The Pros and Cons of an MFA: Part II

Last week, I told the Pros of getting an MFA in Creative Writing. Now it’s time to share the cons.

As I mentioned before, please note that these responses skew to the Chapman University graduate program. Every school and every experience will be different, and this is not to dissuade anyone from getting an MFA. This is just information to take into consideration.

Part II: The Cons

1. You don’t always get to work on what you want to spend your time on.
You come to grad school to develop your craft. Much of that development comes in the form of assignments you don’t necessarily want to do. Some workshop professors will purposely not allow you to work on your thesis project, or make it very difficult. Of course you also have your literature classes and it’s harder to be creative when you’re busy writing a research or theory paper. If you’ve got a pet project, or already know what you want to write on your thesis, do not expect to work on it constantly. You won’t. Sometimes that’s healthy, and sometimes that’s frustrating.

2. You may have to sacrifice graduating “on time” to get what you want.
Programs like Creative Writing that don’t have a controlled schedule mean that class offerings can frequently depend on what the professors can fit in their schedule or what they’re in the mood to teach. This means you may not be able to get the workshop you want—or the survey class you want, or the theory class you want, or the whatever class you want—when you want it. At that point, you have to make a choice: do you sacrifice the class you want and choose a different one, or do you sacrifice your graduation date and wait for the class? I chose the former. I took a workshop with the same professor two semesters in a row; the first time his was the only class with openings, and the second time he was the only one teaching workshop that semester. Though a kind man, we have opposing tastes, and it hurt my productivity and my GPA to stick with him another semester. Considering I ended up taking significantly longer to finish my thesis in the long run, it would have been in my best interests to have skipped workshop that semester and stayed a student one semester longer.

3. Information Overload.
Undergrad workshops I never found to be an overwhelming experience. Lots of people were in there for electives, and did the typical “Good job :)!” on your work. Constructive opinions were rarely off track, or you took them with a grain of salt and moved on. By grad school, you’re all decent writers, with opinions on what constitutes good writing. Throwing a fantasy writer, a prose poet, a literary experimenter, and (occasionally) a screenwriter into the same class is a double-edged sword. The differing opinion draw an audience to your work different than you’d get outside of an academic setting—for good or ill. A single workshop can generate enough opinions to make you want to give up writing altogether. It becomes a hard and fast lesson in the inability to please everyone. When you’re trying to write a thesis that is both you and academically acceptable, that lesson can prove detrimental to the creative experience.

4. Required Reading.
This problem is no different than undergrad, but it is something to consider. You will have to read a lot of books you may not want to. It’s worth taking into consideration that you will likely not have time to read books in your writing genre, or time to sit down and relax with a book. If this frustrated you about undergrad, it will also be a frustration in grad school. For fast readers this is probably less of an issue, but for slower, deliberate readers (like myself), this can be difficult.

5. Now What?
Well, now you’ve got a masters degree. What are you going to do with it? The natural answer is often: teach! Well, guess what? The market isn’t big enough for your entire graduating class to do that. Maybe you want to be a professional writer, but a professional novelist doesn’t pay the bills immediately, and taking a writing day job could drain your writing ability after work. And, on top of that, you’ve just gotten a degree that makes you overqualified for a large number of jobs. The same decision you made to continue your education opens new doors, but also closes some. Consider what having that degree in hand does for you when you reach the “Now what?”

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