Small Classes, Large Benefits.

Small Classes, Large Benefits.

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“How many people usually get admitted to the program?”

This is one of the most frequently asked questions that I receive from prospective students, and one that I received this past weekend at Graduate Preview Days.

It’s a very important question to consider when applying to grad school. I think that most people think about this in terms of selectivity—aka, not everyone getting admitted—and when applying to schools, this can be very nerve-wrecking. Not knowing that once you submit your application, pay your application fee, take the time to request letters of recommendation and transcripts, and pour your energy into your work sample and personal statement—after all of that, you still may not be accepted into the program. This. Is. Stressful. But, it shouldn’t discourage you from applying. If this is where you want to be; go for it! And keep these things in mind when stressing about whether or not you will be admitted into the program.

There are several benefits to a program that accepts a small number of applicants (I think, generally speaking, that 10 is small, though I do know of other programs that select only two—and that is really small).  I believe there is value to a small cohort, to fewer people being admitted to a graduate program:

1. Small classes

With only 10-12 people in a class, there is more time for workshopping your creative work and for sharing your ideas in class. For any given workshop, we are required to submit five-ten pages of prose. If two to three people are workshopping that day, and the class is two hours and twenty minutes, then each person is given about 30-40 minutes, which is valuable time spent discussing only your work. During this time, you receive instructor and peer feedback and guidance for revision. I can’t imagine having less time to talk about ten pages of writing. It simply wouldn’t be enough time. I don’t ever feel like my workshop time is rushed, and there’s always time at the end for me to ask questions. Perhaps a peer’s comment was unclear or I’m concerned about a specific section of my essay or a formal choice I’ve have made. There’s plenty of time in the space of the workshops to receive helpful feedback and to ask necessary questions. I don’t think this would be true if the class sizes were any larger.

2. Faculty

Because the entire program is only 30 people, I have never had a problem scheduling a meeting with a faculty member. Again,  I think this is important and wouldn’t be the case if graduate classes were the size of undergraduate classes. (Remember those 100-person lecture halls?) Keeping class sizes smaller ensures that faculty members have ample time to spend one-one-one with your writing, outside of the classroom.

3. Too many cooks in the kitchen

Ever heard that phrase? Another benefit to a small class is that you’re really able to pick and choose what feedback in the workshop space is important to you. There are a lot of voices in the classroom, a lot of opinions, which is excellent when you’re just starting an essay and you’re not quite sure what it’s doing yet. I always leave workshop with pages of comments and ideas for where to go next. However, too many voices and too much feedback is not always a good thing, and I think that our classes are just the right size where the amount of feedback isn’t overwhelming. It’s productive.

4. Working with the best

My peers are smart writers, and I’m very proud to be studying with them. I’m especially delighted that each candidate was hand-picked by the faculty, that they are all strong members of our workshop space, and we’re a good mix of writers with varying styles of writing, coming from a vast range of studies. This creates a wealth of knowledge that isn’t just shaped from the same mold. We are all able to bounce around our unique perspectives and use our various skills and strengths to help each other in the workshop space.

Only admitting a small number of students is actually a very positive aspect of any graduate program and shouldn’t be something to stress about. I know that it’s impossible not to stress about whether or not you will be accepted, but it shouldn’t deter you from applying if you are passionate about pursuing a graduate degree. In any program, smaller classes are a good thing and something that, if you are accepted into a program, you will be very appreciative of.