Best Online Master’s in Creative Writing (MFA)

by TBS Staff Writers, Julien Gomez
reviewed by TBS Rankings Team
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Online MFA Creative Writing

Master's in creative writing programs are ideal for students who love writing and aspire to make a living through the craft.Creative writers build worlds, develop stories, and create characters that engage and entertain readers. Writers often choose genres and stories that relate to their own interests. For instance, a traveler may write creative nonfiction pieces about tourist locations, and writers who are interested in the American West often write western novels.

Creative writing graduates can also pursue careers in other fields. For example, they may write marketing advertisements, political speeches, or technical pieces for instructional manuals. Over half of writers and authors are self-employed.

These careers require editing, writing, and research skills. Editors must also have an understanding of genre fundamentals. To gain the necessary knowledge, students can earn a master's in creative writing online.

The following guide provides information about the top online writing programs in the country and what you can do with a creative writing degree after graduation.

Featured MFA Programs

The Best Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

#1 Online College in Massachusetts

Emerson College

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 33%
Graduation Rate 82%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Emerson offers an online master's program in popular fiction writing and publishing. This program requires 36 credit hours to graduate: 16 credits of writing workshop, eight credits of literature courses, eight credits of publishing courses, and four credits of master's thesis.

The master's thesis is a novel or a novel excerpt with a minimum of 100 pages. Students have seven genres of writing to explore, including romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, thrillers, and young adult.

Prospective students should submit two letters of recommendation and an essay to apply.

Available Scholarships: Regardless of when prospective students apply, all applicants are automatically qualified for a scholarship.

#2 Online College in Texas

The University of Texas at El Paso

School Information
Location El Paso, Texas
Admission Rate 100%
Graduation Rate 37%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 40% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fast Facts

School Type: Public

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? No

Based in El Paso, Texas, the UTEP offers a fully online master's in creative writing degree. 

The program requires 48 hours of coursework to graduate, which includes 42 hours of workshops and literature classes (14 courses) and six hours of thesis work. For the thesis, students complete a publishable manuscript in poetry or fiction. Though classes are held in English, students can submit their creative assignments in Spanish.

Prospective students should submit a writing sample in either fiction or poetry as a part of their admissions application. Undergraduate degrees in creative writing or English are encouraged, but not required.

Available Scholarships: Graduate students can apply for external scholarships through UTEP's Scholarmine search engine.

#3 Online College in Nebraska

University of Nebraska at Omaha

School Information
Location Omaha, Nebraska
Admission Rate 83%
Graduation Rate 50%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 53% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fast Facts

School Type: Public

Concentrations Available: Fiction; creative nonfiction; poetry; playwriting; screenwriting; young adult

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? No

Based in Omaha, Nebraska, UNO offers a master of fine arts in writing with six concentration toptions, including fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, and young adult. Degree completion requires 60 credit hours.

The program combines four 16-week at-home semesters with five 10-day conference-style residencies. Students, mentors, and visiting writers meet at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center twice a year.

Students choose from three pathways:

  • Pathway 1: Traditional low-residency MFA in writing
  • Pathway 2: Partial substitution of credit hours already earned
  • Pathway 3: Partial substitution of credit hours earned through additional coursework

Available Scholarships: Prospective graduate students can apply for the Jump Start Scholarship. The scholarship amount is the same regardless of state residency.

#4 Online College in Florida

Saint Leo University

School Information
Location Saint Leo, Florida
Admission Rate 72%
Graduation Rate 49%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 72% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

Saint Leo is a private, Roman Catholic liberal arts university in St. Leo, Florida. The university offers a master's in creative writing students can complete in just two years.

This 36-credit-hour online MFA degree comprises three summer residencies, four semesters of coursework, and a book-length thesis of the student's work. Enrollees are mentored one-on-one with a member of core faculty, all of whom are nationally-recognized published authors.

Saint Leo's unique master of arts program gives students the option to explore war literature and writing for veterans.

Available Scholarships: Prospective graduate students can apply for privately funded scholarships through Saint Leo's online portal.

#5 Online College in Washington

Central Washington University

School Information
Location Ellensburg, Washington
Admission Rate 85%
Graduation Rate 58%
Accreditation Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fast Facts

School Type: Public

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? No

Located in Ellensburg, Washington, CWU offers a 45-credit-hour master of arts in professional and creative writing students can complete fully online or in multi-modality. This program has no residencies or synchronous requirements.

Award-winning writers working in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction mentor program enrollees. Students learn to hone in their professional writing skills from fields, such as advanced technical writing and documentation, rhetoric and persuasive writing, and research methods.

Unlike other traditional graduate degrees in writing, CWU's program combines both professional and creative writing education.

Available Scholarships: New students can explore financial aid through the CWU Scholarship Office, and graduate students can apply for the CWURA Graduate Student Scholarship.

What Is an Online Master's in Creative Writing Degree?

A master's in writing develops research, writing, and editing skills and explores story elements in different genres. For example, poetry learners study rhyme and meter, while children's writers explore child psychology and common writing techniques. Required courses often cover character development, setting research, and publishing.

Creative writing programs often include literature courses in which learners analyze famous works for writing insights. Students also create new pieces and critique classmates' work in writing workshops. These workshops hone writing, editing, and proofreading skills and increase students' professional networks. Additional requirements may include a thesis, portfolio, or internship.

Admission requirements often include writing samples and personal statements. Ideal applicants have previous writing experience.

Featured MFA Programs

Choosing an Online Program

Prospective students should consider program quality and flexibility when choosing a master's in writing. Learners may prefer departments with published authors as faculty, or they may prefer a program that offers the flexibility of asynchronous courses. They should also consider concentration options, completion times, and tuition costs.

The following guide provides more tips on finding the right program.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Creative Writing Program?

Online MFA in creative writing programs usually offer concentrations in poetry, fiction writing, and creative nonfiction. Most programs include workshops and lectures on writing concepts like character building and plot development. These programs also introduce learners to different genres and often require a thesis.

Below are three common courses in online writing programs.

Master's in Creative Writing Curriculum

Literary Genres for Writers

This course covers 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 type of writing, such as poetry, memoir, or nonfiction.

Character Development

This course trains students to create effective, believable characters. Coursework may prioritize character realism, consistency, and psychology within the story's context. Students examine the necessary traits of major and minor characters and build a portfolio of several character outlines.

Writing a Short Story

Learners in this course study short stories and analyze elements of writing styles. Additional topics may include syntax and short story structures. Students create a short story and undergo peer review to receive feedback. Programs may offer similar classes focused on other forms of writing, like nonfiction, poetry, or television writing.

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 association connects website visitors with writing contests, funding, job opportunities, and avenues to publication. Professionals can also attend the annual AWP book fair and conference or browse the online database to find other meetings.

The Authors Guild

The Authors Guild supports writers by offering panels, book launches, and book expos. Website visitors can browse contests in fiction, poetry, and translations, or they can seek out fellowships and workshops. Members receive legal assistance for book contracts, access to writing resources, and insurance against copyright disputes.

The Writer's Center

The Writer's Center offers writing workshops for specific age groups, including adults, teenagers, and children. Members can also attend book launches and an annual poetry reading. This organization offers editing and project advising and maintains a blog that covers industry topics like publication practices, genre word counts, beta readers, and author experiences.

Careers 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. Graduates can pursue any field that involves message creation and delivery.

The best candidates for writing careers are creative and have a strong grasp on writing structure and effective communication. Creative writers should also understand research methods, work well within deadlines, and be able to accept constructive criticism from editors. Below are a few creative writing jobs that graduates can pursue.

Writers and Authors

Writers and Authorsresearch and write pieces for magazines, websites, publishing houses, and blogs, and may also create scripts for television, movies, or plays. They may write books for traditional or self-publishing in genres like fantasy, romance, mystery, and nonfiction.

Authors often polish their works based on editor critiques and may need to market their work as well. Companies usually expect writers to have a college degree and writing experience.

Median Annual Salary

$63,200

Projected Growth Rate

0%

Editors

make publication decisions for companies and help writers develop stories into polished products. These professionals may review small writing issues, like spelling and grammar, or larger issues, like structure, factual accuracy, continuity, and clarity.

Specific job titles include copy editor, publication assistant, and executive editor. Editors often work at newspaper and book publishing companies, or they work freelance.

Earning a master's in creative writing online gives prospective editors an advantage when competing for jobs.

Median Annual Salary

$61,370

Projected Growth Rate

-3%

Public Relations Specialists

help organizations create and uphold a positive image for the public, affecting their relationship with customers and investors. These professionals create press releases, write speeches, and research consumer preferences through social media. Public relations specialists may also review advertisements and communicate with media outlets about publicity opportunities.

These professionals can find work at advertising, educational, business, and government organizations. They need a bachelor's in a field like English, journalism, or communication. Employers may also require a portfolio and field experience.

Median Annual Salary

$61,150

Projected Growth Rate

6%

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Master's in Creative Writing Program?

Most students can earn a master's in writing in around two years.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Creative Writing?

This degree prepares students for careers as authors, editors, reporters, and public relations specialists. Graduates can also teach creative writing at colleges.

Is a Master's in Creative Writing Worth It?

Many writing careers do not require a master's degree. However, online writing programs help students polish writing skills, which can improve their salary and career prospects.

Can I Teach English With a Creative Writing Degree?

Earning a master's in writing online qualifies graduates to teach English courses at many colleges, as an MFA is often the minimum qualification for these roles. However, some schools require a doctorate for teaching positions.

What Is a Master's in Creative Writing?

Online MFA in creative writing programs explore brainstorming, writing, and editing practices for different genres. These programs often culminate in a thesis or portfolio.

Featured MFA Programs

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