You have to go to medical school to become a doctor. Likewise, you have to go to law school to become a lawyer. But do you need an MFA to become a writer?
There have been plenty of articles written on why writers don’t need an MFA since these highly-specialized degrees don’t guarantee a job. However, there are many advantages of a Master of Fine Arts program.
To help you decide if an MFA is right for you, here’s a breakdown of how an MFA can help your writing career and what this degree can’t guarantee.
How an MFA can help
An MFA can help you become a better writer. After all, in MFA programs, students write, workshop, read, and repeat. For many programs, the key is reading published work and perfecting stories over time that will, ideally, be publishable material in the future.
Not all aspiring writers have the time to write, but an MFA can help to force a writer into better writing habits since deadlines, assignments, and readings are attached. Of course, not everyone needs to pay money or get a degree to build writer habits.
Some writers choose the MFA path for validation as a result of graduating from a top school or program. An MFA is a terminal degree, meaning it’s the highest degree awarded in its field. While writers can earn PhDs, an MFA allows graduates to teach at the college and graduate levels thanks to its terminal status.
What an MFA cannot guarantee
While the end goal for most MFA students is to publish their work, this degree doesn’t guarantee that a graduate will publish a book, collection of stories or poetry, a script, or even an article. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, two of the most recognized and successful writers today, didn’t go to school for MFAs.
Another MFA myth is that you will land a teaching job. While an MFA can help build your resume and show off your qualifications, having an MFA doesn’t guarantee graduates a teaching job at the college level nor does it qualify them to speak at local events.
An MFA can’t guarantee that a person will become a better writer. The person in question still has to write and read to become better at the craft. Some people even argue that MFAs ruin fiction writers because it doesn’t allow them to be creative and brings unnecessary structure to a writer’s work.
How writers are getting around traditional MFAs
Not all students need to follow a traditional path to receive an MFA.
Some are choosing online programs with low to no residency. These are made available so that students can take their courses from anywhere in the world.
Another alternative is the DIY MFA. People create their own MFAs through online courses. They structure their own reading and writing schedules while adding lessons to help them become better writers. In many cases, this route lets writers create an MFA “program” for free.
An MFA isn’t a shortcut to getting published, but it can make you a better writer. Your professors can also help you become aware of what publishers and agents are looking for and how to pitch your stories and manuscripts.
However, while it might be necessary to go to dental school to pursue a career in dental care, it’s not always practical for writers to go to school for an MFA.
Some writers get book deals and fame during or after their MFA studies, but many don’t. As with any degree or big life decision, it’s important to weigh your options and consider why you want to receive an MFA. If all you want is to become a published author and receive praise, fame, and fortune, then you might not want to be a writer in the first place.