If you look into my writing background it’s fairly easy to discover that I do not have any kind of degree in literature or writing, let alone an MFA. So one might think I don’t have room to speak on such a topic, however I will say that I have, in the past, seriously considered getting an MFA. I don’t think they are totally pointless degrees, not at all. Some of my favorite writers have come out of MFA programs, Shannon Hale and Kristin Cashore are just two off the top of my head. And some of my favorite writers, like me, have no formal education in writing or literature.
A few years back I attended a workshop of an MFA program. It was well presented. The teachers were professional and intelligent and obviously knew a thing or two about teaching the craft of writing. From what I could tell, this MFA program was well structured and held value. (Whether it was worth the tuition they were asking, I’m not entirely certain.) At some point they all came to each table and spoke to us and allowed us to ask questions. This was mine:
What can I get from your program that I can’t get in any other way?
Uhh…the MFA/MBA combo is actually a fabulous idea. I can actually see the value in that. I think what MFA programs need to realize is they need to offer writers something they can’t get anywhere else. I attended a workshop for Hamline University, and while I was impressed with their staff and the workshop was enjoyable, they did not convince me that it would be worth 30k. I asked one of the faculty “What can I get from this program that I can’t get in any other way?” She tripped over her words a little, “It really jump starts you…There are so many things you can learn much quicker that might take you years of making mistakes.” Well maybe, maybe not, but either way, a “jump start” is not worth that much cash.
My husband has an MBA from a top five school. Hip-hip hooray, Even he admits that he didn’t learn much that anyone can’t learn in the real world. What you pay for in B-school is networking, access to jobs and companies and recruiters that only search for people at these business school. And not just networking with industry professionals, but the students as well, who hopefully in the future will also prove to be valuable friendships. More than half of his time in B-school was spent networking because everyone knows that in business it’s not so much about what you know, but who you know. MFA programs could take a lesson from this. The programs should have, not just one or two, but dozens of networking events with industry professionals, critique sessions with agents and editors, real valuable time that other writers would kill for. If publishing is a business like any other, then after you’ve become a great writer, it’s helpful to have a few connections. I know in the end it’s all about the writing, but what does it matter if you can’t get anyone in the industry to read it?