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.
Each 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.
M.F.A./Ph.D. Joint-Degree Program
Each year one or two students may be admitted to both the M.F.A. program in Creative Writing and the doctoral program in English Language and Literature. This joint program offers a fuller integration of literature courses and writing workshops. In their first four semesters in residence, joint candidates are expected to complete four Writing Workshop courses and four or five Ph.D. seminars for credit, all of which apply to the Ph.D. course requirement of twelve courses, of which six must be taken for a letter grade. At the end of their fourth semester, candidates submit an M.F.A. thesis, and receive the M.F.A. degree. They then complete the remaining course requirements for the Ph.D. and write a final dissertation. Cornell offers only a scholarly Ph.D., not a Ph.D. with creative dissertation.
Every 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.
At Cornell, teaching is considered an integral part of training for a career in writing. 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 Summer Fellowship)
- All of the above assistantships include a stipend and Student Health Insurance.
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. and Joint M.F.A. / Ph.D. 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.
PDF copies of transcripts (from the institution where you are currently enrolled and/or from any institution that has awarded you, or will award you, a degree) are to be uploaded in the Academic Information section of the application. If it is against an institution’s policy to send official transcripts to you, please request an unofficial copy for yourself and scan that document. Please do not send paper copies of your transcripts UNLESS the first two options are not available to you. 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.
If your native language is not English, you must take the TOEFL and have the official score reported to Cornell from ETS.
The TOEFL requirement may be waived if you meet at least one of these criteria:
- is a native citizen of the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (except Quebec). Applicants who are citizens of India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, or Singapore, are not exempt from the TOEFL requirement.
- studied in full-time status for at least two academic years within the last five years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, or with English language instruction in Canada or South Africa. You must submit a transcript that shows you have attended college in one of these approved locations.
Creative Writing Sample
Fiction: Your sample must be at least 6,000 to 12,000 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 at least 10 poems of any length.
Additional requirements for Joint M.F.A. / Ph.D. Candidates only
GRE General Test and GRE Subject Test
Both the General Test and the Subject Test in English Language and Literature are required for all Joint M.F.A. / Ph.D. applicants. The department does not have a minimum score requirement on either test.
ETS administers the tests at periodic intervals through out the year. Please plan ahead when scheduling your test date. You are required to self-report your test scores on the application AND to instruct ETS to send your official scores to us. The committee will not make any admission offers without having the official scores. Scores that are over 5 years old are no longer valid.
Critical Writing Sample
A critical writing sample as well as a creative writing sample is required. It should be between 3,000 and 7,500 words (12-30 pages), typed and double-spaced. We accept excerpts from longer works, or a combination of shorter works.
Please combine your critical writing sample document with your creative writing sample and upload them together as one document.
General Information for All Applicants
Document identification: Do not put your social security number on any documents.
Joint M.F.A./Ph.D. Candidates: Joint programs applicants may be admitted to only the M.F.A or the Ph.D. program when applying for the joint program. However, applying to the joint program does not increase your chances of being admitted to either program.
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 email@example.com