Screenwriting MFA Programs: How Do I Pick the Right One?

by Larry Brody

Hot off the presses – or, actually hot off the  TVWriter™ Message Board, comes this Q and A about a subject quite a few TVWriter™ visitors are wrestling with:

Question from Ghost:

It’s been awhile since I’ve been here! But I am in somewhat of a dilemma. I’ve been accepted into three MFA programs, LMU (TV writing), Chapman (screenwriting) and Emerson (fiction). I’m on the waitlist for USC but don’t think that’s going to happen.

I am trying to figure out if I’ll be able to swing the move at all, since fun life stuff interrupted those “save for grad school” plans, and this is all very last minute, but I have to make a final decision very, very soon (like, Monday) and the available information is pretty contradictory. I know most people don’t think an MFA is worth anything, but let’s just pretend it’s not the worst mistake I could make. I’m wondering if anyone here has done one of these programs or if one has a distinct advantage over the other? I think Chapman and LMU have the advantage of actually being in California, but Emerson does have its LA internship program.

Answer from LB:

This is an excellent question. Thanks for asking it publicly so others can benefit from my sagacity/foolishness/whatever-the-hell-it-really-is.

I’m not going to waste time by listing/recommending specific programs, especially ones to which you didn’t apply, or that you don’t mention being accepted by. There are any number of sites with ardent boosters recommending their alma maters, et al. Instead, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of your particular dilemma.

If I were in your shoes, I’d be factoring in the following:

  1. Which is the most creative program – as in the one that will give my imagination a chance to soar highest while I hone my skills?
  2. Which program has the most qualified personnel – as in real writers who have worked in the field I’m most interested in and accumulated genuine experience/credits/publications? (Because, I’m sorry, but “teachers” who’ve tried to become writers and already failed aren’t worth a damn.)
  3. Which program has the most successful alumni – as in the best network of contacts who can help me achieve my professional goals?
  4. Which program just plain “feels” right – as in where does my body feel like I belong?

BTW, congratulations on being accepted. I know the competition is tough. And whatever you decide:

  • Please let us know
  • Good luck!