Monday, April 16, 2012

Does Getting a Graduate Degree Help You Become a Better Writer?

Guest Post: This post was written by professional writer and researcher, Brooke Folliot

Students traditionally seek to earn a graduate degree in order to ensure career advancement. As the Internet is also offering more and more graduate education, taking online graduate courses can also be a means of obtaining a degree.  For writers, though, the educational path is not as clear. Writers improve by practicing their craft. This can be achieved independently, through writers groups, in a formal writing program, or any combination of the three. Is a graduate degree necessary for writers to succeed?

According to college guide Peterson’s, the typical graduate tuition is $50,000 for two years, with programs requiring anywhere from two to seven years to complete. Online programs can be a more economical option. Southern New Hampshire University offers several online creative writing master of arts degrees. Tuition is $1,827 per course (as of Spring 2012), with a total of less than $22,000 for the curriculum.

The University of New Orleans (UNO) offers a low-residency master of fine arts in creative writing. The Huffington Post listed UNO’s graduate writing degree as one of its 25 underrated MFA programs, stating that “there's no reason not to leap” at the low-residency option, especially since many students can get full funding.

Writers enroll in graduate school with the goal of improving their skills as writers. But, are graduate programs designed to accomplish this goal? While any writing-intensive graduate program will strengthen writing skills, a writing program in your desired discipline – either journalism or creative writing -  will benefit you in the long run according to some experts.

A writing program can serve as a sort of modern-day writer’s salon, according to the University of Florida’s MFA website. Collaborating and studying with other writers can expose you to ideas and thoughts you might otherwise never consider. Making professional connections can also be a benefit of graduate writing programs.

Some successful authors have proven that an advanced writing degree isn’t essential. Michael Crichton’s medical degree and science background helped him immensely when he wrote Jurassic Park and created the hit TV show ER. Chick Lit author Emily Giffin practiced law for several years before pursuing her writing career. She has gone on to write several popular books such as the Something Borrowed series, which was recently made into a movie and features a lawyer as the protagonist.

Not everyone believes that graduate programs are necessary, however. According to blogger and career coach Penelope Trunk, any non-science graduate degree is a waste of time and money. While her blog post doesn’t discuss writing careers in particular, instead focusing on business degrees, she makes several applicable points, notably that the money and time wasted in graduate school would be better spent gaining life experience.

Forbes contributing writer Frances Bridges echoes many of Trunk’s points in her article “Why You Shouldn’t Go to Grad School”. Bridges bartended for a few years after she earned her undergraduate degree instead of attending graduate school. She writes that “in the same amount of time it would’ve taken me to get a master’s I worked, made money, and now work for publications writers would give fingers to work for.”

The benefits of a graduate program might be worth the costs if you plan on writing in an area that requires in-depth research and analysis, such as the sciences or law. Otherwise, writers might find it more worthwhile to take the money that would be spent on tuition and instead travel or live abroad. It worked for Hemingway.