How to Apply to an MFA Writing Program

Once you have created a solid list of MFA programs that you’d like to apply to, it’s time to tackle the application process! If you’re wondering what to include in an MFA application, have no fear. We’ll explain the essential components of program applications–ranging from transcripts to recommendation letters to writing samples and much more! Plus, you’ll learn about our newest online course–designed for writers like you who are ready to go through the MFA application process!

Note: While each school has their own specific requirements, you should only submit the materials requested by the school.

What You Need to Apply to an MFA Program

In general you can expect to prepare the following: an application form, transcripts, your GRE test results, letters of recommendation, resume/cover letter, a personal statement, and writing sample(s). We’ll explain each component in further detail.

The Application Form

When filling out the application, be sure to pay attention to details and read the instructions thoroughly.


Expect to submit transcripts from any undergraduate and graduate work (including overseas study and college work which may be shown as transfer credits on another transcript).

GRE Test Results

The majority of schools require that you take the General GRE test. Before registering for the test, take a look at the admissions deadlines for the schools to which you are applying. It takes time for the scores to be reported; computer-based test results are usually available 10-15 days while paper-based test scores are available six weeks after taking the test.

When registering for the test, keep in mind that you’ll need at least a month or two to study and prepare for it. You want to do your best! Plus, there’s the cost of taking the GRE to consider. It is $175 per testing appointment.

Letters of Recommendation

Most programs will ask you to submit three letters of recommendation. These recommendations should come from people who know you and your work well. For example, you can ask a former professor or faculty member whom you took a class from or worked closely with for a recommendation. You can also ask alumni of the program but make sure they know you!

Whomever you choose, you’ll want to make sure they can express in writing why you would be a good fit for the program you’re applying to. Is it your commitment to writing that impresses them? Do you have great time management skills that allow you to meet deadlines? Are you willing to go above and beyond? Those types of qualities are important to highlight.

Allow time for them to write their recommendations, preferably at least a month. And always follow up with a thank you note!

Resume/Cover Letter

The length of your resume or cover letter varies depending on the program you’re applying for. Be sure to look for what they require. Some schools might want a short one-page resume of your work experience while another might want a cover letter focused on your academic experience. Whichever one is asked for, be sure to follow instructions!

Personal Statement

The purpose of a personal statement (also known as application essay, objectives for graduate study, or personal background) is to tell the admissions committee who you are and why you want to attend their program. Depending on the school’s requirements, your personal statement could be 300 to 1,000 words long.

Surely you have some event or experience that has impacted your life enough to drive you toward entering a writing MFA program. Describe that experience or event in an engaging way. After all, the admissions committee reads hundreds of applications–you want yours to stand out from others.

It’s also important to do your research. Does this particular program offer a specialty or concentration that you’re looking for that other schools don’t have? Or is there a particular faculty member you’d like to work with? Highlight the program’s unique qualities and relate them to your interests.

Some of the qualities your personal statement should convey to the admissions committee is: your passion for writing; your preparedness for graduate school both academically and personally; your ability to work well with others; your commitment to the program (when you plan on finishing your graduate degree) and how the program will help you achieve your professional goals.

Writing Sample(s)

The writing sample is perhaps one of the most important parts of your application, followed closely by your personal statement. Your writing sample should showcase your writing skills and be free of any grammatical or mechanical errors. It should be a sample of your absolute best work. Make sure you spend as much time as you can improving and polishing your sample.

It’s recommended that your writing sample reflect the specialty or concentration you’re interested in from the program that you’re applying to. For example, if you are applying for a creative writing MFA program centered upon fiction, your writing sample should be fiction.

The length of writing samples varies upon the program’s requirements but in general you can expect to submit 30 pages for fiction; 20 pages for poetry; and one full-length play, or two or more one-act plays for playwriting. Remember to pay attention to the instructions on the application–not following directions could be the difference between your acceptance or rejection into the program. If it asks for a 30-page writing sample, submit no more than 30 pages.

How Our MFA Prep Course Can Benefit You

Now that you know what you’ll need to prepare your application, chances are you might be feeling overwhelmed. Don’t worry, that’s why we’ve created a prep course to help people just like you–writers who are ready to apply to an MFA writing program of their choice. Mark Spencer teaches this self-paced course. He’ll guide you through the application process in just five weeks–that’s a little over a month!

Throughout the course, you’ll explore what an MFA degree is and determine why you want one; create a list of target schools that you’d like to apply to; receive feedback on your personal statement and writing sample(s); choose what stories, essays or excerpts you will use to make up your MFA manuscript; and finally, take the time to revise and polish your work!

By the end of the course, you’ll not only be confident about your writing but also have all of the necessary materials ready for submission!

>>Click here to learn more about and enroll in our MFA Prep Course!

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