Timelines & Applications


Well-Known Member
Applying to go to grad school is a time consuming process that can take longer than a year to complete. I didn't see this subject covered on the Forum, so I'm taking a few minutes to share my experience and hopefully shed some light on the process. I have been out of school for a few years, so technically, I am “returning” to school and this is written from that perspective.

April 2009: The idea of returning to college to earn a MFA degree had been banging around in my head for a few years. I am a career photographer and had explored the option of getting a Masters in that field, but ultimately decided that I would like to expand my horizons and take on a new challenge in visual arts. I had a few discussions with close friends and family and came up with a list of four objectives for this next adventure:
First, I'd like to be qualified to teach at the college level.
Second, I'd like to improve my skill set in film & video production.
Third, I'd like to explore web-based distribution.
Fourth, I'd like to be creative on my own terms (a change from my current employment situation.)

I decided to pursue a MFA in Film/Video Production, Cinematography or something along those lines. I'm really interested in producing content for the web and feel that direction has a lot of potential.

Most importantly, I wrote these things down. I am a big fan of project notebooks (and am writing this from the notes I have collected). I use art sketch books with blank pages, but anything will do.

June 2009: I started doing research on schools by first identifying how I wanted to live the next 3-4 years. I tend to gravitate to mid-sized college towns (I've lived in Boulder, CO, Nashville and South Bend, IN). I enjoy living in more liberal towns with good open-minded art communities. And to stay true to my objectives (I'm not aiming to be a “Hollywood” director). In the end, I'm not a “big city” type of person, so NYC and LA were off the list.

So that left me with somewhere between the coasts. Ohio University, University of Iowa, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, University of Utah, Columbia College in Chicago, University of Arizona and Savannah College of Art & Design. I did a lot of internet research over the course of six weeks. I found it amazing on how FEW colleges post student films on the internet. I picked up a copy of “Film School Confidential, 2nd ed.” and read that cover to cover.

Financially, Columbia College (big city), Arizona (not quite the right program) and Savannah (private college) weren't going to work out for me. I did my undergrad work at Southern Illinois University and had a wonderful four years there, but was looking for a new experience. So scratch that one too. (Go Salukis!)

August 2009: That left me with four colleges. I went back to my notebook and started to make checklists & make notes about application deadlines. Every school is slightly different in their application materials and deadlines, and right now in the process, those are the most important facts you need to keep track of. School calendars are also handy, so you are aware of when students and faculty will be available (and more importantly, when they are on break).

September 2009: It was time to start making connections and getting some additional information. I made a list of 5 questions about the department and 2-3 questions about the community that weren't covered on the websites. Film stock or digital? Class size? Total students in department? Teaching opportunities? Older students (I'm over 30)? Bike friendly community? Arts in the community? Material like this is best covered in phone conversations. It is a great way to introduce yourself (if you are prepared) and start the process of getting accepted.

I emailed the directors of the departments on my list and arranged to call two of them, with the intention of speaking to the other two a few weeks later. The conversations happened over the next 2-3 weeks with a few additional calls to instructors and administrative assistants (great resources) in the department.

After getting some positive feedback, I started into the application paperwork for Ohio University and the University of Iowa. The deadline for Iowa was first on January 1st, followed by Ohio on February 1st. To make everything easier on my side, I set a personal deadline of December 15th for both. And due to my employment, I was only able to work on the paperwork in the evenings and on the weekends. And as much as I had hoped, it wasn't an every evening project.

Both schools asked for on-line applications and copies of school transcripts. Both asked for a resume, which I updated and printed out in short order. Both asked for a Statement of Purpose, which took me about three weeks to write, rewrite, run by some friends & family and revise (four times). There are some decent resources on-line to find out what a Statement of Purpose is and what to cover in one. Both asked for a Writing Sample (or Research Paper). I used a 2000 word editorial piece that I had written for a local magazine, since I hadn't done a formal academic paper in nearly 20 years. Both asked for a sample of film work. Since I had been doing some small projects on the side, I was able to select four short pieces and put those onto a DVD. I had also been adding my photography website address and a video website address to every email, so they had other opportunities to look at my work. I set all of this aside as I collected it.

On the video website”¦ I have an account with YouTube and with Vimeo. My YouTube account has about 40 videos on it”¦ some good, some not so good. Even though you might spend hours on the internet, it's important to limit what you show and be considerate of other people's time. My Vimeo site had 5 videos on it, ranging from a 30 sec. commercial to an 8 min. promotional documentary.
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Well-Known Member
Mid-September 2009: Both schools asked for three reference letters. I knew that requirement was going to take the most amount of time to collect. I picked three references (one college professor and two professional friends) and emailed each of them with the request. I made sure to include the reasoning behind my decision to pursue a Masters degree (see objectives above) and the deadline I had set for this requirement. I asked each of them to have this completed and submitted by the end of October. I mailed each of them a packet that included a copy of the email that I had sent to them (reformatted into a letter), the appropriate university paperwork and pre-addressed (and stamped) envelopes. I made sure to attach checklists to each envelope, as each school was a little different in their requests.

November 2009: After a month of being unable to concentrate on the application material due to some scheduling requirements at work, I was finally able to focus my attention on this. I contacted two of my three references about finishing the recommendation letters, which required another email and another phone call to finish up.

I scheduled a three-day (Sunday-Tuesday) road trip to Athens, OH to visit the program. The visit included biking around town when I arrived on Sunday afternoon to get my bearings. Monday started with a great conversation with the Director of the Department (which ended up being the application interview) and before leaving on Tuesday, I was able to sit in on three classes. Having been away from the academic world, it was important to me to sit in on classes and see if this was going to be the right environment for me. I was also able to talk to a few current grad students and ask them about the school, the town and the finances of it all.

I had intended to do the Iowa visit shortly after, but between work, college breaks and scheduling time with the people I wanted to meet with, that trip didn't happen until the end of January.

I spent a couple hours on two Saturdays after that completing the on-line applications and requesting the transcripts from my alma mater. Iowa was first, as the transcripts and the reference letters were being sent directly to the school. Ohio was a couple of weeks later as I needed to collect those materials myself. At the end of the process, everything was out the door by my deadline of mid-December.
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Well-Known Member
January 2010: It was time to address the finances of this project. To be on the priority list for government loans, all of the financial application material needs to be submitted by February 15th. This included collecting the W2 forms from my employer and finishing my taxes shortly after that. Here's the website for the government program”¦ http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ It's not important to know exactly where you are going, as you are able to submit to several colleges in the process. Once you get an acceptance, you can always go back and delete colleges from the list.

February 2010: The visit to Iowa City, IA happened a little later in the process than I had hoped, but it is still very important to visit the university and look around. Remember when you are visiting any university, that a good chuck of the time you spend there will be in the middle of winter. In the Midwest, that means short days, overcast skies and an extra layer of clothes. I enjoy the cold, so it's not a big factor in my decision. This was a shorter trip, but in one day, I was able to schedule in a visit with the Director, visit another instructor and sit in on two classes. The night before, I was able to attend a Univ. of Iowa wrestling meet with 7500 other fans, which reinforced the concept for a documentary that I had researched a few years ago.

Immediately after returning home, I sat down and wrote down the pros & cons of each program. Each program had its own strengths and I would be happy attending either one. With all of the applications in, it was time to wait.

Mid-March 2010: I heard back from Iowa first. A rejection letter meant that the decision process got a whole lot easier. The reasons weren't exactly explained, but with only four spaces and a committee to decide, there could be a hundred different reasons why one applicant might be a stronger candidate. After many years as a freelance photographer, I'm comfortable with decisions that, at a certain point, are completely out of my hands. I put in the best application that I could and could not have done any better at this point.

April 2010: The official letter from Ohio University arrived on the first day of April. I had gotten a courtesy email a few days before, so I knew that I had been accepted to the program. I was still pretty excited opening the letter. At this point, it had been nearly a year since I started the process. I enjoyed my visit to the Ohio University campus and am excited to join the community of filmmakers there.

With the acceptance letter came a brief explanation of the financial end of attending school and the scholarship information. The School of Film has a good funding program for students, and it's good to have as much of that information up front.

Now the real work begins”¦
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Well-Known Member
May 2010: Shortly after receiving the acceptance letter, I started doing research on housing in Athens. I'm not going to show up in August and expect a lot of quality places to choose from. A little research showed that a lot of the leases in town run from June to June, so May is a great time to start looking. And even if I don't find something right away, I'm still ahead of the curve. The internet and Craigslist ended up being a great resource. Not only did I respond to postings, but I also posted myself as someone looking for a place.

Another trip to Athens started the relocation process. The trip down included a load of boxes that went into a storage unit for the summer. I had a few places lined up to visit and another half dozen that I needed to drive by. I had also planned to post my own flyers in departments that might generate some like-minded, artistic, grad student roommates (theater, art, music, dance). I had planned at least two trips to find a place, but was lucky enough to find a great place to stay on the second day.

I also had some time to walk around campus. I stopped by the Financial Aid office to make sure all of my paperwork had been accepted, checked out the Rec Center and stopped by the School of Film to say hi. That led to a conversation of attending classes this summer and knocking off a couple of additional paperwork requirements for the university (I now have my student ID).

The financial aid package (loans) arrived the third week of May and adds to the big picture of what my next three years is going to look like.

Future: I am now planning to start school on July 26th with a couple of classes outside of the department. It will be good to get in a little early and get back into the groove of being a student again. The rest of the program starts the first week of September. Start to finish, the process of applying and starting school will be a 17-month process, a good majority of which has been out of my control.

Hope this helps anyone that is planning to attend graduate school. I'll update this as the summer continues.
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Thanks for the info, appreciated!

I'm looking to apply to the "big city" schools but this definitely helps me out with what to expect. My plan...

1. Almost done with the written portfolio requirements (always tweaking)
2. Saving up to buy the hvx200P by July and shoot a new short film for submission. Most of my work is too commercial because I work in the advert field :/
3. I'm finding it exceedingly hard to come with a "great" personal statement... everything I write seems ... cheesy ... not right. Any suggestions are welcome?
4. I have my finances lined up.
5. Transcripts ready to go.
6. Recommendations will be a problem because I move around so much... I've lived in 4 different countries in the last 5 years since I finished school... keeping in touch is hard :(

I want to fool proof this... I know i can't but I want to. Any advice on getting into schools like TISCH is welcome too. :)

Again thanks and best of luck with school!
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Well-Known Member
Other than an acceptance letter (the only thing that matters), I haven't gotten any feedback on my application materials. I'd like to believe that my Statement of Purpose was the homerun I needed, but I think the personal interaction on the phone call and in the visit to the school helped a lot too.

I don't believe that this needs to be a completely blind process. While you are looking for a good fit in a school, the faculty is also looking for a good fit in a student. In the end, everyone needs to live in the same space for the duration of your stay. If you can schedule a visit, go and ask your questions. I'm sure that they will tell you what kind of student they are looking for.

In a side note, I've actually found myself holding off on buying equipment. I shot a few of my submissions on a cheap $500 HD camera (the discontinued Canon HG10). The school has an excellent gear list... and the Red One with the Steadicam rig can wait.


RedOne *drool*
I might just buy a cheaper camera I mean, I "might" be going to school fall next year and by that time the technology will surely have evolved further.
Interaction with the schools might be a problem... I'm out of the country for another 5 months but I will make it a point to call. Thanks for the tip.
Writing the "personal statement" is making me very anxious for some reason...

Thanks for all the advice. :)
Any good cheap cams you can point me towards?
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