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Online Master’s in Creative Writing (MFA) Degree Programs

As an academic discipline, creative writing encompasses a number of different kinds of narrative and non-narrative fiction and creative non-fiction, including novel and short story writing, memoir and biographical writing, poetry and playwriting, and writing for film, television, and various broadcast media. In addition, professional creative writers commonly study the business side of various careers in writing, learn editing skills, and develop proficiencies for teaching creative writing to school-age children and adults. Master’s in creative writing programs are designed to furnish students with practical training in one or more areas of fiction and non-fiction writing, as well as with knowledge and skills that have applications throughout the publishing industry and in other fields that value effective writing and storytelling skills.

What Is a Master’s in Creative Writing Degree?

There are essentially two common types of master’s in creative writing degrees: Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing; and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. Both types of programs provide training in the creative writing process, storytelling, and the craft of creative works of fiction and non-fiction in various forms and genres. In addition, students in these programs typically work to complete a writing project of their choosing with the guidance of instructors while earning their degree. However, an MA in Creative Writing (or an MA in English with a Creative Writing specialization) typically requires students to take courses in literary theory and to apply that theory to the analysis of particular works of literature, while an MFA in Creative Writing curriculum generally focuses more exclusively on crafting works of fiction and non-fiction.

It is important to note that an MFA in Creative Writing is considered to be a terminal degree, which means that it is regarded as the highest degree conferred in the field of creative writing. Most other types of master’s degrees, including MA degrees, are not considered terminal because they may be followed by doctoral studies and the conferral of a PhD or other type of doctorate in that field. However, many MA in Creative Writing programs may be considered terminal degree programs as well, depending on the content of their curriculum. As there is no formal process for determining what constitutes a terminal master’s degree, it may be advisable to contact program representatives to determine whether the degree conferred is intended to be a terminal degree or a degree primarily designed to prepare students for doctoral studies.

Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

Online master’s in creative writing programs, which may also be designated as low-residency programs, use distance-learning technologies to provide students with all or most of the training and instruction required to earn a master’s degree in creative writing. Students in online programs view lectures, participate in discussion forums, receive guidance from instructors, and submit assignments for review via learning management systems (LMSs), a generic term for online learning platforms that support a range instructional activities. While some online master’s in creative writing programs require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions, there are also many programs that provide all required coursework online and do not require any campus visits. does not list programs that require students to attend more than two campus-based sessions per year.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

Through independent research that focuses on program curricula and formats, identifies programs that offer all or most of their instruction online; provide students with training and instruction in creative writing; and lead to the conferral of a master’s degree from a non-profit college or university with institutional accreditation. Programs offered by for-profit schools are not listed on the site. The programs classified as online master’s in creative writing programs by have several formal designations. These include:

  • Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing
  • Master of Arts (MA) in English with a Creative Writing Specialization
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing

What Students Learn in Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

Students in an online master’s in creative writing program learn about the process of writing works of fiction and/or creative non-fiction, from the inception and development of a story idea through the deployment of various narrative strategies. Subjects such as plot and character development, thematic coherence, the use of literary devices, and the relevance of authorial voice, genre conventions, and stylistic norms in different forms of creative writing (e.g., novels, short stories, poetry, plays, and screenplays) are common master’s-level course topics. In addition, students in these programs generally study the business of publishing, including the submission of manuscripts, the editing process, and the marketing of published works, as well as contemporary trends in publishing, such as self-publishing and digital storytelling.

Some master’s in creative writing programs, particularly MA programs, require students to take courses in literary theory, literary analysis, and/or pedagogical approaches to teaching writing. MFA in Creative Writing programs may allow students to choose an area of specialization, such as Fiction, Non-Fiction, Speculative and Science Fiction, Romance Novels, Poetry, Screenwriting, and/or Playwriting. Finally, most master’s in creative writing programs require students to submit a finished work of fiction or creative non-fiction prior to receiving their degree.

Online Master’s in Creative Writing Program Courses

Online master’s in creative writing program curricula vary by program, as do the names and descriptions of individual courses. The table below draws on research into online program curricula and offers a representative overview of the types of required and elective courses that are commonly offered as part of an online master’s in creative writing program.

Course TitleCourse Description
Graduate Studies in Popular LiteratureStudents read contemporary works of fiction with a focus on storytelling elements, the craft of creative writing, and the factors that make a work of fiction successful.
Story and ConceptThe process of planning a work of narrative fiction or nonfiction, from conceptualizing the idea to drafting key elements of plot, character, setting, and theme.
The Fundamentals of FictionAn overview of the key elements of fiction writing, including voice, point of view, theme, characterization, structure, plot, rhythm, and tone.
Writing Short WorksStrategies for writing short stories, poetry, one-act plays, and other short works of fiction and creative non-fiction.
Fantasy and Speculative Fiction WritingAn exploration of the tools and techniques for writing science fiction, fantasy, and other types of speculative fiction, including an examination of genre classifications and conventions.
Graduate Studies in Genre LiteratureAn examination of several literary genres, the characteristic tropes and conventions of genre literature, and how authors work within and across various genres.
Creative Writing SeminarStudents submit works for peer and instructor review and analysis, and incorporate changes and revisions into a final draft.
The Publishing BusinessAn examination of the literary market, the evolution of the publishing industry, processes for submitting work for publication, and the impact of digital media on opportunities for writers.
Literary Theory and CriticismA survey of the major schools of literary theory and criticism and their application, including psychoanalytic theory, Marxist and feminist criticism, and structuralism and post-structuralism.
Seminar in Writing InstructionPedagogical approaches to teaching writing, including the design and plan of instructional exercises for various types of students.
Copy and Content WritingThe application of creative writing skills to professional writing in business and marketing, including techniques for Internet publishing and search engine optimization strategies.

Online Master’s in Creative Writing Program Admissions

Admissions policies and requirements for online master’s in creative writing programs vary by program. However, the basic requirement for admissions eligibility is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. In addition to undergraduate transcripts, applicants may be asked to furnish admissions departments with one or more of the following: standardized test scores (typically the GRE); two or three letters of recommendation; a creative writing sample; and answers to one or more essay questions. Some programs may have a minimum undergraduate grade point average (GPA) requirement, commonly 2.5, 2.75, 3.0, or higher on a 4.0 scale. Finally, some programs may request a short in-person or video-conference interview with qualified candidates.

Prior to submitting an application to an online master’s program, students should review a program’s eligibility policies and requirements carefully to ensure the best chance for admission. Applicants may want to reach out to programs of interest to discuss the admissions process with a program director or enrollment specialist who can help them prepare their graduate school application.

Online Master’s in Creative Writing Program Formats

There are several variations in program format and structure that students should be aware of prior to applying to online master’s programs, as these format variations can impact the online learning experience. For example, there are two primary modes of online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Programs that utilize synchronous instruction hold online classes at pre-scheduled times during which students must be available to log on to the program’s LMS. Programs that rely solely on asynchronous instruction allow students to view virtual classroom sessions at their convenience, 24-7.

Enrollment options also vary, with some programs requiring students to adhere to a full-time schedule, while other have flexible and part-time enrollment options. Finally, while there are many programs that do not require students to attend any campus-based sessions, some programs hold a limited number of workshops, seminars, lectures, and other instructional activities on campus that students are required to attend. These program format variations are addressed in greater depth in the sections below.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: The important difference between these two modes of online instruction involves scheduling. Synchronous instruction indicates that virtual class meetings take place in real time, which means students must be available to log on to a program’s LMS at designated times for lectures and other class activities. Most programs that incorporate synchronous instruction schedule class meetings in the evening or on the weekends so that students across time zones can attend. In contrast, asynchronous instruction has no real-time component, allowing students to access lectures and other instructional materials 24-7.

Synchronous instruction provides more structure than asynchronous instruction and more closely resembles a traditional on-campus learning experience, but it also offers less flexibility as students must attend live online sessions. Asynchronous instruction affords greater flexibility and may be more convenient for some students, but it requires additional self-discipline, as students must be prepared to complete and submit class assignments by set due dates, in the absence of weekly scheduled lectures, and to meet online participation requirements.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Enrollment: Online master’s in creative writing programs generally require students to complete one to two years of full-time coursework, depending on how the program is structured. Some programs, particularly cohort-based programs in which groups of students begin and proceed through the program together, have designated full-time and/or part-time enrollment tracks, while others have flexible enrollment policies that allow students to complete the required coursework at their own pace, provided they graduate within a certain number of years. Full-time enrollment in a master’s program may mean spending up to 40 hours per week on coursework while classes are in session. Part-time enrollment allows students to take fewer courses per term and thus spend less time per week on school (15 to 20 hours), but it can extend the time it takes to complete a master’s program by a year or more.

Campus Visits: While many online master’s programs do not require students to attend any campus-based sessions, some online master’s in creative writing programs incorporate required campus visits into their instructional curriculum. These campus visits can be a short as a few days, or as long as one to two weeks. They may involve creative writing workshops, seminars, lectures, readings, and other types of instruction that benefit from having groups of students together on campus. They typically also give students opportunities to meet face-to-face with instructors and network with other students. However, some students may find it difficult to attend campus-based sessions, and the travel and lodging costs of visiting a school’s campus can add to the overall cost of an online program.

While does not list programs that require more than two campus visits per years, prospective applicants to online master’s in creative writing programs may want to contact a program representative in order to determine whether or not the program has any campus-based requirements prior to submitting an application.