The Positives & Negatives of Getting an MFA (or BFA)
One of the top questions I get from readers is whether or not they should attend an MFA writing program. In high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer so I applied to every writing program in the US. I was accepted at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts dramatic writing program. I must confess that I didn’t realize dramatic writing was just screenwriting, playwriting, and TV writing at the time versus attending a creative writing program. BUT for me, learning the structure and dialogue of all three genres informed all of my writing. I loved the program so much that I applied to the MFA program during my senior year of college. At the time, a few select seniors who applied into the MFA program were able to attend for one additional year versus the two-year graduated program. So to me, earning an MFA in a year was just what I wanted.
Here are the positives of getting an MFA or BFA. (I’m speaking to my experience at NYU so I don’t know how other programs work.)
Taking small writing classes with great professors.
Learning the basics of TV writing with professor Charlie Rubin helped me immensely understand structure and how to write a joke. While I’m not interested in becoming a TV writer (unlike many of my friends), having access to Charlie’s experience was invaluable. Also, I have spec scripts for Sex & The City and Friends, if anyone in Hollywood is interested. (Ha.)
Yes, you’re working for free, but you’re meeting industry folks and working hard to show them that you’re awesome. My TV writer husband, Brendan Hay, interned at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and worked his way up to writers’ assistant (and now he’s gone on to write for TV).
A built-in 2 years to dedicate to your craft.
You’ll be taking writing classes, getting critiques from professors and your fellow students, and you’ll be immersed in writing.
Through internships, classes, special events, you’ll meet the people you want to meet. I’m still good friends with many of my NYU undergrad and grad colleagues and that special network is very helpful when navigating the world of writing.
The negatives. I don’t have a ton because it wasn’t a negative experience for me.
It costs a lot to go to graduate school. I’m not gonna lie. It took me 10 years to pay off my 1 year getting my MFA. Taking out loans for a career that seems uncertain can feel scary.
You don’t need an MFA.
A literary agent isn’t going to stop reading your query because you don’t have an MFA. There are plenty of writers who don’t have a writing degree and are hugely successful. For me, it’s about what you do with your degree that matters. If you’re going to get an MFA and never write, it’s not worth the time or money (trust me).
I hope that helps you on your journey as a writer. I’m happy to answer any questions you have in the comments. Keep writing!