Frequently Asked Questions

What level of funding can I expect? 

We are an extremely well-funded program. All incoming students are awarded either Graduate Assistantships or Gager Fellowships. Unlike many programs, there is no teaching required of these awards, which means more time to read and write. Gager Fellowships carry full tuition waivers for both years of study as well as financial support for travel and research. Graduate Assistantships carry full tuition waivers + stipends of $7000 for selected students, as well as financial support for travel and research.  The Graduate Assistant workload averages 10 hours a week in program support and/or community outreach.  G.A.s are renewable for year two and include (for G.A.s in good standing) the option of developing your own course to teach to undergraduates during the January short term. Teaching Fellowships are for second year students only and are determined by application after the first semester of work in the program.  All first year students are eligible to apply.

Support for graduate travel and research is also available from the Jackson Center.

Living expenses in Roanoke are very low. When you are comparing programs, remember to consider cost of living and the amount of teaching and/or work hours required. Most students fund their CW-MFA at Hollins through a mixture of part-time employment, Graduate Assistantships, Gager Fellowships, and/or Teaching Fellowships. If a student wins all of our available aid, s/he would receive a tuition waiver + stipend of $7,000 in year one, and a tuition waiver + $15,000 in year two (Teaching Fellowship combined with Graduate Assistantship and coursepay for January term).

Our program’s distinctive location–at a small liberal arts school with a renowned writing program and a strong sense of community–means that students receive individual attention.  We strive to help each student achieve his or her particular writing goals. Our faculty members are devoted to student progress and our shared writing community.  At Hollins, your work will be discussed many times during the semester, even weekly, not just two or three times in a large workshop format. Graduate tutorials are limited to 3-5 students and conferences are encouraged.

Teaching Fellowships in year two:

All rising second year students in good standing may apply for a limited number (typically four) of Teaching Fellowships. These awards carry a full tuition waiver plus a salary of $7000.  The teaching load is 1/1, and the courses are multi-genre introductory creative writing courses in poetry and fiction (not composition). T.F.s report that they love teaching enthusiastic undergraduate writers, and still have time to do their own work.

There are opportunities for all of our students who desire it to gain college teaching experience by working with professors as course assistants in a variety of undergraduate literature and creative writing courses.

We are always seeking to improve the level of financial support we can provide.  We recognize the importance of funding, as does the Hollins administration, and we are working together to improve the funding picture on an ongoing basis.

Got any advice for improving my chances of getting in?

It all matters, but the most important part of your application is the writing sample.  If you send an excerpt of a long work, it’s a good policy to briefly contextualize it for the reader with a short paragraph of summary about how the excerpt fits into the whole.  We’re sorry to say that, due to the volume of applications, faculty cannot provide direct feedback on manuscripts.

Poetry (approx. 10 pages)

Fiction (approx. 25 pages)

Creative Nonfiction (approx. 25 pages)

Samples of more than one genre (not to exceed 30 pages total)

In addition to the writing portfolio, you will also need to provide: official transcripts of all undergraduate work, three letters of recommendation (we don’t have a recommender’s form), and a brief statement of educational objectives (500 words or less).  All prose should be double-spaced and in a standard font like Times New Roman. See:

Sometimes we receive applications in creative nonfiction that are excellent, but just not what we are looking for.  If you are writing investigative reporting and your goal is to become a journalist, our program is probably not for you.  However, if you want to write essays or booklength narrative nonfiction or memoir (although we’d like to see some range in the application beyond writing that is all about me), please apply.

Hear this:  we do not offer “tracks” in single genres.  Read on about our genre philosophy below!

GRE scores are not required. Of course, good ones don’t hurt, especially if your grades aren’t stellar (as most of our applicants’ are) so send ’em in. And make use of the personal statement in the application to let us know what your voice is, who you really are.  Remember your audience: you are writing to writers.

Do you look for a particular style of writing?

There is not a single aesthetic that we’re looking for—you’ll notice that the faculty and our graduates write in quite a range of styles, genres, modes, what have you.

We do look for writing samples that are strong, polished, and indicative of a writer committed to the craft, someone who’s dedicated to reading and writing. Don’t apply here because you want to be “an author” or because you think working as a college professor is an easy fallback plan for your life. Apply here if you have things to say and take delight in what words do.

While most applicants submit in one genre only, if you write both poetry and fiction, say, feel free to send samples of both: our best advice is simply to send your strongest work. In any case, proofread it carefully.

On that note, if you enter the program, be prepared to work with people dedicated to all different forms and flavors of writing. You yourself may want to focus on memoir, but you’ll certainly spend time in class with novelists, short story writers, and poets. We’re interested in good writing across the board, rather than keeping you on a narrowly focused track. And don’t expect your classmates’ styles, tastes, interests, or favorite writers to be clones of yours.

This goes for writers of every genre: be willing to explore multi-genres once you arrive.  Sometimes this will mean your reading and responding thoughtfully to the works of others and sometimes it will mean being handed an assignment to write in a genre you’re not that wild about: We’re committed to expanding your range.

Can I attend the program part-time?

Sorry: no. We’re structured in a way that makes that impossible.

I’m a person of color, where can I access relevant resources about Roanoke and the MFA?

Hollins values diversity on campus and in the classroom. Please find more information and resources in this document compiled by an MFA alumna.

How large is the program?

Hollins accepts approximately twelve new writers each year for our two-year program.  So there are usually twenty-four Creative Writing grad students around, along with a considerable number of undergraduates who are serious writers themselves; many undergrads come to Hollins because of the Creative Writing program. And then there’s the faculty…

What is the process for reading applications and what are my chances of getting in? 

The facts: Our acceptance rate ranges from 11%-15%.

Members of our core MFA faculty read each application at least twice. We don’t farm out the applications to paid readers. We have a meeting to discuss the top writers in the pool. We want to admit the best applicants for our program in the three genres (fiction, poetry, and nonfiction). Each entering class is made up, in unequal parts, of poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers; if you come here you’ll be one of just a dozen first-year MFAers.

May I transfer credits from another graduate writing program to Hollins? Or apply credits from the Hollins MA in CW toward the Hollins MFA degree?

All credits must be earned at Hollins.

And: no.  The MA degree is a separate and different degree from the MFA.

Who are some writers who have graduated from Hollins?

There are actually far too many Hollins writers to begin to list them all.

Among our graduates are Pulitzer prize winners Annie Dillard, Henry Taylor, and Natasha Trethewey; novelists and story writers Madison Smartt Bell, Kiran Desai, Tony D’Souza, Ethan Hauser, Tama Janowitz, Matt Klam, Jill McCorkle, and Adam Ross; poets Adrian Blevins, Scott Cairns, Wyn Cooper, Rebecca Dunham, Edward Kleinschmidt Mayes, and Mary Ruefle, as well as photographer Sally Mann, filmmaker George Butler, and literary journalist Beth Macy.

Our  recent MFA graduates are already distinguishing themselves: Cort Bledsoe, Jack Christian, Erin Ganaway, Hank Hudepohl, Luke Johnson, R. Flowers Rivera, Scott Loring Sanders, Will Schutt, and Susan Rebecca White have brought out novels and collections of stories and poems. Please check out our alumni news on these pages to see what our graduates are doing.  There are announcements of forthcoming books and news of grants and post-graduate fellowship awards.

Will Schutt ’09 won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for 2012.

There’s a reason we were called “pound for pound, the most productive writing program in America.” You might want to check out the long (and incomplete) roster at: 

We think this is in part because of our work-hard-have-fun ethic, the energy and commitment of the writing faculty, and the general atmosphere of challenging support. It’s certainly because of who comes here to study. Or maybe it’s just the feng-shui from the surrounding mountains. Or it could be something in the water…

How closely will I be studying with the creative writing faculty?

Hollins is ranked among the top “25 Colleges with the Best Professors” by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

In the first year, graduate students take two workshops per semester: the graduate tutorial, and the advanced workshop, working with a different writer/teacher for each.

The graduate tutorial lasts the entire year, and is composed of 3-5 graduate students plus an M.F.A. faculty instructor. In the second year of the program, you take another year-long tutorial while working closely with faculty to shape your thesis, a book-length work of publishable quality.

Advanced workshops average twelve students, mixed grad and undergrads in semester one, and usually mixed-genre. In your second semester of the program, the advanced seminar will be an all-grad class, typically taught by our Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing. This is your chance to learn what your peers are working on and experiment with writing outside of your main area(s).

Among our writer/teachers is R.H.W. Dillard, who has been inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers and won the George Garrett award from AWP for literary community service. Hollins professors are rated among the strongest group of professors in the nation; check out the full list of MFA faculty here:

What courses do grad students typically take for their M.F.A.s?

Forty-eight (48) credits are required for the master of fine arts degree in Creative Writing. That means 12 four-credit classes: three per semester for two academic years.  An additional course can be taken each term at no extra cost.

The requirements look like this:

First and Second Year: Two semesters of Graduate Tutorial: ENG 501/502 & 511/512 (16 credits total)—this is described above.

First and Second Year: At least two courses (8 credits) selected from: ENG 584, 585, 586, & 587: Advanced Studies in Poetry, the Novel, Short Fiction, & Creative Nonfiction—these courses are designed and taught especially for the MFA students in Creative Writing: designed by writers for writers.  They are not the same as literature courses designed for an advanced scholarly degree.

First Year: Two semesters of ENG 507/508 Advanced Creative Writing, the seminar (8 credits); the first term you study alongside advanced undergraduates; the second term you take an all-grad multi-genre section with your MFA peers.

Second year: Two semesters of ENG 599: The Thesis (8 credits).

The remaining two courses (8 credits) will be taken in appropriate 3-500 level English courses.

Year ONE Example Fall/Spring:

1) 501/502 (Graduate Tutorial)

2) 507/508 (Multi-genre Writing Seminar)

3) Advanced Studies in (poetry, novel, short fiction, or nonfiction)/Writer-in-Residence Special Topic course or another 500 level English course of your choice.

4) serving as Assistant Poetry Editor and reading submissions for The Hollins Critic/Course Assistant for lower level CW or Eng. class

Year TWO Example Fall/Spring:

1) 511/512

2) Thesis/Thesis

3) Advanced Studies in (what’s offered this term)/Cross-Genre & Experimental Writing or another 500 level English course of your choice or other elective from a related department, for example Advanced Painting, etc.

4) optional extra course or audit

Many students decide to take more than two of the four courses from the Advanced Studies series listed above. Others choose from the English Department’s various literature courses (ranging from Origins of Poetry to Film as a Narrative ArtScreenwritingPoetry as PerformanceThe Modern NovelArab-American LiteratureThe Jazz Aesthetic, and a wide range of other courses. You may also pick classes in other departments (Art, Philosophy, or Playwriting, for example), if they suit your needs.  And some students are so wound up that they take extra courses…

What is the literary life like at Hollins?

We have a regular series of evening readings—two a month on average—and an annual spring Literary Festival (see below for recent visiting writers). Receptions after these readings give students a chance to meet visiting writers, have books signed, and hang out together, talking trash. Obviously, you must be present to win these experiences.

For the past three years we’ve sponsored a reading series with an open mic in downtown Roanoke. This series, coordinated by our writing students, links Hollins’ writers to the city and region. Our students participate in the annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, networking with other writers, literary agents, and editors.  We also have student readings on campus, run by students. Rah. Our students exchange readings with the grad students at Virginia Tech, hosting each other in a series called “Connecting Ridges.”

During the spring semester, there is a distinguished poet or writer of fiction in residence.  S/he teaches a special course which is open to graduate students. Past writers in residence include: memoirist Janisse Ray, poet Li Young Lee, poet/memoirist Rebecca McClanahan, novelist/memoirist Karen Salyer, novelist Karen Osborn, and US Poet Laureate (!) Natasha Trethewey.

My primary interest is writing for children—should I apply?

Actually, in that case, we recommend our sister summer-term program, which has a separate section in the Hollins website. However, if you want to focus on writing for adults, but would like to do some children’s/YA writing on the side, or if you want to take good courses in which you read and discuss children’s lit, this program would work well for you. (Translation: don’t send writing for children as your application sample for the two-year, Sept-May M.F.A. program in creative writing.)

What is the level of student interaction outside of class?

With an average of twelve students in each MFA class, the graduate writing students generally are a pretty close-knit group, whether they are clustered in the graduate lounge on the third-floor of the English building, catching a movie at the Grandin Theater in downtown Roanoke, or arguing about prose poems while sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of Main. Of course, you can go off on your own to write—you will, you will—but our sense of community is a key part of the Hollins experience.

What can I expect from campus and the Roanoke area?

Roanoke is a small city of about 250,000 surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s got good coffee shops, farmers’ markets that just won’t quit, a co-op with local organic produce and specialty items, an art-house cinema, a pocket cinema, a new regional art museum, and an active live music and bar scene. The picturesque (yes, it really looks like that) Hollins campus is about fifteen minutes from the downtown area, and just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail. (Bring your hiking boots.)

For general info, see this link:

Do you have graduate student housing?

Hollins University has a very limited amount of apartment-style housing on campus for graduate students. This has all the pros and cons of dorm-like life, with kitchens.  The downside includes having to move out completely over the summer and vacate for the winter holiday break exactly on schedule (no exceptions). There are some other convenient, within easy walking or biking distance, rooms available in the Hollins area.

Our program maintains a list from former graduate students of housing in Roanoke, and we share these leads with admitted students. Roanoke city and the surrounding area offer a variety of options, from funky apartments in late 19th-early 20th-century showplaces-on-the-skid to standard apartment complexes, modern apartments in renovated and repurposed factories and warehouses, to the occasional cabin in the country.  You can find a setting that works for you, from historic inner city to countryside dotted with cows. We recommend that you collaborate with other students and get advice from the rising second year grads once you are admitted.  Living near other grad students can definitely enhance your experience of living here.

Are there job opportunities on the Hollins campus?

Not many. But most M.F.A. students do find work in town—bookstore gigs, substitute teaching, leading youth programs, a little journalism or copy-editing, tutoring at the local community college, and yes, frothing those lattes. While the program will keep you busy writing, it is possible to work a part-time job while attending.

Having a car greatly enhances your employment options.

Does Hollins have its own literary journal?

A leading American literary journal, The Hollins Critic celebrated its 50th year in 2013. Published five times a year, The Hollins Critic has a tradition of presenting a variety of strong contemporary poetry and the first serious essays on many contemporary writers’ work, with complete checklists. You’ll find recent essays on such writers as Larry Levis (by Julia Johnson), Susan Stewart (by Lisa Williams), Carrie Brown (by Mariflo Stephens), Jason Shinder (by Liz Rosenberg), Dara Wier (by Jordan Sanderson), and Kelly Cherry (by Casey Clabough).

Graduate students often write book reviews that appear in The HollinsCritic; they serve regularly as Poetry Readers and Assistant Editors.

In the past, students interested in publishing have started their own ‘zines. Every spring, students in the advanced seminars take part in judging The Nancy Thorp Poetry Prize, one of the country’s top prizes for high school poets. A group of students screens the finalists from well over 1000 nationwide entries, and MFA students also help choose the finalists for the undergrad poetry and fiction contests at our annual Lex Allen Literary Festival.

What opportunities for teaching and training will I have?

Teaching Fellows and those teaching January term are trained and mentored in our teaching practicum on everything from creative writing pedagogy to institutional practice. You will be mentored throughout your teaching year, offered ongoing support, counsel, and critical feedback, and you may perhaps even be video taped in the service of making you a better classroom teacher.

Even if you are not a Teaching Fellow in year two, you can arrange to serve as a course assistant with an English or creative writing professor and gain valuable teaching experience by working closely with a faculty member in course preparation and classroom strategy. Course assistants have worked successfully with 100 and 200-level literature and writing classes.

Graduate Assistants serve the creative writing program while gaining valuable experience, including hosting visiting writers; managing the reading series; web-mastering our online information; serving as research assistants and assistant editors for The Hollins Critic; coordinating community events; screening submissions to contests for undergraduates and high school students; and serving as contacts for newly admitted MFA applicants.  GA’s may also have the opportunity to develop and offer a class during the January term.

Visiting writers routinely lead discussion and craft sessions, in addition to mingling with students informally at receptions and going to lunch with M.F.A. students. Because our community is relatively small, you will have uncommon access to the expertise of our faculty and visiting writers. This is something our alums say is distinctive about the Hollins program.

When will I hear if I am accepted, and then what?

Once  you accept your position, you will hear from us again the second week or so of June, when we will send you various and sundry information you will need for enrollment, along with housing info and all required college paperwork.  Your next contact will be with the director in late August when orientation begins with an individual conference, followed by orientation with your fellow students.

Registration takes place in person once you are on campus. There is no online registration for MFA-CW students. We save spaces for you in the classes you will be taking.

So, the graduate program at Hollins is (more than) 50 years old: what’s new at Hollins?

For one thing, The Jackson Center for Creative Writing, which contains both of our creative writing programs, undergrad and graduate.  The center provides for the annual Jackson Poetry Reading (see below); a faculty chair in creative writing, currently held by Professor Cathryn Hankla; promotional budget for the programs; and additional scholarships for undergrads and grads.

While Hollins is among the handful of the most established graduate creative writing programs in the nation, it is still best known for the quality of its teaching and the literary productivity of its graduates.

Recent years have brought new scholarships (named in honor of Professor and long-time graduate director Richard Dillard; former faculty poet, Julia Sawyer Randall; and the Jacksons) for graduate students and an endowed distinguished professorship in creative writing currently held by Carrie Brown.

The Beanstalk fund, a joint venture of the creative writing program and the Wyndham Robertson Library, brings various writers to campus.  Recent readers have included C.E. Morgan, bell hooks, Emily St. John Mandel, Roxane Gay, Edward P. Jones, Moira Crone, and Elizabeth Strout.  Check our calendar on this site for coming attractions!

Through the generosity of Brian Everist and his family, funding for our readings and distinguished speakers’ series enables us to consistently bring to campus writers and scholars of national and international reputation. Recent visitors have included Lydia Davis, Nick Flynn, Marjorie Garber, Jamaica Kincaid, Ben Lerner, Valerie Martin, Molly Peacock, Francine Prose, George Saunders and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon.

Through the generosity of John and Susan Jackson, we have established the annual Jackson Poetry Reading. In spring 2015, Rae Armantrout gives the Jackson Poetry Reading.  Past readers have included Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Claudia Emerson, Carl Dennis, Mark Doty, Alice Fulton, C.D. Wright, and Joy Harjo.

What does the M.F.A. Program Director have to say?

Please read all our information carefully and talk to students actually enrolled here while you are making up your mind. We offer a large amount of remanded tuition through grants and scholarships and many personal opportunities a larger program may not match.

Many folks have found the missing metropolis conductive to literary production, but if you require a noisy, bustling city, don’t expect to find one in the mountains of Virginia.  If you require a college town specifically, you won’t find that either. You will find a lot of other things of value.

An M.F.A. degree is no guarantee of literary success nor is it an automatic passport to a university teaching job, yet it can be a stepping stone and the community you find is everything to the value of the experience. The friendships you form will be important for the rest of your (writing) days.

Signs that an MFA at Hollins may not be right for you:

1) You think writers are eccentric loners who have no need of mentors or peers.

2) You want to study one genre exclusively (reread the information about us above!).

3) You want to take literature courses with PhD students (you are looking for an “academic” program).

4) Mountains make you nervous…same with postcard-ready scenery…

We look for playful workaholics: writers, first, who really write.  They most likely work every day, almost, and likely at something like a regular time. Or they may be binge writers, disappearing for several days, staying up till dawn to hit the keyboard—as long as the binges happen often, these people will be fine, too.

The playful part is important. This doesn’t mean excessive fondness for bohemian bacchanals. It might mean a love of karaoke or a zest for dodge ball. Almost certainly it means a love of jokes and verbal goofiness and a little tomfoolery every now and then. We look for people who read like crazy. Did, do, cannot stop. Maybe work in multiple art forms, too. Finally, we are pleased to see that someone’s got obsessions: Fly-fishing, quilting, medieval Japan, the Fibonacci series, Indian motorcycles, international politics, cooking, progressive jazz, the Appalachian trail, whatever—if there’s something out there in the world a student finds compelling, we feel hopeful. If it’s several somethings, even better.

Better yet, what do current students and very recent graduates have to say?

–“I already recommended Hollins and will continue to do so.  I think the quality of instruction at Hollins is top-notch.  I feel like it’s always about the writing, not about hype.  Classes are super small and intimate.  Funding is steadily increasing.  I never felt like my creativity was stifled in any way, like I was being taught to write in the MFA mold.  Hollins doesn’t lure potentials in with a big name writer who’s never actually on campus.  Writers are celebrated and respected on campus.”

–“…the camaraderie that Hollins nurtures among MFA students is an important part of the experience….the students in the program are more supportive of each other than competitive.”

–“It’s been a wonderful & productive experience.  Everything I’d hoped for & more.”

–“The program offers a collegial and challenging atmosphere in which to write.”

–“It is a fantastic studio program for the serious, self-motivated writer in a warm, welcoming environment.”

–“Hollins teaches you how to be a writer, not just how to write.”