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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of English Language and Literature


Admission & Funding

We came to Carolina to study writing, but we learned to live it.
- Brian Ray

Admission Criteria and Selectivity

The MFA admissions committee considers the writing sample, statement of purpose, courses taken, grades, GRE scores, and recommendation letters. Candidates are successful with different mixes of relative strength in these components. Unlike admissions in some graduate and professional programs, the process is more qualitative than quantitative. The creative writing sample is the single most important component of the MFA application and should reflect both talent and commitment to writing as an art. Prospective students are also expected to have completed significant upper-level undergraduate coursework in English or a related discipline and to exhibit promise for graduate work. In 2013, we received 170 applications. Our overall acceptance rate was approximately 18%, while in fiction, where we receive the most applications, our acceptance rate was below 8%.

The Application Process

The application deadline is December 15. All applicants are automatically considered for all funding opportunities; there is no separate funding or assistantship application. All applications must be completed through the Graduate School website. Submit all of the following materials to the Graduate School to receive full consideration. (See FAQs below for more information).

   A creative writing sample in the genre in which you are applying
   A statement of purpose
   At least two letters of recommendation (recommenders will be notified electronically)
   Transcripts from attended undergraduate and (if applicable) graduate institutions
   GRE general test scores (subject exam not required)
   The application fee

If you have questions of a technical nature, please contact the Graduate School. Please see the FAQ section at the bottom of this page for answers to other common application questions.

Funding

We offer funding to entering and returning MFA students through a variety of assistantships and fellowships. Second- and third-year students, as well as first-year students entering the program with 18 hours of graduate English credit, are eligible for Graduate Teaching Assistantships that provide full tuition abatement in addition to an annual stipend ($12,800 in 2014). Students entering without 18 graduate English credit hours are eligible for Graduate Instructional Assistantships that confer automatic in-state status, a 50 percent tuition abatement, and an annual stipend (($8,125 in 2014). After their first year, assuming they complete 18 credit hours and are in good standing, they will receive fully funded Graduate Teaching Assistantships in their second and third years. We also offer several supplemental fellowships and scholarships on a competitive basis.

For the past seven years, we have offered full funding to all second- and third-year students and many first-year students and at least some funding to all first-year students, earning our program the designation of "fully funded" from Poets & Writers.

Prospective students whose applications are received by the December 15 application deadline are automatically considered for all funding options, including assistantships and fellowships. There is no separate application for assistantships or other funding. 

The teaching load for Graduate Teaching Assistants is three courses per academic year (either a 1/2 or a 2/1 load). While most of this teaching load is in our First-Year English program, many MFA students also teach creative writing or literature while they are here. Graduate Instructional Assistants serve as assistants in large literature courses taught by professors or as tutors in the Writing Center. Substantial training and ongoing support is provided for new and continuing teaching assistants.

FAQ

How long should my writing sample be and what should I include?
We are looking for about 20-30 double-spaced pages of prose (which can comprise two or more shorter pieces or an excerpt from a longer work) or a portfolio of 10-20 poems. We're not sticklers, so slightly shorter or longer samples are just fine, but please send us enough of your work to get a good sense of it without overwhelming us with pages.

Where do you stand on genre fiction?
Genre fiction has its place and its (often very large) audience, but, as you might expect from an MFA program housed in a strong English department, our focus is on literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.

What should I include in my statement of purpose?
The statement of purpose should be the equivalent of 1-2 single-spaced pages. In it you might describe yourself as a writer, your plans for your writing over the next few years, your reading interests, and/or your reasons for wanting to pursue an MFA here. There's no winning formula, but gimmick-based approaches usually wear thin quickly. This is also a writing sample, so attend to your sentences, but it can be quite informal. We want a sense of who you are as a writer and reader.

Can I apply in more than one genre?
Yes, but admissions to fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are considered separately. You can only be admitted to one track. While many students take a workshop in a second genre, you cannot switch tracks without reapplying and your thesis is expected to be in the genre in which you are admitted.

Who should I get letters of recommendation from and can I submit more than two?
Please request at least two (but no more than four) letters of recommendation. Most applicants submit one or two letters from a writing professor they have studied with plus one letter from a literature or other professor familiar with their academic work. Some applicants request a letter from a writing conference workshop leader, a writer they know in some other capacity, or an employer (if relevant). It is much better to have a specific letter from someone who knows you as a writer and/or student than from a famous writer you have met only in passing. In other words, it is the content of the letter (and not the stature of the person who wrote it) that matters.

Do I really have to take the GRE to apply?
Sorry, but yes. While GRE scores are not a major consideration in our admissions decisions, you do have to have scores to be considered for admission as well as for certain funding opportunities. Having low scores (particularly a low quantitative score) will not by itself tank your application, and we can have university minimum requirements waived for talented writers. On the other hand, very high scores can sometimes qualify a student for additional funding opportunities through the university.

How can I get the application fee waived?
You probably can't. The fee is charged by the Graduate School and not the MFA program, and the MFA program is unable to waive the fee.

Can I sit in on a workshop?
Accepted applicants are welcome to visit and (if it can be arranged) to sit in on a workshop, reading, and/or other class. We apologize that we cannot accommodate prospective applicants in this way; it would be too disruptive to our workshops to do so.

When will I know if I have been accepted or not?
We typically email first-round acceptances by late February and send out additional acceptances on a rolling basis through April. Once the entire admissions process is complete (usually late April), our university notifies applicants who were not admitted. Like at most other MFA programs, admissions are really competitive. An unfortunate effect of our commitment to staying small and substantially funded is that we turn away many talented and deserving writers.

Do you abide by the April 15 decision deadline?
Yes. Applicants accepted prior to April 1 have until April 15 to commit. Those accepted later are granted additional time.

Can I apply for spring admission?
No. We only consider applications for fall admission.

What do I do if I have additional questions?
First, please check to make sure your question is not answered on our website or the Graduate School's website. If it isn't, you are welcome to email MFA coordinator Liz Countryman: countrym@mailbox.sc.edu.