How Long Does it Take to Get an MFA in Creative Writing?

Blue clock on college building showing how long does it take to get an MFA in Creative Writing

An MFA, or Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, is the terminal degree in writing that can be taken under Fiction, Creative Nonfiction (CNF), Poetry, Pop Fiction and (genre writing) disciplines. It is the one and only masters degree that is professionally recognized for writing.

I’ve written about why you need an MFA in Creative Writing if you’re serious about your author career, but how much of your life should you expect to devote to it?

Creative Writing Mfa Handbook by Tom Kealey


How long does it take to apply?

The application process can take anywhere between a couple of weeks and six months, and occasionally longer! The time it takes to apply really depends on a) how many schools you apply to, and b) how quickly you can aggregate a personal essay, writing sample, letters of recommendation, resume, and pay the application fee. As with all publishing, it can take a long time to hear back as to whether you have been accepted on to an MFA program, so give yourself plenty of breathing room. Most people apply as early as a year out from their intended starting school year semester.

How long does an MFA in Creative Writing take?

Once you’ve been accepted on to a program, it takes a minimum of two years (sometimes three or longer) to earn your masters degree. You should seriously consider doing an MFA if you have the commitment, drive, and time to dedicate two whole years of your life to focusing on your writing, workshopping, and networking. While some courses require you to be in residency, you can also opt for low-residency programs that still require a minimum amount of hours per week, but don’t require you to love on campus. This was the perfect option for me as I had a day job and other commitments to attend to. A low-residency program is an excellent option for  mature students who are uninterested in re-living their student or undergraduate lifestyles.

How long does a low-residency MFA take?

Since low-residency MFA programs provide a combination of remote and in-person learning, the time it takes to complete one can vary. You can defer semesters, essentially prolonging the time it will take you to complete your degree (I personally know at least three people who have deferred their MFA due to the pandemic). A typical school year comprises two semesters, of which there will be a ten-day intensive residency on campus per semester. The time in between is usually remote, where you will be paired with a mentor or smaller groups of writers.

“Time to write” is a myth

Somehow, the prospect of getting an MFA in Creative Writing has become synonymous with “time to write”. When I was considering whether or not to get my MFA, many people told me that an MFA will only give me time. As I’ve said before: there is never enough time to write. Not now, not ever. Time is such a curious, fluid commodity. I will say that an MFA offers you some time to write, but the onus is on you to carve it out of your already busy day. If your expectation from the MFA is only finding time to write, then I strongly suggest you reassess why you want to do a masters degree in the first place.

What else does it take to get an MFA in Creative Writing?

An MFA is not for the faint of heart. It takes time. Money. Dedication. Total commitment to your craft and you writing career. And there is no guaranteed reward at the end! No publication, no literary agent, no teaching job, and certainly no book deal. That’s not why you do an MFA. An MFA is to nurture your writerly soul in the hope that one day you might achieve your goals and career aspirations, by ensuring you have a solid foundation in place. It is a high risk, high reward strategy. You must be able to work independently, and you must be able to motivate yourself.

How long does it last, really?

That depends on you. The community and connections you make during your MFA can be amazing. Many people make life-long friends. How long you keep up the magic really depends on how long you can make writing your priority. Are you disciplined enough to make your own deadlines, and stick to them? Can you foster those connections you built over two years with your peers and faculty? The fact is, if you’ve chosen to do an MFA in Creative Writing in the first place, you should be in it for the long haul. Those two years can go by in a flash, and before you know it, you’re back out in the real world, trying to make it as a Real Writer (Title Case required). Writing is for life; not just for a two-year MFA.

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