The M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing

The Creative Writing program in English Language and Literature offers two degree options: the M.F.A. degree, with concentrations in either poetry or fiction, and the Joint M.F.A./Ph.D. degree. M.F.A. students pursue intensive study with distinguished faculty committed to creative and intellectual achievement.

The Programs

teacher with studentsEach year the department enrolls only eight M.F.A. students, four in each concentration. Our small size allows us to offer a generous financial support package that fully funds every student. We also offer a large and diverse graduate faculty with competence in a wide range of literary, theoretical, and cultural fields. Each student chooses a Special Committee of two faculty members who work closely alongside them to design a course of study within the broad framework established by the department.

Students participate in a graduate writing workshop each semester and take 6 additional one-semester courses for credit, at least four of them in English or American literature, Comparative Literature, literature in the modern or Classical languages, or cultural studies (typically two per semester during the first year and one per semester during the second year). First year students receive practical training by working as Editorial Assistants for Epoch, a periodical of prose and poetry published by the Creative Writing Program. The most significant requirement of the M.F.A. degree is the completion of a book-length manuscript: a collection of poems or short stories, or a novel, to be closely edited and refined with the assistance of the student’s Special Committee.

Special Committee

committee studentEvery graduate student selects a Special Committee of faculty advisors who work intensively with the student in selecting courses and preparing and revising the thesis. The Committee is comprised of at least two Cornell Creative Writing faculty members: a chair, and one minor member. An additional member may represent an interdisciplinary field. The University system of Special Committees allows students to design their own courses of study within a broad framework established by the department, and it encourages a close working relationship between professors and students, promoting freedom and flexibility in the pursuit of the graduate degree. The Special Committee for each student guides and supervises all academic work and assesses progress in a series of meetings with the students.


teachingAt Cornell, teaching is considered an integral part of training for a career in writing. The Field requires a carefully supervised teaching experience of at least one year for every M.F.A. candidate as part of the program requirements. The Department of English, in conjunction with the First-Year Writing Program, offers excellent training for beginning teachers and varied and interesting teaching in the university-wide First-Year Writing Program. These are not conventional freshman composition courses, but full-fledged academic seminars, often designed by graduate students themselves. The courses are writing-intensive and may fall under such general rubrics as “Portraits of the Self,” “American Literature and Culture,” “Shakespeare,” and “Cultural Studies,” among others. A graduate student may also serve as a Teaching Assistant for an undergraduate lecture course taught by a member of the Department of English faculty.


All M.F.A. degree candidates are guaranteed two years of funding combining:
  • a first-year Graduate Assistantship working at Epoch, a periodical of contemporary literature published by the Creative Writing Program. Students help to read submissions, plan special issues, and assume other editorial and administrative responsibilities. This assistantship carries a full tuition fellowship.
  • a first-year summer teaching assistantship, linked to a teachers training program. Summer residency in Ithaca is required to receive this assistantship.
  • a second-year Teaching Assistantship with a full tuition fellowship
  • a second summer fellowship (made possible by the David L. Picket ’84 Fund and The James McConkey Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Award for Summer Support, established by his enduringly grateful student, Len Edelstein ’59)
  • All of the above fellowships and assistantships include a stipend and Student Health Insurance for all candidates, including international candidates.
Optional MFA Lecturer Appointments

Degree recipients who are actively seeking outside employment or who are applying for fellowships and residencies are eligible to apply to teach for one or two years. These positions are made possible by an endowment established by the late Philip H. Freund ’29 and a bequest from the Truman Capote Literary Trust.

Admission and Application


Minimum Degree: Applicants must currently have, or expect to have, at least a B.A. or B.S. (or the equivalent) in any field before matriculation.

Application submission: All applications and supplemental materials must be submitted on-line through The Graduate School application system. While completing your application, you may save and edit your data. Once you click “submit” your application will be closed for changes. Please proofread your materials carefully. Once you pay and click submit, you will not be able to make any changes or revisions.

Deadline: December 15th, 5:00 p.m. EST. This deadline is firm. No applications, additional materials, or revisions will be accepted after the deadline.

Application Review: Application review begins after the submission deadline.

Admissions Decisions: Notification of admissions decisions will be made by email or by telephone by the end of February.

M.F.A. Program Application Requirements Summary

Please read the application requirements summary outlined below before you begin your application. All applications, writing samples, personal statements, unofficial transcripts, letters of recommendation, and fees must be submitted on-line through The Graduate School application system.

Statement of Purpose

A statement of purpose is a one- or two-page single-spaced statement covering the reasons you are undertaking graduate work and explaining your academic interests as they relate to your undergraduate study and professional goals.

Three Letters of Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation from those persons who best know you and your work are required. Submitting additional letters will not enhance your application.

In the recommendation section of the application, you must include the email address of each recommender. After you save the information (and before you pay/submit), the application system will automatically generate a recommendation request email to your recommender with instructions for submitting the letter electronically. If circumstances prevent your recommender from submitting a letter electronically, we will accept the letter in paper form mailed to the Department of English, Graduate Coordinator, 250 Goldwin Smith Hall.

If your letters are stored with a credential service such as Interfolio, please use their “Online Application Delivery” feature and input the email address assigned to your stored document, rather than that of your recommender’s. The electronic files will be attached to your application whenever they are received and will not require the Letter of Recommendation cover page.

Please do not postpone submitting your application while waiting for us to receive all three of your letters. We will accept recommendation letters that arrive after the deadline.


Scan transcripts from each institution you have attended, or are currently attending, and upload into the Academic Information section of the application. Redact, cross out, or cover your Social Security Number on the paper transcripts prior to scanning. Please do not send paper copies of your transcripts. If you are subsequently admitted and accept the offer of admission, we will require a formal and official paper transcript from your degree-awarding institution prior to matriculation.

GRE General Test

The GRE test is NOT required for M.F.A. applicants.

English Language Proficiency Requirement

International applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting official test scores from TOEFL or IELTS. The English Department requires the minimum scores as published by the Graduate School. For more information regarding English language proficiency requirements and exemptions, please view the Graduate School’s English Language Requirement.

Creative Writing Sample

Please submit your required writing sample according to the limits stated below. Excess pages will not be reviewed. All writing samples must be originally written in English. Translated work will not be accepted.

Fiction: Your sample must be between 6,000 and 10,000 words, typed, double-spaced, in a conventional 12- or 14-point font. It may be an excerpt from a larger work, or a combination of several works.


Poetry: Your sample must be 10 pages in length and include a combination of several poems, where possible.

General Information for All Applicants

Application fee: Please visit the Graduate School for information regarding application fees, payment options, and fee waivers.

Document identification: Do not put your social security number on any documents.

Visiting the department: Due to the high volume of applications and visit requests that we receive, the department does not offer pre-admission visits or interviews. If admitted, you will be invited to visit the department before making your decision to enroll. During your visit you will have the opportunity to attend graduate seminars, and to meet with faculty and graduate students.

Status Inquiries: Once you submit your application, you will receive a confirmation email and you will be able to check the completion status of your application in your application account. If vital sections of your application are missing, we will notify you via email after the December 15 deadline and allow you ample time to provide the missing materials. Please do not inquire about the status of your application.

Credential and application assessments: The Admission Review Committee members are unable to review application materials and applicant credentials prior to official application submission. Once the committee has reviewed the applications and made their admissions decisions, they will not discuss the results or make any recommendations for improving the strength of an applicant’s credentials. Applicants looking for feedback are advised to consult with their undergrad advisor or someone else who knows them and their work.

» For further information, contact the Graduate Coordinator at