Monday, November 29, 2010

Are MFA programs really such a scam?

I just read this article in the Huffington Post about MFA programs. The main thrust of the article is to go after James Frey, who has created his own packaging business for young adult novels, and is courting writers by going into MFA programs and making presentations. I completely agree with this blogger when she says the programs shouldn't let Frey in, but I'm not sure I'm down with her take that many MFA programs are out to soak their students for money, without giving them the skills they need to survive as professional writers. I think more depends on the student than depends on the program. Here is the full text of the article:

And here is the comment I wrote in response:

I agree that these MFA programs shouldn't let James Frey in for his song and dance. Nor should those students let themselves in for it. But in defense of MFA programs, I will say that I made connections in mine that have been invaluable to me professionally. And yes, I have published, and I've got a sustainable career as a writer. I may be in the minority, but I think that's because I didn't give up when the going got tough, and I've had a few lucky turns, for which I am very grateful. If not for my MFA program, I doubt I would have been in a position to be "lucky," and I might not have had the wisdom to avail myself of opportunities. MFA's aren't the only way to go, not by a long shot, but they're not all bad, either. (And incidentally, word to the wise, if you're planning on going for an MFA, get a job at the university you're attending if they offer a tuition benefit. Most do. My MFA was basically free. I had to work my butt off, but that's good prep for being a professional writer anyway.)

What do you think? Is Hillary Rettig being too hard on MFA programs, or am I being too easy on them? 



  1. Great post --I agree with you fully. Completing an MFA was extremely useful for me.

  2. I can't speak to the benefits of MFA, because I don't have one, but graduate degrees of any kind are often as useful as the faculty you have and effort you put into them. I AM glad that they aren't required, as I already have too many degrees to add another to the list! :)

  3. No, they are not a scam. My thesis was published by Delacorte, but as importantly, I had access to excellent lit teachers, such as Dale Peck and Steven Wright, who I not only learned a great deal from, but who are mentors.
    The peer writing community was also invaluable--the contacts and friends you make in the program.