Graduate Degrees in Creative Writing: A Must Have?

Written by Emily Harstone | June 13, 2013

Slide11I have a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from a respected liberal arts school. I loved the program I was in. The Professors truly helped me improve and explore as a writer. I used my degree to start down a career path I find fulfilling: Teaching writing at the college level. I am very glad I worked towards the degree. However I do not think an MFA or an MA in creative writing is necessary for most writers.

One of the reasons many writers should not get it is the cost. Graduate degrees in creative writing can be prohibitively expensive. Some are available on scholarship, some even involve a stipend and offer teaching experience, but  most do not. They can put you into debt without necessarily giving you the job opportunities that will help you get out of debt.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a graduate degree in writing because of the debt that may or not be involved, but you should enter it into your equation as a writer, because if you have to work that debt off, you might have even less time to write.

Time spent writing is invaluable. Sometimes that is the most important thing that people take away from a graduate program, so if you can create that time for yourself without the program, and make sure that it is a profitable time in terms of writing, then that should be an option to consider.

Getting a graduate degree in creative writing does not guarantee that you will continue writing. Some people I know went into the MFA program thinking it would turn them into someone who writes outside of the program.

In fact the opposite is often true. Approximately 3 out of 5 people with an MFA degree in creative writing, will stop writing within 5 years of receiving their degree. Those are not good odds. I think that happens because the MFA creates an artificial environment in which you have time to write and also motivation to do so.

It depends a great deal on what you plan to do with your Graduate degree. If you plan to try to publish fiction and non-fiction it might help. Graduate Programs in those areas often connect their students with agents and other publishing opportunities.

As a poet I don’t usually include my degree in my author bio. Not because I am not proud of it, but because I believe my publication list is much more helpful to an editor considering my work.

Some of the best writers I know do not have a graduate degree. The most influential teachers I had in graduate school did not have graduate degrees. If you are a good writer, who has a good community around you already, and don’t have any desire to teach, there are very few reasons for you to pursue an MFA or an MA.

However if you are a writer who thrives off challenges (as I do), want to teach at the university level, or really feel like you are in need of a good writing mentor, a graduate degree in writing is worth considering.