By: Sydney Ellison ‘24

Sixty percent of Macalester graduates pursue an advanced degree within 6 years of graduating, and ninety percent of graduates say that Macalester prepared them well for postgraduate baccalaureate education (After Macalester Page- Graduate School). Our own English department is no exception, with a plethora of recent graduates having been accepted into a variety of graduate programs across the country, and the world. Henry Hietala ‘17 will be attending the University of Michigan’s MFA in Fiction program; Adrianna Jereb ‘18 was accepted into an MFA in Fiction at Washington University in Saint Louis; Koada Heacock ‘18 received admission into the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop for Poetry; Lillith Duquette was accepted into a MA in Library Science; Noel Reiling ’21 was admitted into a MA in Creative Writing; Zoelle Collins ‘21 gained acceptance into an MFA program at Hollins University for Children’s Literature and Illustration; and Rachel Warshaw ‘22, will be attending the University of Manchester for an MA in Prose and Poetry, and University College Dublin for an MFA in Prose. But what is it that makes Mac students so successful? For this piece, I reached out to a variety of faculty within the English department, hoping to get some insight on what they have seen to set our students apart. 

I spoke to Professor Michael Prior, an associate professor of Literature and Poetry here at Macalester, to speak to the high caliber of English graduates at Macalester. Prior told me that fully-funded MFA programs generally have incredibly low acceptance rates, usually in the single digits, making a lot of them harder to be admitted to than Harvard Law! Admittance alone is already an incredible accomplishment for these students and alumni, and Prior says that this feat, “speaks not only to their individual brilliance, but also to the meaningful community fostered by their peers, and the faculty’s dedication to teaching and mentorship.”

Another member of our Macalester English community, Daylanne English, a professor of African American Literature, also speaks highly of the general excellence of Macalester students: “The current success of Mac English alums in admission to graduate programs stems first, of course, from the brilliance, talents and hard work of the students themselves.” In addition to this, Professor English points to the vibrant, and accomplished publishing scholars, writers, and creatives that the Macalester English Department is so blessed to have as faculty. She that the participatory and open environment of the department matters a great deal in “creating an atmosphere of possibilities and promise” that is realized within it. Professor English believes that it is both the faculty and the students coming together that can support what she describes as our department signature: “the synergy, indeed the lack of separation, between the creative and the critical, the inventive and the scholarly”. All together, this union of attributes is what she deems the defining element that can enrich the kinds of projects that impress graduate admission committees for Creative Writing and Literature alike. 

The last faculty member I had the pleasure of speaking with is Peter Bognanni, an Associate Professor and the department chair of the English department, who also happens to be an alumnus of the Class of 2001. He specializes in fiction writing, screenwriting and film studies, humor writing, and the contemporary novel. Professor Bognanni echoed many of the same assertions of the excellence of both the faculty and students themselves in aiding them in their postgraduate pursuits, but he also gives some amazing advice to graduating seniors. To anyone thinking about a MFA, MA, or PhD in their future, Professor Bognanni writes, “you don’t have to go right away. It’s fine to take some time and get a little life experience. I worked at a children’s publishing company (and nights at an arthouse movie theater!) for a couple years after I graduated. It’s not a race. But if the time comes and you think it’s the next step for you, reach out to your professors. We’ll remember you! And we’ll help you navigate the process.”

Macalester is proud to have the staff, support, and rigor to help its students be well prepared for whatever they want to pursue once they leave 1600 Grand Avenue. The English department, with its exceptional staff and kinship is just the place to foster the connection, creativity, and craft needed for all students to achieve great things, no matter when and wherever those things might take them.

 If you want to see more students recognized for their recent acceptances, stay tuned for updates on the Macalester English Department website!

And if you recently received news of admittance into a postgraduate program, send the English Department an email at, [email protected]

The Words would like to thank Michael Prior, Daylanne English, Peter Bognanni, and all of our featured alumni for their contributions to this article!