View Full Version : MFA: Talk Me Off the Ledge (or not?)

12-08-2012, 06:16 AM
So, I've recently been doing some research into the possibility of taking an MFA program after I finish my undergrad degree. When I first heard about them, I considered it to be the impossible dream: spend a few years of my life concentrating on my passion, and then be able to get a job teaching my passion at universities. However, I knew that finding a job would at least be relatively difficult, and I'm already going into debt for undergrad, so further debt to do something so iffy seemed like a definitely "no."

Then I learned about assistantships and fully funded programs and things started sounding a little more doable. I thought that, maybe, if I didn't put myself further in debt, it would be worth it.

My hopes and dreams were supported by my Intro to Fiction Writing professor, who spoke to me after the in-class workshop of my second submission to heavily suggest I pursue an MFA. He said all these nice things about my writing and my passion for the craft and said he had complete faith that I could get into the program.

Dazed from his words, I went to my creative writing adviser, who stressed the difficulty of obtaining a job with an MFA. She told me that I would have to not only obtain an MFA but also get published and be really lucky. Her words weren't overly promising, though she said she didn't want to rule out the option entirely for me, either.

There is another professor that I want to talk to about this (some time next semester when finals season is over). He teaches Advanced Fiction Writing, and not only did my Intro professor strongly recommend I take him, but my adviser said I should ask him about MFAs (she's a poet and wanted me to get advice from someone of my own field).

In the mean time, however, I thought that AW might be a good source of opinions and information. Did any of you guys get an MFA? If so, what were your experiences? If you considered it but decided not to, why? I'm pretty much looking for as much input as possible, so anything you have to say would surely be helpful!

12-08-2012, 06:31 AM
The M.F.A. is a luxury degree. I would suggest, if you're seriously interested, consider pursuing an M.A. or Ph.D. in English and taking all the workshops and creative writing classes you can/want to.

It's still going to be difficult to get a teaching job even with a Ph.D., but you'll be in a better position to find other kinds of work with a Ph.D. (Even a fairly recently introduced Ph.D. in creative writing.)

"Funding" that involves being a T.A. is a double-edged sword; it's funding, but to really do freshman comp justice, and your students' justice, you need to figure on spending at least 20 hours a week for each freshman comp class. This does get easier / more time efficient with time, but not a lot easer/efficient.

The likelihood of a tenure-track position with an M.F.A. and anything but a stellar publication record is less than slim.

Teaching freshman comp and the occasional creative writing or lit class, which is what the best a typical M.F.A. graduate can expect, without tenure, means being an adjunct, or Visiting Prof at fairly low pay, and without benefits.

It's frequently brutal.

Have you considered instead of grad school, working, saving your pennies and attending something like Breadloaf, or if you're interested in genre fiction, one of the better residential writing workshops?

12-08-2012, 06:38 AM
Look in your chosen genre for specific high-level workshops. They might require far less money and time than a classic MFA. Not to say that the right MFA won't do wonders for your writing - but the chances of it providing a living wage during or after the program are very slim.

The downside is that good workshops will pack brutal work requirements into a much shorter time.

12-08-2012, 06:56 AM
You do mean MFA in Creative Writing, right? There's different MFA awards.

I thought about going for a degree in creative writing, and I didn't do it.

Why? Because:
As a interest, it's something I could do and enjoy. But as training for a job, it's almost worthless.
There is a over-saturation of English degrees, with a small windows of openings.
I've also met, spoke with, collected stories of people who went for writing degrees, only to take a job that's not in writing. I think I've only heard of several people who got the jobs they wanted, but they work their asses off to keep them. One man got a writing job that didn't even care about his degree.
My counselor, a straight as an arrow no BS man, told me that the best degree you can get is in engineering, and the worse is in writing. He told me it's more of a novelty. Get the joke? I swear he said it and we didn't laugh.
Everything I could learn in those classes, pay for and bust my ass over, I can do at my own speed and enjoy.

Now, I went this route:
I still kept to my writing. I can improve and learn the same shit they teach you out of books and just writing. AW can help too.
I pursued another one of my talents and interest, Psychology, and I'm still in school for it. It's something that I can get a respectable job in, it's also something that I like and can improve my writing ability.
Now, I'd like to make a living with my writing (it's not a virtue of mine, but it might catch on in the years). But in the meantime, I'm a college student, I'll get my doctorate and maybe a job out of college, still working on writing. Whatever takes off, takes off for me.

And I do have to scratch at the hope of being a professor. It's slim, really is. It's hard enough getting a community college teaching jig. Let alone, a university wants people with experience and reputation to depend on.

Springs, what other loves do you have? Maybe you can go for a degree in one of those, keep writing as a passionate hobby.

12-08-2012, 08:14 AM
Well, ironically enough, my bachelor's is going to be in Psychology, so I'm pretty much already on the same track as you are, Will. I'm trying to make the decision between pursuing an interest in psych or a passion in writing, but I suppose you're right in saying that, in following the former, I can still follow the latter. I suppose I just don't want to spend the time and money at a psychology grad school when my dream is to eventually write full time, but with Medievalist's portrayal of job opportunities...yikes.

12-08-2012, 04:55 PM
Well... psych has an open field for jobs. The more people there are, the more mental problems. :tongue

Just a suggestion: You could go for psych, and maybe take some classes in creative writing. It'll cost you money, but you can still take those classes.

12-08-2012, 06:11 PM
I think that if you'd be open to moving abroad, teaching positions in English could be easier to find, and maybe also with better pay. There are many universities in Europe that have English literature classes, but not that many (that I know of) that teach creative writing.

Moving to another country can be both wonderful and very hard, though, but it sure is another option to continue in the field you have chosen.

12-08-2012, 06:18 PM
Are you talking about ESL, Lexxie? (English as a Second Language).

I don't think a MFA in Creative Writing will pass for that.
And then, you don't really need a English degree to get a job. My friend got his certification right out of high school and he goes along to paradise resorts, teaching the staff proper English. He make enough money to stay and pay for his plane tickets, but nothing more. (That's just his experience).

With a good English degree and a well paying ESL job, you could make a good living, but some of those also require you to fluently know the language you're moving into. If you get a job in Korea, teaching ESL, they'd like for you to know Korean enough to cross reference the two languages.

12-08-2012, 06:26 PM
The thing about a Psych degree is that you'll be studying how people's minds word, and that's something that can pay off richly in your writing, plus lead to a job.

An MFA in creative writing? As has already been said several times, you can learn to write good, publishable fiction without an MFA (most successful writers don't have MFAs), and the MFA will probably not lead to a job.

If I were in your shoes, I'd go down the Psych route and take creative writing electives as and when you can. You'll get more value for your money and time spent that way.

12-08-2012, 08:12 PM
@Will, no, I'm not talking about ESL. I go to the University of Geneva, and even students from the US and the UK come here to take classes, because most of the professors are American, Australian or British. We have a very good program, both for Bachelor, Masters and even PhD. So the students all speak perfect English, and we read literature covering everything from the medieval period to contemporary literature.

I know other countries than Switzerland have very good English literature programs, so it is still a possibility, without teaching ESL.

ETA: however, there is no creative writing per se here in Geneva, but I know there is demand for it.

12-08-2012, 08:16 PM
Keep in mind that with an English grad degree or an M.F.A. there are other jobs and kinds of writing besides fiction.

It can be hard to find those jobs, but they do exist.

Richard White
12-08-2012, 10:57 PM
I've been working as a Technical Writer for years now on a History degree. (Hey, I wrote a ton of papers as a history major - it was good practice.)

Now, I'm pursuing a Masters in English (but it's a luxury degree for me at 53). One, I've always regretted dropping out of my master's program back in 83 and two, my company is willing to reimburse $X a year for education, so I damn well am going to take advantage of it.

I'm hoping to do a little adjunct teaching between now and retirement and maybe more once I hit retirement. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, well, I can definitely say I've enjoyed taking the classes I've had so far. I've broadened my scope of books read and have had a few opinions challenged by my instructors and classmates, so it's been worthwhile.

Taking these classes may have improved my writing, but it's more being exposed to other styles of writing than I normally gravitate to. I also know though, the thesis does not frighten me in the same way it does my classmates. They're going "I can't believe I have to write 90 pages." I'm going, "I can't believe I only have to write 90 pages."

But, again, it's a luxury degree for me at this point. It's not going to get me promoted at work and it may not lead to that teaching position down the road. But, at least I can say, I did it.

12-09-2012, 12:24 AM
You can teach yourself all you need to know about fiction writing by reading books, hanging around on forums, establishing yourself with a good critique group and writing, writing, writing. Add a day job that covers your expenses but that doesn't require you to work so many hours that you can't study your craft and turn out copy.

There you go.

An MFA? I see two benefits. Yeah, it will help you get a job teaching writing, but that job may be both hard to find and little lucrative unless you also have the time and ability to publish with eclat. Also, if you get in the right program, you may meet lifelong friends and colleagues -- that would be the most attractive aspect of the thing for me.

The wrong program? Could kill you as a writer, so make sure you research the hell out of your choices and pump alumni and current students until you understand (and approve) the little world you'd be entering.

12-09-2012, 05:04 AM
You can teach yourself all you need to know about fiction writing by reading books, hanging around on forums, establishing yourself with a good critique group and writing, writing, writing. Add a day job that covers your expenses but that doesn't require you to work so many hours that you can't study your craft and turn out copy.

I totally agree :)

Stacia Kane
12-09-2012, 05:31 AM
I have a GED (I was half a credit short in math). Not a day of college.

If I ever were to go to college for some reason, it'd be to study something other than writing.

Take that as you will. :)

12-09-2012, 06:07 AM
I'm not unhappy that I got my MFA in fiction. I AM happy I worked for a while first and got a funded one. it is totally a luxury degree. No, you don't need it for writing and it doesn't do much for the career (I got lucky in that I was tapped to create a creative writing program in a non-traditional enviroment, but that's because of all that work between undergrad and MFA, then the MFA solidified my two passions).

Also, really think about going straight from school to school. As many have said here, degrees in other things can help your writing, as can a year or two just being outside of academia - gives you a good perspective.

Plus, with a psychology degree, you can also go the non-traditional route. Think of writing therapy and stuff like that, the two fields are in no way mutually exclusive and the combo might be more rewarding than you'd think.(I'm in healthcare, too).

12-09-2012, 08:38 AM
You can teach yourself all you need to know about fiction writing by reading books, hanging around on forums, establishing yourself with a good critique group and writing, writing, writing. Add a day job that covers your expenses but that doesn't require you to work so many hours that you can't study your craft and turn out copy.

I totally agree :)

I'm with them. ^^

12-09-2012, 07:00 PM
I originally wanted to pursue a MFA but couldn't afford it and couldn't locate the funding for it. And when I sat down to think about it, I also figured (this is just my opinion) that it would be a luxury to pursue a MFA. I also figured that I could teach myself writing by reading the books I love and reading these as a writer. Basically, it boils down to reading a lot and writing a lot, and hanging out in this forum reading other writers' discussions and participating when I can.

I was, however, fortunate enough to receive a scholarship for a MSc in Postcolonial Politics and then went on to get a PhD in International Relations, which was also funded by a scholarship. At the very least, these degrees have helped me get jobs in a variety of sectors (in and outside academia) which have equipped me with a wealth of knowledge - very useful when it comes to writing fiction.

I still on occasion regret not having the opportunity to pursue a MFA as I'll always wonder what I'm missing out on...

I do know someone who did get a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing though - it hasn't helped him, job-wise, in getting University teaching posts. He wants to keep writing though so, to keep the wolf from the door, he has decided to get training in TEFL. With a CertTesol, he is now flying off to Japan where he'll be teaching ESL in the new year.

12-10-2012, 03:15 AM
Also, really think about going straight from school to school. As many have said here, degrees in other things can help your writing, as can a year or two just being outside of academia - gives you a good perspective.

Trust me, this isn't much of an option for me. I would rather take a year off to give me more time to think things through and explore my options, but my dad's helping me finance everything and he basically forbade it.

Writing therapy and the like is a cool idea, though. I never would have thought of that.