Students complete a degree path inspired by Sewanee's literary traditions and one that works with their schedule.


Students at the School of Letters take three summers of residential study at Sewanee, supplemented by an independent study and then a thesis semester. Most students complete the program in three years, though there are options for condensing or extending this timeline if desired. The MFA is awarded upon completion of 30 credit hours and successful submission of a creative thesis. 


Each summer, students enroll in a workshop and a forms course, as well as the Craft and Practice colloquium (see below) for a total of seven (7) credits per summer. While most students take classes in the track they chose when applying to Sewanee (fiction, poetry, or nonfiction) they are allowed to take classes in any genre they like. It is common for students to have a primary and secondary genre interest, or to try a little bit of everything. Forms courses are essentially literature seminars, though their focus is on developing creative practice and critical reading skills rather than on scholarly writing or theory-driven analysis. Forms courses change topic and instructor from summer to summer, and so may be repeated for credit. 


This is a one (1) credit colloquium focused on professional development, publishing opportunities, craft talks, submit-a-thons, meetings with visiting authors/editors/agents, and anything else that falls under the broad rubric of “the writing life.” The School of Letters offers a robust and varied series of public programs, class visits, panel discussions, and informal gatherings during the six-week summer session. Students are expected to attend these events and produce short-form responses detailing what they have learned and how they intend to apply it in their own writing and publishing practice. Students are automatically registered for this class during their first and second summers. During the third summer, students are invited to all School of Letters events but are not registered for the class and need not submit responses to events they attend.


During the calendar year between the second and third summers, students are strongly encouraged to take a one-semester independent study for four (4) credit hours. The student proposes an independent study project to the Director, who will pair them with a faculty member to serve as one-on-one mentor. Students have considerable latitude in proposing independent studies. Some use the time to do a deep dive into the work of a particular author, topic, or research question; some take the opportunity to explore a secondary genre interest; some use the time to do preparatory work for their thesis. The student and her mentor work together to develop a reading list, define the scope and nature of the work, and set a schedule. 

Thesis Project

When the student has twenty-four (24) credit hours, they are eligible to begin their thesis work. Most students hit this benchmark at the end of their third summer of study. The thesis is a mandatory, one-semester project worth six (6) credits. Upon approval of the thesis proposal, the student is invited to choose their own advisor. The advisor will provide detailed editorial feedback as well as general guidance, but thesis work is primarily self-directed and more intensive than the independent study. It is expected that the student will enter the thesis process with a substantial body of material already drafted, so that the thesis semester can be primarily focused on revision and, ideally, completion of a full-length creative manuscript such as a novel, a memoir, or a collection of poems, essays, or short stories. Students may choose to embark upon their thesis semester immediately after they finish their third summer, or wait until the following spring. 


First summer - Workshop, Forms, Craft and Practice - 7 credits

Second summer - Workshop, Forms, Craft and Practice - 14 credits total

Between summers two and three - Independent study - 18 credits total

Third summer - Workshop and Forms course - 24 credits total

After third summer - Thesis - 30 credits total


Students who wish to hasten their degree progress may request additional independent studies. Such requests are granted at the Director’s discretion and may be limited based on faculty availability. Students who wish to slow their degree progress–either to extend their time at Sewanee or to accommodate changes in their personal lives–have the option of registering as half-time students over the summer (i.e. only taking one class) or declining to take an independent study. Declining the independent study is not recommended, as may result in paying for extra credits. The thesis is required to graduate.