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MFA Programs

Thinking of getting your MFA?

This essential handbook provides everything you need to know about deciding where and how to apply to the best graduate creative writing programs for you.

The P&W Guide to MFA Programs

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Introduction

There are a variety of reasons for pursuing an MFA—the desire for a concentrated period of time to write, the need for feedback on a specific work-in-progress, and the search for expert guidance on issues of craft and technique among them. One common reason is the desire to teach creative writing: An MFA is a terminal degree, which means that it better qualifies you to teach at the university level. Search the creative writing MFA Database, our comprehensive guide to graduate creative writing programs in this country and others to get a sense of what these programs offer. Also, visit our Speakeasy MFA Forum to read what other MFA applicants have to say about the search for the right program.

What an MFA Degree Can Offer

An MFA degree program can offer you classes in craft and technique, workshops, feedback on your writing, exposure to other writers’ work, and opportunities to meet peers and established writers. In addition to providing a way for writers to make contacts with agents, editors, and publishers, MFA degree programs often offer prestige and professional credentials as well. Also, many writers find that working for a concentrated period of time in an academic setting allows them the space they need to read, think, and write.

How to Choose an MFA Program

With more than three hundred writing programs in North America alone, deciding which ones to apply to and which one to attend can be a tricky business. Although the majority of programs share basic characteristics—requiring thirty-six to seventy credit hours and two to three years to complete, offering concentrations in at least poetry and fiction, and expecting students to complete a creative writing thesis—they differ in many ways.

Some programs offer course work in fields related to writing, such as hypertext or new media, and some are more academically rigorous than others. Some programs have long-established reputations, while some were begun in the past decade. For most students, the number one criterion is faculty: If you admire the work of writers who teach at particular programs, it might be a good idea to apply to those programs.

Low-Residency MFA Programs

Low-residency MFA programs allow writers to earn a degree without having to spend much time living on a particular campus. Many writers who have established personal and professional commitments in a certain place pursue low-residency programs so that they can earn an MFA degree without too much disruption to their lives.

Most low-residency programs take two years to complete and require students to spend one to two weeks on campus twice each year during intensive seminars. In between the on-campus meetings, students work individually with faculty members—on a predetermined schedule—to create a personal reading list and to complete and revise creative work. As with traditional MFA programs, low-residency programs usually expect students to have completed a book-length thesis by the end of the program.

Other Resources

Many individual colleges and universities that offer MFA degrees in creative writing offer information on their websites about MFA programs in general. Such information can be a good starting point for helping you decide whether pursuing an MFA degree is the right choice for you. Talking to individuals who are in MFA programs or who have earned MFA degrees can be another useful step. The Poets & Writers Guide to MFA Programs, a collection of articles edited by the staff of Poets & Writers Magazine, includes straightforward advice from professionals in the literary field, additional resources to help you choose the best programs to apply to, and an application tracker to keep you organized throughout the process.


 

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