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What Is A Low-Residency MFA?: How I Got My Degree Without Disrupting My Life

What Is A Low-Residency MFA?: How I Got My Degree Without Disrupting My Life

low residency mfa

My most-dreaded question over the last two years as I’ve been doing my Masters of Fine Arts has been: where are you studying? 

I attend the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia but I live in Toronto, Ontario. For those of you unfamiliar with Canadian geography, that’s a distance of 1,793 kilometres or 1,114 miles. But I am not enrolled in a correspondence program. I am in a low-residency program and, since very few people know what that is, I have a hard time answering the very simple question of where I go to school. 

When I’m chatting with a taxi driver or bank teller, I usually lie for simplicity’s sake and say I go to the University of Toronto in order to avoid having to explain how I can live in one city and go to school in another. But I would never lie to my blog readers, and I know that many of you out there are writers as well who may be playing with the thought of doing an MFA. 

Before I began the application process, I had never heard of low-residency programs and the thought of potentially uprooting my life and moving across the continent for school made me not want to go at all. So finally, for anyone out there who might be keen on getting an MFA but either can’t, or don’t want to, move, here is my explanation of a low-residency MFA. 

The first important thing to understand is that a low-residency program is not the same as a correspondence program. I do not attend online classes; all class-time is done in person with my cohort and professors. 

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How does this work?

Instead of a traditional master’s program where you have a three hour class a couple of times a week over the course of a semester, class time in my program is condensed into week or two-week long blocks called “residencies”. Residencies occur once a semester and we basically cram three months of course material into a couple weeks by having class all-day, every day. When you break it down hour by hour, in-person class time is roughly the same number of hours as a traditional MFA, the time is simply dispersed differently throughout the semester. This means that I travel to school for classes twice a year, and the rest of the time I spend at home where I work on my thesis and my class assignments. 

The value of in person class time cannot be understated which I why I find it so important to distinguish between low-residency and correspondence. Now that I’ve typed it out, it seems like a pretty simple explanation but it always feels daunting to get into the nitty-gritty when I’m getting out of a cab or trying to get a student bank account. 

I hope this post has given you a little insight into one of the alternate ways to can access higher education. If this proves useful, perhaps I’ll do a second post in a couple months on the pros-and cons of low-residency programs. For now, the important thing to take away is that there are many many ways to structure your learning and further your career without having to compromise your current lifestyle. 


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