Dear Mentor:

How difficult is it to get financial aid for an MFA in creative writing?

I happened to stumble upon your site and found it highly informative. GREAT job! I want to do a program called "MFA [Master of Fine Arts] in creative writing" in the US. I do have a creative writing background with some published work to my credit. I have done a Master's in English from the University of Hyderabad (traditional), but unfortunately I had done an external [correspondence or distance learning] B.A. prior to that, which is equivalent to the 3-year B.A. from Osmania University. Now I after applying for the TOEFL and the GRE, I am terrified I may actually not be eligible. Could you answer me ASAP? Also is it very difficult to get financial aid for MFA in creative writing? All the university sites that I browsed emphasised that students enrolled are offered assistantships. Please help.

A Bit Nervous, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Dear A Bit Nervous:

First of all, we would like to thank you for your kind words. We are certainly glad that you stumbled upon iMahal. We do not have deep pockets to advertise, so we rely on people stumbling upon iMahal or finding out about iMahal through word-of-mouth. We hope that you will tell your family and friends all about the good stuff on iMahal. It would also be nice if you could sign up with iMahal to use the iMahal Email and the iMahal Messenger, and tell your friends and family to do so as well. The iMahal Messenger is portable to any place where you can access the Internet and it integrates other instant messengers - like AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and ICQ instant messengers - into one.

First, you are eligible for a Master's program in the US. Correspondence or distance learning degrees have not reached the level where they would be acceptable for entering traditional programs in the US. However, since your Master's is from a traditional program, you are eligible. As you know eligibility does not equate with admission, so getting admitted is a different story.

You are liable to come across, which you already have, such statements from colleges and universities as: All or X% of our students have some form of financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships. While that may be true, this statement does not apply to you; you need the right context. Such statements apply to those students who are citizens or legal residents of the US. You are not and would not be. You would be considered an international or foreign student. International students, meaning students from other countries authorized to reside in the US for the sole purpose of attending school, are eligible for certain forms of financial aid. Schools have both legal and practical constraints when it comes to international students, which is a topic for another discussion.

As an international student, you are eligible for what are called research assistantships and teaching assistantships. A research assistantship requires you to conduct research on specific project(s) under the supervision of an assigned professor. A teaching assistantship requires you to perform one or more of the following tasks: tutoring, supervising labs, grading home-work, and so on. The competition for assistantship is fierce. Assistantships are more available for engineering and computer science programs than they are for fine arts programs. However, you do have one thing going for you: almost every university in the US has a "writing across the curriculum" program where graduate students tutor other students in how to write better for their classes. And this is your area of expertise. The best way to find out about such opportunities is to find and email professors in the English department and simply ask them. Be bold, but be respectful.

It is also possible to get a part-time on-campus job. You will be permitted to work up to 20 hours a week on campus. The remuneration from this work, even if you succeed in obtaining it, is not even near enough to make a dent in your actual total costs. The cost of education is extremely high in the US. It ranges from $15,000 to $45,000 annually.

In summary:
Obtaining admission is much easier than securing financial aid. Study very hard for the verbal section of the GRE. Contact professors at English departments of target schools and ask them about teaching assistantships. Good luck!

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