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Graduate School for Creative Writers

Updated on February 29, 2008

A lot of English majors decide to continue their academic development by entering M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. programs in English, Creative Writing, or other interdisciplinary area like American Studies or Ethnic Studies.

More options for English majors are Master in Teaching (MIT degrees), Masters in Business (MBA), or Law Degrees. In fact, a lot programs, like law schools, love it when English majors apply—these students have a fabulous understanding of the language, and usually have great analytical skills.

If you are interested in continuing your education in the field of creative writing, you need to explore your options. And, for those of you who weren’t English majors, you still have these creative writing options as well.

Cheat Sheet Glossary

  • MA: Master of Arts
  • MFA: Master of Fine Arts
  • MIT: Masters in Training
  • DFA: Doctor of Fine Arts
  • PhD: Doctor of Philosophy

Creative Writing MFA Handbooks on Amazon

Do Creative Writers Need a Degree?

If you are planning on being a writer, but you are not planning to teach creative writing, you may not need an academic credential. If you do plan on teaching, you will most likely need a degree.

Most cities of any size have venues that offer excellent workshops conducted by professional writers. You can get first-rate, top quality training by taking courses offered to the public. Where I live, in Seattle, I have access to Richard Hugo House and UW Extension, both of which offer great writing classes and workshops. New York City has a ton of these venues, such as McBurney Y, 92nd Street Y, and Academy of American Poets. I’m sure you can find something if you live in or close to a city.

If you are planning on getting another degree (English Lit, law, business, etc.), you can still use these kinds of public venues to develop your writing. Published writing will become your credential. After all, no matter how many degrees you have, it is getting published that counts.

What Degree Should You Get?

You can get an MFA or PhD in Creative Writing, an MA or PhD in English Lit with a concentration in creative writing, or an MIT in English with a concentration in creative writing.

You need to decide what kind of career you are hoping for. If you want to teach high school, your best choice will be an MA in Lit or an MIT. If you want to conduct workshops, you will need to publish creative work (published work will give you authority in the subject, like a degree does).

For college or university teaching you have two choices:

1. Teach in a creative writing program, exclusively.

2. Teach in an English department as an academic professor with a sideline in creative writing.

If you are interested in the first choice, you need an MFA and truly fabulous or prize-winning publications for a tenured position. You can also teach at different universities as a “writer in residence” or “guest writer.” This is not a financially lucrative career path, and it comes with a lot of pressure on the process of writing and publishing more than it does on teaching.

If you select the second choice, you will need to be able to think both analytically and creatively. You will need to do literary critical studies of the PhD, in addition to your creative writing.

What kinds of programs are offered for creative writing degrees?

There is the traditional, full time program, where you go to school full time, usually teaching as well. If you can’t afford to attend grad school full time in creative writing, you should check out low residency programs. These programs allow you to complete most of your work at home with a mentor via the internet. They do require a period of time in residences, usually for a couple of weeks twice a year. These kinds of programs are as respected as the traditional, full time programs are, and are usually accredited institutions.

PhDs in Creative Writing are still fairly new, but are slowly becoming more common. If you are interested in pursuing this kind of degree, you will need to find out where it is offered.

Some Last Words on Grad School

Getting into a graduate program requires a lot of planning and strategy, so I recommend that you start preparing for the application process as soon as possible. Graduate schools generally look for students who have strong grade point averages; a commitment to creative writing; excellent writing samples or portfolios of fiction or poetry; and, strong letters of recommendation from faculty.

Just remember that no matter how much you study, or how many workshops you attend, or how many degrees you have, the most important work for a writer happens when you are writing. That is where your merit as a writer shows.


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    • creativegenius profile image

      Brian Scott 5 years ago from United States

      I admire any writer who has achieved an MFA or PhD in creative writing. It is insanely hard work.

    • profile image

      Sarah McCown 7 years ago

      Thank you so much for this article. I was looking at grad school, but as writing is what I want to do, I can't see what advantage it might give me otherwise. Your input is fantastic, and much needed!

    • Stacie Naczelnik profile image

      Stacie Naczelnik 10 years ago from Seattle

      I've learned a lot during my own research on the topic!

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Great info, Stacy! There are so many options for the creative writer to consider and this is a great place to start :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Excellent hub, Stacie. You obviously have all the information on this!