Friday, November 19, 2010

The MFA Problem

So, I've been thinking about applying to an MFA program. Let me take you through my thought process. 
These are the reasons I am considering getting an MFA:
  • I'm a teacher and having a master's degree = a raise. Where I am right now it would be a raise of over $5k/year. Over my career it would grow to a raise of $30k/year
  • I could get an "easy" master's in education, but I hate education classes, and even though it would earn me my raise, it would be two years of torture
  • I would like to become a better writer
  • It would be nice to have the option of teaching college-level writing classes
The main thing keeping me from pursuing an MFA right now:
  • I really can't handle snobby literary types
  • I can't find a program that works for me
Ideally I'd like to do a program that focuses on writing for children and young adults. I feel like kidlit weeds out most of the snobby literary types, so that would be awesome.

I work full time (and part time), so if I was going to do a traditional full time MFA program, it would have to be local. Sadly, the closest kidlit program I can find is at SDSU and, while it looks awesome, it's not close enough to make it work. (I didn't even look at the class times, but I would only be able to go at night, which is another issue.)

So, there are online and low-residency programs. I've looked into some low-res programs for kidlit MFAs and they look amazing. BUT they are all on the other side of the dang country. Getting an MFA is going to be expensive enough, but adding in the cost of flying back and forth to the midwest or the east coast twice a year? Ugh. Why are none of these on the west coast?

Then I found what I thought was going to be a close enough to perfect program.

  • It's through a local state university, so it's close to me AND it's much cheaper than a private university
  • It's a low-residency program with its two yearly residencies at a gorgeous resort in Palm Springs
  • It's not a kidlit MFA, it's a general fiction MFA (ugh, snobs) (the director of the program did say there were a few YA writers in the program, so that's good, but ugh, snobs
  • The residencies are at the WORST TIMES for me as a teacher. Early December and early June. Two weeks before our winter break and two weeks before we get out at the end of the year. Other low-res programs seem to have them in early January and late June, both times when I am already off from teaching and it would work out perfectly. But this one, that I could make work in every other way, is a total disaster when it comes to residency times
I seriously can't imagine going to my principal and asking to not be here during those times of the year. I can't imagine not being with my students during those times. (Missing an entire week of our discussion of the end of The Great Gatsby? No way. I can't do it.)

So what do I do, blog friends?

Do I...
  • Apply to the local MFA program that is close and cheaper even though the dates are horrible and risk pissing off my administration and feeling like a horrible employee and teacher? (But it's only for two years. That wouldn't be that bad, would it? Four weeks spread out over two years?)
  • Apply to one of the far, far away kidlit low-res programs with the ideal schedules but terrible locations that will cost tons of money flying to every six months and paying in general?
  • Keep researching because there MUST be something out there that is perfect? (There must be, right? Right?)(Does anyone out there know of something that I'm missing?
  • Say f- it and just get an easy but mind-numbing education master's?
  • Cry in the corner because I hate running into problems like this?
I've been trying to decide what to do for my master's degree for about four years now. I almost applied to an American Studies program, but I didn't at the last minute. I've almost applied to an education program more times than I can count. Now this is floating along and I am frozen with indecision. Tough decisions are tough. 


  1. Well, I know personally that money's always tight, but I'm going to VCFA (and I live in Texas) starting in January, and my round-trip tickets were less than $300. Still expensive, definitely, and you're looking at around $600 a year plus tuition/board, but tuition is pretty steep across the board.

    I think it boils down to this:

    Think about the programs. Would you really be happy spending time and money on a program for literary fiction? Knowing the types, knowing the way professors and students alike view children's fiction?

    How about the AS or education programs? Is that what you want to devote your time to? And don't forget dissertations.

    And the children's lit programs--is it worth it to you to study something you love when it's inconvenient and costly?

    All totally valid questions. I don't envy your situation, and I wish you all the best! Again, I haven't started yet, but the enthusiasm and support the VCFA faculty have already given out is incredible, and people in the kidlit industry know that VCFA is a Big Deal.

    Maybe make a pros and cons list. I know it sounds silly, but seeing your thoughts on the page might make it easier. And then try to imagine yourself ten years from now--which program do you want to have gone through?

  2. Hmm what program/school is it? I think you need more info on the things you'll have to read, critique, write about, etc.

  3. If you don't want a Masters in Ed, don't get one! I would keep researching, but don't be too quick to judge all of the people getting their general MFA as "Snobs;" that makes you maybe just a little snobby... right? :) At the same time, I am totally intrigued by the idea of a kidlit mfa degree! Since it seems like kidlit is blowing up in popularity, maybe if you wait a year there will be a program in your part of the country. Good luck!

  4. For the programs that are in the midwest and east coast, if you only have to fly there twice a year, that is really not that bad. If the programs are really that good, I would consider those over a program that is closer but not as good.

    Once I'm done with school, I need to decide what to get my master's in. I really have no idea what I want to do. Ideally I would get a master's in speech language pathology, but my bachelor's is in communications so I would need to take some other classes before I could even apply.

  5. I'm sorry you're struggling with this and I wish I had an easy answer. I've been sort of feeling the same way about applying for an MLS program. There is an actual MLS program at a university (sort-of) close by, but it would mean an hour and a half commute at least twice a week after working all day. Or, there is an ed-tech based School Library Media degree here in town. It wasn't really what I wanted (I wanted the flexibility of working anywhere, not just in a school), but I went for it anyway. Good luck making the decision!