A Guide to Low-Residency MFAs

July 25, 2017

With the next MFA application season just around the corner, it’s time to start seriously thinking about programs. Writers—are you considering the low-residency option? For those of us anchored into a job, with family, or simply unable to relocate, low-res programs are proving to be a great opportunity to earn your degree.

It’s fair to say that a low-res program may prepare you more quickly for the true world of writing—one in which your writing time must be structured around your job, family, and other commitments. There is no bubble here. Although you’ll meet for residencies (usually held twice a year), for the most part, you’re working on your own.

That being said, one of the biggest benefits to a low-res program is close mentorship. The faculty to student ratio is 5:1 or less for most programs. Mentors create customized reading lists for each student and critique larger volumes of work monthly. So despite the lack of time in physical classrooms, you still receive an extensive amount of support.

Several low-res programs are also now offering a dual-genre degree option for students who want to explore more than one interest. And for those of you who love to travel—many programs provide residencies abroad. You can gather stamps on your passport while participating in intensive workshops in countries such as Spain, Italy, or Slovenia.

So you’re interested. How do you choose which program to go for? I’ve listed some programs below that caught my eye for at least one reason, if not more—whether it be affordability, faculty, or the opportunity for travel or dual-genre studies. Enjoy!

by Julia Mucha

Bard College

Location: Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Faculty: Renee Gladman, David Levi Strauss, and others.

Annual Tuition: $16,470

Bard’s tuition isn’t the lowest, but it’s worth mentioning this program because over 90% of their students receive at least one type of grant aid (fellowship, scholarship, or both). Their residency is eight weeks and held every summer.

Bennington College

Location: Bennington, Vermont

Faculty: Amy Hempel, Benjamin Anastas, April Bernard, Susan Cheever, David Gates, Major Jackson, Alice Mattison, and others.

Annual Tuition: $19,900

Bennington is consistently ranked as one of the top low-residency programs and has an incredible faculty. They also offer dual-genre degrees. Grants are awarded to exceptional applicants.

Cedar Crest College

Location: Allentown, Pennsylvania

Faculty: Keija Parssinen, Alison Wellford, Robert Antoni Dinaw Mengestu, and others.

Annual Tuition: 12,150 plus $2,750 for each residency (which includes accommodations and activity expenses).

This program offers dual-genre studies. The three required residencies, which are fifteen days each, are held each summer in Europe. Location rotates between Barcelona, Dublin, and Vienna, so you actually won’t be spending much if any time at their home campus.

Institute of American Indian Arts

Location: Sante Fe, New Mexico

Faculty: Jon Davis, Sherman Alexie, Melissa Febos, Pam Houston, Lidia Yuknavitch, Santee Frazier, and others.

Annual Tuition: $12,000

While this program is open to everyone, it does maintain a Native American and First Nations emphasis. They boast an incredible faculty and astoundingly low tuition.

Lesley University

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Faculty: Tony Eprile, Laurie Foos, Rachel Kadish, Hester Kaplan, Michael Lowenthal, and others.

Annual Tuition: $24,000

Lesley offers several merit scholarships that cover up to $15,000 of the total cost. They also highlight interdisciplinary studies, and students gain experience in teaching, publishing, literary non-profits, and community writing groups. Another plus? Each summer they offer a ten-day residency in Wales.

Lindenwood University

Location: St. Charles, Missouri

Faculty: Tony D’Souza, Wm. Anthony Connolly, Zachary Tyler Vickers, Nicole McInnes, Kali VanBaale, and others.

Annual Tuition: $10,872

This school offers a half-tuition waiver to students who are at least sixty years old. Primary and secondary education teachers also receive a discounted tuition. You can meet for the residency either at their campus or choose to complete the program fully online.

University of New Orleans

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Faculty: Fredrick Barton, Barb Johnson, Joanna Leake, and others.

Annual Tuition: $12,500

This program offers a residency in Europe each summer for one month. In the past, residencies have taken place in Ireland, Scotland, and Italy. The University of New Orleans has consistently been ranked as one of the most affordable schools in the country.

Sewanee School of Letters

Location: Sewanee, Tennessee

Faculty: Jamie Quatro, Michael Griffith, John Ernest, Nickole Brown, and others.

Annual Tuition: $5,707

This program has an interesting model—you take a combination of writing workshops and classes in literary criticism and history. The residencies are held each summer, and the degree takes four to five summer sessions to complete. Since the program is spread out over four to five years, the tuition is remarkably affordable.

Pacific University

Location: Portland, Oregon

Faculty: Chris Abani, Steve Amick, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Claire Davis, Dorianne Laux, and others.

Annual Tuition: $17,646

This prestigious school offers two Pearl Scholarships worth $7,500 to students entering their MFA program. Partial, merit-based scholarships are available as well.

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Location: Montpelier, Vermont

Faculty: Trinie Dalton, Matthew Dickman, Abby Frucht, Connie May Fowler, and others.

Annual Tuition: $24,000

For those of you who love to travel, VCFA offers residencies abroad in Slovenia and Puerto Rico. Dual-genre and translation studies are also available. There are multiple scholarship options available to help offset the tuition.

Warren Wilson College

Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Faculty: Andrea Barrett, Robert Boswell, Karen Brennan, Liam Callanan, Christopher Castellani, and others.

Annual Tuition: $17,350

As one of the older and more prestigious programs on this list, tuition is higher. However, multiple scholarships and grants available that can cover up to fifty percent of tuition. All financial aid is based on need.


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