Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing Programs

Mar 27, 2019

Students in low-residency creative writing MFA programs combine independent writing work with periodic residencies with faculty and peers. Read on for details on the components of these programs and typical admissions requirements.

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Low-residency Master of Fine Arts programs give writers an opportunity to earn an advanced credential by blending independent writing work with intensive residency sessions. Creative writing students in these programs can focus on genres including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.

Low-Residency Creative Writing MFA Program Information

The structure of low-residency MFA programs typically allows for independent writing under the guidance of program faculty during the majority of each term along with short in-person residency sessions. Students can usually earn these terminal degrees in about two years.

Independent Study Components

Students in these MFA programs devote a substantial amount of time to working on writing projects in the genre or genres of their choice. For the majority of each semester or quarter, each student works in conjunction with a faculty member on assignments specifically designed for that student. Programs may require that students work with several different faculty members over the course of their studies. During these periods, students compose and revise their work, frequently submitting work to their faculty mentor and making changes based on their mentor's guidance. They may also complete other assignments including critical responses to assigned readings, peer reviews of other students' writing, annotated bibliographies, and assessments of their own progress. By the end of their studies, writing MFA students may produce a book-length thesis project.

Residency Components

In addition to spans of time spent working independently, students in low-residency MFA programs gather during on-site residencies. Most programs require four to five residency sessions, and each session lasts about 10 days. These periods give students the opportunity to meet faculty and participate in workshops, readings, and discussions. Most residencies include the types of activities detailed below.

Structured Workshops and Seminars

Residency sessions allow time for students to participate in workshops, and often these are focused on critiquing other students' work and receiving feedback on their own writing projects. Additionally, residencies usually include lectures, presentations, and panels featuring faculty and guest writers. Some programs include seminars or classes focused on a specific aspect of writing. These classes may cover a particular era or type of writing or the work of a specific author or poet. In some instances, seminars may be on a specific topic like the emotional development of characters, developing a voice as a writer, or narrative theory. Although students may be focusing on a particular genre during their studies, they are usually encouraged to attend presentations and seminars on multiple literary genres.

Planning for Guided Study

During residency sessions, students also create a plan for their next period of independent work. Residencies offer MFA students an opportunity to meet in person with their faculty mentor and discuss the assignments and projects the student will undertake for the remainder of the term. Residency sessions are often held in settings featuring natural surroundings conducive to creativity, so students also have time for reflection and writing before they embark on their independent work.

Low-Residency Creative Writing MFA Program Admissions

One of the most important components of the application process for MFA programs in creative writing is the quality of an applicant's written work, so prospective students should be prepared to submit a significant writing sample. Depending on the genre, this may be up to 25 pages of prose or poetry. Applicants may also need to compose a statement outlining their prior writing experience and academic and professional goals. These programs also require undergraduate transcripts and references or letters of recommendation. Additionally, applicants may need to provide a resume.

Low-residency MFA programs give writers an opportunity to earn this terminal degree with limited on-site obligations. By combining independent work with intensive residency sessions, students can advance their skills in genres including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

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