Is an MFA in Creative Writing worth it?

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A photo I took in Guanajuato, Mexico when studying abroad in 2010 – the first semester of my MFA program

Today I’m going to talk about something that a lot of writers have to ask themselves at some point.

Is it worth it to get an MFA in Creative Writing?

There are a lot of things to think about if you are considering going this route.

An MFA or a Master’s in Fine Arts is a terminal degree, which is nice. (Some schools are starting to add PhD programs in Creative Writing, but for now an MFA is largely accepted as the terminal degree in Creative Writing.) Having an MFA gives you a certain level of credibility as a writer, and it may be easier to get jobs in the publishing world. You can also teach college with an MFA in Creative Writing, though you will often have to start out teaching English Comp 1101 to freshman or teaching at a community college.

The main reason that you should get an MFA in Creative Writing, though, is to become a better writer. If this is your goal, it is absolutely worth it. But you get what you put into it. If you are coasting through class turning in things you’ve already written, not putting very much thought into critiquing other people’s work, or not doing all of your required reading, you won’t get very much out of it. This is a foolish way to go, really, because it’s not like an MBA or something that will automatically make you more money.

The MFA in Creative Writing is a lot like the BA in English. (I have both.) They aren’t the “smartest” choices if your goal post-education is to make a lot of money. However, if you are more concerned with learning, broadening your mind, reading, and writing, these are excellent ways to go.

In my own experience, I can tell you that my MFA was absolutely worth it. My program was unique in that I went to the University of New Orleans, but I was living in Atlanta. It was a low residency program, which meant that all of our classes were online except for in the summer when we all met in person to study abroad. I got to go to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2010 and Edinburgh in the UK in 2012.

Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about writing across multiple mediums (though mainly playwriting as that was my concentration), but traveling to different countries and living with other writers from all over America (and in some cases, the world) for a month is an experience I will never forget. I found myself in these places, wandering around the cathedrals of San Miguel, sipping coffee in the cafe where J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote the first Harry Potter book, sharing poetry and stories and songs with amazing writers on the roof of the hostel in Mexico or in the kitchen of the dorms in Scotland. These experiences alone made my MFA worth it. They made me a better writer, yes, but they also made me a more well-rounded person, a more experienced person, a person who had seen things and truly lived. 

Has my MFA made me a lot of money? Well, not really. But I did just graduate in December of 2012 so I’ve got some time. Some people can’t justify the expense simply to “become a better writer,” and I understand that. There are many other ways that you can learn and grow as a writer without going to grad school. There are tons of creative writing books, a lot of great material online, and even courses that you can take.

I justify my expenses because I’m not going to have children and these degrees–as expensive as they were–are never going to cost me as much as having children. It is also possible that my MFA could make me money in the future. I am hoping to teach Creative Writing at some point, and having an MFA could have helped me to get a literary agent. I know my novel certainly would not be the same if I hadn’t spend two and a half years dedicated to becoming a better writer.

So if you are looking to make a lot of money, the MFA is really a gamble. But if you are looking to see the world, have amazing experiences, learn from incredible poets, authors, playwrights, and artists, and become a much better writer in the process, the MFA is 100% worth it.

6 thoughts on “Is an MFA in Creative Writing worth it?

  1. Interesting. I know in the long run, you won’t have to “justify” it and I’m sure the money will come your way.

  2. Considering how hard it is to get started and to make a living in the writing world I think a Master’s in Marketing might be a better route. That way you can get a great job doing advertising copywriting and copyediting. That way you have a way to earn money and you can still further your writing skills. Also, even if you get a job as a copywriter you can still write creatively on the side.

    • That’s true! My day job is in marketing, and it’s a great field for writers to get into. I don’t really think you need a marketing degree to get into the field (I certainly don’t have one) and sometimes English degrees actually help in that area, especially if you’re doing a lot of copywriting or content writing. It couldn’t hurt though!

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Great post! I think the answer to the the question of “is it worth it?” differs greatly depending on how one defines “worth it.” Monetarily? Well, not yet, but maybe someday. In terms of becoming a better writer? Absolutely. 100%, and I think the learning continues post-graduation.

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