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Grad Program: Playwriting and Screenwriting (M.F.A.)

Basic Information

Since you don’t necessarily need a MFA to sell a play or screenplay, you might be thinking, what’s the point of applying to a playwriting or screenwriting graduate program? Graduate administrators admit writers don’t come to their programs to get a degree; they come to develop as artists. Grad school provides you with the preparation, resources, and exposure to dramatically influence your success as a writer. And consider this: It isn’t every day that playwrights are given the chance produce their own work. Many grad schools offer this perk, even hiring a full-time director and acting troupe for each playwriting student enrolled. Film programs circulate their students’ screenplays among agents, managers, and production companies. Other schools employ alumni listservs to get the word out about exceptional students. What better graduation gift than to have your screenplay sent directly to Hollywood’s elite?

Stellar grades and impressive extra-curricular activities aren’t going to get you into an MFA program. The primary quality admissions offices look for in an applicant is writing ability. Often, there are minimum GPA and GRE score requirements, but demonstrating your talent through a strong writing sample can often trump weaknesses you might have in other areas. Competition is stiff; some playwriting programs accept as little as three applicants per year, while most screenwriting programs only take between twenty to forty students per year. Clear and creative writing is the way to distinguish yourself.

Playwriting and screenwriting are businesses where who you know is everything, and the best graduate programs immerse you in a network of peer support and industry contacts. Because of this, you should heavily weigh a school’s reputation when narrowing down your search for the perfect program. Focus on those schools with long-running programs and reputations for producing Hollywood and Broadway’s finest writers, and be sure to find out how many consecutive semesters the program has been running.

Degree Information

Because an MFA is the terminal degree in this field (no doctorates offered), this will be your last stop in an education in fine arts. Masters programs in screenwriting typically take two years to complete, while playwriting programs can require up to three years of study, depending on the school. A master’s thesis in the form of a play or screenplay is generally a requisite for graduation. Most grad programs require at least one full-length play or screenplay per each year enrolled, allowing you to build up a strong writing portfolio and collect criticism from people who really know what they’re talking about.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Does the school have a job-placement program?
  • Who holds faculty positions?
  • What industry contacts does the school have?
  • What production resources will be available to you at this school?
  • What percentage of alumni work in their field?
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