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Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs for prospective MFA students

Can I attend the program part time?
How do you decide who to admit?
What kind of writing sample should I include?
Who should I get a letter of reference from?
Can I transfer courses from another program to apply to your degree requirements?
Is it useful to have taken writing classes before I apply to an MFA?
My GPA does not meet the minimum requirement. Can I still apply?

Can I attend the program part-time?
Yes, students have up to four years to complete the program.

How do you decide who to admit?
Your writing sample is the most important part of your application. We are looking for promise, which is not the same as polish. The personal statement, transcripts and letters of recommendation are helpful in gauging whether someone will be a good fit for a program.

What kind of writing sample should I include?
Send your best work within the genre, whether it's published or not. If you're applying for poetry, don't send us your fiction. If you have published an article, but you've got a much better piece that you've just written, send the better piece. While an interest across genres and a publication record are certainly worth noting to us, our primary concern is with the artistic ambition and intellectual curiosity displayed within your genre.

Who should I get a letter of reference from?
The most useful letters tend to come from those familiar with your writing and your academic or publishing work – that is, from a writing or English instructor, or an editor who has worked closely with you. Conversely, a letter from someone prominent who knows little about your work is not particularly useful; nor are letters from people who cannot judge your work from a professional perspective. Those applying for teaching assistantship should consider having a letter from someone familiar with any previous teaching or tutoring experience they may have.

Can I transfer courses from another program to apply to your degree requirements?
A maximum of 16 approved credits earned before admission to the program may be applied to the MFA degree. This "pre-admission credit" limit applies to both transfer credits earned outside PSU and at PSU prior to admission to the program. A separate 16-credit allotment of transfer credit may be approved for coursework taken after admission to the MFA program (courses taken elsewhere over the summer, for example).

However, a maximum of one-third of your 48 credits may be taken outside PSU, so only 16 of the possible combined 32 transferred credits (pre-admission and post-admission) may be from outside PSU. (The one-third limit is actually 15 credits but we are allowed an extra credit because of our four-credit course structure).

Students must download a Transfer and Pre-approved Credit form (GO-21) and meet with their adviser and the Director of the MFA for credit evaluation and approval.

All Pre-admission and Transfer credits must be graduate level and must: 1) be letter graded B- or higher; 2) not be used for any other degree at any institution, 3) be no more than seven years old at the time the Master's degree is awarded; 4) be applicable to an MFA degree at the originating institution without qualification.

Is it useful to have taken writing classes before I apply to an MFA?
The experience of being in a writing workshop is helpful in gaining an understanding of the critique process, in developing your portfolio, and for meeting instructors who can write knowledgeably about your work in a recommendation. However, it is not required.

My GPA does not meet the minimum requirement. Can I still apply?
Yes, students whose GPA is below minimum can apply and be admitted on a conditional basis. While the MFA Program requires a cumulative 3.25 GPA in undergraduate work, the committee looks at other factors including the writing sample, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and transcripts. If the committee feels that an applicant shows sufficient promise, they may offer conditional admission, allowing a student to demonstrate her capability to succeed at the graduate level.

A student with conditional admission will be expected to earn regular admission, which is achieved by taking 8 credits of 500 (graduate) level English courses (ENG or WR), with grades in each of B+/3.25 or better. You and your adviser must file form GO-7 Petition for Change of Status with the Office of Graduate Studies. At that point you will be converted to regular admission status and your graduate credits applied towards your program requirements.

FAQs for current MFA students

What's the difference between a writing seminar and a workshop?
What's the difference between a core workshop and a regular workshop?
If I’m not sure about a course, how do I find out if it fulfills a degree requirement?
How do I pick a thesis advisor or topic?
Can I change my thesis advisor?
What does the reading list involve?
How long do I have to finish my degree?
How do I schedule my thesis defense?
What is the Written Exam?
What happens at the thesis defense (aka Oral Examination)?
What are the formatting requirements for the thesis?
What are the deadlines and paperwork to be filed before I can graduate?
What happens after my thesis is filed?

What's the difference between a writing seminar and a workshop?
While both a seminar and workshop can and typically do use a combination of readings, classroom discussion, writing and critique, a workshop places significantly greater emphasis on writing and peer critiques. 

What's the difference between a core workshop and a regular workshop?
A core workshop is comprised of MFA students, with students within a strand having priority in registration. Regular workshops may be open to students in English, Publishing, Pro/Tech Writing, as well as other grads and post-bacs.

If I’m not sure about a course, how do I find out if it fulfills a degree requirement?
With advisor approval, and within the University and program guidelines, some courses not specifically noted in the MFA requirements might be applicable.  If your advisor is unsure of a course's applicability, they may need to first consult with the department's Creative Writing Committee.

How do I pick a thesis advisor or topic?
Your coursework may help guide you in choosing a thesis advisor, although your advisor does not have to be someone with whom you have  taken a course. 

Thesis topics often grow out of an earlier coursework—particularly pieces which need further expansion, or which contain unresolved possibilities.  But your thesis can also be an entirely new project.  Most importantly, the subject must compel you; this underlies the artistic commitment required to complete an involving work. 

Can I change my thesis advisor?
Yes, but keep in mind that other faculty  may already have a full slate of advisees and are not obliged to take your thesis on. If you are contemplating changing advisors, there is a process and a form that you must complete. This includes getting permission from your new thesis advisor, notifying your old thesis advisor, and completing a Change In Thesis Advisor form, which you can get from the graduate program administrator.

What does the reading list involve?
The reading list is comprised of 30 to 40 texts, drawn up conjunction with your advisor, that represent texts studied during your graduate coursework.  You are not expected to cram these texts; you are, however, expected to be able to knowledgeably refer to them in during the thesis defense as part of a conversation on literary history, craft, and technique.

How long do I have to finish my degree?
The limit for meeting degree requirements (including coursework and the defense) is 4 years.

How do I schedule my thesis defense?
As you near the completion of the draft of your thesis, you and your advisor should (1) consult to form a thesis committee consisting of at least three PSU faculty members, one of which will be your advisor, and one of which must be a member of the English Department. (Check the University requirements on who qualifies as a committee member.)  (2) Select a mutually agreeable date and time for the defense, no later than 5 weeks before the end of the quarter of graduation, and (3) per University instructions, file a GO-16M form listing this committee no later than "two weeks before the end of the term preceding the term of defense."  Your committee then receives your finished thesis at least two weeks before the defense date.  Be sure to consult the Graduate deadlines, as there are several forms that must be completed in the term prior to and during which you plan to graduate.

What is the Written Exam?
After your thesis is given to your thesis committee, your advisor will send questions for the Written Exam.  This typically involves questions specific to your project and your writing process, and often forms a starting point for the discussion that occurs during the defense.  Your response is to be sent to the committee a minimum of one week before the defense.

What happens at the thesis defense (aka Oral Examination)?
The thesis defense is a discussion of your work and your written exam, during which committee members may ask questions regarding your process as well as the texts on the reading list that you prepared in consultation with your advisor. The committee may also offer feedback and advice regarding the further development of the material beyond the thesis stage.

Immediately after the oral examination, committee members briefly consult to determine whether to accept the thesis.  The student is then informed of the decision, along with feedback regarding any revision needed before either filing the accepted thesis with the Graduate Office, or for reworking the unaccepted thesis with their advisor.

What are the formatting requirements for the thesis?
These requirements can be seen at the Thesis Guidelines page.  Please follow them carefully, and consult with the Graduate Office if you have any questions..

What are the deadlines and paperwork to be filed before I can graduate?
These can be seen under Graduate Candidate Deadlines page.

What happens after my thesis is filed?
PSU is instituting the use of Electronic Thesis/Dissertations; please review the ETDs forms and guidelines. The ETD Access Form requires that you choose from three options: Open, Open with Delayed Access, and Campus Restriction. Open Access allows any member of the public to download a PDF of your thesis, while Campus Restriction limits access to PSU campus accounts.

The Creative Writing faculty strongly recommends that you choose Campus Restriction.
Publishers have expressed concerns over acquiring manuscripts that have already been released electronically. Although the ETD Access form requires Office of Graduate Studies permission to choose Campus Restriction, Creative Writing students have an automatic exemption; no further documentation needs to be attached to the ETD Access Form for it.

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