Given Washington, DC’s, reputation for having a high cost of living, prospective students sometimes wonder how to make their finances work while pursuing an MFA. Through a mix of careful spending choices, fellowships, and funding, our students make it work—and they thrive every year.
Seeking Awards and Loans
We extend merit awards to a select group of promising students, and some awards include part-time work opportunities. When we can, we also support work-study positions, and we encourage students to connect with the Graduate Financial Aid office to seek out more options.
Beyond the walls of American University, our students often find local and national scholarships and grants, and even win prize money. Poets & Writers has a handy, searchable list of writing contests, grants, and awards available for writers.
If you live in the District, you may be eligible for artist fellowships to help cover your expenses. The DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities offers individual support for writers, in the form of $5,000-10,000 yearly fellowships. The Maryland State Arts Council offers similar grants. One of our students applied and received an award last year, and we’ve seen many of our alumni apply and receive it, too.
Working and Writing
While carving writing time out is essential, our program has a schedule that accommodates writers who pursue careers during the day. All of our workshops and Visiting Writers Series events start after 5pm. Most of our students find maintaining some kind of employment manageable, and full- or part-time work helps them avoid taking out additional loans to cover living expenses.
As in any city, the range of available job varies widely. Some students work as freelance writers. Others have part-time bartending jobs. Many find interesting work with government agencies. We have lawyers and teachers working on their MFAs in the afternoons and evenings. In short, our program accommodates our students’ employment needs—helping them build the habits that will sustain them once the program ends.
Finding Affordable Housing
You may have heard that DC is a pricey place to rent an apartment. While it’s certainly true, it’s also true that DC is a vibrant city where writers can—and do—find jobs and make their homes.
The Gateway Arts District is home to multiple rental opportunities for low-income artists. Artspace and the Housing Initiative Project offer affordable and Metro-accessible apartments in Mount Rainier and Hyattsville. As you’d imagine, these projects are popular, so we encourage prospective students to reach out to the organizations early to inquire about availability and, if necessary, get a name on a waiting list.
Many students choose to live outside the District for lower rents. With robust public transportation, it often makes sense to secure affordable housing in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. While living a bit farther from the campus means commuting to classes and social events, geographical space between living and work spaces has its benefits—especially for writers—including fewer writing distractions around your home, and reading time on the metro.
Cheap Eats and Entertainment
Keeping expenses low shouldn’t mean missing out on the DC experience. When it comes to looking for low-cost meals and activities, you are far from alone: the District is full of artists and students on tight budgets, and you’ll find lists like Serious Eats’ “Washington DC’s Best Cheap Eats Under $10” and DC Eater’s “20 New Dishes Under $10” popping up left and right, ready to direct you toward the best bites for the least cash.
Beyond food, it’s no secret that the best of DC’s offerings are absolutely free.
Between exploring the Library of Congress, catching free performances at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, and spending time on the National Mall, “bored” is a word our students never use. These activities and 97 more can be found on “100 Free (& Almost Free) Things to Do in DC.”
This is one town where you can have a great time without emptying your wallet.
Funding, Fellowships, and Strategic Spending
The bottom line is simple. While Washington, DC, can feel pricey, living here is actually manageable. And the experience is worth every penny. Upon your admission, our faculty and students will be happy to share our experiences and discuss the funding options that make the most sense for you.
We can see you in DC already.
Do you see yourself here? If so, find out more about the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.