This page details the best MFA in creative writing programs in the United States. The following section features five excellent online degrees and includes embedded links for each program's website.

This page also covers common master's in creative writing admission requirements, courses, and careers, as well as frequently asked questions related to the field.

What Are the Best Creative Writing Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 Lesley University Cambridge, MA
3 Wilkes University Wilkes-Barre, PA
4 Lindenwood University Saint Charles, MO
5 National University La Jolla, CA
6 Bay Path University Longmeadow, MA
7 Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham Campus Madison, NJ
8 University of Houston-Victoria Victoria, TX
9 University of North Alabama Florence, AL
10 University of Nebraska Omaha Omaha, NE

A master's in creative writing prepares students for several careers. Graduates may want to work as authors and writers, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects no growth in the demand for authors between 2018 and 2028. However, a potential career path with higher projected growth is technical writing; the BLS projects that the need for these professionals will grow 8% between 2018 and 2028 — faster than the growth for the average occupation in the U.S.

How We Rank Schools

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2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Creative Writing Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 98%

Harvard offers an online master of liberal arts in creative writing and literature through its Division of Continuing Education. Covering 12 courses, the program features a unique structure that allows students to "earn their way in" to the famously competitive school.

To start, learners enroll in two foundational open courses that explore the fundamentals of creative writing. Students who earn at least a "B" in both classes can then apply to the degree program, which counts these two initial courses toward graduation requirements. Applicants who submit applications meeting these requirements enjoy excellent chances of acceptance.

The 10 remaining courses offer students wide latitude, enabling writers to explore their intellectual and creative interests. Program participants also attend a required on-campus residency — one week or three weeks in length — which provides them with face-to-face learning and networking opportunities.


Lesley University

Cambridge, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 61%

Lesley, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers an online master's in creative writing that leads to a terminal master of fine arts degree. While learners complete most requirements through virtual platforms, the program includes five nine-day campus residencies that put writers in direct contact with peers, mentors, faculty, and publishing industry professionals.

Degree-seekers enjoy ample networking opportunities, and the program also supports partnership programs that present student work to agents, publishers, and prominent industry figures.

Beyond these opportunities, students also improve their skills through intensive workshopping to develop material. Program participants learn what it takes to succeed professionally while honing their voices and learning to harness their creative instincts.


Wilkes University

Wilkes-Barre, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 60%

Wilkes' graduate program in creative writing supports many forms and genres, including creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, playwriting, documentary and fiction screenwriting, and publishing. Depending on a student's chosen path, the program culminates in a master of arts or a master of fine arts degree.

Structurally, the program offers two formats: a low-residency option with two eight-day campus residencies per year and a "weekender" option in which learners convene on campus four weekends per semester. In both cases, degree-seekers complete the majority of their coursework online.

Graduates who earn this online master's degree in creative writing have enjoyed excellent professional success since the program's 2005 founding. As of 2020, alumni have produced more than 115 plays, 70 movies, 60 chapbooks or poetry collections, and 600 published works of prose fiction or nonfiction.


Lindenwood University

Saint Charles, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

Lindenwood's master of fine arts in writing program features a residency-free, entirely online structure. Alternatively, degree-seekers who live nearby the school's Saint Charles, Missouri, campus can choose hybrid learning or pursue a traditional campus-based format.

Published writers, professional journalists, and experienced editors lead courses in which students explore the creative and practical aspects of authorship. Small classes adopt workshop formats, enabling degree-seekers to obtain valuable feedback on their in-process writing in a supportive yet demanding environment.

In total, the program covers 48 credits and culminates in a required thesis that reflects a student's chosen area of emphasis. Specialization options include fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.


National University

La Jolla, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 36%

San Diego-based NU offers an entirely online master's degree in creative writing. This program accepts applications on a rolling basis and features start dates throughout the year. Classes last eight weeks and there are no campus residency requirements.

Culminating in a terminal master of fine arts degree, this program offers four specialization areas: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and screenwriting. The program also accepts students interested in writing genre fiction and young adult fiction, making it a good fit for aspiring writers interested in these areas.

Degree-seekers benefit from one-on-one faculty mentorship and elective courses that broaden a student's understanding of literary theory and pedagogy. About 15% of program participants possess military backgrounds, reflecting NU's strong commitment to serving members of the armed forces.


Bay Path University

Longmeadow, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

Bay Path's master of fine arts in creative nonfiction writing may be an attractive professional development opportunity for emerging writers interested in true stories. Degree-seekers can complete their program entirely online, choosing from a publishing track or a teaching track. Each pathway takes two semesters and includes intensive practicum requirements.

The program builds to a thesis component, in which students prepare a 150-page manuscript intended to form the basis of a future book. Along the way, learners benefit from extensive peer engagement and community-building opportunities.

Students also can participate in an annual summer writing retreat in Ireland. For admission consideration, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree and submit two letters of recommendation, a personal statement of purpose, and brief creative nonfiction writing samples.


Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham Campus

Madison, NJ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

FDU's master of fine arts in creative writing is a low-residency program that offers five concentration options to learners interested in specific formats and genres. Students can specialize in fiction, creative nonfiction, writing for children and young adults, poetry, and literary translation. The literary translation option is uncommon and may appeal to multilingual learners.

This MFA program features two annual residencies: one at the school's New Jersey campus and another in Wroxton, England; this latter experience allows students to interact with United Kingdom-based writers and publishing professionals.

Since 2014, program alumni have published nearly 30 books and received prestigious distinctions and awards, including the African American Book Prize and the Colorado Book Prize for Biography. Degree-seekers also benefit from direct introductions to New York-based literary agents, publishers, and book editors.


University of Houston-Victoria

Victoria, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 19%

UHV's master of fine arts in creative writing offers specializations in creative writing and applied literary translation. Both options include 36 credits and build strong student engagement through a process-oriented approach to professional development.

The master's in creative writing track includes a dense concentration of workshop-style writing classes and leads to a thesis project of the student's choosing. Learners in the applied literary translation path concentrate on creative and technical skills before displaying their integrated learning in a capstone project. Low-residency requirements apply.

To be admitted, candidates must qualify for general graduate admission and furnish academic transcripts. They must also provide a statement of purpose, GRE scores, at least two letters of recommendation, and a 20-30-page creative writing sample.


University of North Alabama

Florence, AL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 46%

Available in an entirely online format, UNA's master of arts in writing program offers specializations in technical writing, rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. The curriculum's design supports personal creative development and exploration, along with practical, career-oriented aspects of writing practice, research, and scholarship.

The program places strong emphasis on marketable, employable skills. Students apply composition theory to a variety of creative formats, building versatile and adaptable proficiencies.

Many degree-seekers in this distance-based program choose to pursue available paid internship opportunities, which enhance experiential learning and help developing writers build strong professional networks. Students local to the college's Florence, Alabama, campus can also pursue hybrid and in-class formats.


University of Nebraska Omaha

Omaha, NE Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

Learners who want to earn a low-residency master of fine arts in writing may be interested in attending UNO. Participants of this program complete 60 credits and choose a specialization in poetry, creative nonfiction, playwriting, fiction, young adult, or screenwriting

Students take online classes over the course of four 16-week semesters. They also complete a total of five 10-day residencies at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center in Nebraska City. During residency sessions, learners engage in workshops and readings and attend conferences, lectures, and craft discussions.

Applications are accepted throughout the year, and new students can begin the program at one of two start dates. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit a statement of purpose, creative writing sample, and contact information for two recommenders.

Online Master's in Creative Writing Program Overview

The best online master's in creative writing programs feature curricula that emphasize coursework in craft and reflection, creative writing, and interdisciplinary studies. Learners hone their creative writing skills and typically graduate within two years.

Although program objectives vary among universities, participants usually spend their time writing fiction, collaborating with peers, and networking with publishers. Some programs also help students submit fiction to contests and literary journals.

Many aspiring authors regard the MFA as a terminal degree. However, if you want to work as a college professor, you probably need a doctorate in English or creative writing. Doctoral programs emphasize coursework and the creation of a collection of fiction or poetry, which can serve as a dissertation.

Common Master's in Creative Writing Courses

Craft and Reflection

Craft and reflection courses allow degree-seekers to curate a reading list that aligns with their writing aspirations. After reading each selection, learners write an essay where they reflect on how the piece influenced their artistic development. Students may take multiple craft and reflection courses throughout their master's in creative writing program.

Creative Writing

In this course, students work with a faculty advisor to create a study plan that involves choosing a primary genre, submitting work, and making revisions. Online master's in creative writing programs may have participants critique each other's work through online discussion and periodic on-campus residencies.

Interdisciplinary Studies

Interdisciplinary studies courses provide additional skills that relate to career preparation and opportunities outside the classroom. Learners often create an independent study plan that includes an internship or freelance writing.

Classic Foundational Literature: Fiction

In this introductory course, students engage with short stories and novels. Learners also analyze literary criticism.

Poetry Craft Foundations

This class helps novice poets better understand major poetry techniques and styles. Specific topics may include historical and modern poetic forms, creative techniques, and the poet's voice.

Online Master's in Creative Writing Admission Requirements

  • Writing Sample

    Master's in creative writing programs put significant emphasis on an applicant's writing sample. This sample may include one or more stories or poems, and most universities use a page limit.

  • Statement of Purpose

    A statement of purpose gives applicants the chance to explain what they hope to gain by earning an online MFA in creative writing.

  • Undergraduate Transcripts

    Master's in creative writing programs require a bachelor's degree, and applicants must submit their undergraduate transcripts. Although programs may value writing samples more than college grades, transcripts can still reflect an applicant's ability to succeed in an academic setting.

  • Recommendation Letters

    Applicants may need to submit 1-2 recommendation letters, depending on the master's in creative writing program. Prospective students should request letters from undergraduate English and creative writing professors.

  • Prerequisite Courses

    Some programs may require one or more prerequisite courses, which help ensure that an applicant has the academic skills and writing talent needed to succeed at the master's level. Typical prerequisites relate to areas like elements of the writer's craft and advanced fiction writing.

Online Master's in Creative Writing Career Paths

In addition to becoming a professional author, creative writing graduates can apply their knowledge and skills toward many related careers. Editing, public relations, and broadcast news all need professionals with superb creative writing skills. To attain one of these competitive positions, professionals may need to gain experience in an entry-level position.

The literary field does not require licensure; career advancement depends largely on the quality of each writer's work. As a result, students should take every opportunity during an MFA in creative writing program to hone skills relevant to their career goals.

Related Careers

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a master's in creative writing worth it?

The answer depends on your career goals and your dedication to creative writing. Many writers struggle initially, and most never become famous. As such, reflect on your writing goals and how much effort you are willing to dedicate to achieve them.

How long does it take to get a master's degree in creative writing?

Earning an MFA in creative writing takes approximately two years. Depending on the program's structure, you may be able to continue working while earning a degree.

What can you do with a master's in creative writing?

Graduating from one of the best online master's in creative writing programs in the United States prepares you for numerous careers in the education and literary fields. However, as you strive to write and publish, you may need to take on a second job to support yourself.

How much does an MFA in creative writing cost?

Each university has its own tuition structure for graduate programs, and some schools charge out-of-state students a higher tuition rate. You can usually find detailed tuition information on a program's website. Additionally, a school may offer institutional financial aid to qualifying students.

Can I teach English with a creative writing degree?

You may have the opportunity to teach English with a creative writing degree. Some states have an alternative licensure program that allows MFA graduates to teach K-12 students, without needing to earn an additional teaching degree.

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