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College of Communication & Creative Arts - Writing Arts

Rowan University

Frequently Asked Questions about Graduate School

I’d like to go to graduate school and get a degree in writing, or something similar. What should I do first?

What kind of workload can I expect in graduate school?

What is the difference between MA and MFA degrees?

What kind of degree does Rowan offer?

What can I do with a Master’s degree?

What do Rowan graduates do?

I really enjoy being in an academic environment, and would like to earn a PhD. What exactly is that?

Can I get a PhD in Writing at Rowan?

I think I want to get a PhD and become a professor. Any advice?

Where can I find more information about academic jobs?

Grad school tuition is more expensive than I expected. What are some ways to keep costs down?

What kinds of financial aid does Rowan offer to graduate students?

Any tips for getting into graduate school?

Where can I go for more information about graduate programs in writing and related fields?

 

I’d like to go to graduate school and get a degree in writing, or something similar. What should I do first?
Research carefully. There are many types of programs and understanding even the basics of graduate education—degree types, program requirements, and so on—can be quite challenging.

First familiarize yourself with the types of degrees available, as well as the disciplines they are in. Disciplines like Writing, Rhetoric, English and Communication all offer writing-related degrees; find out which fields and programs best fit your needs. Do you want to be a fiction writer? Consider a Master’s degree (MA) with a creative writing focus or a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. Do you want to become a well-rounded writer, who can write 9-5 in a professional context, and publish creatively on the side? Consider a MA program with a strong professional focus—like technical or multi-media writing—that permits you to take creative writing electives. Are you looking to earn professional development credit, a promotion or licensure? Make sure the program you are interested in fits your organization’s requirements. Do you want to eventually teach writing at a four year college? Look for MA programs with a composition/rhetoric focus or on MFA programs with a solid record of placing their graduates.

Decide whether you are willing to move. Sometimes the right program for you is right in your own backyard; sometimes it is three states away. Ask professors about programs. Some professional organizations provide links to graduate programs in various fields. Here are a few to get you started:

Association of Writers and Writing Programs: http://guide.awpwriter.org/

Master's Degree Consortium of Writing Studies Specialists: http://www.mdcwss.com/

Rhetoric Society of America (MA or PhD in composition studies or rhetoric): http://www.associationdatabase.com/aws/RSA/pt/sp/resources_gradprograms

Programs sometimes change or organizations like those above don’t have the most recent info; if there is a school that you think might have a program to fit you, but it’s not listed on the sites above, go to its website and check it out. Read the course catalog for descriptions of courses. If a particular program appeals to you, contact the Graduate Adviser or Department Chair. Ask him/her specific questions, and ask to be put in contact with current students.

 

What kind of workload can I expect in graduate school?
Full-time graduate students take three classes per semester. This may seem surprising, since most undergraduate students take between four and six courses at a time. Graduate courses typically have much more reading than undergrad; a book a week per course, or the equivalent, is not unusual. Writing assignments tend to be much longer and more complex and students are expected to turn in their best work with every draft. Revision expectations are also much higher. The ability to read critically and to respond to pieces analytically is expected. You will be asked to work independently and to take on much more responsibility for your own learning.

 

What is the difference between MA and MFA degrees?
A Master of Arts degree (MA) is typically a two year degree. The content of MA degrees varies considerably from school to school. Though they may have a particular emphasis (composition studies, creative writing, and professional writing are common emphases, for example), they often include a range of courses designed to give students a general overview of a larger field. The MA degree is considered a “non-terminal” degree, meaning that it often leads into further study at the doctoral level. In addition to approximately 10-12 classes, some MA programs require students to write theses or take comprehensive exams. Looking at the program’s website or talking to the graduate adviser should clarify this. People who get MA degrees often do so to further their knowledge of a discipline, get promoted in a current career, or develop skills to enter a new profession. Having a MA degree is often a prerequisite for admission into PhD programs.

A MFA—or Master of Fine Arts—is considered a “terminal” degree. This means that the MFA is considered the highest academic achievement in creative or artistic fields, like writing, or studio or performing arts. The requirements for different MFA programs vary widely, though most programs require a book-length final project, such as a work of creative nonfiction or a collection of poetry. Somewhat confusingly, even though an MFA degree is considered “terminal,” you may go on to earn a PhD, a JD, or any other graduate degree. Some individuals who hold MFAs, for example, go on to pursue PhDs.

Classes taken while pursuing a MFA are likely to be workshops and studio-style experiences. Classes in MA programs might be workshops, seminars, or tutorials. Some MFA programs offer a “low residency” option, which means that coursework is completed during intensive summer sessions and online.

If you are interested in a Master’s degree in some area of writing, look at degrees offered by Writing, English, Communication, or Composition/Rhetoric departments.

 

What kind of degree does Rowan offer?
Rowan offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Writing. We are a unique interdisciplinary program, with a core of four required courses and tracks in composition studies, creative writing/journalism, and new media. Classes are small (6-18 students) and students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty and other motivated, talented students. For additional information about courses, please visit our Curriculum page.

We also offer Certificates of Graduate Study (COGS). Students interested in taking courses without committing to a full Master’s degree should consider the COGS. Right now, we offer four Certificates:

• Writing, Composition and Rhetoric, which is a three-course certificate geared to current and aspiring teachers of writing (please note: this is not the same as teacher certification).
• Creative Writing
• Editing and Publishing for Writers
• Writing and New Media

We will soon be offering a Certificate in Technical and Professional Writing.

Students may also apply these courses to the MA degree if they later apply to and are accepted into the graduate program.

 

What can I do with a Master’s degree?
People pursue graduate degrees for a variety of reasons, from personal enrichment to professional necessity. Regardless of the career path you choose, earning a graduate degree gives you an opportunity to learn about a subject more deeply and to work with professors more closely than is possible at the undergraduate level. Individuals with master’s degrees in writing and related fields often find jobs in: education, public relations, technical writing, journalism, corporate communications, grant writing and academic/student services.

Students with a MA degree are well-positioned to pursue PhDs in fields such as Creative Writing, Rhetoric/Composition and English. Students with strong writing and an analytical skills are often successful in law school and medical school.

It is increasingly important to develop a strong resume and professional profile along with completing your coursework. Don’t wait until graduation to start thinking about jobs. Talk with your professors about career options and keep them apprised of your career goals. Join (or start!) a student group dedicated to your interests. Write for the student newspaper, volunteer to contribute to your program’s newsletter, and attend special events like lectures and readings. Think about how you can use material from your courses in applied settings.

 

What do Rowan graduates do?
Many of our students use their degrees for professional advancement in K-12 schools. Our graduates have gone on teach writing at the community college level. Other students have become technical and business writers. Some have gone on to further study writing in well-respected MFA and PhD programs. Many of our students publish short stories, essays, and poems in literary magazines.

 

'I really enjoy being in an academic environment, and would like to earn a PhD. What exactly is that?
PhD (or Ph.D) stands for “Doctor of Philosophy” and is the highest academic degree awarded in the humanities and sciences. Pursuing a PhD allows students to further refine and deepen their knowledge in a very specialized field through coursework, research, comprehensive exams and the dissertation (a book-length research-based work).

Some PhD programs require a master’s degree for admission, while some award the MA degree after two years of PhD coursework. Check the requirements of any program you are interested in. Typical completion time for a PhD in writing-related fields is about four or five years (after the master’s degree), though it varies. Some students take longer to study for and pass exams or complete dissertations.

Though many people who pursue PhDs intend to work as faculty members, some go into other areas of education, such as student services. They may also work in technical or medical communications, the editing/publishing industry, or the non-profit sector.

 

Can I get a PhD in Writing at Rowan?
Right now, we do not offer a degree beyond the MA. If you are interested in pursuing a PhD at some point, talk to the faculty about how best to plan your coursework and projects to maximize your chances of being accepted to a high-caliber PhD program.

 

I think I want to get a PhD and become a professor. Any advice?
Do careful research and proceed with caution. Talk to your professors about the specific field you are interested in, and what the job prospects in that field are. Full-time and/or tenure track employment at four-year institutions is increasingly competitive, with often more than 100 qualified candidates competing for one job. Here is a very general overview of different types of academic positions and their requirements; every position is unique and you should think of this chart only as a preliminary guide.

 

If you would like to... You will typically need... In addition...
teach composition part-time at the community college level MA or MFA in English, Writing or related field. Some coursework in basic writing, writing pedagogy or composition theory is helpful, but not always necessary. Teaching (college or K-12) or tutoring experience preferred.
teach composition full-time at community college level MA, MFA or PhD in English, Writing, or related field. Coursework or experience in basic writing, writing pedagogy, composition theory, and/or assessment is preferred. Teaching (college or K-12) or tutoring experience preferred.
teach composition and other writing courses part-time at a four-year institution MA, MFA or PhD in English, Writing or related field. Coursework or experience in basic writing, writing pedagogy, and/or composition theory is preferred. Teaching (college or K-12) or tutoring experience preferred.
teach composition and other writing courses full-time at a four-year institution MA, MFA or PhD in English, Writing or related field. Coursework or experience with basic writing, writing pedagogy, composition theory is usually required. A specialization in Rhetoric/Composition or related field is useful, as are publications.
teach creative writing part-time at a four-year institution MA, MFA or PhD in English, Writing or related field. Teaching experience in creative writing and/or composition courses is preferred and publications expected.
teach creative writing full-time at a four-year institution MA, MFA or PhD in English, Writing or related field. Teaching experience in creative writing is expected and publications required.

 

Where can I find more information about academic jobs?
To look at job postings for faculty positions at a range of schools, visit Inside Higher Education (http://www.insidehighered.com/career/seekers) and the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/section/Jobs/61/). Both publications also have advice columns about academic employment.

 

Grad school tuition is more expensive than I expected. What are some ways to keep costs down?
In addition to grants, loans and work study positions, graduate students have several funding options, depending on the school or program. Some institutions offer assistantships. Assistantships are competitive awards that typically cover all or partial tuition and may provide a stipend. In return for this award, graduate students might independently teach an introductory class, act as a teaching or grading assistant for a faculty member, work in a tutoring center, assist a professor with research, or work in another academic department.

Graduate students may also apply for fellowships, if they are offered. Fellowships are rare, and are typically awarded to outstanding incoming students. They usually cover tuition and some living expenses. Students may be required to fulfill certain obligations as a condition of the award, but often the fellowships are meant to alleviate financial strain so that students can focus full-time on their studies.

Graduate students are also often eligible to apply for Resident Assistant positions, which cover cost of living and sometimes tuition.

If you are currently working, check to see whether your employer offers tuition benefits. Some employers will contribute a certain amount toward your tuition, while others will pay for a specified number of credits. If you are unemployed, your state may provide tuition assistance; check with state agencies or local universities’ offices of financial aid to see if such programs exist in your area.

When you are considering graduate options, do not forget to think about the financial commitment you are making. Talk with your professors, the graduate coordinators at several schools, and offices of financial aid before making any decisions.

 

What kinds of financial aid does Rowan offer to graduate students?
Rowan has a limited number of competitive assistantships, which students may apply for through the College of Graduate and Continuing Education (http://www.rowan.edu/colleges/graduate/financialaid/), as well as work-study and grant-funded positions. Students may also apply for federal and state grants and loans. For specific details and the most updated information, please talk with the program adviser or CGCE.

Click here for information about Rowan Graduate Assistantships.

 

Any tips for getting into graduate school?
Different programs have different criteria for admissions. Most of the top programs are extremely competitive, receiving many more applications than spots available. It’s important to make yourself stand out and to convey how well you will fit into your dream program. Commonly required application components are:

GRE scores: most universities will specify a required minimum score for all applicants, regardless of program; specific programs then typically have their own (usually more rigorous) standards.

Transcripts from all undergraduate institutions: follow the instructions about how each graduate school you are applying to wants transcripts handled. Typically, your undergraduate institution will allow to request a certain number of transcripts for free; additional transcripts may be obtained for a fee.

Letters of recommendation: when possible, ask current or former professors to write you letters of recommendation for graduate school. Typically, faculty are in the best position to explain to admissions committees why you will succeed in graduate school. They know the academic lingo and can comment on your academic strengths, which are largely what admissions committees are interested in. If you are not able to ask a professor, a work supervisor who is familiar with your written and oral communication skills is fine. Never ask friends or family members. Your recommender should be someone who can speak to your abilities in an academic or professional capacity.

Writing Sample: the writing sample is a very important part of your application. Make sure to send a clean copy (not one that has, for example, a professor’s comments on it). Provide exactly what the program asks for. Academic papers or polished pieces of creative writing are generally fine. Select pieces that represent you at your best.

Statement of Purpose: many admissions committee members read this first. The statement should, at minimum, explain

• why you want to study at the graduate level and what you hope to accomplish intellectually and/or creatively
• why the specific program you are addressing is a good fit for you
• what you plan to contribute to the program if you are admitted.

If you are applying for writing programs, do not use tired phrases like “I want to go to graduate school because I have always loved writing.” Admissions committees assume that all applicants bring passion to their area of study. Write something that genuinely reflects your goals and distinguishes you from other applicants; if you are having trouble writing the statement, re-assess why you are applying. If there is some irregularity in your record, like a weak GPA for example, it is fine to address it in the statement, but be straightforward and proactive; never cast blame (that noisy roommate who ruined your sophomore GPA should not be castigated here, for example). Keep the entire statement, regardless of form or style, under two pages. Show that you understand the delicate balance between “detailed” and “concise.”

 

Where can I go for more information about graduate programs in writing and related fields?
There are many sources of information about graduate school. The books below offer a good starting point. Talk with your professors and the career counseling staff at your school. If you are a Rowan student or are interested in Rowan’s MA in Writing program, contact Jennifer Courtney (courtneyj@rowan.edu), program coordinator.

Bishop, Wendy and David Starkey. Keywords in Creative Writing. Utah State University Press, 2006.

Moore, Cindy and Hildy Miller. A Guide of Professional Development for Graduate Students in English. NCTE Press, 2006.

Kealey, Tom. Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students. Continuum Press, 2008