Sumac writes in with some insight for Low-Residency students...
I really enjoy your MFA blog. I'm two years out of the MFA in fiction program at Vermont College and though I have no questions, I have noticed people asking about low-residency programs on your blog. Thought I might contribute my two cents as someone who graduated from such a program. (Of course, disregard this email entirely if you've already covered this, and just consider it a thanks-for-putting-out-a-good-blog email.)
I had an amazing experience at Vermont. Working one-on-one with an advisor for six months (instead of relying on workshops) was a very intensive way to learn the craft. I liked it much better than my past workshop experiences. Since I graduated two years ago, my mentors have continued to support me and assist me in publishing my own work, and they've helped me network with other writers, editors and agents.
Also difficult-but-great was the fact that I went to a day job and came home, tired and cross-eyed and had to sit in front of my computer and start writing. This is what writing is like in real life. Few writers can support themselves just by writing, and getting in the habit of writing every day after work prepared me for when I graduated from Vermont and was suddenly out alone in the cold, dark world. Also, I happen to like my day job, and I was able to continue to advance at that job while completing my MFA.
Some potential drawbacks and things to consider are these: If your primary reason for getting an MFA is to teach, then you should go to a traditional program. There are no chances to TA at a low-res school (at least, not for any meaningful length of time--most residencies are about two weeks long). And because there are no chances to teach, there is limited funding available. Vermont gave out a lot of small scholarships but mostly you're on your own to pay tuition.
It's not impossible to get a teaching job out of a low-res school. Most of my classmates who were already teachers found jobs teaching writing. But it's certainly more difficult.
Also, because you don't sit in on traditional classes in a low-res program, a lot of them require a critical thesis as well as the typical creative thesis.
Finally, for whatever reason, the low-res programs tend to be very hard on marriages and relationships. Maybe because of the bacchanalian/summer campish aspect to the residencies--everything is very intense and people develop intimate and close friendships very quickly. Then the residency is over and it's back to real life. This sudden switcheroo makes for some melodramatic couplings and partings at residencies. I personally know at least three people who blame the ruination of their marriages on Vermont, and a lot of other people whose long-term relationships came to an end or almost-end while they were students at Vermont. I mean, it was pretty weird.
Okay, thanks. Hope it's useful. I haven't read your entire blog yet, so perhaps it's completely redundant. Sorry to clog your inbox, if so. Keep up the good work!