One of my readers, Mark Geatches, suggested that I set up a FAQ section for the convenience of readers, which should also spare me the inconvenience of answering similar questions repeatedly. I pondered, and finally decided to do that here. He suggested some questions, and I'm adding more, and will add others as they come up. But be warned; I seem to be incapable of giving a simple answer to a simple question.
Does formal training help new writers get agents? This is the question, so I'll address it, but the simple answer is No. I had formal training, in the form of my BA in Creative Writing, but it still took me six years after college to make my first sale. Agent? An informal group of us aspiring writers queried all the agents listed, and not only got nowhere, some didn't bother to answer. Folks, Parnassus—that is, traditional print publishing, is essentially a closed shop and a Catch 22. Many publishers buy only from agents, and most agents won't even consider unpublished authors. The ratio of aspiring writers to available publishing slots is somewhere south of 100 to 1. As one established writer told me, the fat hogs have their snouts in the swill and they aren't about to let the new little piggies in. So forget about agents; if you're new, you can't get a good one, and you sure as hell don't want a bad one.
So how did I make it? I went first for the magazines, where you don't need an agent, and kept sending in stories for eight years, two during college, six thereafter. Finally, by persistence and luck, I made a sale and a whole $20. Thereafter it was easier, as I gradually became known. I made only a pittance; my wife had to work to support us. Then, faintly known at least by magazine editors, I went to novels, and sold my first novel four years after my first story. But there's more competition today, so I think it's harder for a new writer to break in. That's why I say you need luck: to have your manuscript on the right desk at the right time.
Fortunately today there are better options, some of which I have helped promote, such as self publishing and electronic publishing. So you don't need formal training, or an agent; just write your best and try the new markets and hope to get lucky. The question is irrelevant.