Fact: most MFA programs have no trouble attracting a full class of students. When a full class is only 6-25 people one would hope that to be true.
Fact: most MFA programs refuse to mail instructions or information to applicants and instead refer everyone to their website.
That being said I have a list of suggestions (pet peeves) to make these websites more efficient.
- Make your website easy to navigate. Links that lead to a listing of every graduate program offered to find your deadline are not efficient. I don't care when the Genetics or the Computer Science deadline is. Face it, neither do you. Put your damn deadline on your own damn page.
- Better yet, make all the forms and steps easy to find and access. (Read: a list that actually links to forms, not to another list.)
- If there are separate forms to apply to the grad school and to the individual program, state that in explicit language. If you harp on the fact that duplicate electronic and paper submissions should NOT be made pay particular attention to this.
- Have a place to upload all materials if that is your thing. It consolidates. If your program has a web page with a secret address that will be sent to the applicant ten days after submitting the electronic application so that she can upload her final documents and writing sample to you please MENTION THIS before she promptly sends you paper copies the day after she submits the original application. Better still: mention it on your website period.
- If computers and webpages aren't your thing, then don't change the web content yourself: hire one of those Computer Science students whose program deadline you sent me to earlier.
- Don't rely on prospective students calling or emailing to resolve these problems. If we don't think we have a problem we see no need to call you as you discourage us from ringing just to chat.
I spent four years working as an IT intern for my undergraduate institution ... I'm beginning to think they use this maze as the first round of weeding people out. If you're not dedicated enough to spend hours at their website clicking dead end and misdirected links then you don't have the staying power to be grad student?
What prompted all this? I received an email yesterday asking me to fill out the English department's application form and mail it back to them as I had forgotten it. Please see No. 3.
When all is said and done who wins the prize for easiest application to complete? The University of Notre Dame. Their entire application right down to the writing sample must be uploaded via electronic submission on one (count it: one) website. Their only downfall: the English department website listed an incorrect page count for the writing sample. However a quick email to the address listed resulted in a prompt email telling me that the error had just been pointed out and that the number on the creative writing department page was correct. Mad props guys, mad props.
The University of Michigan comes in a close second but only because they want you to mail a paper copy of the writing sample but upload everything else. And if I got that wrong see above list of reasons for it not being my fault.