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Various bits and pieces follow, mostly answers to FAQs from incoming graduate students. October onwards, the blog will shift focus away from “basic how-to’s of navigating the department” towards “how to manage classes/writing and also stay sane” and “look what cool things our classmates are working on.”

If you’re graduating soon…

The GWC is putting together a page for you with major deadlines, timelines, forms and such. Till it’s up, if you’re feeling nervous about the thesis process, or about what happens after you graduate, reach out to your thesis advisor, the faculty or staff members that you’ve been in conversation with during your time in the program, and your classmates who are also graduating soon.

This is also a good time to reach out to the GWC’s Alumni Outreach crew. Get on their mailing list, so that when you actually graduate, you’re already familiar with what they have to offer. Email gradwriterscollab@gmail.com.

If you’re in the middle of the program…

You probably have your sea legs and know what you’re doing. Reach out to faculty members that you feel comfortable with, and just check in with them on how you’re doing in the program; run your thoughts by them about your thesis plans etc., and get their thoughts. Read / review the Advising Worksheet to ensure that you’re hitting all the degree requirements. If you haven’t already started to connect with classmates outside of classes, come to the GWC’s Sunday Night Writing Sessions and meet people.

If this is your first year…

You’ve just had a hella weird introduction to grad school. Maybe you’ve been feeling anxious about your classwork, or your writing in general, or even about what you’re going to do with your life after you graduate. This is legitimate. Grad school takes getting used to, even at the best of times, and this last year has been far from “the best of times.” So be kind to yourself.

Continue reading “If this is your first year…”

Choosing Your Classes

At the start of the semester, you have two weeks to “shop” for classes–that is, to add or drop classes. This is a good time to sit in on lots of classes and get a sense of what works for you or doesn’t. Write to the professor if you couldn’t get on the register and ask for permission to join the waitlist and sit in, in case a seat opens up. (See class schedule here.)

If you take one or two classes, that’s considered part-time. Three or more is full-time. Four is a very full schedule. Five or more is a little insane, but it’s been done.

You’ll be reading a lot. Some classes definitely tend to be a little more reading-heavy than others; you’ll be able to tell once you see the syllabus. MFA workshops focus heavily on student writing, though you’ll read some “texts” too; seminars tend to be a mix of student writing and “texts”.

If you want to complete the MFA in 3 years, you’ll want to take 3 classes per semester, every semester but one, and 4 classes in one semester. You can find the Advising Form here. Don’t stress if it seems overwhelming at first! It’ll make sense soon, we promise.

It can be helpful to ask other students about their experiences in various classes and with various teachers, but of course, what works for one student might not work the same way for another. Still, you can start to form an understanding of what aspects of writing different teachers like to focus on, and what their teaching styles are like.

Directed Writing vs Independent Study

Here’s ONE personal, subjective and entirely unauthorized take on this. So, there are two different options, 809: Directed Writing and 899: Special Study or Independent Study.


809 – Directed Writing: you are working just on your writing project (a novel, say, or a collection of shorter pieces), and checking in with your prof at whatever frequency you two decided. The frequency is variable from prof to prof, but expect to meet about once a month. You can discuss ahead of time with them what your goals are—do you want to refine your work, or generate more, or focus on one particular aspect like voice or thematic development or whatever. DW doesn’t (necessarily) involve any outside reading. You can take DW for credit up to 3 times.


899: Special Study (or Independent Study): This is where you’ll want to design a reading list. For an IS I did with a prof in the Translation space, I came in with a plan drafted already for the things I wanted to study/explore. My prof helped me fine-tune it, and gave me sanity checks on an on-going basis. So depending on where you are in your process—if there’s a topic you want to explore, if there are readings you have in mind—your prof will help you develop your reading list. You can take IS up to 2 times for credit.


If you think you want to do one of these with a prof, email them and set up a time to chat. Be forthright about what you’re looking for (including if you’re not sure). It’s okay to ask questions like: how often will we meet; what if I get overwhelmed; what if I change my focus midway; what kind of feedback do you give and what kind of feedback do you not give. Do your own homework first: look at their author pages online to learn more about their writing, for example.