MFA Admissions

Creative Writing Admissions FAQ

If you do not find your answers in this FAQ, please look through the Graduate School FAQs before contacting Sean Bishop, Creative Writing Program Administrator, at

  • Q: Do you offer an MFA in creative nonfiction? A: While students may take creative nonfiction classes as electives (we offer sections of CNF nearly every semester), we do not offer an MFA in creative nonfiction.
  • Q: Do you offer a PhD in creative writing?  A: We do not. While students currently enrolled in UW-Madison’s PhD programs may apply for an Internal or External Minor in Creative Writing, the PhD remains a scholarly degree requiring a scholarly dissertation.
  • Q: Must I have a BA in English to apply (or do you give preference to English majors)?  A: No and no.
  • Q: Are you looking for a particular kind of writing? How can I improve my chances of being admitted?  A: Selecting among writing samples is an admittedly subjective process. Rather than restrict ourselves to a particular style of writing, we are interested in voices that strike us as fresh and compelling. We see our role as helping our students become the writers they want to be, as opposed to urging them to conform to a particular style. Applicants may wish to read the work of our MFA alumni, our Institute fellowship alumni, and our faculty to get an idea of the work we’ve been drawn to in the past—but we also love expanding our horizons or being surprised by exciting new voices. We suggest that, while you shouldn’t give short shrift to any of your application materials, the bulk of your energy should go to polishing the writing sample that most excites you, which is the most important factor by far in our decision process.
  • Q: How do I save my Microsoft Word documents as pdfs?  A: Simply “Save As” from the file menu in Microsoft Word, and then select “pdf.” If this does not work, “print” the document and then select “pdf” as the output, rather than a printer.
  • Q: What’s an “unofficial transcript” and how do I turn one into a pdf?  A: An unofficial transcript can take two forms: 1) a digital transcript accessible through many undergraduate institutions’ websites, which can be “saved as” or “printed” as pdfs, as detailed in the question above, or 2) a scanned copy of an “official transcript” mailed to you by your undergraduate institution. Most copy-and-print centers offer scan-to-pdf services, or you can use any number of smartphone applications to generate pdfs using your phone’s camera. We recommend you scan your transcripts in grayscale (not color), at 150 dots per inch.
  • Q: May I send my letters of recommendation using a service like Interfolio? May my recommenders send hardcopies of their letters directly to you?  A: Using a dossier service like Interfolio is encouraged; please see Interfolio’s instructions for uploading letters to an online application system. We strongly prefer electronically submitted letters of recommendation, but if your recommenders would rather not use the electronic form, please make sure to list the names of your recommenders on your online application. Hardcopy letters of recommendation can be sent to the attention of “Sean Bishop, CW Program Administrator / Department of English / 600 N Park St., H.C. White Hall Rm 6195C / The University of Wisconsin / Madison, WI 53706. Letters of recommendation can arrive prior to your completion of the online application; we suggest requesting letters a couple months prior to the application deadline.
  • Q: The University of Wisconsin Graduate School website says all applicants must have a GPA of at least 3.0. My GPA was lower than 3.0. Am I not eligible to apply?  A: The Program in Creative Writing does not believe a GPA is indicative of future success in an arts program like ours. Our primary interest is in a candidate’s writing skills; thus a low GPA is not a deal-breaker. If we admit you and your GPA is under 3.0, we will request the Graduate School to waive this requirement. To date, the Graduate School has never denied our request to waive the GPA minimum.
  • Q: I’d like to apply using a series of short shorts or flash fiction. Is this possible? (Applies to fiction years only)  A: Writing samples in fiction should consist of one or two stories or a novel excerpt, totaling 30 pages or less. Please do not submit more than two stories. We make this stipulation because the fiction faculty is interested in seeing how an applicant creates and sustains a narrative and develops characters. Thus, we find that flash fiction and short shorts tend not to be helpful indicators during the admissions process. That said, we encourage you to submit your absolute best work, so if your best story is 20 pages long, and your second-best story is 30 pages long, you should still submit the 20-pager.
  • Q: Is it possible for me to talk with a current MFA student about the program? May I meet with faculty to help me decide if I want to apply?  A: Because we are a small program with only 12 students on campus at a time, we make every effort to safeguard our students’ time. Consequently due to the large number of requests we receive from prospective students to meet with / email / talk to current students, we have a policy of giving out our current students’ contact information to applicants only after they have been formally accepted into the program. Similarly, the faculty regretfully cannot accommodate requests for meetings except with admitted students. Also, please keep in mind when contacting faculty that we tend to be away from campus during the summer months and during winter break. You are unlikely to get an expedient reply during those periods.
  • Q: I am not a US Citizen. Is my foreign Bachelor’s Degree acceptable? Do I have to take the TOEFL?  A: The Graduate School, not the Program in Creative Writing, sets the admission requirements for international students. Please refer to the Graduate School’s TOEFL guidelines here. As stated under the heading “I am an international student,” a degree equivalent to an American bachelor’s degree is necessary. The Graduate School requires that any applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not primarily in English, must provide an English proficiency test score. For more information, see the Graduate School’s proficiency guidelines.
  • Q: I am not a US Citizen. Will this negatively affect my funding opportunities?  A: No. International students accepted to the MFA in creative writing receive funding identical to their U.S. citizen peers.
  • Q: Due to my financial circumstances may I request a waiver of the application fee?  A: The Graduate School, which sets and collects application fees, requires all applicants to pay the fee. Eligible candidates may subsequently apply to have the fee refunded. To find out if you are eligible for such a refund, see the criteria outlined here. The Program in Creative Writing awards a limited number of fee waiver grants to international applicants who are citizens of and who currently reside in countries with depreciated economies where the exchange rate to the US dollar makes the application fee prohibitively expensive. If this situation applies to you, please query for a fee waiver.