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Literature Department and MFA Program Overview

Updated September 2020

Below is an overview of the department-wide resources, policies, and procedures that apply to the PhD Program.

Faculty Advisors

The MFA Director is your primary advisor until you select a Committee Chair during Spring quarter of your first year, at which point your Committee Chair will become your primary advisor. You may select a Committee Chair sooner; please confirm with them that they are available to work with you, and then notify the advising staff (at

Please meet with your primary advisor at least once per quarter during office hours or by appointment. You are responsible for arranging the meeting.

Feel free to seek advising from any MFA faculty member. Here is a general overview of their areas of responsibility.

Primary Advisor/Committee Chair

  • Evaluating your academic and professional progress for your annual evaluation.
  • Overseeing the development of your thesis.
  • Guiding your selection of committee members.
  • Providing feedback on your individualized development plan if you request it.
  • Reviewing Graduate Division petitions (e.g., leave of absence request) and making recommendations.
  • Writing letters in support of merit-based fellowship nominations or exceptions to policy (e.g., TA employment at more than 50% time).

MFA Program Director

  • Overseeing students' academic progress and all student affairs.
  • Overseeing the curriculum.
  • Reviewing and approving all student petitions.
  • Recommending potential financial support.
  • Approving annual student evaluation or final degree paperwork.
  • Leading quarterly cohort meetings.
  • TA advising.

MFA Faculty

  • Research topics.
  • Publication. 
  • Teaching strategies.
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • Doctoral programs.
  • Grant applications.
  • Career paths.

We also encourage you to seek advising from faculty outside of the MFA Program and Literature about research topics. It is a great way to get to know faculty who might want to serve as your non-Literature committee member.

Staff Advisors

The department has several staff who support graduate students, and they available to help you navigate to your degree.  You can always reach department staff at  They can assist with a wide variety of academic, administrative, and student life issues, such as—

  • Understanding degree requirements.
  • Tracking degree progress.
  • Interpreting academic policies and procedures.
  • Identifying campus resources.
  • Setting up independent study courses.
  • Preparing petitions and the application for candidacy.
  • Setting up the thesis discussion.
  • Processing and answering questions about financial support.

The department staff also assist the MFA Director with all program- and student-related matters.

Please reach out to whenever you have a question or encounter an obstacle.  Also, please specifically reach out to the staff advisors each quarter to check on your degree progress. 

MFA Program Overview

The MFA Program in Writing welcomes brave and innovative writers and encourages the formation of mutually supportive, inspiring literary communities. The intimate nature of the program allows students to work very closely with writing faculty and each other within the quarterly cross-genre workshop.

The MFA program is a two- to three-year residency program foregrounding the interconnectedness of literary arts practice, modes of production and distribution, and the rigorous study of literatures, arts, and cultures.

All graduate writing workshops are cross-genre and often interdisciplinary, investigating and often undermining a studio-versus-academic distinction in advanced literary education. Moreover, the program encourages interdisciplinary research and holistic approaches to teaching and learning. Therefore, teaching creative-critical reading and writing skills as a Teaching Assistant is a popular choice among all Writing students in the MFA program, most of whom are eligible for scholarships and fellowships in addition to union-represented compensation for Teaching Assistant work.

Program participants are encouraged to focus exclusively on writing, teaching, research, and art-making during their residency, allowing writers to integrate pedagogical training and artistic practice as a way to prepare for future scholarly endeavors while creating a book-length work of literature. To that end, each quarterly cross-genre workshop discusses writing-in-progress and published works in terms of poetics, prosody, and literary conventions alongside the interrelationship between aesthetic intervention/ experiment and radical social change across cultures, nations, regions, and movements.

While each writer’s extra-departmental coursework is flexible, program participants are expected to take five workshops. The cross-genre workshops function less as editorial sessions or as explications of craft techniques than as vibrant skill-sharing intellectual roundtables. UCSD’s writers generate dazzlingly diverse collaborations in writing and literary/arts events, many of which result in various forms of publication. Both faculty and graduate projects tend to repurpose, interweave, hack, and muddle generic categories and/or radically elasticize their conventions.

MFA Degree Requirements

The MFA in Writing is awarded upon the satisfactory completion of the requirements below. There is no written final examination for the degree but great weight is given to the candidate’s final presentation and capstone discussion of the thesis/final project.

Course Requirements

Students must complete 72 units (equivalent of 18 4-unit courses) of approved coursework, distributed as described below. Graduate seminars must be taken for a "Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory" grade when possible.  There is an “MFA Requirements Worksheet” for use in monitoring academic progress (see the "Forms" page of the website).

Course Requirements (assuming 4 units per course):
  • 2 seminars in History and Theory (LTTH 250 and LTTH 255)
  • 1 seminar in Comparative Literature (LTCO), Cultural Studies (LTCS), English Literature (LTEN), or Spanish Literature (LTSP)
  • 1 seminar in Art Practice or Theory offered outside of Literature (COGR 237, VIS 211, VIS 212, VIS 213, VIS 215, or VIS 216)
  • 5 writing workshops (5 instances of LTWR 215)
  • 1 independent study in Apprentice Teaching (typically LTWL 500, CAT 500, DOC 500, MCWP 500, MMW 501, REV 500, or WCWP 500 – depending on which department had hired you as a TA)
  • 2 independent studies in Thesis Writing (LTWR 295)
  • 6 courses open to choice, within the following:
    • Up to 3 instances of LTWR 220 (Topics in Writing)
    • Up to 2 additional independent studies in Apprentice Teaching (typically LTWL 500, CAT 500, DOC 500, MCWP 500, MMW 501, REV 500, or WCWP 500 – depending on which department had hired you as a TA)
    • Up to 1 additional independent study in Thesis Writing (LTWR 295)
    • Up to 6 additional seminars in Comparative Literature (LTCO), Cultural Studies (LTCS), English Literature (LTEN), and/or Spanish Literature (LTSP)
    • Up to 6 additional seminars in Art Practice or Theory offered outside of Literature (COGR 237, VIS 211, VIS 212, VIS 213, VIS 215, and/or VIS 216)
    • With pre-approval only, up to 6 instances of independent study in a guided Writing Project (LTWR 298)

More details on specific requirements and course options is found in the “Planning Your Coursework” section below.

Teaching Requirement

As noted above, the department requires that each MFA student acquire apprentice teaching experience before completing the degree.  The minimum amount required is one academic quarter of 50% teaching assistantships.  This teaching, with the guidance and support of a supervising professor, includes conducting discussion sections and related activities in a variety of undergraduate courses.  Academic credit is granted for the training given under the apprentice teaching program (4 units of credit towards the 12 unit minimum for each quarter).  Most students enrolled in the MFA program can expect to teach in one of the college writing programs or in the Literature Department.  See the “Financial Support” page of the handbook for more information.

Public Readings

You must give two public readings or performances of your work—a presentation of your first year's work during Spring quarter of your first year and a presentation of your final project during the graduating quarter. The events are organized by the MFA Program and are held on campus.

Thesis and Discussion

You must complete a final project consisting of a manuscript of fiction (120 pages) or poetry (65 pages) or cross-genre (65-85 pages) that your MFA committee deems to be of high quality. The manuscript will be the culmination of 2-3 years of coursework and will have undergone extensive editing and revision before submission for the final project.

You must meet with your thesis committee during your graduating quarter for a discussion of the final project. The committee will be composed of four faculty members you select—three from the Literature Department and one from another department.

Planning Your Coursework

Course & Enrollment Information

In planning their course of study, students should consult with the MFA Director, their Committee Chair, and other MFA faculty members.  It is also expected that students will update their MFA Requirements Worksheet each quarter and send it to the staff advisors to confirm their course selection meets the MFA Program’s course requirements.  Course information is available at the sites below. Graduate seminars are numbered 200-299. Upper-division courses are numbered 100-199.

It is strongly recommended that graduate students enroll in graduate courses whenever possible for their MFA requirements, however students may also consider enrolling in upper-division undergraduate courses (100-190), with some restrictions: 

  • Students may apply a maximum of three upper-division undergraduate courses to their MFA requirements, and they must make them equivalent to graduate courses with additional work agreed upon by both the student and faculty.  
  • Each course must be petitioned through the advising staff (in order to apply towards the MFA course requirements), and the petition requires rationale.  It is recommended that students submit this petition well before the add/drop deadline for the quarter, so there is time to get an answer back early enough to make different course choices (if needed).  See the “Forms” page of the website for the petition form.
  • Upper-division undergraduate courses may only apply to the “6 courses open to choice”, and the petition will be considered if a similar graduate course is not available.  For instance, if a student wanted to take an additional English Literature (LTEN) course and no graduate course was offered that quarter, they could petition to take one of the upper-division undergraduate LTEN courses instead.
  • Students must take these upper-division undergraduate courses for letter grades, and they must receive an “A” grade. 
  • Enrollment in upper-division undergraduate courses is often restricted to undergraduate students.  MFA students will likely need to submit pre-authorization requests via the Enrollment Authorization System (EASy – in order to be cleared to register. 

Students should be sure to fulfill all their MFA course requirements before taking any additional courses for their own interest.

Course Repeatability

Some course numbers may be taken more than once for credit, as they are topics courses with unique content each offering.  Please check with the advising staff if you have any questions about a particular course number.  Please keep in mind that there will always be a maximum number of times students may take a specific course for credit, and this total does include any instance(s) where the student took the course previous to the MFA Program (through UCSD Extension or in an undergraduate program at UCSD, for example).

Enrollment Restrictions & Authorizations:

Some graduate seminars and all undergraduate courses have enrollment restrictions, e.g., "Prerequisites: Upper-division standing or departmental approval." A restriction may be specified in the course description or it may pop up as an error message when the student attempts to enroll in the course in WebReg.

If students do not meet the defined course restriction to enroll, they must submit a request via the Enrollment Authorization System (EASy –  Generally, requests are routed to the course instructor, and the student is notified of their decision by email (after the department staff add the necessary override codes).  However, every program and department has its own process for handling preauthorization requests, so students need to reach out to the specific department if they have any questions.

Specific MFA Requirements

In working towards complete their specific course requirements for the MFA degree, students should note the following policies regarding course options and relevant processes for each MFA requirement.

History and Theory Courses

All MFA students must complete LTTH 250 Writing and Theory and LTTH 255 Modern Art Movements during their first two years in the program. The courses are offered in alternate years. Both courses must be completed at UCSD.

LTCO, LTCS, LTEN, and LTSP Seminars

Students in the PhD Program have priority registration in these seminars, so MFA students will need to submit pre-authorization requests via the Enrollment Authorization System (EASy –  These requests will be auto-approved for MFA students after the priority registration period for PhD students.  It is recommended that you submit your request early and have a backup registration plan in place (in case the course fills before you can enroll).

Art Practice or Theory Courses Offered Outside of Literature

Only the following courses are pre-approved to fulfill this requirement:

  • COGR 237. Performance Theory (4)
  • VIS 211. Fact and Fiction (4)
  • VIS 212. History and Memory (4)
  • VIS 213. Public Space (4)
  • VIS 215. Human Interface (4)
  • VIS 216. The Object (4)

If students identify another course in the art practice or theory (outside of Literature) that fits their research interests, they must submit a petition for the course to apply to the MFA requirements.  Petitions must be submitted to the advising staff, and the petition requires rationale.  See the “Forms” page of the website.

Independent Studies in Thesis Writing

Enrollment in the LTWR 295 course (“MFA Thesis”) is restricted to second-year and their-year students.  The instructor of record for the independent study should be the student’s Committee Chair (or another member of their thesis committee, if their Committee Chair is not available that quarter).  The instructor of record is used for course creation and adding a grade at the end of the quarter; it does not restrict the student to only working with that faculty member.  During the LTWR 295, students may consult with any (available) members of their thesis committee, as long as they keep the instructor of record informed and updated.

The department creates independent study courses if and only if the student submits an Independent Study Request Form (see the “Forms” page of the website) and the instructor of record approves the request. 

Independent Studies in a Guided Writing Project

Enrollment in the LTWR 298 course (“Directed Studies”) is limited to 4 units per quarter.  MFA students may propose an individualized independent study course (for the “6 courses open to choice” requirement) when seminar offerings do not cover subjects, genres, or authors of interest.  The instructor of record is used for course creation and adding a grade at the end of the quarter; it must be a permanent MFA faculty member (lecturers cannot supervise independent study courses).  LTWR 298 courses must include writing projects to earn an S grade (and potentially count towards the MFA requirements.

The department creates independent study courses if and only if the student submits an Independent Study Request Form (see the “Forms” page of the website) and the instructor of record approves the request.  It is recommended that student follow these steps in requesting an independent study:

  1. Identify a Professor, Associate or Assistant Professor who might be interested in guiding your research.
  2. Create a short project description that includes a reading list, method of evaluation (i.e., description of the required writing project), and describes the frequency of work submission and meetings with the instructor.
  3. Determine how many units of credit the course should carry based on the workload. A 4-unit course requires an average of 12 hours of work per week, and a 4-unit course is needed for applying to the MFA requirements.
  4. Email the proposal to the professor and ask them if they are willing to supervise the course. Reach an agreement about important details before moving to the next step. Save the email for future reference.
  5. Submit an Independent Study Request Formonline (see the “Forms” page of the website).
  6. The advising staff will confirm with the instructor that they agree to supervise the independent study; work with the Registrar to create the course; and preauthorize you to enroll in the course (through EASy). This will produce an automated email notifying you that you are cleared to enroll.
  7. Login to WebReg and enroll.

Once the course is created and the student is enrolled, each LTWR 298 course must be petitioned to apply to the MFA requirements.  These petitions must be submitted to the advising staff, and the petitions require rationale.  See the “Forms” page of the website.

Teaching Apprenticeship

MFA in Writing students must complete at least 4 units of teaching apprenticeship for the degree. TAships usually provide 2 units of credit if 25% time and 4 units if 50% time, but students should refer to their hiring department for their standard. Readerships and GSR positions do not offer academic credit and cannot be used for the teaching apprenticeship requirement.

Teaching credit is not awarded automatically; you must enroll in the correct 500 course, in the section taught by your TAship supervisor (usually the course instructor or Writing Program director). If TA'ing for Literature, the course number is LTWL 500. If TA'ing outside of Literature, obtain the course number from the TA coordinator who made the offer of employment.

See  the “Financial Support” section of the handbook for more details on the Teaching Assistant position from the employee perspective (versus the academic requirement).

Course Grading

Please read About Grades and Grading System before proceeding.

S/U Grade Selection Required

MFA graduate students are required to select the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grading option for graduate courses (whenever available). A grade of S indicates that the student has finished the seminar requirements in a satisfactory manner and at a level equal to that of the other students enrolled in the seminar. A grade of U indicates that the graduate student's performance was not on par with that of the other students. To maintain acceptable graduate status and continuation of funding, students may have no more than eight units of U or F grades on their academic record.


Instructors may assign the Incomplete grade when a student's work is of non-failing quality but is incomplete for good cause (illness, for example).  If you are not passing a class because you have simply fallen behind, you are not eligible for an Incomplete.  The student must be able to provide documentation to justify the awarding of an Incomplete (such as a doctor’s note), if the instructor requests it.

The graduate student must complete the work or paper by the date set by the instructor.  This date can be no later than the 10th week of the following quarter, excluding Summer Session (i.e., an incomplete received in Spring quarter must be resolved by the end of Fall quarter).  If the work is not completed by the deadline, the Incomplete will automatically lapse to an Unsatisfactory (U) or Failure (F) at the end of the quarter following the awarding of the Incomplete.

Repeating Courses In Which Grade D, F, or U Assigned

In the unfortunate circumstance of a student receiving a grade of D, F, or U, campus allows for students to repeat the course (within some restrictions).  Please review the campus policies on repeating a course.  If the course is already repeatable for credit (based on varying topics), students will need to show that they are able to repeat the same topic as their original failed course.  In this case, students should contact staff advising at for guidance.

For graduate students, a petition to repeat the course must be submitted to the Graduate Division for approval prior to enrollment. Submit the petition online in the Graduate Student Portal.

MFA Professional Development

What will you do with your MFA? Start thinking about it—and preparing for it—during your first quarter in the program.

Student Profile & Photo

Students are asked to submit a short profile and photo to the advising staff at the start of the program, and they may submit updates throughout the program (as needed).  These student profiles are posted on our websitehelp build the MFA students’ sense of community and provide information for potential publicity pieces, such as announcements about student readings.

The profile is a brief summary (~100 words) of the student's interests and accomplishments. Suggested topics are—

  • Writing and research interests
  • Publications
  • Degrees
  • Current project
  • Link to writer's website

The photo should be a headshot, portrait orientation, and it may be cropped/resized by the department to meet the department’s posting standards.

Individualized Development Plan

MFA students are encouraged to create an individualized development plan and share it with their primary faculty advisor during their first year in the program.  The IDP is a student's overall plan for advancing toward their artistic and professional goals during their time in the program and beyond.

It is your responsibility to create a plan and seek the advising and mentoring needed to execute it.

Instructions for Creating an IDP

Start by thinking about where you want to be 10 years from now and the different possibilities for employment and a writing life post-MFA. What are your artistic, professional and career objectives? Here are some of the things our students have done after graduation:

  • Published a novel or poetry collection.
  • Studied abroad on a Fulbrightor Disquiet
  • Taught high school English.
  • Worked as an adjunct at a community college, small liberal arts college, or university.
  • Started a freelance writing business.
  • Obtained a corporate job that uses writing skills.
  • Started a literary magazine or arts nonprofit.
  • Worked on social justice causes.
  • Obtained a staff position in higher education.
  • Entered a PhD program.

Once you have compiled your list of objectives, create a list of goals to focus on during the 2-3 years of your MFA program. (The entire training period needs to be considered in the IDP as goals may have to be pursued in a particular sequence.) Suggested areas include—

  • Research/ literary productivity (publications, performances, new work, etc.).
  • Professional development (professional associations, conferences/festivals, workshops, grant-writing, improvement of teaching methods, etc.).
  • Acquiring technical skills for creating digital work (shoot/edit video, audio, and photographs; tell stories with graphics and animation).
  • Preparing for post-MFA job searches or doctoral program applications.

Next, draft your IDP (see the IDP Sample Form available on the "Forms" page of the website), and then arrange to meet with your faculty advisor to discuss it (bring your CV to the meetings as well). Your advisor will help you refine your goals, identify competencies to be developed, and suggest possible mentors.

Once you have determined what training or experiences you need in order to achieve your goals, write an action plan to address a few of these needs each year and add it to your IDP.

Meet with your advisors and mentors as frequently as needed to assess your progress and revise your plan. You may need to reassess your goals as you gain more insight about your interests and strengths over the course of the program.

Curriculum Vitae

MFA students are encouraged to create a new CV or update an existing CV during Fall quarter of their first year.  It is recommended that students send a copy to their primary faculty advisor for feedback (and whenever there are significant updates).

You should be prepared to provide your up-to-date CV when applying for—

  • Awards, fellowships
  • TAships, readerships, and other campus employment
  • Grants
  • Journal editorships
  • Research presentation or publication
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Admission to a doctoral program

The CV is a summary of your artistic, academic and professional achievements. While there is no standard format, CVs often include the following information:

  • Contact information
  • Education (listed at the top)
  • Honors and awards (academic or professional)
  • Grants, fellowships, scholarships
  • Professional teaching experience
  • Research
  • Publications and presentations (include submitted and/or pending, and thesis title if applicable)
  • Professional affiliations
  • Professional activities (participation in conferences, workshops, retreats, readings)
  • Mentoring
  • Foreign languages (if fluent)
  • Skills
  • Extracurricular and volunteer experience

Is your CV a little skimpy? Make an appointment with your faculty advisor to discuss your Individualized Development Plan (more on this above).  As you attain goals and experiences on your IDP, be sure to add them to your CV.

Developmental Resources

Career Exploration and Preparation

Conferences & Residencies

Contests, Grants and Awards

Faculty and Staff Jobs in Education