How to Apply to an MFA in Creative Writing Program in Five Easy Steps
By Judy Halebsky
As the Director of the MFA program at Dominican University of California and an associate professor of English, I would like to offer you my guidance about how to successfully apply to an MFA program.
A Master in Fine Art (MFA) Creative Writing application generally has four components: a resume, a writing sample, a statement of purpose (also called a letter of intent or an artist statement), and a letter of recommendation.
I’ll go over each of these items step-by-step, explaining how these parts of the application work and how you can address the requirements in a way that makes your application shine.
Step 1: Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing? Put your doubts aside.
Cast your bread upon the waters. The time to decide whether or not to do an MFA in Creative Writing is after you’ve been accepted. There are a hundred reasons to talk yourself out of applying but since you keep thinking about it, listen to that voice and apply.
Added bonus: There’s no application fee to apply to the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Dominican University of California. The application materials are the same as applying for writing grants and residencies so you can use the application to apply to other things as well.
Step 2: Dust off your resume to apply for an MFA in Creative Writing.
A resume gives a sense of where you are from, what you are interested in, and how you’ve spent your time.
Education and work experience
Make sure it conveys a clear timeline. An MFA in Creative Writing is not a corporate job. It’s totally fine if you spent years living in a tent in the wilderness or on a meditation retreat or caring for family members. Just make sure there’s a progression in terms of the timeline.
Information to include specific to an MFA
Include anything that might be relevant to an MFA Creative Writing program. Are you a member of a book club? Have you tutored or taught anything (swimming, tennis, Zumba)? Has any of your writing been made public? Do you have a blog? This is a writing resume, not a job resume so include any activities or experiences that you feel are important to your path as a writer.
Step 3: Write a letter introducing yourself as a writer.
This is usually called The Statement of Purpose or an Artist Statement.
Writing prompts to help you get started:
- What is your background in writing? What calls you to write?
Include anything that has helped you prepare for an MFA in Creative Writing. Do you keep a journal? What do you like to read? Have you taken any classes that might prepare you for a degree in creative writing? Also, include any other kinds of study that might inform your writing. If you are planning to write about environmental issues and have worked in a related field (such as studying geology or volunteering at a park) include that information.
- What are your current writing interests?
OK, this is the absolute hardest part of the entire application process. You are supposed to talk about the work you plan to do. But since you haven’t done that writing yet, it’s almost impossible to talk about it in any real, substantial way. I recommend instead that you discuss something you’ve written in the recent past. This will create a jumping-off point that lets you talk about the formal and thematic influences on your work. It’s not a bad idea to name one or two writers whose work has inspired your writing.
- What do you bring to the MFA Creative Writing program?
When you apply for an MFA, you are asking to join a writing community. What kind of community member will you be? Do you have special skills to share? Literary knowledge, cultural knowledge, and interesting personal stories are all assets that you can bring to an MFA program.
Step 4: Submit a writing sample.
Submit a sample of your writing. You can either submit poetry or prose. The writing should be somewhat recent, something you have written in the last two or three years. Choose work that you want to share. It does not matter if the writing has been published or shared with a writing workshop. It just needs to be writing you feel reflects where you are right now in your work.
Poetry can be single-spaced. It can be a series of poems or a lengthy poem. Submit no more than 10 pages. There are no requirements on form or style. Just submit a sample of your poems.
Prose (fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction) should be double-spaced. Submit no more than 25 pages. You can assemble a number of short pieces. Or, if you are working in a longer form, you can submit an excerpt of a longer story, memoir, or novel. Most of the time, even an excerpt does not need to have an introduction or explanation. Remember, the people who are reading your writing are also writers. If you do want to have some framing, you can put that in the introduction letter.
Things to remember:
- An MFA in Creative Writing program is an educational experience. The goal of the program is for students to hone their craft in writing. You can apply at any stage of your writing journey.
- It is almost impossible to feel that your writing is finished or ready to share. If you wait to apply until you have a sense of completion or accomplishment about your writing, you might spend your whole life planning to do an MFA.
Step 5: Have a chat with me.
Applicants to the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Dominican University of California can choose between submitting a letter of recommendation or a meeting with the program director (that’s me).
These meetings give us a chance to connect in real time. You can ask questions about the program and get a sense of what it would be like to study at Dominican on our San Rafael, California campus. This is by far the easiest option. But if you insist on getting a written recommendation, here are some tips:
Ask someone who knows you well. It doesn’t have to be a professor. It can be someone you know through work. Or, someone that knows you through an organization or community group. We’re reading the letter to see if you are going to work well as part of a group, be generous with peers and faculty, embrace new experiences, that sort of thing. We’ll have your transcripts and your writing sample, so we don't need a letter testifying to your brilliance, which will already come through in the other parts of the application.
Those are all the steps! You are on your way to an MFA in Creative Writing.
For guidance or more information, reach out to our admissions counselor or me.