External Opportunities for MFA Students
There are many funding opportunities available to people in creative fields, particularly art/design and creative writing. Most of these fellowships and grants are available to post-MFAs, and it is always smart to think ahead during your MFA program about what types of opportunities are available to you once you have your degree in hand.
What types of fellowships are available to me as an artist or writer?
There are many different types of opportunities available, from small scholarships to individual fellowships to large-scale grants. Project and travel grants are particularly important for visual artists and designers, while individual residential fellowships are more popular for writers. It is important to think about what type of opportunity you are interested in when you are beginning your search. Consider these options:
- Teaching-based fellowships are for those who are interested in a possible future teaching career.
- If you want to travel to another country to work on your project, look into travel grants or fellowships – such as the Fulbright or Lighton.
- If you are located in a place where you can do community-based projects, larger grants through government or civil organizations might be available to you.
These lists are not intended to be comprehensive; they are only a suggestion of the myriad opportunities available to MFA students and graduates. Many opportunities are linked to professional organizations, particular geographic areas, and individual institutions. It is recommended that you complete your own thorough search, based on the area of your work, your interests, and your location.
Sometimes, a series of small grants can be as helpful and important as one larger fellowship. Finding smaller grants may require a little more searching on your end – through blogs (see the links at the bottom of this page), web searches, and state or local arts commissions and societies. It also helps to see what type of grants and fellowships have been won by artists and writers you admire or with whom you have a common aesthetic. Are these opportunities you should apply to yourself?
What does the application process look like for arts and writing funding opportunities?
Each opportunity will have a completely different application process from the next. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can just reuse one set of application materials over and over again. It is important to tailor your materials for each granting institution or organization. Ask yourself these types of questions when considering the best application strategy for each opportunity:
- What is interesting, unique, or new about my project?
- What can I offer the granting institution or organization as an artist or writer?
- What are the goals or mission of the granting organization and how does my work apply to those goals?
- Who is reviewing the applications (this may require a little research) and how can I make my work appeal to those possible reviewers?
- What work should I submit that best represents me and my potential?
Here are the most important things to think about when applying to funding opportunities:
- Sample of your work: When thinking about funding opportunities in the arts, it’s important to remember that the granting institutions or organizations are usually interested in your work first and foremost. Send only your best work. Choose the work that represents what you can offer the organization as an artist. If you are applying for a very specific or themed grant, then send the work that applies best to the opportunity. Also, make sure to follow the formatting rules or limitations outlined by each application. Send the correct file types and sizes, page numbers, or links. You never want to give the reviewers any avoidable reasons for not fully considering your application.
- Project proposals: Some grants and fellowships will require a proposal or description of your planned project. Project proposals should always be clear and use non-jargon language. Be detailed about your possible timeline, and don’t forget to mention how you might disseminate, publish, or share your work. Always follow the formatting guidelines for proposals that are given by the granting organization.
- Recommendations: Most larger fellowships or grants will require recommendation letters. Choose your references based on how well they know you and your work. Always ask your references well in advance of the deadline (at least a month, and more if possible) to write you a good recommendation. Give them a link and brief summary of the opportunity you are applying for, as well as any of your own application materials that you have prepared. Make sure to periodically check in with your references to make sure they are submitting material on time.
- CV/Resumes and personal statements: Some applications will require a CV/resume or personal statement. These should highlight your development as an artist and professional. Include any teaching or professional experiences that apply to the opportunity. Do not forget to include any and all awards or previous grants and fellowships you have received for your work. Personal statements should illustrate what makes you unique and interesting as an artist and how you connect to your work. Discuss future goals and how the opportunity will help you achieve those goals.
What type of help is available to me as I begin the external funding process?
Notre Dame’s Graduate School has a thriving Professional Development office. One part of the Professional Development umbrella is the Office of Grants & Fellowships. The Associate Program Director, Mike Westrate, provides workshops all year long for students looking for funding, and he and his consultants are always available to help you in one-on-one sessions. Consultants can help with any step of the process – from helping you find opportunities to creating a strategy for your application to reviewing and editing drafts of your materials. Contact Grants & Fellowships at email@example.com.
You should also talk to the faculty and other students in your department. MFA faculty are practicing artists and writers themselves, so they know about many opportunities that might be available to you, and they are often willing to help you prepare your application materials.
It is never too soon to start thinking about external funding, even for opportunities that are a few years down the road. Create an action plan to help you decide what to apply for and when. Most post-MFA opportunities are available for the rest of your post-MFA career, so consider applying for these fellowships and grants multiple times.
Just like doctoral and MA students, MFA students qualify for some internal funding from Notre Dame. This is primarily in the form of conference grants through the graduate school or the GSU. If you are presenting at a conference, you are encouraged to apply for these internal funding opportunities. Please see the Internal Funding Opportunities section of the Graduate School’s main research page. If you have any questions, contact Grants & Fellowships at firstname.lastname@example.org.