Updated for 2014/15
With the start of a new year, many people’s resolution may be investing in their writing career in some way, so inevitability a question I get frequently at this time of year is this one from Bang2writer Kate Lally:
I was just wondering if, in your professional opinion, an MA in screenwriting is worthwhile. And if so, do you think certain unis would be better than others?
Is an MA “worth it”? Well it’s important to remember only YOU can know for sure – but disclaimers aside, I have many articles on this site about university courses, just click the label.
For the record though, the short version is I DO happen to think going to university to study scriptwriting (or similar) can be worthwhile, though this depends wildly on personal POV and what you’re prepared to put into it. For my in-depth thoughts on why I favour uni courses, check out this post. You may also be interested in Bang2write Intern Ellie’s thoughts on why MA courses can be worthwhile in this article she wrote last summer.
That said, lots of things have changed in the last ten years. When I was at university, there might have been courses to do but there was no real internet content about scriptwriting, a very limited online community and social networking in the form of Twitter and Facebook hadn’t even been invented yet! (Ack, feel sooooo old).
I do think it’s VERY important to decide on your own motivations for going to uni to learn writing, though. If you think uni will make it “easier” to “break in” – I can tell you for definite: it WON’T. It’s hard for everyone no matter where they start, uni or not. I have very successful friends who didn’t go and very successful friends who did… It really does depend on the individual. University is not a golden ticket.
If however you want to learn and write as much as you can and utilise your uni experience to gain as much work experience/contacts as you can tho (sooooo important), I think it can be a brilliant place to start as a writer. Uni is expensive but I think having that amount of time to devoting to finding your “voice” as a writer and developing a portfolio is invaluable.
As for MAs that are supposed to be good… I think it’s important to remember there will be never be the “perfect” course, designed to meet every last one of your needs and ambitions. If however you can find a course that suits approximately 60% or more of them, I think you’re doing pretty well. Please note I never recommend specific MAs because I don’t have one (I did the BA (Hons) in Scriptwriting For Film & TV at Bournemouth University instead).
With all that out the way then:
I have met many of the Bournemouth MA students past and present on the Bournemouth full-time MA course who report a positive experience for the most part. It’s also worth noting Bournemouth also runs a Distance Learning MA in Screenwriting which several of my Bang2writers have reported has worked well with them while juggling family life.
For those of you who want to write for TV, I hear great things about Leicester De Montfort’s MA in Television Scriptwriting.
London Screenwriters’ Festival has run at Regents’ College, London the last two years and their students frequently volunteer with us, many of them reporting good experiences on their scriptwriting and filmmaking courses.
Friends of mine have done courses in creative writing at East Anglia and at Edinburgh Napier University too and have reported good experiences. David Bishop of Vicious Imagery did the course and now works on it, in fact!!!
By the way, if you are a mature student (ie. over 21) and have no prior qualifications, you may be interested to know it is still possible to get on a MA course. It depends on the policy of the individual university, but as an example, here is Bournemouth’s MA Scriptwriting, which says:
If you lack the formal academic qualifications needed to enter a postgraduate or post-experience degree, there are several alternative routes to follow – some based on experience. Contact the AskBU Enquiry Service for more information.
If you DO want to get some qualifications that are the equivalent of A Levels (and thus gain you a definite place at uni somewhere), you may be interested in The Access To Higher Education Course. This is a course for adults over 21 specifically designed to fast-track you to higher education.
It’s also worth remembering that it’s possible to take a university course via distance learning and paying in intalments, like those at The Open University. Some sixth form colleges also offer degrees now and whilst I haven’t seen any dedicated solely to screenwriting, some English BA (Hons) cover it. Shop around.
End of the day, university or not, as writers we make our OWN opportunities – there’s no getting away from that!!
My main advice would be tho: don’t let money worries get in the way if you really want to go. There is always a way, even if it means thinking RIGHT outside the box. I really believe money (or more accurately, LACK of it) should never stop your education or dreams. Easier said than done of course – I had to think long and carefully about the debt I was signing up for as a 21 year old single mother – but I can tell you, I’m ultimately glad I went.