As a college education becomes more and more expensive and careers become grounded in traditional educations I continually come up against the question: why apply to and pursue an MFA in writing? Why not rely on self-education and self-advocacy to propel my writing career? What value would an MFA give me that I could not seek out elsewhere? My answer is continually grounded in the relationships and community that continually contribute to my growth as a writer.

I began my Fiction MFA online in the Fall of 2020. Though we still met in person for workshops, the community aspect was pressured by the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, making gatherings like readings or post-classroom hangouts difficult to organize.

Throughout literary history, groups of writers have always gathered to discuss the craft with one another. From the friendship of the Shelleys, Lord Byron, and Keats to the modernist gatherings at Gertrude Stein’s Paris apartment, community is one of the most tried-and-tested ways for burgeoning creatives to grow and share ideas that would otherwise mire in the damp chambers of a lonely mind. Our modern-day cohorts often still emerge from the university and especially in programs like the one here at Colorado State.

Despite the confines of the lockdown, the time I’ve spent and the lessons I’ve garnered from my newfound cohort have been invaluable to my growth as a writer. Moreover, I would argue that the pandemic has highlighted just how important human connection is throughout the writing process.

When, after a long stint of online meetings and digital communications, I can sit outside a café and take my mask off to discuss everything from great reads to the craft or even just discuss life with a peer, I find my creative drive renewed and my curiosity stimulated.

My interactions with both professors and fellow students here at CSU, continually reminds me that the most valuable thing an MFA can offer is not a strong literary curriculum or internships (though we have both) but a wide range of thoughts and opinions that can only flourish in an intelligent and welcoming community. I’m thankful to be a part of one of these communities. During my time as a first-year fiction student, I’ve learned so much from the people around me. I watch myself grow with every meeting, every encounter, every note both given and received. Creativity abounds here and the world is made better for it.

Alec Witthohn is a first-year MFA Fiction candidate at CSU and an editorial assistant at Colorado Review.