Creative Writing Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and doctoral degrees in creative writing can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Creative Writing: Degrees at a Glance

A graduate degree in creative writing can open a broad field of career opportunities for you in a variety of industries. Many industries have openings for creative writers who can produce brochures, newsletters, web content and blogs for marketing purposes. For those seeking to enter the education field, a graduate degree is typically necessary for teaching English and composition or other writing-related topics at colleges and universities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment outlook for authors and writers in the 2010-2020 decade to grow at a slower-than-average rate of 6%. While competition for existing writing jobs was expected to be high during this decade, those who specialized in writing for the Internet and other digital media outlets are anticipated to have better employment prospects. The overall outlook for postsecondary teachers was much better, with an average employment growth rate of 17%, although the trend would be towards the addition of science and healthcare-related positions.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this degree for? Those interested in pursuing careers as writersThose interested in academic careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Newspaper reporter ($54,000)*
- Advertising copywriter ($78,000)*
- Movie screenwriter ($100,000)*
- Junior college English teacher ($69,000)*
- University English professor ($69,000)*
- Independent writer ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time (some programs allow up to 10 years)
Common Graduation Requirements - 30-45 semester hours
- Master's thesis
- 24-30 semester hours
- Ph.D. subject exams
- Dissertation
- Oral defense of dissertation
- Teaching requirement
- Foreign language fluency requirement
Prerequisite Bachelor's degree in English, creative writing or related discipline Bachelor's or master's degree in English, creative writing or related discipline
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Creative Writing

Master of Fine Arts programs in creative writing often have selective admissions policies that include submission of creative writing samples. Classes are often small, which fosters one-on-one time with writing instructors. Some programs are interdisciplinary, incorporating coursework in other humanities areas, such as culture studies or geography, to give you a complete overview of the writing process throughout history. However, the bulk of courses will cover writing genres, such as fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Depending on the school, programs may offer concentrations within their creative writing programs in areas such as rhetoric and composition, British literature or American studies. Programs often offer students opportunities to work for faculty as a research assistant or teaching assistant. As a research assistant, you may do research for professors or attend conferences. As a teaching assistant, you'll teach introductory English courses to undergraduates. Both opportunities can provide valuable learning experiences, especially if you're planning on a career in academia.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A variety of career choices are available to M.F.A. graduates, including careers in entertainment, publishing and marketing.
  • A master's degree may qualify you to teach at some community colleges.
  • This degree provides a career path that allows individuals to be creative while earning an income and students can often specialize in their area of interest.
  • Many community colleges and universities consider a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing to be a terminal degree.

Cons

  • Most writing jobs don't require a graduate degree; many employers will accept a bachelor's degree with industry experience instead.
  • Unlike other fields, career advancement for writers typically isn't contingent on advanced education.
  • A degree in this field does not guarantee job placement, and creative writers must be persistent and resourceful in finding jobs in any industry.

Common Courses and Requirements

Course requirements for a M.F.A vary according to the specific university's catalog, but most programs require courses in American, British and world literature. Writing genres studied can include novels, plays, short stories, letters, memoirs and poetry. In addition, students will often study the theory of literature and pedagogy of teaching. In writing workshops, you can present your creative work for constructive feedback from your peers, and subsequently may be invited to present your work at writing conferences and symposiums.

Typically, you will be assigned a thesis director or mentor in your second year to help develop a focus for your master's thesis. Depending on the program, your thesis will focus on the results of independent research or it can be a portfolio consisting of your creative work.

Online Degree Options

As more and more universities strive to become competitive and accessible, students can find opportunities for acquiring a M.F.A. in creative writing online. Some of these programs are offered solely online, while others are low-residency programs where students do most of their work online and only need to come to campus a few times throughout the program. In most cases, the course requirements are the same as on-campus programs, culminating in a thesis or a writing portfolio.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Most jobs in publishing and marketing jobs require skills in web design and illustration, as well as knowledge in various types of design software, so pursuing training in these areas may aid you greatly once you graduate. Many writing-related careers on the Internet require a background in social media formats. You may want to start a blog and join online writing communities to not only gain experience in these areas, but to develop professional contacts or networks. Teaching positions may require you to have knowledge and experience in e-learning environments, so taking online writing classes may increase your marketability in the job market.

Ph.D. in Creative Writing

Students with a bachelor's or master's degree in creative writing or an English-related field can typically apply for a Ph.D. program if they meet the basic requirements. Most universities require that applicants successfully pass a Graduate Record Exam (G.R.E) and submit the following with their applications: official transcripts, letters of recommendation, creative writing samples and a letter of interest or statement of purpose. If you enter the Ph.D. program with a bachelor's degree, you can expect to take 70-90 semester hours; if you enter with an M.F.A., you can expect to take 24-30 semester hours.

At the completion of coursework, most universities will require you to pass several written subject area tests before you can begin working on your dissertation. The time it takes to research, write, and defend a dissertation is in addition to coursework and can add as much as 30 semester hours to Ph.D. program. Your dissertation will typically be in a literature or writing topic in areas such as history, interpretation or theory.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This degree can lead to a university professor position, which provides job security through a system of tenure.
  • The Ph.D. program provides an opportunity to make connections with other writers and professionals through conferences and seminars, which can result in future job placement.
  • A doctorate in a specialized field can provide opportunities for research and travel.

Cons

  • Ph.D. programs are intense and demanding, and the available careers may not compensate for the time and money spent pursuing the degree.
  • Most Ph.D. graduates seek academic jobs, which are highly competitive, and many cannot find a tenure-track position unless they are willing to re-locate.
  • Many with Ph.D. degrees must dedicate themselves to research and writing, and they must consistently publish work in order to stay competitive.

Courses and Requirements

Course subjects can include literature, theory, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, writing workshops and a foreign language. At the Ph.D. level, you'll build on the foundation courses you took at the bachelor's and master's level by investigating the theory, history and culture of literature and writing. Towards the end of your coursework, you will be able to narrow your interests to choose a topic for your dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Creative writing programs at this level are rarely found online because of the teaching and research requirements. When searching for an online Ph.D. program in creative writing, make certain that the university is accredited so that your credentials on your resume will be acceptable by your potential employer.

Stand Out with This Degree

With a Ph.D. in creative writing, you can take many directions in your career path, but most of your success will depend on your ability to be assertive and persistent. If you want a career in writing and publishing, you can research agents and publishers in order to find a market for your writing. Most writers find their manuscripts rejected many times before they find a publisher.

If your goal is to become a professor, you can publish your research articles in scholarly publications and add these to your curriculum vitae (CV). There are many more Ph.D. graduates than there are openings for tenure-track faculty, and publishing your work is one of the best ways to get ahead of your competition.

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