MFA Program Handbook

You are responsible for meeting all deadlines set by the program, your thesis chair, the Department of English, and the Division of Research Graduate Studies (DRGS). Check the DRGS dates and deadlines page for the most current info, and familiarize yourself with these important explanations of the degree process and terminology.


The program coordinator also serves as the official academic adviser for all MFA students. This person is your go-to resource for the degree process, including paperwork, policies, and any course-planning questions. We recommend you meet with the adviser at least once per semester. Prof. Steven Church is the current coordinator and adviser.

Classified Standing

This means you have met the requirements for admission and have been formally admitted to both the University and the program. We occasionally admit students to the University as “Conditionally Classified” to indicate that the student has not yet satisfied all program admission requirements.


You are responsible for understanding and completing all coursework and degree requirements. Read the University catalog page for the program and frequently consult the DRGS website for updates and deadlines. You must maintain a 3.0 GPA in all your coursework, and no grade below a C is allowed to count toward your degree. Also, no CR/NC grades will count. To graduate with distinction, you must maintain a GPA of 3.9.

Graduate Writing Requirement

This is a University requirement that is met by submission and approval of a substantial sample of scholarly and critical writing, such as a seminar paper you have written for an Engl 250T course. (This is distinctly different from the sample of creative work required for program admission.) Submissions are made to the coordinator. This must be done before Advancement to Candidacy.

Advancement to Candidacy

This is a crucial requirement. The completion of the ATC petition form—available here from the DRGS website—should be done by midway through your degree process. We strongly recommend the third semester. The ATC form is tailored specifically to the year you entered the program, and it lists all courses already taken along with the courses you plan to take to complete your degree. Approval of the ATC petition form enables you to sign up for thesis units when you are ready to begin the final stages of your work here. You must complete the form in cooperation with the adviser.

To be eligible for Advancement to Candidacy, you must have earned at least a B average on all coursework to be included in the MFA degree. You must also have met your Graduate Writing Requirement, after which time you can file the ATC petition form anytime. Check the DRGS graduate degree deadlines page carefully for ATC petition form timelines, especially if you intend to enroll in thesis units the next semester. A delay in ATC petition form approval can result in problems with your "satisfactory progress toward degree" standing, which can affect your TA position, your registration options, your Financial Aid status, etc.

Program Adjustment Request

Any changes to the program of study you charted on the ATC petition form—for instance, if you take classes other than you predicted—must be noted and approved by both the adviser and DRGS. Many students have to file at least one of these PAR forms—available here from the DRGS websitebefore they’re through.

Also worth noting: See page 2 of the PAR form for a full list of Course Limitations for Graduate Programs.

Exit Exam and Reading Lists

During your first year in the program, you should obtain the current reading list for your genre. This list will be used as the basis for your individual Exit Exam, which students are required to pass with a grade of B or above. Each list includes 20 books agreed upon by the MFA faculty, and an additional 10 chosen by the student and approved by your thesis committee. Your approved reading list goes in your file, and you are responsible for reading all of the materials on the list. The exam is given each semester as needed. It’s a take-home exam that asks you to demonstrate a theoretical and critical knowledge of the craft (through short or long essay questions) using authors and works from your list.

Your reading list is NOT intended to be a comprehensive or even representative list. It’s a short, selected list meant to provide a means by which the student can demonstrate the ability to articulate critical ideas, comparisons, and connections based on exemplary texts in his or her specific genre. Don’t put off reading the books on the reading list. You will not be able to read the whole list at the last minute. Plan ahead. You might work with other students in reading groups, take an independent study on a few of the authors, or watch for courses that include some of the books. Above all, expect to read on your own consistently.

Reading lists:
Poetry (.pdf, 12 KB)
Fiction (.doc, 33 KB)
Creative Nonfiction (.doc, 33 KB)

Thesis Committee

This consists of the three people who will work most closely with you to complete your thesis manuscript. Talk with them early and often. After your first year of study, you should be ready to ask a specific professor to chair your thesis committee. That person will become your primary mentor. Your chair will help you select the other two members of your committee. Your chair should be a member of the MFA faculty—usually the person you have worked most closely with. The other two members can be MFA faculty or English Department faculty, or (with program approval when there is a good reason) one of them might be from another department.

Make sure to work closely with your thesis chair to agree on the writing process, making sure due dates and other logistics are all clearly stated and agreed upon. Also, we recommend that you read the thesis manuscripts of some former students in your genre (available in the program office) and familiarize yourself with the University's format.

Thesis Committee Assignment Form

The thesis Committee Assignment Form—available here from the DRGS websitecannot be filed until after the ATC petition form is filed and approved. Also, the thesis Committee Assignment Form must be filed and approved before you can enroll in any thesis units. All three members of your thesis committee must sign it, as well as the program coordinator.

Thesis Manuscript

This should be a book-length manuscript of publishable quality. Take the thesis very seriously, and take advantage of it. This is almost certainly the only time in your life when you will be given this kind of time, assistance, and permission to make a book. If you do it well, it could become your first published book as well as your thesis.

Don't wait to start on your thesis until the last year. If you come here to write, you should be writing toward the thesis from day one. Of course, everything you write here will not be included in the thesis, but thesis progress should be your goal from the start. You will not have time to write the whole thing from scratch during the last semester—or even the last two semesters. The 4-6 thesis units are offered as a way to give you time and the end of the program to focus intensely (with help from your committee chair) on revision, final drafts, polishing, etc.

Registration for Thesis Units

This is done through a Supervised Course Request form, available here from the English Department websiteThe same form is used to sign up for an Independent Study or an Independent Reading course. It requires signatures from your thesis chair and the coordinator, and you must have an approved ATC petition form and thesis Committee Assignment Form already completed. The number of units can be 4 to 6, but the number must agree with what you listed on your ATC petition form. After approval, the Department will give you a permission number to enroll.

Thesis Completion

Check the DRGS dates and deadlines page for your final deadline for turning in your approved thesis. The deadline typically comes around midterm. This means that you should have your thesis very close to completion before the semester you expect to turn it in and graduate.

Please note that there is a precise and specific document format required by the University for thesis submission. The DRGS thesis consultant (currently Chuck Radke) offers workshops and individual help with this, and there is a template on the DRGS Dissertation and Thesis Office page to help you get your thesis into the required format.

Application for Graduation

This requires a form, money, and signatures. There is an early deadline every semesterdetails are here on the DRGS website. If you don’t complete your thesis manuscript during the semester you are enrolled in thesis units, you must enroll in thesis continuation units again each semester until you complete the thesis, which will require further registration fees. The University requires that students be enrolled during the semester they graduate, even if it's being enrolled in "zero" thesis continuation units.

Graduate Degree Clearance

The final Graduate Degree Clearance form verifies that you have completed all requirements for your degree. It must be signed by your thesis chair (who will assign you a grade for your completed thesis units), the coordinator, the English Department chair, and the dean of the College. During your final semester, you should download the Graduate Degree Clearance formavailable here from the DRGS website. Fill out the top part and then give it to the coordinator, who will complete the form, obtain the grade from your chair and necessary signatures, and file it with DRGS in person. Now, you are ready to graduate!