Tuesday, July 06, 2010

To MFA or Not to MFA?

As if I don't have enough on my plate, I am tossing around the idea of going for a low residency MFA. Why? Perhaps because it's there. Or maybe because it would give me a more solid credential for teaching at the college. Or maybe because I'm itching for another way to hone the craft.  Of course if you read The New Yorker's article Show or Tell, you might come to the conclusion that it's all just another way for universities to make money while pampering egos and proffering false hopes.  Sure, Louis Menand tips his hat to some of the benefits of such programs, but overall, you come away feeling a tiny bit idiotic for even thinking of doing a degree in creative writing.  Nonetheless, learning is learning and what you do with it is up to you.

So that doesn't help so much.  Perhaps a list of pros and cons would shed a little more light.


  • I love going to school.  (cue the nerd music)
  • I would have another reason to throw myself into my writing.
  • I would have a chance to work with some of the people who inspire me. (of course I can get some of that at conferences and Highlights Foundation Workshops, too)
  • I would have a piece of paper that says I can write.  (just a little chuckle on this one)
  • I could add MFA to my vitae and pump up my credentials 


  • Money.  The biggest drawback is spending more money that we don't have.  I can apply for scholarships, but that's no guarantee that I will get one.  And do I really need more student loans?
  • Time.  I am in command of my time, more or less, right now, but will a Low Res program be flexible enough for me and my family?
  • Are there enough benefits or potential benefits to even consider sinking the time and money into an MFA?

While I mull all that over, I'll look at what's out there.  I  found a fabulous website posted by Anna from Bryn Mawr that gives a good overview of what to look for and then provides listings for programs according to regions.  Another Blog that offers information and general commentary on Creative Writing programs is the MFA Weblog.  NewPages.com also offers a list of universities and colleges who offer MFA programs—some low residency and some full residency.  Byzantine Roads is yet another cite that lists a number of MFA in Creative Writing options.

So with all of this information, do I really want to pursue another degree?  I have one half-finished Ph.d. that will go nowhere.  Would and MFA really offer me anything I truly need?  Of course the other option would be to look into a Library Science degree.  I'm just saying...


  1. My MA in Writing for Young People Is one of the best things I've ever done for myself (I'll finish the program in September). My circumstances are different than yours, though (I don't have kids, I did do a low-residency MA, I live in the UK).

    The thing that really sold me on the program was my interview for it. I was able to ask all the questions I had and really get a sense if the program would provide what I wanted from it.

    I blogged about my experiences and what I've gotten out of my MA here:

    Good luck making your decision. It is an expensive, time-consuming one!

  2. Hi MaryAnn, I have a similar conversation and pros/cons list with myself. I have opted not to MFA, and instead do self study and conferences. I hope one day to do the Highlights Founders workshop. For me, the MFA was an indulgence for fun and, of course, my burning desire to do all things writing. However, I already have a Master's degree, we've got 2 kids to put through college, and I just couldn't justify the money for it.

  3. Well...you already have an agent (me) who says you write beautifully. So...if you're thinking this will help tip the getting-published scales, I'm going to tell you not to. If, however, you really just want some intensive coursework to push yourself...who am I to stop you? I'm a learning nerd too.

  4. I don't know what you should do. I wanted to MFA but ultimately just published a few books instead. I know it would benefit me tons and I would love it but I decided it just doesn't suit my life right now. (An occasional Highlights workshop doe, however. Honesdale, PA is where I go for a little writing luxury.)

    The MFA does seem a bit luxurious, doesn't it - especially since Elana Roth belives in your ability to publish without it.

    Good luck with the decision!

  5. *blush*...Thanks, Elana. That's why we are such a great fit: you get me, totally. Yes, my desire is all about learning and pushing myself. I know I have the best person possible in my corner as far as getting published goes.

    With sudden developments...a chance to join the adjunct faculty at Darton College...I'm going to put this particular subject on hold for a while. I want to concentrate on writing first and foremost, and add a little income by teaching part-time. Cosmic forces are fascinating, aren't they? Talk about timing!

    Like you, Karen, I have 2 kids to put through college (all too soon), and I've learned so much from the Chautauqua Writers Workshop and the conferences I've attended, not to mention my students. I am a romantic who loves learning, so the idea of hitting the college trail is so alluring. But writing and growing is the ultimate goal, and I can do that without sinking thousands of dollars into a degree right now.

    Thanks, everyone, for your input.


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