Why I Chose to Get a Low-Res MFA

I’m going to break this post down into two parts: why I decided to get an MFA, and why I went with a low residency program. I would’ve made that my title, but goodness, that’d be forever long!!

Part the First: Why I Chose to Get an MFA

Firstly, I’ve always wanted to get my Masters. It’s just this crazy goal I’ve had ever since I was in middle school or so. Especially when I ended up majoring in Linguistics, I knew I had to get my Masters in something because a BA in Linguistics is pretty useless on its own.

Just like this sign.

I considered a few things, like TESOL (teaching english to speakers of other languages) and Library Sciences. But nothing made me super excited. Nothing grabbed my imagination and passion. Until I thought, What about an MFA?

I love to write. I want to get my Masters. PERFECT! It’s like peanut butter and jelly! Like mashed potatoes and gravy! Like ketchup and fried chicken! (Anyone?)

But here’s the thing: YOU DON’T NEED AN MFA TO WRITE. You don’t need it to improve your craft. You don’t need it to become published.

Here’s what you do need it for: Teaching College. And I really liked that idea. I’d considered my Masters in Linguistics so I could teach, but you have to get your PhD to teach Linguistics and let’s be honest, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to write a dissertation.

Reasons I loved the idea of an MFA:

Uno) I could teach with it. The MFA is a terminal degree. AKA, it’s the equivalent to a PhD in other fields (so take that, all you doctorates!).

Ni) If I decided not to go the teaching route, it would certainly help if I wanted to go into editing or publishing.

Three) My writing certainly would improve and at a much faster rate than just on my own/with a writer’s group/with the help of critique partners/being bitten by a radioactive writing spider. (Okay, maybe not that last one. But less painful!) Just ask my writer’s group–my writing has improved drastically over the past year and a half. In the first semester alone they were amazed at the improvement!

So it was settled: MFA in Creative Writing it was. But where?

Part the Second: Why Low Residency

Little did I know that my foray into research had only begun. There are lots of traditional programs in the area. But they’re all more expensive and I’d have to quit my job. I kinda didn’t want to do that. I liked earning money. It was nice not being poor anymore.

A little more digging alerted me to the existence of low residency programs. And a bit more told me they were legit! Sweetacular! This was it!

Benefits of an MFA:

One) Could keep my job. Mr. Atkins liked that aspect, too.

Due) Typically more inexpensive. Again, Mr. Atkins approved.

San) The student-to-teacher ratio is much lower.

Quatre) I like traveling, so the idea of residencies appealed to me.

I won’t tell you my whole process, but basically I found this awesome website that listed just about every low-res program out there (I wish I still had the link, but drat it all, I don’t!). (Edit: A classmate sent me the link she used to search programs: http://guide.awpwriter.org/. I’ll bet it’s more reliable than the one I used, which was a blog.) I visited each website and found an initial nine or ten programs that caught my eye for whatever reason. Then I narrowed it down to 5 programs to apply to. Converse College was at the top of my list because a) I knew the school and b) it’s proximity to my parents meant I’d be able to see them whenever I had a residency. I applied, was accepted, and committed to Converse.

I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER WITH MY DECISION.

(enter plug for my school!)

I love the community of writers. There are about 12 fiction students and 3 fiction professors (with about 30 students overall in fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry). We are a tight knit little group. One of my classmates is now one of my bestest of friends. Our professors are AMAZING. I cannot believe the faculty. They are insanely talented writers and passionate instructors. The full-time fiction staff consists of Robert Olmstead, Leslie Pietrzyk, and Marlin Barton. I’ve spent one semester with each, and I’m on my second with Leslie. I loved my linguistics program at BYU, but even with 30 kids in the program, I never got to know any of my professors very well. That’s not the case at Converse. Not only are the profs always available for help during the semester, they also take time to talk to us students during the residency, even if we’re not their student for the semester. I know all of the professors in the program and have had in-depth discussions with all of them.

Wanna see how personalized the attention is? Here’s a personal promise from Leslie:

We’re a small, personal, tightly-knit program, where writers thrive (in my humble opinion).  Just to show you how intensely personal we are, I hereby promise that if you end up at Converse, I will personally make sure you get a trip to the famous Beacon Drive In for a Chili Cheese A’Plenty, which is a cheeseburger topped with chili topped with a giant handful of fries topped with a giant handful of onion rings.  If you’re a vegetarian don’t worry—you get a Fried Pimento Cheese A’Plenty.

(taken from her blog)

An MFA isn’t for everyone. I know that. But it was right for me. So if you’re thinking about getting your MFA but you’re not sure about a traditional program, seriously consider a low residency one. They are just as good as the traditional model. And if you’re interested in a low-res program, check out the Converse College MFA. The deadline for admissions for spring semester is October 1st! ^_^

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4 thoughts on “Why I Chose to Get a Low-Res MFA

  1. Chris Cooper says:

    Everything at the Beacon comes buried in fried onion rings, and whatever you order, your wildest culinary dreams will come true! This I know and bear solemn, lip-smacking, finger-licking witness. (Now pass me the ketchup….)

  2. Kristin Laughtin says:

    Are you me? I think you kinda might be, except that we chose to go different directions for our education. One of my majors for my BA was in linguistics too, and I considered all sorts of directions after working for a few years. I wasn’t much good at teaching, at least not right out of college when I looked the same age as most of the high-schoolers, and I didn’t want to quit my job for an MFA…so I ended up going with library science. Which isn’t looking all that much more secure unless the job market picks up! My program’s totally online because I didn’t want to quit my full-time library job either. At least I’m getting experience!

    Although I (obviously) totally agree that you can teach yourself to write well even without an MFA, I can see its use in helping you improve faster. I’m revising a novel I wrote a few years ago, and while I still think it’s strong enough to query with next year, there are a few things that make me cringe and glad I’ve improved…like “wow, that paragraph has a few adverbs” or “whoa, where’d that random thought from someone who is not the POV character come from?” But it took me a few years. An MFA program would have probably beat it out of me faster. Ahh well, each of us has our own schedule, I suppose. I’ll just hope this round of revisions takes the book from close-so-close to yup-I-can-sell-this in agents’ minds. And I’m sure your writing will be mega-awesome by the time you’ve finished your program!

    • Kris Atkins says:

      Holy cow, we are totally the same person. We even have both have K names (and to be honest, my full name is Kristina). Weeeeird. And you know, I started reading your blog because you consistently made comments on Nathan Bransford’s and Tahereh’s blogs that were exactly what I wanted to say.
      My mom just finished her Library Science degree. It was a distance learning program. Most of her classes were online, but she had to go up to campus (a few hours from her) every few months or so. She was able to get a librarian position, but it took a miracle. But I have my fingers crossed for you, twinner!!
      As far as writing goes, I read some of my stuff from a few years ago and just laugh. Just laugh and laugh and laugh. :)

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