How much it cost me to apply to MFA Creative Writing programs

I recently applied to MFA Creative Writing programs in fiction for the fall of 2014. Before entering the application process, I really had no clue how much it would cost. Whoops. I’m writing this post in hopes that it’ll help prospective MFA students. I applied to seventeen schools, three of which had no application fee. Today I did the math and found out it cost me $1,416.60 $1,550 or more. (Probably more.)

Check it out:

MFA Creative Writing Application Costs

MFA Creative Writing application costs

Okay! Let’s dig in.

Application fees: The mean application fee (not including the three schools with no fee) was $46.07. If you’re low on cash and want to apply to schools with no fee, know that there are four main high-residency, mostly funded options: McNeese, University of Arkansas, University of Mississippi Oxford, and Vanderbilt.

GRE testing: The GRE cost $185 to take and GRE score reports are $25 a pop. I spent $385 on testing and score reports. I didn’t buy any study materials. Ten of the schools I applied to required GRE scores and seven did not. ETS allows you to send four score reports for free immediately after taking the test. I accidentally sent two of my four “free” reports to schools that don’t require the GRE, which cost me $50. Bummer.

Transcripts: I am very lucky on the transcript front–my undergraduate school will send out transcripts for free as long as they are requested via postal mail. That saved me anywhere from $80 – $275 compared to others. My graduate school’s transcripts were $5 each if requested by postal mail and $10 if requested online so requesting them in advance via postal mail saved me about $50. I also had to request super expensive $12 transcripts from University of Florida, a school whose campus I’ve never set foot on, because they co-sponsored a study abroad I once did. A few schools claimed not to receive transcripts so I had to order some extras. All in all, I estimate I spent $319 on transcripts.

Postage: I think four schools required me to mail my application in a big packet instead of submitting it online. (I didn’t keep records or my USPS receipts, unfortunately.) I also paid postage in the form of addressing and stamping envelopes that I sent to my letter writers to use for the schools that accepted letters of recommendation via postal mail. I’m pretty sure I’m way underestimating this one at $67.60. More realistically I spent $100+ on mailing items when you factor in envelopes, paper, ink, and what not.

Why did I apply to so many schools? When I did research I found that it is not uncommon for fiction applicants–qualified applicants, even–who apply to fewer than ten schools to be rejected from all of them. This is because funded MFA Creative Writing programs are more selective than Ivy League med and law schools–lots of people want help writing the next great American novel, apparently. Yes, a good writing sample matters, but it’s also a numbers game. I applied to as many schools as I could afford to reduce the chance I’d have to wait a year and go through the process again. It cost me ~$1,500, but it worked!

Stay tuned for more posts on various aspects of the MFA application process.

UPDATE: I almost forgot–I paid Rachel Weaver of Sandstone Editing (highly recommended) to provide feedback on one of the pieces I included in my portfolio. It cost $113.75. Also, I had to pay about $10 for parking when I took the GRE. This makes the total ~$1,600.

3 replies on “How much it cost me to apply to MFA Creative Writing programs”


Thank you so much for documenting your whole process! This blog is indispensable. Post-bachelor’s disillusionment is my best friend. I know I shouldn’t pursue grad school just for the sake of it, money, shits and giggles, to postpone the real world or because several letters behind my name sound cool, but it has been four years now, and I don’t have a clue what I should do or which interests to develop for success. I’ve researched programs in business, education, organizational psychology, cosmetic chemistry, and now creative writing. How did you decide on creative writing? Which were your top 3-5 schools and why? Do all programs begin in the fall? When should one begin the application process? What are your favorite things about the program at USF? Thank you again for posting this.

-Disgruntled Baker’s Assistant

I guess think about what your goals are for grad school. I would only recommend an MFA in creative writing if you really love writing. Although it’s a terminal degree, there’s really no guarantee you’ll get career success for it–you’ll probably become a better writer and it’ll help you for sure, but you might have to go to an unrelated job (at least until you publish a book) after you graduate.

Most MFA programs begin in the fall. One thing I love about USF is that we get to teach creative writing. Many programs have their graduate students teach composition only. I’m teaching fiction right now and it’s so much fun to teach.

If you’re applying for next year, begin right now. If you’re applying for the year after, you could still begin now by starting to narrow down the schools you’re interested in, practicing writing, and taking the GRE.

I wish you the best in figuring out what you want to do next!

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