Earning a Master’s in Creative Writing Online

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Unlike many graduate programs, an online creative writing degree does not lead directly to any one type of occupation. Top industries employing writers include entertainment, science and information, marketing and advertising, education, government, and news media. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% increase in job opportunities for writers and authors between 2016 and 2026. Read on to discover more detail about the content and requirements of a creative writing degree, the varied careers it may prepare you for, ways to fund the cost of graduate tuition, and which organizations and online resources to utilize during study and after graduation.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in Creative Writing?

Creative writing stands out as one of the most versatile fields in liberal arts. While many think only of novelists and poets, the list of industries which rely on professionals with creative writing skills extends to journalism, marketing, academia, and even general business. Earning a master's in writing online can prepare you to teach writing courses at the college level; to publish papers and books; or to apply your transferable skills to careers in technical writing, grant writing, copywriting, or editing.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing?

Pursuing Specialization

Creative writing programs come in a variety of specializations. Some schools focus exclusively on literary fiction, while others focus solely on popular genre fiction. Others provide students with a focus choice between poetry, fiction, screenwriting, or creative nonfiction. Beyond writing, select programs provide students with teaching experience in a college environment. Whether you want to cultivate a specific writing skill or pursue a future career in college-level instruction, you can find an MFA program to fit your goals.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Breaking into a full-time writing career can prove difficult even for the most skilled creative minds. Although earning an MFA in creative writing does not guarantee a graduate's ability to land a university teaching position or to produce bestselling work, it can help provide a leg up in this competitive field. All online creative writing degree candidates produce a publishable, book-length work for their thesis, be it a poetry collection, novel, memoir, or screenplay.

Online Learning Technology

Although in-person writing residencies and retreats remain one of the key draws of creative writing master's programs, prospective students should also consider the professional appeal of learning in an online environment. Participating in online workshops and receiving digital feedback from peers and professors provides each student with an experience not unlike many modern professional writing jobs, where the delivery, discussion, and revision of written material increasingly takes place through digital means.

Prerequisites for Online Creative Writing Programs

Applying to a creative writing MFA program can generate exciting and stressful moments. To improve your chances of selection, make sure you fulfill all the necessary requirements.

    • Work Experience: While possessing previously published work or writing-related jobs may improve your chances of acceptance, creative writing master's programs generally do not mandate any specific specialization or minimum amount of work experience to apply. Students may apply to most programs immediately upon completing their bachelor's.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Applicant examination requirements vary from one school and program to another. Many programs do not require applicants to submit any scores, while others require scores from the GRE general test (GRE subject tests not required). Remember that GRE scores remain valid for only five years after taking the exam.
    • Coursework: Specific prerequisite course requirements vary. Some creative writing programs only require students to possess a bachelor's degree, regardless of discipline, while others require a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least 12 credit hours of upper-level English courses. Check with your prospective institution to confirm undergraduate course requirements.
    • Recommendations: Nearly all graduate programs require applicants to submit at least two letters of recommendation. Letters should come from individuals you know from a professional or academic setting who can attest to your writing skills and endorse your likelihood to succeed in the program. Popular recommendation sources include undergraduate professors, employers, or colleagues.
    • Essays: Unsurprisingly, to pursue admission to a creative writing program, applicants must submit written material for consideration. Specific requirements may vary slightly, but expect to include a brief (500 words) letter of intent or statement of purpose and a writing sample (20-30 pages of prose or 10-20 pages of poetry).
    • Interviews: Interviewing with a committee or program director stands out as one of the more demanding parts of the graduate school application process, requiring applicants to think on their feet while giving compelling responses. Though exceptions exist, especially for high-demand schools, the majority of creative writing programs do not require interviews.
    • International Students For creative writing master's programs, admission requirements for international students remain largely the same as those for U.S. residents. Depending on your prospective institution and previous education, international students may need to submit proof of English proficiency by submitting TOEFL or IELTS exam scores.

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing?

The BLS reports an ,a href="https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes273043.htm" target="_blank">annual salary range

for writers and authors between $30,520 (10th percentile) and $118,760 (90th percentile). Unlike some industries, higher salaries in creative writing and adjacent fields do not always directly correlate with higher levels of education. A degree may increase your overall chances of winning employment, but experience and demonstrated skill often hold the most weight in determining a writer's income. Take a look at a few traditional and nontraditional career options in the tables below.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Creative Writing Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Writers and Authors

Median Pay: $61,820

Job Growth: 8%

Writers and authors create content for advertisements, books, newspapers, blogs, and other forms of visual media (film, television, stage, etc.). Writers may work for a single company or agency, but many work as independent freelancers. Writers tend to be self-motivated, skilled at research, and proficient in critical thinking.

Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts

Median Pay: $40,910

Job Growth: -9%

Often collectively referred to as journalists, these media professionals work to inform the public about local, national, and international news and events through television, newspapers, magazines, radio, and the web. Reporters and correspondents possess excellent skills in research, interviewing, and crafting compelling, factually-accurate writing.

Editors

Median Pay: $58,770

Job Growth: -1%

Editors fulfill a variety of needs in the media and publishing industries, including evaluating manuscripts and drafts before publishing, proofreading, developing content ideas, and verifying facts and information. Editors typically work in collaboration with writers, assistants, and other staff to accomplish the content goals of a publication or company.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nontraditional Careers for Creative Writing Graduates

The skills of a creative writing program graduate — including critical thinking and knowing how to craft written content — can successfully transfer to a variety of employment opportunities not commonly considered creative writing careers. Explore some of the most common nontraditional careers for creative writers in the table below.

Career Stats Description

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Median Pay: $111,280

Job Growth: 10%

PR managers and fundraising managers work to develop content to enhance or maintain an organization's image or to encourage donations. These occupations both require skills in creativity, critical thinking, excellent communication, and writing.

Skills Overlapped: shaping written narratives; communicating with audience

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Median Pay: $129,380

Job Growth: 10%

The duties of advertising, promotions, and marketing managers require extensive collaboration with others. Although managers may not directly write advertising copy, the process of developing ideas, strategies, and content for use in advertising initiatives requires an analytical and creative mind.

Skills Overlapped: communicating with audience; completing research tasks

Desktop Publishers

Median Pay: $42,350

Job Growth: -14%

Desktop publishers, a specialized type of graphic designer, arrange written content and graphics on a computer in order to prepare documents for print or electronic publishing. Desktop publishing doesn't involve much original writing, but provides opportunities for tech-savvy creatives to work directly with written content.

Skills Overlapped: working closely with written text; critical thinking

Technical Writers

Median Pay: $70,930

Job Growth: 11%

Technical writers condense complex, technical information into more easily understood documents, including manuals, how-to guides, and journal articles. Although dissimilar to creative writing in some aspects, technical writing requires a firm grasp of written communication skills, grammar, and critical thinking.

Skills Overlapped: writing content; determining goals and requirements of a piece

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Master’s in Creative Writing

Take time to research the cost of attendance at multiple prospective schools to ensure you select a program within your budget. Consider the difference in pricing between attending full time, part time, or pursuing an accelerated degree. Earning your degree quicker, for example, may result in fewer semester-based fees. While graduate students generally possess fewer individual opportunities to earn scholarships than undergraduates, fellowships and grants at the graduate level offset this by offering higher award amounts.

Scholarships for Online Creative Writing Master's Students

Like most creative occupations, pursuing a career in writing remains a challenging, sometimes thankless endeavor. Fortunately, scholarships and fellowships can help make the journey a bit easier by providing funding for writers' formal education. Take a look at a few top opportunities in the list below.

What to Expect from a Master’s Level Online Creative Writing Program

Completing a master's in writing online requires, of course, the creation of an extensive body of original written material, as well as the study of English literature and the craft of writing. Students often select a genre focus or teaching track to customize their education. Major milestones vary from one school and program to another, but may include in-person residencies, practicums, or a book-length thesis work. A master's in creative writing typically takes about two years to complete.

Major Milestones

  1. Writing Workshops

    Throughout first year of study

    Writing workshops are the heart of a creative writing program. Work closely with faculty and other students in a group atmosphere, reading one another's written projects and giving constructive feedback.

  2. Residencies

    Once per semester throughout program

    In low-residency master's in writing online programs, students typically travel to campus once per semester for a week-long residency. Part writing retreat and part workshop, residencies allow students to focus on and develop their craft.

  3. Publishing Practicum

    During second year of study

    Required by some creative writing master's programs, a short-term internship in the publishing field can give students experience in editing or evaluating submissions. Internships may be located on- or off-campus.

  4. Teaching Practicum

    During second year of study

    Required by some creative writing master's programs, a practicum prepares students to teach writing courses at the college level. Students work as teaching assistants in the English program at their enrolled university.

  5. Thesis

    Throughout second year of study

    The thesis of an MFA in creative writing involves crafting a book-length work, most commonly a work of fiction, memoir, poetry collection, short story anthology, or screenplay. Faculty judge theses based upon quality and publishability.

Coursework

Students completing a master's in writing online study the craft of writing, English literature, and critical theory. Explore a selection of common courses in the list below.

Online Workshop

This graduate-level workshop course primarily functions as a supportive writing community. Students write original material, read one another's work, and provide constructive feedback for revision consideration.

Criticism and Theory

This course encourages the exploration of various literary criticism theories and literary theorists through study and practical application. Students work on research tasks, literary interpretations, and criticism through writing projects of their own.

Reading for Writers

Under the guidance of a professional writer, students read a selection of classics according to their genre focus, developing a foundational understanding of the genre, its significant authors, and a reading list for future use.

Literature Study

Literature courses at the graduate level provide students the freedom to study fiction or poetry according to their preferred genres, periods, or culture of origin. Options include Victorian, Middle English, Renaissance, American, British, or contemporary.

Thesis

Students enroll in a thesis course during each of their final two semesters of study. During this time, students work closely with faculty to produce an approved prospectus, submit drafts, and complete a publishable book-length work.

Degree Timelines

Completion times for an online creative writing degree vary depending on program structure and requirements, but the table below provides a general look at timelines you may encounter.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

2-3 years

Part-time creative writing programs, ideal for working professionals and other busy individuals, may or may not require in-person residencies. Degree plans typically require 10-12 credits of workshops and coursework per semester. If needed, students can take additional semesters to polish up their thesis before approval and graduation.

Full-Time

2 years

Full-time online creative writing degrees often adhere to a hybrid model. Students complete some in-person components, including residencies and writing retreats. Students should commit most of their time to the degree in order to complete approximately 20 credit hours per semester. Students may decide to enroll in additional semesters to complete their thesis.

Accelerated

15-20 months

Though uncommon, a few accelerated options exist for writers who want to graduate as quickly as possible. These programs often split semesters into shorter terms, allowing students to earn up to 36 credits in a single year. Typically offered 100% online, many accelerated programs require no residencies. Students must complete a thesis.

Licenses and Certifications

Due to the breadth of the field, very few professional industry certifications exist for writers, and all forms of certification remain optional. Rather than listing certifications to entice clients or employers, writers tend to list previously published work or share portfolios. However, writers in specialized niches like technical, grant, or resume writing may pursue professional certification through top organizations in the field. Other writers seeking credentials may consider taking online courses in order to receive certificates of completion.

Professional Organizations & Resources

A lasting desire for many creatives, becoming a part of a supportive writing community is one of the great appeals of creative writing master's programs. Beyond your class peers, membership in a professional organization can further a sense of community. Professional organizations also provide additional benefits like professional development resources and exclusive job boards. Organizations exist for all types of writers: working freelancers, genre-specific novelists, nonfiction journalists, academic professionals, and college students.

  • Association of Writers and Writing Programs AWP supports writers, writing college programs, and writing centers through advocacy, resources, and community. Individual membership benefits include access to an exclusive job board and six annual issues of The Writer's Chronicle.
  • American Society of Journalists and Authors: ASJA, the leading organization for independent nonfiction writers, participates in nonpartisan advocacy on behalf of its members and their interests. Membership benefits include professional mentoring, networking opportunities, and professional development resources.
  • Nonfiction Authors Association: The NFAA offers nonfiction authors an abundance of resources, educational opportunities, and community support. Membership includes access to twice-monthly online seminars, industry discounts, and professional networking opportunities.
  • Romance Writers of America: The leading nonprofit trade association for America's career-focused romance writers, RWA offers membership benefits including advocacy resources, professional development opportunities, and access to online and in-person networking communities.
  • Novelists, Inc.: NINC connects more than 800 career novelist members through an online networking community. Benefits of membership include access to an annual conference, monthly newsletter, and a member-generated database of publishing services and resources.
  • Writer's Digest: The internet home for the popular publication Writer's Digest offers countless resources for creative writers. The site filters articles by genre, writing goal, or experience level. Users can also access contests, free webinars, downloads, and a forum.
  • Purdue OWL: From their first middle-school essay to professionally published papers, writers often use the Purdue OWL as a quick, go-to resource for questions regarding grammar, mechanics, and field-specific writing techniques.
  • Writing.com: Writing.com offers one of the most diverse and active online communities for writers of all ages and at all levels of experience. Users can post pieces in their portfolio, share comments, and receive feedback.
  • Literary Market Place: Information Today, Inc.'s Literary Market Place is the leading online directory of the American and Canadian publishing industries. Find the information you need about books, publishers, agents, sales reps, and distributors.
  • Scrivener: Students, best-selling novelists, screenwriters, and journalists all enjoy this immensely popular app. Along with a screen for writing, Scrivener's management system allows users to store notes, metadata, and documents for quick reference.