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MFA Application Tips and Guidelines

The sections below correspond to sections of the online application. See also: Applying for Graduate Admissions.

Personal Information

Please provide a phone number and email address that you check daily.  

Residency, Ethnicity

Residency status for tuition purposes. Read about Residence for Tuition Purposes and Exemptions and Waivers from Nonresident Tuition before completing this section.

Tribal Membership Initiatives fellowship application. Complete the University of California Ethnicity section of the application if you think you may be eligible for the Tribal Membership fellowship. To apply for the fellowship, check the box for your tribal affiliation and then confirm that you are a registered member of a tribe. Mail or email a copy of your tribal membership card to the MFA graduate coordinator to complete the application.

Educational Background

Upload PDFs of your academic records from ALL institutions you attended after high school, including UC San Diego or another UC campus. "Unofficial" academic records downloaded from school websites are perfectly acceptable provided they state the following:

  • Your name
  • Name of school
  • Dates of attendance
  • Courses, grades, and GPA (or other method of evaluation)
  • Current status (enrolled, withdrawn or graduated)

Create PDFs of the records and upload them to your application. Please DO NOT mail us hard copies of your official transcripts unless we request them.

Test Scores

No GRE.The MFA Program does not require the Graduate Record Exam. Please do not submit GRE scores.

TOEFL or IELTS scores. International applicants may be required to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores to demonstrate proficiency with the English language. Please refer to the admission prerequisites for more information. (Note: The spoken English exam is not required for admission purposes but international applicants should be prepared to demonstrate proficiency with spoken English when applying for teaching assistantships.)

When registering for the TOEFL/IELTS tests or ordering score reports, specify institution code 4836. If asked to provide a department code, specify 98 (Other Humanities).

Six Month Activity

Briefly describe what you have been doing since the date of your last university enrollment. Disregard the 2500-word recommendation specified in GradApply—be concise.

San Diego Fellowship

Be sure to read the San Diego Fellowship guidelines carefully before you complete this section of the application. Pay particular attention to the sections in Appendix A (Applicant Guide) that describe how to demonstrate barriers and continuing struggles and commitment to removing barriers for yourself and others. 'Barriers' include but are not limited to: poverty, unstable family life, abuse or neglect, discrimination, mental illness and physical disabilities. 

GradApply allows you to submit SDF statements after the application closes; please submit them by the end of December. 

Keep in mind that SDF award decisions are made by a diverse committee composed of people from many disciplines and departments. They must evaluate and discuss dozens of personal essays over a short period of time, therefore they value clarity and concision more than aesthetics. While the instructions in Appendix A recommend you include colorful and evocative details to make your story stand out, note that the committee is not looking for a 'poor me' tale so much as a Rocky Balboa story about how you got where you are today despite seemingly insurmountable odds, as well as a convincing argument that their investment in you would enrich and diversify the student body. 

Is it possible to provide too much 'color'? It is up to the applicant to decide how much personal information they want to reveal. If someone has overcome several barriers (say, sexual abuse and drug addiction and homelessness) they can center their essay on the obstacle that occurred most recently or had the greatest impact on their education while mentioning the others in passing. If the MFA Program nominates the applicant for admission and the SDF, the program director will work with the applicant to revise the statements if needed.

MFA Additional Questions and Writing Sample

Degree Emphasis. The application asks you to indicate which is your primary interest, Hybrid/Cross-Genre with an Emphasis in Fiction or Hybrid/Cross-Genre with an Emphasis in Poetry. 

Aesthetics statement. Provide a short statement of your literary aesthetics/poetics in relation to the writing sample you are submitting (250 words).

Teaching experience. Provide a brief description of your teaching or tutoring experience (subject, grade level, and length of service).

Writing sample. A writing sample is required and is weighed heavily in the selection process. You may submit poetry, fiction (composed of one or several stories, a portion of a novel, or a combination), or hybrid texts, which could include forms such as the graphic novel or visual poetry.

In putting the sample together you should emphasize quality rather than length. Here are suggested page lengths (your sample can be shorter or a little bit longer):

  • Fiction – 30 to 40 pages (if submitting a novel excerpt, attach a brief plot synopsis)
  • Poetry – 15 to 20
  • Hybrid/Cross-Genre – 30 to 40

Combine all the pieces of your sample into one PDF document, formatted as follows:

  1. Clearly label the cover sheet of the sample either Hybrid/Cross-Genre with an Emphasis in Fiction, or Hybrid/Cross-Genre with an Emphasis in Poetry.
  2. Provide a table of contents on the cover sheet if the sample consists of several stories or unrelated pieces.
  3. Include your name and the page number in the header on every page.
  4. Double-space unless the formatting of your material requires otherwise.

Upload the writing sample PDF to the application. Do not mail or email your submission manuscript. If you have trouble uploading your PDF to the online application, contact the MFA graduate coordinator at mfawriting@ucsd.edu.

Link to additional work sample (optional). You may provide a link to a digital work sample that could not incorporate into your writing sample, such as video or hypertext. Note that the admissions committee members may elect not to review additional work samples.

Statement of Purpose

The statement is very important and is given careful consideration in the selection process. It should provide information that will aid the selection committee in evaluating your potential for completing the MFA program. Think of the statement as an opportunity to discuss your work and goals in both a personal and critical context. Suggested topics:

  • Aesthetics
  • Community
  • Past experiences
  • Background in writing
  • What you have read that has been useful or influential to you as a writer
  • Experience or interest in theoretical, interdisciplinary, and/or cultural studies
  • What you are currently working on
  • Recent participation in readings, workshops, or critique groups
  • What you hope to get from the MFA Program in Writing

Be concise and specific. Your statement should be no longer than 2500 words. There is no minimum length.

Letters of Recommendation

You must provide three letters of recommendation from individuals who are in a position to analyze your academic ability and potential for success in a rigorous graduate program. Read Letters of Recommendation and our FAQs for more information. Letters must be submitted online by your recommenders or a recognized professional dossier services such as Inferfolio. We do not accept paper letters.


September 1, 2016
Application period opens

December 15, 2016
@ 11:59pm Pacific
Application period closes

February-March 2017
Decision notifications emailed

September 2017
Program begins

Contact the MFA

(858) 534-8849
Maps & Hours ]