Grad school is not cheap. You’re paying to have a couple of years where you can devote your life to your particular artistic passion. Will you come out with a certificate that promises you a job as a doctor or lawyer? No. Do you want to be a doctor or a lawyer? Probably not, if you’re looking into art school.
I wanted to get a creative writing MFA for the following reasons:
– Like I said above, I wanted a couple of years where I could focus my life on writing… on improving my craft through practice and discussion, in a creative environment, with minimal distraction.
– I wanted new professional opportunities. No, I wasn’t going to leave school with a license to practice medicine, but I wanted more options than the proofreading work that my English BA had afforded me. I hoped to teach, write, and see what else the world might have to offer if I took a risk in a new situation.
So, was it worth it?
I say yes, but ask me again in a few months when I start paying back my loans. Eesh.
For real, though – my writing has improved in quality and quantity, I’ve published a few stories, made terrific progress on two books, and I’ve got a decent start on teaching work and student affairs work – two things I’d never done before coming back to school. So, I got what I wanted.
Here are some not-so-scientific stats about the cost of grad school at Columbia College Chicago:
A Fiction Writing MFA costs $721 a credit + fees.
A full-time student in the Fiction MFA program usually takes 9 credits a semester and it’s a 45 credit degree. Here’s the Tuition + Fees page on the Columbia site.
Funding for first-year grad students is minimal.
There’s the Follett Graduate Merit Award, and if they’re going to offer you that, they do it when they accept you. So, your application to school acts as your Follett application. But, only a couple of people per department get it per year, and I’ve noticed that in Fiction, one of them tends to go to someone who is matriculating from undergrad in the department.
You have more options your second year.
You can apply for a handful of scholarships after your first year. There are a bunch that offer between $2,000 and $5,000 for the year, and they’re not that hard to get if you don’t mind writing an essay and asking professors for rec letters. Here’s the Scholarships page.
I got a few scholarships that paid right into my tuition. So, that extra money showed up in my loan refund check. I’ve got that sitting in my savings right now, meaning that the amount of money I owe is higher, but I’ve got about 20% of it gathering interest in the bank.
Well then, how do you pay?
Unless you’re rich or working and paying as you go, you’re gonna need student loans. I paid with loans, got an additional $4,000 a semester for living expenses, and am now finishing school roughly $60,000 in debt. It’s scary, but I’m the type of guy who prefers to be broke and doing what he loves instead of being paid and bored.
Know the program by reading student writing. Jessi Lee Gaylord was a couple years ahead of me at school, dust on the horizon. Here’s her story “Hercules in Recession” in Knee-Jerk.