Each student in the MFA program is allowed to submit a list of faculty that they would like to work with over the correspondence semester (for more information on how the correspondence semester works, visit the MFA website). These preferences are taken into account when the faculty meet to determine student-faculty pairings– in my experience, a student will almost always get their first or second choice so careful consideration is critical in compiling one’s list (alliteration is optional). Reading the published work of the faculty is probably the best way to form an initial impression. Email correspondence with current students is also facilitated by the MFA program.
The actual pairings are made towards the end of the Residency so new students have an opportunity to get to know the faculty. Workshops and craft talks are the main way to get a feel for their individual approaches but new students are encouraged to speak directly with each writer to get a better sense of how they would work together. Talking with other students will also clue new students into the strengths and weaknesses of each faculty– who’s good at structure, at dialogue, at thematic elements, etc.– as well as individual quirks, “toughness” vs. “gentleness”, and general demeanor. While all the faculty are excellent teachers, each has their own way of teaching and these differences will strongly influence how well the correspondence semester goes.
The day the pairings are announced and you learn which writer you will be working with for the next six months is really exciting. This semester’s pairings will be made tomorrow– I’m really looking forward to getting to work.