Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Creative Writing

If you’re a writer seeking to refine your skills, a master’s degree in creative writing may be a suitable choice. Bestselling authors and writing professionals of all kinds have used this degree to launch their careers. Numerous colleges offer master’s in fine arts programs as an incubator of young writing talent. In addition to learning from award-winning instructors, these programs offer extensive networking opportunities with talented people in the field, peer recognition, and curriculum to develop raw ideas into marketable books. Renowned authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Sandra Cisneros, and Chad Harbach all boast MFA degrees — with the latter receiving a $650,000 advance for his first novel.

Several other professions require excellent writing skills as well, including journalism, public relations, and technical writing. In other words, even if a best-selling book isn’t your goal, an MFA is easily translatable to occupations in need of a writer’s specialized talents. According to Payscale, the median annual wage for a writer is $48,000 per year, depending on location and experience. Some positions pay much more. Payscale notes that technical writing, for example, has a median wage of $57,000 per year.

On this page we provide all the information you will need to select an online creative writing degree program, from the courses in each program and career paths, to salary expectations and ways to fund your education.

Master’s in Creative Writing Online Degrees at a Glance

Time to Complete Students complete the program in two-three years if enrolled full-time.
Credit Hours 18-24 credits per year
Concentrations Fiction, nonfiction, screenplay, poetry, technical writing
Accreditation Institutional accreditation via a regional or national organization
Additional Considerations Online creative writing programs have low-residency requirements, in which students are required to stay on campus between one weekend to several weeks over the course of study, including workshops, writing seminars, etc.

The Most Affordable Colleges

7 Most Affordable Online Master's Degrees in Creative Writing
Rank School Score Toggle Content
1

The University of Texas at El Paso

Value Score 8.72
Average Tuition $4,336
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 36%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $241

Students from anywhere in the world can earn an online English master’s degree at The University of Texas at El Paso. UTEP is a global leader in distance education, and the school offers an affordable MFA in creative writing entirely online. The curriculum includes 14 online courses with an emphasis on workshop learning. In addition to workshops, students will receive a foundational education in theory and form through intensive literature courses. The program concludes with a thesis project where graduates produce a publishable manuscript in poetry or fiction. Graduates also leave the program qualified to teach English and creative writing courses at the collegiate level. Applicants must submit a writing sample and have earned a bachelor’s degree to be considered. This program places no limits on the number of students who can be accepted in any given application cycle.


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2

University of Arkansas at Monticello

Value Score 8.31
Average Tuition $4,590
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 72%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $255

UAM is known for its affordability, permitting students from several states to pay in-state tuition. The online MFA program at UAM emphasizes creative writing, critical thinking, and literary analysis. The 48-credit curriculum includes an extensive writer workshop where students discuss writing and literature with their peers in group critiques and receive feedback from their faculty mentor. Each student is accepted into one of three genres: fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. Students have the opportunity to attend pre-approved writers conferences anywhere in the world as a part of their 18 credits of electives. In the final thesis course, students will produce a book-length manuscript that must be deemed publishable by their faculty mentor and another faculty member. Students can use UAM’s writing center for free writing suggestions and support throughout the program. Students can move through the program at their own pace, as long as they take at least three credit hours per academic term.


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3

National University

Value Score 7.94
Average Tuition $10,962
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 79%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $406

The San Diego-based National University has 18 campuses around the U.S. and offers several affordable online degrees. With classes in nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and screenwriting, National’s online creative writing degree is designed for students who want to break into publishing and filmmaking, or teach creative writing at the university level. Students can expect to study the practical and theoretical aspects of language, rhetoric, literary format, and narrative techniques. National’s program stands out for its specialization in screenwriting, a rarity among other creative writing curriculums. The curriculum provides students a strong background in all types of writing and emphasizes reading from a writer’s perspective. Students are encouraged to choose literature courses for their electives, as the critical study of literature and its composition go hand-in-hand. Students can gain experience by contributing to the GNU, the student literary journal, during the program.


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4

Lindenwood University

Value Score 6.53
Average Tuition $15,672
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 20%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $453

Lindenwood University, a private school based out of Saint Charles, Missouri, offers a cheap online creative writing degree to students around the world. Lindenwood offers online and evening classes, which allows students to earn an MFA in creative writing on a busy schedule without sacrificing the advantages of studying at a university. Students in Lindenwood’s MFA in creative writing can complete the program on-campus or completely online and can specialize their studies in fiction, journalism, screenwriting, literary nonfiction, novel writing, genre fiction poetry, and more. The program provides a foundational education in writing fundamentals and workshopping, as well as “selected emphasis” courses and electives that can be tailored to a student’s interests. Online and on-campus MFA students work collaboratively with the same faculty, who are published authors, writers, and journalists. The curriculum includes 48 credit hours and a thesis project where students will create a 70–100 page manuscript. Students also have the opportunity to serve as editorial assistants for the school’s Lindenwood Review literary journal.


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5

Bennington College

Value Score 5.33
Average Tuition $19,540
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 87%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $1,983

Vermont’s Bennington College has produced many famous writers, including Bret Easton Ellis, Kiran Desai, Donna Tartt, and Michael Pollan. Bennington’s online English master’s degree encourages students to become a part of this rich tradition. Started in 1994, this program was one of the first online MFAs in the country. This low-residency program requires a 10-day residency at the scenic Bennington campus, and all other classes are offered online. Students can focus their studies in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry; they can also combine any two for a dual-genre focus. Bennington emphasizes reading and mentorship, and students consistently work closely with established writers. The program’s 5-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio makes it easy for mentors to spend quality time with all of their students. Students can take advantage of several scholarships to make this program even more affordable, including PEN’s Emerging Writers Fellows.


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6

Bay Path University

Value Score 5.29
Average Tuition $20,385
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 29%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $755

Bay Path University is a leader in online education. Bay Path made history in 2015 by founding The American Women’s College, the first fully-online degree program designed just for women. The school offers 22 distance learning programs, including a master's in writing online. The 39-credit online MFA in creative nonfiction can be completed either full- or part-time and is available completely online. Bay Path uses small class sizes to help students develop personal relationships with their peers. Establishing this rapport with professors and peers is crucial for having successful writing workshop. Unlike other online creative writing degrees, Bay Path gives students the opportunity to pursue several disciplines, including travel writing, food writing, magazine writing, journalism, memoir writing, and more. Bay Path students have the option to attend a summer writing seminar in Ireland. The one week stay in the seaside town of Dingle includes writing workshops with Irish writers and alumni of the MFA in creative writing program.


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7

Wilkes University

Value Score 5.13
Average Tuition $21,600
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 69%
Number of Online Programs 1
Part-time cost per credit hour $970

Wilkes University is a versatile option for students seeking to earn a master’s in writing online. The school’s MA/MFA in creative writing covers several areas of study, including fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, creative nonfiction, publishing, and documentary filmmaking. The filmmaking aspects of the curriculum make this MFA program particularly distinctive. This program has two convenient formats: low-residency and weekender. The low-residency format is hosted mostly online with two eight-day campus residencies in January and June. The weekender option substitutes those campus residencies with four weekend sessions per semester. These in-person components include visits from guest speakers, networking opportunities, and collaboration with peers, faculty, and writing experts. Applicants should note the importance of writing samples in the application packet. The school’s websites states quite clearly that “90% of acceptance decisions are based on your writing sample.” Wilkes hosts the Pennsylvania Writers Conference, an annual gathering of readers and writers designed to engage, empower, and educate the literary community. This conference is a popular professional development and networking resources for students in the MFA.


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What Will I Learn in My Online Master’s in Creative Writing Program?

Sample Courses

Students in a master’s in creative writing can expect to do a lot of reading (i.e. fiction, nonfiction, poetry) as they engage in comparative study that dissects and understands the narrative form of an established writer. As they develop their craft, students will be expected to participate in workshops, seminars, and other forums, and create a culminating novel, book of poetry, or screenplay.

Form and theory of fiction/nonfiction

Students study narrative form by becoming familiar with the works of narrative theorists; and examine the structure, conventions, and functions of narrative in fiction, nonfiction, and many other genres.

Advanced literature

Students engage the works of well-known authors to deconstruct plot, characterization, style, language, etc., in fiction and/or nonfiction.

Writing young adult literature

The market for YA fiction has never been greater, and students may be required to read and evaluate works by YA authors for themes, structure, plot, etc., and may be expected to write sample chapters to demonstrate genre proficiency.

Teaching creative writing

Some MFAs go on to teach writing as adjuncts and tenured professors. Students examine various writing pedagogies such as developing a lesson plan and engaging in critical analysis, and learn to navigate the academic job market.

Publishing

Students explore the intricacies of this career path, and may get hands-on experience through internships at a school publishing enterprise or publishing house.

Travel writing

Some MFA programs immerse students in foreign countries and environments, and are invited to write from a different socio-cultural or political context.

Concentrations

When a student enrolls in an online creative writing degree, they may already know which specialization interests them. Each program will have its own concentrations, but a focus on fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are standard among MA/MFA programs. The concentration a student selects will determine his or her career path, so it is vital that prospective students carefully consider which option most closely aligns with one’s talents and career aspirations.

Fiction

A class of literature in which all or most of the narrative is contrived in the imagination of the author, and includes many sub-genres, such as literary, science fiction, fantasy, and detective.

Nonfiction

In this area of fiction, the author objectively or subjectively writes about events, places, and/or people based on what the author believes to be factual information.

Screenplay

Writers develop scripts for mass media such as television and feature films. These are often commissioned or pitched by the screenwriter. Though the same conventions of fiction and nonfiction writing apply, screenwriting has its own formatting requirements.

Poetry

From Dante to Rumi, poets are known for their employment of devices such as alliteration, assonance, and rhythm. Some colleges and other institutions have poets-in-residence, a position that MFA graduates can pursue in addition to teaching.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Creative Writing Graduates

Master’s in Creative Writing Careers

Specialized writing skills are in demand throughout a variety of occupations. Organizations need talent to develop content in print and online, and handle specialized work like marketing and technical writing. Using information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have identified six occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and where an advanced degree in creative writing may give candidates an edge. Since there is no shortage of applicants with baccalaureate degrees competing for these positions, an online master’s in creative writing degree demonstrates an advanced competency and mastery of the subject. In turn, this can lead to a clear advantage in the hiring process, and upward mobility and pay increases once on the job.

  • Author: An online creative writing degree prepares you to conceptualize and develop books, stories, brochures, website materials, biographies, and other publications for publishing houses, magazines, colleges, governmental agencies, and corporations. Authors can also become screenwriters, developing scripts for television and movies that are either commissioned or pitched by the author.
  • Journalist: Using interviews, investigations, and other information-gathering methods, journalists generate articles that interpret the facts about news events. They work with editors to develop stories that are relevant to their audience, and publish in newspapers, magazines, online, and even radio and television. Candidates must be sensitive to deadlines, inquisitive, and not afraid to ask hard questions.
  • Technical Writer: Often salaried employees, technical writers work to synthesize complex, technical information into readable, jargon-free material used by the public, such as manuals and instruction guides. They may also work in environments where they gather and communicate technical information among technical staff such as engineers, production workers, and manufacturers. As a result, technical writers require an ability to comprehend, translate, and relate complex information via prose.
  • Editor: Working primarily with writers and reporters, editors refine the work of content creators by ensuring an adherence to style guides. This may include correcting grammar, syntax, spelling errors, and structural issues, while also assisting writers with the development of story ideas. While editors have traditionally worked in print, the proliferation of online content has created a strong demand for these positions.
  • Advertising/Marketing Specialist: Advertising and marketing specialists work in ad agencies or organizations to develop messaging campaigns for products and services. Brand development and promotion is central to a company’s bottom line, and developing an effective marketing and messaging strategy relies on creative communication of a brand’s message.
  • Public Relations: Organizations of all sizes need effective messaging that maintains and promotes a positive image to the public. A public relations manager is skilled at oral and written communications, plans and manages campaigns, develops accurate and persuasive press releases, and works closely with managers/executives to ensure appropriate messaging to the press.
Position Degree Level Required Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Author Bachelor’s $61,240 2%
Journalist Bachelor’s $38,870 -9%
Technical Writer Bachelor’s $69,850 10%
Editor Bachelor’s $57,210 -5%
Advertising Bachelor’s $127,560 9%
Public Relations Bachelor’s $58,020 6%
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Master’s in Creative Writing Salary

Depending upon where you live, investing in an online creative writing degree can result in a well-paying career. While writers are needed at organizations in every part of the country, those who live — or willing to move to — larger metropolitan areas are more likely to secure employment with higher pay. The following table shows the five highest paying states in the nation for writers/authors. However, candidates with a master’s degree in creative writing with a portfolio that demonstrates their talent have better employment opportunities no matter where they live.

Top 5 highest-paying U.S. states for authors and writers
State Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
District of Columbia $47.10 $97,970
California $46.11 $95,920
New York $39.93 $83,060
Maryland $38.51 $80,110
Colorado $35.90 $74,660
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, May 2016

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Creative Writing Degrees

When choosing a school, it is important that you choose one that is institutionally accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency such as the Higher Learning Commission or Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The accreditation of institutions of higher education is done periodically and involves a rigorous examination that includes the data collection, site visits, faculty and student interviews, and more. These accrediting bodies ensure each institution is held to a high standard.

In addition to institutional accreditation, schools also may hold programmatic accreditation. For instance, art and design programs can be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, while education programs are accredited by organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children. While writing programs do not have program-specific accreditation, make certain that the school you select has current institutional accreditation.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Creative Writing Degrees

When choosing a school, it is important that you choose one that is institutionally accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency such as the Higher Learning Commission or Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The accreditation of institutions of higher education is done periodically and involves a rigorous examination that includes the data collection, site visits, faculty and student interviews, and more. These accrediting bodies ensure each institution is held to a high standard.

In addition to institutional accreditation, schools also may hold programmatic accreditation. For instance, art and design programs can be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, while education programs are accredited by organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children. While writing programs do not have program-specific accreditation, make certain that the school you select has current institutional accreditation.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Creative Writing Program

Funding school tuition can be accomplished by federal, state, or private loans, via grants and scholarships, and some schools offer payment plans that allow you to pay as you go. Applying for federal loans can be a complicated process, and prospective students should complete a FAFSA form to fully understand federal funding opportunities like scholarships, loans, grants and work-study.

UNIGO Education Dynamics $10,000

Creative writing contest is issued annually to anyone who can answer a predetermined question. Winners are judged on writing, creativity, originality, and excellence.

  • Scholarship Deadline: Dec 31, 2017
  • Eligibility Requirements: Must be a US resident or citizen enrolled, or will be enrolled, at an accredited postsecondary institution. This year, you must answer in 140 characters or less: “Surprise! You just got elected president. What’s your first tweet?”

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U.S. Naval institute $1,500-$5,000

Each year a new topic is chosen by USNI and is the basis for its essay contest. Award amounts are specifically $5,000; $2,500; and $1,500.

  • Scholarship Deadline: Sept. 30, 2017
  • Eligibility Requirements: Must have an interest in military issues. You are required to submit an essay on a predetermined topic. It is open to both amateur and professional writers. This may be of special interest to aspiring technical writers.

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Writer's Digest $2,500

Short story writers are invited to submit their works of fiction to the Popular Fiction Awards contest.

  • Scholarship Deadline: Oct. 16, 2017
  • Eligibility Requirements: Must be a student and have an interest in writing popular fiction in a category such as crime; science fiction/fantasy; thriller; or young adult.

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BOA Editions $1,500

The A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize is awarded to a poet who has written their first book.

  • Scholarship Deadline: Nov. 30, 2017
  • Eligibility Requirements: Submit a poetry manuscript that is between 48 and 100 pages in length.

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Hakka Foundation $1,000

The Writers’ Square Scholarship program offers 45 awards annually to students.

  • Scholarship Deadline: Sept. 30, 2017
  • Eligibility Requirements: Graduate students are eligible to apply and must submit an essay on pre-determined topic.

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