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Is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing for You?


Ask around: Many people aspire to someday write a book. Whether they are serious and take steps to write that book varies, but many contemplate it. Aspiring writers often look to formal education as a resource to help them develop the skills and connections to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to write that book. Master of fine arts (MFA) writing programs have blossomed over the last decade.

The value of an MFA has been hotly debated. There are many good reasons to consider obtaining an MFA in writing. But there are also good reasons not to obtain an MFA in writing. Is an MFA a good choice for you? If so, how do you go about applying to MFA programs?

Reasons to Get an MFA in Writing:

  • It can give you time and support to accelerate your development as a writer.
  • It can give you access to (and advice from) successful, published writers.
  • You will be immersed in a community of people who are passionate about writing.
  • You may find a mentor and lifelong set of writing peers.
  • It might give you an incentive to write.
  • You will get feedback on your writing.
  • The right program can give you contacts in the publishing world.
Reasons Not to Get an MFA in Writing:
  • Like most graduate programs, MFA programs are expensive. It may not be worth it if you are not fully funded.
  • You do not need to attend an MFA program in order to write.
  • It takes time.
  • Workshops are a source of feedback that can help you learn about yourself as a writer. They are readily available and not tied to a graduate program.
  • MFA programs often are not tied to writing genres like science fiction, romance, or mystery. If you are interested in these kinds of writing you might be better off taking a series of workshops in your genre of choice.
  • An MFA usually will not lead directly into a job teaching creative writing. Academic jobs are competitive. You will need many publications - and will likely find yourself teaching freshman comp rather than seminars in creative writing.
  • There is no guarantee that you will get a job in your area of interest. No degree is a guarantee but writing jobs can be hard to find unless you are willing to work in business settings (e.g., manuals, PR materials, and so on).
  • You do not need an MFA to be writer.
Applying to MFA Programs
If after considering all of the above you decide that an MFA is for you, what goes into an application? The MFA is similar to other graduate applications as it requires What differentiates MFA programs from other graduate programs is the type of admissions essay required and, most importantly, the writing sample.

Statement of Purpose: MFA programs usually refer to the admissions essay as a statement of purpose. It is an essay in which the applicant explains how the program will meet his or her academic goals. If applicants did not major in English or a closely related field, they should explain how other experiences, academic and nonacademic, have prepared them to undertake graduate study in creative writing. Sometimes applicants are asked to share what they are currently reading and what authors inspire them. The statement of purpose also should explain where the creative writing degree falls within the applicant's future career or personal goals.

Writing Sample: The writing sample usually consists of about 20 pages of prose or poetry. Admissions decisions are often made on the quality of writing and what it says about the applicant's potential as a writer. Some programs also require a brief (5 to 10 page) critical essay on a major author or written work. This essay is used to evaluate the applicant's ability to critique literature.

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