MFA in Mind: Twenty Questions to Ask Before Applying

From the September/October 2018 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

It seems everyone has advice for those considering an MFA in creative writing, including us (you can find plenty of helpful tips here at But advice is rarely universal, and the decision to pursue a graduate degree is one that requires individualized attention. One writer’s expectations for an MFA program might be radically different from those of another. So rather than spout platitudes about the uniquely personal decision you are facing, we’d like to offer some simple questions that prospective grad students might want to consider, starting with perhaps the most important one. There are no wrong answers, but taking the time to explore your motivations, preferences, goals, and priorities can be a helpful first step in deciding what the right path is for you. 

1. Why do you want an MFA? 

2. Does the program offer funding—and if so, how much?

3. Are there on-campus jobs, work-study opportunities, or travel and research stipends available that could offset tuition and living costs?

4. Are you willing to carry some debt after you graduate?

5. Do you want to move somewhere for at least two years (full-residency), or do you want to stay put and attend brief residencies (low-residency)? 

6. Do you want to live on the coast, in the mountains, or somewhere in between? 

7. Do you want to work with a small group of peers or a larger cohort filled with a multitude of voices?

8. Is the program centered on workshops, or is it more academically rigorous?

9. Do you know any writers who have attended the program and would be willing to share their opinions?

10. Do you know the work of the faculty?

11. What have you heard about the teaching styles of the faculty?

12. Will there be any faculty members on sabbatical during your residency?

13. Do you want to teach while in an MFA program—if so, does the program require teaching or are there elective teaching opportunities available—or do you want your writing to be your only focus? 

14. Do you want to work on the staff of a literary journal, small press, or university press while pursuing your MFA—if so, does the program offer such opportunities?

15. Does the MFA program have a regular reading series or other extracurricular programs?

16. What have you heard about the program on social media, at writing conferences and events, or out in the world?

17. Does the faculty and recent alumni reflect a diverse community?

18. Can you visit the campus and/or talk to a few current students and faculty?

19. Does the program allow you to take classes or workshops in other genres?

20. What are the application requirements, e.g., GRE scores, personal statement, writing sample?