Thursday, August 07, 2008

Low-Residency Programs

Let's talk about Low-Residency Programs. Although this was not the route I ended up taking, I considered Spalding University and Goddard College. At a writer's conference, I met Silas House, a fantastic author who had extremely positive things to say about Spalding.

What do you all think about Low-Res Programs? For those of you with experience, what's it like, and what are the pros and cons?

Also, here is some information specifically geared towards funding Low-Res Programs:
The post was originally created in 2005, but it is frequently updated.


jeannine said...

So, the best thing about the low-res program I went to, Pacific University, compared to the regular-residency MA program I attended at U of Cinci, was the amount of individual attention from faculty. Your mentor/advisor really pays attention to your development, your reading list, your work. You have conversations (mostly via e-mail, sometimes by phone, and in person at the residencies) with writers of amazing talent. You can ask questions you might not feel comfortable asking in a group. It's much more one-on-one time than a typical workshop-based residency program offers.
Also, of course, not having to move, quit your job, and uproot your family are all big pluses.
Minuses - teaching opportunities are limited, as are funding opportunities (as the link points out.)
But, if you just want time to devote to your writing skills, and specific coaching from the faculty (Pacific's was top-notch) I think it's the way to go.

Erika D. said...

Thanks for sending people over to that link! Those interested in low-res programs will probably also want to take a look at this link, where I've tried to maintain a comprehensive list of links to low-res (and summer study) graduate programs in creative writing.

Dustin said...

I've been looking into the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. Does anyone have any information on it?

Juan G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika D. said...

Dustin, you might want to take a look at this blog, maintained by a new Stonecoast alum.

And while I can't speak to Juan G's particular experience, I suspect that a number of low-res programs are much larger, in terms of cohorts admitted annually/semiannually, than are some full-res programs. A large incoming class is probably not so unusual. At my first residency (way back in 2001, as a member of the inaugural MFA class at Queens University of Charlotte) there were already 26 of us, and that was back when the program offered concentrations in only two genres and had little name recognition. The program grew while I was there, and, I understand, has grown more since I graduated. A large(-ish) class is not inherently a bad thing--so long as the faculty and resources are there to support them, and standards are indeed kept high.

Dustin said...

Thanks, Erika. I'll look into it.

Colleen said...

I've been really pleased with my choice of Spalding's low-res program. I'm an academic librarian by profession, and am a professor in TN, but wanted the opportunity to get back to KY on a regular basis because I love it there. A friend recommended Spalding, I applied, and got in on the poetry track. Not only are the workshops wonderfully small (only 5 students, and you meet 7 times during residency), there is a great sense of community and the faculty are stellar. Not only have I gotten great guidance and critique from my mentors (Jeanie Thompson of Alabama and Greg Pape of Montana, so far), the students also have a really strong community. I felt welcome as soon as I got to Louisville for my first residency, the staff that run the program are beyond wonderful and efficient, and I've developed a great group of friends that encompass every genre. We've even started an outside writing group that we conduct through Google Groups so we can continue helping each other out with support, workshopping, and general announcements when not at residency. It's an extremely rigorous program, but it allows those of us who have a career already to do something we love. I am also working concurrently on an MA in Lit at the university where I work, and have taken some workshops in person there as electives, and I cannot tell you how horrified I was that the "graduate" workshop had 25 students in it, 15 of them undergrads, and the only difference for grad credit was that the grad students had to write a 10-15 page paper. It was the worst experience I've ever had workshopping, even though the professor was great. It really reinforced how pleased I was with my decision to go to Spalding.

Alan Stewart Carl said...

I am currently enrolled with Antioch and began in the same cohort with Juan G. While I think it's unfortunate that Juan had such a negative reaction to the program, I do not believe an orientation and a couple of workshop writing samples from fellow students is enough experience to justify slamming the program. I have found my Antioch experience to be very educational and am impressed with the caliber of writing from both current students and those with degrees from the program. Additionally, I've received some exceptional mentoring – very hands-on and very on-target. I am delighted to be a part of the program and would recommend it to anyone seeking a low-res MFA.

Obviously, not all programs are for all people and I'm glad Juan has found more to like at Fairleigh Dickinson. However, I'm sad to see he felt the need to bash Antioch after so little experience with the program.

Jewish Grandchildren for Obama said...

I'm going to second Alan's comments about Antioch. The first residency (the *entire* first residency) far exceeded my expectations and I can say with confidence that I would not have been as happy in a traditional program (and I had a choice...). As with any low-res program, it is what you make of it. Antioch has a top-notch mentoring faculty and I've found that if you seek out excellence you will always find it. Of course there are different skill levels. But everyone can find peers below, at and above their own writing level, which creates the best learning environment.

I'm happy that Juan found a better environment. But I heartily disagree with everything he said about Antioch. It is a top tier environment for honing your craft.

Juan G said...

A friend has a saying, "perhaps you could have softened that" which is maybe what I should have done in voicing my opinion about Antioch. That said, I'm entitled to that opinion just as those who have lauded Antioch are entitled to theirs.

Based on my prior experiences my opinion still stands though it may have been made on limited interaction. I only hope that your opinion remains as it is as you continue the program.

As you say, everything isn't for everyone and I'm happy for you that it meets and exceeds your needs.

Little Bird said...

I currently am in the middle of my second semester at the Pine Manor College low-residency MFA program, a relatively new program in the Boston area. I am learning a great deal and have worked with some really wonderful faculty and faculty mentors (Joy Castro, Randall Kenan, Ray Gonzalez). You have to be very self-motivated to do the work on your own at home throughout the semester, but for someone who wants to maintain their job or "regular life" while pursuing an MFA it is a great solution. The residencies are intense and can feel long and tiring, but you learn and gain so much that after you have a chance to rest and look back on it, it's very worth it. I live locally so I have the flexibility to go home at night, but students come from all over. Pine Manor has the advantage of still being relatively small (good student-to-teacher ratios and workshop sizes), having some great writers on the faculty (Dennis Lehane is one) and having a very down-to-earth, friendly atmosphere. Meg Kearney, the director, is wonderful. Tuition is also a bit lower than some other programs I looked at. For more information, you can visit:

jogee said...

I'm a big fan of the blog but a first-time poster. I am considering applying to Bennington's low res MFA program in creative non-fiction. Could anyone provide information re the intensity of the residencies and the experience with facilitators/instructors and peers in between?

Kalani said...

Does anyone have an opinion/experience about the Goddard and Bennington low-residency programs?


Kalani said...

Jogee- I am considering the same. I admire Phillip Lopate and he is one of the faculty members. Bennington wouldn't give me any student or alumni contact information. Have you found anything out? Email me @ if you get a chance

C said...

Jogee & Kristine -- I'm in my first semester at Bennington. The non-fiction faculty (re: Philip Lopate) is outstanding. The away-from-school scenario works better for me, as I don't think I could endure the workshop torture day-after-day (eck). I do love the emphasis they place on reading, which is unique to the program. Another plus: Vermont is lovely. It's challenging (egad! I have to write!), but so far I'm enjoying it. I'd be happy to answer any questions that I can, and could certainly direct you to Victoria or Dawn for more (they're wonderful)... Let me know.

jogee said...

Hello, C. Thank you for replying to my post; the information you provided has been very helpful. I'm interested in talking to you further about your experience thus far at Bennington and re the program in general. Please let me know where I should send an e-mail.

C said...

Hey Jogee, you can email me at:
clarissa.diane [at]

Nathan said...

Pros and Cons of a Low-Residency MFA Program

Currently I’m doing my third year of the MFA in Creative Writing low-residency program at The University of New Orleans. There are a lot of benefits as well as drawbacks in a low-residency workshop. I thought I’d point them out in order to help people make the decision of doing a low-residency program rather than a on-campus program.

Workshops: I’ve taken live (in person) fiction workshops at the University of Edinburgh as well as during the summer through the University of New Orleans. Over the last few years I’ve found that an online workshop works differently and is much more helpful to the revision process. I think this is because your peers and professors are typing out their comments rather than spouting them off the top of their heads. Comments that are typed out and posted are usually much more thought out and detailed than ones that someone comes up with on the spur of the moment. Plus, typed comments are usually much lengthier than ones told orally.

Secondly, the structures of how the workshops work are significantly different. In a live workshop submissions are usually given out a week ahead of time. The reader writes out his/ her critic and gives it directly to the author. Then about an hour is spent in a live workshop with people talking about what worked and didn’t work in the piece.
However, in an online workshop the piece is discussed at much more length. The initial critic is posted so not only can the author read it but everyone else in the workshop as well. Then peers and professor make comments about each other critics over the next week as well as discussing the piece as they would in a live workshop.

To put this into perspective here’s an example. This summer I submitted a piece for workshop in a live setting. I received about 9 pages of comments from peers and professor as well as an hour and a half of live discussion. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s compare it to an online workshop.

Last spring, I submitted a story to my online class. I received close to 60 posts which when printed out came out to approximately 35 pages of comments and discussion. Plus my story was discussed online through posts for over five days.

You do the math. There is nothing wrong with a live workshop, but it cannot come close to what happens in an online workshop.

So you may be sitting there thinking, “Well, you don’t get the same relationship with people in an online workshop as you would in class.” I can’t argue with you there. A virtual environment can never really emulate sitting across from your peers and looking them in the eyes while they tear you a new one. It can never allow you to go get a beer together after class. Still, what it can do is look at peoples work and their comments more objectively. Since, I don’t know the people in my class personally we leave all that baggage at the log-in screen. I’ll admit to still getting angry after I get a not so satisfying comment about my fiction, but I also know that this comment steams purely from my work and not from my personal relationship with these people.

Often in a live workshop when I would hear a comment I disliked I wouldn’t take note of it. I’d hear it but I wouldn’t write it down while taking notes. However, I realized through the online workshops that those comments are usually ones I should be paying attention to. Since, they are posted and are never deleted you can go back and reread a discussion a year later when you are not so emotionally attached to a piece and make good use of comments that previously really pissed you off.

Literature Courses: Online literary courses are completely different from live ones. I’ve got to say for me they have not been working any magic. They are stale and usually fall flat. This is because the discussions usually end up being directly between you and the professor. All the intellectual talk that you would usually have with your peers in a live lit course goes out the window. Your main objective becomes impressing your teacher and writing out some academic paper that you probably don’t care too much for.

So, while I think the workshops work great. I think online literature courses tend to be boring and not as inspirational as they could be. This is because most professors who teach them do not understand how to involve their students in an online class, or they do not want to spend the time to make their class more than a crap correspondence course. Workshops by their very nature avoid this problem because the students are forced to have discussions and a lot of them. But lit courses don’t have to do this. Until, these dinosaur professors understand that the internet is not limited to email the lit course side of most online programs is going to faultier.

Teaching Assistantship: Another thing to think about is whether you need a TA position or not. Many MFA participants do not need or want TA experience. They have a teaching job already and are trying to get the credentials to get paid more or they just want to work on their writing so they can eventually publish that novel they always dreamed about. However, there are still a few people including myself who need teaching experience that can only be obtained through a TA position.

As far as myself this has become very problematic. UNO does offer TA positions to all MFA students but we have to do them in person at the UNO campus. Seeing as I live in France I am basically excluded from all campus activate. At this point in time they do not offer an online TA position. So, that’s something to think about. If you want to get a TA position then you may want to look into a residency MFA program instead.

Class Wherever You Want: I suppose the main draw of a low residency program is that you can do it wherever and whenever you want. I spent the last year traveling from France, to India, to New Orleans, to Mexico, and finally back to France. I was able to attend class in all these exotic places.

Still, this can be quiet difficult at the same time. Not having an internet connection is not an excuse anyone will except for late work. Broken laptops and stolen books is another excuse no one will or should take.

Making your own schedule is a test of discipline. If you are not the type of person who can put aside the time (5-10 hours a week) to do the work, and another 10-15 hours a week spent online reading and commenting on posts then a low-residency program is not the place for you. An online workshop is not like a live one. You can’t skid through someone’s story and then make a couple half-assed comments during the in-class discussion. Online it becomes very obvious who is working and who is trying to slide by, and people get called out for it all the time. The same is true of the lit courses. You are often in direct correspondence with the teacher about the material. You can’t hide in the back of class and hope other people have read the material. It will be obvious if you didn’t read it closely.

Students: One thing that is really cool about a low-residency program is the diverse group of people you get. In mine I’m working with people located all over the US as well as some in Europe. A couple of my professors teach class while on the road doing book tours. So, in that respect it is very interesting.

On the other hand you don’t make the same relationships as you might in a live setting. As I said before you can’t go out for beer after class. You don’t see someone in the hall or smoking out front. All you get of them is their online presence.

In conclusion, I am very happy with my decision to do a low-residency program. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. However, low-residency isn’t for everyone. You should think about what you want from a program before applying.

Brooklyn said...


I love this blog, and have been reading with interest...the comments about acceptence rates/ decision times, etc.

I just put in applications for the low res programs at Bennington,Warren Wilson, and Vermont...for the January residency deadlines. Just wondering if anyone else is applying now, or has in the past applied at the Sept. Deadline, and has any info on when they heard/ or when these schools generally make their decisions for this pool of applicants (as opposed to those who apply at the march deadline.) I'm basically looking for people to cross my fingers and compare notes with! Good luck to all....

carolina said...

I just got accepted at Antioch for the December low res. and am waiting to hear from Queens, Goddard, Bennington and Pacific. Wondered if any of you could comment on the relative amount of workshopping at these, both online and during residencies? I already have English and Lit degrees and really only want to write as much as possible and read others' work as much as possible. Not interested in all the critical stuff--spent years doing that, now I just want to write. Looking for the program w.maximum concentration on my writing and that of my classmates.

And does anyone know when Bennington, Pacific, Goddard or Queens send out acceptances?


Wyldmind said...

Has anyone who applied to Bennington for the January residency received an acceptance/rejection letter yet or know when they are forthcoming?

rjfarrell28 said...


rjfarrell28 said...

sorry for the last 'test' comment. I live in Spain and wasn't sure if my log-in would work. That being said, I am in the application pool for the jan residency and have heard back positively from a few schools (pacific and vermont specifically were mentioned). I'm still waiting to hear from WW and Bennington, but it sounds like some people have heard by now. I'm applying in fiction.

Yo said...

I posted this in another thread, so sorry for the semi-cross-posting: I just started a low-res program, and I don't think this program is the right one for me, a bit of the bait and switch and all that, plus some other stuff that's not impressing me. I'm going to ride out the first semester, just to see how it goes, and to pick up some credits I may need later. But has anyone transferred from one low-res program to another, and,more importantly, are the credits you've earned accepted? I'd hate to start over from scratch, although I can also see how starting a semester late in a low-res program can have its disadvantages, too.

Nathan said...

I highly doubt that any MFA program is going to allow transfer credits, but I suppose every program is different and that it could be a possibility. I’d just use this time to write as much as possible and hope to find a better program in the spring.

Yo said...

Okay, I see the point, given the unique project-and-workshop nature of creative writing MFA programs, as opposed to, say, MBA or JD programs or most MA programs.

That said, graduate programs, in general, do often allow up to two courses (six to eight credits) of transfer credits. If spent a whole semester or even longer taking courses, at say, hypothetically, UNO, I would want some credit transferred, if I then transferred to Stonecoast.

I also wouldn't want to take the same type of courses over again, such as a lit survey course. Otherwise, you are spinning your wheels (and pissing away some cash) in a way I don't think transfers do in any other type of graduate program.

Has anyone transferred on this blog from one low-res into another low-res, and received transfer credit? (Into a traditional MFA, or vice-versa?)

Is this a danger of low-res programs vis-a-vis traditional programs, where transferring credits is, probably, a little easier, at least at some schools.

Similarly, has anyone received credit from a low-res program for a previous master's degree in a related field, such as English or even journalism (that is common in many graduate schools) or for professional work in a related career, say you've published a book, worked in publishing, been an English professor at a community college.

I realize higher education is first and foremost a business, and accepting transfer credits, and giving work experience credits, hit the bottom line, and MFA programs, unlike some other programs, don't need to do this -- for the time being. It still surprises me, though.

Nathan said...

I looked up transfer credits on UNO's web site. It turns out they do accept transfer credits, but it doesn't say how many they take. So, I suppose that other MFA programs do the same.

Yo said...

Question about a to-be-unnamed low-residency program and if the work load is too light.

For fiction, you do 25 pages a month for each of two months (basic BlackBoard) and then workshop 25 of the 50 pages you've written in month three.

There are four 10-day workshops over two years, so maybe you'll get 100 pages workshopped in the entire program. You'll probably write another 100 pages that won't get workshopped just edited emailed via BlackBoard by a professor. who has only written short stories, incidentally. (That in addition to writing two, four-page book reports a month.)

So, is this too light a load. Seems like it. Not sure I am getting too much out of this. I wanted to get a novel done and maybe start a second one.

The program also makes you take courses out of your writing concentration (poetry courses for fiction folks, for example, which is interesting and enjoyable but distracting from the core genre.

This common?

This is a fairly new low-residency program, and I signed up for geographical reasons more than anything, else. I'm a bit worried that it's like an expansion team, kind of weak. I was expected more work and feedback, both on BlackBoard and in residency.

Any thoughts?

Nathan said...

In reference to the comments about light low-residency workload.

For a 2 year program like an MA I think that might be the right amount of work. I'm doing an MFA which is a 3-4 year program. Basically, we have one workshop a semester where we turn in three stories that have a minimum 7 pages and max 20. Then we also are required to take a lit type course such as 18th century poetry or something.

Since we have three semesters a year that adds up to about 8-9 stories or chapters a year. Over 3-4 years you definitely get a chance to finish a novel or short story collection. You are required in my program to spend 6 semester credits working on completing a finished work. So you are pretty much have to have a novel or collection before you can graduate.

Yo said...

Wow what school are you at and is it low-residency? I also think you're right; I have an MA in another discipline, not low residency, and it was about three times as much work as I face now in this low-residency MFA program. I fear they are just trying to keep bodies in the slots and not worrying about challenging them so much. Our final thesis requirement, by the way, is 150 pages or "half a novel" which I find really bizarre.

Nathan said...

I do the low-residency MFA at University of New Orleans. All the teachers are great and have published novels.

Yo said...

It was my second choice; I almost went there, but I didn't want to retake the GREs, my scores were too old. Not sure if I would want to do the three years, either. A rigorous two years would be fine.

kirribilli said...

Question: We all know the hundreds of commercially and critically successful writers who have MFAs. But are there any "marquee,' "brand," "name" -- whatever you want to call it -- writers of lit fiction or even more commercial fiction, who have low-residency MFAs.

didigibbs said...

I am about to begin the application process. I'm not sure who all to ask for reference letters. I've been out of college for about 10 years now. Any suggestions? I have a few professors I've maintained contact with, but any other suggestions?

The programs I'm looking at are Warren Wilson, Goddard, New England, Vermont, and Stone Coast. How in the world to make the decision, I don't know. Is there anyone out there in the MFA program at Chatham?

Eve said...

Looking for info on low res programs that allow students to complete work in four years rather than two. (For example, doing one semester a year, rather than two, or doing one residency and spreading the at-home piece over the rest of the year.) I have a 60-hour/week job and a family; can do perhaps 15 hours a week of work in an MFA program, but not 25. Am looking at Antioch, Lesley, maybe VCFA and Pacific. Lesley Web site gives a nod to possible one-semester per year study. The others do not mention it.


wendybird said...

@ Eve
Check out Spalding's program...they have a spring/fall residency option (two residencies/year), or summer abroad residency with "semester" work spread out over the year, (you can substitute the spring local residency with the year-long format, I believe. Part of the reason I applied there was because they are so flexible.

jen said...

Hi All,

I am a writer of poetry and nonfiction. I just recently applied to MFA's, concentrating in poetry. I have been accepted to Lesley University (with a small scholarship), New England College (with a small scholarship), Vermont College and Pacific University. I was wondering if anyone could share with me their opinion of which program is reputed to be the most advantageous in placing student work etc...

I also applied to Boston Univ and Bennington but I have not heard back yet, so I am assuming maybe I didn't get in.

If anyone has any thoughts, please let me know. Thank you much.

rileydt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Ashley J. said...

I just recently graduated from the Stonecoast MFA program and I can say that the experience was well worth it for many of the reasons that other posters have given. One thing I particularly liked about Stonecoast was the relationships I developed with the faculty, several of whom I still share my work with. The faculty’s dedication to their students and true pleasure in seeing their students succeed was something I hadn’t witnessed in my previous educational experiences. Check out this blog post if you’re interested in knowing more about the networking between faculty, students, and alumni at Stonecoast.

Matt wohl said...

I recently completed the Spalding University program. My genre of focus was screenwriting and I feel that the program is outstanding. The residencies are simply amazing. For ten days you study with committed, interested students in a workshops and plenaries led by high level instructors and guest lecturers.

During the semester you work ONE ON ONE with a mentor. That kind of attention is unmatched. Over the course of the term each student completes five packets of work. The majority of this writing is your personal creative work augmented by short critical essays directly relating to the craft issues on which you'd like to focus.

At the end of the day, my work got better, I made valuable connections with my peers, I have greater confidence and I feel prepared to move forward as a professional writer. A great program!

Matt wohl said...

I recently completed the Spalding University program. My genre of focus was screenwriting and I feel that the program is outstanding. The residencies are simply amazing. For ten days you study with committed, interested students in a workshops and plenaries led by high level instructors and guest lecturers.

During the semester you work ONE ON ONE with a mentor. That kind of attention is unmatched. Over the course of the term each student completes five packets of work. The majority of this writing is your personal creative work augmented by short critical essays directly relating to the craft issues on which you'd like to focus.

At the end of the day, my work got better, I made valuable connections with my peers, I have greater confidence and I feel prepared to move forward as a professional writer. A great program!

Matt wohl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.