What is the difference among the MA, MFA, and PhD?
The MA is an additional credential that will make you a more attractive candidate for jobs that involve writing (advertising, editing, journalism, public relations, etc). It is required for high school teachers. An MA will also qualify you for teaching in a private high school and in a community college, so if you want to teach but aren’t sure you want to deal with public-school administrative and disciplinary hassles, you might think about those options. It usually takes about three years, and you pay for it yourself.
The MFA is a professional degree that equips creative writers to become university faculty members. It involves intensive workshop work, total dedication to one’s writing, and a desire to train oneself to become a professor of fiction, poetry, prose, or drama. In other words, don’t do the MFA if you just enjoy creative writing and want to play around with it for a few years; in that case, look for an MA program with a creative-writing track.
A Ph.D. is different from an MA. It is, specifically, job training to become a professor. If you enter a Ph.D. program, you are planning to become a professor of literature, teaching at the university level. It is an intensive program of study, teaching, and research that can take anywhere from five to eight years. You will be required to specialize in a particular area of literature (Renaissance, early American, British Modernism, post-colonial literature, etc.). You will complete several years of coursework, acquire reading proficiency in one or more languages other than English, teach undergraduates, and – most importantly – complete a book-length dissertation combining original research and an intervention into establish critical fields. You should know, however, that academic jobs are scarce and highly competitive, and it may take years to land one. Therefore you should also have some backup options. These may include: working at a non-profit institution, popular writing, journalism, prep school or community college teaching, computer work, etc. In other words, do a Ph.D. only if you plan to become a professor, but keep in mind that you may have to resort to something else if that doesn’t work.