Practical or Creative?
March 21, 2012 1:23 PM   Subscribe

MPA or M.S. Writing? More useful, or more engaging? I'm at a point where I am thinking about my advanced degree choices, and would love some input and advice.

I currently work as a grantwriter/development officer for a well-known, well-supported, independent non-profit. I learn every day that I'm on the job, and I truly enjoy the majority of what I do; in particular the grantwriting. I'm good at it, and have had noted success (knock on wood). I'm giving thought to career decisions now, long before I make any actual choices. For example, I am staying at this organization for a minimum of 3 years, open-ended maximum.

If I want to move to the top of the ladder, in this field, I would look to be a Director of Development, or an Executive Director. I understand that that is where money, recognition, and career "success" lies. To do this, I would need a masters, and most likely an MPA in Nonprofit Management. A great state university in my city offers this degree. No brainer, right?

Except... that I really truly love grantwriting. I know it will never make the figures that directing would, but it's something I enjoy. I don't care about recognition other than a reputation for good, solid work. I have given some serious thought in pursuing a writing masters. It would absolutely hone my current skills for my job, and I could see it lending a beneficial impact overall to the way I think and communicate. But I can't shake the feeling that it's self-indulgent and "not as useful". It's my masters, and I wouldn't want to screw it up.

For some context, I have a B.S. in Economics.
posted by thatbrunette to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have an MPA and there are MPA programs in grantwriting I think, or at least there are definitely ways to make your MPA grantwriting-centric. I'm not sure the writing degree would help much in that way, honestly. Maybe improve your storytelling a bit. As you said, there may be other nonwork benefits to a writing degree. But for the money, I think some sort of MPA degree would make more sense.

Do you have a mentor at work or in your field that you could talk to about this?
posted by postel's law at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

To complete my thought, to me the MPA degree would make more sense while advancing both possible career tracks.
posted by postel's law at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2012

The MPA is going to give you a lot more credibility and help in your career. Most MPA programs are writing-heavy, and some offer specific grantwriting courses.

I honestly think nobody should get a master's degree of any kind in writing unless they want to teach writing and need that credential for that purpose, or unless the degree program is fully funded and they have a clear-cut plan for how they're going to use their time and complete specific projects. And I say this as a professional editor and writer, mind you. Also someone who used to work in non-profit development, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:38 PM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look at it this way:

Grantwriting is what you love. Being able to do what you love as a career is one of the best definitions of "success" that I know of.

So what if you can't make the same amount of money that being a development director would. Both of those make less money than being a doctor, say, but you're not considering being a doctor because you don't want to do that. So if "I'd make more money" isn't enough of an argument for you to become a doctor, I'm not sure why it'd be a good enough argument for you to give up grantwriting.

Grantwriting is what you love. Go for it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on March 21, 2012

If you do decide to stay with grantwriting, you don't need an MS or an MFA or an MA in writing. I would still recommend the MPA because it will give you both refereed practice in writing about relevant topics and insight into relevant issues, and will be a much bigger "bang" for your resume as a grantwriter than would a master's in writing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really truly love grantwriting. I know it will never make the figures that directing would, but it's something I enjoy. I don't care about recognition other than a reputation for good, solid work.

That's how you feel today, and that will probably be how you feel next year. There's no telling if you'll feel the same way in 5-10 years. The MPA can be focused on grantwriting, and you don't have to move beyond grantwriting if you don't want to. And if you decide you want to go the director route in 10 years, you can leverage your MPA to do it.
posted by deanc at 2:41 PM on March 21, 2012

I'm a Glorified Grant Writer in Higher Ed in the PNW. I wished I loved it like you do.

You really don't need an MS in Writing to continue to be a Grant Writer or advance in the grant writing world. It might be a nice thing if you're looking to get into grant writing, make some connections, get a little boost in the job market - but grant writing jobs are more about your track record (and who you know). An MS won't get you nearly as far as just being able to say "I raised such and such for this project" or "I raised x% of my annual goal" etc.

For example, the MS in Professional Writing with a focus in Grant Writing at Portland State - I'm sure it's a great degree and I myself have looked into it. But the professor who heads up the grant aspect of the program is involved in all sorts of grant stuff around town, is very accessible, and you would get just as much from going to some of his workshops or having coffee occasionally with him as you will probably from investing money in an MS. I don't know if you're in Portland or somewhere else in the PNW, but I'm sure the situation is similar. If you aren't already, get involved with your local chapter of the Grant Professionals Association (the Seattle one is more active than the Portland one), do some professional development through them if you like.

The sort of up-and-coming credential for grant writers is the GPC, which, while still not remotely necessary, will get you farther as far as a credential goes than an MS in writing (if you want to write grants).

And I feel you on the grant writing. I don't love being a grant writer, but I'll take it any day over being a DD or ED, even though the money will never be as great.

Please feel free to MeMail me with any other questions or thoughts about this, as I've given it some anxious thought as well.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:13 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

That said, if grad school is what you want, like others have said, you're better off going with the MPA for sure. It just opens up options.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:14 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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