What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

I was recently asked by several individuals what tips I might have for potential applicants. The first, an admissions counsellor, was preparing some social media posts of best practices. The second was someone who would be applying for the January deadline. My advice, to paraphrase Al Capone, was that you can get farther with name recognition and a great writing sample than you can with just a great writing sample.

Naturally, my response to these two people was a bit less flippant. To elaborate, one of the reasons a potential student should want to come to Columbia College Chicago is to work with the faculty here. That means you’d be aware of their work or their writing theories and will have done a bit of research on them. There’s no reason you can’t reach out to a faculty member via email to let them know you’re applying and that you’d be excited to work with them. It’s not duplicitous or schmoozing; you’re simply showing that you’ve done your homework.

Confused Applicant

The typical applicant is often confused about what will give them an advantage.

The applicant for the Creative Nonfiction program responded that he’d rather his work stand on its own and that, if the writing sample didn’t make the grade, he wasn’t good enough for Columbia. I found this stance very admirable and, for all I know (disclaimer – I don’t), the samples are judged and debated blindly long before the name or any other information about a student is linked to them. But at some point, faculty will become aware whose writing is whose.

Getting in to graduate school is tough. I tried many times over many years before I got to a point where my work was at an acceptable level. Cobbling together a CV of all your publications and endeavors is daunting. Asking individuals who know you and your work for letters of recommendation is humbling. Your statement of purpose requires that you be profoundly honest with yourself about your goals.

Besides all that, creative nonfiction is enjoying a particular wave of interest right now in the popular imagination. You never know in a given application period how many people will be in competition with you for a limited number of spots. It’s very hard for the admissions committee to assess who will be a good fit for the program, and if the relationship with the student will be mutually beneficial. All the application materials are tried and true methods of appraising something that is really nebulous—whether or not a creative individual will gel with the Columbia College Chicago educational framework.

Key to Success

The key to success is often much smaller than this.

Sometimes, the quality of your work isn’t even the deciding factor in the decision of whether or not you are accepted to a program. What if every applicant’s writing was equally strong but there were only ten spots for twelve applicants? The admissions committee might be forced to decide based on who had more life experience, or who had more publications.  Someone on the committee might also say, “Ah, this individual sent me an email and is interested in the editing principles I teach. I’d like to work with them.”

Any number of factors go into admissions process. The cost of writing a faculty member is only a few minutes. But it may pay off grandly. So why not give yourself every advantage?