Creative Writing MFA Student Guide
Complete 54 credit hours (See advising sheet for additional details)
- 12-18 hours graduate (650) writing workshops, at least 9 hrs. in a single genre
- 12 hours literature (British, American, or World)
- 3 hour craft course (either narrative or poetry depending upon the student's genre)
- 15 hours of electives (determined by student in consultation with adviser)
- Up to 15 hours creative thesis direction
Maintain 3.0 GPA
Produce a professional-quality manuscript in a single genre
Pass an oral defense exam based upon the thesis and the essay produced in the thesis colloquium course
Complete all requirements within 3 years (full time students) or 6 years (part-time students)
A limited number of competitive Graduate Teaching or Research Assistantships are available to MFA students, depending on the resources of the College.
Qualified Teaching Assistants (who already have an MA in a field directly related to the classroom assignment) are typically assigned one freshman composition class in fall and in spring; they are also typically required to take ENGL 664 (Teaching College Composition), and attend one or more training institutes or orientations.
Other Assistantships might involve work at the College¹s Writing Center (formerly Writing Tutorial Services); or working in various MFA Creative Writing Program Assistant capacities.
Assistantships range in value from $8-10K per year. Students with assistantships may be eligible for a limited number of tuition grants, depending upon availability. All Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants must carry a full graduate load of 9 credit hours per semester.
Students interested in applying for an assistantship must complete an Application for Institutional Graduate Financial Assistance (AIGFA) form, which may be found in the graduate application package or obtained from the Office of Graduate Admissions. Students should submit this form with their completed application package by February 15.
Students are encouraged to participate actively in various extra-curricular activities related to their studies, including but not limited to the following:
- First- and Second-year MFA Reading Series
- Panel or individual presentations in the English Department’s spring Writing Conference
- Volunteer positions to assist with the annual ODU Literary Festival
- Volunteer/workshop opportunities through the Writers-in-Community program (workshops are given in area schools, nursing homes, art galleries, shelters, and other venues)
Full-time and part-time students should meet to be advised by the Program Director soon after admission and again before the registration period for each semester, to review advising checklists and timelines.
Some students explore other related or specialized areas of study during their stint in the program, with the approval of a supervising faculty member and/or the graduate program director. They may do this either through (a) taking independent study courses with a faculty member who agrees to supervise the readings; or (b) taking courses toward additional Graduate Certification in Literature, Women’s Studies, The Teaching of Writing, Professional Writing, or TESOL. Read more
The Thesis Year
The MFA Creative Writing Program at ODU is a three-year residential program, designed so that the third year can be devoted exclusively to work on a creative thesis-- a manuscript of publishable quality, in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction.
Shortly before the third year in the program, students develop, under the guidance of a faculty thesis adviser, a 25-book reading list (5 critical/theoretical works, 10 works of historical significance, and 10 contemporary works) in their chosen genre.
In the third year, students also register for Thesis Colloquium; in this course students prepare the critical essays which help to prepare and review material and contextual issues for the Thesis Defense, typically scheduled in early to mid-spring of the student’s final semester in the program.
A student may begin taking thesis hours in the fourth semester, with the approval of the thesis director and/or Graduate Program Director.
Before the end of their second year, students will submit to the GPD and MFA Faculty their recommendations for a thesis director, plus two other readers/members of the thesis committee. Preferences will be taken into consideration, but the GPD in consultation with genre faculty may have to make accommodations to take faculty loads and rotation into consideration. Advisers and thesis committee members should all be graduate-certified faculty who will have agreed to serve in these capacities.
In addition, students must register for the mandatory Thesis Formatting Workshop offered early in the fall semester of their third year, through the Office of the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. At the one-time workshop, students are made aware of important thesis processing deadlines (set by the Dean’s Office) and provided Guidelines for the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations. The Guide may also be downloaded at http://web.odu.edu/ao/research/0.htm
The recommended page range for MFA creative theses is as follows:
Fiction and Nonfiction: 100-120 pages
Poetry: 40-60 pages
Should a student aim for a December graduation, the first complete draft of his or her thesis manuscript is due to the thesis chair and secondary readers by mid-September. Thesis defense for December graduation should be scheduled no later than mid-October. Within two weeks after that, the revised thesis should go to the committee chair. By the first week of November, the revised thesis should be submitted to the Graduate Program Director and to the Dean’s Office according to deadlines set by the latter. Five copies of the perfect thesis are due in the Registrar's Office by the last day of classes.
Typically, for an expected May graduation date, the first complete draft goes to the thesis chair and secondary readers by the last week in January. Thesis defense should be scheduled for the last week of February or very early March. Revised theses should go to the committee chair by the second week of March. By the third week in March, the revised thesis should go from the committee chair to the Graduate Program Director and the Dean’s Office according to deadlines set by the latter. Five copies of the perfect thesis are due in the Registrar's Office by the last day of classes.
- Mailboxes: MFA students are typically assigned mailboxes in the English Department mail room.
- Transfer Credits: Up to 12 graduate hours only may be accepted as transfer credits upon approval. Please see the GPD to confer on this issue.
- Registration: It is recommended that MFA students register for a 650 Workshop in their primary genre every semester in the first two years; students may register for a graduate workshop outside of their primary genre only after the first year. Students are encouraged to seek registration advising during each registration period.
- General Advising: The Graduate Program Director is always available to answer questions and advise graduate students.
- Graduation Deadlines: Students planning to graduate must submit an Application for Graduation form to the Registrar’s Office, one semester before they plan to graduate. Specific deadlines are determined by the Office of the University Registrar.
- Change of Emphasis: Although it is expected that new MFA students will want to challenge themselves as writers in a variety of ways and try their hand at different genres, acceptance into the program is granted on the basis of a specific genre emphasis. There is a procedure that must be followed for anyone who wishes to change emphasis, entailing the approval of faculty in the genre, and of the Graduate Program Director.
- Mid-Program Review: The creative writing faculty evaluate a student’s progress sometime before the end of the first semester of the student’s second year in the program. The Mid-Program review evaluates academic progress as well as the student’s development as a writer; genre faculty confer over the process and prepare the reviews. Should a problem arise, the student will be required to meet with faculty and/or the Graduate Program Director to discuss a performance plan or other options and recommendations.
- 500-level Courses: MFA students should take NO more than 12 hours or 4 courses at the 500-level, unless there is written exemption from the Graduate Program Director and mitigating circumstances.
- Thesis Hours: Students may begin taking thesis hours after completing 30 credit hours in the program.
Workshop Philosophies(Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction)
Perhaps creativity cannot be taught--- George Orwell and E.B. White rise up fully formed, it seems, without the assistance of workshops. But most writers emerge from a community of writers and bring the influences that come there, to bear on their works-in-progress.
The workshop is viewed as an opportunity for all participants to look scrupulously at each others’ work and at the same time in the context of the wider world of literature, critical, cultural, and public discourses surrounding them.
Even if genius cannot be taught or learned in the classroom, writing is a process that can be closely examined. In fact, many start writing because they wish to imitate literature that has given them so much pleasure. The graduate level workshops serve as a forum of response for our MFA writers as they prepare work for their theses, and cultivate a deeper understanding of their chosen genre. Workshops provide the critical and writerly environment for structured feedback and stress a deep immersion in stories and poems and subjects that form the material of students’ work, all of which work toward the goal of creating stories and poems that will be good enough to send out into the world.
Select the advising checklist (.pdf) for a printable guide to MFA requirements.
View a table of the MFA thesis process and deadlines (.pdf)
Download the following forms (Acrobat pdf) pertaining to the comprehensive exam and the thesis:
MFA reading lists divided by genre: