MFA Program in Creative Writing
You are here
The Creative Writing Program offers the MFA degree, with a concentration in either poetry or fiction. MFA students pursue intensive study with distinguished faculty committed to creative and intellectual achievement.
Each year the department enrolls only eight MFA 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. Every student chooses a special committee of two faculty members who work closely alongside the student 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 six 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 (two per semester during the first year and one per semester during the second year). First-year students receive practical training as editorial assistants for Epoch, a periodical of prose and poetry published by the creative writing program. Second-year students participate as teaching assistants for the university-wide first-year writing program. The most significant requirement of the MFA 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.
Every graduate student selects a special committee of faculty advisors who works intensively with the student in selecting courses and preparing and revising the thesis. The committee is comprised of two Cornell creative writing faculty members: a chair and one minor member. An additional member may be added to 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 field requires a carefully supervised teaching experience of at least one year for every MFA 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 this university-wide 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 MFA degree candidates are guaranteed two years of funding (including a stipend, a full tuition fellowship and student health insurance).
- Graduate Assistantship with EPOCH. Students read submissions, plan special issues and assume other editorial and administrative responsibilities.
- Summer Teaching Assistantship, linked to a teachers' training program. Summer residency in Ithaca is required.
- Teaching Assistantship
- 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)
Optional MFA Lecturer Appointments
Degree recipients who are actively seeking outside funding/employment are eligible to apply to teach for one or two years as a lecturer. 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 & Application Procedures
Eligibility: Applicants must currently have, or expect to have, at least a BA or BS (or the equivalent) in any field before matriculation. International students, please verify degree equivalency here. Applicants are not required to take the GRE test or meet a specified GPA minimum.
To Apply: 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: Dec. 15, 5 p.m. EST. This deadline is firm. No applications, additional materials or revisions will be accepted after the deadline.
MFA Program Application Requirements Checklist
- Statement of Purpose
Please provide a one- or two-page single-spaced statement describing 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
Please select three people who best know you and your work. 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 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 when they are received and will not require the letter of recommendation cover page. If circumstances prevent your recommender from submitting a letter electronically, we will accept the letter in paper form mailed to: Graduate Coordinator, Department of English, Cornell University, 250 Goldwin Smith Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. 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 Dec. 15.
Scan transcripts from each institution you have attended, or are currently attending, and upload into the academic information section of the application. Be sure to remove your social security number from all documents prior to scanning. Please do not send paper copies of your transcripts. If you are subsequently admitted and accept, the graduate school will require an official paper transcript from your degree-awarding institution prior to matriculation.
- English Language Proficiency Requirement
International applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting official test scores from TOEFL or IELTS. Graduate school minimum scores are required. For more information, 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 applicants: 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 applicants: Your sample must be 10 pages in length and include a combination of several poems, where possible.
General Information for All Applicants
Application Fee: Visit the Graduate School for information regarding application fees, payment options, and fee waivers.
Document Identification: Please do not put your social security number on any documents.
Status Inquiries: Once you submit your application, you will receive a confirmation email. You will also be able to check the completion status of your application in your account. If vital sections of your application are missing, we will notify you via email after the Dec. 15 deadline and allow you ample time to provide the missing materials. Please do not inquire about the status of your application.
Credential/Application Assessments: The admission review committee members are unable to review application materials or applicant credentials prior to official application submission. Once the committee has reviewed the applications and made 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 undergraduate advisor or someone else who knows them and their work.
Review Process: Application review begins after the submission deadline. Notification of admissions decisions will be made by email or by telephone by the end of February.
Visiting: The department does not offer pre-admission visits or interviews. Admitted applicants will be invited to visit the department, attend graduate seminars and meet with faculty and students before making the decision to enroll.
Transfer Credits: Transfer credits are not available toward the MFA program.
For Further Information