The best low residency MFA programs offer you a more cost-effective way to complete a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. The difference between a low residency and a fully remote program is that you’ll be expected to stay on campus for short periods throughout the year, giving you greater flexibility than if you’d have either been living on campus, or full-time in front of a computer screen.
What can you expect from the best low residency MFA programs?
These programs will force you to juggle your writing time around your day job, family, and cats, while still plunging you into that writers’ life you so crave. In many ways, they’re harder than the traditional brick-and-mortar school program, in that they give you a truer flavor of what it’s like to pursue a writing career with a million other things going on in your life. They’re also far more immersive than an online-only program.
You’ll be hit with a combination of remote and in-person learning. A typical school year comprises two semesters, of which there is usually a 10-day intensive residency on campus per semester (so, two residencies per year, for two years). The time in between residencies is remote i.e. spent from your writing desk at home, where you will be paired with a mentor or smaller groups of writers. In fact, the 1:1 mentorship is a huge benefit of a low residency MFA program; you’ll get closer attention than you would if you were in a traditional college class.
The best low residency MFA programs will offer a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, popular fiction, scriptwriting, literary translation, graphic novels and comics, and writing for young people, while some allow for a dual-genre path.
While MFAs are not cheap, low residency programs are certainly on the more affordable side. Read on for 15 best low residency MFA programs, listed in alphabetical order.
1. Antioch University
Offered by AU Los Angeles, Antioch University’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program is dedicated to the education of literary and dramatic artists, community engagement, and the pursuit of social justice. It offers two, 10-day residencies in June and December.
2. Bard College
Bard College offers MFAs for artists in a variety of disciplines, not just writing. Each summer session runs for eight intensive weeks (there is no winter residency), and does not follow the traditional semester schedule. Most students receive some amount of financial aid, making it an attractive option for candidates.
3. Bennington College
Bennington College is widely regarded as one of the best low residency MFA programs in the United States. Residencies take place in picturesque Vermont, and their prestigious faculty includes many multi-published authors and literary prizewinners. You can elect to pursue a dual-genre path. Bennington’s residencies take place in January and June.
4. Cedar Crest College
This pan-European MFA offers a single 15-day residency at the beginning of July that rotates between Dublin, Ireland, Barcelona, Spain, and Vienna, Austria, with new locations coming soon. Unlike other programs, you’ll only attend three residencies in total, and you won’t go to the university campus in Allentown, Pennsylvania. But…you get to travel to Europe.
5. Goucher College
The only program dedicated solely to nonfiction writing, this low residency MFA attracts applicants and faculty interested in pursuing narrative, memoir, personal essay, and literary journalism. Literary agents and editors attend the two 10-day residencies in Baltimore, Maryland, and there are sponsored trips to New York to meet top publishing professionals.
6. Institute of American Indian Arts
Now in its tenth year, the emphasis with this particular Creative Writing MFA is on Native writers, voices, texts, and experience, although applications are open to all. Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it offer two 8-day residencies in January and July.
7. Lesley University
While the nine-day residencies take place in the “literary mecca” of Cambridge, Massachusetts, there’s also the opportunity for students to study abroad at a 12-day residency in rural Wales. Lesley has relationships with literary agencies and presses, so that you get a fast-track into publishing on submitting your thesis when you graduate.
8. Lindenwood University
Located in St. Charles, Missouri, Lindenwood University is unique in that there is no formal residency requirement: you can take classes fully on campus, online, or choose the low residency model. The program is more affordable than others due to its flexibility, and offers financial aid to teachers and candidates over the age of sixty.
9. New York University
Based on NYU’s campus in Paris, France, there are five, 10-day residencies held in January and July. This is one of the more expensive programs, with limited funding available. However, its faculty line-up is always incredible, and you’re paying for the prestige of Paris.
10. Pacific University
Based in Portland, Oregon, Pacific University’s MFA program places a strong emphasis on craft. It offers multiple full and partial merit-based scholarships to qualifying candidates. Residencies are in January and June.
11. Sewanee School of Letters
The model at Sewanee School of Letters in Tennessee is slightly different: you complete a single, six-week residency over the summer, which in turn is spread over the course of three to five summers, making it more affordable than other low residency programs.
12. University of New Orleans
Despite positioning itself as online MFA, the University of New Orleans is actually low residency, in that it offers a month-long residency every summer at various international locations, including Ireland and Italy.
13. University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast)
My alma mater. Stonecoast at USM offers two 10-day residencies in January and July, alongside a concurrent writers’ conference, in the picturesque town of Freeport, Maine. Its popular fiction program is especially popular with writers of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, and its WISE program (writing for inclusivity and social equity) is at the heart of its ethos. In my humble opinion, it will always be one of the best low residency MFA programs.
14. Vermont College of Fine Arts
Another Vermont entry: proof that this beautiful state inspires creativity. Residencies are nine days and take place in December and July, with past residencies going further afield: Slovenia, Puerto Rico, Cozumel, Mexico, Rome, and Asheville, North Carolina. Literary translation and dual-genre paths are available.
15. Warren Wilson College
Established in 1976, Warren Wilson is the original low residency MFA program, introducing the format to North America and the rest of the world. Consequently, it’s on the pricier end, but there are multiple grants and financial aid available. It offers two, 10-day residencies in January and July near the wonderful town of Asheville, North Carolina, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
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