Grad Guide Special Section

Q&A: Creative writing program assistant director gives tips for undergrads

Two Cougar columnists, Don Barthelme and John Chapman, "bam up" their version of how columnists supplement each other and cooperate for the good of the newspaper. Barthleme, left, was a columnist for the Cougar in 1952, but quickly rose through the ranks to become the youngest managing editor of his time. Later, he helped found the UH Creative Writing Program.

The Creative Writing Program was founded in 1927 and has since produced award-winning alumnis. | File photo/The Cougar

While some are sizing their class rings, others are filling out applications for the next step in their education. With graduation emphasizing the end of 2016, the new crop of Cougar alumni begin to look to the future, which — for those intending to apply to graduate school — is often ambiguous.

To alleviate students’ stress, The Cougar sat down with the assistant director of the UH Creative Writing Program, Giuseppe Taurino.

The Cougar: What is your advice for current undergraduate students thinking about applying to graduate school?

Giuseppe Taurino: Give yourself plenty of time. The application process can be an arduous one. Between prepping your creative and/or critical materials, securing transcripts, identifying recommenders, taking the GRE exam, and whatever else the program you’re applying to requires, time can really get away from you. The last thing you want is to feel rushed as you try to pull together your best work.

TC: When the time to apply comes, how would you suggest students narrow down their options?

GT: Attending graduate school is a major commitment. You’ll be asked (and expected) to work harder than you ever had to as an undergrad. Presumably, you’ll be pursuing a degree in a field you’re very excited to master, so the work, in many instances, won’t feel like work, but you’ll more than likely have less free time than you’re accustomed to. You will also, more than likely, be traveling to a different city/state/region to attend graduate school. And you will, more than likely, be broke! Taking all these factors/variables into account, I always advise undergraduates to prioritize their needs.

TC: What should students anticipate when going into graduate school?

If you’re determined to commit your life to your subject (for our students it’s writing), and nothing else matters, well, make sure you’re familiar with the faculties of the schools you’re interested in. If you hate winter or rain or dry weather, you might consider striking particular areas based on these factors.

If you’re in debt and are reluctant to take on more, or if you simply don’t want to worry about where your money is coming from each month, you might want to avoid applying to programs that offer little or no funding.

To reiterate, graduate school is a significant life choice that’s going to present significant challenges. It’s important to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed; taking personal inventory of what you want and what’s important to you can go a long way towards this end.

TC: Some say college should not be the last stop in education. In your opinion, is graduate school a good idea for everyone?

GT: No, I don’t think graduate school is for everyone. Which is okay. Really depends on what you hope to accomplish and why.

TC: Do you think graduate students stand a better chance at acquiring high-paying jobs than students who opt not to go?

GT: I don’t think graduate school guarantees a higher paying job. For example, programs geared towards the arts – while certainly providing graduates with practical skills they can use in the real world – are geared towards creative
endeavors. Creativity is THE end goal. Many graduates of our program (and others like it) end up taking jobs that help them support themselves, while also providing them with the opportunity to nurture their art. These two things don’t
necessarily equate to ‘high’ paying jobs, though they may equate to a more fulfilled life – depending not the individual.

TC: What do you think graduate school admissions officers look for in their applicants? How can students improve their chances of getting in?

GT: I can’t speak for other programs or fields, but, at the UH Creative Writing Program, our faculty is looking for writers who demonstrate exceptional talent, and a desire/ability to be part of and to contribute to a supportive community.

TC: At UH’s Creative Writing graduate school, are undergraduates at a disadvantage? Does the graduate school primarily accept out-of-state applicants, as some students believe?

GT: While we don’t typically admit a high number of UH undergrads to our graduate program (by my count, we currently have three), I wouldn’t say UH undergrads are at a disadvantage. We receive applications from all over the U.S., and also receive a significant number of international applications each year.  We accept 12-16 students per year, which represents well under 5 percent of the total number of applications we receive. In those terms, every applicant faces the same kinds of competitive challenges.

TC: How much importance do UH admissions officers place on a student’s GPA, especially in light of impressive work experience or resumes?

GT: Again, I can’t speak for other programs or fields, but our faculty is looking, first and foremost, for writers who demonstrate exceptional talent, and a desire/ability to be part of and to contribute to a supportive community. Everything else, including GPA and resumes, etc. falls in line behind that.  This said, we aim to offer full funding to all students we accept into the program. Full funding, among other things, includes a teaching assistantship from the university. In order to qualify for a teaching assistantship, applicants must have, at minimum, a 3.0 GPA.

TC: In your opinion, should students apply to graduate school immediately after graduating college or should they try to boost their resume?

GT: In my opinion, the best graduate students are those who have taken some time off after college.

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