Fully Funded MFA Programs
Art is Expensive
Education is expensive, and a degree in art is no exception. Between the tough choices of paying back massive student loans from an undergrad degree, and financial doom of more loans from graduate school, it’s easy to say no to more school. An MFA can be an expensive degree and it’s almost never a good idea to go into a lot of debt for this degree.
But what if there were another way? What if you could go to school without having to pay tuition? What if you could get paid to go to school for an MFA? Though it may sound a bit like a pipe dream, it’s a reality.
The thing is, there are fully funded programs available out there for a wide variety of subjects—even those that fall under the “arts.” Some of the best schools in the country offer full funding as a recruitment tactic, to make it easier to attract top talent and students. Many MFA programs fully fund their students, while others will fund based solely on merit.
Of course, it’s not like they’re just handing out free money. For the school to pay for education, students have to meet stringent admission requirements. But hey, if you’re willing to work hard and go the extra step to prove that you’re hungry, there are big prizes out there.
What is Full Funding?
The School’s Side of the Deal
Getting into a fully funded MFA program is an awesome way to get an education, but it’s also a deal where both the school and the student have an obligation to fulfill. On the school’s side, that usually means waiving the cost of tuition for the student. The definition of full funding varies from school to school when it comes to MFA programs. Generally, though, schools define it as covering the cost of tuition in addition to any combination of the following:
- A modest stipend for living expenses (based on average cost of living in the area)
- Health insurance coverage
- Waives certain fees that the program may have (registration costs, health fees, student activity fees etc. )
The amount a school can award depends mainly on how much “budget” it has for the program. The number of qualified applicants and needs of individual students also play a big factor in how much is available to go around.
The reality is that some students aren’t accepted not because they aren’t qualified, but because there is no money to fund them. The other reality is that some students are accepted into programs because of the student’s own deep pockets – the school wouldn’t have to pay for the student. Because of all this, program sizes are sometimes kept quite small – 10-12 students in total.
The phrase that schools like to use when it comes to full funding is “enough to live on.” This is the amount that they think is enough to live on as a student per year and is what determines the amount they award students as a stipend. An academic stipend is designed to replace the potential income you could be earning as an employee instead of being a student.
Let’s take a look at what this means:
If an MFA program pays out $12,000 as its stipend for the year in addition to covering tuition costs, that means a student doesn’t have to worry about costs of going to school (minus the cost of textbooks and other materials) but has to worry about housing, food, and other expenses. Stipend money is supposed to be used to cover those housing, food, and other expenses.
Put another way, you’re not going to be rich off of a fully funded program, and you won’t be able to live like royalty. You’ll still have to be smart with your money, find affordable housing, and maybe eat instant ramen when the funds get low, but at least you won’t be going into MASSIVE debt.
The Student Side of the Deal
If we look at the relationship here as Cost of tuition + Stipend = Employee salary, then it makes sense that a student in a fully funded MFA program is essentially being “paid” to go to school. So what does a graduate student have to do to fulfill their end of the bargain?
- Teach undergraduate classes
- Attend conferences
- Deliver lectures
- Serve as a teacher’s assistant
- Assist with various tasks and research projects
- ….? (They can come up with some really unique/fun/crazy assignments)
And while juggling all this work, most important of all a student has to have strong grades and be a good student.
Think of it this way: The school is essentially giving you a scholarship (the part that covers the tuition) and then PAYING YOU to go to school (the stipend for living expenses). So yes, while the amount of money some of the stipends offer is kind of low to live on, it still adds up to be at least $30,000+ in value.
Fully Funded MFA Programs
There are a lot of different MFA programs in the country, but there really are only a small number that are fully funded. For your convenience, we’ve set out to put together a list of some of the best programs in the country.
John Hopkins University
John Hopkins University tops off our list as the school with the most generous teaching fellowship. At $30,500, the program is one of the most well-funded programs in the country across any discipline, let alone the arts. The two-year Master of Fine Arts in fiction and poetry offers intensive seminars focused on diverse readings, small workshops, one-on-one advising, and frequent interaction with published writers. As you’d expect from one of the top schools in the country, the program is extremely competitive to get into. Each year only four poets and four fiction writers are admitted. These lucky students are fully funded and they teach one class a semester for three semesters – giving them lots of time to refine their craft.
University of Texas – Michener Center for Writers
The MFA in writing program at the University of Texas Michener is a three-year full-time program. Students are admitted based on their main field of concentration – fiction, poetry, playwriting or screenwriting. Each admitted student receives a fellowship of $27,500 from the Michener fellowship. The late author James Michener and his wife Mari Subasawa Michener put together this fellowship to support students as they progress in their studies. Students may also apply for professional development funds to attend writing conferences, residencies fund research or travel, or to use as a summer stipend while writing a project. The money comes with a story: with each year’s incoming student class, Michener would admonish, “Don’t waste your time or my money.” Great advice even 21 years after his death.
The Creative Writing Program at Cornell University offers concentrations in poetry or fiction. As a competitive program, only eight students are admitted each year, four in each concentration. This small size allows the school to offer generous financial support packages that fully funds each student. One of the benefits of this program is that each student chooses a special committee of two faculty members who work alongside the student to design a course of study that best suits the student’s interests. All students are guaranteed two years of funding while in the program. During the first year, students are assigned a graduate assistantship with EPOCH magazine, Cornell’s publication of fiction, poetry, and more. In the second year, students are then assigned a teaching assistantship.
Rutgers University – Newark
The Rutgers University – Newark MFA program is a studio/research program that allows writers to study literature as they work to create it. This program differs from other MFA programs in that it gives students a chance to fulfill the credit requirements by choosing unique Electives Concentrations, enabling students to work in a wide range of genres. For example, those that choose Literature/Book Arts will work with photographer Nick Kline to create and design a chapbook of their own work. Performance/Media Studies gives students the chance to study writing for the stage or television with playwright Michele Rittenhouse, and urban and narrative journalism with Rob Snyder, or jazz influences with Lewis Porter. This unique approach ensures that students will have an educational experience unlike anything else in the country. Students are typically offered a Teaching Assistantship and will be required to teach composition classes.
“Creative Writing has been a vital part of the Vanderbilt English Department for nearly a century,” reads the first sentence on Vanderbilt’s website. Indeed, as one of the top-ranked and most generous programs in the country, Vanderbilt’s MFA in creative writing is designed to foster the talents of talented writers and poets. Located in Nashville, Tenessee, Vanderbilt is a melting pot of progressive Southern culture and creative energy. This program offers full funding to incoming students, but during the second year, students are given the opportunity to teach a beginner’s creative writing workshop for one semester.
Washington University in St. Louis
Stipend amount offered: $22,830
Benefits Offered: Tuition, Health insurance
This school is located where St. Louis City meets St. Louis County, right across one of the largest urban parks in the country. Washington University in St. Louis is known throughout the region as an academic powerhouse. One thing that makes this program stand out is that it is one of the few MFA programs that does not require a GRE for admissions. As a two year program of 20 to 25 students, students are encouraged to focus their studies into fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Each year, the school invites a diverse group of poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers to the department so that students can have a broad experience of different writers. The school is able to offer all new students full and equal financial aid in the form of a University Fellowship which allows students to live somewhat comfortably in a relatively inexpensive city. Additionally, there are two university-wide fellowships available that graduate students can apply for that carry a stipend of $31,296.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan has a well-proven reputation in academics and in the college sports world. The creative writing MFA is no different. The Helen Zell Writer’s program is a two year, fully funded MFA in creative writing where students focus on fiction or poetry. This program’s faculty is what makes it stand out from among other programs. They have collectively written, translated, and edited more than fifty books, and won numerous awards. But beyond accomplishments and accolades, the program really seeks to get at the heart of why writing is important – “to push back against the darkness of intolerance and injustice, to give voice to perspectives that might otherwise be silenced.” At the end of two years of courses, students must submit an MFA theses. Following a successful defense of it, students are granted a third-year residency in Ann Arbor, writing and engaging in community service work of their choice ($25,000 per fellow).
University of Illinois, Urbana – Champaign
The University of Illinois is a world-class research and teaching institution and is home to the third largest library in the country (over eight million volumes – that’s a lot of books!). The MFA program here provides students an opportunity to take classes and study from distinguished faculty. The ultimate purpose of the program is to give writers time and space to work on perfecting their art. All students accepted into the program are provided financial aid throughout the three-year program. Most of this aid comes in the form of teaching assistantships, though there are some fellowships available. However, the funding is scaled. The first year of support is set at 33% where students earn $10,586 and teach one class a semester. In the second and third years, students receive 67% appointments that take them to around $21,493. There are supplemental fellowship funds that are awarded to beef up the stipend.
University of California Irvine
University of California Irvine is one of the most popular schools to attend for residents of the southern California area. The MFA program here is designed for students that are committed to perfecting their craft. The ultimate goal of the program is for its students to write a piece of fiction or poetry that will last. Each year more than 500 applicants apply to the program, and only twelve are selected. The small size of the program ensures that students will have quality time with faculty members and receive the necessary, personalized assistance in their work. Students of this three-year program are given financial support in the form of teaching assistantships (tuition fellowships for out of state students). These students are required to teach one undergraduate composition or creative writing class per quarter for a total of three courses per academic year.
University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati is home to a thriving creative writing program that features the talents of distinguished award-winning writers. The school was originally founded in 1819, and the English graduate program at the University of Cincinnati has been an important part of it for more than 100 years, being one of the first to offer a sophisticated graduate curriculum. Students are able to focus their studies on four main areas: creative writing, literary and cultural studies, professional writing, and rhetoric and composition. Funding is based on academic credit, and the school offers a University Graduate Scholarship that awards financial aid based on academic merit. The graduate assistantship award provides a stipend in addition to a UGS award. Students will be required to teach one section of English Composition per term, with three office hours each week (in total working for approximately 20 hours per week).
University of Virginia
Stipend amount offered: $20,000
Benefits Offered: Tuition, Enrollment fees, Health insurance
Beyond being a well-recognized, distinguished program, the University of Virginia recognizes that students have a lot on their plate their first year of a new program. Between adjusting to life as a graduate student, making new friends, staying up to date with coursework, and being creative, the life of a first-year student can be demanding. To that end, the University of Virginia is one of the few programs that gives first-year students no teaching responsibilities so that students can focus on their writing. During the second year, the fellowship income drops to $10,000 from $20,000, but students earn $10,000 as teaching income for teaching one class per term (usually an introductory level creative writing workshops like Introduction to Poetry Writing or Fiction Writing). All students are funded at the same time, which means that students don’t have to re-compete for funding during their years at UVA. After the second year, students may apply for one more year of teaching support. This third year of funding will depend on performance in the MFA program, teaching evaluations, and a successfully defended thesis at the end of the second year.
University of Maryland
The MFA program at the University of Maryland is a nationally ranked program with alumni that are the recipients of many awards and fellowships. It is part of a rich literary community and shares fiction and poetry readings at nearby schools like Georgetown, Howard, John Hopkins, George Mason, George Washington, American University, the PEN/Faulkner and a variety of local bookstores. As a program designed to help aspiring writers perfect their ability to compose poems, stories, and novels, this program gives students a chance to study in intensive studios while doing practical work within their chosen genres. The MFA also requires students to study literature in order to broaden their perspectives. This is a highly competitive program. Each year only four fiction writers and four poets are admitted and fully funded by Teaching Assistantships. Typically the funding package is based on two-year completion of the program and pays a stipend of $18,100 in year one and $19,700 in year two. First-year students teach only one class, while second-year students teach three classes during their second year.
Iowa State University
The three-year MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment is unique in the academic world because it goes beyond study in creative writing – poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Instead, it emphasizes the idea that writers can identify and explore their stories in the natural world, and environmental imagination. Indeed, the program is a study of how our environments shape our worldview and in turn shape the way we interpret through stories and images. This program is a combination of creative writing workshops, literature coursework, environmental fieldwork experience, interdisciplinary studies in courses outside of English, and one-on-one work with mentors. Ames is an affordable city, so the stipend offered by the program goes a long way to have a comfortable life as a student.
University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop
The Iowa Writer’s workshop is is an MFA program that results in the submission of a creative thesis (a book of poetry, novel, or a collection of stories). This program generally accepts up to fifty students each year – 25 in fiction and 25 in poetry. Financial assistance is available to students enrolled in the program in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships. These fellowships and assistantships usually provide tuition scholarships or full tuition remission. Stipend amounts can vary based on the amount of time that students will spend in the program (for instance, a one-quarter time student will earn less than a full-time student).
University of Florida, Gainesville
The webpage for the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Florida, Gainesville greets you with a promise that if the program were half as warm and welcoming as the text on the website, you’d be happy here. As one of the oldest writing programs in the country, it is somehow one of the best-kept secrets of the academic writing world. They are ranked highly by Poets & Writers and have a very high job placement rate. This program believes that good writing comes not just from talent and practice, but also the counseling that comes between other writers. Because of this, this program seeks out students who are best suited the strengths and interests of the faculty. Students may not be the most accomplished writers, but they are accomplished in ways that the faculty can work with. Still, it’s a competitive program as more than 500 people apply each year and only six students are selected in each genre.
University of Oregon
Stipend amount offered: $18,000
Benefits Offered: Tuition, Student fee reduction, Health insurance
The creative writing program at the University of Oregon is a two-year residency with concentrations in poetry or fiction. Like many writing programs, this program emphasizes the importance of workshopping, integrating concentrated time for craft seminars and individualized reading tutorials. This is a rigorous program that is meant to challenge aspiring writers and is a program taught by faculty that went through similar rigorous apprenticeships. All incoming students are funded with a teaching appointment, meaning that they are not merely assistants to a class taught by a faculty member, but instead are the ones solely responsible for the course. First-year students teach one course per 11-week term for a total of three courses in the year (usually an introduction to fiction, poetry class). Second-year students usually teach a composition class on a similar schedule for a total of three courses in the year. 10 Graduate students are accepted by the program annually.
Purdue University’s Creative Writing Program is a place where budding artists can work on their craft and seek the mentorship of internationally renowned faculty. Ultimately it is a program that is a destination for those that are interested in careers as writers, editors, teachers, non-profit administrators, arts administrators, and more. As a three year program, that is fully funded for all of its students, it features a 3.5 to 1 student to faculty ratio – one of the best ratios in the country. Coursework is completed in the first two years, and the third year is dedicated to working on the thesis. Students are required to teach one course per semester, and after the first year of the program, students have the opportunity to teach additional courses to receive pay beyond the normal base stipend (base stipend is $13,000 for ten months).
Louisiana State University
Located near the vibrant city of New Orleans, the MFA program at Louisiana State University is a three-year, generously funded program that is home to writers seeking to push their writing abilities. In a program designed for students to work closely with faculty, students are encouraged to find their unique voice as they work to write in traditional, hybrid, and new media genres. This MFA program encourages students to also seek learning outside of just English and literature. It emphasizes critical discussions about arts and culture, politics and history, and a wide variety of topics. MFA students are awarded a teaching assistantship and are only required to each one class per semester. One of the true benefits of attending this program is its location. Because New Orleans and Baton Rouge are considered by many as unique American cultural and artistic hubs, students are able to participate in many celebrations of art throughout the year.
Syracuse University is home to a three year MFA program that gives up and coming writers an opportunity to learn and hone their craft as well as practice their art with other artists. This program is known for having a close-knit community that is genuinely concerned with helping each other grow in their artistic endeavors. It is a competitive program to get into, however. Only six poets and six fiction writers are admitted each year. But these twelve students get to work closely with eight full-time faculties, and at least one renowned visiting writer each year. Each student is awarded a full tuition scholarship and a stipend – though some of these scholarships are configured to include teaching classes in the Writing Program. Ultimately, the belief of Syracuse University is that students should not be laden down with massive student loan payments when they graduate. “Talen, not wealth, is the sole prerequisite for admission.”
University of Arizona
Stipend amount offered: $16,120 (with master’s degree) $14,808 (no master’s degree)
Benefits Offered: Tuition, Health Insurance
Does not cover: Books, Course Fees
The University of Arizona prides itself on being a future thinking university, with a focus on the world of tomorrow. They’re a school that’s fully aware of the role that creative writing and the humanities play in the fabric of society. To that end, the MFA program in Creative Writing is a fully funded three-year program that offers students the opportunity for research and travel. Students can focus their studies on three different genres – poetry, fiction and nonfiction – and are encouraged to work across genres. Generally, students are offered a graduate teaching assistantship position teaching one or two sections of first-year writing (or creative writing) to undergraduates and are eligible to receive additional awards, funding, and research grants.
University of Miami
University of Miami’s MFA program is a two-year program with a third-year option. As a program that prides itself in being located in a metropolis of polyglot communities, this program places special emphasis on multilingual craft and gives writers a unique opportunity to hone their abilities in a vibrant multicultural city. This multicultural, multilingual approach allows students to write from different linguistic modalities such as regional dialects, slang, and technical jargon. Students are encouraged to go beyond superficial language patterns and to really delve into the unique culture and history of different linguistic backgrounds. The James Michener Fellowships and Teaching Assistantships support all graduate students in the program. MFA students are required to teach one section of Introduction to Creative Writing per semester during their second year of the program. During the optional third year, students are required to teach two sections of composition per semester and will receive faculty mentorship towards professional development.
Arizona State University
Stipend amount offered: $15,000 (per year)
Benefits offered: Tuition waiver, health insurance
Arizona State University is well known for its MFA program and has the acclaimed faculty and award-winning alumni to show for it. Through small classes, intimate workshops, and one on one mentoring, students are encouraged to push their writing abilities in a number of different genres. When students are admitted to the program and submit a teacher assistantship application they are awarded a teaching assistantship and stipend. Each teaching assistantship carries a three course per year load. Students in Arizona State University’s MFA program must enroll in a minimum of six credit hours each semester. Students of the program also have additional opportunities to receive creative research fellowships, attend conferences like the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference, moderate panels at conferences, and more.
University Of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
Stipend amount offered: $13,500
Benefits Offered: Tuition, Health Insurance
Does not cover: Books, Course Fees
The creative writing MFA program located at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is a mix of workshops, forms courses, literature classes that opens students’ minds to experimenting with different styles of writing. Beyond the MFA program, students come to the University of Alabama because they know that UA is one of the most respected schools in the state. Founded in 1820, UA is the oldest and largest of the public universities in Alabama. This program guarantees up to four years of full financial support. Students that are accepted into the program automatically qualify for graduate assistantships which also includes a stipend of $13,140 paid over nine months. All incoming students are also automatically considered for additional financial awards including “Graduate Council Fellowships, McNair Fellowships, and Truman Capote Scholarships.
University of Arkansas
Stipend amount offered: $12,000 (per year for students with BA) $12,600 (with MA or equivalent)
Benefits offered: Tuition waiver
This university overlooking the Ozark mountains has been home to academics for more than 140 years. Students that are accepted into the University of Arkansas MFA program are required to teach two courses each semester, though students only teach one course in the fourth year of their program. As a well-funded program, nearly all students of the program are award teacher assistantships. Students also have the opportunity to compete each year for several Walton Fellowships of $14,000 and several James T. Whitehead and Lily Peter Fellowships of $1,000 or greater. On top of this, fellowships worth $4,000 per year for up to four years may be awarded for academically qualified candidates. In other words, do well in your classes and earn money. Translation students that are working on Middle-Eastern languages are also eligible for non-teaching fellowships of $12,000 per year.