Columbia creative writing MFA

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

The Columbia University MFA Writing Program is highly regarded for its rigorous approach to literary instruction and for its faculty of acclaimed writers and editors who are devoted and dedicated teachers. The faculty, the students, and the curriculum represent and foster a full range of artistic and literary diversity. Students are encouraged to make the most of their own artistic instincts and to realize as fully as possible, beyond any perceived limitations, their potential as writers.

At the core of the curriculum is the writing workshop. All workshops are small (7 to 12 students), ensuring that all students present work at least three times per semester. Students receive substantial written responses to their work from their professors and classmates; they also have regularly scheduled one-on-one conferences with faculty. The second-year thesis workshops (6 to 10 students) are dedicated to shaping each student’s work into book form.

The Columbia MFA is a two-year program requiring 60 credits of coursework to complete the degree and can take up to three years to complete the thesis. Students concentrate in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction, and also have the option of pursuing a joint course of study in writing and literary translation. Most MFA programs require 48 credits or as few as 36 credits, but the Columbia Writing Program considers the study of literature from the practitioner’s point of view—reading as a writer—essential to a writer’s education. Every semester, students take a workshop and, on average, three craft-oriented seminars and/or lectures designed to illuminate, inform, clarify, augment and inspire each student’s experience and practice as a writer.  New seminars, lectures and master classes are created every year.

Requirements for MFA and MA Degree Programs

The requirements listed below are general to all MFA and MA degree programs in the School of the Arts and are in conjunction with the specific requirements of each program.

Residency Requirements


All MFA degree programs at the School of the Arts require completion of at least two consecutive years of full-time study. Certain programs and/or concentrations may allow further semesters of study. See “Research Arts” below for more information. All students must complete all work within five years of commencing coursework. Exceptions are granted only in medical emergencies on the joint authority of the divisional chair and dean. Other exceptions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but approval is rare and appeals are actively discouraged.


In order to continue in the program, each student must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress.

MFA Research Arts

All MFA candidates who have completed two years of course work but have not completed the degree requirements must maintain continuous and consecutive matriculation by registering for Research Arts as applicable until receipt of the MFA degree. Depending on their concentration, students who have completed their course work and are working on the completion of their thesis will be assigned Research Arts status and will be subject to the policies and fees governing their status. Students need not register for Research Arts during summer, as the School of the Arts currently does not have an official summer session.

Students are responsible for maintaining their registration and obtaining information regarding registration deadlines and late fees from the Registrar. Under no circumstances can a student take more than five years to meet the requirements for the degree and graduate. While Research Arts status confers full-time student status, certain privileges—such as graduate housing, access to studios and equipment, and faculty advisement—may not be provided. Please consult with the programs for individual policies and procedures for Research Arts. Federal financial aid is available for Research Arts students up to the five-year matriculation limit.

Credit / Point Requirement

All MFA candidates must complete a minimum of 60 points within the first two years of their respective programs. Undergraduate courses below the 3000 level, and courses taken for “R” (audit) credit will under no circumstances be counted toward the 60-point requirement.  It is expected that the majority of the 60 points will be earned through enrollment in graduate courses taken at Columbia University during the period of the student’s residency in the School of the Arts. However, certain exceptions are permitted, as noted below.

All MA candidates in the Film and Media Studies program must complete a minimum of 30 points within either 2 or 4 semesters (there is a half-time option) and one additional semester of Extended Residence. Of those 30 points, not more than 6 can be earned through courses outside the Film program, and any outside course must first be approved by the MA Program Advisor. Undergraduate courses below the 3000 level, and courses taken for “R” (audit) credit will under no circumstances be counted toward the 30-point requirement.

MA in Film and Media Studies Extended Residence

All MA Film and Media Studies candidates who have completed 30 credits of course work and have not completed the degree requirements may register for one additional semester MA Film and Media Studies Extended Residence. Students must complete all course and degree requirements in no more than three semesters (full-time) or 5 semesters (half-time). Any extensions to these deadlines (a) must be approved, in advance, by the department head and (b) may carry additional fees. For changes to these requirements, or for more specific information, please contact the School of the Arts Office of Admissions at [email protected].

Thesis Production Fee

Students who have completed two years of course work and who are not required to be registered for Research Arts may be required by their program to register for Thesis Production. Thesis Production fees vary by program. For more information visit the Tuition, Costs & Financial Aid page. Students are required to register for the section of Research Arts as assigned by their program. Failure to register for the required section of Research Arts does not exempt the student from the year’s Thesis Production fee associated with that required section. The Registrar reserves the right to change a student’s program at any time to the proper section as directed by the program chair. (For guidelines pertaining to Thesis Production and Research Arts registration, please contact the Office of Student Affairs at [email protected].

Leaves of Absence

Under extraordinary circumstances a student may be granted a Leave of Absence by his or her program and the Associate Dean of Student and Alumni Affairs. These leaves are granted typically in cases of medical emergency only.

Leaves are granted on a per-semester basis and for a maximum of one year. It is the student’s responsibility to notify her or her program chair and the Associate Dean of Student and Alumni Affairs regarding continuation of the Leave or to request to end the Leave and rejoin the program. If the student fails to notify the program and/or the Dean of Student and Alumni Affairs regarding the status of his or her leave at the end of each semester, the student will be officially withdrawn from the program and must reapply during the next admissions cycle.

Continuous Registration

All MFA candidates in the School of the Arts must maintain continuous registration, the single exception being any semester or semesters for which they have been granted an authorized Leave of Absence (see above). Registration is not required for the summer unless a student chooses to enroll in the summer courses. Any student who has not been granted an authorized Leave of Absence or registered, either for course credit, Research Arts, or for Extended Residence by the end of a given semester will be considered to have withdrawn from the School of the Arts and will be required to reapply for admission to continue working toward his or her degree. Readmission to the program is not guaranteed.

Teachers College

Any student wishing to take a course at Teachers in place of a required course (rather than as an elective) must get approval from the chair of his or her program prior to registering for the course. Any student wishing to take a course at Teachers College as an elective must verify with the program chair that the Teachers College course will count toward the student’s graduation requirement prior to registering for the course.

Undergraduate Credits

A maximum of 6 points of undergraduate course work at the 3000 level may be applied toward the MFA degree. The remainder of required points must come from graduate courses at the 4000 level or above.

Transfer Credits

Graduate credits may only be taken at another institution if that particular course is not offered by Columbia University. Requests for transfer credits must be made in writing and approved in advance by the Committee on Instruction of the School of the Arts. The credits will be transferred upon receipt of a transcript or evaluation indicating successful completion of the course. Only in exceptional cases will more than a total of 12 transfer points be applied toward the MFA degree.

Final Project / Thesis Requirement

All programs of the School of the Arts require degree candidates to complete a final or thesis project as part of their degree requirement.

Internship Requirement

In addition to a final or thesis project, some concentrations require students to successfully complete an approved, monitored internship.

About the author

Study on Scholarship Today -- Check your eligibility for up to 100% scholarship.

Leave a Comment