For many years after I had graduated from college, I had toyed with the idea with getting a masters degree. The first question I had to ask myself was: what did I want it in? Graphic design? Education? Or maybe an extension of the BFA I had received in illustration? Since I began working as a web designer before I had even graduated, I already knew that if I wanted to continue doing design work I definitely didn’t need another degree for that. While I liked the idea of learning more about painting, I already knew that I could take weekend studio courses to hone the skills that I lacked instead of having to invest in another degree. After several years working as a designer, I found myself falling out of love with the industry. And the speed at which internet technology advanced meant that I had to either commit to learning programming languages or find something else I could do. Reading through lines of code all day was my idea of torture, so I decided that I had to figure something else out. One day I set out redefine my artistic style and get back to my roots as an illustrator using the skills I had learned so far. I created the Tribal Princess series, which became quite successful, but something else happened after I sat down to draw. A story came rushing out during the same time and it wasn’t until I had completed that story that I realized I had been neglecting a passion I hadn’t practiced since college. A passion for writing.
Armed with this revelation, and some teaching experience (which I also thoroughly enjoy), I finally convinced myself that going back to school for creative writing would be more than worth it. Then the second question was: what kind of writing degree?
For me it was a no brainer: I want to write for children, so I wanted to get a degree in exactly that—writing for children. Still, I did some research into local MFA programs that offered creative writing for children as a concentration rather than the core of the curriculum. While some offered fellowships for people to work as undergrad instructors, I already knew that that type of program would have me more focused on reading other people’s work rather than working on my own writing. Since those options were non-starters, I began looking into the schools I had heard about at writing conferences: Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), Hamline University, and Hollins University. These schools have such a high reputation among skilled writers that to be accepted to any one of them is an honor in itself. So you can imagine the pressure I felt when filling out those applications! I also found several smaller schools with equivalent programs and that’s when I added Sierra Nevada College (SNC) to my list.
After making this list, I then had to further define my goals for the program. I already made the decision that I needed to have a program that was flexible with my current job so that I could afford to go. That cut other schools like The New School in New York, which requires you to stay on campus. (And word to the wise: Financial Aid for Masters programs only comes in loans and scholarships, if you can get them.) So I made lists of resources, faculty and potential costs for each school still on my list. I dropped Hollins right away since the cost outweighed my ability to attend a full month without work. That left me with three schools that met my criteria: VCFA, Hamline and SNC.
Then I applied. And I waited.
The wait was agonizing—as it always is when you submit your writing anywhere—but doubly so, since it felt like my life hung in the balance. If got accepted to just one of these schools, I would be forever grateful to the powers that be. If I didn’t—well—I’d have to start over and rethink my insane plan of making a living as a creative.
The first letter came, and it was from Sierra Nevada College. I got in! I was SO excited that I told everyone about it. I could finally be confident that I would hone my skills and learn from some wonderful working writers.
A week later, the second letter came—it was from Hamline. Not only was I accepted, but they offered a merit scholarship. I was over the freakin’ moon. It was as if I’d applied to Yale and they offered a fellowship!
Two days after that, a letter from VCFA came. My third acceptance. And another scholarship. From the oldest and most lauded program of the three.
This was the first time in my life where I had an entirely positive outcome. Fate no longer made the decision for me; I had to choose. Initially VCFA was my first choice, but after looking at my lists again and talking with others, I had to do some soul searching. What was the kind of atmosphere I wanted? What were the course materials like? What are the lectures and workshops really like? Did I want to spend five hours on a plane or three?
But when it came down to it, the warmth and energy I encountered with the people from Hamline helped me finally choose. Beginning this January 2019, I will enter Hamline’s Masters’ in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. There I will join a group of other like minded writers, passionate for the craft, and create stories that I hope one day soon you all can hold in your hands.
I hope that this article will find those still thinking about their journeys, or needing help in deciding the next step. I scoured the internet for posts like this before I started looking, and I sorely needed one when I had to choose. Go with your gut and do what’s best for you. And if you have any questions please feel free to drop me a line. I plan to post more about my experience as time progresses!
And a HUGE thank you hug to my CPs, Nutschell and Katya. You guys have inspired me so much with your writing, and I couldn’t have gone this far without you!