Poets & Writers

Online MFA Programs

WHEN the COVID-19 outbreak spread across the United States in the spring, forcing colleges and universities to move online for the remainder of the semester, it was business as usual for my students who take fully online creative writing courses at Lindenwood University. As I read social media posts from professors and students alike struggling with online learning formats and questioning how or why anyone would want to attend a no-residency program, I started thinking more deeply about online MFA students in general and what personal reasons informed their decisions to pursue the degree online.

According to the MFA Programs database at pw.org, there are currently more than two hundred MFA programs in creative writing in the United States, with more than one hundred fifty full-residency programs, sixty-one low-residency programs, and thirteen online programs (or those with some combination of low-residency and online requirements) at nonprofit accredited institutions. I spent some time chatting with several current MFA students and recent graduates across multiple online programs, along with a few program directors, asking questions and getting to know what factors helped inform students’ decisions. Many of the answers I expected, but several surprised me.

TRADITIONALLY, MFA programs took an ivory tower approach,” says Gillian Parrish, director of Lindenwood University’s MFA program, which offers an online as well as an on-campus track in Saint Charles, Missouri. “But for a healthy society, writing must not be only for people

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