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Academic Requirements | Academic Regulations | Thesis

Academic Requirements

The MFA in Writing and Literature degree requires 46 credit hours, 40 of course work and a six-credit thesis. Here is how credits are distributed:

Required Introduction to the MFA Program (4 Credits)

CWL 500 - Introduction to Graduate Writing, 4 credits
A seminar that introduces students to one another, to the faculty, to the program in Creative Writing and Literature, and to issues in contemporary writing. Offered in conjunction with the "Writers Speak" lecture series. Students will attend the regular series of readings sponsored by the Creative Writing program and meet at weekly intervals under the direction of a faculty advisor to discuss and write about topics raised in the lecture series, as well as issues generated from seminar discussions and assigned readings.

Six or more of the following writing workshops (24 Credits): Students select a minimum of six writing workshops from the following for a total of 24 credits. Individual courses under each category will be labeled according to the content of the course. Although courses may be repeated for credit, students are strongly encouraged to experiment among the disciplines.

CWL 510 - Forms of Fiction, 4 credits
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in one or more areas of fiction. Students will examine relevant works that illustrate point of view, character development, dialogue, plot, setting, theme, motif, and other aspects of fiction. Topics have included Short Story, Novel, Novella, Beginning the Novel, Advancing the Novel, Writing Everything, Fiction Writing, Children’s Literature, The Popular Novel, and The Comic Novel.

CWL 520 - Forms of Poetry, 4 credits
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in one or more areas of Poetry. Topics have included Powers of Poetry, Metaphor: The Poem As Object, Verse & Meter, Poetry and Poetics, Refined Challenges: Writing New Poems by Imitation, Poetry for Non-Poets, and Contemporary Forms of Poetry. First Book, a thesis workshop for poets, is offered under CWL 570.

CWL 530 - Forms of Scriptwriting, 4 credits 
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in one or more contemporary areas of scriptwriting, with special emphasis on writing for film and theater. Topics have included Advanced Playwriting, Screenwriting, Fiction into Film, Musical Book, and Adaptation.

CWL 535 - Writing in Multiple Genres, 4 credits
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in two or more genres of creative writing. Topics include Three Characters in Search of an Author; Imagining What You Know; What We Write About When We Write About Love; Fiction, Fact and the Heart of the Story; Writing about Place; Writing Everything; and Writing on Location .

CWL 540 - Forms of Creative Nonfiction, 4 credits
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in one or more contemporary fields of nonfiction writing. Topics have included Advanced Creative Nonfiction, Autobiography, Biography, Blogs and Alternate Forms, Expository Writing, The Journal, Historical Inquiry, Memoir, The Personal Essay, and Social Commentary.

CWL 550 - Forms of Professional and Scientific Writing, 4 credits
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in one or more contemporary modes of professional writing. Topics have included Advanced Professional Writing, Speechwriting in the Digital World, and Writing in the Public Sector.

CWL 570 - Advanced Writing Workshop, 4 credits
The focus is on work in progress and the development of an existing manuscript. The workshop is open to students who are pursuing a book-length project and who want to be exposed to the work of others in varying genres. Strongly recommended for students preparing for the thesis.

CWL 575 - Writers Conferences, 1-6 credits.
The summer sessions at Southampton are intensive programs of creative writing workshops in all genres, including children’s literature, together with lectures, readings, seminars, and panels featuring nationally distinguished authors. These conferences encourage participation by visiting students, new writers, established writers, teachers of writing, and editors who will be admitted by application and may receive academic credit upon request. Graduate students may take any Writers Conference sponsored by the MFA program for academic credit.

TAF 650/CWL 530 - Forms of Scriptwriting, 4 credits.
Regular submission, discussion, and analysis of students’ work in one or more contemporary areas of scriptwriting, with special emphasis on writing for film and theater. Topics have included Advanced Playwriting Workshop, Independent Film Screenwriting, Feature Film Screenwriting, Fiction into Film, and Advanced Scriptwriting Workshop. This course is offered in conjunction with the MFA in Theatre and Film. Admission is by permission of the director.

Two or more of the following special topic writing and literature seminars (8 Credits)*

CWL 560 - Topics in Literature for Writers, 4 credits.
A seminar for writers concentrating on one area of literary study, to be announced in the course schedule. The course may examine a contemporary or historical trend in literature, the rise of a specific genre, a social issue expressed in literature, an issue in literary theory, or any other topic of relevance and concern to students of writing. The emphasis will be on scholarly analysis. Topics have included Contemporary Fiction for Writers, Contemporary Poetry for Writers, the Russian Novel and Contemporary Fiction, Literature by Women, Southern Renaissance, French Literature, Children’s Literature, Theory and Criticism for Writers, Classic Plots, and Topics in American Humor.

CWL 565 - Special Topics in Writing, 4 credits.
A seminar concentrating on a specific topic or concern in writing. The particular theme of the course will be announced in the course schedule. Topics may include, among others, studies of character development, the uses of humor, writing about place, finding one’s voice, and narrative style. Written work will be supported by the reading of related texts. Topics have included Publishing and Editing for Writers, Humor and Truth, Character Development, Writing for Children and Young Adults, Plot Development, Reading and Writing Comedy, Building Real Characters, The Evolution of Prose Poetry, Finding One’s Voice, Seriously Funny, and Writing about Place.

CWL 588 - Independent Study, 1-4 credits.
Independent studies in topics chosen by the student are arranged through an individual instructor. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor and program director.

*With the approval of the Writing Program director: EGL 501 Studies in Chaucer, EGL 502 Studies in Shakespeare, EGL 503 Studies in Milton, EGL 503 Studies in Genre, EGL 520 Studies in Renaissance, EGL 525 17th-Century Literature, EGL 530 Studies in Restoration Literature, EGL 535 Studies in Neoclassicism, EGL 540 Studies in Romanticism, EGL 545 Studies in Victorian Literature, EGL 547 Late 19th-Century British Literature, EGL 550 20th-Century British Literature, EGL 555 Studies in Irish Literature, EGL 560 Studies in Early American Literature, EGL 565 19th-Century American Literature, EGL 570 20th-Century American Literature, EGL 575 British and American Literature, EGL 584 Topics in Genre Studies. If students select to take English literature courses to fulfill this requirement the credit load may increase from eight credits to nine or ten (depending upon course selection).

One or more of the following practicums (4 credits)* With the permission of the director, a course in writing or literature may be substituted in place of the practicum requirement.

CWL 580- Practicum in Arts Administration, 1-4 credits.
Under the guidance of a faculty advisor, students will learn the essentials of arts administration. This may include assisting in the coordination of reading and lecture series, planning and administering conferences, or other writing and arts administration activities.

CWL 581- Practicum in Teaching Writing, 3 credits.
Students take the seminar in preparation for teaching undergraduate or secondary school classes. This course provides hands-on experience and instruction in the basics of writing pedagogy, including designing writing assignments, sequencing assignments, motivating writing, writing skill development and evaluating writing. Students will also be given a preliminary overview of the major theories driving composition pedagogy.

CWL 582 - Practicum in Publishing and Editing, 1-4 credits.
Under the guidance of the faculty advisor, students will be exposed to the hands-on process of editing and publishing through the MFA’s literary magazine, TSR: The Southampton Review, and through the Program’s newsletter.

MFA Thesis (6 credits)

CWL 599 Thesis
Every student in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literature must complete a thesis that is a publishable, book-length work. It may be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, a series of related short pieces, or some other creative writing project approved by the student’s advisor.


Academic Regulations

Incoming students will meet with the program director or faculty advisor before the start of classes to discuss her or his first semester’s coursework.  At the end of the first semester, each student must select a faculty advisor and confirm the choice with the program office. The role of the academic advisor (whom a student may or may not ask to become a student’s thesis advisor) is to monitor the progress of the student, to review issues of course selection and course load, and to serve as an advocate for the student in administrative matters.

Time Limits
The time limit for the MFA is three years for full-time study and five years for part-time study. A student’s full- or part-time status is based on registration, and the time-limit may be modified if enrollment switches between part- and full-time. The student may petition for an extension of time limit for the degree. Such requests must be filed before the limit is exceeded and must contain a significant justification.

Transfer Credits
The program permits the transfer of up to 12 hours of credit in suitable graduate work done elsewhere that resulted in a grade of B or better. To obtain transfer credit, the student must make special application to the program, submit official transcripts and provide course descriptions or syllabi. Transfer credits are only approved at the discretion of the academic department and the Graduate School.  Courses older than five years will be accepted only in rare circumstances. No courses that have been credited toward another degree, such as an MA or an MFA in a different field, can be transferred.


About That Thesis...

What . Every student in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literature must complete a thesis that is a publishable, book-length work. The genre may be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or a script for the visual media. Some students choose to collect a series of related short pieces. The thesis is judged solely on the quality of its intelligence and its writing.

When . After taking 24 graduate credits and while completing remaining coursework, MFA students can consider registering for thesis. Most students spend two to three semesters preparing and completing the thesis. The program will also schedule workshops on thesis preparation as necessary during the academic year. These FAQ sheets might help you decide if you are ready to begin:


This degree audit form will help you figure out whether you’ve taken all of the other courses you need to earn the degree.

Download the degree audit form

This graduation checkout form, will help you organize the process of completing the SUNY Stony Brook and program requirements for graduation. This form must be completed in order for the program to certify to the Graduate School that the degree requirements have been met.

Download the graduation checkout form

This thesis planning form, which you’ll need to get signed in order to register for thesis, will help you organize your thoughts about what you are writing, and who your advisor and readers will be. Fill it out to the best of your ability before you approach a faculty member to be your advisor.

Download the thesis planning form

Thesis credits are flexible and can be stretched out over as many semesters as you think you’ll need to complete your creative work. Students must allot several weeks during their final thesis semester to meet the administrative requirements of the degree. You need to be registered for at least 1 credit of thesis during the semester in which you graduate, unless you are graduating in a summer term, when you can enroll in CWL 599 for 0 credits. Thesis requires a minimum of 6 credits. If you need an extra semester but you have taken all 6 credits of thesis already, you will have to keep buying additional credits beyond the requirement to stay enrolled.

Who. Students petition a faculty member to serve as thesis advisor. The advisor is a member of the faculty at Stony Brook Southampton + Manhattan who has expertise in your thesis genre. It is generally someone with whom you have taken at least one course or workshop. Generally speaking, the thesis advisor provides guidance and criticism in the completion of the project, although the advisory role varies somewhat by genre as well as by individual faculty and student preferences. The thesis represents a chance for you to establish your own professional habits as you complete a major work under the guidance of a faculty advisor. You will no longer be receiving the line-by-line edits often enjoyed in workshops. Rather, you will be focusing on the challenge of completing a novel, memoir, essay collection, poetry collection, short story collection, script or other written work. Your advisor helps you with this aspect of the process -- conceptualizing the thesis and carrying out the project.

After a faculty member agrees to serve as a thesis advisor, he or she will guide you in the selection of a thesis committee, which will consist of your advisor, one other member of the faculty in Creative Writing and Literature, and one outside reader knowledgeable in the student’s field of interest. These second and third readers offer fresh eyes and new insights on the manuscript. Readers expect to see the final draft of the thesis, and their role is secondary to that of your thesis advisor. Readers generally will either approve or disapprove your thesis and provide brief commentary. The commentary varies by reader and can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a page. The reader review is generally succinct and may touch upon such aspects of the work as craft, language, originality, artistic relevance, intellectual depth, etc. Sometimes, readers may want to discuss a thesis draft with the advisor or MFA director, and may ask the advisor or director to incorporate the reader’s observations into his or her own comments to the student in order to simplify the process of giving and getting feedback. You should provide each of your readers with a hard copy of your manuscript.

Where . After the manuscript is written to the satisfaction of both MFA student and advisor and the thesis has been given to the second and third readers, the student must submit the thesis to two places—the Creative Writing Program and the Graduate School—each in different formats.

1. For the Creative Writing Program, students submit a bound copy of the manuscript with these specifications:

  • black buckram cover
  • hardcover binding
  • gold lettering on the spine in lower case with capitalization of first letters of words only (Last Name       Title of Work       Year)
  • 8 ½ x 11” interior page size

There are many online binderies that can do this job. Here are two:

Thesis on Demand




One local bindery is C & H Bookbinding ProQuest is another option, but historically this company has taken longer to deliver bound copies. A third company is Bridgeport National Bindery, Inc.,

Whether you use an online or bricks-and-mortar bindery, direct it to send the pre-paid bound copy to:

MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literature
Chancellors Hall Room 238
Stony Brook Southampton
239 Montauk Highway
Southampton, NY 11968
Phone: 631-632-5030

2. Graduate School theses must be prepared according to the Graduate School guidelines and submitted by that deadline. Guidelines, together with a template for thesis submission, are posted on the Graduate School’s Web site at The most complicated aspect of the Graduate School version is the signature page, an original hard copy that must be signed by the entire thesis committee, including your outside reader.  All signatures must be in permanent ink of the same color (black is preferred, blue is acceptable).  The original signature page cannot be folded or damaged in any manner.  We strongly recommend obtaining three original signed signature pages.  The best copy is submitted to the Graduate School, one copy on file with the MFA program, and one copy for yourself.

WARNING: the Graduate School at SUNY Stony Brook requires that all Masters candidates, regardless of discipline, submit their thesis manuscript to ProQuest, where it typically joins a searchable database and is considered “published.” Creative writers, unlike scholars in other fields, generally choose NOT to have their works published in this way. Therefore, we urge our students to request a permanent embargo when they submit their thesis manuscripts to ProQuest. To request an embargo on publication, use this form:

Upload embargo form

Please note that the embargo form must be signed by the MFA program director. The signed form should be submitted along with the original, completed signature page to:

The Graduate School
Suite 2401, Computer Science Building
SUNY Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-4433

If you mail this embargo form, make sure you can track the package.