Summary of MFA Degree Requirements
- Full participation in five residency periods documented with residency reviews, including any semester accepted for transfer from other institutions
- Successful completion of four semester projects with the minimum accumulation of 60 graduate credits of WRI 581 and WRI 582 documented through semester assessments and submitted revised work
- Work with no fewer than three faculty advisors during the student’s tenure in the program
- Broad reading in literature and contemporary letters documented with a cumulative bibliography of approximately 80 entries, at least 40 of which are annotated
- The ability to write clear prose and to articulate cogent response to work by other writers documented with 24-30 reading commentaries
- A clearly written, substantial, critical essay concentrating on the creative works of one or more published authors
- A creative manuscript of high-quality poetry, fiction or nonfiction, consisting of 30-50 pages of poetry or 70-120 pages of prose
- Objective discussion of the creative manuscript by faculty and peers in the thesis review
- A graduate-level presentation consisting of a critical introduction to the student’s reading given during the final residency
- A public reading of the student’s work during the final residency
A student may earn an MFA in fiction, nonfiction or poetry. A student wanting to earn an MFA degree in two genres must petition the Admissions Board to study in the second genre. Once the petition has been accepted, the usual process is to take four semesters in the first genre and three additional semesters in the second genre. Thus, the minimum time to complete an MFA degree in two genres would be seven semesters. Students must allow complete a second critical essay and a second creative manuscript.
Studying a Second Genre for One Semester
If a student wishes to explore a second genre for one semester, the student must submit a petition to the MFA Director three months before the semester begins. Students may not switch genres during a semester. In many cases, students who elect to explore another genre should expect to attend an additional semester to fulfill requirements for the degree.
Students who begin the program in one genre and then decide they would like to make a permanent switch to another may do so when the following conditions have been met:
- The petition for the genre switch has been approved by the Admissions Board.
- The student has successfully completed at least one semester in the new genre before the essay semester.
- A student must work in the new genre for at least three semesters to earn the MFA degree in that genre. In many cases this will necessitate an additional semester of study.
A student must work in the new genre for at least three semesters to earn the MFA degree in that genre. In many cases this will necessitate an additional semester of study.
First and Second Semester
- Residency review
- Creative work in one’s genre (or, during the second semester, in a second genre if approved by the Admissions Board)
- A bibliography of approximately 20 works
- Reading commentaries on 12-15 works
- Written midterm and semester assessments
- Residency review
- Creative work in one’s genre
- An annotated bibliography of approximately 20 works
- A critical essay on work by published authors
- Written midterm and semester assessments
- Residency review
- Creative work to complete the final thesis manuscript
- An annotated bibliography of approximately 20 works
- A comprehensive, standard bibliography of all works read during matriculation
- Preparation of a presentation to be given during the final residency
- Preparation of a 15-minute reading of original work to be given during the final residency
- Preparation for the thesis review that takes place during the final residency
- Submission of the complete thesis, when approved, to the program archive
- Written midterm and semester assessments
- Graduate presentation
- Thesis review
- Graduate reading
The twice-yearly residency periods (January and June) initiate each semester and form the foundation of a community of writers. The 10 intensive days of events provide the student with literary breadth to balance the more specific and individual focus of the ensuing semester work.
The residency schedule includes workshops, formal presentations, panels, lectures, classes, and readings, featuring faculty members and guest writers. Though students specialize in a particular genre for their degrees, the residency offers opportunities to experience and appreciate the relationships among all the literary genres. This diversity is provided through residency activities and, in some cases, a multi-genre workshop.
In addition to the formal sessions, the residency includes time set aside for contemplation, writing, and informal gatherings. The residency is both a rich reward and a stimulus for the months of solo work that lie ahead.
During the residency, the student should expect to do the following:
- Participate in assigned workshop sessions led by one or more of the faculty writers
- Receive close critique of worksheet material during at least one workshop
- Provide commentary and critique on the work of other students in the workshops
- Attend all workshops, lectures, panels, and craft talks in the student’s genre of study
- Attend nightly readings and take advantage of the chance to participate as a reader
- Meet with the assigned advisor to design the semester study plan
Semester Study Proposal
Prior to each residency, students submit a semester study proposal that includes their writing goals, specific areas of interest, and a tentative reading list. At the residency, students meet with their assigned advisors to design the formal semester study plan. Before these sessions, faculty familiarize themselves with the students’ semester study proposals and creative work.
Students are assigned to a workshop specific to their genre (poetry, fiction or nonfiction) or, in some instances, a multi-genre workshop. Their creative manuscripts provide the text for discussion and commentary in the workshops.
Each workshop includes up to 14 students from every stage of progress through the program. One to four faculty members lead these workshops. Each student’s workshop material receives at least one close critique during the course of the workshop. The student spends the remaining workshop hours offering the same level of review to other students.
Lectures, Classes and Readings
Faculty and visiting writers offer numerous lectures, presentations, classes, and readings at the residency. Students are expected to attend all formal offerings in their genre including at least one outside their chosen area of study.
Lectures, panels, and classes serve as introductions to an element of craft or a body of work, or both. As a result, students may discover issues relevant to their work to pursue in greater depth during their guided study. Students are encouraged to attend as many presentations as time and energy allow, and to do any preparatory reading for them. Presentations are intended for all students, and faculty members welcome participation by both poets and prose writers. Students should also plan to attend the readings by faculty members, visiting writers, and degree candidates. In addition, we encourage students to attend and participate in one of the several student readings
The advisor supervises the student’s independent work during the semester following the residency. Faculty advisors are chosen based on the student’s study proposal, on material submitted for workshops, and on previous semester work, if any.
During the residency, the director and a committee of faculty members meet to review student materials and to make recommendations about advisor assignments. These recommendations are forwarded to all faculty members for the final student-advisor pairings. Students may state a preference for an advisor, but there is no guarantee that the preference will be met. It is one of the goals of the MFA program that every student works with a writer who is enthusiastic and who feels able to contribute to the development of the student’s writing. Students work with different advisors throughout the four or five semesters of study, though a previous advisor may be assigned for the final semester.
Semester Study Plan
Toward the end of the residency, the student and advisor meet in conference, normally during two strategy sessions, to refine the initial study proposal. These conferences lead to a formal, written study plan that addresses both the student’s and the advisor’s expectations for the semester work.
The study plan may include the following:
- Goals for the student’s creative work, which may be general or specific, as appropriate for a particular student in a given semester
- Specific elements of style, form and technique to be studied during the semester
- Deadlines, methods and expected frequency of student-advisor exchanges
- A reading list that may be modified as the semester progresses
- Additional planned projects or activities (tailored exercises, a journal, attendance at literary and cultural events in the student’s home area)
- Other work that addresses the student’s interests, needs and developing vision
The semester study plan must be filed with the MFA office at the end of the residency or shortly after the beginning of the guided study portion of the semester. In addition, the student and advisor should each have copies.
Shortly after the residency, each student submits a written, analytical commentary on each formal activity attended, addressing the quality of the student’s own preparation and participation, as well as the relevance of the residency activities to the student’s educational goals.
Throughout the guided study, students send work to their advisors and, in turn, receive criticism and guidance, including specific suggestions and general advice for their developing craft and course of study. Student work sent in the exchanges includes new poetry or prose, revised work, and reading commentaries assigned as part of the study plan.
Students are expected to devote 20-25 hours each week to the semester study project, but the flexible structure of the exchanges allows them to carry out family and job commitments while still pursuing the study of writing.
Exchanges with the advisor provide balance for the solitude necessary to pursue the art of writing. Because the ongoing dialogue between student and advisor is vital to a low-residency program, students are expected to take part in five full exchanges, consisting of creative work, inquiry, and analysis, facilitated either electronically or by mail.
The natural subject areas for substantive exchange are the student’s creative manuscripts and reading commentaries, the advisor’s critiques, and the subsequent revisions. In cover letters accompanying each exchange packet, the student offers reflections and questions on the process of study and receives detailed responses in return. Students who participate in local workshops or attend relevant lectures in their area are welcome to include comments on these activities in the exchange to enrich and extend the dialogue. The contents of these exchanges are not sent to the MFA office. Instead, the student keeps a log sheet recording specific projects, dates, materials sent, and comments received as part of the semester work that is submitted to the MFA office for review.
Semester Creative Project
In the packets that students send to their advisors approximately every three weeks is a manageable portion of creative work. The creative work is the heart and focus of the semester project. Manuscripts are critiqued by the advisor and returned for revision. By semester’s end, each student should have a body of carefully edited work (20-30 pages prose/10-15 poems).
Reading List and Bibliography
A writer’s natural gifts are deepened through broad reading and careful reflection about that reading. Developed with guidance from the advisor, the reading list is derived from the needs and literary background of the student and should include contemporary letters, a close examination of a few major writers in the genre, and exploration of literary traditions.
While the reading lists for early semesters may be broad-based, the lists will place more emphasis on the focus of the critical essay as candidates draw nearer to completion of their degrees. Each semester should produce a bibliography of 20 books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or critical prose.
Reading Commentaries and Annotations
The purpose of any term’s reading list is to foster critical inquiry into stylistic and technical considerations. Thus, in each of the first two semesters, students write 12-15 commentaries about the craft of writing, based on works selected from the reading list (see above). In the essay and thesis semesters, the reading commentaries and bibliography are replaced by an annotated bibliography.
The reading commentaries need not be scholarly works, but should be 500-1000 words of clear prose in which the student examines some aspect of craft in the work. The works chosen for commentary should reflect the balance of primary works to analytical texts in the reading list. Reading commentaries are submitted throughout the semester, with three to five included in each exchange with the advisor. These become part of the dialogue, deepening the conversation between student and advisor.
Reading commentaries help students to develop rhetorical skills, as well as to make conscious observations regarding various elements of craft and the impact of these in their own work and the works they are reading. By the second semester, the commentaries are useful in locating the topic for the final thesis project and may become rough draft material for the essay, or a way to test the emerging or completed essay’s thesis against other texts.
In the essay and thesis semesters, an annotated bibliography replaces the reading commentaries, although, when academically appropriate, the advisor may recommend that the student complete additional reading commentaries. An entry in an annotated bibliography, unlike a reading commentary, contains only two or three sentences of descriptive or evaluative comments on a work.
Students who need to further develop their analytical writing or who have particularly challenging creative work may request or may be advised to take an extra semester to improve their writing before undertaking the essay or thesis semester. Students who would like to explore other genres before their essay or thesis may also request extra semesters.
Readiness for the Essay Semester
Upon successful completion of two semesters in the MFA program, the student, the current advisor, and the director assess the student’s readiness to undertake the critical essay.
Though it does not advance one toward the degree, an additional semester of broad reading and written argumentation through reading commentaries and short comparative essays (5-7 pages) often develops a student’s skills and moves the student toward a focused essay. Students considered ready to begin the critical essay have demonstrated intelligent, well considered, well written responses to their readings and have begun to define a substantial topic relevant to their creative work.
Readiness for the Thesis Semester
For those who have successfully completed their essay but need more time to develop their creative work before the final semester, an extra semester offers an opportunity to concentrate and expand on the creative thesis manuscript. Students considered ready to begin the thesis semester have a body of creative work in their major genre, though they may further revise it and/or add to it. In addition, they have ideas about what they plan to produce in the name of their thesis, such as stories, linked stories or poems, a novel, a memoir, or a collection of lyrical essays.
Requirements for the Extra Semester
Extra semesters taken for credit must meet the usual expectations, including full participation in a residency, creative work and critical inquiry (if required), 20 readings, and an annotated bibliography.
Elective Semester for Special Projects
Students who would like to explore an additional literary skill or genre, such as digital publishing, screenwriting, or playwriting, may request to take an elective semester. A student must have successfully completed at least three semesters in the MFA program before enrolling in the elective semester. This option requires the student to submit a petition at least five months in advance of the start date. Students can find the petition form for the elective semester on Moodle.
Requirements for the Elective Semester
Elective semesters taken for credit must meet the usual expectations, including full participation in a residency, creative work and critical inquiry (if required), 20 readings, and an annotated bibliography.
The essay semester requires degree candidates to develop a polished, 10-12 page work of literary analysis that demonstrates clarity of thought and expression in English prose.
The critical essay is an opportunity to explore another writer’s work or an issue of craft in depth. We encourage students to choose texts and writers who exemplify the kinds of strategies they are attempting to master in their own work. Some students will write this essay with publication in mind. For others, the exploration itself will be the goal. But for all, the essay should contain vigorous prose that breathes feeling and honest conviction.
The essay has three purposes:
- To develop the ability to analyze works by recognized writers
- To find connections and applications for the student’s own writing, including the ability to experiment with established forms, techniques, or styles
- To hone skills that will assist the student wishing to teach writing or publish book reviews and articles on craft
Students planning the essay generally reserve some portion of the preceding semester to formulate an essay topic, or several promising topics, in dialogue with their advisors. During this preparatory semester, students also complete the bulk of preliminary reading if at all possible.
Students work closely with their advisors in developing, drafting and revising the essay. The essay semester study plan should incorporate exchange methods and schedules for development of the analytical writing, which must be completed by the end of the semester.
Submitting the Essay
Early in the semester, the student should send drafts of the essay to his or her advisor for commentary and plan to submit the final draft by the essay due date. Once the advisor has signed off on the essay, either via email or letter, the student should also submit an electronic copy of the final draft to the MFA office via Moodle. The project advisor completes the Narrative Transcript form, which includes an overall evaluation of the essay, recommendation concerning its approval for fulfilling the degree requirements, and appropriate revision suggestions, if any.
When the essay is approved, or if it requires only minor revisions, the student may advance to the final thesis semester (providing the student has sufficient creative work to move forward). The student may not advance to the final semester until the essay is approved. The award of credit for the semester, however, is an independent judgment made at the term’s end and does not require acceptance of the essay.
Reading and the Annotated Bibliography
As in the previous semesters, the essay semester includes a reading component (approximately 20 works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or critical prose), and these readings are listed in the annotated bibliography. The student’s reading informs the creative manuscript and furnishes material for the essay.
Overview of Thesis
Students may enter the final semester upon completion of no fewer than three successful semesters (including any semesters accepted for transfer from other institutions) and acceptance of the critical essay. The final semester, usually the fourth in the program, focuses primarily on creative writing and completion of an original, high-quality manuscript of poetry, fiction or nonfiction. The analytical and creative components form the Master of Fine Arts thesis, copies of which are placed in the MFA program archives and in the Pacific University Library.
The creative manuscript consists of 30-50 pages of poetry or 70-120 pages of prose. Work included in the manuscript must have been composed or substantially revised during a student’s tenure in the program. Emphasis in this final project should be on quality rather than quantity and should involve careful editing and revision.
In the third month of the final semester, the student must submit to the advisor approximately one-half of the final manuscript. The advisor responds to the student’s work and describes the manuscript’s progress in the midterm assessment.
Though manuscripts will naturally include work from previous semesters, students are encouraged to continue to write new work for the volume and to be influenced by their reading and their work on the critical essay.
Reading and Critical Inquiry for the Thesis Semester
As in the previous semesters, the final semester includes a reading component (approximately 20 works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or critical prose), and these readings are listed in the annotated bibliography. The student’s reading informs the creative manuscript and furnishes material for the graduate presentation given during the final residency.
Submitting the Thesis
The student must submit one electronic or hard copy final and formatted draft of the thesis to his or her advisor by the thesis due date. Once the advisor has given written approval of the creative manuscript and thesis layout by either email or letter, the student may proceed with printing and binding the thesis. In addition, the student should submit an electronic copy of the final draft to the MFA office via Moodle to be saved in the student’s electronic file. The advisor completes the Narrative Transcript, which includes an overall evaluation of the creative manuscript, recommendation concerning its approval for fulfilling the degree requirements, and appropriate revision suggestions, if any. The MFA director and/or one other member of the MFA faculty or Academic Board may also read the thesis.
If these readers do not approve the creative manuscript, the student may enroll in up to two additional semesters to complete it. If the revised manuscripts from these semesters are not successful, the student will be dismissed from the program.
In exceptional circumstances an advisor may judge that a manuscript needs revisions that can be completed by the student independently. In this case, the student may petition to take a leave of absence to finish the work and will be charged a reading fee when resubmitting the manuscript. If the manuscript is approved, the student may then enroll in the final residency for graduating students. Should the readers not approve the manuscript revised during the leave of absence, the student may enroll in up to two additional semesters under the terms described above.
Following approval of the thesis, the student’s graduation is expected at the end of the next residency, pending successful completion of the semester and all required creative and analytical work.
At the final residency, degree candidates receive responses to their thesis during the thesis review. The student meets with a group comprised of the faculty advisor (or a faculty member familiar with the candidate’s work) and two fellow degree candidates chosen by the graduating student and the MFA director. In addition, degree candidates may serve as fully participating members in up to two such thesis groups for other candidates. If a student believes that alumni would be more appropriate for the committee than classmates, the student may request them. If a student is unable to find a good match, he or she may also request a smaller committee.
The thesis review is a roundtable exchange about the candidate’s creative manuscript. This is not a thesis defense but is instead an exchange of ideas relating to the intent, aesthetics, and future of the work. Members of the committee come to the review with a marked manuscript prepared to participate in constructive discussion. Comments may be both descriptive and evaluative and may concern theme, style, possible revisions, and directions for future work. The candidate may ask questions about problem areas of the volume, plans to expand the work, and venues for publishing. In addition, candidates should be prepared to converse about the evolution of the work, important influences and issues of form raised by the thesis, as well as relationships between the creative manuscript and the critical essay.
Graduate Presentation: Critical Introduction
At the final residency, the graduating student presents a 15-minute critical introduction for his or her reading. During the residency, the graduate is given copies of the evaluations submitted by fellow students and faculty members.
Graduates give a 15-minute public reading of their creative work.