Many writers wonder if pursuing an Master’s in Fine Arts in Creative Writing is worthwhile.
For some writers, it could mean finally workshopping a manuscript in an academic setting, networking with faculty and staff or just kickstarting the manuscript in the first place.
Others say it’s not worth the money and you could recreate the MFA experience in other ways.
Is an MFA Worth Your Time and Money?
To gain some insight, I asked a few published writers to weigh in, including those outside of the traditional creative writing realms.
Here’s what they recommended thinking through if you’re considering getting an MFA.
1. Identify your end goal
To pursue her goal of publishing a novel, immerse herself into literary culture, and satisfy a crossroads moment of her life, Jordan Rosenfield decided to apply for MFA programs. Now, as a MFA graduate, she’s a freelance writer and an author of a handful of books.
She said writers should really think about what they want — and how an MFA might help them get there — before enrolling in a creative writing program.
“While it hasn’t made my career path to publishing novels any easier, it certainly improved my craft, and my critical eye and opened doors in other aspects of my career,” Rosenfield said. “If you plan to teach, I think in a related field, an MFA is essential, but if you just want to improve your craft, you can do that through online courses and weekend workshops for a lot less money.”
Heather Meyer, a comedy writer and playwright, decided a low-residency MFA would broaden her network and increase her skill set while still working in theatre.
“The low-res allowed me to that without having to move or quit gigs I really love,” Meyer said. “That’s what this program trained me to do: to live and work as a writer.”
2. Think about the way you already write
Senior communications professional Robin Kurzer originally pursued a dual MFA/MA degree to prepare herself for teaching fiction in a college setting.
However, she realized later she had romanticized the idea of an MFA. In reality, she didn’t enjoy her program’s strict adherence to a specific way of creating art.
“You needed to sit in a certain fashion, approach each and every writing assignment in the same way,” Kurzer explained.
Another professional writer, Joselin Linder, was rejected from every top program she’d heard of, so she moved to New York and focused on growing her network. Because she grew relationships in the writing field on her own, she advises against an MFA — unless, somehow, tuition is free.
“Set your own deadlines or use your writing group to set them and use any money you would’ve spent on an MFA to travel and explore,” she said. “Go to events where agents and editors meet-and-greet with writers. Take classes you find online or in your town to help you write and learn how to sell it. Go to free book readings and launches. Bartend or work on a boat for two years to pay for your life, and consider it ‘research.’”
3. Understand a program’s risk
Rachel Charlene Lewis, now the founder of the Fem and editor-in-chief of Vagabond City Lit, felt constantly frustrated because her classmates attempted to transform her writing into “black, gay ‘voice of a generation’ as if it was a complement and not a basic form of tokenization.”
While she’s unsure whether to advise other writers on pursuing an MFA, she stressed that no matter how much extensive research you do, you’ll never predict how well you’ll work within your cohort and with your professors.
4. Consider an alternative academic path
Deviating from the traditional creative writing graduate programs, freelance writer and Romper news writer Annamarya Scaccia opted for a Master’s in Journalism instead.
Ultimately, the decision was financial because she couldn’t afford expensive workshops, writing residencies, or writing retreats to gain new skills. Now she focuses on news writing, investigative research and reporting.
“As a trained journalist, I know exactly what goes into crafting an article, from research to reporting to writing to editing,” Scaccia said. “I know the exact steps I have to take to investigate an incident or track down people hard to find. I know how to spot the lede, structure a story, etc.”
Following a slightly different path, book publicist and writer Alaina Leary received a Master’s of Arts in publishing and writing. Her college career, which involved upper-level nonfiction and fiction courses, exposed her to journalism and professional writing. For graduate school, she wanted a more business-oriented curriculum.
“I learned the basics of magazine, electronic publishing, and book publishing as well as honed skills in editing, publicity, marketing, freelancing, graphic design, social media, video and audio editing, business management, innovation and entrepreneurship,” Leary said. “I can now confidently talk about the process of promoting a nonfiction book as much as I can about social media management for an online magazine.”
After hearing from these seven different voices, there’s still no obvious yes-or-no answer to the MFA debate.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you want in a program and how much of a risk you’re willing to take.
It’s important to consider the path you’ll take if you don’t pursue one, too: could you better use that grad school money in other ways to reach your goal of becoming a writer?