A deep dive into creative writing can be much more than an academic exercise or a vehicle to a new career. It can trigger an explosion of self-discovery, deepen your talent for self-expression, and sharpen your view of the art and literature that connect us as human beings. A master's degree in fine arts, with an emphasis in creative writing, has the dual ability to set you up for numerous rewarding careers while deepening your role as a literary citizen.
Many people with MFA degrees in creative writing go into education. High school English teachers in the U.S. earn an average salary of $47,000 and instructors at the community college level average $48,000 to $60,000. Other potential careers include web content manager who makes a yearly average of $64,000, advertising copywriter at $60,000 a year, librarian at $59,000, social media specialist at $50,000, or lexicographer at $45,000 a year. If the possibility of writing scripts is appealing, screenwriting and playwriting are also possible career paths. Salaries for those competitive roles vary widely, from $50,000 to $100,000 or more. Of course, there are aspirations of becoming a professional writer and composing the next Great American Novel. Good luck! But even if books and poetry don't become your primary source of income, the ability to write publishable material brings the satisfaction of sharing your gifts with the world. Indeed, the goal of an MFA in creative writing may simply be personal fulfillment. As one of the colleges listed below puts it, these programs are for "art makers and risk takers."
Some of the colleges on this list offer coursework can be completed full off-campus, from home, at a pace that fits around your work and lifestyle. As a bonus creative writing surely boasts some of the best course names in academics such as Simple Art of Murder, Memoirs of the Mind, and Bringing Out the Dead! Many of the colleges, however, require brief residences of 10 days to a month, usually a couple of times a year. The residences offer intensive study and a chance to deepen your network of peers and mentors who share your passion for words and expression. These connections, which also can be forged via online workshops and classes, can serve you well for years to come. To quote Robert Louis Stevenson: "To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life."
Ranking Methodology: "It's science!"
The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees don't make recommendations based upon preference– we back our rankings with science. Here's a quick breakdown of how we organize ranking data:
- Finances (40%)
- Academic Rigor (35%)
- Student Gratification (25%)
Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances and are acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, Glassdoor, and PayScale. Financial data encompasses the cost of tuition, fees, and class supplied; the average price of living; access to financial aid and social services; and lastly, the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment. The second largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and how exclusive a degree program is overall. The final 25 percent of collected data is dependent on student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.
Want to Learn More?
The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as we can. Check out our Methodology page for more information and resource links.
#10 – Bay Path University
MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing
Bay Path University's MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing is built around shaping writers who are able to tell a good story into professionals with a laundry list of publishable prose. The two-year, 39-credit program is offered fully online in a way that can shape itself to a student's life. No residency at the Massachusetts campus is required. The three-semester program studies various forms of creative nonfiction, including literary concepts such as the spiritual journey, food and travel writing, health and wellness narratives, biographies, personal essays, and memoirs. The master's thesis is a 150-page manuscript that can serve as the foundation for a full-length book. There are two specialized tracks, one aimed at publishing the student's work, and one at teaching creative writing. The program consists of six core courses, two specialized-track courses, and four elective courses. Applications must include an essay that describes what a student expects to learn from the Bay Path program, and what he or she can contribute to it. Applicants also must provide one 10-page writing sample or two five-page samples such as a personal essay, profile, column, or article.
Net Price: $22,102
#9 – Oregon State University-Cascades
MFA in Creative Writing
The two-year MFA in Creating Writing program at Oregon State University-Cascades offers a hybrid approach that fits within your lifestyle while requiring a handful of brief but intensive retreats at Oregon State's satellite campus in Central Oregon. Faculty mentorships and peer interaction are a crucial part of the off-campus experience, during which students develop and work on a project study plan that includes meeting genre-specific objectives. The creative writing master's program requires four 10-day residencies (OSU-Cascades uses a quarter system), conducted in a lakeside setting overlooking the Cascade Mountains. Program application requirements include either 10-12 poems or 15-20 pages of prose (which can be excerpts from larger work), along with a statement of objectives and three letters of recommendation. A goal of the program is to transform students into literary citizens: "Thinking creatively makes people more intelligent, more sensitive, more emotionally mature, and ultimately more empathetic." Faculty includes T. Geronimo Johnson, whose debut novel, "Hold it 'Til it Hurts," was a 2013 PEN/Faulkner finalist.
Net Price: $19,205
#8 – West Virginia Wesleyan College
MFA in Creative Writing
West Virginia Wesleyan College's MFA in Creative Writing is a two-year program aimed at giving students the tools to produce a publishable manuscript and a thorough grounding in the best examples of creative writing. Most of the four semesters of coursework can be completed off-campus. The program includes five intensive 10-day residencies at the Buckhannon, W.V., campus or in the bucolic environment of Blackwater Falls State Park. Based on a student's application, the residencies are held in the summer or winter. Students can focus on the genres of poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. Semester projects are completed during the residencies. Program applicants must show a "significant" body of coursework in English or writing, and supply 20 pages of prose or 15 poems. U.S. News & World Report ranks WVWC #15 for Best Value among Southern colleges.
Net Price: $18,382
#7 – Lindenwood University
MFA in Writing
St. Charles, MO
Lindenwood University, located in Missouri, offers a two-year accelerated MFA in Writing program that can be completed entirely online, or with a combination of online and on-campus classes. The program requires 48 credit hours, which includes a graduate thesis. Students can take up to three classes per quarter. Classes are three credits each. Most students take two classes per quarter. If they successfully complete three per quarter, however, the program can be completed in one year and three months. Writing workshops, literature classes, and craft classes are offered in several genres. Online classes are conducted via Canvas. Students aren't required to log in to a class at the same time. The degree qualifies students to teach writing at a university level and prepares them for careers in writing, editing, and publishing. Applications must include a statement of purpose and 7-10 pages of creative writing examples. Students currently teaching at the K-12 or community college levels can apply for tuition discounts. Students can serve as editorial assistants for Lindenwood University's literary journal. The program is ranked No. 2 by Best Colleges for online master's degrees in creative writing.
Net Price: $17,305
#6 – Eastern Kentucky University
M.F.A. Creative Writing
Eastern Kentucky University offers a two-year, "low-residency" program for an MFA in creative writing. The university refers to the program as the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Most of the 48 credit hours of semester coursework can be conducted online to fit around your current lifestyle. Twelve credit hours worth of summer residencies is required. Residences, which consist of lectures, workshops, and readings are worth three credit hours for 10 days or six for a month. Residencies are held on campus in Richmond, KY, or in Lisbon, Portugal. Online workshops and mentorships in the genres of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry are conducted via Blackboard, conference calls or other digital connections. Applications to the program must include a two-page statement of purpose, along with 15 pages of poetry or 20 pages of prose. A $300 honorarium is offered to the incoming editor-in-chief of Jelly Bucket, the program's literary magazine.
Net Price: $12,659
#5 – University of Houston-Victoria
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
Coursework for the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Houston-Victoria can be taken exclusively online or with a combination of online and on-campus courses. UHV is located in Victoria, a Texas city of 67,000 located between Houston and San Antonio. The two-year MFA program requires 36 credits in a semester system. Six credit hours are devoted to the master's thesis. UHV's program focuses on poetry and creative writing, from creation to publication. Students can select a creative writing track or choose an emphasis in applied literary translation. Students on either of the two tracks share most of the available options of courses for completing the degree. Application requirements include a GRE Admissions Index of 980 or higher, along with two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and 20-30 sample pages of creative writing.
Net Price: $11,305
#4 – University of Arkansas at Monticello
MFA Creative Writing
The University of Arkansas at Monticello is located in a city of 9,500, about 45 miles south of Pine Bluff. UAM's two-year MFA in Creative Writing program can be taken fully online. There is no on-campus requirement, allowing self-disciplined people an opportunity to earn a creative writing degree that fits their lifestyles, interests, and goals. The program fits UAM's broader mission to enhance individuals' abilities to think creatively and critically and to appreciate and contribute to the cultures of their community and beyond. There are 48 semester hours required for students, who are accepted into the genre of fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry. "Genre jumping" is encouraged so students can broaden their knowledge base. Application requirements include three letters of recommendation, plus a personal essay and essay that critiques a literary work. Applicants also must submit examples of creative writing: 10 pages of poetry, 20 pages of fiction, or 20 pages of nonfiction.
Net Price: $11,260
#3 – University of Nebraska at Omaha
MFA in Writing
The MFA in Writing program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is designed to be completed in two years and is aimed at creative writers committed to a literary career. The program comprises four 16-week online seminars and five 10-day conference-style residency sessions in Omaha, NE. Omaha is a city of about 470,000 located about two hours from Des Moines, IA, and three and a half hours from Kansas City. Students earn 60 credit hours in a semester system toward an MFA in one of four genres: Adult Fiction or Young Adult Fiction, Poetry, Writing for Stage and Screen, or Creative Nonfiction. Students are expected to devote a minimum of 25 hours a week in their distance studies. A flexible schedule of writing, guided readings, and critical response allow the student to balance coursework with other life commitments. During the 10-day residency sessions, held twice a year in Nebraska City, students attend lectures, workshops, and readings. Attendees are paired with a faculty mentor with whom the student designs a study plan for the next home-based semester. Application requirements include a self-assessment essay and samples of creative writing. The latter depends on the student's chosen genre. Aspiring screenwriters/playwrights, for instance, must submit 15-20 pages of representative original work.
Net Price: $11,223
#2 – University of New Orleans
Creative Writing Workshop Online MFA
New Orleans, LA
University of New Orleans' Creative Writing Workshop Online MFA is organized into standard semesters, giving students the benefit of exposure to a variety of professors in each genre as well as continuous interaction with classmates. This approach can build strong, often life-long relationships. UNO was listed among Huffington Post's Top 25 Underrated Creative Writing MFA Programs. With 45 required hours, students can complete the degree from home by studying full time for five semesters offered in spring and fall. However, there is flexibility to study part-time in order to make room for a job, family obligations, or other needs. UNO's program offers inticing summer residencies overseas at the University College Cork in Ireland and at the Ezra Pound Center for Literature in Brunnenburg, Italy. Students in the program can pursue an emphasis in five genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting. Application requirements include a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and writing samples that vary by genre. Fiction applicants, for example, should send no more than two short stories or a novel excerpt, either of which can total no more than 30 pages.
Net Price: $10,858
#1 – Mississippi University for Women
MFA in Creative Writing
Mississippi University for Women, which despite its name has been a co-educational school for more than 35 years, offers a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing. The program is offered through online classes and two short residencies. The program is 48 credits on average and can be completed in two or three years if done full-time. Genres include fiction, poetry, nonfiction, playwriting, translation, and writing for new media. Elective classes include African American Fiction, Medieval and Renaissance Narratives, and Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde Poetry. There are four required residency courses that total six credit hours. They are held on campus in Columbus, MS, located less than two hours east of Birmingham, AL. The W's MFA is unusually flexible because the residencies are treated as separate classes. In many other low-residency programs, the residency is the culmination of semester work, which means attendance is required. MFA students can edit a biannual online literary journal called Ponder Review. Application requirements include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and 10-30 pages of samples of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama. GRE scores are not required for the program. The W doesn't charge out-of-state tuition.