MFA Curriculum

MFA Curriculum

To receive the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, a student accepted into the UVA Graduate School of Arts and Sciences completes twenty-four hours of required coursework and up to forty-eight hours of non-topical research. Applicants can view current and historical course offerings in our Student Information System (SIS). Click on "Search for Classes by Semester" and enter "ENCW" into the "Subject" box. Graduate classes are 5000 and higher. Our graduate readings courses are ENGL 8596 and 8598.


Curriculum and Thesis Flowchart
Full PDF Version

A UVA MFA's standard single semester courseload is twelve credit hours. To graduate, MFAs must complete

  • Twelve hours (four classes) of MFA workshop (ENCW 7310 or ENCW 7610)
  • Twelve hours (four classes) of graduate-level literature coursework in the English Department

To help our students fulfill their literature requirement, our program tries to offer reading- and craft-focused courses (ENGL 8596/8598) each term, but there are semesters where we cannot staff offerings in both genres, and in rare cases cannot offer courses in either genre. In those semesters, we encourage our students to take graduate literature courses offered by other faculty in the English Department.

In an MFA's first year at UVA, they also take a three-credit pedagogy seminar, ENGL 8900, in the fall. This seminar helps MFAs design a creative writing course that meets university, department, and program requirements. Students choosing to stay for a third year are required to take a three-credit pedagogy course in rhetoric and composition in the spring of their second year.

Students sign up for nontopical hours to bring their total coursework to twelve hours each semester. These nontopical hours provide MFAs with time to develop their theses.


Most MFA students take one workshop and one literature course in each of their first three to four semesters. MFA students can sometimes deviate from this standard coursework, adding or substituting courses, but they are required to complete our program's Deviation Form, gathering the required faculty and staff approvals and signatures before the semester's drop deadline. It is the student's responsibility to make sure their courses fulfill all program and graduation requirements.

With approval, MFAs can sometimes substitute graduate-level courses from other departments for their literature course. Please submit a Deviation Form to complete your registration. MFAs can also take 5000-level workshops in the alternate genre for some of their literature credits (i.e. students in our fiction track can take ENCW 5310; poets can take ENCW 5610), pending advisor and program approval.

Our MFAs generally preserve their non-topical research hours as time to work on their theses, but a new UVA graduate tuition model allows our MFAs to exchange, at no charge, some of their non-topical research hours for additional graduate courses, pending advisor and program approval. MFA students can also audit up to one course a semester, again pending advisor and program approval. Students can sometimes take undergraduate courses in addition to their required graduate coursework if they take those undergraduate courses in a graded or credit/no-credit status and can demonstrate the course will enhance a writing project.

There is no foreign language requirement or proficiency exam for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

MFA students who do not satisfy our program requirements during their normal course of study at UVA may have to take additional courses at their own expense to earn their MFA degree. Students who delay thesis submission beyond our normal timeframes may have to pay small administrative fees to file for their degree completion.

Thesis Requirements

All MFA candidates must complete a thesis by early April of their final year and defend it before graduating in May. The thesis should be a substantial body of original writing—at least a hundred pages of prose or fifty of poetry—that is carefully considered, extensively revised, and polished. Our thesis process requires early submission of a complete thesis draft and close work with an advisor and up to two readers. Students choosing to graduate in their second-year work on a compressed schedule: they submit a complete draft in February before revising and turning in the final version in April. Students staying for a third year have more time to work on their theses, submitting a complete draft in November of their third year and revising substantially before turning in the final version in April.

Thesis Checkpoints

Our thesis process requires two checkpoints and a provisional approval. When the thesis advisor and first reader receive their first full draft of a thesis, they quickly review the document and indicate if the draft appears to meet program expectations. The second checkpoint occurs later, when the thesis advisor and first reader have had time to read and respond to the first draft;  at that point, they indicate if the thesis, with additional revision, appears on track for a late-April defense. When the full committee receives a final thesis draft (first weekday in April), the committee quickly reviews the thesis and indicates if the thesis is provisionally approved for a late-April defense. Please note: this provisional approval is not a final approval of the thesis project; it is an assessment that the thesis appears ready for a formal defense.

The Defense


The defense is a one-hour discussion of the thesis as it relates both to its own themes and the larger tradition of poetry as an art form. For example, the discussion might center on themes, techniques, or influences. To help us organize the oral examination in advance, the candidate is encouraged to submit a brief list of poets or other writers whose work has influenced their project to their committee.


Using the thesis as a starting point, the candidate should be prepared to discuss such matters as plot, characterization, point of view, the relation of action to reflection, and other questions of narrative technique. To help us organize the oral examination in advance, the candidate is encouraged to submit a brief list of story writers or novelists whose work influenced their project to their committee.

Thesis Repository

Like all other graduate theses at the University of Virginia, MFA theses must be uploaded to an online repository, Libra, prior to an MFA’s graduation. At present, our MFA students have the option to place up to a ten-year restriction on their creative work, which only allows users on the UVA network to access the materials. Students do not give up any rights they hold to the thesis deposited. Students do not give up the right to submit the thesis to other repositories or publish it elsewhere. Full details of the Libra Deposit License are posted here.  Please consult the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website for additional information on graduation and thesis requirements. The uploaded thesis must be the version approved by the thesis committee.