Please help me overcome my congential elitism.
February 28, 2007 3:51 PM   Subscribe

What do you know about the M.A. in Writing program at DePaul University or about such programs in general?

I have decided that for reasons of both career advancement and personal development, I would like to earn a masters degree in writing.

I live and work in Chicago, so doing this at DePaul would be convenient. Such programs in writing with a choice of focus (as opposed to degrees specifically in creative writing, journalism, etc.) seem to be somewhat rare. I think the next closest one is at Illinois State.

The DePaul curriculum looks great to me. However, a few things about the program give me some pause. (1) A thesis is not required as part of the degree. This makes me think the program may not be as rigorous as some others. Shouldn't a writing program, particularly one as heavy in compositional theory as DePaul's seems to be, involve the creation of a substantial piece of work? (2) Neither GRE scores nor letters of recommendation are required for admission. This suggests that they are not very discerning in the admissions process, although I realize the applicant pool may be somewhat self-selecting. (3) I grew up with a very elitist mentality about brand-name education, and part of me can't help but think that I might be better served in the programs at places like Johns Hopkins or Carnegie Mellon for no reason other than general reputation.

My future goals are not set, but I envision perhaps writing or editing creative or scholarly nonfiction or working for magazines.

Narcissistic background: I am a copy editor at a highly regarded university press, did well at a prestigious undergraduate institution, and have a fairly high opinion of myself. Thus, my questions are twain:

1. How does the DePaul program compare to other similar programs? Will I be challenged? Will it prepare me well? I have had no success in finding objective comparisons of programs in this degree.

2. Regardless of the content of the program itself, would I benefit more later by virtue of having a piece of paper from a better known school?

Thanks in advance. I guess I could also benefit from any general comments about the concept of graduate work in professional writing. I do think it's a pretty good choice for me right now.
posted by zadermatermorts to Education (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A family member did an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, which I understand is the most prestigious creative writing course in the UK, although UEA is not the most prestigious university. He's published novels since. Although there were big names (Andrew Motion) teaching the course, and a substantial piece of writing was part of the assessed course, my relative says that the main benefit to him of the course was time to write. The other advantage of a well-known course is that agents and publishers will be more interested in your work - there may even be arrangements for agents to look at your work as part of the course.

This isn't a direct answer to either of your questions (and what's with twain, by the way? Is it an American or regional use, or just a favourite of yours?), but from his experience I think you should look at the detail of the course - and, particularly, whether it's known (are you aware of writers who graduated from it? Do you see it mentioned in the press in the way the UEA MA is?) - rather than getting too hung up on the institution.
posted by paduasoy at 4:23 PM on February 28, 2007

My impression was that typically MAs in writing are a form of qualification to teach writing, rather than a requirement to become a professional writer.

You could ask at the Chronicle of Higher Education forums (the link goes to the grad school forum). Someone there may know more about the program, or comparable programs, or where to find comparative ratings.

Another piece of general advice: don't go into debt to finance a graduate degree, if that degree won't get you the money to pay off the debt. (See this recent thread for some comments on this.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:24 PM on February 28, 2007

A friend of mine spent a year in the poetry program at Columbia -- top shelf, certainly. She left after a year not because of the quality of the program but because she was going into debt à la LobserMItten's advice.

The point being, the Depaul program is both relatively affordable and fits with your current employment, so it sounds like a reasonable idea to me, compared with dropping out of a more prestigious program. Of course, having a job may slightly defeat the having-time-to-write angle of writing school, but see again LobMit.
posted by xueexueg at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2007

I toddled over to their website. Terminal MA programs frequently don't require GREs, so that's not especially unusual. No letters of recommendation? That's...different. There's a portfolio requirement, so they're doing quality control at that level of admissions. exit requirements of any sort--no exam or thesis? In a writing program?

I'd contact the graduate coordinator/director and ask about the program's target audience. Are they dealing with teachers? People who go on to professional writing gigs of some sort in the Chicago area? Business/tech writers? Can they give you placement information?

Ultimately, it's a matter of your own needs and goals. If you want to go on for a Ph.D. in rhet/comp (or anything else, for that matter), I'd suggest going elsewhere. As for the editing world, you might want to start googling editors at the kind of journal that interests you, and see what their backgrounds look like.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:54 PM on February 28, 2007

Do you want to teach writing at some point in the future? That's the only reason I can see for getting an advanced degree in writing.

I have several friends with MFAs in poetry or creative writing. Completely useless. It got them nothing except that piece of paper, which in turn gets them nothing.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:59 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was on the verge of entering an MFA program in Creative Writing a couple of years ago, and pulled out at teh last minute after thinking things through. Like people have said, the benefits of the degree are that you can teach, that you get a touch more cred when submitting to agents or publishers, and that you get a couple of years to focus on writing. But each of these benefits have pretty big downsides:

With teaching, there are lots more MFAs/MAs being awarded than there are teaching jobs available, so be ready to fight like hell for any opening, and don't expect tenure any time soon.

With submitting to agents or publishers, yeah, you'll have an edge. But it's a small one, and the number of people who make a living writing literary fiction is vanishingly small (I have a friend who's sort of a best-case poster boy for post-MFA success, and I think the proceeds from his last book were small enough that they were pretty much eaten up with the purchase of a new laptop).

Two years of focussing on writing is nice, but remember: it's going to involve a lot of workshops, which means a lot of bullshit (it's not that workshops are totally useless, but-- at least for the ones I've been in-- their signal-to-noise ratio is on the order of Yahoo Answers).

If working for magazines is your goal, ditch the grad school plan and just start freelancing. it's really not that hard if you're persistent, polite, and have basic writing skills (although be advised that freelancing is no bed of roses, either; I'm three months into an ongoing battle to get paid for an article that ran last year, and this is with an allegedly reputable magazine). A grad degree might help snag a job editing creative or scholarly nonfiction, but even then it's editing experience they'd want, not an MA or MFA.
posted by COBRA! at 7:28 AM on March 1, 2007

Thanks. To clear a few things up, I am definitely not a fiction or poetry writer, although I do like the idea that I could dabble with creative writing as part of my degree. I would probably focus in what they call professional and technical writing.

I also have no plans to teach writing, although I could perhaps imagine further study of rhetoric, etc., if I fell in love with it. I am interested in how-to-be-a-better-writer. Is that not actually something I can expect to learn? I'd be sad to hear that.

In reply to thomas j wise, there is no thesis, but there are qualification exams.

I will check out the forums LobsterMitten recommended.
posted by zadermatermorts at 8:34 AM on March 1, 2007

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