Ph.D. in Creative Writing

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Seeking a doctorate in creative writing requires a significant investment of time and resources. Plan to spend two or more years taking and teaching classes and another year of or more of dissertation work, plus a comprehensive exam. Do your homework and carefully consider your long-term career goals before signing up for a final stretch of grad school.

Places to Pursue a Creative Writing Ph.D.

While most graduate programs in writing terminate at the Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) level, a number of accredited Ph.D. programs in creative writing are available. You'll need to attend a bricks and mortar program, as online graduate degree options in this field are pretty much limited to Creative Writing MFAs. Programs to consider include:

Florida State University

Located in Tallahassee, Florida State University (FSU) offers specializations in fiction, poetry, playwriting, and creative nonfiction. You'll spend about 1,215 hours workshopping, 2,124 hours in literature classes, and 912 hours on your thesis, to rack up the 45 graduate credit hours the Ph.D. requires. You'll also need reading knowledge of one foreign language and a successful oral defense of your creative thesis to complete the program.

  • Contact director Erin Belieu, Creative Writing Program, 405 Williams Building, Tallahassee, Florida, 32306-1580 (Email: ebelieu@fsu.edu) for more information.
  • FSU, like other state universities, lists in-state and out-of-state fees per credit hour. Out-of-state (non-resident) graduate tuition for 2017-18 is nearly $16,000. Doctoral candidates typically receive tuition waivers and teaching stipends.

State University of New York

SUNY (State University of NY) in Albany welcomes Ph.D. candidates who want to focus on fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, playwriting and hypertext. Doctoral students must complete 32 credit hours of coursework and a creative dissertation integrating critical writing with forms such as poetry, fiction, or drama. The program also encourages creative technological innovation, the use of digital media in the completion of requirements.

  • Contact graduate director James Lilley, 1400 Washington Avenue, Humanities 333, English Department, Albany, New York, 12222 (Phone: 518-442-4058 / Email: jlilley@albany.edu) to learn more.
  • Graduate/Ph.D. tuition for out-of-state students was $11,105.00 per semester in 2016-17, with a potential annual stipend of about $22,000 and a tuition waiver for up to 18 credits a year.

University of Hawaii

Located in Manoa, the University of Hawaii offers specializations in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and criticism/theory in its creative writing Ph.D. program. You'll complete 30 hours of credits, divided into six workshop hours, six thesis hours and 18 hours of literature classes. Successful doctoral candidates also need at least one foreign language proficiency. Additional requirements include a written final examination and an oral thesis defense.

  • Contact the chair of the English Department Writing Program Laura Lyons, 1733 Donaghho Road, Kuy 402, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96822 (Email: lelyons@hawaii.edu).
  • Spring semester 2018 full time graduate tuition for non-residents is $18,835.00. Ph.D. candidates are offered fellowships and financial assistance.

University of Houston

The University of Houston in Texas offers a Ph.D. in creative writing with a focus on fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. The 42 total units required for the degree are divided into 15 workshop credits, 24 literature credits and six thesis credits. Proficiency in a foreign language is a prerequisite for completing the program.

  • Contact the creative writing program director James Kastely, 4800 Calhoun Road, 229 Roy Cullen Building, English Dept., Houston, Texas, 77204-3015 (Phone: (713) 743-2952 / Email: jkastely@uh.edu)
  • 2017-18 graduate tuition slightly exceeds $17,000. Creative writing program fellowships waive tuition and pay a little more than $17,000 per year as a teaching assistant stipend. UH estimates the average financial package for incoming doctoral students is $132,661 over five years.

University of Cincinnati

Ohio's University of Cincinnati has a Ph.D. program in creative writing with specializations in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Their curriculum is divided into courses rather than credit hours. A total of 12 courses are required for the advanced degree, including one criticism and theory course, two courses in composition rhetoric, three in literature, four workshop courses and two electives. The 12-unit program is estimated to take four years, with one year dedicated to the dissertation. Fill the foreign language mandate with evidence of a prior language program, a proficiency exam, or the completion of a language sequence in addition to program-specific course. Degree completion also requires subject mastery demonstrated by exams, teaching experience, and a creative dissertation.

  • Contact assistant professor and director of creative writing Rebecca Lindenberg, Department of English & Comparative Literature, PO Box 210069, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45221-0069 (Email: rebecca.lindenberg@uc.edu)
  • Full time graduate tuition for out-of-state students is $26,210 for the 2017-18 academic year. Ph.D. fellowships include teaching and two-year editorial fellowships working on the university's literary journal.

Making the Cut

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You may want the program, but it has to want you. The rigor of a doctoral program is factors of difficulty greater than a Master's degree. You will have to demonstrate outstanding ability and some major intellectual mojo to be admitted.

Intellectual Chops

A GPA of 3.0 or better is a base point for applying to a doctoral program. The work is tough, and your academic achievement shows your mettle. You'll have to submit your college transcript, letters of recommendation from professors, GRE (graduate record exam) scores no more than years old, proof of two years of undergraduate foreign language or proof of proficiency, and whatever additional material each school demands. Schools that don't offer a combined M.A./Ph.D. program want you to have a post-graduate degree (usually an MFA or M.A. in Creative Writing or English) before applying.

Creative Chops

Your portfolio is the magic key that unlocks the door. That portfolio might include ten or 15 of your best poems, a multi-page excerpt from your novel-in-progress, short stories and/or creative nonfiction. You could focus on your primary genre or include a good mix of poetry and prose.

While all programs will require a portfolio, additional requirements will vary. Some may ask for a critical essay, while others may require a piece of scholarly writing. Follow program-specific directions meticulously when submitting your application.

Cost Considerations

Ph.D. programs are almost always 'free' for successful applicants because they are structured to provide tuition and fee waivers, plus low-level teaching assistant stipends that allow promising students to obtain their master's and doctoral degrees without accruing extravagant debt. However, it is also important to consider the opportunity cost of the time you won't be able to pursue professional employment while pursuing your doctorate.

Financial aid is available to those who qualify, though you should proceed with caution if you are considering borrowing money to work on this kind of degree. A career in academia or creative writing does not come with a guarantee that major student loans could be paid off expediently.

Career Prospects

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There are numerous factors to consider when deciding if a Ph.D. will be beneficial to you in light of your career goals. If you intend to freelance as a creative writer - submitting to various publications, taking online commercial work to supplement your fiction, freelancing as a journalist or a marketing copywriter - your clients and editors likely won't care much whether you've obtained a doctoral degree. In some instances, it could even be smart to downplay your advanced credentials to avoid typecasting yourself as too academic, or more capable than the person who will supervise you. That's the ugly reality of a limited job market for writers.

However, a doctorate is absolutely a plus if you want to teach at the college level. It could help you land an adjunct gig at a college that would function as a part-time income while you slave away at The Great American Novel in your freezing garret. If you want to become a full-time tenure-track professor of creative writing, it is close to a necessity. It can also open doors for you in high schools - some elite high schools are very choosy about their faculty. There are many possibilities.

As a creative writer, however, a published book is a credential that's hard to beat. That publication record can trump your hard-earned degree; the ideal would be to publish and nail your doctorate. So, give some thought to your ultimate goals before you start filling out the admissions applications.

Is This Degree Worthwhile?

Pursing a Ph.D. in creative writing is not a clever way to postpone dealing with a flaccid job market, or a stretch of mostly free time in which to write your magnum opus. Your days - and nights - in the program are tightly scheduled, your workload is heavy, your reading is endless, and grading papers for undergrad writing classes is more labor intensive than ticking off multiple choice test answers. But, if your love for the written word and a career path that could include post-secondary teaching as well as publication are priorities, this type of advanced degree may be right for you.

You won't make a lot of money pursuing that degree and you probably won't get rich once the framed certificate is gracing your wall. But, you will be an attractive candidate for teaching, communications and writing arts jobs - and odds are you'll have definitively nailed the Oxford comma.

Ph.D. in Creative Writing