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Department of English M.F.A. Creative Writing Plan of Study



The Master of Fine Arts in creative writing is widely regarded as a terminal degree. It is designed to prepare students for careers as published writers in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. A secondary goal is to emphasize not only preparation for college-level teaching (the practical vocational goal of most M.F.A. programs in creative writing), but also includes preparation of graduates for careers in literary editing and publishing, or as free-lance writers (magazines, newspapers, reviews, and features).

The requirements of the 3-year residential MFA program allow students some flexibility to best serve their professional and career goals.

The program offers:

  • Instruction in three creative writing genres: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction (students must specify one genre concentration throughout the program, but may take one or two cross-genre workshops with adviser approval after their first year in the program)
  • The ability to work with a visiting Writer-in-Residence each semester. Recent visitors have included Lee K. Abbott, Marilyn Chin, Denise Duhamel, Richard Jones, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Brian Turner, Blake Bailey, Kristin Naca, and Claire Dederer, Madison Smartt Bell, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Karen An-hwei Lee, and Michael Ruhlman.
  • Options to participate in Study Abroad opportunities
  • Opportunities to acquire additional leadership/internship experiences in the Writers-In-Community program
  • Opportunities to participate in presenting the annual 5-day ODU Literary Festival, hosted by the MFA Creative Writing Program (celebrating its 37th year in 2014)



M.F.A. Creative Writing Requirements


  1. Complete 54 credit hours


    12-18 hours graduate (650) writing workshops, at least 9-hours 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


  2. Maintain 3.0 GPA


  3. Produce a professional-quality manuscript in a single genre


  4. Pass an oral defense exam based upon the thesis and the essay produced in the thesis colloquium course


  5. Complete all requirement within 3 years (full time students) or 6 years (part-time students)




Student Guide



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.


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Full -Time (3 Years)


Year I (18 hours)

Fall: workshop / lit. class/ craft
Spring: workshop / lit. classes/

Year II (18 hours)

Fall: workshop / lit. class/ elective
Spring: workshop/ lit. class/ elective

  • Develop book list for thesis colloquium course and essay

Year III (18 hours)

Fall: thesis colloquium course/ thesis hours
Spring: thesis hours

  • Establish thesis committee and chair
  • Complete/present thesis
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Part-Time (5 Years)


Year I (12 hours)

Fall: workshop / craft
Spring: lit. classes or workshop/ lit class

Year II (12 hours)

Fall: workshop / lit. class
Spring: lit. class/ elective

Year III (12 hours)

Fall: workshop/ lit class
Spring: electives (6 hrs.)

  • Establish thesis committee
  • Develop book list for thesis colloquium course and essay

Year IV (12 hours)

Fall: workshop / thesis colloquium course
Spring: electives (6 hours)

Year V (6 hours)

Fall: thesis hours
Spring: thesis hours

  • Complete/ present thesis


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.

Creative Thesis

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.


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 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 CollegeĀ¹s Writing Center (formerly Writing Tutorial Services); or working in various MFA Creative Writing Program Assistant capacities including Writers in Community and Barely South Review.

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 1.



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