Jane Friedman

3 Myths About the MFA in Creative Writing

writing classroom

Today’s guest post is an excerpt from DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira ( @DIYMFA ), just released from Writer’s Digest Books.

Most writers want an MFA for one of three reasons: They want to teach writing, they want to get published, or they want to make room in their life for writing. It turns out these reasons for doing an MFA are actually based on myths.

Myth 1: You Need an MFA to Teach Writing

Many writers get the MFA because they think it will allow them to teach writing at the college or graduate level. Once upon a time this might have been the case, but these days so many MFA graduates are looking for jobs and so few teaching positions exist, that it’s a challenge to get a teaching job with a PhD, much less with a terminal master’s degree. The writers who do manage to snag a coveted teaching position are often so overwhelmed with their responsibilities that they have to put their own writing on the back burner. While in the past an MFA may have served as a steppingstone to becoming a professor, it’s not the case anymore.

More important, many teachers in MFA programs do not have that degree themselves. Some professors are successful authors with prominent careers, while others are publishing professionals who bring the industry perspective to the courses they teach. This goes to show that the MFA has little impact on a writer’s ability to teach writing. Being a successful author or publishing professional is much more important.

Myth 2: The MFA Is a Shortcut to Getting Published

No agent will sign you and no editor will publish your book based on a credential alone. You have to write something beautiful. If you attend an MFA program and work hard, you will become a better writer. And if you become a better writer, you will eventually write a beautiful book. An MFA might help you on your quest for publication, but it’s certainly not required. After all, many writers perfect their craft and produce great books without ever getting a degree.

Ultimately getting published is a matter of putting your backside in the chair and writing the best book possible. For that, you don’t need an MFA.

Myth 3: An MFA Program Will Force You to Make Writing a Priority

If you can find time to write only by putting your life on hold and plunging into a graduate program, then your writing career isn’t going to last very long. Only a small percentage of writers can support themselves and their loved ones through writing alone. This means you must find a balance between your writing and the rest of your life.

Even within your writing career, you must become a master juggler. Forget that glamorous image of the secluded writer working at his typewriter. These days, writing is only a small piece of the writer’s job. In addition to writing, you must promote your books, manage your online presence, update your social media … and likely schedule these tasks around a day job, a family, and other responsibilities.

The danger with MFA programs is that they train you to write in isolation but don’t always teach you how to fit writing into your real life, or even how to juggle writing with all the other aspects of your writing career. Not only that, but external motivators like class assignments or thesis deadlines don’t teach you to pace yourself and build up the internal motivation you need to succeed in the long-term.

Genre Writing in MFA Programs

Most MFA programs focus on literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. While these are noble areas of literature, they cover only a tiny slice of the wide and diverse world of writing. Heaven forbid a writer in a traditional MFA program produces something commercial—or worse, genre fiction. While a handful of MFA programs allow writers to study genre fiction or children’s literature, the majority still focus on literary work alone. If you want to write genre fiction, commercial nonfiction, or children’s books, you likely will not learn much about them in your MFA courses.

Writers of genre and commercial fiction are among the most dedicated, driven writers I know. They take their craft seriously and work hard to understand the business side of the publishing industry. In addition, a vast number of associations, conferences, and guilds are dedicated to specific genres or commercial writing. Literary writers are not the only ones who crave knowledge and community. Commercial and genre writers want it, too.

This is why I created DIY MFA : to offer an alternative for writers who do not fit the strict literary mold of the traditional MFA system.

Should You Pursue an MFA?

MFA programs are not a bad thing. In fact, they are exceptional at serving a small and very specific group of writers. If you write literary fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, and if you thrive in a formal academic environment, then the traditional MFA is a great option. If you can afford the tuition without taking out loans, and if you have the time to make the most of the experience, then you are one of those ideal candidates for graduate school.

One reason I am extremely grateful for my own MFA is that it gave me the opportunity to work with several phenomenal teachers. I studied YA and middle-grade literature with the brilliant David Levithan. The legendary Hettie Jones was my first workshop teacher. I worked closely with Abrams publisher Susan Van Metre, who served as my thesis advisor and mentor. These experiences were invaluable, and at the time I didn’t think I could make connections with such literary luminaries any other way. Now I know, however, that you can make connections and find great mentors without attending an MFA program.

The “Do It Yourself” MFA

As an MFA student, I discovered the magic equation that sums up just about every traditional MFA. The Master in Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing is nothing more than a lot of writing, reading, and building community. In the workshops, you exchange critiques with other writers and work toward a manuscript that becomes your thesis project. Most programs also require you to take literature courses both in and outside your chosen area of literature. Finally, you are asked to attend readings or talks by other writers—to build your personal writing community. To create a personalized, do-it-yourself MFA, you have to find a way to combine these three elements.

Write with focus. You have to commit to a project and finish it. In traditional MFA terms, this project is your thesis, and it’s a crucial part of your development as a writer. But you don’t need to complete a thesis to get this experience; you just need to finish and polish a manuscript. While you can feel free to play and explore early on, you must eventually choose a project and see it through from beginning to end. When you write with focus, you write with a goal in mind.

Read with purpose.  This means reading with a writer’s eye. If you’re like me, you were a bookworm long before you could hold a pencil in your hand. Writers love books. In fact, many of us become writers so we can create the very books we love to read.

Reading for pleasure is wonderful, and it certainly has its place. Reading with purpose is different: It is reading in a way that serves our writing. It’s not just about finding out what happens in the story; it’s about learning how the author pulls it off. Reading this way isn’t just an intellectual exercise. When we read with purpose, we examine how an author crafts a story so we can emulate those techniques in our own work.

Build your community.  In the traditional MFA, building a community happens organically. You meet fellow writers in your workshops and literature courses. You go to readings and conferences to connect with authors. You attend a publishing panel and learn about the industry. The community element is baked into the MFA experience.


To learn more about crafting your own customized MFA experience, sign up for the DIY MFA newsletter , and check out the new book, DIY MFA .

Gabriela Pereira

Gabriela Pereira is the Creative Director at DIY MFA , the do-it-yourself alternative to a master’s degree in writing. She develops tools and techniques for the serious writer, to help you get the knowledge without the college. With an MFA in creative writing, Gabriela is also a freelance writing teacher, and has led workshops throughout New York City via writing programs like: 826NYC, East Harlem Tutorial Program and Everybody Wins. When she’s not working on DIY MFA, she loves writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few short stories for “grown-ups” thrown in for good measure.


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[…] Today’s guest post is an excerpt from DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA), just released from Writer’s Digest Books. Most writers want an MFA for one of three reasons: They want to teach writing, they want to get published, or they want to make room in their life for writing. It turns out these reasons …  […]


I find screenwriting programs to be more honest with respect to story telling.


So true, I did a screen writing module in my degree. It was easy, fun and clear to write a script. So weird!


THANK YOU! I needed this. I occasionally doubt myself and my future success possibilities because of my lack of an MFA. I’ve been gradually letting that notion go, and this helps!

Also, I’m not interested in social media with exception of using Twitter as a news aggregator. From my perspective it’s an unwanted hassle. I write fiction and have neither the time nor inclination for blog posts or podcasts, but I do understand the nature of the disadvantage this might impose. And I think reality reliably informs us a social media presence is not necessarily mandatory to find success.

[…] view post at https://janefriedman.com/mfa-creative-writing-3-myths/ […]

[…] 3 Myths About the MFA in Creative Writing (Jane Friedman) Most writers want an MFA for one of three reasons: They want to teach writing, they want to get published, or they want to make room in their life for writing. It turns out these reasons for doing an MFA are actually based on myths. […]

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Should You Get An MFA In Creative Writing?

should i do an mfa in creative writing

As a published writer, I often get messages from aspiring writers who are recent grads and looking for advice. They want to know what first steps to take in their post-grad life. Do they intern for a publisher? Do they join a writer's community group? Do they read all the Knausgaard books and hope to absorb his genius through osmosis? Or do they turn around and go right back to school for master's degree in fine art for creative writing ?

As someone who battled with weighing the gravity of each other those paths for a long time, I have a lot of lengthy opinions and arguments for each path. The short answer is that there is no universal answer. Different programs and paths are good for different writers. It depends what your work ethic is, it depends what medium you want to write for, and it depends what you want out of your professional life. Not all writers want the same thing, and the differences between platforms are vast and varied. Because there are so many options, it's easy to get overwhelmed and feel immobile with ambiguity.

When you finish your undergrad degree, it can feel like every step you take is locked in cement and that your life is as vulnerable as glass. And understandably so — you just spent at least four years working your butt off and you want to make the most of it. But indecision can be crippling, and no steps forward tend to be steps backwards. These are a few things you should consider when toying with the idea of an MFA in creative writing :

When Getting An MFA Is A Good Idea

should i do an mfa in creative writing

If you need assignments and a group of like-minded friends to motivate you to be inspired to write, a master's program in creative writing might help you write that story you have in you that might otherwise have just sat around in your head for years and years. If you need the routine of a class in order to unlock that creativity, an institution is going to be the best place for you to become the writer you're meant to be.

If you think this might be the case for you, do some research first and look into all of the teachers. Make sure that before you apply to any programs, you have classes in mind that you want to take and that you've talked to at least two people who went to school there to see what they thought of the program. These days it's easy to find people online, so this shouldn't be a problem.

In addition to this preliminary research, make sure you consider the financial obligation and that you have a back up plan for paying back student loans (if needed). You can't rely on your writing career to blossom upon graduation. Make sure you're willing to take on odd jobs that pay well, if need be. Also make sure you're OK with the possibility that an MFA won't make it any easier for you to find a job or get an agent or sell a book. Make sure you have a realistic goal, like using the program to complete a manuscript or experiment with different genres and mediums.

When Getting An MFA Is Unnecessary

should i do an mfa in creative writing

If you do your best writing when you're alone, stick with what works. Not everyone needs external inspiration to motivate. If you have a schedule that leaves room for working on your writing projects, and you have friends who are willing to give you feedback on your work, you might want to just stick with what you're doing. Really ask yourself what it is you want out of a program, because you might be able to further your career on your own time. If you have a strong network of friends who are in the publishing industry and you have friends who give you valuable and thoughtful notes on your work, there's really not much else you need. One of the biggest reasons aspiring writers join MFA programs is to find writer friends and to be given a structure to help them produce work. If you already have these things, you're golden!

How To Give Yourself A Continued Education

should i do an mfa in creative writing

If you want to continue your education but can't afford it or don't have the time for it, you can give yourself a DIY version of it. Make a list of books to read based on the MFA program you're interested in and give yourself a schedule to work your way through it. You can map our your own curriculum based on your own goals! For example, give yourself a daily writing minimum. Whether it's 500 words or 50 pages, stick to it. If you need prompts, check out creative writing websites that offer them and let that be your "teacher". If your goal is to write a full manuscript, give yourself a deadline and get there. This will take a lot of self control, but if you're passionate about it, you'll get there.

Other Ways To Become A Professional Writer

should i do an mfa in creative writing

Check your local listings for poetry nights, reading series, and open mics. These are great events to go to if you want to meet like-minded people. You don't have to have an MFA to perform at a reading, so you might want to sign yourself up and use the opportunity as an educational challenge. You'll also want to find your closest book store and stop in to talk to them about author events. This is a great way to network and forum for you to ask professional writers thoughtful questions that might guide you in your career.

Getting involved in internships in your platform of choice is also hugely important. It can be very hard to get a job in the exact place you want to work, but it can be easier to find an internship in that same place. If you're so inclined, you can start a meet up group or a workshop circle of your own — ask your local bookstore if you can advertise on their message boards. Having a group of people who you can share work with is key.

And most importantly: read, read, read. The best way to become a writer, is to read other writer's work. Understand the market. See what's out there. Get a sense of the genres. Understand the dimensions of plot and the different ways different authors approach it. Expand your mind, inform your own writing, and keep submitting until your work is accepted. It's all about trying.

Images: Pexels , 1 , 2 , 3 , 4

should i do an mfa in creative writing

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The 10 Best MFA Creative Writing Programs [2024]


Many people have a talent for stories, but not everyone will become a successful author. In many cases, people simply need to hone their skills – and the best MFA creative writing programs are the key.

If you have an undergrad degree and are looking for the next step in your academic adventure, you’re in luck: We’ve scoured MFA creative writing rankings to find you the best programs.

Table of Contents

The 10 Best MFA Creative Writing Programs

1. johns hopkins university – krieger school of arts & sciences.

Johns Hopkins University

Master of Fine Arts in Fiction/ Poetry

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins is a world-renowned private research university. Their Master of Fine Arts in Fiction/Poetry is one of the best MFA creative writing programs anywhere. Students take courses and receive writing practice (in fiction or poetry) at the highest level. This MFA program also offers the opportunity to learn with an internationally renowned faculty.

  • Duration:  2 years
  • Financial aid:  Full tuition, teaching fellowship (for all students set at $33,000/year)
  • Acceptance rate: 11.1%
  • Location: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Founded: 1876

2. University of Michigan –  Helen Zell Writers’ Program

University of Michigan

Master of Fine Arts

The University of Michigan is a public research university – and the oldest in the state. Its Master of Fine Arts program is one of the best MFA creative writing programs in the country, exposing students to various approaches to the craft. While studying under award-winning poets and writers, students may specialize in either poetry or fiction.

  • Duration: 2 years
  • No. of hours: 36
  • Financial aid: Full funding
  • Acceptance rate:  26.1%
  • Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Founded: 1817

3. University of Texas at Austin – New Writers Project

University of Texas at Austin

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The University of Texas at Austin is a well-known public research university with around 50,000 students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. It offers one of the best MFA programs for creative writing, aiming to enhance and develop its students’ artistic and intellectual abilities.

  • Duration:  3 years
  • Financial aid:  Full funding
  • Acceptance rate:  32%
  • Location:  Austin, Texas
  • Founded:  1883

4. University of Nebraska – Kearney

UNK logo

Master of Arts

The University of Nebraska strives to provide quality, affordable education, including its online MA English program. Students can focus on four areas, including Creative Writing (which provides experiential learning in either poetry or prose).

  • Credit hours: 36
  • Tuition : $315 per credit hour
  • Financial aid :  Grants, Work-study, Student loans, Scholarships, Parent loans
  • Acceptance rate: 88%
  • Location: Online
  • Founded: 1905

5. Bay Path University (Massachusetts)

Bay Path University

MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing

Bay Path University is a private university with various programs at undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate levels (including women-only undergraduate programs). This creative non-fiction writing program is one of the first fully online programs in the country. No matter their location, students are able to develop their creative writing skills and knowledge – in a range of literary genres.

  • Credits:  39
  • Tuition: $775 per credit
  • Financial aid :  Federal Stafford loan, Student loans
  • Acceptance rate: 78%
  • Founded:  1897

6. Brown University (Rhode Island)

Brown logo

MFA in Literary Arts

Brown is a world-famous Ivy League university based in Providence, Rhode Island. Its two-year residency MFA in Literary Arts is designed for students looking to maximize their intellectual and creative exploration. The highly competitive program offers extensive financial support. In fact, over the past 20 years, all incoming MFA students were awarded full funding for their first year of study (and many for the second year).

  • Tuition:  $57,591  (but full funding available)
  • Financial aid :  Fellowship, teaching assistantships, and stipends.
  • Acceptance rate: 9%
  • Location: Providence, Rhode Island
  • Founded:  1764

7. University of Iowa (Iowa)


MFA in Creative Writing

The University of Iowa is a public university located in Iowa City. As one of the most celebrated public schools in the Midwest, students learn under established professors and promising writers during their two-year residency program.

  • Credits:  60
  • Tuition: $12,065 for in-state students, and $31,012 out-of-state
  • Financial aid :  Scholarships, teaching assistantships, federal aid, and student loans.
  • Acceptance rate: 84%
  • Location: Iowa City, Iowa

8. Cornell University (New York State)

Cornell University

Cornell is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York. This highly competitive program accepts only eight students annually, and just two from each concentration. Not only do students enjoy a generous financial aid package, but they also have the opportunity to work closely with members of the school’s celebrated faculty.

  • Tuition:  $29,500
  • Financial aid :  All accepted students receive a fellowship covering full tuition, stipend, and insurance.
  • Acceptance rate: 14%
  • Location: Ithaca, New York
  • Founded:  1865

9. Columbia University ( NYC )

Columbia University logo

MFA in Fiction Writing

Founded in 1754, Columbia University is the oldest tertiary education institution in New York – and one of the oldest in the country. The school offers a Writing MFA in nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and literary translation. The fiction concentration promotes artistic and aesthetic diversity, with a diverse teaching staff and adjunct faculty from a wide range of diverse experience.

  • Credits:  60 points
  • Tuition:  $34,576
  • Financial aid :  Scholarships, fellowships, federal aid, work-study, and veterans’ grants.
  • Acceptance rate: 11%
  • Location: NYC, New York
  • Founded:  1754

10. New York University (NYC)

NYU logo

New York University (NYU) is known for delivering high-quality, innovative education in various fields. Located in the heart of NYC, the institution’s MFA in Creative Writing boasts celebrated faculty from poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction backgrounds. This dynamic program fosters creativity and excellence through literary outreach programs, public reading series, a literary journal, and special seminars from visiting writers

  • Credits:  32
  • Tuition:  $53,229
  • Financial aid :  Fellowships, scholarships, and federal aid.
  • Location: NYC
  • Founded:  1886

Common Courses for MFAs in Creative Writing 

As part of your master’s in creative writing program, you’ll usually need to complete a number of compulsory courses, along with certain electives. Common courses you’ll need to take include:

  • Literary theory
  • History of storytelling
  • Genre conventions
  • Market trends
  • Marketing manuscripts to publishers
  • Thesis or dissertation

Typical Requirements for Applying to an MFA Creative Writing Program

Besides the application form and fee, most MFA in creative writing programs have standard requirements. While the following are the most typical requirements, always check with the specific program first:

Make sure your resume  includes all relevant information to showcase your interests, skills, and talent in writing.

2. Writing Sample(s)

MFA creative writing program selection committees look for applicants who are serious about writing. Therefore, they typically ask for at least one 10-20 page writing sample. The best samples showcase talent in your preferred area of writing (e.g., fiction, non-fiction). MFA poetry programs have varied sample requirements.

3. Transcripts

You’ll need to show your undergraduate degree (and possibly high school) transcript.

4. Statement of Purpose

A statement of purpose is usually 1-2 pages and shows your passion for writing and potential to succeed in the program.

5. Recommendation Letters

Most programs require letters of recommendation from academic or professional contacts who know you well.

Related reading: How to Ask a Professor for a Grad School Recommendation

6. GRE Scores

Some MFA programs require GRE scores (though this is not the case for all universities). If you happen to need some assistance while studying for your GRE or GMAT, be sure to check out Magoosh for easy test prep!

What Can Creative Writers Do After Graduation?

As a creative writer with an MFA, you’ll have a variety of career options where your skills are highly valued. Below are a few of the common jobs an MFA creative writing graduate can do, along with the average annual salary for each.

Creative Director ( $90,389 )

A creative director leads a team of creative writers, designers, or artists in various fields, such as media, advertising, or entertainment.

Editor ( $63,350)

An editor helps correct writing errors and improve the style and flow in media, broadcasting, films, advertising, marketing , and entertainment.

Academic Librarian ( $61,190)

An academic librarian manages educational information resources in an academic environment (such as a university).

Copywriter ( $53,800 )

Copywriters typically work to present an idea to a particular audience and capture their attention using as few words as possible.

Technical Writers ($78,060)

Technical writers are tasked with instruction manuals, guides, journal articles, and other documents. These convey complex details and technical information to a wider audience.

Writer ( $69,510 )

A writer usually provides written content for businesses through articles, marketing content, blogs, or product descriptions. They may also write fiction or non-fiction books.

Social Media Manager ( $52,856 )

A social media manager is responsible for creating and scheduling content on social media, and may also track analytics and develop social media strategies.

Journalist ($ 48,370 )

Journalists may work for newspapers, magazines, or online publications, researching and writing stories, as well as conducting interviews and investigations.

Public Relations Officer ( $62,800)

A public relations officer works to promote and improve the public image of a company, government agency, or organization. This is done through work such as: preparing media releases, online content, and dealing with the media.

Lexicographer ( $72,620 )

Lexicographers are the professionals who create dictionaries. They study words’ etymologies and meanings, compiling them into a dictionary.

Can You Get a Creative Writing Degree Online?

Yes, a number of institutions offer online master’s degrees , such as Bay Path University and the University of Nebraska. Online courses offer a high degree of flexibility, allowing you to study from anywhere – and often on your own schedule. Many students can earn their degrees while continuing with their current job or raising a family.

However, students won’t receive the full benefits of a residency program, such as building close connections with peers and working with the faculty in person. Some on-campus programs also offer full funding to cover tuition and education expenses.

Pros and Cons of an MFA in Creative Writing

Like anything, studying an MFA in Creative Writing and pursuing a related career can have its benefits as well as drawbacks.

  • It’ll motivate you to write.

Many people are talented but struggle sitting down to write. An MFA program will give you the motivation to meet your deadlines.

  • You’ll have a community.

Writing can be a solitary pursuit. It can be hard to connect with others who are just as passionate about writing. An MFA program provides students with a community of like-minded people.

  • Graduates have teaching prospects.

An MFA is one option that can help you find a teaching job at the university level. Unlike some majors that require a Ph.D. to enter academia, many post-secondary instructors hold an MFA.

  • Not always the most marketable job skills

Although an MFA in Creative Writing will provide several useful skills in the job market, these are not as marketable as some other forms of writing. For example, copywriting arguably has a wider range of job prospects.

  • It could limit your creativity.

There is a risk that your writing could become too technical or formulaic, due to the theories learned during your MFA. It’s important to know the theory, but you don’t want to let it limit your creativity.

How Long Does It Take to Get an MFA Degree in Creative Writing?

A master’s in creative writing typically takes between 2-3 years to complete. Unlike other master’s degrees’ accelerated options, creative writing program requirements require a greater number of workshops and dissertations.

Alternatives to Creative Writing Majors

There are plenty of similar majors that can set you on the path to a career in the creative writing field. Consider alternatives like an MA in English , literature, humanities, media studies, and library sciences.

Related Reading: Master’s in Fine Arts: The Ultimate Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

What can i do with an mfa in creative writing .

An MFA graduate could teach creative writing at a secondary or college level. They may pursue a career in advertising, publishing, media, or the entertainment industry. They could also become an author by publishing fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

Are MFA Creative Writing Programs Worth It?

Having an MFA opens doors to a range of well-paid careers (more on that above). If you’re skilled in writing – and want to make a decent living with it – an MFA program might be an excellent choice.

How Do I Choose an MFA in Creative Writing?

First, consider whether an on-campus or online MFA program is best for you (depending on your lifestyle and commitments). Another key consideration is a university with renowned authors on their teaching staff who will give you the highest levels of training in creative writing. Also, consider your preferred focus area (e.g., fiction, poetry, nonfiction) .

What Are MFA Writing Programs?

An MFA in writing or creative writing is an advanced program that teaches students the art and practice of writing. During these programs, students hone their writing skills and equip themselves to publish their own work – or pursue a career in media, teaching, or advertising.

Can You Teach with an MFA? 

Yes! Teaching is one of the many career options an MFA provides . An MFA in creative writing can qualify you to be a teacher in creative writing (in schools or the higher education sector).

Is It Hard to Be Admitted to MFA Creative Writing Programs?

MFA creative writing programs are relatively competitive. Therefore, not all applicants will get into the program of their choice. However, if you are talented and ambitious that becomes more likely. Having said that, the most prestigious universities with the best MFA creative writing programs accept a small percentage of the applicants.

What Is the Best Creative Writing Program in the World? 

A number of creative writing programs are known for their famous faculty and excellent courses, like the Master of Fine Arts in Fiction/ Poetry from Johns Hopkins and the MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University . Outside the US, the most celebrated English program is likely the University of Cambridge’s MSt in Creative Writing.

How Hard Is It to Get an MFA in Creative Writing?

An MFA is an intensive, highly-involved degree that requires a certain amount of dedication. Anyone with a passion for creative writing should find it rewarding and satisfying.

Should I Get an MA or MFA in Creative Writing?

Whether you choose an MA or MFA in creative writing depends on your own interests and career ambitions. An MFA in creative writing is ideal for anyone passionate about pursuing a career in fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction. An MA is a broader degree that equips students for a wider range of career choices (though it will qualify them for many of the same roles as an MFA).

Can I Get Published Without an MFA?

Absolutely. However, studying for an MFA will equip you with a range of skills and knowledge that are extremely helpful in getting your work published, from honing your craft to submitting your manuscript to working with publishers.

What Are the Highest-Paying Jobs with a Master’s in Creative Writing?

An MFA in creative writing can help you land a range of jobs in the creative and literary fields. The highest-paying jobs for graduates with a master’s in creative writing include creative directors ($90,000) and technical writers ($78,000).

Key Takeaways

An MFA in creative writing program will hone your talents and develop the skills you need to become a successful writer. The best MFA creative writing programs will give you incredible knowledge of the field while developing your practical skills in fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

The acceptance rate for the best MFA writing programs is fairly low, so it’s crucial to understand the requirements well and prepare thoroughly. To help you with your application, check out our guide to applying to grad school .

  • Top 5 Easiest Master’s Degrees + 10 Easiest Grad Schools to Get Into
  • Top 10 Cheap Online Master’s Degrees in the US

Lisa Marlin

Lisa Marlin

Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.

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should i do an mfa in creative writing

Procedural Guide for MFA in Creative Writing Students

Mfa program overview.

The Creative Writing Program offers the MFA degree, with a concentration in either poetry or fiction. MFA students pursue intensive study with distinguished faculty committed to creative and intellectual achievement.

Each year the department enrolls only eight MFA students, four in each concentration. Our small size allows us to offer a generous financial support package that fully funds every student. We also offer a large and diverse graduate faculty with competence in a wide range of literary, theoretical and cultural fields. Every student chooses a special committee of two faculty members who work closely alongside the student to design a course of study within the broad framework established by the department.

Students participate in a graduate writing workshop each semester and take six additional one-semester courses for credit, at least four of them in English or American literature, comparative literature, literature in the modern or Classical languages or cultural studies (two per semester during the first year and one per semester during the second year). First-year students receive practical training as editorial assistants for  Epoch, a periodical of prose and poetry published by the creative writing program. Second-year students participate as teaching assistants for the university-wide first-year writing program. The most significant requirement of the MFA degree is the completion of a book-length manuscript: a collection of poems or short stories, or a novel, to be closely edited and refined with the assistance of the student’s special committee.


Requirements for the receipt of the MFA in Creative Writing are:

  • Satisfactory completion of 4 required graduate workshops and 4 required graduate-level courses (plus, Literary Small Publishing, WRIT 7100, Creative Writing Pedagogical & Thesis Development, Teaching Internship, and Advanced Pedagogy Workshops) prior to M Exam;
  • Satisfactory completion of one year as an Editorial Assistant in Epoch and one year as teaching as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Literatures in English;
  • Satisfactory completion of the 2nd year Student Progress Review;
  • Satisfactory completion of the Master’s Exam at the end of the fourth term;
  • A minimum of four registered semesters (full-time study);
  • Submission of approved Final Thesis to the Graduate School for an August conferral in the second summer;
  • Completion of all degree requirements in no more than 4 registered semesters (2 years) from the time of admission.

The Special Commitee

Graduate study at Cornell requires each student to work out a program of study in consultation with a special committee, selected by the student, from the membership of Cornell Graduate Faculty. This procedure, commonly referred to as “the committee system,” takes the place of uniform course requirements and uniform departmental examinations. The university system of special committees allows students to design their own courses of study within a broad framework established by the department, and it encourages a close working relationship between professors and students, promoting freedom and flexibility in the pursuit of the graduate degree. The special committee guides and supervises all academic work and assesses progress at a series of meetings with the student. Such a system places specixal demands on the energy and adaptability of both faculty and students, and it requires a high degree of initiative and responsibility from each student.

The MFA special committee is comprised of at least two members of the Cornell Graduate Creative Writing Faculty:  1 chairperson and 1 minor members. The committee chair and at least one minor member must be a general member of the Cornell Graduate Field Faculty in English Language and Literature and a member of the Creative Writing Faculty.

The Director of Creative Writing (DCW) serves as the student’s main academic advisor and provisional chair during the first semester of residence. A student must select their committee chairperson by December of the first year. One minor committee member must be added by May of the first year. Per Graduate School requirements, the full special committee must be in place no later than the end of the third semester of study. Since the Special Committee is charged with guiding and supervising all of a candidate’s academic work, it is important to establish this committee as soon as possible.

A student may change the membership of the special committee with the approval of all the members of the committee and notice of such change must be filed with the Graduate School. No change may be made during the three months prior to the Master’s Examination except by approval of the Dean.

The Cornell Department of Literatures in English strives to be an inclusive and welcoming environment for a diverse community of students, staff, and faculty. It is our collective role to preserve that inclusivity. All of our departmental spaces are professional, and the values of respect, equity, and nondiscrimination should inform our conduct in those spaces. We should all treat each other as having equally valuable contributions to make. If, as a student, you experience any unwelcome behaviors, please tell someone—a departmental administrator, departmental staff member, or graduate school administrator or staff member. We take instances of disrespectful, demeaning, and harassing behavior very seriously.

In addition, faculty/student and advisor/advisee relationships, as you know, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are informal and egalitarian, while others are formal and hierarchical. Some are strictly intellectual, while others become quite personal. There are many different mentoring styles, and what works for one advising pair may not be productive for another. However, while we acknowledge and even honor the various textures and flavors of academic mentorship, the Department of Literatures in English does not condone the abuse of graduate students in any form. You are entitled to professional treatment that respects your autonomy and integrity as students, teachers, and intellectuals. If you have any concerns about your interactions with a faculty advisor, particularly if there is something that is preventing you from full and equal access to your graduate education, you are urged to share those concerns with the Director of Graduate Studies, Department Chair, Graduate Coordinator, Director of Administration, and/or the Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life in the Graduate School.

A student’s special committee is charged with the following formal responsibilities, guiding a student to meet the requirements and expectations of the MFA degree:

  • Advising students in course enrollment each semester
  • Meeting with students at least once each semester
  • Committee Chair’s must complete the Student Progress Review in the fourth semester for each student they advise
  • Advising students in thesis development
  • Conducting the Master’s Examination
  • Approving the final thesis submission
  • Writing informed letters of recommendation for job applications

The Graduate School specifies the student/faculty advising relationship in more detail. Please review these guides for details and additional resources: Advising Guide for Research Students and Graduate School Faculty Guide to Advising Research Degree Students .

Courses and Grades

Course requirements.

In consultation with their special committee, MFA students are expected to successfully complete 4 graduate-level courses (at least 4 in English, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies or Modern or classical language, or theory), 4 MFA writing workshops, Literary Small Publishing, and the Creative Writing Pedagogical & Thesis Development course (workshops, Literary Small Publishing, & CW Pedagogical Thesis Development must be taken for letter grade). Additionally, the Teaching Training (required in the first summer), Writing 7100, and non-credit Advanced Pedagogy Workshops (which are organized by the Director of Graduate Student Teaching and are required in year two).

In the first semester of study, an MFA candidate is expected to complete one graduate-level courses, Literary Small Publishing, and the MFA writing workshop of their genre for credit. In the second semester of study, an MFA candidate is expected to complete two graduate-level courses and the MFA writing workshop of their genre for credit. In the third semester of study, while teaching, students are expected to complete a total of one additional graduate-level course, the MFA writing workshop. In the fourth semester of study, students are expected to take the MFA writing workshop and the Creative Writing Pedagogical and Thesis Development Course. Please reference the MFA Program Timeline , for complete details on degree program requirements.

All students must be enrolled for a minimum of 12 credits per semester. If credits fall short with required coursework in any given semester, the Graduate School will enroll students in the Graduate Student Research “course” for the remaining credits so full-time status is achieved.

Course Selection

Graduate students may enroll in and receive graduate credit for courses designated as level 5000 and up, depending on their relevance to the students’ needs and special interests. Courses at the 6000-level, designed primarily for graduate students, aim to provide advanced coverage of significant periods, figures, genres, and theoretical issues; 7000-level courses are intensive seminars intended to serve as paradigms of scholarly research or specialized study. ENGL 7940: Directed Study, and ENGL 7950: Group Study, give students the opportunity to enroll for more informal work in areas and on problems of special interest to them. Students are permitted to take one independent/directed/group study to count towards degree requirements. Independent/ directed/group study work should not be thesis work. If enrolled in independent/directed/group study this must be approved by the special committee and a course syllabus must be sent to the GRA. Prior to each semester, the department issues a revised semester-list of course offerings and descriptions .

Undergraduate (3000/4000 level) courses do not fulfill MFA degree requirements. If there are no graduate-level courses available in the desired focus area and there are undergraduate course offerings, students must consult with their special committee. The student may be allowed (with special committee and instructor permission) to enroll in a graduate-level group study and complete graduate-level work for credit. If permitted, the student should work with the home department to properly enroll and work with the faculty member to develop a revised syllabus. The graduate-level syllabus must include a separate section identifying additional graduate-level reading, assignments, and meetings with the faculty to transform the course into an adequate graduate-level designation. This is true for Directed Studies, Group Studies, as well as undergraduate courses with a supplemental 5000+ number. The new graduate-level syllabus should be provided to the Graduate Coordinator to keep on record.

In addition to required coursework and with faculty permission, students may take undergraduate-level courses or audit (non-graded) graduate-level courses. Neither of these course options count toward MFA course requirements, even though these courses will appear on transcripts. As a rule, graduate credit is also not awarded for courses devoted principally to the acquisition of a foreign language, unless that course is offered in the Department of Literatures in English at the 6000-level or above.

Most graduate courses may be taken either for a letter grade or S/U (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). MFA in Creative Writing Students are required to take 4 MFA Seminars, Literary Small Publishing, and CW Pedagogical & Thesis Development for a letter grade. With the consent of instructor(s) (and in consultation with the committee, the student may change their grading options at any time before the established University deadline. After this date, changes can only be made by special petition to the Graduate School and are discouraged/only considered in cases of extenuating circumstances. An instructor may permit a student to audit a course, but audited courses don’t count toward program requirements. Grades given to graduate students in the department will be interpreted as follows:

A+, A                        Distinguished A-                               Commendable B+                              Satisfactory B, B-                           Borderline C+, C, and below     Unsatisfactory

If a student is unable to complete all the work for a course before the end of the semester in which it is offered, they may request a grade of Incomplete (INC) from the instructor. Graduate School policy mandates that all incompletes be made up within one year of the end of the semester during which the course was taken, otherwise it will become a permanent part of the transcript and the course will need to be re-taken in order for it to count.

A student must satisfactorily complete coursework in a timely manner in order to remain in good academic standing (defined below), and thus to be eligible for continued funding.

  • Year 1 Fall : MFA seminar, Literary Small Publishing, 1 additional graduate level courses
  • Year 1 Spring : MFA seminar, 2 additional graduate level courses
  • Year 1 Summer : Teaching Writing 7100
  • Year 2 Fall : MFA seminar, 1 additional graduate level course, Advanced Pedagogy Sessions (no credit)
  • Year 2 Fall : MFA Seminar, Creative Writing Pedagogical & Thesis Development
  • Year 2 Summer : Summer Grad Level Research
  • All courses with grades of INC/NGR (if needed to fulfill coursework requirements) must be satisfied before the M exam can be scheduled.

If a student fails to meet any of these requirements, the student will not be in good academic standing, and will be ineligible for Department and Graduate School funding the following year including lectureship years. Some deadlines may be slightly extended in the event of extenuating circumstances (such as student illness or family emergency).  

Exams and Milestones

MFA students are encouraged to review the MFA Timeline , for additional details on MFA exams and milestones.

Scheduling the Master’s Examination

MFA students are expected to file their Master’s Examination Scheduling Form no later than May 1 of the second year and at least 7 days prior to the exam date.

Master’s Examination

The Master’s Examination or Thesis Defense must take place no later August 1 of the second year. This date is subject to change based on appointment periods. Upon completion of the M exam, students must submit their M Exam Results Form within 3 days of the exam.

Filing the Final Thesis Document

When approved by the special committee, the thesis must be formatted in accordance with Graduate School specifications. Full details concerning dissertation form and deadlines may be found in the Thesis and Dissertation section of the Graduate School’s website. The degree requirements are not complete until the thesis has been filed with the Graduate School and approved by the student’s committee.

Evaluation of Student Progress

Graduate Admissions and Review Committee (GARC) : GARC consists of five or more members of the Graduate Field Faculty in English Language and Literature, including the Director of Graduate Studies. Every fall, MFA students are provided with a status report from GARC detailing their progress in the program and suggestions for returning to good academic standing, if there are any concerns.

Student Progress Review (SPR) : Students are required to complete the Student Progress Review (SPR) process in April of the second year. The SPR process supports regular communication including written feedback between a student and their committee, requiring research degree students and their special committee to have at least one formal conversation about academic progress, accomplishments and future plans. Students complete a form describing milestones completed, accomplishments, and challenges, as well as set goals. The special committee chair responds in writing and indicates whether the student’s progress is excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement, or is unsatisfactory. Feedback that is documented on the SPR will be made available to the student, the student’s special committee chair, and the DGS/GFA of the student’s field.

Upon admission, each MFA student is awarded a two-year financial support package (including a stipend , a full tuition fellowship , and student health insurance ), which is guaranteed provided the student remains in good academic standing and performs satisfactorily in any assistantship capacity. Support is as follows:

  • Year One :  Graduate Assistantship as Editorial Assistant in Epoch
  • Summer Year One :  Stipend for participation in the required Knight Institute teacher-training program. Residence in Ithaca is required.
  • Year Two : Teaching Assistantships
  • Summer Year Two : Picket Summer Fellowship

Additional Funding Opportunities

The Graduate School is pleased to provide MFA students the opportunity to travel to enhance their scholarship. Eligible students are encouraged to apply for grant funding related to professional conferences, research travel, or summer foreign language education. Research and Travel Grants are also available through the Einaudi Center for International Research .

Employment Limit Policy

Because earning a graduate degree involves a significant time commitment, Cornell limits the amount of employment a student may hold while in a full-time registered status (during fall, spring, and summer). Students are considered full-time if they are registered, enrolled in courses, or are working on their thesis or dissertation.  Additional information can be found here . University-imposed employment limits: 

  • 20 hours per week: The total employment limit for all full-time students. This includes the combined assistantship, hourly student appointments, and/or outside employment per week. This is also the maximum employment allowed by law for most international students on F1 or J1 visas.
  • 5 hours per week: The limit for students with standard teaching assistantships (defined as 15 hours/week): no more than five hours of additional assistantships, readerships, hourly student appointments, and/or outside employment.  

Teaching Assistantships, Readerships, and Lectureships

Teaching is considered an integral part of training for the profession. The Field requires a carefully supervised teaching assistantship (TA) experience (in the capacity of a graduate student instructor or graduate teaching assistant).

In addition to TA opportunities, supplementary readership opportunities may be available. Readers assist faculty members with grading papers and/or leading discussion sections for undergraduate lecture courses. These are part-time paid commitments and are not available as a primary means of graduate student support.

MFA students in their final year may consider applying for Lectureship. This is a paid teaching position that requires the student to complete their M exam and terminate their registered student status prior to the appointment date. Lecturers may not hold any student fellowships or any student employment positions simultaneously with the lectureship appointment. In all lectureship cases, the thesis must be filed by the end of the first term of lectureship or before.

Please consult the Teaching Handbook for Graduate Student Instructors, Lecturers, Teaching Assistants, and Readers in the Department of Literatures in English at Cornell University for complete details on applying for teaching, readership, or lectureship.

Registration and Degree Requirements

In addition to coursework, milestone, and teaching requirements outlined in the department’s MFA Program Timeline , degree candidates must satisfy all requirements specified by the Graduate School’s Code of Legislation . Relief from these requirements must be sought by petitioning the Graduate School. Petition requests require endorsement from special committee members and the DGS. Here are a few highlights to be aware of

  • A student must complete a minimum of 4 semesters of registration at Cornell (full-time study) in order to fulfill MFA degree requirements.
  • A student must complete their M Exam by the end of the second year, since lectureship appointment hinges on successful M Exam completion and final thesis submission.
  • Candidates must complete all degree requirements and submit the final thesis within two years (4 registered semesters) of entering the MFA program.

Graduate Student Committees and Organizations

Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) : brings together Cornell’s community of graduate and professional students to address non-academic issues of common concern. Drawing upon the strengths of its diverse community, the GPSA is responsible for setting and distributing the graduate student activity fee and representatives to University committees. The GPSA is composed of delegates from each graduate field and the professional schools and nineteen voting members, elected from the larger body of field representatives.

Graduate Policy and Curriculum Committee (GPCC) : consists of four elected representatives (3 PhD students and 1 MFA student) who represent the interests of the student body regarding graduate policy and graduate curriculum in the Department of Literatures in English. Representatives are expected to meet at least twice per semester with the Director of Graduate Studies. This committee provides a formal mechanism for the exchange of ideas between faculty and students. The Committee’s principal responsibility is to transmit to the Literatures in English Graduate Faculty its advice on matters of policy affecting the graduate programs within the Field in order to improve the graduate student experience.

English Graduate Student Organization (EGSO) : fosters PhD and MFA student life and culture by striving to create community, to plan and implement programming for academic and professional development, and to establish unity and cohesion among the English Department’s graduate student body. Elections are held each spring. EGSO also offers a graduate mentoring program to foster connections between incoming and current graduate students. This helps first years navigate student and social life in department, the graduate school, and the larger Ithaca community. Mentors and mentees connect prior to orientation day and meet formally and informally over the course of their first year. The program organizes lunches and other social events to welcome new students to Cornell and cultivate relationships within the department.

Reading Groups and Extracurricular Activities : The concept of “residence” comprehends more than attending seminars and writing papers. An important part of one’s education comes from informal contacts and extracurricular discussions. Every year there are several social gatherings, formal and informal, sponsored by the department. The department also encourages attendance at public lectures, readings, and conferences, and participation in reading groups and independent study groups with or without a faculty advisor. Graduate students can organize lectures, conferences, readings, workshops and other events on their own. Funds for this purpose are typically available from a variety of sources.

Informal reading groups--some established gatherings and others that form from year to year--focus on such topics as Queer Theory, U.S. Latino Literature, Marxist criticism, and Victorian Literature. Conferences largely organized by graduate students also provide a chance for graduate work to reach a wide audience of the Cornell community. Organizations such as the Renaissance Colloquium, The Lounge Hour Reading Series, Literatures in English Department Roundtable, Quodlibet (a forum for work in Medieval Studies), and the Visiting Writers Series organized by the Creative Writing program bring scholars and writers to Cornell for readings, talks, and seminars. 

Departmental Resources

Administrative Faculty/Staff Contact Information : https://english.cornell.edu/contacts    

Faculty/TA Office Hours : https://english.cornell.edu/office-hours   

Graduate Students have access to the Resources for Graduate Students and Lecturers Canvas resources area (log in using you NetID and password).

Graduate School Resources

The Office of Academic and Student Affairs works with graduate faculty and graduate students on academic policy and programs, academic integrity and misconduct, responsible conduct of research, petitions requesting exceptions to graduate school policy as outlines in the Graduate Faculty’s Code of Legislation, and academic progress and students status.

The Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE) supports an inclusive and welcoming

environment for all graduate and postdoctoral scholars, but especially for those from marginalized communities and/or backgrounds historically excluded from and underrepresented in the academy. OISE supports systemic change and promotes a climate of diversity, belonging, equity, engagement, and achievement, which are integral components of graduate and postdoctoral education. OISE supports scholar success through recruitment, diversity fellowships, mentoring, professional, leadership, and community development programming, and ongoing support.

Recognizing that health and academic performance are intimately linked, the Office of Graduate Student Life is a source of information, support, and advocacy that creates a more student-centered graduate student life experience.  In addition to being a first-point of contact for students who are struggling or experiencing any form of distress, the Office of Graduate Student Life serves as a coordinating hub with campus-partners that focus on promoting a healthy and holistic student experience.  More information on available support is available:  https://gradschool.cornell.edu/student-experience/help-and-support/  

Faculty Resources from the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity : https://facultydevelopment.cornell.edu/faculty-resources/

Faculty Resources from Graduate School : https://gradschool.cornell.edu/diversity-inclusion/faculty-resources/

General inquiries about registration, enrollment, leaves, exams or other student requirements can be directed to the Student Service Office ( [email protected] ).

Contact Information for Graduate School staff can be found here : Graduate School Staff Directory

University Resources

The university’s  Mental Health at Cornell  website offers information and resources to help students get support, practice self-care, help others, and get involved in campus health initiatives. Special tips are provided for graduate and professional students.

Cornell Health  supports the health and well-being of graduate students with medical and mental health care and workshops to help busy students thrive. They also offer non-clinical support services, including  Student Disability Services  and  Victim Advocacy .

Mental health care  at Cornell Health includes drop-in consultation, workshops, individual counseling, and group counseling (including several groups specifically for graduate students).

“ Notice & Respond: Friend 2 Friend for Graduate & Professional Students ,” helps graduate and professional students learn connect peers in distress with appropriate sources of support and care.

Guidance for faculty, staff, and TAs supporting student mental health:


should i do an mfa in creative writing

What To Know Before Applying to MFA in Creative Writing Programs

should i do an mfa in creative writing

An MFA in creative writing is a graduate program meant to help refine a writer’s craft. The curriculum is designed to give writers a few years after undergrad to focus on their writing while becoming a part of a community of like-minded people. As an MFA, you’ll spend the first few semesters in various workshops and then your last year working on your thesis and refining your writing. As a poet in an MFA program, I’m working on submitting about 40 pages worth of poetry. I’m not entirely sure what this looks like for prose writers, as the minimum page count can vary depending on your program.

There are some pros and cons I’d like to point out about MFA programs. The biggest pros are that you are given constructive deadlines for your writing, you are a part of a community, and you get to learn more about sharing your work. The cons? Well, I’d say those would be financial stress, not knowing what your post-graduate plans are, a potentially negative impact on your mental health, imposter syndrome, the pressure to publish, a lot of reading and writing, and bad workshops — just to name a few.

Deadlines for Your Writing

Having deadlines to meet was one of my favorite things about the MFA program. It pushed me to produce work that I wouldn’t have otherwise. While other students were stressed by their due dates, I loved the structure they provided. And more than anything, I loved knowing that I was on track to meet my goals.

During my time in the program, I was lucky enough to meet other writers. My classmates were all smart, hard-working and creative, and it was nice to get their feedback on my work. Similarly, my professors were all successful writers, but they weren’t cocky about it. I’d say they cared more about my general well-being more than the content they were teaching.

Sharing Your Work

Sharing my work was ultimately one of the most rewarding parts of my program. As part of the course requirements, I had to give a 15-minute reading of my work. I was really nervous about it, but I picked out my favorite poems that I had written and prepared to share them with my peers. While I wanted to be taken seriously, one of my poems had a funny line in it, and its delivery kind of turned the whole reading into a comedy show. I was super grateful for the comedic relief, and the reading went much better than I expected. After sharing my work in the program, I began submitting my poems to outside magazines and was pleased when they were accepted. You can find a few of my poems here and here .

Financial Stress

I wouldn’t recommend pursuing an MFA if you already have a full-time job secured. If you don’t, still think carefully about the decision. Trying to study while not being able to afford food is not a fun experience. One of my favorite poets actually had to sell plasma to make ends meet. Unless you have an assistantship, you will have to take out a lot of money in student loans. You may not think this is a big deal before you start, but once you see those numbers on your billing statement, you will be sick to your stomach.

If you do have an assistantship, you will most likely be teaching. Even if you love the practice, it will take time away from your writing, and you will be asked to do more work than what you’re paid for. Not to mention, it can be hard to focus on your studies when you are worried about what kind of job you’ll get after graduation. Many companies will see you as overqualified with a master’s degree, and many will wonder why they should hire you if you don’t have any real work experience.

Impact on Mental Health

I also wouldn’t recommend getting an MFA if you are really struggling with your mental health. Right before I started my program, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder . I thought that it wouldn’t take long for me to stabilize again, but I was wrong; it’s been three years, and I am still having a hard time. During my first year in the program, my mental health got so bad that I almost went to therapy three times a week until I realized that group therapy wasn’t working. I wish that I didn’t have the pressures of grad school on top of my new diagnosis and finishing undergrad.

  • Imposter Syndrome

Ask anyone in their first year of graduate school how they are feeling and you might get something along the lines of “I was nervous” or “I was excited.” It’s very common for students to feel imposter syndrome, especially after getting into such a competitive program. My imposter syndrome was so bad during my MFA program that I struggled to write poems for my first semester, and it continued into the rest of my time at Butler. I told myself that I wasn’t talented enough or that I didn’t study hard enough or that my writing wasn’t interesting enough. But they were all lies that came from my fear of failure.

Academic Rigor, the Pressure To Publish and Competition

Let’s be honest: Graduate school in any field of study is not easy. I learned the hard way that I shouldn’t take nine credits at a time. On top of lots of reading, there was a pressure to publish your work. Not only did it feel like you needed to have the best work ready for your workshop, but you also felt like you had to have work that was ready to be published.

To put a cherry on top, you would never know how your workshop would go. For instance, say you were really proud of your poem. Even though you were happy with it, there would be a good chance that the group would be critical of your work. For me, that was difficult because I was writing about my life. I felt like people were critiquing me instead of my work. It was a lot of pressure to be the most efficient, yet unique, yet eloquent writer all at once. I wish I would’ve stopped caring about others’ opinions a lot sooner.

Do I Regret It?

In a way, I do. I regret spending so much money on a degree that doesn’t guarantee a job. However, I don’t regret taking the time I needed to learn more about poetry, about myself and how I want to live my life and treat other people. It’s a hard thing to describe. In December, I’ll finish my MFA, and I will feel really proud of myself. Until then, I’m going to try to make the most of it.

If you are considering applying for an MFA program, I urge you to take your time when thinking about graduate school. Know that these programs aren’t going anywhere, and, as long as you keep in touch with your professors, they’ll still be happy to write you recommendation letters in the future. It’s okay to wait a year, or 10, or even 20. Whatever you do, make sure that it’s the right decision for you and not one based on what other people think.

  • bipolar disorder
  • college financial advice
  • college poetry
  • college writing workshops
  • creative writing
  • mental health
  • MFA programs
  • writing community
  • writing workshops

Audrey Bowers, Butler University

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| The MFA | Overview  | Planning and Research | Assembling Your Application | Creating Your Timeline | Additional Tips | Additional Resources |

The MFA in Creative Writing

Many writers interested in continuing their study of Creative Writing beyond their bachelor's degree  pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in Creative Writing. MFA programs are designed to provide writers with theoretical framework, practical skills, and critical community support to help them further hone their craft and develop the expertise needed to become published writers.   

MFA programs, however, are very competitive, with only a small percentage of applicants getting into the programs of their choice each year. As such, putting together a successful application takes considerable planning, research, focus, and time. From conducting research on which program is right for you, to preparing the materials you need, to perfecting your creative writing sample and statement of purpose, to obtaining letters of recommendation from your favorite professors, to actually sending in your applications: all this can take from six months to a year from start to finish.

If gaining a Master of Fine Arts degree is of interest to you, then this guide is a great place to start.  Below are some tips on how to succeed in that process. 

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In total, you can expect to do the following as part of the process of applying to MFA programs:

  • Plan the overall process and create a timeline
  • Research MFA programs / Decide where to apply
  • Creative Writing sample (10-20 pages of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, etc.)
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Letters of Recommendation from current or past professors (3 total)
  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Curriculum Vitae or Resumé
  • GRE test scores (if required by any of the programs to which you plan to apply)
  • Application fees
  • Submit your applications and required materials by the appropriate deadlines (see above)

Planning and Research

Your Application Timeline.  The very first thing you'll want to do is create a timeline for your application process. (See " Creating Your Timeline " below for some more specific info.) Knowing that most application deadlines are between December 1st and February 1st (for students who want to begin in the fall semester), you will want to get started on everything AT LEAST six months prior to the earliest deadlines: i.e. you'll want to start the process in the spring of your Junior year (assuming you plan to start an MFA in the fall after graduating. If you think you might take a year off after graduation then you can begin in the spring of your Senior year.)

As part of your timeline, figure out when you need to start the various pieces of your completed application packet, and when you want to have them completed. For instance, knowing that it will take time to revise the stories or poems you want to include as your Creative Writing Sample, and that as part of this process you'll want to get feedback toward revision from a trusted friend and/or a willing (and generous) professor, you should plan to complete your first drafts of these no later than September, and possibly earlier. (Your friend or professor will need time to read and provide feedback for you. And then you will need time to revise, etc.) Similarly, knowing that your professors will need time to write your letters of recommendation, and that there's no guarantee that every professor you ask will agree to do this, you should start asking your favorite professors for letters early in your process, perhaps in the spring semester of your Junior year.

All this is to say: make yourself a timeline, give yourself deadlines, and do your best to stick to these deadlines!

Research. After completing your timeline, your next step in some ways is the most difficult: doing research to decide where you want to apply. Maybe you already have a program or two in mind. If so, that's great. If not, our best advice is to start with a resource right here at UTEP: Your Creative Writing professors.

Who are your favorite current or past Creative Writing professors ? Send each an email, or drop by their office hours. Simply let them know that you're interested in applying to MFA programs, and that you would like their advice. All of your professors here will have great advice, and can point you to programs that they admire, and/or in which they think you would be a good fit. 

Of course there are other factors you should think about aside from your professors' recommendations. Here are a few things to consider as you're looking at various MFA programs:

  • Genres.  Does the program offer courses in all genres, or specialize in a limited number of genres (poetry, fiction, cre ative non-fiction, children's lit, screenwriting , gaming, etc)? Does it offer a variety of courses in the genre you're interested in? Does the program have faculty who specialize in and/or publish in the genre(s) you want to study?
  • Faculty.  Are you interested in writing by one or more members of the faculty in the program? (You may need to do some research to find and read some work by the program's faculty. Each Faculty member's bio or Faculty page will list their most prominent or most recent work.) If you're really intrigued, a sk t o be connected  with faculty, if possible, to sit in on a class or for a one-on-one conversation about the program.  Conversely, are there writers (perhaps that you've encountered through your Creative Writing classes, or by reading contemporary poetry/fiction journals) that you really admire? Look them up and find out where they teach! 
  • Location.  Consider where the school is located . Is it somewhere you'd like to live?  Is it affordable to live there? Is there a literary arts scene (or music scene, or performance scene, or visual arts scene)? Do you have connections to anyone in this location, or will you need to form new community upon joining the program? (Keep in mind that an MFA program is a great and easy place to form a new community!)  Is the program online or in person?  Do you want to move to a new city and start over, or would you like to be close to family and friends?
  • Finances.  Does the program offer Teaching Assistantships or Fellowships (or some other kind of yearly stipend) to its MFA students? (It should.) Does the program (and/or the University) offer grants/scholarships/tuition wavers to help defer the costs of graduate school? How much is not covered by all the above, and what is the remaining amount, considering tuition, fees, and cost of living, that you would have to cover out of pocket? Are you willing to take out loans to cover the rest? How much aid will you receive from FAFSA? Contact the school’s Financial Aid office for more information and to learn about additional resources.
  • Program Specifics. Every student will have their own unique wants and needs from an MFA program, so consider what you value and are looking for.  Some of the things you might consider: the reputation of the university and/or the program; the size of the program; the culture of the program and the competitiveness among classmates; what the graduates of the program do after completing the program; access to faculty; class size; opportunities to take part in reading series or in the production of a literary magazine; etc.     
  • Get in Touch.  Talk to MFA students currently in that program to get a sense of what their experience has been, the strengths and weaknesses of the program, what they like and don't like about the program and/or the location, about the camaraderie among fellow students, why they chose that program, etc. (To get in touch with current students, you can usually e-mail the program, tell them you're considering applying, and that you'd like to be put in touch with current students.) 
  • Visit.  If you have the time and resources, visit the programs you're most interested in (in person or virtually) to get a feel for the campus, the people, the program, and the town/city where it's located. If visiting in person, let the program know ahead of time that you're coming, make sure it's a good time to visit (you don't want to visit while they're on break!), and ask if you can sit in on a class and/or meet with current students etc. This is a great way to get a sense of whether or not you would fit in and feel comfortable there.

In the end you'll want to apply to at least three, and up to eight programs, depending on your resources. (The more MFA programs you apply to, the greater chance you have of being admitted to one. At the same time, the more MFA programs you apply to, the more you'll be paying in application fees, which can be quite expensive.)

Recent alumni from UTEP's Creative Writing Department have had success getting into a number of MFA programs that you might want to consider as well: University of Arizona, University of New Mexico, the New School, the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Pittsburgh, Emerson College, Simmons University, NMSU.

Assembling Your Application

Once you've made your selections and you know where you want to apply, you'll need to start assembling your application materials. The following is a list of materials commonly requested as part of an application to an MFA program in Creative Wriitng.

  • Three Letters of Recommendation.   I t is best to  ask for  letters of recommendation from current/previous professors who can speak to your writing abilities, your growth as a student, your participation and contributions to the classroom, and why they believe you are the right candidate for an MFA program .  It is important to ask professors whom you know and in whose classes you did well.  Also, consider your audience. Since you're applying to Creative Writing programs, you'll want letters primarily from Creative Writing professors. (One letter from a professor in a related field, such as Literature, would be okay, as long as the others are in the field you're applying to.) If you've done a special project with a professor, like an Honors Thesis, or If you've taken multiple classes with a particular professor you like and admire, and whose classes have been important to you, then she or he or they should be on the top of your list. Think ahead. C onnecting with professors during your experience as an undergraduate Creative Writing major--through class participation ,  attending office  hours , and staying in touch even after your class with them ends--will help you build relationships with them and thus provide your recommenders with a deeper understanding of you and your writing as they  prepare their letters.   Always ask for letters at least two to three months prior to your earliest application deadline.  (It never hurts to ask earlier rather than later.) Your professors are very busy, and while they always want to help if they can, good letters of recommendation require a lot of time and effort to prepare. You do not want to rush them. Make sure you provide for them the names of each school/program you're applying to and the deadlines for each. 
  • Statement of Purpose (or Statement of Intent). Precisely what any particular program asks for here can   vary, but  most programs   request  a  writer’s  statement and/or a statement of purpose (of approximately 500-1000 words) that speaks  about  your  writing  influences  and goals ; what makes you distinctive as a writer; your academic and literary interests ; why you think their program is right for you; and your further professional goals beyond the MFA program . While the Creative Writing Sample (see below) is often the most important document you submit as part of your MFA application, the Statement of Purpose is still crucial, as it can often sway an admissions committee (who are weighing your application against many others), who may realize from your statement that you are truly interested in their program and what their program has to offer, and that you will therefore be a good fit there. What this means, however, is that you shouldn't simply send the exact same Statement of Purpose to each program you're applying to. Rather, you should tailor each Statement of Purpose to the program you're sending it to. Make sure you address the topics the program asks you to address, of course, but also make sure you talk about the specific aspects of their program that excite you: particular courses that are offered; faculty members you're excited to work with and why; specialty tracks or sub-programs within the program (such as screenwriting, literary translation, children's literature, etc.). All this is to say that you want to let the admissions committee know that you know something about their program, and that you know why you want to be there.
  • Creative Writing Sample. A Creative Writing Sample will be 10-20 pages of your best poems, short stories, excerpts from novels, etc. In an MFA application, this is often the most important document you submit , and an admissions committee will often start by looking at this sample of your work. If they like it, they'll move you forward and look at the rest of your application. If they don't, that'll be the end. As such: do not simply dust off the work that got you an "A" in your recent Creative Writing classes and send it in. You'll want to work on these, revise, and work on them some more. Get feedback from a trusted friend or CRW classmate, or from a professor (who has agreed ahead of time to give you feedback). Take their constructive criticism seriously (they're trying to help! They want you to succeed!) and revise, revise, revise. Make your creative writing sample the absolute best you can.  Once you've decided on the stories or poems you want to submit, have revised it all to the point where you (and your trusted readers) think it's ready, and you're ready to put the sample together, you'll want to think about how to order the work you've chosen for your writing sample. It's often best to lead with the strongest works first,  the next strongest samples last, and the least strong samples in the middle.  Finally, keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity (as long as you provide the minimum number of pages they request).
  • Transcripts.  Official Transcripts are official legal documents listing among other things the courses you took at the University and the grades you received, and these  are  issued by the university or college where you completed your undergraduate coursework, usually by the University Registrar's office.  Unofficial transcripts show the same information, but do not have official legal standing. Most programs you're applying to will require official transcripts. To request your official transcripts from UTEP, contact the Division of Student Affairs Office of Registration and Records . 
  • Application Fees. Most programs charge an application fee to apply to their program. These fees cover the time and effort needed to process and review applications. These are typically between $50-$100 per application, and sometimes more. So, the more programs you apply to, the more you'll be spending on application fees. You'll need to think about this ahead of time, and start saving if necessary.

  Some less commonly requested materials :  

  • Curriculum Vitae or Resume. A curriculum Vitae (CV) is a complete list of education, jobs, volunteer work, professional experiences, publications, public performances, awards, etc. Whereas a resume is usually a brief, one-page snapshot of all the above, highlighting your skills and past job responsibilities. You can find examples of both online.
  • Critical Writing Samples.  A 10-20 page sample of critical/analytical/research writing. Such a writing sample would be more commonly requested for applications to MA or PhD programs in more traditionally academic programs, like Literature, History, Communications, or Sociology. But, you never know. If you happen to be applying to a PhD program in Creative Writing, however, you will likely be asked for both a creative writing sample AND a critical writing sample.
  • GRE Test Scores. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is similar to the SAT test (which you may have taken in preparation to apply to college), but is for those who want to study at the masters level or beyond after finishing their bachelor's degree. The "general" GRE test is supposed to measure your aptitude for graduate-level study, while specific GRE tests for specific disciplines (such as Literature or History) measure your preparation for advanced study in that discipline. In either case, though, one can dramatically improve their performance on these tests by studying for them with a test-prep book or app. Important to note is that few MFA programs require GRE scores, but some do. Best to do your research ahead of time here and figure out if any of the programs you're interested in require the GRE. If they do, and if you still want to apply to them, you'll need to schedule a GRE test time far in advance of those application deadlines. You can get more info on taking the GRE at the GRE website:  https://www.ets.org/gre On the other hand, you may decide that you don't want to apply to any programs requiring the GRE, and therefore eliminate programs that require it from your list.

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Creating Your Timeline

Below is a general guideline for putting together your own application timeline. Make sure you check with the programs you're applying to for specific dates for everything below.

  • 12 months before  applying (winter of Junior year)  – Begin  researching MFA programs    
  • 2 months before  applying  – Ask  for Letters of Recommendation    
  • September 1 st  - May 15 th  –  Applications Due  (see MFA programs for exact deadline e s)
  • Many programs have deadlines the first few weeks of January (for students intending to begin in the fall of that year). However, some of the most competitive programs have deadlines as early as September, and others have deadlines as late as May. Start researching early so that you don’t miss these crucial deadlines.  
  • October 1 st  – June 30 th  – FAFSA   (Free Application for Federal Student Aid– see schools for exact deadlines) FASFA opens for applications October 1 st  and closes June 30 th .  Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible – some  schools have priority deadlines or hard deadlines before  June 30 th , or  give a wards until funds are depleted. Check with your school to see when their deadlines are.  A pply  for FAFSA   HERE .   
  • Rolling – Applying  for scholarships   Scholarships have deadlines throughout the year. It is recommended to  start  research ing  and applying for scholarships in the fall  prior  to the year  you are seeking funding.  Check with the programs you are applying to  to  learn of additional scholarships and funding they may have. Contact the UTEP Office of Fellowships and Awards for assistance.
  • March – July – Accept Offer   (see schools for exact deadlines) You will get letters of acceptance or rejection anytime between March and July. Hopefully you'll have received an acceptance or two (or more). Review offer letters and notify  program s of decisions.  Some  programs require a non-refundable deposit upon acceptance, while others do not.    (If you are not successful in getting into the programs you applied to, it is okay to call and ask to speak to (or email) the chair of the admissions committee simply to thank them for their time and consideration, and to (politely) ask what was lacking in your application. This can help should you decide to try again next year.)
  • Remember to say "Thank You" Send a follow up “thank you” card to the professors who wrote you letters of recommendation. And, don't forget to keep your recommenders in the loop as you make decisions – share with them when you are accepted into programs, and what your ultimate decisions are so that they can celebrate with you or provide support if you decide to apply to additional programs in the future.  

Additional Application Tips

  • Build time into your application timeline to h ave  all of  your materials reviewed by  trusted  classmates, fellow writers,  and/or  UTEP's  University W riting  C enter .  Receiving feedback on (and then revising!)  your  creative/ critical  writing  samples and statement of purpose  is  crucial to the process of assembling quality application materials.
  • Carefully proofread  everything you submit. You are applying to a writing program, after all. You don't want to send writing that is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
  • Apply to multiple programs. While you may have an ideal program in mind, it is   good   to have several options  available in case you are not admitted into your first choice;  circumstances change your priorities; or  so that you can compare the various offers in the event you are accepted to multiple programs. 

Additional Online Resources

  • MFA Programs Database (Poets & Writers):  https://www.pw.org/mfa  
  • Guide to Writing Programs (AWP):  https://www.awpwriter.org/guide/guide_writing_programs  
  • UTEP University Writing Center:  https://www.utep.edu/uwc/  
  • 6 Tips for Getting Successfully Accepted into an MFA Program (UTEP):  https://www.utep.edu/extendeduniversity/utepconnect/blog/march-2019/6-tips-for-getting-successfully-accepted-into-an-mfa-program.html  
  • " So You're Thinking About Applying to Grad School in Creative Writing " -- from the University of Arizona MFA in Creative Writing Program.
  • Spanish:  [email protected]
  • English:  [email protected]

Thanks to UTEP Creative Writing MFA candidate Sarah Hobin for assembling, organizing, and writing most of the material on this page! 

Connect With Us

The University of Texas at El Paso Department of Creative Writing University Towers, Room 520 Additional Emails English: [email protected] Español: [email protected] MFA Online: [email protected] Undergrad: [email protected] 500 W University Ave El Paso, Texas 79968

E: [email protected] P: (915) 747-5713


Michigan Quarterly Review

5 Uncommon Tips on Your MFA Creative Writing Application

A couple of years ago, I made the decision to apply to MFA programs in creative writing. Compared to medical school or law school, the application process for an MFA can sometimes feel like a crapshoot, with the odds of getting into a fully-funded program hovering somewhere below four or five percent (and some programs like Iowa, Michigan, Michener—gulp—even less!). Still, it seems that every year, a few applicants manage to get admitted to a handful of programs, which brings up the question of whether the process is as random as one might initially think.

As a caveat, I’ve never served as a reader for any programs’ admissions committee (for a genuine insider look, follow Elizabeth McCracken’s twitter and listen to everything she says!), but I happen to have been lucky enough to get accepted to several fully funded schools on my first try. Whenever someone asks me for advice, I get a little queasy, because I barely knew what I was doing back then. However, I’d like to think that I’ve had some time to reflect on the process and have spoken to many people, including students who’ve been accepted and faculty members. I’ve since graduated from my MFA and hold (at the time of writing) a Zell postgraduate fellowship in fiction at the University of Michigan.

I’ll skip the general consensus—polish the writing sample, apply to more than one school, get feedback on your materials, etc. Instead, I’ll offer some less common ones that I thought worked for me. I hope they help with your application, and I’m certainly indebted to many writers who came before me and similarly shed light on their own experiences.

  • Presenting yourself . Most of us writers tend to dislike being pigeonholed, or to accept the idea that there are certain themes or styles we keep reverting to again and again.  I definitely struggled with this (and continue to) but for the application process, presenting ourselves in a way that is unified and meaningful can sometimes spell the difference between sticking out in the pile or not. I write a lot about the Philippines, where I grew up, and this location not only influences the setting of my stories, but also informs my thematic sensibility as well as my identity. My personal statement talked about my background growing up in a predominantly Christian and Chinese-Filipino family, the conflicts at the dinner table as a result of our ethnic and religious upbringing, and how these issues are explored in my work. My fiction samples were chosen with this in mind (of course, they also happened to be my best work at the time), and I imagine my recommendation letters further attested to my experience as an immigrant. As a result, I believe I demonstrated myself as someone who deeply cares about what I write and has something important to say about the world around me. A place or region might not be the element that binds your application materials together. It might be a style, philosophy, or occupation—but whatever it is, it should resonate meaningfully in all aspects of your work (you can even ask your recommenders to talk about it). If readers can come away with the feeling that they know you and what motivates you to write, then you only need to show that you also can write.
  • Range and length of sample . This might sound like a contradiction to the above, but it really isn’t. Rather, this is the part where you get a chance to display your skill and flexibility as a writer. For my sample, I chose three stories with varying styles: fabulist, comedic, and straight realist. They also differed in their lengths: short, medium, and long. What kept them all together was the setting of the Philippines, which again referred back to my personal statement and kept them from feeling haphazardly chosen. You might wonder if this is a good idea, since schools often just ask for 25 to 30 pages of creative sample, and might even say something to the effect that they’re looking for “a demonstration of sustained, quality work.” I debated with myself on the correct approach, and you might not agree with my conclusions: If programs clearly ask for just a single story, and if they feel more traditional in their aesthetics, then perhaps sending a longer story is better. However, the risk of sending one story is the risk of increasing subjectivity, and has to do more with the practical reality of the selection process than anything else. We all know that readers have different tastes, and if for some reason they don’t connect with the first few pages of your work, they most likely won’t read on. If you present them with a shorter work first, they might be willing to read the beginning of the second story, and if they still don’t like that, then the third. If each story is different stylistically, you’re increasing the chances that one of these would be appealing to the readers, and they might reconsider the stories that they passed on the first read.
  • Potential . I’ve heard anecdotes of applicants being turned down because the admission committee thought they were “overqualified” to be studying in an MFA program. This probably doesn’t apply to most of us, but the principle remains: administrators are looking for people they believe can get something out of the two-to-three-year experience. In other words, they’re looking for writers’ potential as much as writers’ ability. I can certainly speak to this. When I applied, I’d barely taken any creative writing workshops. I’d just started writing literary fiction and I was unpublished. I took screenwriting as an undergrad (a related field, I know) but I still emphasized the things I anticipated learning from an MFA, including the benefit of being in a community. I did not downplay my background in screenwriting (and as it happened, also journalism), but I was able to articulate how each tradition influenced me as a writer. You might be someone who’s majored in creative writing as an undergrad and knew for a long time that you want to write literary fiction. That’s okay (in fact I think that’s great!). But you still have to find a way to communicate your limitations while playing to your strengths. To a large extent, it seems to me more of an attitude check: nobody wants to be with the writer who feels privileged and entitled to a seat at the MFA table.
  • Preparedness . Sometimes, perhaps because I got in on my first try, I wonder if my acceptance was a fluke, and if I was really ready for the MFA experience. Of course, I’ve heard many people who felt similarly, some who even have a lot of creative writing background under their belt. The impostor syndrome aside, I do think that it’s good to gain as much exposure to the literary world as possible before applying to an MFA program. This not only gives you a better sense of why you write and what you write (going back to my first point), but moreover it increases the likelihood that once you are accepted, you’ll know how to make the most out of your time and the resources being offered. I had a wonderful experience at the University of Michigan—indeed, I’ve never read or written more in my life than I did at that point, and I could not have asked for a better set of cohort or mentors. I have grown exponentially as a writer. Rightly or wrongly, though, I did consciously set myself apart as someone who was a beginner, who had the most to learn about writing literary fiction. This attitude has enabled me to develop in leaps and bounds. At the same time, I could see how—had I been further along in my progress—I could’ve used the MFA in a different way: writing that novel I’ve always wanted, giving more thought to the direction of my career, the business side of the industry, finding an agent, etc. I think there’s something valiant and admirable about finding yourself as a result of experimenting during the MFA years, but it might also be worth considering and being aware of the different trajectories in entering a program. As a suggestion for preparing yourself pre-MFA-application, I highly suggest going to a conference (the Napa Writers’ Conference, Wesleyan Writers Conference, and the Key West Literary Seminar being some of the more well-known ones I’ve personally attended and recommend).
  • On success . My final note on the application process is less of a tip and more of a reminder. When the time comes around to February or March, and should you find yourself not getting into the programs of your choice, recuperate from the rejections and take them in stride. View the result both as a sobering reminder of the odds stacked up against anyone applying for an MFA, and also as an opportunity to become better prepared, so that if you do get in later, you will be in an improved position. Similarly, should you be fortunate enough to get into your top programs, view the achievement as the means to an end, and not the end in itself. If a study were to be conducted on MFA admittances, I’m almost sure that the findings would show that acceptances to programs are in no way predictive of future success in publishing. Only diligence and perseverance are positive indicators of writerly success, and in this sense, we all can take comfort in the fact that all of us have a fair shot if we’re in it for the long haul.

Image: The Hopwood Room, where some workshops are held at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, University of Michigan.

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You are what you eat., 1 thought on “5 uncommon tips on your mfa creative writing application”.

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It’s exactly what I dd in my sample. Anyone who wants to see real successful samples of statements of purpose should read this post: 10 Statement Of Purpose Examples: How To Wow The Admission Committees Of Fully-Funded MFA Programs (Guide + Samples +Tips) https://www.creativewritingnews.com/statement-of-purpose-examples-2/

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Aspiring Author

What Jobs Can You Get With an MFA in Creative Writing?

Author: Shannon Bowring Updated: January 31, 2023

Light and airy classroom set up for MFA in Creative Writing

So you took the plunge, endured the emotional upheavals and tough criticism of your writing, and took on student loan debt you’ll be paying off for years. Congratulations! You now have an MFA in Creative Writing. But what jobs can you get with your MFA in Creative Writing ?

How much can you expect to earn?

According to ZipRecruiter , as of December 2021, the average annual pay in the United States for a Creative Writing MFA is $73,613 per year. If this number seems optimistic, even unrealistic, it’s because it is. A deeper plunge into the report shows that annual salaries for writers actually range from $11,500 to $259,000. That’s a hell of a difference. We can only assume that the Big Bestselling Writers have claimed that top spot, while the rest of us aspiring authors are likely hovering far closer to that $11k range.

In other words, and I’m sure this is no surprise to anyone reading this, the majority of writers are grossly underpaid.

But I’m here to tell you not to lose hope. There are many ways, other than selling book s, to leverage that Creative Writing MFA to make a comfortable, if not lucrative, career as a writer .

Art of the Job Search by Heather Hund

If you’re a traditionalist

  Many writers go into teaching after earning their MFA in Creative Writing, often at the university level. The usual trajectory is to begin as an adjunct and then work one’s way up through the ranks to professor* , which ideally comes with a sweet corner office lined with leatherbound books. Typically, you need to have published at least one book to land the coveted position of teaching others how to write in a college or university.

If you want to teach, but not in a university

There are plenty of other ways to teach the craft of writing. If you’d like to work with writers but not within the world of traditional academia, consider offering your expertise as a writing coach, tutor, or adult education teacher. There are thousands of writers out there looking for someone to share what they’ve learned about the craft of writing and the business side of becoming an author. Seek out (or create) local and/or online venues where you can share what you have learned through your own experience. Having an MFA attached to your name will help writers feel you can be trusted to know what you are talking about.

If you are an online guru

Opportunities for good writers are continually expanding and evolving online. Countless websites and businesses are always on the lookout for talented content writers, copywriters, copyeditors, grant writers, and technical writers. (One good source for these remote jobs is Remote.co .) Having an MFA in Creative Writing can help give you an edge in this competitive market. One advantage of these jobs is that they are often flexible and part-time, which is great for those looking to keep their writing muscles fresh without making a lifelong commitment.

If you are That Person always correcting other people’s grammar

The world will always need quality editors and proofreaders . This career path can take many forms—you could work for a literary magazine , publishing house, or newspaper, or try your hand as a freelancer. Editing others’ work keeps your own writing skills sharp, with the added bonus of potentially bringing in big bucks: Depending on genre and level of editing, a freelance editor can earn anywhere from $36-$70 per hour. Sign me up!

If you are a rebel

You have an MFA in Creative Writing, so think creatively . Get involved with your local writing community and run writing workshops (a quick online search can guide you on how much you should expect to charge, depending on your format and attendance). Have a guest house on a beautiful piece of property you don’t mind renting out? Start a writing retreat or writing residency to give fellow writers a place to disconnect from their busy lives and work on their novels, poems, and essays. For an additional fee, you might also offer these writers one-on-one coaching or editing services.

A Creative Writing MFA isn’t a guarantee—but it is an opportunity

As an aspiring author , you must find a way to apply your skills as a writer and make them work for you . Many authors I know have shaped successful, happy lives for themselves by doing a variety of the jobs listed above, often more than one at the same time. The post-MFA life does not come with a guarantee of monetary wealth—but if you get creative and do the work, it is possible to create a writing life that is spiritually, artistically, and emotionally fulfilling. And isn’t that what real success is all about, anyway?

Though, honestly, I wouldn’t mind earning $259,000 a year.

*With the effects of the pandemic, and the slow but steady shift away from brick-and-mortar classrooms, this route of teaching in a traditional university seems to be getting more difficult. That said, the world needs great writing teachers, so if this is the path you want to take, please be intrepid and find a way to do so. You are the unsung heroes; teach away, teach away.

Recommended reading

Here at Aspiring Author , we love recommending bestsellers and fawning over hot new releases. On this real time recommended reading list, you will find a list of top rated books on the publishing industry, craft, and other books to help you elevate your writing career.

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Shannon Bowring

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How to Apply to an MFA in Creative Writing Program in Five Easy Steps

should i do an mfa in creative writing

As the Director of the MFA program at Dominican University of California and an associate professor of English, I would like to offer you my guidance about how to successfully apply to an MFA program. 

A Master in Fine Art (MFA) Creative Writing application generally has four components: a resume, a writing sample, a statement of purpose (also called a letter of intent or an artist statement), and a letter of recommendation.

I’ll go over each of these items step-by-step, explaining how these parts of the application work and how you can address the requirements in a way that makes your application shine.

Step 1: Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing? Put your doubts aside.

Cast your bread upon the waters. The time to decide whether or not to do an MFA in Creative Writing is after you’ve been accepted. There are a hundred reasons to talk yourself out of applying but since you keep thinking about it, listen to that voice and apply.

Added bonus: There’s no application fee to apply to the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Dominican University of California. The application materials are the same as applying for writing grants and residencies so you can use the application to apply to other things as well.

Step 2: Dust off your resume to apply for an MFA in Creative Writing. 

A resume gives a sense of where you are from, what you are interested in, and how you’ve spent your time.

Education and work experience

Make sure it conveys a clear timeline. An MFA in Creative Writing is not a corporate job. It’s totally fine if you spent years living in a tent in the wilderness or on a meditation retreat or caring for family members. Just make sure there’s a progression in terms of the timeline.

Information to include specific to an MFA

Include anything that might be relevant to an MFA Creative Writing program. Are you a member of a book club? Have you tutored or taught anything (swimming, tennis, Zumba)? Has any of your writing been made public? Do you have a blog? This is a writing resume, not a job resume so include any activities or experiences that you feel are important to your path as a writer.

Step 3: Write a letter introducing yourself as a writer.

This is usually called The Statement of Purpose or an Artist Statement.

Writing prompts to help you get started:

  • What is your background in writing? What calls you to write? Include anything that has helped you prepare for an MFA in Creative Writing. Do you keep a journal? What do you like to read? Have you taken any classes that might prepare you for a degree in creative writing? Also, include any other kinds of study that might inform your writing. If you are planning to write about environmental issues and have worked in a related field (such as studying geology or volunteering at a park) include that information.
  • What are your current writing interests? OK, this is the absolute hardest part of the entire application process. You are supposed to talk about the work you plan to do. But since you haven’t done that writing yet, it’s almost impossible to talk about it in any real, substantial way. I recommend instead that you discuss something you’ve written in the recent past. This will create a jumping-off point that lets you talk about the formal and thematic influences on your work. It’s not a bad idea to name one or two writers whose work has inspired your writing.
  • What do you bring to the MFA Creative Writing program? When you apply for an MFA, you are asking to join a writing community. What kind of community member will you be? Do you have special skills to share? Literary knowledge, cultural knowledge, and interesting personal stories are all assets that you can bring to an MFA program.

Step 4:  Submit a writing sample.

Submit a sample of your writing. You can either submit poetry or prose. The writing should be somewhat recent, something you have written in the last two or three years. Choose work that you want to share. It does not matter if the writing has been published or shared with a writing workshop. It just needs to be writing you feel reflects where you are right now in your work.

Poetry can be single-spaced. It can be a series of poems or a lengthy poem. Submit no more than 10 pages. There are no requirements on form or style. Just submit a sample of your poems.

Prose (fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction) should be double-spaced. Submit no more than 25 pages. You can assemble a number of short pieces. Or, if you are working in a longer form, you can submit an excerpt of a longer story, memoir, or novel. Most of the time, even an excerpt does not need to have an introduction or explanation. Remember, the people who are reading your writing are also writers. If you do want to have some framing, you can put that in the introduction letter.

Things to remember:

  • An MFA in Creative Writing program is an educational experience. The goal of the program is for students to hone their craft in writing. You can apply at any stage of your writing journey.
  • It is almost impossible to feel that your writing is finished or ready to share. If you wait to apply until you have a sense of completion or accomplishment about your writing, you might spend your whole life planning to do an MFA.

Step 5: Have a chat with me.

Applicants to the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Dominican University of California can choose between submitting a letter of recommendation or a meeting with the program director (that’s me).

These meetings give us a chance to connect in real time. You can ask questions about the program and get a sense of what it would be like to study at Dominican on our San Rafael, California campus. This is by far the easiest option. But if you insist on getting a written recommendation, here are some tips:

Ask someone who knows you well. It doesn’t have to be a professor. It can be someone you know through work. Or, someone that knows you through an organization or community group. We’re reading the letter to see if you are going to work well as part of a group, be generous with peers and faculty, embrace new experiences, that sort of thing. We’ll have your transcripts and your writing sample, so we don't need a letter testifying to your brilliance, which will already come through in the other parts of the application.

Those are all the steps! You are on your way to an MFA in Creative Writing.

Apply to Dominican's low-residency MFA Creative Writing program 

For guidance or more information, reach out to our admissions counselor or me.

Judy Halebsky, MFA Director Email: [email protected] Cell: (415) 724-2398 Office of Graduate Admissions Email:  graduate @dominican.edu Phone: (415) 485-3280

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Home / For Students / Applying to MFA Programs

Want to learn more about applying to MFA programs in Creative Writing? Trying to decide if it's right for you? Check out our FAQ below with advice from faculty members and Creative Writing Ph.D. students to help you decide and learn more. 

You can also watch a Zoom recording of our MFA in Creative Writing Information Session. 

Click on a Question to Get Started: 

What is an MFA?

  • Should I get one?
  • Where should I go? How can I decide?
  • How many programs should I apply to?
  • What is a low-residency program?

Do I need to be published?

How much does it cost? What kind of resources will I need?

  • What is a fully-funded program?
  • What sort of teacher training will be provided?

What do you wish you would’ve known about MFA programs before you applied?

How do I apply? What materials do I need to apply?

  • When should I start thinking about whether or not to apply for an MFA?
  • Who should I ask for recommendation letters?
  • How do I ask for recommendations?

What are other resources I can look into? 

Which MFA programs have graduates from our undergraduate creative writing concentration gone to? 

  • "An MFA is a Masters Fine Arts, which you can get in Poetry, Fiction, or Nonfiction Writing (fewer programs are available in Nonfiction). There are also MFAs in visual art. The program is 2-3 years and involves taking seminars in which you study literature as well as participating in a group workshop where you read and comment on your peers’ writing. An MFA can qualify you to teach creative writing or other college-level writing/English courses. More importantly, it is time to read a ton and write a ton. I wouldn’t do an MFA because you are interested in professionalization; I would do an MFA if you have a writing project you are excited to pursue and/or if you are committed to simply developing and growing and improving as a writer."
  • Return to Question Index

Should I get one? What should I consider in determining whether or not to pursue an MFA?

  • "You should get an MFA if you have the passion/desire/drive to spend two years focusing on a writing project and workshopping that project with peers and faculty. An MFA alone will not qualify you for teaching at colleges and universities. You would need to have an MFA and at least one published book." 

Where should I go? How can I decide? 

  • "Some of the best advice I received when I was applying was to not go anywhere that doesn’t fully fund you. Definitely look at work from the faculty and from students who came out of these programs. I’d also advise that you think about the type of writing environment you want—if you want to be able to work in multiple genres/cross-genre, for example, some programs are more accommodating to that than others."
  • Go where you won’t go into debt and where you feel like the curriculum, faculty, campus location, and student body reflects your needs and interests as a writer and as a whole Although a valuable experience, an MFA is an investment that has no guarantee of a return--no matter how prestigious or celebrated the program--which is why going into debt for it is hard to justify. Visit the schools and talk to faculty and current students. Are they welcoming? Are they happy? Do they make you feel valued? Do they value similar things as you (professionally and personally)? Can you see yourself among them? Are there students of color in the program? If not, why not? 
  • "Please do not go into debt. This cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often. The best advice is to only go to a program that fully funds you ."

"I think applying only to what pops up when you Google “Top Ten 10 Best Creative Writing MFA programs” is not the kind of research you need to do. Find out the success rate of the graduates at programs you are interested in. Read the books of the teaching faculty. Research deeply before you apply. If you can, go visit and arrange to observe a class. Pay attention to the culture of the place to see if it suits you and ask other students in the program what has worked for them."

  • "In addition to finding a school that will support you financially, and after narrowing your search according to where you’d like to live (or where you’d refuse to live), you should consider who you might like to study under. If you have favorite authors, find out if they teach, and where, and then investigate those programs. Be strategic."

How many programs should I apply to? 

  • "I applied to 4—I think that was the right number. I got into three of them, and the one I didn't get into wasn't the fanciest one. I worry that applying to too many programs is extremely expensive and time-consuming. Don't apply to any program you wouldn't happily go to, or that will be prohibitively expensive."
  • "I applied to only two MFA programs, but I think applying to 5-7 FULLY FUNDED programs that might be a good fit for you is a more responsible and practical approach. There's no "right" number. You have to make a lot of assessments about your needs/desires/personal circumstances and try to match those with programs out there with a curriculum that matches your interests and faculty who could support your work. Many programs have fee offset grants if you inquire with the university to diminish application costs."
  • "My answer to the "right" number of schools question: This question reminds me of the question of how many agents one should query. I think it depends on your temperament. I sent to a small handful (I applied to about five schools over a period of two application periods) of schools & I sent to one agent at a time. I am a turtle & this worked great for me, but it would drive some people crazy! It also depends on what your goals are. When applying to MFA programs, what I wanted was a program that would fund me. Of course, an exciting faculty is a plus but I, for one, refused to apply to programs with exciting faculty that weren't capable of funding my work."

—Jennifer Tseng

  What is a low-residency program? 

  • Low-residency MFA programs provide a combination of remote and in-person learning. A typical school year consists of one ten-day intensive/residency on campus per semester, supplemented by ongoing remote classes and mentorships throughout the year (including the option of a summer mentorship). This format is ideal for students who have full-time jobs and/or families and for writers who thrive in small groups and prefer working one-on-one with their mentors. The low-res format allows for maximum flexibility and is best suited to self-starters who are comfortable with working independently.
  • You can find more information about Low Residency programs here and here.
  • "Definitely not! Though it happens occasionally that someone starts an MFA having published a book, most people who start MFAs have never published a single poem/or story even in a journal. They’re looking at your potential. And, in fact, some MFAs might not want to accept a writer who already seems “established” (i.e. widely published in top-tier publications and/or a book or two)." 
  • "No, but publishing something demonstrates a certain amount of initiative on your part, while specific venues can signal certain aesthetic and/or political predilections."
  • "Again, don’t go into debt for an MFA. Find a program that will support you."
  • "Every MFA program costs a different amount. Some programs provide full-funding, partial funding, or no funding. The best way to find out how much financial aid the program you are interested in provides is to visit the program’s website."
  • "Keep in mind the cost of living in major metropolitan areas--and certain college towns-- is significantly higher than in other areas. Be active in researching the cost of on-campus housing & go on Craigslist, Zillow, etc., to have a good idea of the current state of the rental market within a 5-10 mile radius of campus."

What is a fully-funded program? (What are some fully-funded programs?)

  • "'Fully funded' means you will receive both tuition remission (or its equivalent) and a stipend . In other words, you (as a single person) should not have to take on debt to complete the program; the university covers both the cost of attendance (tuition) and pays you an income (stipend), through a combination of fellowships, teaching assistantships, or other work-related opportunities, such as serving on the editorial board of an affiliated literary journal. At more prestigious programs, multi-year fellowships may be awarded in the financial aid offer associated with your acceptance letter (this is an ideal scenario in which you receive an income just to write, with no additional work-related responsibilities), while other fully-funded schools with less money of an endowment ($$) will fund your degree provided you also agree to teach or perform other related-labor; at such schools, short-term, competitive fellowships may also be available upon arrival. Apply for these, which look good on your CV and will give you a break from teaching in order to focus on your creative work. It can happen, however, that some fellowships ultimately provide less money than teaching does, especially after taxes. Again, make sure you have a sense of your budget based on the current cost of living (expect it to rise, especially in urban areas) so that you can confirm the university’s stipend will be enough to support your needs." 

What sort of teacher training will be provided at a program in which teaching assistantships make up a large portion of the funding?

  • "It REALLY varies, and this is a great question to ask current grads in these programs, either before or after you’re accepted, while you’re trying to decide where to go. In my MFA program (Iowa), training and oversight varied greatly depending on what department you were TA-ing/GSI-ing for. For the Literature department proper, we had a week-long orientation/training, and for Creative Writing we had minimal training, but were paired with a TA Coordinator (a second-year grad) who worked one-on-one with us to observe classes and provide feedback."
  • "When I was an undergrad I ignored the best piece of MFA advice I was ever offered. When I told my writing mentor that I wanted to go to New York to get an MFA, she said I’d be better off moving there for a summer and waiting tables till I shook the desire out of my system and then could apply elsewhere. When I reflect on my NYC MFA experience for too long, I always come back to her wisdom and wonder what would have happened if I had listened to her. Which is to say, NYC is great but is incredibly expensive and isn’t."
  • "Different programs have significant aesthetic differences. If you write very experimental, politically-charged, multilingual poetry, for example, you are going to feel out of place in any program that does not have a significant proportion of faculty whose work demonstrates similar concerns. DO A LOT OF RESEARCH. Also, know that you can apply to MFAs more than once; it is okay to approach your first round of applications as a practice round. And, if in that round, or a subsequent round, you only get into one program, make sure it’s a program you really want to attend. If you arrive at a program and it truly turns out to be a bad match, know that you can also apply to transfer to other programs. It’s not common, but people do it."
  • " There is a range of amazing programs that will fully fund you, you can find a good fit that will not put you into massive debt. I also wish I’d known more about the pedagogical & cultural differences between programs, because there is a range, and prestige isn’t always the best indicator of what will be the best fit for you."
  • "Do not go to a program you have to pay for in full unless this is really not a concern for you/your family. Just remember: you aren’t becoming a lawyer. There’s no promise of income at the end of the MFA tunnel. So that debt is going to be a huge burden for a long time."
  •  "Two-year programs go by in a flash."
  • "Personal statement and a writing sample of about 25 pages. Some programs require the GRE. Three recommendations." 
  • "You can apply to most programs online. You need a BA or BS degree. The most important component of your application is your manuscript. Most programs ask for 10 pages of poetry; 25 pages of fiction. Personal statement, three letters of recommendation, current CV or resume."
  • "You will need some kind of personal statement talking about your desire to get an MFA--why in general, why now, what it would mean for you in the future--as well as a writing sample (for poetry, this is usually anywhere from 10-15 pages). Some programs may also ask for a teaching statement and/or a diversity statement. You will also need 2-3 letters of recommendation."
  • "You will also need money to pay application fees, sometimes between $70-120 per school. Sometimes, fee waivers are available. Make sure to ask." 

When should I start thinking about whether or not to apply for an MFA? What is the typical timeline for applying, hearing back from programs, etc?

  • "I strongly suggest you do not apply while still an undergraduate at UCSC. Creative Writing students at UCSC spend the spring of their senior year focusing on revising a manuscript. That will be the strongest work you do while at UCSC. If you apply in the fall of your senior year, it will not be with your strongest work. It’s hard to get into an MFA program. MFA programs prefer to take people who have been out of school for a while, have proved they will continue to write outside of school on their own, and perhaps even have a publication or two or have done some work in the writing/literary community."
  • "In terms of applying and hearing back, it’s just like college. Applications are due in the Fall, you hear in the spring. Recently, the past few years, we’ve had more and more students applying in the Fall of their Senior year and I think that timing doesn’t allow for maximum realized potential on your final year at UCSC. Our program is designed to have you focus hard in your last year producing a manuscript you have revised, are proud of and may even send out for publication. I recommend taking a break and giving yourself a few years to do life after college. And graduate programs like applications from well-rounded people who have done something other than school. Another benefit of waiting is when you’re not in school and are out in the world, you’ll have more to write about. Consider internships at Literary publications, or even applying to artist colonies to have focused writing time which will also look good on your resume if you do ultimately apply . . . You can also join organizations for writers, like AWP, attend conferences and talk to people, which will help you know if an MFA is really the path for you." 
  • "I agree completely. Taking some time off between your undergraduate career and graduate school is usually a good idea. But if you think you want to go into an MFA program sooner than later after graduation, you should consider your senior thesis a springboard to the manuscript that will get you into a graduate program. If you graduate in June, your grad school applications will be due in a little more than five months. You can use that time to polish your manuscript, your CV, and your statement of purpose."
  • Return to Question Index  

Who should I ask for recommendation letters? 

  • "Ask previous, recent creative writing, English, and literature instructors who are very familiar with your writing, creative and critical. Ask the instructors of multiple courses for which you received high marks. Do not ask your piano instructor, even if you’re a Music major and no matter how close you are, if they have never read your writing."

How do I ask for recommendations? How far in advance should I ask?

  • "I always ask for a copy of a student’s manuscript, statement of purpose, CV, and a list of the classes they’ve taken from me. Offering this material when you ask for a recommendation is always appreciated. You want to make your recommenders’ jobs as easy as you can."

"You should ask AT LEAST two months in advance. Make sure to remind the faculty member what classes you took with them, why you’re applying, what you’ve been up to since graduation, and ask them what you can do to make it easier for them. You should sign up for Interfolio so that the faculty member has to do fewer letters. It’s good to politely remind faculty as the deadlines get near." 

  • Poets and Writers MFA Program Finder  
  • University of Arizona Guide to Applying to MFA Programs
  • Hebah Uddin’s article “Prepping for MFA Programs as a Person of Color”
  • Gionni Ponce’s article “Seeking POC: How to Choose MFA Programs”
  • Sonya Larson’s article “Degrees of Diversity: Talking Race and the MFA”
  • Snigdha Roy’s article "How to Find a Writing MFA Program for POCs"

Here’s a list of universities with MFA programs in poetry, fiction, and/or creative nonfiction that graduates from our creative writing concentration have gone to:

  • Columbia University 
  • Otis Art Institute
  • University of Alaska
  • New York University 
  • San Francisco State University 
  • Long Island University Brooklyn 
  • Saint Mary’s College 
  • The New School
  • University of Virginia
  • Mills College 
  • Sarah Lawrence University 
  • University of Glasgow
  • Oregon State University 
  • California College of the Arts   
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of North Carolina, Willmington
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Colorado State University, Boulder
  • University of New Hampshire
  • San Jose State University  
  • West Virginia University
  • Fresno State University
  • Sierra Nevada College
  • California State University Northridge
  • Chapman University
  • University of San Francisco
  • University of Nevada, Reno
  • University of New Mexico
  • Portland State University
  • Apply to the Creative Writing Concentration
  • Report an accessibility barrier
  • Land Acknowledgment
  • Accreditation

Last modified: February 17, 2021

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A New Community of Writers

Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing?

January 14, 2023 by Richard 11 Comments

If you love writing, an MFA might be the way for you to go, but there are many things to consider. In life, there are no guarantees, but taking the risk might keep you writing. The truth is, you never know. Before signing up for your MFA in Creative Writing, here are some things to consider. Student Union, where many MFAers sleep.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

If you are considering pursuing your MFA in Creative Writing, here are a few things to keep in mind. Creative writing programs are bombing now, but it may not be your best idea.

Circle of Writers

You will be around people who write. You will be around experienced writers. Having access to professional writers is generally a good thing for writers. The more people you know who read your work, the better you write most of the time. You’ll have other people around you to motivate you. Do you need it? Do you crave a community of writers?

More Time to Write

You’ll have more time to write. Most MFA programs are studio programs that focus on writing. We are not talking about an MA in English. We are talking about studio creative writing programs. These are programs that give you time to write. You spend most of your time meeting deadlines for writing and then workshopping what you’ve written. A writing program might work if you need to get away from your busy job and life to write and have no refuge.

Literary Writing

You’ll have training from literary writers. It’s good if you are interested in literary writing (meaning you write the fiction of life). I’m about to say something that will get me in trouble with you, but if you are most concerned with story-telling and have few details about how the story is told, you probably will not like academic courses. Literary writers get into the nooks and crannies of writing. Not to say that genre writers do not focus on language—literary focus on how the story is told. If you are not a “micro” writer, you may not enjoy it very much. There is always an exception to the rule. Some MFA programs do offer paths in genre fiction.

You MIGHT have access to literary agents. Literary agents watch some MFA programs. These programs usually produce good writers, and agents monitor the programs for writers they can represent. Iowa and Arizona are at the top of this list. The list of good programs is constantly changing, save that Iowa is always on top.

Better Writer

It will help you in your writing, or better stated: it will help you understand yourself better to become a better writer. After all, becoming a better editor is one thing, but becoming a better writer-storytelling- having your style is different altogether. An MFA program will teach you about language. It will also allow you to learn more about yourself as a writer. It will give you time and support. It will not magically improve your writing just by stepping into the program. Could you do this on your own without the program? Yeah, many others have. Many great writers have sought out writing circles and have yet to attend university.

It will allow you to teach at a university or in a writing program or go on to get your Ph.D. An MFA is ideal if you are interested in teaching at a university. This especially applies to poets. Poets generally find it hard to make a living writing poetry, so teaching is one of the best options.

There are other ways.

You can get a lot out of simple workshops. If you do not want to teach writing, you might not need an MFA. You do not have an “academic” interest in language and don’t necessarily care about the literary world; I would say you might want to sign up for a couple of workshops. They have workshops in every major city from time to time. Look for them in writer’s magazines (classifieds).

Bad Influence on Your Writing?

Some people say MFA programs are a terrible influence on your writing. They mean that most programs do not focus on a particular genre (other than literary). Writers need to remember that each genre in writing has its quirks and niches. Science fiction, romance, and mystery writers may have different goals in their writing. Working with writers who focus on the genre you love will do you more good than going and getting an MFA. When choosing an MFA program, one thing you should remember is the professors teaching the courses. If you like their writing, they will help you the most in your writing. If you think they are boring, why bother going into the program?

Every genre has workshops and seminars where great writers from that genre attend and teach or even read your work and comment. There are online courses where outstanding writers in a genre teach. These are much more valuable than going to a general MFA program. Get involved. Get in a workshop.

Being in an MFA program will not “hurt” your writing. It will change your writing and may not tailor changes to the genre you love. You can use what they teach you, but why not learn and work with someone in your area of the genre?

You will buy primo credits at a Master’s level at a university. You will spend between $7000-$15,000 a semester (or more, depending on the school). The degree could cost $30,000-$100,000. Each degree and university are different, but make sure to look at the cost before you enroll. Many MFA programs do have stipends and assistantships where you can teach to get your tuition paid. If you are one of the unlucky ones who do not get an assistantship, you are looking at a steep bill for your writing degree.

No guarantee

MFAs are like any degree you get in the humanities; there is no guarantee. It might not get you a book deal. It might not get you published. It might not even get you a teaching job. Many MFAs had gone right back into the field they were working in before they got their MFA. Yes, you can do the work, pay the money and spend the time and you still need to get a job related to writing. This happens in every field, but you have to remember the jobs associated with report writing tend to be few and far between in many parts of the country. Only some people can get a job, and it is possible to go through all the steps and remain in the same spot you’re in right now.

  Ask yourself the right questions. Don’t let others discourage you. Don’t let anything stand in your way. If you want an MFA degree, you shouldn’t let anything stop you. Many writers do very well with a creative writing degree.

Updated 1/14/22

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About Richard

Richard Edwards is a writer and an educator and the owner editor of Every Writer. Follow him on Twitter, and check out our Submissions page .

Reader Interactions

October 26, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Still confused on whether to get an MFA.

January 31, 2015 at 9:48 pm

I am Just as confused- I write mostly poetry- so do I benefit from getting a MFA or not-

Elaine says

February 17, 2015 at 3:17 pm

After reading several different opinions on the value of earning an MFA in writing, I have concluded one really needs to determine motivation. I think those motivated by intrinsic rewards will gain the most value from this type of degree.

Nina Annette says

May 5, 2016 at 5:28 pm

What do I do? I think an MFA would be a great way to meet other writers and intellectuals, to refine and challenge my writing, and to have meaningful discussions on books, essays, and more. I’m a philosophy and politics undergraduate, as I love debating and discussing both theoretical works and real-world problems. I am not in school to become a millionaire, but I also know that I need to be practical. I literally have no idea what I want to do, but I think the MFA in writing might be a worthwhile opportunity, especially since many can be worked around jobs. Maybe I can get funding, but if not, is it a worthwhile opportunity?

Bob Gray says

August 11, 2016 at 11:04 am

RUN as fast as you can from these MFA programs. There are no jobs with this degree. IF it is not FREE to obtain the MFA, do you want to spend years paying off debt for a degree that provides no job opportunities. My son did just that. Now he is filled with regrets. It is NOT a worthwhile opportunity. It is not an opportunity for anything except postponement to the real world. Earn a degree that will get you job offers and pay your bills!

Noah Mead says

November 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, just to name a few writers who did not have an undergraduate degree let alone an MFA

legfan says

March 22, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Unemployed english major here. Taking business classes right now, hopefully get into mba and business world so i can affored things i want. With the economy like it is, better off waiting until you are 60 to write, it is hopeless. Business is dull, but think of all the interesting things you can do with a financial foundation. No good evidence in this article to get an mfa. Id rather go and study books because at least its analysis.

Every Writer says

March 23, 2017 at 6:36 am

I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to point our reasons to get an MFA in this article. I’m simply letting writers know the possible benefits of this degree. It makes me happy to see the comments on this article. When I wrote it, the one thing I wanted people to do most was really think out if an MFA degree is right for them. They should know the risks, but I believe it’s attached a lot to the ends.

So if you get an MFA, and the time you spend give you all the time and support you need to write a great book, you do, and then become a successful writer, would you regret your MFA?

On the other hand, if you never writer or publish a book, never become successful, then yes, I think you would regret the money you spent. That’s how it is with any degree though. If I train to be a rocket scientist but then become a plumber, do I get mad at myself for wasting money?

MFAs ARE a stepping stone to jobs, but they are jobs in teaching. For instance, many many poets cannot make a living off their writing…poetry just isn’t that popular, so the MFA moves them to a PHD track, that gets them a job teaching while they write. It’s just one example.

I do not push for or against MFAs.

March 23, 2017 at 7:47 am

More to think about:

I looked these up quickly, but you can do more extensive research if you like. Pulitzer Prize winners for the last 5ish years:

2016 Viet Thanh Nguyen PHD English 2015 Anthony Doerr MFA 2014 Donna Tartt MA English 2013 Adam Johnson MFA 2012 no award 2011 Jennifer Egan MA English 2010 Paul Harding MFA

Poetry 2016 Peter Balakain BA/MA/Phd (BA, MA English I think!) 2015 Gregory Purdlo MFA 2014 Vijay Seshadri (? Teaches MFA) 2013 Sharon Olds PHD English 2012 Tracy K. Smith MFA 2011 Kay Ryan BA, MA English 2010 Rae Armantrout MFA

Did this very quickly…on the fly…please forgive and POINT OUT TYPOS.

October 12, 2017 at 6:12 pm

Every Writer,

Donna Tartt did not get an MA in English.

crazy roll 3d says

January 6, 2023 at 1:01 am

I think you should try.

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Privacy Overview

MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts

World-Renowned Faculty & Excellent Funding Opportunities


How to Apply

When to apply.

  • Applications are accepted for fall quarter only. 
  • Applications for Fall 2024 entry will open around October 1, 2023. The deadline to apply with fellowship consideration will be January 5, 2024. There is no benefit in applying early, as the faculty will not begin review of applications until after January 5.
  • If you are submitting your application close to the deadline, please be sure to notify your recommenders well in advance so that they may have their letters ready to submit immediately. Review of applications will begin very shortly after the deadline, and while missing letters of recommendation will not disqualify your application, it may put it at a disadvantage.

To apply for our program,  complete the Graduate Division Application .

You must submit: 

  • 10-15 pages of poetry
  • A maximum of 25 pages of nonfiction
  • A maximum of 20 pages or 5000 words of fiction
  • The first act or a maximum of 25 pages of a screenplay or play

Include your writing sample in the Additional Information section at the bottom of the Statement of Purpose/Personal History Statement page in your Graduate Division application.

Transcripts demonstrating a B.A. or B.S. degree from an accredited institution, and transcripts from all other colleges attended. Unofficial transcripts can be uploaded to the "Additional Information" section at the bottom of the Statement of Purpose/Personal History Statement page in the Graduate Division website's application form. If admitted, official transcripts will be required from all colleges attended.

  • Three letters of recommendation These letters should be provided by instructors or professional contacts who can speak to your ability to succeed in a rigorous graduate program. When you submit your application, your recommenders will receive an email containing a link to upload their letter. Please give them advance notice so that their letters arrive on time and do not delay the review of your application.   
  • A personal history statement  Use the personal history statement to tell us about who you are. Use it to give us a sense of where you come from and what has shaped you, particularly as a writer.  
  • A statement of purpose and project proposal  In contrast to the personal history statement's look to the past, the statement of purpose is a look to the future. Tell us why you want to study in our MFA program and what you hope to accomplish with a graduate degree in creative writing. You should write it specifically for this application (it cannot be a copied and pasted resume).  Include your project proposal in your statement of purpose, either within the body of the statement or as a separate section. The project proposal should be a brief description of a full-length book, screenplay or play that you anticipate working on if you are accepted into our program.   
  • CV A brief outline of your educational and professional history  
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores  If you are an international student and your degree is not from a university where the primary language of instruction is English, you must submit either TOEFL or IELTS scores. More admission information for  international students can be found here .  
  • The GRE is not required . 

Fee Waivers

The Graduate Division waives a limited number of application fees for applicants who are experiencing financial distress. Graduate Division typically issues all of its waivers one to two months after applications open in October, so interested applicants should submit a request as early as possible in the application period. Learn how to request a fee waiver . 

The CWPA program is unable to offer fee waivers.

Frequently Asked Questions   

Getting accepted.

While all application materials are important, the Admissions Committee gives the most weight to the writing sample. You must submit a polished, effective writing sample to be considered for admission.

No. The faculty do not review applications until after the January 5 deadline, so applying early offers no advantage.

No. We only accept applications for fall quarter enrollment.

No. GRE scores are not reviewed by the Admissions Committee.

We typically issue offers of admission via phone and/or email by mid-March. Refusals of admission are submitted to the Graduate Division soon after admission offers are made, but it can take some time for the Graduate Division to process the refusals and send the official email notification.

Your Writing Sample

No. The admissions committee cannot consider you for admission if you do not submit a writing sample in the primary genre you wish to study.

For prose submissions, please double-space the manuscript.

Please attach it in the Additional Information section at the bottom of the page where you attach the Statement of Purpose and Personal History Statement.

Transcripts and Letters of Recommendation 

No, but they should be submitted as soon as possible after the deadline. Your application will be accepted and reviewed even if all the letters aren't submitted before faculty begin reviewing applications; however, the lack of letters could put your application at a disadvantage. If you plan to submit an application on or near the deadline, notify your letter writers in advance so that will have the letters ready to upload as soon as you submit your application.

Yes, but we will need a copy of your transcript before we are able to make an offer of admission.

You should submit a current, incomplete transcript from your school at the time you submit your application. If you are offered admission and accept, you will resubmit your transcript after your degree has been posted to it.

Letters of recommendation will only be accepted via electronic submission.

After you submit your online application, each of your letter writers will receive an email with a link through which they can upload their letters of recommendation to your file. It is not possible to submit the letters of recommendation before the application is submitted.

Email spam filters will sometimes cull the automated email, so ask your letter writer to check their junk mail folder. If it isn't there, you can log in and resend the letter request email through the application.

Yes. The online application contains instructions on how to submit letters from Interfolio.

Your Personal History Statement and Project Proposal

Generally speaking, use the personal history statement to tell us about who you are. Use it to give us a sense of where you come from and what has shaped you, particularly as a writer. In contrast to the personal history statement's look to the past, the statement of purpose should be more of a look to the future. Tell us why you want to study in our MFA program and what you hope to accomplish with a graduate degree in creative writing.

The project proposal should be a brief description of a full-length book, screenplay, or play that you anticipate working on if you are accepted to our program. The proposal can be as long or short as it needs to be to adequately describe your project. It can either be embedded in the body of the statement of purpose or included in a separate section.

We have no minimum or maximum length requirements, but one to two pages for each document is standard.

If you choose to type the personal history statement and statement of purpose into the text box provided in the online application, you will be limited to 3000 characters. However, if you upload the documents as a Word doc or PDF, there is no limit.

Visit the UCR Graduate Division  for more information about admission.

Questions? Contact us .

Creative Writing

MFA in Creative Writing: Curriculum

On this page.

  • Core Workshops
  • Writing Seminars in Strand

MFA students are required to take 48 credit hours of coursework as listed below. They must also complete a creative thesis of high literary merit, pass a written examination based on the thesis, and pass an oral examination in defense of the written examination and creative thesis.

MFA Core Workshops:  16 credits WR Seminars in Strand:  8 credits Electives: 16 credits Thesis (WR 503):  8 credits

Note:  Students admitted before Fall 2017 may use these requirements or those of their catalogue (entry) year. Please note that the new requirements (a) Have electives available across the English department, and up to 8 credits outside the department by advisor approval; (b) No longer require a Reading List; and (c) clarify the expectation of two WR seminars within your strand, or that are cross-strand and include your strand.

Core Workshops: 4 classes

WR 521, WR 522, and WR 523 are restricted to students admitted to the MFA in the strand. Students will take the Workshop in their strand no fewer than four times and no more than six times, to earn a minimum of 16 credits. First-year students are required to take core workshops in their first two terms.

WR Seminars in Strand: 2 classes

Seminars must focus on the student’s strand (i.e. fiction, nonfiction, or poetry) or be a cross-strand course that includes the student’s strand. Fiction seminars are all listed as WR 507: Fiction; poetry seminars are all listed as WR 507: Poetry; and nonfiction seminars include WR 528, WR 556, WR 557, WR 558, and WR 559. Other MFA seminars may be included by advisor approval.

Electives: 4 classes

Graduate ENG and/or WR courses chosen from within the department. Of these, students are encouraged to take at least one MFA seminar outside their genre. Up to 8 credits may be taken in LING 590, TA 574, or TA 575 or, with advisor approval, in graduate courses outside the department in an area related to the student’s thesis.

Thesis (WR 503): 8 credit hours to be arranged

MFA students must also complete a creative thesis of high literary merit, pass a written examination based on the thesis, and pass an oral examination based on the written examination and creative thesis. For a more detailed timeline, visit the MFA in Creative Writing Graduation Deadlines page .

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Hal Ackerman

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Former co-chair of the Screenwriting Program at UCLA.
  • His play, Testosterone: How Prostate Cancer Made a Man of Me, received the William Saroyan Centennial Prize for Drama and won Best Script at the 2011 United Solo Festival.
  • He has sold material to all the broadcast networks and major studios.
  • His book Write Screenplays That Sell…The Ackerman Way is now in its third printing.

Khris Baxter

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Screenwriter, producer, and the founder of Lost Mountain Entertainment.
  • Developed and financed a wide range of projects in partnership with Cross Creek Pictures and Echo Lake Entertainment.
  • Co-produced “Above the Shadows,” which won the Audience Award at the 2019 Brooklyn Film Festival.
  • Teaches Writing for Film & TV at Dickinson College.
  • Serves as a judge for the Virginia Film Office’s annual screenwriting competition.

Peter Behrens

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Screenwriter, essayist, and fiction writer.
  • Author of four books of fiction, including “The Law of Dreams,” which won the Governor-General’s Award and has been published in nine languages.
  • His stories, essays, and reviews appear in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, NPR’s All Things Considered, and many anthologies.
  • Former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and former fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Cathy Smith Bowers

Instructor, Poetry [email protected]

  • Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2010-2012.
  • Her poems appear widely in publications such as The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review.
  • Author of five collections of poetry.

Morri Creech

Associate Professor, Poetry Writer in Residence, Queens University of Charlotte [email protected]

  • Author of four collections of poetry, one a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
  • His poems appear in Poetry, The New Criterion, The New Republic, The Southwest Review, The Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, Critical Quarterly, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and  elsewhere. 
  • He has received the Stan and Tom Wick Award, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and a fellowship from The Louisiana  Division of the Arts.

David Christensen

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Executive producer at the National Film Board of Canada where he oversees a slate of documentary, interactive, and animation productions made nationally and internationally.
  • Two Oscar-nominated films and multiple premiers at Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, and New York film festivals.

Ann Cummins

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of a story collection and novel.
  • Recipient of a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.
  • Stories appear in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Antioch Review, The Best American Short Stories, and The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories.

Jonathan Dee

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of eight novels.
  • His novel “The Privileges” was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald and the St. Francis College Literary Prize.
  • A former contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a senior editor of The Paris Review, and a National Magazine Award-nominated literary critic for Harper’s.
  • Received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Kristin Dombek

Instructor, Nonfiction [email protected]

  • Author of “The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism,” which has been translated into multiple languages, and “How to Quit,” forthcoming soon.
  • Essays appear in The New Yorker, Vice, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, London Review of Books, n+1, The Financial Times, The Paris Review, and Best American Essays.
  • Recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Rona Jaffe Foundation.
  • Has taught at Queens College/CUNY and Princeton.

Shelley Evans

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Has written teleplays for ABC, CBS, Showtime, USA Network, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Lifetime Television.

Elizabeth Gaffney

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of two novels.
  • Has also translated three novels and a memoir from German.
  • Resident artist at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Blue Mountain Center.
  • Former staff editor at The Paris Review, and currently serves as the editor-at-large of A Public Space.

Myla Goldberg

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Bestselling author of four novels, including “Bee Season,” which was a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the Borders New Voices Prize. It was adapted to film and widely translated.
  • Has also published an essay collection, a children’s book, and short stories that have appeared in Harper’s.
  • Teaches also in the fiction programs at Sarah Lawrence and NYU.

Emily Fox Gordon

Instructor, Nonfiction [email protected]

  • Author of a novel, a collection of personal essays, and two memoirs, one of which was a New York Times Notable Book.
  • Her work appears in Boulevard, Salmagundi, The American Scholar, and Southwest Review, and has been anthologized in the Anchor Essay Annual.
  • Has taught writing workshops at Rice University, the University of Houston, The New School, the University of Wyoming, and the MFA program at Rutgers/Camden.
  • Recipient of two Pushcart Prizes.

Trish Harnetiaux

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Her play “Tin Cat Shoes” premiered in 2018 kicking off Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks (Playwrights Horizons Superlab).
  • Three other plays have been published by Samuel French.
  • Executive producer on the off-beat comedy series “Driver Ed” which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
  • She has been a resident at MacDowell, Yaddo, The Millay Colony, and SPACE at Ryder Farm.

Marcus Jackson

Instructor, Poetry [email protected]

  • Author of two poetry collections.
  • His poems appear in The New Yorker, Harvard Review, The New York Times, and The Cincinnati Review.

Fred Leebron

Program Director, Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and Fulbright Scholar.
  • Author of five books of fiction, including “Six Figures,” which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and became a feature-length film.
  • Co-editor of “Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology;” and co-author of “Creating Fiction: A Writer’s Companion.”
  • Recipient of an O. Henry Award, a Puschart Prize, a Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Fellowship, and two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Instructor, Poetry

  • Author of six books of poetry, including “The Carrying,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.
  • Her book “Bright Dead Things” was named a finalist for the National Book Award, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
  • Currently the Poet Laureate of the United States and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow.

Rebecca Lindenberg

Instructor, Poetry [email protected]

  • Author of two poetry collections, including the winner of the 2015 Utah Book Award.
  • Awarded an Amy Lowell Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Grant, a Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Fellowship, and a residency grant from the MacDowell Arts Colony.
  • Her poetry, lyric essays, and criticism appear in The Believer, Poetry, McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Poetry Review, Conjunctions, and Iowa Review.

Rebecca McClanahan

Instructor, Poetry and Nonfiction [email protected]

  • Author of eleven books, most recently “In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays” and a revised edition of “Word Painting: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively,” which has sold nearly 50,000 copies.
  • Her work appears in Best American Essays, Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, and in anthologies published by Doubleday, Norton, and Penguin.
  • Recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, the Glasgow Award in nonfiction, and four fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council.

James McKean

Instructor, Poetry and Nonfiction [email protected]

  • Author of three books of poems and two books of essays.
  • His poetry and nonfiction appear in Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Best American Sports Writing, and Poetry Northwest, and have been featured in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry.

Orlando Menes

Instructor, Poetry [email protected]

  • Author of five poetry collections.
  • His poems appear in Poetry, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, The Antioch Review, Hudson Review, Shenandoah, Callaloo, and The Southern Review.
  • Editor of “Renaming Ecstasy: Latino Writings on the Sacred.”
  • Has published translations of poetry in Spanish, including My Heart Flooded with Water: Selected Poems by Alfonsina Storni.

Daniel Mueller

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of three short story collections.
  • His work appears in The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, Story Quarterly, Story, The Mississippi Review, Henfield Prize Stories, and Playboy.
  • He is the director of the Creative Writing program at the University of New Mexico.

Brighde Mullins

Instructor, Writing for Stage & Screen [email protected]

  • Her plays have been developed and produced in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
  • Recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Playwriting, a Whiting Foundation Award, a United States Artists Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
  • She has held residencies at Lincoln Center, New York Stage and Film, MacDowell, and Yaddo. She is a Usual Suspect at New York Theatre Workshop and has been a Core Member of the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.
  • Has taught at Harvard, Brown, and the University of Southern California.

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of three novels, including “The Perfect Man,” which won The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Best Book of Europe and South Asia.  His work has been translated into eight languages. 
  • Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a PEN Beyond Margins Award. 
  • Has been a writer-in-residence at the University of Missouri, Western Michigan, and Northwestern University.

Jenny Offill

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of three novels, including “The Department of Speculation,” named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by the New York Times, and shortlisted for the Pen/Faulkner Award and the L.A. Times Fiction Award.
  • Co-editor of two anthologies: “The Friend Who Got Away” and “Money Changes Everything.”

David Payne

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • NY Times Notable author of five novels and a memoir.
  • His work appears in The New York Times, Libération, The Washington Post, and The Oxford American.
  • Has taught at Bennington, Duke, and Hollins.

Susan Perabo

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of two story collections and two novels.
  • Her fiction appears in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize Stories, New Stories from the South, One Story, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and The Sun.
  • She is a Writer in Residence and professor of English at Dickinson College.

Instructor, Nonfiction and Poetry [email protected]

  • Author of multiple books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, two of which won the Library of Virginia Book of the Year Award.
  • He is a professor of English at William and Mary College in Virginia.

Robert Polito

Instructor, Poetry and Nonfiction [email protected]

  • Author of numerous books of poetry and nonfiction, including “Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award.
  • Editor of the Library of America volumes “Crime Novels: Noir of the 1930s & 1940s” and “Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s,” as well as “The Selected Poems of Kenneth Fearing.”
  • His poems and essays appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Best American Poetry, Beast American Essays, and Best American Film Writing.
  • Recently served as President of the Poetry Foundation.

Patricia Powell

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of three novels. 
  • The recipient of a PEN New England Discovery Award and a Lila-Wallace Readers Digest Writer’s Award.
  • Has taught at Harvard University, U-Mass, MIT, and Mills College.

Steven Rinehart

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of a story collection and a novel.
  • The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener Center, and the Virginia Center for the Arts.
  • Writes and ghostwrites for a former US President, Fortune 100 CEOs, entrepreneurs, and social activists.
  • He teaches at the Gallatin School of NYU.

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of 12 books of fiction.
  • A two-time National Book Award Finalist, and an Edgar Award Nominee.

Elissa Schappell

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of two books of fiction, including “Use Me,” a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award, a New York Times “Notable Book” and a Los Angeles Times “Best Book of the Year.”
  • Co-editor of two essay anthologies: “Money Changes Everything” and “The Friend Who Got Away”
  • Her fiction and nonfiction appear in One Story, McSweeney’s, BOMB, Interview, the KGB Bar Reader, The Paris Review, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Real Simple.
  • She has taught at NYU, Texas State, and Columbia University.

Dana Spiotta

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of five novels, which have won the St. Francis College Literary Prize and have been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award.
  • Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters John Updike Prize in Literature.
  • She also teaches at Syracuse University.

Maxine Swann

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of three books of fiction.
  • Awarded an O. Henry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and her work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1998 and 2006.

Héctor Tobar

Instructor, Fiction and Nonfiction [email protected]

  • Author of five books of fiction and nonfiction, published in ten languages, including the New York Times bestseller “Deep Down Dark,” which was adapted into a feature film.
  • Work appears in Best American Short Stories, L.A. Noir, The New Yorker, and The Los Angeles Times, and he is currently a contributing writer for the New York Times opinion pages.
  • He is an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Ashley Warlick

Instructor, Fiction [email protected]

  • Author of four novels.
  • Recipient of an NEA Fellowship and the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship.
  • Her work appears in The Oxford American, McSweeney’s, Redbook, and Garden and Gun.
  • She is a partner at M. Judson, Booksellers and Storytellers in Greenville, SC.


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  1. Should You Get an MFA in Creative Writing? (Pros and Cons)

    [Pros and Cons] Watch on So…should you get an MFA in Creative Writing, or not? I asked myself this question for YEARS. In fact, about every two years for a decade, I'd freak out and apply to MFA programs. I never wound up going, and eventually, I sold my first novel…and my second and my third. So what did I learn?

  2. The Pros and Cons of Getting a Creative Writing MFA

    The Pros and Cons of Getting a Creative Writing MFA If you've been writing long enough, you've probably considered getting a Masters in Fine Arts degree. Perhaps you checked the tuition costs, choked, and wondered: Is it really worth it? That's a tough call. Plenty of successful writers do not have advanced degrees.

  3. 3 Myths About the MFA in Creative Writing

    Most writers want an MFA for one of three reasons: They want to teach writing, they want to get published, or they want to make room in their life for writing. It turns out these reasons for doing an MFA are actually based on myths. Myth 1: You Need an MFA to Teach Writing

  4. Is an MFA Worth It? 7 Writers Weigh In

    Many writers wonder if pursuing an Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing is worthwhile. Maybe you're even wondering: What is an MFA? 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.

  5. MFA in Creative Writing Programs Guide

    Here are our top 5: Popular Online Master's in Writing Programs Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below. Should I Get an MFA in Creative Writing? Creative writing degrees are highly versatile.

  6. Is an MFA in Creative Writing Worth It?

    — Tiffany Hawk, Writing Coach Enrolling in an MFA in creative writing is a massive (and often massively expensive) decision. I'll talk about whether mine was worth it, what to consider as you decide, your next steps for applying and getting funding, and alternatives to an MFA.

  7. Should You Get An MFA In Creative Writing?

    When Getting An MFA Is A Good Idea. If you need assignments and a group of like-minded friends to motivate you to be inspired to write, a master's program in creative writing might help you write ...

  8. Why You Need an MFA in Creative Writing

    Author: Natalie Harris-Spencer Updated: December 9, 2022. If you're serious about the business of writing, then you need an MFA in Creative Writing. Yes, I said it: you need an MFA, or Master of Fine Arts, also known as the terminal degree in Creative Writing. You don't need an MBA, or MLA, or other variation.

  9. The 10 Best MFA Creative Writing Programs [2024]

    Its Master of Fine Arts program is one of the best MFA creative writing programs in the country, exposing students to various approaches to the craft. While studying under award-winning poets and writers, students may specialize in either poetry or fiction. 3. University of Texas at Austin - New Writers Project.

  10. Procedural Guide for MFA in Creative Writing Students

    The Creative Writing Program offers the MFA degree, with a concentration in either poetry or fiction. MFA students pursue intensive study with distinguished faculty committed to creative and intellectual achievement. Each year the department enrolls only eight MFA students, four in each concentration. Our small size allows us to offer a ...

  11. 5 Good Reasons to Pursue an MFA in Creative Writing

    The MFA in Creative Writing can be an amazing thing because you go from isolation as a writer to being part of a community, and there's truly nothing like it. 3. Connections.

  12. 10 Considerations Before You Apply to a Creative Writing MFA Program

    An MFA may provide you with skills in writing and editing, but publishing is a world of its own. You may be able to adjunct teach with an MFA, but without publication of at least one book, you won't have a chance at a visiting writer position, much less one of the few tenured jobs (for which you would likely need a Ph.D. anyway).

  13. The Truth about a M.F.A. in Creative Writing

    The Truth about a MFA in Creative Writing Share Watch on A MFA in Creative Writing is surrounded by myths of college teaching positions, publication, and more. If you're considering earning your MFA, you need to understand what the degree will actually get you and what it won't.

  14. What To Know Before Applying to MFA Creative Writing Programs

    An MFA in creative writing is a graduate program meant to help refine a writer's craft. The curriculum is designed to give writers a few years after undergrad to focus on their writing while becoming a part of a community of like-minded people.

  15. What Can You Do With an MFA in Creative Writing?

    An MFA in creative writing can help you develop a talent for communicating with the media and the public with your words. Scriptwriter: As a scriptwriter, you can write scripts for movies and television programs. An educational background in creative writing can enable you to tell interesting stories for audiences to watch on screen.

  16. How to Apply to MFA Programs in Creative Writing

    In total, you can expect to do the following as part of the process of applying to MFA programs: Plan the overall process and create a timeline. Research MFA programs / Decide where to apply. Assemble your application materials, including: Creative Writing sample (10-20 pages of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, etc.) Statement of Purpose.

  17. 5 Uncommon Tips on Your MFA Creative Writing Application

    Compared to medical school or law school, the application process for an MFA can sometimes feel like a crapshoot, with the odds of getting into a fully-funded program hovering somewhere below four or five percent (and some programs like Iowa, Michigan, Michener—gulp—even less!).

  18. What Jobs Can You Get With an MFA in Creative Writing?

    You now have an MFA in Creative Writing. But what jobs can you get with your MFA in Creative Writing? How much can you expect to earn? According to ZipRecruiter, as of December 2021, the average annual pay in the United States for a Creative Writing MFA is $73,613 per year. If this number seems optimistic, even unrealistic, it's because it is.

  19. How to Apply to an MFA in Creative Writing Program in Five Easy Steps

    Step 1: Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing? Put your doubts aside. Cast your bread upon the waters. The time to decide whether or not to do an MFA in Creative Writing is after you've been accepted. There are a hundred reasons to talk yourself out of applying but since you keep thinking about it, listen to that voice and apply. ...

  20. Applying to MFA Programs

    "You should get an MFA if you have the passion/desire/drive to spend two years focusing on a writing project and workshopping that project with peers and faculty. An MFA alone will not qualify you for teaching at colleges and universities.

  21. What Can You Do with an MFA in Creative Writing: 2024 Costs & Job

    MFA or equivalent: Earn a master of fine arts (MFA) in creative writing or a closely related field. This advanced degree provides the necessary training in both the craft of writing and the pedagogy of teaching creative writing. Publication Record: Establish a publication record. While not always a strict requirement, having a portfolio of ...

  22. Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing?

    Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing? If you love writing, an MFA might be the way for you to go, but there are many things to consider. In life, there are no guarantees, but taking the risk might keep you writing. The truth is, you never know. Before signing up for your MFA in Creative Writing, here are some things to consider.

  23. How to Apply

    Tell us why you want to study in our MFA program and what you hope to accomplish with a graduate degree in creative writing. You should write it specifically for this application (it cannot be a copied and pasted resume). ... MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. 900 University Ave. Arts 124 Riverside, CA 92521 . tel ...

  24. MFA in Creative Writing: Curriculum

    MFA students are required to take 48 credit hours of coursework as listed below. They must also complete a creative thesis of high literary merit, pass a written examination based on the thesis, and pass an oral examination in defense of the written examination and creative thesis. MFA Core Workshops: 16 credits WR Seminars in Strand: 8 credits ...

  25. MFA in Creative Writing Faculty

    Program Director, Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Instructor, Fiction. [email protected]. Former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and Fulbright Scholar. Author of five books of fiction, including "Six Figures," which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and became a feature-length film.