The Pros and Cons of an MFA: Part I

Last week, after five and a half years, I finally defended my thesis to get my Masters in creative writing. The road grew so long from a combination of anxiety and red tape, and it seems unreal that it’s finally coming to an end. By the time the process finally finished, it almost felt too easy, given how much I agonized over it. I’ve been asked by other writerly friends what I think about MFA programs and if I would recommend them. Now seems like a good time to address those questions.

Note that these responses skew to the Chapman University graduate program. Every school and every experience will be different.

Part I: The Pros

1. More time to develop your craft.
I didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be when I left undergrad. I felt like a copycat without any of my own ideas, all boring and re-hashed. Now I feel like I know what I like writing and how I want to incorporate writing into my life. Without grad school I wouldn’t have experimented with sentence fragments as a means for description, or learned how to be concise. I wouldn’t have learned how to write without the word and or gained the patience to write the same chapter 5 different ways. Developments to my craft happened that would not have outside the classroom.

2. A graduate student relationship with professors.
It wasn’t until the end of my undergraduate career that I realized your professors really care and like when you come in for office hours. I did a better job of gaining a personal relationship with my professors as a grad student. Facebook friends and everything. I think this becomes even easier as a grad student. There’s fewer of you, they enjoy the interaction with someone in their field, and they will do what they can to help you. So worth it. You find the professors you connect with and you stick with them.

3. A focused education.
Undergraduate generals have their place. Some of my most random and fun classes came out of my general education core. But I also remember a semester when I tried to take 5 English classes. It was an idiotic mistake, and I failed at it (literally). As a grad student, taking 3 or 4 English classes was doable, because now the classes were focused and now I was ready for them. My Medieval Lit class in undergrad wasn’t terribly different than in grad school. We read many of the same pieces, talked similar things. But the work I put into the class was about what I wanted to study, what I wanted to get out of Medieval Lit. And having the freedom to get what I wanted out of my classes makes the focus so much more engaging.

4. Greater friendships.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t form a ton of lasting friendships in undergrad. Partially because I’m an introvert who lived on her computer. Partially because I didn’t know anyone in my classes. My undergrad friends are those I roomed with, and a couple of my Hebrew friends (since we all had at least one class together for two years). The English program was too big to see the same faces in other classes. Grad school was very different. You met people, you talked, you discovered common interests, you saw each other all the time. I’m so glad for my grad school friends.

5. The diversity.
I went to BYU for undergrad. BYU is diverse in its own sheltered way—and I don’t mean that as an insult. I was very happy with the environment in Provo. But moving back to California and plopping myself in the much more liberal environment at Chapman was enlightening. For all the painful workshops I had to sit through with content no one in their right mind would want to read, I know what kind of writer I don’t want to be as a result. I also know the value of diversity—different backgrounds and  beliefs create an amazing bond when found in spite of those differences.

Stay turned for Part II later this week!

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