Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any questions beyond the scope of this FAQ, please feel free to email the Academic Program Director, Frank Montesonti, at

Is the MFA completely online, or are there any residency requirements for the program?

No, the MFA in creative writing program at National University is one of the very few fully-online MFA programs in the country. All of the courses are online and asynchronous. You are not required to be in the classes at certain times for synchronous meetings.

What is the Student Population of National University MFA Program Like?

The student population is very diverse. Our students are often working adults with children and other responsibilities that make online courses ideal. But we do have students fresh out of their undergraduate studies as well. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds. We have students who are doctors, scientists, educators, homemakers, retirees, and even soldiers stationed here in the United States or serving overseas. In general, the varied and vast life experience of our students is one of the main benefits of our program, as these dynamic individuals produce writing as unique as their lives.

Our students are in the program because of their love of writing and they tend to be supportive, accepting and encouraging. Though we never meet each other face to face, our students have been very good about building a strong writing community and keeping in touch with each other after the program ends to share work and continue encouraging each other to write.

What Are the Online MFA Workshop Courses Like? What Do We Do in the Courses?

Online courses in creative writing are much like on-ground courses in creative writing. The main activity in the courses is the writing workshop. Just like an on-ground writing workshop, students will write their own stories or poems or screenplays and these student works are discussed in the weekly workshops. The instructor will write an in-depth critique of the student work being workshopped for that week and the students are required to write constructive criticism about the stories/poems/essays/screenplays as well.

Beside the workshop, there are weekly readings and discussion forums. Unlike literature courses, we focus on the craft of writing—the concepts and skills required to create good creative writing, so weekly readings are often paired with lectures on craft principles and students are asked to describe how they see the craft principles in the assigned readings.

Lastly, in many courses there are generative writing activities that help teach elements of craft.

So, in any given week, you will most likely be doing three things: workshopping, discussing class readings in regards to craft, and doing a writing activity.

How Does Discussion Take Place in the Courses?

Our courses run on the ECollege platform. This system has many functions. Because all of our courses are asynchronous, we primarily rely on threaded discussion boards for workshopping, activities, and discussion of course texts. Some courses will require papers to be turned into electronic dropboxes. Our courses have the capability of meeting with live audio chat, but because our students have busy schedules and it is difficult to coordinate a time when everyone can participate, if live chat is used, it will not be a required part of any course.

What If I Do Not Have a Background in English or Creative Writing? Do I Have Enough Experience for the Program?

The main qualification for pursing an MFA in creative writing is that you love to read and write. We have students with all kinds of educational backgrounds. If you love to read and write, you will be fine. If you feel unsteady, I suggest you take MCW 610—Textual Strategies as your first course, as it was designed as an introduction to the program and provides an overview of the skills you will need in your workshop courses.

What is the Admissions Portfolio?

The admissions portfolio is 20-30 pages of your creative writing in one genre or a combination of genres (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or screenwriting). While you may provide a short example of your critical writing, we are primarily interested in your creative writing, so we discourage portfolios of academic essays, journalism, or writing that falls too far out of line with the mission of the creative writing program. Portfolios should be sent to the Academic Program Director, Frank Montesonti via email at as a Microsoft Word document or as a .Pdf file. You should hear back from the program lead faculty in about a week after the portfolio is received.

Must I Submit a Portfolio Before Applying to the Online MFA Creative Writing Program?

It is recommended that you submit your portfolio prior to beginning your course work. We want to see who you are as a writer and to make sure you are writing at a graduate level. You are required to submit the portfolio and have it approved prior to enrolling in any of the advanced writing workshops.

What If I Do Not Have Enough Work for the 20-30 Pages Required in the Portfolio?

In some circumstances, we can allow you to take one course to generate enough work to submit for the portfolio. You should first email the Academic Program Director, Frank Montesonti, to let him know you will be taking a course before submitting your portfolio. We recommend that you sign up for the writing workshop seminar in your area of focus.

MCW 630—Seminar in Fiction
MCW 650—Seminar in Nonfiction
MCW 645—Seminar in Poetry
or MCW 685—Seminar in Screenwriting

It is not advisable to take MCW 610, 600, or any ENG elective if you are trying to generate work for the portfolio, as these are not workshop courses.

What Are You Looking for in the Portfolio?

In order to be approved to take the advanced workshops, you need to submit samples that reflect your ability to participate in/benefit from the advanced writing workshops. In general, we want to see two things: 1. That you are writing up to the graduate level, and 2. That your work fits the mission of a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program and its goals. If your work is currently not at the graduate level, you may be advised to take some undergraduate writing workshops (offered online).

Does the Portfolio Have to Include Work Done in the Genre in Which I Plan to Specialize?

Ideally, yes, but the portfolio can be a sample of your writing in any genre or a combination of genres.

How many Classes are in the Program?

There are thirteen classes required to graduate.

What is the Cost of the Program?

To get an up-to-date cost estimate, please contact online admissions at (619) 563-7123, or email  You may also go to:

Our program requires 13 classes, each of which are 4.5 Quarter Unit Courses.  So, if you multiply the cost for a 4.5 Quarter Unit Course (the current cost of which is available at the link above) times 13, you’ll be able to calculate the current cost of the degree.  Please keep in mind that National offers many financial aid options and scholarships to students who qualify.

How Long Does the Program Take?

The program can be completed in twenty months. Most students take a little longer to take breaks, focus on more workshops (which are two month classes), or take extra time at the end of the program to finish their thesis.

Can I Take Time Off Between Classes?

You should contact your admissions adviser to discuss taking a hiatus for any reason. While there are no program requirements on when you must take classes, if you decide to take time off between classes, it may affect your financial aid disbursements. Please contact your admissions adviser or call the financial aid department for more information.

When Can I Enroll in the Program?

National University runs classes monthly, so you may begin the online MFA program on any given month, but please see scheduling notes below to put together an optimal schedule.

Do I Need to Take the GRE or Provide Letters of Recommendation?

No, we do not require GRE scores or letters of recommendation for admission to the program.

How Do I Sign up for Classes?

Your admissions adviser will help you enroll and create a schedule. Make sure you tell your adviser the genre in which you plan to focus and if you have secondary interests. If you do not know the focus of your genre, please make sure you call your adviser back before you start the advanced workshops. If you do not have an admissions adviser or your adviser has changed, please call online admissions at 619-563-7200.

How Do I Get my Textbooks?

To check what textbooks you need for a class, go to

The books will be listed for a course two months in advance.  It is not a good idea to buy them any time before then since occasionally the books for courses change. Make sure you check this site because we reprint some rare books and they may be substantially less expensive on our site than on online retailers or bookshops.

Can I Focus in Genre Fiction or Young Adult Fiction?

Yes, you may write a thesis in genre fiction or YA lit. If you are interested in YA lit, you may want to consider enrolling in MCW 635—Writing for Young Adults. Our program does not look down upon genre fiction as long as it has serious literary merit and several members of our faculty actively publish in genre fiction.

Can My Thesis be a Series of Books for Young Children?

No, the program does not cover writing for young children. Your thesis must be for young adults or older.

Can I Take Electives Not Listed in the Catalog Program Description?

Yes, with approval of the lead faculty. Courses in film theory, for example, may be excellent choices for students pursuing screenwriting. You will need to complete some additional paperwork with your admissions adviser and the program lead faculty must approve to have different electives count toward your degree. If the course does not have a strong connection to creative writing, it may be denied.

Can I take an Advanced Writing Workshop in a Second Genre As One of My Electives?

Yes, you may take advanced workshops in two or three genres if you like. But you may only write one thesis and we encourage you to write it in only one genre unless there is some strong artistic reason you need to bend or combine genres.

Do I Need to Take the Courses in Any Particular Order?

You should generally complete the “core” courses before you enter the advanced workshops.  These classes include MCW 610–Textual Strategies, MCW 600 Pedagogy of Creative Writing and three of the following classes: (MCW 630—Fiction, 645—Poetry, 650-Non-fiction, or 685 – Screenwriting.).

Also note that you must take the core course in your chosen area before you take the advanced workshops. For example, you must take MCW 630 –Seminar in Fiction before you take MCW 630A, Advanced Workshop I. With the exception of Advanced Screenwriting workshops (MCW680A and MCW680B) you can take the advanced workshops in any order. For example, you can take MCW630B before taking MCW630A. You must complete all the core workshops, your two advanced workshops, and at least one of your electives prior to enrolling in MCW660.  You must complete all your courses (core and elective) prior to enrolling in MCW670. It is recommended that you take MCW660 and MCW670 as your last two classes. As an example, here is a sample schedule for someone focusing in fiction who also has an interest in screenwriting.

1. MCW 610—Textual Strategies (our recommended first course and good introduction to the program) (Required)
2. MCW 630—Seminar in Fiction (Core workshop in genre of primary focus)
3. MCW 685—Seminar in Screenwriting (Core workshop in secondary interest)
4. MCW 640—Seminar in Poetry or 650 Seminar in Nonfiction (Core workshop in third genre)
5. MCW 600—Pedagogy of Creative writing (this course is better to take after you have taken some workshop courses. We do not advise you begin the program with this course)
6. Elective in English
7. MCW 630A – Advanced Workshop in Fiction I
8. MCW 630B—Advanced Workshop in Fiction II
9. MCW 680 A—Advanced  workshop in Screenwriting I (as elective)
10. MCW 680 B—Advanced workshop in Screenwriting II (as elective)
11. Elective in English
12. MCW 660—Thesis I
13. MCW 670—Thesis II

Here is an example schedule for someone who is interested in only one genre, fiction and enjoys ENG literature courses.

1. MCW 610—Textual Strategies (our recommended first course and good introduction to the program) (Required)
2. MCW 630—Seminar in Fiction. (Core workshop in genre of primary focus)
3. MCW 685—Seminar in Nonfiction
4. MCW 685, 650, or MCW 620 Internship (last core workshop requirement)
5. MCW 600—Pedagogy of Creative writing (this course is better to take after you have taken some workshop courses. We do not advise you begin the program with this course)
6. Elective in English
7. MCW 630A – Advanced Workshop in Fiction I
8. MCW 630B—Advanced Workshop in Fiction II
9. Elective in English
10. MCW 635—Writing for Young Adults (an elective fiction workshop)
11. Elective in English
12. MCW 660—Thesis I
13. MCW 670—Thesis II

Another helpful scheduling tip is to not take your electives as your first classes.  Use them to plug any gaps in your schedule.

May My Courses Overlap?

It is not advisable to take overlapping courses; each course, whether it is a one-month course or a two-month writing workshop, is the equivalent of a semester’s worth of material, and the work is intensive. However, in individual cases, overlapping may be allowed. There are very specific requirements that need to be met in order to do so. Your admissions adviser can explain the requirements.

Who Are the Faculty?

The faculty in the MFA Creative Writing program are experienced, published writers in their fields, and all are experienced, compassionate teachers. Offering the courses online allows us to attract the finest writers and teachers from across the globe. See our faculty bios page for a list of our current faculty.

Do I Need to Choose a Concentration for My Advanced Workshops at the Time of My Initial Enrollment?

It is advisable, but not required. You will need to choose your concentration prior to enrolling in the advanced writing workshops. If you do not know what genre you want to write your thesis in, feel free to take some of the seminar classes before you decide. If you discover you want to work in a different genre, you may switch focus simply by switching the advanced workshops in which you are enrolled. You do not need permission from the program lead faculty.

Why Are Most of the Courses Two Months Long? Do These Count as One Course or Two?

The online writing workshops last two months and count as one course. The work is spread out over two months in order to provide time for the intensive writing, critiquing, and revision required in these courses.

What is the Difference Between an MFA and an MA in English?

The MFA is considered a terminal degree – the highest in its field – which means it is an appropriate degree if you plan to teach in creative writing. It takes longer to complete the MFA than the MA, and the thesis usually requires a full-length publishable-quality creative manuscript. The MFA is a studio degree. This means that the majority of your time in the program will be spent producing original creative works. The MA in English is more of an academic degree. In the MA in English you will produce critical writing about great works of literature. The MFA culminates in a book of your own creative work.  The MA in English culminates in a critical thesis or an exit exam.

What Teaching/Editing/Writing Activities are Available as an MFA student?

Unfortunately, the MCW program does not offer teaching assistantships, but there are other literary activities for which you may volunteer. Students may volunteer to work on National University’s student literary journal the GNU.  The GNU is a completely student-run literary journal that appears twice a year.  If you are interested in volunteering for the journal, contact Frank Montesonti and he can put you in contact with the current student Editor-In-Chief.

For students interested in teaching English composition after graduation, you may be interested in taking ENG 655, Composition Pedagogy, as an elective.  Composition Pedagogy prepares students for teaching college-level composition classes, introduces them to composition theory, and helps them prepare documents needed to apply for composition teaching jobs outside of National University.

What is the Thesis Project?

The thesis is a mature, substantial body of work e.g. a collection of stories, poems, a memoir, a novel, or a full-length screenplay. You will choose a thesis mentor prior to enrolling in MCW660, Thesis I, and will work with the mentor in an individualized manner. Mentors may be chosen from MCW faculty at National University. Please see our list of faculty.

How does the Thesis process work?

At the end of the MCW program, you will take your final two courses: MCW 660—Thesis I, and MCW 670 Thesis II. In these courses you will be working on your final thesis project, a book-length collection in the genre of your focus— fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, or screenwriting.

In MCW 660 you work one-on-one with your creative mentor.  Before 660 begins, you should ask the NU Faculty member of your choice whether he/she would be interested in working with you as your thesis mentor.  Once she/he agrees, you should contact Professor Amina Cain at to inform her. Professor Cain will create a section of the course for you and your mentor.  In 660, you will create a working draft of your thesis and your mentor will provide feedback.

MCW 670 covers formatting your thesis and helps you fulfill all the necessary requirements to graduate. It is unlikely you will have the same instructor for MCW 670. That is fine. While you are in 670, you will continue to work, informally, with your thesis mentor on any creative aspects of your thesis. Any technical aspects of the thesis will fall under the purview of your MCW 670 instructor.

The two final thesis courses are where you work on-on-one with a thesis mentor of your choice to compose a rough and final draft of your thesis. We divide the thesis process up into two stages. The first stage is the rough draft and the second stage is revision and formatting.

Can you please tell me more about MCW 660 – Thesis I?

MCW 660 is about composing a full rough draft of your thesis. About a month before this course, you will receive an email from Prof. Cain regarding the steps of finding a thesis mentor. Your thesis mentor and MCW 660 instructor is the same person. The person should be an NU faculty member who works in your genre. You can find a list of our faculty on our program blog , If you need the email of someone who is not listed, email the Academic Program Director, Frank Montesonti, at When selecting a mentor, think about what instructors you worked with the most or gave you the best feedback on your work. Read some of their work and see whose books interest you. Try to have a couple of choices. Next, email the instructor and ask if he or she is willing/available to be your thesis mentor for the month you are scheduled to take MCW 660. If the instructor agrees, then email Prof. Cain and let her know of your choice. If the instructor is not available, then you have to find an instructor who is. If you do not choose a thesis mentor, then you will by default have to work with one of the full-time faculty: Amina Cain (Fiction), Colin Dickey (Ficton/Creative Non-Fiction), Michael Zimmer (Screenwriting), or Frank Montesonti (Poetry).

You and your thesis mentor will work together through the course of MCW 660 on composing a rough draft of your thesis. You will write the draft and your mentor will provide comments for revision of the draft. The process of how exactly this is done will be up the thesis mentor and the student. You will also compose a 5-10 page aesthetic statement on your artistic project and development. These are the main tasks for MCW 660—Thesis I.

I’d love more detail about MCW 670 – Thesis II.

When you turn in the rough draft of your thesis, you will receive a passing grade in MCW 660 and move on into MCW 670—Thesis II. Most likely, you will have a different instructor assigned for MCW 670 than you did for MCW 660, but your MCW 660 instructor will continue to be your creative adviser through the whole process.

MCW 670 – Thesis II is a class that focuses on formatting the thesis and making sure you have everything done to graduate. It is also just a class to give you more time to complete the thesis, have it bound, and to send it in to the university. (Details on how to do all these things will be covered in 670.)

Your MCW 670 instructor does not read your thesis for creative content. You will continue to work with your MCW 660 instructor on revision (thesis mentor) while you are in MCW 670. You can’t pass MCW 670 until your MCW 660 instructor has signed off on your thesis. Once your MCW 660 instructor signs off on the creative aspect of your thesis and you MCW 670 instructor signs off on the formatting of your thesis then you are ready to graduate. The final step is that you need to call your admissions adviser and apply for graduation.

Do I need to have turned in my admissions portfolio before signing up for the thesis courses?

If you did not turn in an admissions portfolio when you began the program or did not have the approval entered into the system, you will not be allowed to sign up for the thesis courses. Most of you have done this, but if you haven’t, you need to contact the Academic Program Director, Frank Montesonti to discuss turning it in.

How do I go about scheduling MCW 660 and 670?

When it comes time to add MCW 660 and MCW 670 onto your schedule, just sign up for the courses when you need to take them and do not pay attention to the instructor. The instructor for MCW 670 does not matter, and for MCW 660 we create a new section and have you move over to it once you choose a thesis mentor, so it is okay to just sign up for the section that is available when you need it. We will get you with the correct instructor later.

How much time do I have to complete my thesis, and can I take an incomplete?

Many students end up needing more time to complete their thesis—it is a big task. The only requirement of MCW 660 is that you complete a draft of your thesis. But if you can’t do that, you are free to take an incomplete in the class until you complete it. If you take an incomplete in MCW 660 you cannot enter MCW 670.

If you need more time to complete revisions of your rough draft or just to complete the formatting and binding (which is the case with most students) it is much better and easier to take an incomplete grade in MCW 670. If you do not turn your thesis in by the end date of MCW 670, incompletes are given by default. When you complete your thesis and turn it in, you are passed in the class.

How do I apply for graduation?

When you reach the thesis stage, you should be aware that you are required to apply for graduation and to pay a $100 graduation fee. For more details, click on this link.

How are thesis classes graded?

Both thesis classes are pass/fail. If you take an incomplete and it lapses, then your grade turns to a “U” and you will have to retake the course.

Can I Change the Genre of my Thesis?

We are a very liberal program when it comes to students deciding to change the genre in which they want to write their thesis. Our only rule is that you have to have taken the advanced workshops in the genre of your thesis. Since you are allowed to take advanced workshops in a secondary genre as electives, it is possible to finish the program having effectively focused in two genres. If that is the case, we have no problem letting you write a thesis in either genre. Your degree will not list your genre of focus, so it doesn’t matter which course you officially took as your advanced workshops and which as electives.

Can I write two theses?

No. You many only write one thesis in one genre even if you took the advanced coursework in two areas.

Can my thesis mix genres?

No, your thesis should be in one genre. Genre-bending work is fine, but you can’t, for example, have a thesis composed of some poetry and some fiction, or a short screenplay and some creative non-fiction.

How long is the thesis?

Fiction or creative nonfiction min 120 pages (double spaced). Screenwriting  90 pages minimum. Poetry 45 pages minimum.

Can I use work that I wrote in workshops in my thesis?

Of course you can!

Can I include previously published work?

If it was only published in literary journals, of course. If it was previously published in book form or a produced screenplay, no.

What If I have a Question and I do Not Know Who to Ask?

You should contact the Academic Program Director, Frank Montesonti.

Will Having an MFA degree Secure Me a Job Teaching Creative Writing at the College Level?

The MFA is the minimum qualification to teach creative writing at the college level, so yes, it qualifies you to teach at the college level, but securing a job is competitive. There are many levels of employment at the college level. Full-time positions are very, very competitive and highly dependent on publication. Part-time positions are easier to acquire, but still competitive.

Many instructors find their way into teaching creative writing by starting off teaching other courses like English composition, establishing themselves in a department and then waiting for creative writing classes to open up. If that interests you, you may consider taking ENG 655, Composition Pedagogy as an elective. This course prepares you for teaching college-level composition courses and helps generate needed application materials for such jobs.

So, an MFA is necessary to teach creative writing at the college level, but you should be aware that jobs in the field are highly competitive and highly dependent on your publications.

Will I be Able to Teach Composition and Other Basic Writing Courses as Adjunct Faculty at Community Colleges and State Schools with an MFA?

Many colleges accept the MFA as an acceptable degree to teach English Composition courses, but some do not. You should contact the individual schools where you would like to teach to find out if this an acceptable degree for teaching composition and other basic non-creative-writing subjects.

Have Students in National University’s MFA Program Gone on to Publish?

Yes, many students have found success.  In our alumni survey 11% of students report that they published their master’s thesis as a book and 28% report that they went on to publish in literary or arts journals. Several have gone on to publish extensively. See our student success page.

Have Students in the Program Gone on to Find Teaching Positions at the College Level?

Yes, in fact, in our last alumni survey, 36% of graduate students report they went on to teach at two or four year colleges. This number is more impressive considering an unknown percentage of our students may not have been pursuing careers in teaching. See our student success/publications page.

Is National University an Accredited University?

Yes, absolutely.

Are There Scholarships Available for the MCW Program?

We do not have program-specific scholarships—scholarships just for the MCW program. There are however several university scholarship that you can find more information on at