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Grad Program: Creative Writing

Basic Information

You want to write—but who can find the time? Whether you’re still in college or out of school if you dreaming about writing and think you have the right stuff, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing might be the advanced degree for you.

The M.F.A. in Creative Writing entails a combination of writing workshops, literature lectures and seminars, and elective courses intended to help writers improve upon their craft to the point where they’re able to find a public audience for their work. Most programs last two years, though some can extend beyond this. Regardless of the timetable, you probably won’t be able to call the degree your own until you’ve completed a manuscript of publishable quality—and it’ll be your professors, not you, who decide what that means.

Now before you start printing out your latest story and writing checks for app fees, there’s something you need to note about an M.F.A. in Creative Writing—or any other M.F.A. discipline, for that matter. An M.F.A. is not necessarily a job-preparation degree like a lot other graduate programs. Rather, an M.F.A. is largely an artistic endeavor.

If you’ve done a bit of research, you may have noticed that some schools offer an M.F.A., while others offer an M.A. with an emphasis on Creative Writing. Whereas an M.F.A. gives students more freedom to focus on their crafts as artists, an M.A. is more tightly structured within a grid of theory and literary criticism. Another difference: Most M.A. students will have to complete a critical thesis to earn their degree, while the M.F.A. students will need to write a creative manuscript.

One benefit of an M.F.A. is that it’s a terminal degree, so when you finish, you have completed the track of scholarship in your field. For this reason, the M.F.A. often requires more courses than the M.A. Prospective students need to do their research when choosing a program.

While poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and screenwriting are the most popular creative writing options, don’t forget that many programs boast slight deviations from the norm. A program might focus on writing children’s literature or be entirely open to any form of written expression.

Degree Information

A Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing takes from one to two years, and requires a thesis and often a comprehensive exam in English Literature. A Master of Fine Arts usually takes two to four years (though students can sometimes apply credits from an M.A.) and usually requires a manuscript of publishable quality.

Many programs offer a Ph.D. in English with a specialization in creative writing, though some now offer Ph.D.s in creative writing. A Ph.D. in English with a specialization in creative writing will require a good deal more analysis of literature. Both take between five and seven years, and require a creative dissertation. Comprehensive written and oral examinations are also often required.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Is the program’s geographic location conducive to your creative process?
  • What kind of financial support does the program offer?
  • What kind of writing do the instructors produce? Is it similar to what I want to do?
  • Does the program specialize in the area of Creative Writing I’m interested in?
  • What guest instructors have been known to visit the school?
  • Will I be able to make connections that can help me publish?
  • What are the alumni doing now? Do they continue to support the school?

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