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MFA Creative Writing | Prospective Students FAQ

Below are questions prospective students have commonly asked. Please see if yours is among them. If not, please contact the Graduate Programs in Literature at or 202-885-2973.


"Going through the MFA program at AU was the greatest thing I've ever done for myself as a writer."
—Livia Kent, MFA ’02

What is the application deadline for a merit award?

The application deadline is now January 15. All applications are automatically considered for merit awards. After January 15, the program continues to consider applications, but cannot guarantee those applicants will be considered for merit awards.


What does the Admissions Committee look for in an applicant's creative writing sample?

The committee regards the writing sample as the most important part of the application. It's therefore important that you send what you feel to be your strongest work that shows your demonstrated talent. It is not important to the committee whether or not that work has been previously published. Those submitting applications in poetry should send approximately a dozen poems, but no more than 15 pages. If submitting fiction/nonfiction, please submit 15-25 pages. While the catalog calls for a 25 page writing sample, we value quality over quantity. We are interested in seeing only your very best work, which can consist of one or more stories or works of creative nonfiction or an excerpt from a novel. If you send an excerpt from a novel, please include a brief description of the work as a whole. 


What does the Admissions Committee look for in an applicant's statement of purpose?

While we offer an excellent teaching-track, in your statement of purpose we are interested in hearing about your preparation as a writer more than your plans for a teaching career. Please respond to the following: 

  1. Describe in specific terms what you've been attempting, in terms of both form and content, in your work as a writer this past year.
  2. How do you see American University's MFA program potentially enhancing your growth as a writer? Please note: We regard your statement of purpose as evidence of your skills as a writer and are particularly alert to what it reveals about your voice and style. 

 If I have questions about my incomplete/completed application, who should I contact?

For questions regarding the status of your application, please contact Jonathan Harper at or via phone at (202)885-3622. 

What are the graduate workshops in creative writing workshops like at American University?

Our graduate workshops provide a supportive and rigorous community in which to hone one's skills as a writer through the completion of new work and close reading of one's own work and the works of others. Students have the opportunity to work closely with diverse faculty—including nationally known visiting writers—to explore a range of approaches to the art and craft of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as they deepen their understanding of their own work.


How long does it take to earn the MFA degree at American University?

If you take twelve hours a semester, or if you take courses during the summer, it's possible to complete our forty-eight credit hour program in two years. Most graduate students, however, find that to be a rather heavy load and choose instead to complete their degrees in five to six semesters, so that they can work more fully and more deeply on their MFA theses.


What is the MFA thesis?

The required MFA thesis consists of an original, book-length manuscript. It may be a novel, a novella, a memoir, or a collection of stories, creative nonfiction, or poems. The thesis is due approximately a month before the ending of the student's final semester.


Are students limited to working in a single genre?

No. Students may concentrate on one genre, if they wish, or they can work in more than one. A number of our students choose to stretch themselves as writers by attempting genres that are new to them. The freedom to work in more than on genre, if one so chooses, is one of the unusual and important aspects of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at American University.


How directive are the course requirements? How much flexibility does a student have in charting his or her own curriculum?

There are a number of required courses in the MFA Program, all of which are meant to strengthen your work as a writer and reader. All students, for instance, must take a minimum of four creative writing workshops (3 credit hours each) and four graduate courses in literature (3 credit hours each), as well Seminar on Translation (3 credit hours) and The Art of Literary Journalism (3 credit hours). In addition to these requirements, students take both elective and internship credits, as well as Masters Thesis Seminar. There are approximately six to twelve credit hours that can be directed by the student in concert with his or her faculty advisor.


Do I have to be fluent in a language to take Seminar on Translation?

No. For the main project in this course—translation of poetry by a poet of your choosing, if you do not know the language of the original work, you will need to work with a native speaker.


Where do students find housing?

Most graduate students live off-campus, in apartments and group houses. Although a great number of graduate students choose to live in the city of Washington, others choose to live in the outlying suburbs, which are often less expensive. There is very good and simple public transportation, by bus and subway, to the American University campus.


What sorts of internships have graduate students done in the past? 

Students have done internships at a wide variety of venues, including the National Endowment for the Arts, National Public Radio, and the Writer's Center (Bethesda, MD). Others have worked as writers and editors on literary magazines, professional association newsletters, academic foundations, and publishing houses.

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