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My DIY-MFA. Part 1. Why you should consider DIY an option.

Updated: Feb 14

Image: A happy university MFA graduate. Maybe she hasn't counted the cost! (Source: istock free image)


The next few blogs will outline my 'Do-It-Yourself Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing' and how you can design your own DIY-MFA.


The MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program in the United States is an institution. A rite of passage for anyone aspiring to a career as a creative writer. Graduates go into a range of professions in theatre, film, television, advertising, and other creative industries. Some become writers and poets. In 2016 more than 3,000 graduates of MFA programs were pumped out from 244 universities across the US (1). These numbers have undoubtedly increased since. 


The average cost of doing an MFA (with full residency) at a reputable university in the US is over US$20,000 (2). The range of fees is broad, with Colombia’s two-year MFA costing around US$62,000 per year. Despite these high costs, most courses have multiple times the number of applicants than places available.


Image: Contemplating the maths! (Source: istock free image)


The demographic MFA of students in the US is also interesting. The average age is 27.3 for a residency program and 35.4 for a non-residency. Almost 75% of the students are white, yet only two-thirds of the universities have a program aimed at minority recruitment. 

While the investment in an MFA is about learning and skill development the financial results for MFA graduates do not inspire me. The average salary for an MFA Graduate in the US is US$64,000. 


Despite the return on the investment the university machine continues to attract students to MFA programs. In Australia doing an MFA seems less popular. The University of Sydney offers an 18-month MFA program for Au$30,000 (Au$45,000 for international students) for tuition only. [Note for comparative purposes at the time of writing a US$ is approximately Au$1.5] It seems that a more common route for Australian students is a PhD in creative writing. Similar course objectives appear in both courses and fees for each program are essentially the same (3, 4). The catch is that the length of time to do a PhD is most often longer than an MFA, so you could be up for as much as Au$150,000 for a complete PhD. One wonders if the extra total cost presents a proportional value.


Image: Not all signs suggest University is the right way. (Source: Getty frestock)

 

Payscale claims (5) that the average for a full-time author salary in Australia (from all sources not just publications) is Au$74,000. The problem with averages is that they are swayed by significant outliers. I have heard figures that are much more sobering. The median salary (that is what most people get) is less than Au$20,000. I know a successful Western Australian author, who has even sold the rights for one of his books to a movie production house, who supplements his author’s salary by working as a builder’s laborer. 

The reality is that many writers in Australia are not motivated by salary. I don’t think they would necessarily knock back bigger salaries, but salary is not the primary motivation for writing. Does this make an aspiring author more or less likely to consider a big cash commitment to earn a recognised academic qualification?


I walked into work on Monday of this week and wondered about the return on investment for some academic courses. Note, that my day job is located on a university campus. I have no delusion that there is real value to being educated in the university system. In some areas, a university education is essential, not only for the prescribed learning but also for access to equipment and resources. For more creative pursuits learning from great writers who have travelled a path similar to what you aspire to is valuable. However, I couldn’t help but question if an Au$40,000 - Au$150,000 investment in an MFA (or PhD) is worth an Au$20,000 per year return. Even if a scholarship is on offer to make the tuition fees more reasonable the investment in your time is also considerable (and don’t get me started on HECS – Australia’s tax on education). Hence, I pose the question: Is it possible to do a Master of Fine Arts (or equivalent) by Do-It-Yourself?


You’ve only got to wade through the smoke of a sausage sizzle at Bunnings every weekend to see that hardware-based DIY is booming. Who would have thought the DIY route to install new tiles in your bathroom or put the decking around the pool that you’ve just completed would be so popular? If it is possible to leap into these DIY infrastructure projects, surely it is possible to go DIY for more creative pursuits? If you’re creative (or foolhardy) enough to do the tiles, the decking, and the pool, what risk is there in having a crack at a DIY-MFA?


Image: Not all DIY goes to plan. (Source: istock free stock)


Over the next few blogs, I’ve mapped how I think a DIY-MFA is possible. I’ll show you what I intend to do over the next 12-18 months to end up with a DIY-MFA in Creative Writing. 

The beauty of this approach is not only is it significantly more economic you can also make it directly relevant to you. Sure, you won’t get to go to a graduation ceremony with a black gown and a mitered hat or a piece of parchment with your name scrolled across it, but you’ll gain a great understanding of what literary education can do. Come with me on a journey and create your DIY-MFA.


References:

  1. 2018 Literary Hub. https://lithub.com/mfa-by-the-numbers-on-the-eve-of-awp. Accessed 10/2/24.

  2. Shiksha Study Abroad. MFA in USA – Colleges, Fee and Eligibility. https://www.shiksha.com/studyabroad/usa/mfa-colleges-dc. Accessed 10/2/24.

  3. Monash University. Creative Writing Course Information. https://www.monash.edu/study/courses/find-a-course/creative-writing-3940. Accessed 10/2/24.

  4. Flinders University. Creative Writing Course Information. https://www.flinders.edu.au/study/courses/doctor-philosophy-phd-creative-performing-arts. Accessed 10/2/24.

  5. Payscale. Average Writer/Author Salary in Australia. https://www.payscale.com/research/AU/Job=Writer_%2F_Author/Salary. Accessed 10/2/24.


Next – My DIY-MFA Part 2. Compiling your reading list.

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