MFA Programs


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 MFA Programs database, our comprehensive guide to graduate creative writing programs in the United States and other English-speaking countries to get a sense of what these programs offer.

What an MFA Degree Can Offer

An MFA degree program can offer you classes in craft and technique, workshops, seminars, 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 two 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 increasingly, nonfiction and translation), and expecting students to complete a creative writing thesis—they differ in many ways.

Some programs offer coursework in fields related to writing, such as digital language arts and publishing, 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. Funding is another important criterion; some programs offer full funding, others partial funding, and some do not offer any funding. Some sources of funding to look out for include teaching assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships.

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.

Online MFA Programs

Online MFA programs allow writers to earn a degree with a flexible schedule from anywhere in the world. Faculty members lead workshops, which often connect students internationally.

Some programs include webinars and online conferences, live chats, and one-on-one tutorials offering a variety of ways to connect with faculty and students. Other programs include a residency for an opportunity to meet authors, editors, publishers, and other students in person.

Most online programs take two years to complete (sometimes longer for part-time students), and as with traditional MFA programs, students are expected to complete a book-length manuscript.

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. You can search the Poets & Writers Directory for writers who attended particular programs.

Our MFA Programs database provides information on faculty, funding, deadlines, and more to guide you through your research. 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. The Poets & Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer (Avid Reader Press, 2020) by Kevin Larimer and Mary Gannon has a chapter dedicated to advice about MFA programs.

Back to Top

  • Introduction
  • What an MFA Degree Can Offer
  • How to Choose an MFA Program
  • Low-Residency MFA Programs
  • Online MFA Programs
  • Other Resources

Please log in to continue.
Don't yet have an account?