What is an M.F.A.?

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Q: What exactly is an M.F.A. and how is it beneficial to writers? –Matthew G.

A: While the initials M.F.A. sound like an outer-space contraption that the government is trying to hide in the desert, it's actually a very valuable credential earned by some writers.

An M.F.A., or Master of Fine Arts, is one of the highest degrees you can earn in creative writing. Think of it as a graduate program for writers that includes workshops with other writers, instruction from dedicated faculty (including famous/successful writers) and vigorous deadlines. Typically you'll need a bachelor's degree to apply and most M.F.A. programs last about 2 years—though there are many options.

"There are large programs, small programs, full-time ones, part-time and low-residencies/long-distance programs," says M.F.A. Confidential blogger, Kate Monahan. "The key things to consider when picking a school are location, size of the program, on-campus vs. long-distance learning, available funding (many programs offer full-tuition), available faculty members, visiting authors, school’s ranking/reputation and potential teaching fellowships."

As for the benefits, the advantages of M.F.A. programs span from refining your writing skill-set to literary magazine assignments. But the most valuable jewel is that it grants you access to resources that are normally off-limits to writers, specifically research assistants, teaching opportunities and writing workshops with published authors (sometimes there are even one-on-one opportunities). These advantages helped Michael Chabon, Alice Sebold and Elizabeth Kostova—all alumni of M.F.A. programs—land book deals.

And if you're looking for a practical reason to enroll, Monahan has it: "The true importance of an M.F.A. program is finally giving yourself permission to take your writing seriously."

Amen to that.

Brian A. Klems is the online community editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwmedia.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line.

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