Request - Low Residency Programs Pros & Cons

Some thoughts on the low-residency MFA and pros & cons (you can decide what is a pro and what is a con yourself)--

1)  If you are someone who needs structure, such as daily classes and a lot of one-on-one involvement from your professors, a low-res MFA may not be for you.

2)  You get exactly as much as you put into your low-residency program.  Meaning-- I'm sure some people get a lot more out of their program because they really put forth an effort where others may try to do the least amount possible.  

3)  For me, it wasn't about getting an MFA (the actually diploma), but I went back to school to become a stronger writer.  I think low-res programs are good for this because they teach you to write on your own and without a community of writers you see every day in class.

4)  Low-residencies are a lot of fun & you do meet great people.  At least mine were fun and I'm still close friends with the people I met there.  I am even a bit nostalgic for that time.  

5)  Low-res programs are great for adults with jobs and/or kids.

6)  I believe I got more going back to school in my 30's as opposed to my 20's.  I think returning when I was older allowed me to get more out of it and to have had more life experience.

7)  They can be pricey (anywhere from $22K-$26K), but I've always just said that using the money for tuition was just one less mid-sized sedan I could have in my life.

I think opportunities to learn and improve oneself and one's writing in life are important and should be taken.  I think both full-time programs and low-residency MFA programs do the same thing-- they try to create better writers.

If someone asks me if I think they should get their MFA, my answer is a question back to them.  Do you want to get your MFA?

If you do, then apply to a program that is right for you and go back to school.
If you don't, then don't.

I am not someone who believe people need an MFA to be a good writer.  

Naomi Shihab Nye, Bob Hicok, and Li-Young Lee all do not have have MFAs.   I have heard Naomi say, "Life is the program."  And I agree.

But if you have a desire to get your MFA, then go for it.

Again, there is no wrong way or right answer here, just individual writers making individual choices that are best for him or her.

But if you would have asked if I would do it again after knowing what I know about low-res MFA programs, my answer is:  Definitely!

Hope this helps!  Let me know if you have any follow up questions...



  1. Also, I would add that if you want teaching experience, low-res programs offer limited opportunities in that department.

    In the comparison between my MA (normal resident-style) and MFA, I had a lot more personal interaction and personal feedback on my writing with professors (through e-mail, phone, etc) in the low-res MFA than I did in a traditional program.

  2. Lots of good stuff here. Thanks. Li-Young Lee visited my undergrad school and recommended that I NOT go directly into an MFA. His thoughts were a lot like Nye's. Then, Lucille Clifton, reiterated the fact. I ended up at a traditional MFA, but I didn't attend until six years after earning my BA. What I learned and lived in those years made all the difference in the work I did during my program.

  3. Excellent points. For me 2 and 3 were the most true. I wish more people could just realize an mfa isn't inherently evil it is just a personal choice. Interesting that you never hear people saying not to study as an undergrad :)


Post a Comment

Always love to hear from you...and the anonymous option is open for those feeling shy.