MFA Degree Requirements

The MFA degree in Creative Writing requires a 54-unit course of study. The program is intended to take three years, and you are limited to five years to complete the requirements. Students are accepted into the program with a focus in one of three genres: poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction.

Coursework Requirements

From the University catalog: In consultation with the MFA adviser, each student prepares and submits a coherent program individually designed within one of the two following frameworks.

MFA in Creative Writing

1. ENGL 261 or 263 or 265 — 16 units
2. ENGL 241, 243, or 245 (one course in the student's focus genre and one in either of the other two genres) — 8 units
3. ENGL 250T or 280T — 12 units
4. Approved electives (upper-division or graduate level courses) — 12-14 units
5. ENGL 299 (thesis) — 4-6 units
Total: 54 units

Note: At least 70% of coursework (38 units) must be at graduate (200-series) level.

MFA in Creative Writing: Emphasis in Publishing and Editing

1. ENGL 261 or 263 or 265 — 16 units
2. ENGL 241, 243, or 245 (one course in the student's focus genre and one in either of the other two genres) — 8 units
3. ENGL 250T or 280T — 8 units
4. ENGL 286S or 242 — 8 units
5. Approved electives (upper-division or graduate level courses) — 8-10 units
6. ENGL 299 (thesis) — 4-6 units
Total: 54 units

Note: At least 70% of coursework (38 units) must be at graduate (200-series) level.

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Notes on Courses

Seminars in Writing — These workshops make up the heart of the coursework, and you will use them to work toward your thesis manuscript. Four sections are required, but some students choose to take more and count them as electives. It's a good idea to take one workshop nearly every semester, and to take them from different faculty. You may also choose to take a workshop outside of your genre.

Seminars in Form and Theory — These courses in literary craft provide intensive study in the forms, styles, and technical issues in the genres. Instructors rotate, and different faculty focus on different content. The creative nonfiction course is offered in the fall semester only, and the poetry and fiction courses are offered in the spring semester only. 

Seminars in Literature or Critical Theory — These courses provide broad and necessary background in literary studies, and there are different topics offered each semester. Many of those topics will not be offered again while you are here, so look for topics and faculty you'd most like to take. You may choose a class that will deepen your knowledge of your chosen genre, or you may choose a class that will broaden your horizons by exposing you to something new. Please note: The seminar paper that you write for one of these seminars is often used to fulfill your Graduate Writing Requirement, so don't put these off until the last minute!

Electives — In most cases, these courses will be graduate level English courses, but they may also include literary seminars, foreign language courses, or courses from other departments in art, drama, playwriting, etc. that are relevant to your plan of study. Via the Division of Graduate Studies, see page 2 of the Program Adjustment Request form for a full list of Course Limitations for Graduate Programs.

Electives in Publishing and Editing — Students are encouraged to consider taking the Engl 242 Literary Editing and Publishing class and/or the Engl 286S Practicum in Literary Publishing class as electives to gain real-world experience in professional publishing and editing. Students in Engl 242 serve as editorial assistants for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry, and students in Engl 286S serve as editors and editorial assistants for The Normal School literary magazine, both in print and online. Both projects are nationally recognized. Engl 242 is offered in the fall semester only; 4 units, and the course is repeatable. Engl 286S is offered each semester; units vary, with a max of 6 that count toward the degree.

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Specific Requirements

Thesis — The thesis for the MFA degree in Creative Writing consists of a single book-length manuscript of fiction, a collection of poems, or creative nonfiction that works together to make a unified body of work. The thesis committee works closely with the student on style as well as content; it adheres to a high standard of publishable quality work. In lieu of a formal defense, the graduating student is required to give a public reading from his or her work.

Graduate Writing Requirement — Before advancement to candidacy, the student must satisfy the Graduate Writing Requirement. This requirement is met by submission and approval of a sample of scholarly writing. (This is distinct from the sample of creative work required for program admission.) See the MFA Program handbook for details.

Subject Examination — In addition to the general Graduate Division requirements, students are required to pass an MFA exit exam with a grade of B or above. Each student works with his or her thesis chair to create a reading list, which will be approved by the three-member thesis committee. The exam consists of essay questions that allow the student to demonstrate a theoretical and critical knowledge of the craft, through using texts from his or her approved reading list.

Here are the reading lists: Poetry (.pdf, 12 KB) • Fiction (.doc, 33 KB) • Creative Nonfiction (.doc, 33 KB)

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For prospective students, please include the MFA Program Application form (pdf, 216kb) in your application packet.

For continuing students looking for the most current forms and academic information, please visit the frequently updated Division of Graduate Studies forms page. This includes the Advancement to Candidacy form, the Thesis Committee selection form and guidelines, the Graduate Degree Clearance form, etc.

NOTE: The Advancement to Candidacy form is specific to Creative Writing and also to the year in which a student entered the program. Please be sure to select the form for the correct year.

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