A Master of Fine Arts degree – or MFA – is not a guaranteed ticket to literary fame or fortune. It is, however, a great option for emerging writers looking for time to write, mentorship, and built-in creative community. Many MFA programs are fully-funded and give you the time you need to focus on your work while also being part of a thriving literary community that shares your values. These MFA programs will send you back into the world as a better writer in relationship with your readers. But there are things you should know before you apply.
One: What having an MFA can do for you
To start, a great MFA program with will make you a better writer. You’ll learn to read more deeply, more widely, and more diversely, and along the way tap into your voice. This seems obvious, but a good program will teach you how to write the work that is most pressing to you.
An MFA program will likely open doors to editors, agents, and publishing houses that would otherwise either be shut or at least more difficult to pass through. Like it or not, in many instances having an MFA and a few publications to your name will help your query letter stand out. Recipients of an MFA are also often sought out by universities to teach creative writing, and the degree, along with a strong publication record, is normally a prerequisite to teach in an MFA program.
Two: Build the necessary foundation to pursue an MFA
An MFA is an advanced, graduate-level degree, but you don’t have to have a liberal arts background to apply and/or thrive in an MFA program. Most programs will draw writers from diverse work and educational backgrounds, which in the end makes for a stronger cohort around the workshop table.
The most important thing you need before you apply to an MFA program is a steady writing practice. You should be writing regularly and reading voraciously. If you can, you should find a critique group to share your work with or even take a structured workshop where you can start receiving critical feedback on your work from a mentor and your peers. This will prepare you for the rigors of a serious MFA program and prepare you for the kind of feedback you’ll receive.
Three: Make sure you can afford an MFA
Students working toward an MFA can spend $30,000+ a year for tuition and fees. There are universities that charge double that. And of course, there are living expenses to consider.
If you are applying for an MFA, our advice at Writing Workshops Dallas is that you ONLY apply to FULLY FUNDED programs. We’re proud of how many writers we’ve helped along the way, and our students have received full funding from MFA programs at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Michigan, NYU, the University of Texas, Columbia, Alabama, Indiana, The New School, and many others.
The hard reality is that you don't want to go into debt to get an MFA. It is hard enough to make it financially as a writer that you don't want the added hardship of MFA debt hanging over your head. The good news: many MFA programs are fully-funded and well within your reach.
Four: Take an MFA Application Prep Course
Our MFA Application Prep is designed to help you make sure that your application is as strong as possible and speaks to the schools you’re applying to. Our biggest piece of advice is to only apply to programs that are fully funded. This means you’ll avoid all that annoying debt we were talking about in point three.
Many of the instructors at Writing Workshops Dallas received MFAs from top programs including Iowa, Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin and UC-Irvine and know first hand what it is like to get into and be a part of an MFA program. They also know what the gate-keepers want and need to see.
We also offer seminars that help answer basic questions about MFA programs, which one might be right for you and how to go about getting started on a successful application.
Five: Manage your expectations; understand that an MFA is not about the money
An MFA is no guarantee of gaining a high-paying job. It is a large investment in time and hard work and not all who enter an MFA program will emerge with a saleable manuscript. It is not right for everybody, nor is it intended to be. Nor are the rewards for completing an MFA especially lucrative in financial terms.
The odds of getting rich are very low. But if you simply wanted money, you could go work a 9-to-5 in a corporate gig and think about what could’ve been if you had followed through on your dream of writing.
If you want to see about enrolling in an MFA, just ask the professionals at Writing Workshops Dallas who have gone through and MFA program; they can help you understand if an MFA program is right for you and, if it is, how best to apply.