How do I Choose the Best Creative Writing MFA Program?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Decide what type of writing you will focus on before you scout MFA programs.
Decide what type of writing you will focus on before you scout MFA programs.

Once you have completed an undergraduate degree, you can consider a graduate program and apply for graduate school. Many English majors and others enthusiastic about and talented in writing choose to apply for a creative writing MFA program, which helps the student hone creative writing skills and learn the best way to approach the publishing world. When choosing a creative writing MFA program, it is important to consider a few important aspects of each program: cost, location, instructors, available services, and accreditation. It is important to research each creative writing MFA program you are considering to find out who teaches the courses, how the courses are taught, and whether the focus of each program will help you improve your writing.

The first step in choosing the best creative writing MFA program is to decide what type of writing you want to focus on. MFA programs will require that you choose a particular writing style or genre; for example, you may choose to study poetry, or you may be better suited to studying fiction. Some creative writing MFA program offerings will allow you to focus on a particular genre of fiction, such as horror, science fiction, or historical fiction. Decide which field you are interested in and research programs that are strong in that area.

Determining whether the program is strong in that area is a matter of researching the creative writing MFA program as well as talking with former or current students, finding out which instructors are teaching the course, and taking note of published authors who have attended the program. The instructors of such programs are often published authors themselves, so be sure to note what type of writing the instructors do, where they have been published, and what specific courses they teach within the program. If possible, speak with current and former students of the program to gauge their reactions to the program, as well as its usefulness once the degree is complete.

Some MFA programs in creative writing are designed to allow the students to live in a location far from the school. This is done by offering a low-residency option, in which students travel to the school for week long or two-week long seminars on writing. Once the seminar is over, students can submit work in a distance learning capacity. This cuts down on living costs for someone who would otherwise have to move to attend the school, and it makes earning the degree part-time a possibility.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - The problem is that it costs so much to even apply to these creative writing schools. It's no wonder they can afford to support their students when all the hopefuls have to pay something like $50 or more just to be told they can't come.

There are a few places that don't charge for the application, but they seem to be few and far between.


@clintflint - It isn't quite as bad as that, although it depends on the program. Plenty of them will fully fund their students as long as they are willing to teach an undergraduate course.

And the top MFA creative writing programs have a very good rate for publishing. I know the IWW has agents swoop down on their students before they even graduate and many excellent authors went through that one (although it's almost impossible to get in with thousands of people applying every year).

I don't think anyone should understand this kind of study with the intention of using it to make money though. It is time to write in a world where that is often hard to find. It's a chance to get to know fellow writers and to meet masters of the craft.

If you have the chance to go to a good program, I would definitely take it.


Think very carefully before pursuing this kind of degree. It will almost certainly not get you a job when you get out and it can cost a huge amount of money. Even if you manage to get your fees reduced or paid for by scholarship, you most likely won't have time for much of a job and the money for living will have to come from somewhere.

These MFA creative writing programs often only exist to train professors to essentially give the same program. I know you probably think you'll be able to "make it" as an author, but a lot of people have thought that and never had a single thing published. It's not a good risk to take, particularly when plenty of authors do get published without ever stepping foot on a university campus.

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    • Decide what type of writing you will focus on before you scout MFA programs.
      By: mizar_21984
      Decide what type of writing you will focus on before you scout MFA programs.