Posted in Education, Writing

5 Bad Reasons to Pursue an MFA in Creative Writing

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An MFA in Creative Writing is certainly worth your time if you go into it for the right reasons.

I talked earlier this week about the many reasons why an MFA in Creative can absolutely help you as a writer.

But is an MFA in Creative Writing a crucial pursuit if you want to be a successful fiction writer? Absolutely not.

So many people have built amazing careers and become huge successes in their writing lives without an MFA. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, so now let’s take a look at the negative side.

Here are a few bad reasons to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing…

1. You think it guarantees you a tenure-track professor position at the college level.

One myth I firmly believed when I applied for and eventually pursued an MFA in Creative Writing was that the degree would give me a huge boost to obtaining a tenure-track teaching job at the college level. I didn’t necessarily think it guaranteed me anything, but I assumed having the MFA in Creative Writing on my CV would mean huge things in the coming years when I applied for teaching positions.

Well, two years since I received my MFA, I’ve applied for more than fifty teaching positions all around the country, and I’ve had exactly one interview. I’ve had help with my cover letter and CV from many writer friends and professors since 2018, and I at least thought I could be competitive at obtaining interviews, but the truth is the response has mostly been silence. And that response can be defeating when you work your ass off for three years to be met only with shrugs from the important decision makers you apply to.

Many people have told me that what I’m lacking is a traditionally published novel, and I think to a large part that’s true. I’ve certainly tried. I signed with a literary agent in 2017 and we tried to sell something for more than a year. I received second place in a novel competition that almost got one of my novels traditionally published. I’ve come close so often, but sadly in 2020 I’m still trying, and it’s going to be hard for me to find a tenure-track teaching job at this time.

Now, this has just been my experience, and it might well be different for you. A friend of mine from my MFA program did secure a tenure-track teaching job at a community college, without a published novel in the world, so that certainly gives me hope for the future. And if you want to get a full-time teaching position at the college level, you’ll need at least an MA degree, remember that. But I wouldn’t pursue an MFA in Creative Writing if an eventual teaching job was the sole reason for doing so.

2. You believe it guarantees your work will be accepted to more publications.

Like I discussed before, obtaining an MFA in Creative Writing degree helps your credibility to a certain extent. It shows people you’re applying to or submitting work to that you take writing seriously and that your work will likely outshine the work of many others. But does getting an MFA guarantee you’ll finally get your writing published? Unfortunately the answer is no. Not a single editor of a literary magazine will take on that story you submitted just because they see in your bio that you have an MFA. It’s all about the writing.

Now, what an MFA program can help with is improving your writing through the workshop process. When you’re in an MFA program you’ll take many workshops where you bring a draft of a short story and have the other students in the class, along with the professor, read your work and give you lots of feedback. Not all of that feedback will be helpful, but much of it will be, and you’ll be able to get valuable insight into the work that helps you shape it into something better.

That’s the side of an MFA program that might help you get more of your work published, but, again, there’s no guarantee of anything. An editor might pleasingly nod at the detail in your bio that you have an MFA, but then that person is going to read your writing and make the decision solely because of the quality or lack thereof. Don’t think you can slack in any way, whether or not you have an MFA.

3. You think it guarantees you’ll be able to sign with a literary agent.

Many aspiring writers pursue an MFA in Creative Writing because they have dreams of signing with a literary agent and getting their first novel published. Yes, this has certainly happened before in the long history of MFA in Creative Writing programs. Some have been lucky to get an agent by the time they graduate and then possibly get their novel published soon after. Literary agents are always looking for the next fresh voice, and many of those voices will come out of MFA programs.

But just like when it comes to editors of literary magazines, a literary agent won’t sign you if the writing isn’t stellar, if it doesn’t move them, if they don’t know how they can sell the work. You have to still write the novel, not just the first three chapters. The MFA degree will only get you so far with literary agents, and you must be willing to put in the time and hard work to get your writing to the best possible place it can be.

If what you really want as a writer is a novel writing career where you eventually sign with a literary agent and get your work published? You don’t necessarily need an MFA for that. Unless you take a publishing seminar that’s offered, most of the work you do in an MFA program is improving your writing, not to give you connections to the publishing industry or teach you how to query a novel well. You can read books for that, attend conferences for that. There are lots of ways into a successful writing career outside of an MFA program.

4. You believe the debt you’ll accumulate doesn’t matter.

I was lucky to join an MFA program that left me with no debt. Where all but one semester I had to pay about $500 in tuition, sometimes less. In fact, one year I won a writing prize that gave me money toward my tuition, and the following year of the program I owed nothing in tuition. I received teaching assistantships that paid me enough to survive and that gave me health insurance. And when I graduated in 2018, again, I left not owing any money to the university.

I would strongly advise against pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing in a program that offered no TA-ships or financial help. The one MFA program I was accepted to in 2012 was a three-year program at $20,000 a year, and in my second and final phone call with the head of the program I was informed it was possible to get a TA-ship the second and third years but that it was in no way certain.

That was too much of a gamble to take. $60,000 for an MFA in Creative Writing? I wasn’t about to spend that kind of money toward a degree that offered no guarantees. And as much as I loved the college and the program, I had to pass. Well, I’m glad I did because two years later I got into an awesome program that cost me almost nothing and gave me so much in return!

So unless you have the financial means to do whatever the hell you want, I would only pursue MFA programs that leave you with little or no debt. You want your writing to be the focus, after all, and you don’t want to have the stress of trying to pay for so much out of pocket semester after semester.

5. You think the community and connections you make will be forever.

One thing that’s both magical and heartbreaking about an MFA program is that eventually it has to end. And when it does, everything changes. Sure, you get to take with you what you got out of it, especially when it comes to the improvement of your own writing, but when it comes to the people you worked with and engaged with on a weekly basis, that community you helped build is unfortunately no more.

Yes, you will make life-long connections and friendships in an MFA program. I certainly made a few of them. But my best friends from the program all moved away after we graduated, and so there’s no longer that face-to-face connection that made every semester in the program such a pleasure.

The same goes with all the professors you work with. Sure, you’ll follow many of them on Facebook, you’ll write each other e-mails at times, but for the most part they’re busy with the new MFA students and you’re sort of on your own path now. They’ll always be there for you if you need them, but you’re no longer a priority.

So if you’re pursuing an MFA program strictly for the community and connections, keep in mind they don’t last forever. If you’re super lucky, maybe you’ll keep a smaller version of that community going long after you graduate, but for the most part, people go their separate ways.

So please — pursue an MFA in Creative Writing for the right reasons.

If this is something you want to do, then go for it, but don’t do it solely because you want a tenure-track teaching job, or because you want to get published more often, or because you want to sign with a literary agent. An MFA program is also not worth going into debt for, and keep in mind that the community and connections you make in the program aren’t necessarily forever.

Instead, do it for the right reasons. Do it for the time that allows you to be creative and find your writing voice. Do it for the community you’ll be a part of and the connections you’ll make during the program. Do it to give you some more credibility and to help improve in your craft.

And one last thing to keep in mind, too — there are so many MFA in Creative Writing programs out there. If it’s something you’re serious about, do your research and only pursue the ones that work well for you. And if you don’t want to pursue an MFA? That’s fine, too. You can still be a successful writer without an MFA, never forget that.

Whatever you end up doing, whether you pursue an MFA in Creative Writing or not, I wish you only the best. Keep writing, keep improving. And never ever give up!

Want to start making some money from your writing?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

 

Posted in Education, Writing

5 Good Reasons to Pursue an MFA in Creative Writing

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Receiving an MFA in Creative Writing in 2018 was one of my greatest accomplishments by far.

It was the conclusion of an eight-year pursuit, first of all. In 2010 I made the decision I wanted to focus on fiction writing the next few years, and I really wanted to spend some time in an MFA program to improve in my abilities.

So I applied that fall… and wasn’t accepted anywhere. I tried again in 2012 and was accepted to exactly one program… but they didn’t have any funding. Finally the stars aligned in 2014 when my local university started its own MFA in Creative Writing, and I was ecstatic to be accepted to its first MFA class of fiction writers.

I had an incredible experience in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Nevada, Reno, between 2015 and 2018. I learned a lot. I worked really hard. I had some great adventures. I met so many amazing people.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, and two years out of the program, I certainly miss a few things. So let’s talk about the good of an MFA, shall we?

Here are five reasons you you should pursue an MFA in Creative Writing…

1. Time

This in many ways is the number one reason to do it. When you have a full-time job and you have lots of responsibilities and you have very little time for yourself, it can be hard to ever find quality time to devote to your writing. Sure, you might be able to grab a half-hour here and a half-hour there, but how are you ever going to get better at your craft if you’re always cramming in writing sessions whenever they’re made available to you?

The great thing about an MFA in Creative Writing is that it allows you two or three years to focus exclusively on your writing. It gives you some much needed quiet time to work on the kind of writing that speak to you, that you feel passion for… and that you finally have the time for.

If time is what you’re lacking right now, and you’re serious about becoming a writer, an MFA in Creative Writing might be exactly what you’re looking for.

2. Community

Another excellent part of joining an MFA in Creative Writing is that you become part of a large community of writers. When you’re off writing on your own and most everyone in your life doesn’t understand what you do, maybe even mocks what you do, it can be really hard to believe in yourself and get any better.

When you sit in rooms with other writers who are pursuing the same craft you are, you feel better about yourself. You gain more confidence. And it’s a gift, really, to find a tribe of like-minded people who love to write and talk about writing. It can be thrilling to develop life-long friends you can root for every step of the way, even after the MFA program has concluded.

I had so many great times with the community I was lucky enough to join in my MFA program in 2015. So many times we helped each other with our writing, so many late nights we spent laughing, so many fun trips to conferences we took together I’ll never forget. The MFA in Creative Writing can be an amazing thing because you go from isolation as a writer to being a part of a community, and there’s truly nothing like it.

3. Connections

Along with community, an MFA in Creative Writing allows you to make helpful connections, both with the professors in your department and with writers that are brought in from the outside. My MFA experience allowed me to get valuable insight into the writing process from at least a dozen knowledgeable and inspiring professors at my school, including a rock star thesis adviser, and they’ve been helpful after the MFA to get references and letters of recommendation, too.

Besides the professors themselves, MFA programs often bring in outside writers at least a couple of times a semester for readings, lectures, and personal visits. In my program each year we had an established fiction writer not only give a reading and lecture but also workshop our writing. They would each be at the university for three days or longer, and so those are connections I’ll always value.

Joining an MFA in Creative Writing program doesn’t necessarily guarantee you connections with literary agents and editors and people like that, but my program had a Publishing & Editing class that had a revolving door of guests from the publishing industry, both in person and via Skype. This seminar taught me so much about the industry and even gave me a few long-lasting connections, too!

4. Credibility

If you’re serious about being a writer and want to have your work published in literary magazines, maybe even sign with a literary agent and have a novel published in the future, an MFA in Creative Writing absolutely gives you credibility on all these fronts. While the MFA doesn’t guarantee any of this, what it does is show people that you’re a serious writer and that you’ve spent a few years dedicating time and energy to the craft.

In effect the MFA gives you some credibility. It’s really hard to get accepted to an MFA program, first of all. Many schools receive hundreds of applications and only accept ten or fewer writers a year. It’s tough to get in, and then to maintain the loaded course work and complete that colossal thesis project before the degree is finally yours. An MFA isn’t easy, and receiving that degree shows the world you’ve worked tirelessly for years.

And once you apply for job positions later, and when you query literary agents, and when you submit your shorter work to literary magazines, having in your bio that you graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing will certainly help you reach your dreams than if you had no qualifications at all. Sure, the writing is what matters most, but having the MFA doesn’t hurt you one bit.

5. Improvement

Finally, besides time, there might be no better reason to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing than to improve in your craft. You can only get so far as a writer when your work is merely competent or good. You want to be great. You want the time and community and connections to help make you great, and that’s what an MFA in Creative Writing program does.

When I entered my program in 2015, I felt like my writing was solid but could definitely be improved. And through working closely with other students, professors, and visiting writers, and taking more than ten workshops and writing seminars, my writing reached a level by 2018 I never thought was possible. My MFA thesis novel, for example, was something I never thought I had the talent or ability to pull off, but through lots of hard work and help from others, that novel is now everything I hoped it would be.

You’ll learn in an MFA program about literary writing versus genre writing, you’ll study character and setting and theme more closely, you’ll read and discuss lots of amazing books you might never have found on your own, you’ll discover the crucial importance of revision. If you want to improve as a writer? An MFA in Creative Writing is something worth looking into, it’s as simple as that.

Keep in mind that an MFA in Creative Writing isn’t right for everyone.

It’s definitely not the be all and end all. You don’t have to pursue an MFA if you want to be a writer. Again, many successful writers don’t have an MFA. Some don’t even have English degrees of any kind!

An MFA in Creative Writing doesn’t guarantee anything, and every MFA program is different. I was lucky enough to attend a program that welcomed genre writing, so I felt at home writing horror short stories and young adult novels. Many MFA programs wouldn’t have even allowed me to write these things, so if genre writing is your thing, you’ll have to think twice about what you want to do.

Whatever you plan on doing, hopefully this list gives you some insight into the most positive aspects of an MFA in Creative Writing from someone who’s actually gone through one. Whether or not you pursue an MFA, I wish you the best of luck in your writing!

Want to start making some money from your writing?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

Posted in Education, Writing

Why So Many Writers End Up Being Teachers

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

Another argument in favor of writing courses has to do with the men and women who teach them. There are thousands of talented writers at work in America, and only a few them can support their families and themselves with their work.


So many writers have to take day jobs to support themselves.

Stephen King is absolutely right when he says there are thousands of talented writers in America alone, let alone elsewhere around the world, and only a few of them can support their families and themselves with just their writing.

Of course those writers are out there. You might even be lucky enough (and work hard enough) to become one of them. It’s the dream of any writer, really, to be able to just write every day and be able to support themselves from that work.

But for most of us, we need at least a part-time job, if not a full-time job to help supplement our income. And teaching for many writers has always been a great position.

I’ve been an English instructor at the college level for seven years now. I love teaching. I love sharing what I know about writing to students. And I always think it’s a great position for those of us who like to spend part of their day creating.


So what are a few reasons why teaching works so well for writers?

One, teaching allows us at least part of the day to focus on our creative work. As a college instructor, I get to give part of my day to my teaching duties and part of my day to my writing.

This might not be the case if you’re teaching secondary education. I have had friends who teach at the middle school and high school level who say it’s extremely difficult to write during the school year. But, worst case, you still have a few lengthy breaks throughout the year, including summer break, where you can catch up on your writing.

Second, teaching is also great because you get to share what you know about writing to your students. You might not be writing, but at least you’re talking about writing, and giving inspiration to others. And what I find often is that the students then give me inspiration for my own work when we discuss writing. They have this ability to open up your mind to so many possibilities.

Third, teaching allows you to step away from the darkness and isolation of a writing room once in awhile and interact with incredible students and potentially other teachers about subjects you love.


There are so many writing courses out there, and someone has to teach them!

Of course there’s nothing better as a teacher than the opportunity to teach actual creative writing. I’ve gotten the chance to teach it here and there, and it’s always such a thrill.

Pretty much every college has at least one creative writing course. Many colleges have MFA programs where creative writing is offered as a degree. This country is filled with universities where creative writers teach other creative writers. Where writers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to support themselves manage to do so by teaching in a creative writing program.

So King is right: that’s definitely a bonus about writing courses. There’s so many people who want to learn how to write creatively, and do it well. Why not turn to the most talented of writers who may have something to contribute?

I begin my thirteenth semester as a college instructor this fall (wow!), and I’m looking forward to it. Teaching is a really sweet gig that lets me write and dream to my heart’s content, and I continue to enjoy the balance it gives to my long, creative life.

Posted in Education, Writing

Why You Need to be Cautious about Workshop Critiques

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

How valuable are [critiques in writing workshops]? Not very, in my experience, sorry. A lot of them are maddeningly vague. Non-specific critiques won’t help when you sit down to your second draft, and may hurt.


It’s sad but true: I would argue that many workshop critiques are not helpful to writers in the long run.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying most workshop critiques. But yes, many workshop critiques are frustratingly vague, as King says, and do you more harm than good if you read them too closely and actually integrate a lot of the advice into the next draft of your story or novel.

I’ve been a part of a lot of creative writing workshops. I took my first one in the spring of 2012 and my last one in the spring of 2017. In five years of graduate school, I took part in ten semester-long workshops. Ten!

Some of these experiences were great. Others… weren’t so great.

The best workshop settings I took part in had less than ten students. My Spring 2016 semester I took a night workshop with just six other fiction writers, and all six of them were so smart and generous with their time that their advice for the three short stories I submitted to the class that semester were spot-on and super helpful.


However, I also took a workshop in the fall of 2012 that didn’t go so well.

The class was comprised of 22 students, all of them in different stages of writing skills, and I would say maybe 5 of the 21 responses I received on my stories were helpful. Many of them though were super vague to the point where I wondered if some of the students even read my story.

I was never mad about this, exactly. I mean, it makes sense. Each of us that semester had to turn in two short stories, so that meant we had to read and respond to 42 stories during the course of four months. It was a lot.

When you have six other students, when you have an extremely tiny group, there’s actual time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each writer and what they can do to improve.

22 students is more a crowd than a class, particularly when it comes to the workshop setting. Any workshop larger than about 15 students just becomes too chaotic, and after a certain point you have to be a little vague here and there with your comments to survive the semester.


The worst thing you can do for your next draft is try to incorporate the advice of every single critique!

Whether your workshop is comprised of seven students or 22 students, you can’t possibly integrate all that feedback. It’ll drive you mad to do so, to start, and it will make your story or novel so much worse.

Here’s what you should do instead. First, take an afternoon and read through all the comments, checking or underlining or highlighting any feedback you agree with. Second, once you’ve read through all the responses, now look over what you marked up and make a new Word document and type up all the feedback you want to integrate into the next draft.

Always start with the most valuable feedback of all (usually notes that many, many of the workshop students included in their critiques) and then work your way down.

As long as you don’t try to integrate everything, you’re on the path to a better draft. Use the feedback that makes sense, that you agree with, and toss the feedback that’s too vague or makes no sense or that you strongly disagree with.

Creative writing workshops can be helpful, but you should also be cautious when it comes to the critiques.

Just be smart at the end of the day, and do what you need to do to make your latest work of fiction its absolute best!

Posted in Education

Why Teaching to the Test Fails the Student

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The madness started freshman year of college.

I went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to study Film — over the course of four years I would take over twenty-five classes on film production and film theory — and one of the benefits of the university was that it was a liberal arts school, allowing the students to take courses not just in his or her major but in such disciplines as math, science, psychology, and sociology, to name a few. Some of these liberal arts classes had their merits, while others were pure torture.

However, most of the liberal arts classes, and even some of the film classes, had one major weakness in common — the student’s grade for the entire semester would be calculated by just the midterm and the final. Out of sixteen weeks, out of potentially fifty or more hours of lecture, a student’s grade would be comprised of the average score of just two tests. This kind of grading system not only makes it that much more difficult to get an A, but it adds to stress, late night cramming sessions, and the tendency for nothing to be retained once the students leave the classroom for the final time.

Freshman year I had my one and only 8 A.M. class. It was horrible — having to wake up at 7:30 and walk across campus to go to numbingly dull three-days-a-week lectures on Western Civilizations. The teacher would pace the room for fifty minutes and discuss topics like the Twelfth Century Renaissance, and Monasticism and the Ascetic Ideal, topics often found in our twelve-hundred-page tomes that cost over three hundred dollars at the student bookstore.

Most of the material she taught acted as a sedative, which we didn’t really need at eight o’clock in the morning, and while it was expected of us to add to the discussion and take generous notes, there would never be an incentive to really try to learn anything. I would walk into the classroom and let the teacher’s words go in one ear and out the other, and then I would leave the classroom not having retained a single bit of information. I would instead be looking forward to my film class of the day; that, or lunch.

But then mid-October would show its scary face, and suddenly I’d be days away from the midterm, which was comprised of fifty multiple choice questions and three essays, where everything that had been shoved down our throats for the last eight weeks would have to be regurgitated on paper. Suddenly, there I was, after twenty-four lectures, having learned nothing, but having to show that I was a wizard in Western Civilizations so that I wouldn’t fail the midterm and be booted out of the school.

I remember those nights well — speeding through dinner, heading to the library for an all-night cram session, sitting for hours in a white claustrophobic space, my notes and the book sprawled out in front of me; I would try to retain as much of the useless information I could stand. I would stay in the library for five or six hours until finally heading back to my dorm to get a few hours of sleep, and in the morning I would rush to to my 8 A.M. final and pound as many words down to paper as I could before my tired brain would explode. I ended up getting a B- on the midterm and a B+ on the final, and I received a solid B in the class. In the days and months and years since, I’ve remembered nothing, not one single fact or idea from the class. It was a complete waste of time.

But it didn’t have to be.

The worst class I ever took at Loyola Marymount University was Ethics, during my second semester of my junior year. The topic sounded harmless enough — I figured we would have lively class discussions about various ethical situations. I assumed there would be a few essays required of us, along with those anxiety-inducing midterm and final thrown in just to ensure that we couldn’t have too much fun.

But what I got was something I’ll never forget: an elderly professor, who was at least ten years past his proper retirement date, would spend his seventy-five minutes twice a week not allowing for class discussion, not interested in our opinions, but instead obsessed with only his own thoughts and ideas. Worst of all, we had to agree with him, in every way, shape, and form. Debating this man on a topic was unheard of, and anyone who had the gall to try would most likely be chastised in front of the entire classroom.

The man would ask questions like, “Is getting an abortion immoral?” or “Should euthanasia be legalized?” Instead of enjoying a lively class discussion with such controversial topics as these, he would tell us why abortion is wrong and why euthanasia should never be allowed. We couldn’t even contest him; we had to just politely nod and shut the hell up. The class was, in every way, a disappointment, a waste of time, energy, and money.

But the class wasn’t just bad because of the teacher’s ego — once again, the scores of the midterm and final were the only factors in the student’s final grade. There was no papers, no homework grade, no participation grade, no projects. Your final grade was fifty percent the midterm and fifty percent the final. And he graded your tests not by how well you remembered the class material, or how well you could put his, not your own, thoughts into words; he actually graded these tests on how well the students’ ideas lined up with his own!

I remember having to skip the day after the midterm; I was sick and at the university’s health clinic. I got a call from my friend Katie, who was in the Ethics class with me. “He gave our midterms back,” she said. “Do you want to know your grade?” I figured I didn’t want to know. The test had been only comprised of five essay questions, and I wasn’t sure how I did. I figured I could have gotten an A or an F; it could have gone either way. “What did you get?” I asked my friend. She said, “an A.” I felt confident now. I felt like I should have at least gotten a B.

I asked for my score.

“Sixty-five,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. After eight weeks of lectures, after eight weeks of listening to this guy expel his thoughts and ideas, the one time I tried to let my voice be heard, he shot it down, defiantly. I managed to pull off a C in the class, but the experience affected me, and still does. I vowed that if I were to ever teach a college class, I would take into account everything that crummy curmudgeon did, and do the opposite. I would actually try to get my students to learn, to engage in the material. I would make such education practices my highest priority.

Throughout my four years at Loyola Marymount University I would have the occasional liberal arts class where the teacher did everything right, like Philosophy Goes to the Movies, where our grade was not comprised of just two test scores, but also weekly homework, eight short essays, participation, and a presentation. This was the other philosophy class I took at LMU besides Ethics, and it was in every way more interesting and educational.

Although some may think movies might not be the best tool in a classroom setting, particularly outside the Film and Television building, this teacher allowed us to view films in a philosophical context, which, to an obsessive movie buff like myself, actually made me retain the philosophical concepts far better than a drier, more academic version of the class could have provided. We looked at science fiction films like The Matrix and Blade Runner, and comedies like Being John Malkovich and Crimes and Misdemeanors, and about them we wrote essays and weekly journal entries, enjoyed heated class discussions, and created a presentation in which we got to talk about our favorite film and favorite philosophical concept.

The scores of these assignments were all factored into our final grade, and even though I didn’t do extraordinarily well on the midterm — I received a low B — I ended up scoring an A for the semester, and, more important, I departed the class that December with some knowledge and ideas I didn’t have before I started the class the previous August.

We spend so much of our educational lives striving for that A, cramming for one test after another, particularly throughout middle school and high school. Sophomore year and junior year of high school are especially stressful for students because they need those good grades, not to mention, a myriad of extracurricular activities. By the time we go to college, we want a well-rounded experience, one that shouldn’t still be mired in fear of bad grades and poor returns on midterms and finals.

College, more than any other educational experience, should be a time of learning, and, most of all, the desire to learn. Too many teachers in the college setting are lecturing not to teach or expand our minds, but to prepare us for a pair of tests that merely act as poor examples of how much we managed to retain throughout the semester. The classes we do well in, the ones we actually enjoy and remember years after having graduated from college, are the classes that allow the students to have a voice, to have a chance at learning material that can be used outside of the classroom, and to have the opportunity to work really hard not just twice a semester for that golden A, but throughout the sixteen weeks on tests, essays, projects, and more, that lead to an all-encompassing final score.

Having multiple elements factored into the final grade gives each student the chance at a fairer end-of-semester evaluation, a better chance at succeeding in the class, and the possibility of a meaningful education.