program. What we want is an accurate idea of your background, where you’ve worked and what you’ve done and who you’ve done it with.
Be truthful. Be complete. Be concise.
How important are the writing samples? What are you looking for in the writing samples?
Well, I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t the single most important part of the application.
That being said, we’re not looking for a writing sample that proves you don’t need instruction. We’re looking for evidence that you can write well, write coherently, craft characters who are interesting, and that you have potential to become an even better writer after working with us. Remember, your writing samples remain a part of your permanent file so they are a kind of time capsule by which we can measure your progress after you’ve started the program.
We’re also curious to see if you’re able to be selective in what you send, which is why a lot of programs set limits rather than minimums on number of pages or items allowed to be submitted as part of the application. Quality is always better than quantity. Proof that you can knock out five pounds of pages won’t impress us more than proving you can write five interesting pages.
I get asked all the time whether I want only full-length plays or several one acts or do 10-minute plays qualify or can other kinds of writing work if there aren’t any plays the applicant feels comfortable submitting.
The most important thing we’re looking for is that the writing sample reflect who you are as a writer now, and demonstrates what it is you’re interested in writing about now. Sending your perfectly formatted full-length play from five years ago is not as good a sample as the first draft of the one act you wrote last week. Or even something that isn’t a play…yet. If that means sending a poem instead of a play, fine. But, tell us why you want to be a playwright and not a poet in your letter of interest.
Send the work you feel best introduces you as the writer you are and that will be perfect. Then, in your letter of intent, let me know about the writer you hope to become and I’ll have a better idea of how to help you get from here to there.
What are you looking for in a statement of purpose or letter of interest? How important is that to the application as a whole?
In a lot of ways, your letter of interest is at least as important as your writing sample.
Of course we want to accept writers with demonstrated facility in form and craft. We’re looking for interesting ideas, interesting characters, and a passion for writing that will carry you through all the demands of an M.F.A. program.
At the end of the day, though, it won’t be your plays that go to classes, participate in discussions, interact with our faculty, guests, and other students. You will be. Your writing sample introduces your work to us, your letter of interest introduces you.
That’s pretty important stuff, there. Lots of pressure, but the only good introduction is an honest one. In short, be yourself. Trying to be anyone or anything else is more work than it is worth.
Before you pick a school, you should have been selective in that choice—you should know why you want to go there, have specific goals and a plan for how the program you are applying to can help you meet those goals. All that should be in your letter of interest.
How else are we going to know anything about your passion for writing, how much you looked into our program, whether your expectations of the program are realistic? Your letter of interest is the best tool we have (outside of an actual interview) to help decide whether or not the school and the student will be a good team for the next three to five years.
An M.F.A. is a huge investment in time and finances, but the university is taking a gamble too! Choosing a cohort of students is like casting a play. Talent is important, but so is knowing the ensemble will work well together, be mutually supportive, and be good ambassadors for the institution. And if you don’t get in, that means nothing more than the path to your success lies in another direction.
Ask hard questions of yourself and the institution. We’ll do the same—and that is going to be a very good and useful conversation to have regardless of the outcome.
How do you select your guest speakers and visiting faculty?
One of the greatest strengths of our program is our visiting faculty and guest artists. Our unique schedule allows some of the best known names in new play development to participate in ways that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional program. Busy working professionals can fit in six weeks of teaching much easier than five months.
We ask our M.F.A.s who they would be interested in meeting and learning from, as well as what types of courses they feel they need in their plan of study. If we’re doing a class on American Women Playwrights, we’re going to bring in people like Erin Courtney and Naomi Wallace. If we’re doing a course on Experimental Playwriting, we’re going to bring in Ruth Margraff and W. David Hancock.
We bring in experts representing every aspect of professional theatre—playwrights, agents, directors, artistic directors, dramaturgs, producers, composers, agents, publishers, designers, actors, and lots of other disciplines.
We invite individuals who’ve made an impact on modern theatre with their own work who also have a proven record of successful and inspirational teaching or a history of helping emerging talents find their voice and be heard by a wider audience.
A successful community shares a common philosophy and enthusiasm for the mission it embodies, so we want visiting faculty and guest artists who will be good ambassadors for the program. What our guests and faculty say about Hollins has a huge impact on who is willing to come in the future.
We look at more than resume and reputation, we look for those who are eager to join our community, and excited about helping it grow.
Often, we’ll invite someone as a guest responder for the festival of student readings. If that goes well, we might invite them back as a guest speaker, and then (if it fits our curriculum) we may invite them back for a summer of teaching.
We don’t want people who are trying to find work, we want people who will help us create new work together.