MFA Frequently Asked Questions
If you have questions, start here, and our Program Assistant would be happy to answer questions that aren't covered.
About the MFA Program
Most of the students come here because of:
- The faculty
- The flexibility: students here can take classes in whatever genre they like if there is space available
- The fully-funded nature of the program
- Opportunities to work in the community, with local presses and magazines, and so forth
- Some come because of the place
If you are all about:
- Having some subject-area interests, ambitions, and training
- Reading deeply and widely
- The craft of your work on the macro and the micro (sentence) level
- Flourishing in a community of working writers
If these describe you, then our MFA program might be a perfect fit for you!
No. Our primary criterion for admission is the writing you submit as part of your application and how well your interests fit our faculty’s ability to mentor you. You would be well-advised to research the faculty and students in the program and get a sense of what they do when applying.
You can see our recent students’ work by looking at the Look Book.
The kind of work that we do here overlaps partly with journalism, but it is mostly distinct.
Students with journalistic background usually come in with a strong work ethic and research chops. But MFA students from that background sometimes have a difficult time going after what’s more important to an essayist: thinking, interiority, and voice.
Having said that, we often recommend that many of our MFA students take a journalism course while they’re here, since it develops all kinds of useful writerly practices.
Our MFA program isn’t a program designed to professionalize students. It is a degree focused primarily—though not exclusively—on the art of writing, and is designed to focus on you and your work.
We offer a lot of those conversations more informally: office hours are great for this, or via MFA colloquium, which is a weekly all-MFA conversation space partly driven by students’ interests as well as visiting readers and editors. So those opportunities are here, but they’re definitely secondary.
This program isn’t a place to go to find an agent, for instance. (But many students have, often with our guidance.) Every two years we publish the MFA Look Book, featuring the best work by our recently graduated students, which is oriented toward getting students’ work in the hands of potential publishers, editors, and agents.
Compared to most MFA programs, we have a high ratio of faculty to students, which means that you are often able to work with any faculty you want during your time here, including the thesis semester.
All faculty have office hours each semester and also take appointments. They offer mentoring and talk one-on-one about concerns related to your writing, teaching, artistic, or professional lives, though the primary interaction you would have with faculty is in class.
There are other opportunities for these kinds of conversations (like MFA colloquium or even less formally). The most intense and important interactions you will have with faculty is during the thesis process, in which you can expect to meet with your advisor often during the final semester of your project.
You will have free rein to pursue whatever your interests are, including taking courses across genres. Though you can expect to be encouraged and pushed—by faculty and your peers—to explore new and exciting territories.
Our program does not have a restrictive brand or conception of what “poetry,” “fiction,” or “nonfiction” is or ought to be. Aesthetics differ from workshop to workshop, craft class to craft class, and instructor to instructor.
Perhaps this question would be best answered by reading the work of our recently-graduated students in the Look Book and from reading the work of the professors.
We're happy to connect you with current students once you are admitted, but not before. This is because our students’ time is important to us and it would require too large of a time commitment on their part to respond to potentially hundreds of queries.
As for faculty, once you've been accepted we'll connect you to whichever faculty you like. Until then, the Program Director and Program Assistant are happy to be your contacts for questions while applying.
Because we receive over 500 applications a year we discourage campus visits until you've been admitted.
We strive for as much diversity as is possible (while ensuring excellence) in our classes, but because our cohort is so small the mix of students and their aesthetic interests and backgrounds varies a lot year to year.
As of 2018, 62% of the MFA cohort is writers of color. Slightly more than half are women.
Yes, we encourage you to do this if you are interested. You may take whatever classes you like if there is space available.
We don’t employ faculty who don’t teach in the program, mentor students, and direct MFA theses.
All of us are here and we expect everyone to be here next year, but actual availability each year varies. Our faculty often receive prestigious fellowships, on research, or on personal leave. Leaves for these reasons are difficult to predict, and we often won’t know about those a year in advance. But we don’t have research-only faculty in this program. If you have questions about a particular faculty, give us a call.
We don’t accept specific students to work with specific faculty. We only accept students who all of us in the genre are excited to work with.
In the fourth semester, you will propose your thesis project and at that point submit a ranked list of preferred thesis advisors. Because we have a high ratio of faculty to student, you are almost guaranteed to get your first or second choice of thesis advisor.
Our students go on from the MFA to some combination of: publishing, teaching, arts administration, editorial work, occasionally PhD programs, or sometimes apparently unrelated careers (though we often find they continue to write, publish, and read). It varies a lot.
An MFA degree, while it is the typical qualification for teaching at the college level, is not necessarily a teaching degree. It isn’t a degree that necessarily prepares you for a teaching job (though it can). It’s designed to focus on growing your writing and your work as an artist. Therefore it leads to all kinds of work and lives after graduation.
While we don't expect you to come in with a developed project, it can be helpful if you have an idea of your subject matter.
Most students find one or more ideas while they’re here, even if that means deviating from their original idea. For some, that original idea becomes the second book, etc., now that their chops are sharper.
It varies. The thesis advising process is primarily focused around the final semester, though the expectation is that you are working on the project during the last year of the program. Many students are working on it longer than that, particularly if they come into the program with a clear sense of this project (not required but it’s a bonus).
It’s a mix, and it varies year to year.
The average age of our grad students is about 27 most years, but we have several students in their 30s and 40s too. Compared to a 30 year old, a 22 year old is less likely to be competitive in terms of life experiences and their craft in writing, but a 35 year old is less likely to have the freedom to attend a residential MFA program.
You will be offered a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) position upon acceptance into our program. The GTA position comes with a stipend (around $16k), health insurance, and tuition paid for. You will have to pay about $1,300 in fees each year, but most people get by okay on that package.
Tucson is a comparatively cheap city, and for most students the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) salary is livable. We don’t expect you to take on student loans or other work. However, those teaching as GTAs are contractually forbidden from taking on other work at the University (the GTA position can be a lot of work, and with classes, you’ll be busy). Occasionally students do choose to find other sorts of work while they’re here instead of the GTA position, since teaching is not for everyone.
Classes are in the daytime, and other activities will keep you busy. This is a full-time, full-residency program.
If you're teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, you cannot do that and have another job. We do sometimes have students working full time somewhere else, but scheduling can be complicated (and if you're not employed by the university, you're responsible for your own tuition).
Not particularly, except to say this is where you want to contextualize your application for grad school and perhaps your writing sample. Think about what you’re up to as a writer, how you want to grow, and where you want to go.
Key questions to address: Why are you applying to this program now? Having said that, the manuscript sample is by far the most important part of the application. Everything else is secondary. You may want to check out the Best Practices for Applying to Graduate Study in Creative Writing document we produced for our undergrads in 2018.
That’s a big question but here are some qualities we'd like to see:
- Abilities in your genre
- Your research chops
- Your ability in aesthetic and/or intellectual
- Your writerly ambitions and talents.
Probably the best way to get a sense of what we do is by looking at the Look Book, which features some of our recent graduates’ best work. That or by reading our faculty’s work.
The primary criterion for acceptance is accomplishment and promise of the writing sample. Everything else is secondary.
The final decision is up to the Graduate College and the program would have to make a strong argument for you. You would be wise to address that in your personal statement.
No, but it would typically be unwise to send more than 20 pages. Your 21st page of poetry probably isn't going to be the one that gets you in.
No. This is partly on the account of logistics.
Our program receives over 500 applications each year. It takes a great deal of time to read these manuscripts closely. UA graduate college also prohibits any application prescreening.
Plus, it's a question of fairness: it would be unfair to offer this opportunity to only some applicants, giving them an advantage in applying, and not to offer it to others.
Fundings and Finances
$664.13 per semester if you are taking 7 units or higher. The fees are paid by the student.
Funding is done through teaching assistantships. You will receive full funding for three years. The funding package covers full tuition costs, health insurance, and a small stipend (around $16,100 for the Academic Year). You don’t have to apply separately for the funding. You automatically receive it if you are admitted.
The funding package was worth $30,452 in 2018-2019.
We do offer small research travel grants for grad students doing research or creative practice. There are also some funds available for grad students to go to conferences, typically when they’re presenting their work or have institutional or pedagogical reasons to go.
These funds are not going to cover all your expenses, but receiving some money to go to the AWP conference, for instance, if you have strong arguments to go, is not unusual.