The Best Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

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Creative writing programs are ideal for students who love writing and aspire to make a living through the craft. These programs prepare students for careers as writers and authors; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for these creative professionals will increase 8% between 2016 and 2026. Earning a master’s in creative writing online prepares individuals to become authors and to enter related fields, such as technical writing. The BLS projects that jobs for technical writers will increase 11% by 2026.

Many professionals in this field take advantage of the growing number of remote positions available. According to Gallup data, 43% of employees reported completing work assignments at home in 2016. Writing careers lend themselves to remote work, since professionals can easily write from home and submit assignments digitally. Earning a master’s in writing online prepares students for remote work through virtual correspondence and coursework.

This page explores common careers and salary expectations for graduates with an online creative writing master’s degree. This guide also covers professional organizations for writers, school accreditation, and characteristics of the best online creative writing master’s programs.

Online Master’s in Creative Writing Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

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We selected the master’s programs below based on each individual program’s quality, types of available courses, faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation. This ranking also considers each school’s reputation for providing effective online programs.

The Best Online Master’s in Creative Writing Degree Programs

1
Harvard University
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4

The University of Texas at El Paso 

El Paso, TX

About this school

The second oldest school in the University of Texas system, UTEP opened in 1914 and now serves a student body of over 25,000. UTEP offers a variety of academic programs, including 74 master’s degrees, with many programs offered entirely online. UTEP also boasts some of the lowest costs for research universities in the United States, making it an affordable option for students to pursue higher education at a Carnegie R1 institution.

UTEP delivers a master’s in creative writing online with no residency requirements. The 48–credit program includes 14 courses and generally takes students around three years to complete. Upon completing the 14 required courses, students then enroll in a minimum of six thesis hours to complete their graduate thesis project.

Although online students do not need to attend campus, they may choose to participate in up to three courses on campus during their program. While studying in the program, students take courses in the form and technique of various genres, as well as literature courses in topics like the history of the short story, writing about music, and writing comics.

Bilingual students in UTEP’s program may elect to submit their written creative work in Spanish; however, course discussions and readings are in English. UTEP requires no test scores to apply, but applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Students entering the master of fine arts in creative writing program at UTEP may not transfer in any graduate credits toward the degree.

Graduation Rate
41%
5

National University 

La Jolla, CA

About this school

National University, originally founded in 1971 by a retired Navy captain, now serves as the largest private nonprofit institution in San Diego. National aims to serve adult learners and offer accessible, affordable degree options for students anywhere in the world. National offers more than 100 academic programs on–campus and online, delivered in a unique four–week format for each course. In addition to attending classes online and at National’s home campus in San Diego, learners can also take in–person courses at more than 20 locations around California and Nevada.

Learners looking for the best online creative writing master’s programs can find one at National in their fully online MFA. The program requires no residency and consists of 58.5 quarter units that emphasize workshops and courses in the form and craft of writing. Learners can choose to specialize in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or screenwriting.

Elective options include topics in writing for young adults, literary theory, multicultural literature, and composition pedagogy. Students must take a minimum of nine thesis hours upon completion of other coursework. Each student’s thesis project entails a substantial collection or body of work in their chosen genre emphasis.

Courses in this program span two months each to allow for more intensive writing practice and workshop activity. The university offers rolling admissions to allow students to apply and begin the program at any point during the year. National also works to provide tuition discounts and special scholarships to veterans and active members of the military.

Graduation Rate
42%
6

University of Arkansas at Monticello 

Monticello, AR

About this school

Opened in 1910 as the Fourth District Agricultural School, UAM became an official part of the University of Arkansas system in 1971. Now, the university serves over 3,000 students across three unique campuses, maintaining small class sizes with 15 students per faculty member. UAM offers more than 68 academic programs, including six graduate degrees, with five delivered entirely online. UAM embraces a holistic approach in education, aiming to support students on all levels as they pursue postsecondary degrees.

The master of fine arts in creative writing program at UAM emphasizes the university’s holistic tenants, aiming to enable students to think both critically and creatively and to hone communication skills. The 48–credit program offers students the option to specialize in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. Students pursue coursework at their own pace, taking as few as one course or as many as four courses each semester.

The program encourages students to take courses in all genres, as opposed to staying only within their specialization. Students may also pursue one–credit electives, allowing them to explore even more topics. This non–residency, fully online program also offers a few graduate assistantship opportunities for students to teach online courses in freshman composition.

Applicants to the program must write and submit an essay regarding their personal literary influences, their background in writing and literature, and reasons for pursuing the MFA. The application also requires samples of creative work, along with a critical writing sample.

Graduation Rate
23%
7

Bennington College 

Bennington, VT

About this school

This program is a low–residency writing seminar program.

Bennington College in Vermont began in 1932 as an experiment in teaching practices intended to explore new and progressive methods for instruction in higher education. The private, nonprofit institution provides students of all levels with graduate–style, one–on–one attention and advising from professors. The school also requires all undergraduate students to pursue an internship. Bennington offers a variety of graduate programs and seminars created to allow graduate students a great deal of freedom over their educations.

Bennington features a master’s in creative writing online. The 64–credit degree generally takes about two years to complete, with two required ten–day residencies on campus each year. Much of the coursework in the program involves the exchange of original student work, crafting thoughtful responses, and engaging in discussions of form and craft both inside and outside of residency workshops.

Students can study in a major and minor genre and may elect to pursue a dual–genre degree. The degree culminates in a final fifth residency at the end of all coursework and the completion of a formal thesis project in each student’s major genre. Graduate students work one on one with faculty mentors during the program at an individualized pace.

Prospective students must submit an application for the single or dual–genre program option. Supplemental application materials include a personal essay, samples of creative work, and three letters of recommendation. Bennington offers some scholarships and grants for creative writing students.

Graduation Rate
67%
8

Wilkes University 

Wilkes-Barre, PA

About this school

This program is a low–residency writing seminar program.

Located just west of the Poconos Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania, Wilkes University’s home campus sits on 35 acres and serves over 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university originally opened in 1933 as an extension of Bucknell University, becoming an independent institution in 1947. Often named by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top universities in the country, Wilkes provides a specialized education with small classes taught by faculty who hold the highest degrees in their fields.

The Maslow family graduate program in creative writing at Wilkes offers students two unique formats: a traditional online low–residency and an online weekender option with four weekend sessions each semester. The low–residency option entails two, eight–day, on–campus residencies each year. Students can pursue studies in genres like fiction, poetry, screen and playwriting, and creative nonfiction.

Semester courses take place online and culminate in a residency where students can share work and engage in intensive workshops, craft talks, and seminars. The MA program requires a minimum of 30 credits. Students may also pursue a 15–credit certificate option, ideal for learners who receive conditional admission to the program. The MFA option requires 48 credits.

To apply, students must submit a personal essay, two letters of recommendation, and a sample of creative work in their chosen genre. Generally, students may not transfer previously earned graduate credits toward this degree; however, students pursuing the publishing and documentary film genre tracks may transfer up to nine credits.

Graduation Rate
60%
👏

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What is a Master’s in Creative Writing?

Students completing creative writing master’s programs online explore all steps of the writing process, such as research, character development, and publication. Programs may focus on a specific genre, such as creative nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, children’s literature, or dramatic writing. Other programs explore multiple genres. Learners should choose a program that focuses on their preferred genre or genres.

Creative writing programs prepare learners for careers that involve creative communication, including positions as authors, speech writers, advertisers, freelance writers, and social media managers. Candidates with a master’s degree can also secure positions as postsecondary educators.

Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

Online students generally take the same courses and learn from the same professors as on–campus students. Distance learners complete coursework through digital platforms, such as Blackboard.

Students pursuing a master’s in creative writing online can submit papers, take quizzes, and view course materials digitally. These programs typically simulate classroom discussions using forums, which allow students to post their ideas and comment on classmates’ responses. Learners may also complete group work through email.

Some departments offer online courses synchronously, which means students must attend classes at specific times. Other departments offer asynchronous classes in which students complete coursework at their convenience. Asynchronous classes allow more scheduling flexibility, but students must still meet assignment deadlines.

Some programs use a hybrid format, which blends online and on–campus elements. Students in hybrid programs complete online coursework and visit campus for classes or residencies. Online students need a strong work ethic to complete coursework without supervision. Distance learners should also possess a general understanding of technology to complete online assignments.

The Advantages of a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing

Many writing positions, including roles as technical writers, editors, and reporters, require only a bachelor’s degree. However, a master’s degree demonstrates the holder has studied idea development, writing structure, and phrasing in depth and can deliver ideas clearly and professionally. A graduate degree can help job seekers stand out from competition.

A master’s degree qualifies candidates to teach postsecondary writing courses. Postsecondary teachers earn a median salary of $76,000, according to the BLS, which projects employment for postsecondary teachers to increase 15% by 2026. Postsecondary teachers can advance to higher positions, such as postsecondary education administrators, who earn a median salary of $92,360 per year, according to the BLS. The BLS projects employment for these administrators to increase 10% by 2026.

A master’s degree improves the credibility of authors writing on field–related concepts. For example, earning a master’s in creative writing online can lend credibility to the author of a guide on writing fantasy novels. Additionally, master’s degree holders in the field earn an average of $5,000 more per year than bachelor’s holders, according to PayScale.

Average Salary by Degree Level

Degree Level Average Salary
Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing $50,000
Master’s Degree in Creative Writing $55,000

Source: PayScale

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Creative Writing?

Earning a master’s in creative writing online prepares students to craft creative messages for books, articles, advertisements, speeches, scripts, and social media posts. The degree relates to any field that involves message creation and delivery. The best candidates for creative writing positions boast out–of–the–box thinking, a strong grasp on writing structure, and effective communication abilities. Creative writers should also understand research methods, work well with deadlines, and accept constructive criticism from editors.

Writers and Authors
These professionals research, write, and revise advertisements, television scripts, magazine articles, and books. Writers and authors often need only a bachelor’s, but a master’s degree can help job seekers stand out.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $42,000
  • Mid-Career: $54,000
  • Experienced: $62,000
  • Late Career: $74,000
Editors
Editors polish documents by correcting errors, such as misspelled words. Editors may also correct or note larger problems, such as confusing language, plot inconsistencies, and tone shifts. A master’s degree demonstrates that editors understand the writing process well enough to prepare works for publication.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $41,000
  • Mid-Career: $53,000
  • Experienced: $59,000
  • Late Career: $63,000
Public Relations Specialists
These specialists craft speeches, press releases, and media responses to extend a company’s reach and maintain its brand. Most organizations require these professionals to hold a bachelor’s degree. However, a master’s degree provides candidates with a deeper understanding of writing to help them develop creative approaches.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $42,000
  • Mid-Career: $53,000
  • Experienced: $58,000
  • Late Career: $60,000
Technical Writers
Technical writers create manuals and articles that help readers understand processes and ideas. Earning a master’s in creative writing online helps students learn to express ideas clearly in writing, which prepares them for technical writing positions. Many graduates of creative writing programs write articles and guidelines related to the writing process.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $49,000
  • Mid-Career: $63,000
  • Experienced: $70,000
  • Late Career: $79,000
Postsecondary Teachers
These educators teach courses in their discipline to higher education students. Responsibilities include constructing syllabi, delivering lectures, and providing assignment feedback. Postsecondary teachers need at least a master’s degree in the discipline they teach to work at community colleges, though many employers prefer candidates with a doctorate.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $60,000
  • Mid-Career: $71,000
  • Experienced: $86,000
  • Late Career: $99,000

Source: PayScale

Choosing an Online Creative Writing Graduate Program

Candidates interested in earning a master’s in creative writing online should consider the qualities of their ideal school and program. Learners should then look for an institution that suits their needs. Online learners can often find a program that meets all their needs, since distance learning provides students with nationwide opportunities.

When possible, online learners should consider in–state schools, since resident learners often pay lower tuition rates. Additionally, in–state students can generally complete some requirements on campus.

Learners should consider the following factors when choosing a program.

Program Cost
Students should consider program cost to ensure continued enrollment, since falling behind on tuition payments can prevent learners from enrolling in classes. Considering their budget also helps students manage living expenses while paying tuition. Students pursuing a master’s in creative writing online should factor in tuition, fees, and textbook costs.
Transfer Policies
Candidates should explore each school’s transfer policy to determine which allows them to apply the most previous coursework. For example, one program may only accept nine transfer credits, while another may allow students to transfer half of required coursework. Learners should research transfer agreements, which can increase the number of transfer credits a school accepts.
School Size and Type
A school’s size can significantly impact the learning atmosphere; smaller universities tend to offer more individual interaction between students and faculty members. Additionally, private institutions may ground curricula in specific values, such as religion, while public universities typically provide more generalized coursework. Students should reflect on their preferred learning styles when selecting a school.
Program Length
Program length is important for students who need to graduate in a certain amount of time. A candidate who needs to earn their online creative writing master’s degree quickly should consider programs with low credit requirements and options for full-time or accelerated study. On the other hand, learners with work, family, and community responsibilities may earn their degree part time and consider programs with extended graduation deadlines.
On–Campus Requirements
Some programs require students to visit campus for an orientation, seminars, workshops, or courses. Learners considering these hybrid options should ensure they choose a school that offers a reasonable commute to campus. They should also consider the time and cost necessary to meet residency requirements.
Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements
Students completing creative writing master’s programs online may need to take a thesis course. A creative writing thesis typically involves the creation of original work, such as poems, short stories, or a portion of a novel. Many programs also include workshops in specific genres, during which students explore genre structures and the writing process. Prospective students should ensure their schedules permit these kinds of commitments.

Accreditation for Online Creative Writing Master’s Degrees

Accreditation is one of the most important considerations when choosing a school, since only learners at accredited institutions can receive federal aid. Additionally, many employers and doctoral programs only recognize degrees earned from accredited colleges and universities. Learners who pursue a master’s in writing online from an unaccredited institution may not qualify for funding and may earn a degree that holds little value.

Accreditation demonstrates that a recognized agency has reviewed and approved a school or program for academic merit. Accrediting agencies must hold approval from a higher organization, such as the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This tiered approach ensures the academic quality of accredited schools and programs.

Institutions in the U.S. can hold national or regional accreditation. National accreditation typically applies to trade schools and programs. Regional accreditation is the oldest and most highly regarded type of accreditation. Regional agencies oversee accreditation in a specific geographic area. For example, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities accredits schools in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. Credits and degrees earned from regionally accredited schools transfer more easily than those earned from nationally accredited institutions.

Programs can hold accreditation from field–specific agencies. For example, education programs may receive accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. However, no accrediting agency exists for creative writing programs.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Master’s in Creative Writing Degree Program?

Most creative writing programs require 34–40 credits, which learners complete in 1–2 years. However, an online writing master’s degree may include additional credit requirements, which can extend program length.

Program format also impacts degree completion time. For example, a program with five 10–week semesters provides more opportunities each year to complete courses. However, students completing creative writing master’s programs online may be limited in the number of courses they can take per semester. This regulation may prevent learners in five–semester programs from earning their degree at an accelerated pace.

Students who want to graduate quickly should choose programs with low credit requirements and those that permit accelerated study. Candidates with prior credits or experience can look for programs with generous credit transfer policies and those that offer credit for work or military experience. Likewise, students who need to study at a slower pace should choose a school that allows learners to enroll part time.

Learners who need to personalize their program pace should avoid cohort programs. Students in these programs progress through classes with a group of peers, who graduate at the same time.

Courses in an Online Master’s in Creative Writing Program

Literary Genres for Writers
Students in an online creative writing master’s program often examine various writing genres and subgenres in this course. The class may cover the genre of fiction and related subgenres, such as fantasy, romance, and historical fiction. Students explore the structures and general expectations of these genres. The course may also focus on a single genre, such as poetry, memoir, or nonfiction.
Character Development
This course trains students to create effective characters. Coursework may prioritize character realism, consistency, and psychology within the story’s context. Students often examine the development of major and minor characters. Learners may build a portfolio of several character outlines.
Research for Writing
This course helps students pursuing an online creative writing master’s degree gain research skills for fiction and nonfiction writing. Students learn to construct accurate settings for modern and historical pieces, and they gain the skills necessary to develop plots that are founded on sound principles. For example, science fiction writers may base their stories on chemical and biological concepts.
Writing a Short Story
Learners in this class study short stories and analyze elements of writing styles. Additional class topics may include syntax and short story structures. Students create a short story and may undergo peer review and receive feedback. Departments may offer similar classes focused on suspense, nonfiction, poetry, and television writing.
Studying the Craft
This class examines aspects of fiction including characters, setting, plot, and perspective. Coursework may also address phrasing and its impact on the story’s atmosphere. Students often review books within their genre to determine effective writing strategies. They then consider these factors to craft their own stories.

Creative Writing Membership Associations

Creative writing organizations typically host conferences and meetings at which members learn new concepts and connect with other professionals in the field. These associations often provide workshops to help writers polish their skills, learn about publication opportunities, and brainstorm story ideas. Professional organizations may offer funding opportunities and help members find jobs and internships.

Association of Writers and Writing Programs
AWP provides an online tool that allows users to search for writing programs by location, genre, and degree. The organization connects website visitors with writing contests, funding, job opportunities, and avenues to publication. Professionals can attend the annual AWP book fair and conference and can browse the online database to find other meetings.
The Writer’s Center
This organization hosts events, including open microphone opportunities, poetry readings, and book launches. Events often include guest speakers. Members benefit from discounts on online and in-person workshops about the writing process, literary genres, and author promotion. The Writer’s Center also offers internships related to writing and marketing.
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
SCBWI hosts annual winter events and summer conferences. Members can attend workshops and chapter meetings to explore children’s literature concepts. SCBWI offers awards and financial aid, such as the student writer and illustrator scholarships and the Golden Kite Awards.
The Writer’s Circle
TWC delivers workshops on writing for specific age groups, including adults, teenagers, and middle-grade children. Members can attend book launches and an annual poetry reading. TWC offers editing and project advisement, and the organization maintains a blog with information on topics including publication, word counts, beta readers, and author experiences.
The Authors Guild
The Authors Guild connects writers with events including panels, book launches, and book expos. Website visitors can browse contests in fiction, poetry, and translations, along with fellowships and workshops related to writing. Members receive legal assistance for book contracts, access to writing resources, and insurance against copyright disputes.

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