FAQ

Answers to What You Are Wondering

The innovative MA in Science Writing and Graduate Certificate in Science Writing at Johns Hopkins offer a range of career options for students and professionals. To learn more, read our comments in response to these Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What’s the Science Writing Program about and how does it work?


The central goal of the Science Writing Program at Johns Hopkins is to offer a nurturing, demanding community for writers to develop to the highest levels of professional and publication achievement. The new online / low-residency format has replaced an onsite Washington/Baltimore graduate program that has helped science writers with their creative or professional goals for more than two decades. In the new program, you choose from two accredited credentials: The nine-course MA in Science Writing or the five-course Graduate Certificate in Science Writing. The degree requires at least one onsite Residency, which is optional for Certificate students. Everything else is online, so we will consider applicants from around the nation and world. We offer high quality teaching that is both supportive and demanding. We also think we’re a good value, especially for the quality of the curriculum and teaching that Hopkins offers. Our courses focus on craft and careers, meaning nearly all of what you will cover in a course is designed to help you grow as a writer.

2. What’s the difference between the certificate and MA?


Writing and reading skills take time to develop. For some, the five courses of the certificate will be enough to establish basic skills. The degree, with its required Residency, offers deeper, more sophisticated lessons, plus the additional career and job development of the thesis process and thesis course. The degree also allows students to expand career skills into writing-related fields such as multimedia and communications. For some applicants, the decision about which credential to pursue will relate to time and cost. Whatever you decide, it’s important to know that only three Certificate courses can count toward the Degree. If you start with the Certificate and decide to move up to the degree, you should make that decision before you start a third course. (Of course it’s fine to earn both, but that would take a minimum of 12 courses. Certificate and Degree students enroll in many of the same courses, but Certificate students are not required to join MA degree students in at least one Residency and the thesis/careers course.

3. What is it like to learn online?


Our online courses have two elements usually not paired in the nation’s growing number of low-residency writing programs – individual instruction AND group interaction. Our online courses meet in instructor-led digital classrooms that provide intensive interaction with other students. Meanwhile, instructors also provide individual feedback and leadership. Online course content is the same as an onsite course, but taught in a different way.

4. Do I show up online at the same time each week, like an onsite class?


No. That’s a common misconception about our online learning process, which is based on more than a decade of experience in digital teaching at Hopkins. Our classes are designed for maximum flexibility. Most lessons in an online course are asynchronous, meaning you complete the work when you have time during the lesson period — usually one week. When it’s convenient during that week, you login and join discussions, read materials and complete exercises at any time, day or night. You also may have an assignment or other homework due by a certain deadline. When you finish with that lesson, the entire class moves to the next one. Think of it as having a single weekly class session spread out over the entire week, at your convenience instead of the university’s. Most classes sometimes also meet synchronously, but those less-frequent sessions by video, audio or text are set well in advance so you plan to attend. Meanwhile, the instructor is available for both group and individual questions and feedback. All teachers also have regular office hours that you can attend by video, email or phone.

5. What’s an online lesson like?


The instructor presents materials in many ways – handouts, readings, textbook assignments, video lectures, audio files, PowerPoints, etc. Most of those methods are the same as an onsite classroom. You use this info to help with your work – exercises, discussion, critiques, writing. Some work lasts only for the lesson period; other work extends through multiple lessons. For instance, you may have several major writing submissions due during a term, but you also are working on weekly lessons. Our special Blackboard learning tool also features wikis, blogs, individual journals, and various other tools to share work, engage in lessons, or join in interaction among your classmates or privately between the instructor and student. Our online courses are open only to registrants; they are not on the web.

6. But the Residencies are face-to-face?


Yes. Degree students need to complete one onsite Residency, which is optional for Certificate students. The Residencies usually last one week, but can stretch into 10 days depending on the location. Our most recent Residencies were Medicine in Action, which put students inside world-famous Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for a week, and Science Policy, Funding, and Politics in Washington, D.C., which included a week at Capitol Hill, the White House and federal agencies. All Residencies include class sessions, lectures, discussions, field trips, personal experiences, writing assignments, exercises and student readings. We also spend time as tourists; some students bring their families along for the off hours. If we can work out the finances, we will return to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park to observe coastal research in Maine and – perhaps – Florence, Italy, to study the history of science. We’re discussing other Residencies, including on the Chesapeake Bay and in the Shenandoah Mountains. Students complete one of their required courses in a Residency, which costs the same as any other courses. Residency students also pay a small residency fee and must cover their travel and housing, although we often offer discount lodging.

7. Who teaches in your program?


Our faculty members are practicing writers and editors who do what they teach. Most recently, our science writing teachers have included a bioethicist who has written two books, a journalist and former president of the National Association of Science Writers, a biologist turned science writer, and an award-winning nature writer with two decades of experience as a communications professional. All instructors are selected because of knowledge, personality and teaching ability. Meanwhile, faculty member supplement their classwork with guest speakers who have included winners of the Pulitzer, Peabody and Nobel Prize. Click here to learn more about our award-winning faculty.

8. What is your admission rate?


Johns Hopkins, one of the world’s most prominent writing, research and medical institutions, grants the Science Writing Program a broader admissions mandate than other, more exclusive graduate programs. To share our mission, we purposely accept more than half of our applicants. We also are among the few writing programs nationwide that offer Provisional acceptance to borderline applicants. This allows them to take a course or two to demonstrate they are ready for graduate study.

9. I’m not proud of all of my undergrad grades. Can I still apply?


Yes. The expected GPA for admission to a master’s program at Johns Hopkins is 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, but the Writing Program regularly accepts applicants with lower grades if their writing potential and academic maturity is clear. The longer past your undergraduate years, the easier it is to explain those possibly poor grades. The joke we make is that your grade in sophomore Chemistry five or ten years ago should have little impact on your current writing potential.

10. What are you looking for in an application?


The Writing Sample and Statement of Purpose are the keys to our review. We will assess your Statement for creativity, basic writing ability and content – why do you want to write, compared to any other graduate goal? What drives you to focus on science, medicine, technology or related subjects? What are your reading habits or practices? In the all-important writing samples, we are looking for spirit, style and talent. Some applicants aren’t proficient with technique, but they show great tone or spirit on the page. Other applicants seem practiced in technique but need to development a voice. Both groups have a good chance of being accepted. The easiest way to get rejected is to demonstrate poor command of grammar, spelling, usage, sentence structure or other basic writing issues. We’re not for total beginners. If you haven’t tried to write in your area of interest, you should take a non-credit course or otherwise test your writing voice. However, if you have tried your hand on the screen or page, or if you have writing or editing experience, we would be glad to see an application from you. For more details about what the Science Writing Program wants in an application, click here. To find out more about our online admissions process, click here or email aapinfo@jhu.edu.

11. Do I have to be a published writer to apply?


No. Many applicants haven’t been published in their chosen field. While you don’t have to be in the following groups, we seem to attract a lot of applicants who are: 1) Practicing writers, journalists or communications professionals interested in specializing in science, medicine, nature or technology, 2) Science-types who want to leave the lab or academia to pursue their passions in writing, 3) Scientists or researchers who won’t leave their jobs but want to write as a sideline, and 4) Beginning writers, editors, or journalists who want a professional, demanding graduate experience to boost their careers. This final group includes science, journalism, English, Communication or other majors who are just finishing an undergrad degree. About half of our applicants already work in writing or writing-related jobs; others have little professional experience beyond what they have done on their own. And we have students from all ages and professions. One of our current students is a middle-aged PhD who runs a large government lab; another is a practicing internist. One recent crop of students included three English majors, a biologist turned regulatory writer, a nature center guide, a soap opera writer, a technical editor, and three nurses.

12. What value does this program have for writers? Why should I spend the time and money on graduate school?


We know we can make you a better writer. If we couldn’t, this program wouldn’t survive. First, we can teach you technique. Many writers need help with structure, voice, interviewing, reporting, or scores of other skills. Second, we will introduce you to writers, forms and career options that you didn’t know existed, and they may inspire you into new directions. Third, we offer a supportive community for what can be an isolated profession. The friends and colleagues you make at Hopkins will be with you throughout your writing life. Fourth, we teach you the business of writing and as many career/professional options as we know. Fifth, we offer a smart structure to focus on the practice of writing and learning how to read as a writer – a skill that will help you grow for the rest of your writing life. Sixth, we focus on quality and flexibility in teaching, courses, and curriculum; you decide the teachers and classes that best fit your writing goals. Finally, everyone leaves our MA Program with a formal career plan to help them succeed.

13. Do your students always succeed? Will I?


No graduate program should guarantee that a degree means you will be rich, famous, or even successful in a field. You will get out of this program what you put into it. However, we guarantee you will be pressed to grow, from the moment you join our digital classrooms until after you leave. And we will push you toward publication or other professional success, which is our major goal for all students. So far, after twenty years, the alumni of our main graduate writing program have published 230 books and counting, with a new book coming every few weeks. Our students and alumni have published thousands of short stories, essays, articles, poems, reviews, blogs, columns and other work, in scores of print and digital venues that range from the nation’s best newspapers, magazines and literary journals, to some of the literary world’s most innovative publications. Our graduates teach, earn staff positions, start their own journals, become freelancers, or simply write and publish as they continue their “other” life in a workplace or home.

14. How long are your classes and what is your academic year like?


We offer courses in Fall, Spring and Summer terms. You choose the terms you want. Our Fall and Spring courses last 14 -15 weeks, with summer courses spread from six to twelve weeks.

15. Do you offer Financial Aid and student advisors?


Yes. Aid comes through student loans. Some students also receive tuition assistance from employers. Each accepted student is assigned a faculty advisor who can help guide their course selection. Advisors have digital office hours, but a quick email or call is the best way to reach one. Each student also has a university financial aid advisor.

16. How long does the program take?


That’s up to you, and it depends on the MA or Certificate. Each requires different work. Generally, some students finish quickly; others take their time. The Certificate can take from term terms to three years; the MA takes from 18 months, which is very fast, to five years. Many of our students take one course per term, for either two or three terms a year. Some often take summers off. Other students want to finish more quickly and enroll in two courses per term for all three terms per year. Extensions and leaves of absence possible beyond that. You also can take one or two terms off, as needed, but you should request a leave if you plan on being away for more than two terms. Our part-time format means you can take one or two courses per term; taking more than that requires special permission – which usually is available to U.S. military veterans, foreign students and other special cases.

17. What will I study? What courses do you offer?


The degree and certificate programs have similar structures: You start with core (foundation) courses, then take workshops and electives in areas of interest. Flexibility is the key: Certificate students take one core, one workshop, and one elective, with two other courses as Student Choice. Degree students take two cores, two electives, and two workshops, with one Student Choice and one Residency. The ninth and final course in the MA program is Thesis and Careers in Science Writing, which includes the revision of a portfolio of writing from earlier courses and a digital class experience on preparing for a career in science writing. Certificate students can attend a Residency course as a Student Choice, and MA students can take a second Residency as an elective, if desired. That means you can focus on the convenience of online student or add more face-to-face work, as you wish.

18. Are you flexible? What if I want to do something different?


Writing is largely an individual craft, so students [should] pursue their own goals and interests. That’s where the passion is. Some advanced applicants can waive one core course, giving them more choice later for electives. Other students consider courses from outside Science Writing. For instance, a student could consider a Hopkins Communication Program courses in speechwriting or op-ed writing. Others might consider a School of Public Health course. For those who can’t find the right course in our curriculum or other programs, an Independent Study is possible for special projects or goals.

19. Why nine courses for the MA? Don’t most master’s degree programs have ten courses?


We pack the equivalent of 35-40 hours of classroom time into each course, so we often wind up with as much as or more total instruction time over nine courses than some ten-course programs. That means you are paying for only nine courses compared to ten, for the same or more instruction. We consider that real value, especially when you consider our teaching and course quality.

20. How many credit hours are each course?


Hopkins doesn’t use the credit hour system, but we are glad to certify in writing that each of our courses equate to four credit hours.

21. What’s the difference between the MA in Writing Program and The Writing Seminars, the MFA program at Hopkins?


Johns Hopkins has three graduate writing programs. The Writing Sems, as it is known, is one of the oldest, most exclusive, and most respected creative writing programs in the nation. The Fiction and Poetry MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs are extremely difficult to get into, with only a handful of acceptances each year for a full-time, two-year program that is offered only in residence and only at the main Homewood Campus in Baltimore. The other graduate writing programs are the MA in Writing Program and its partner Science Writing Program. Both are designed specifically as a broader admission, bigger-program alternative that offers part-time options in Washington and Baltimore and the online courses in Science Writing. We’re proud that the Seminars is our parent/partner program at Hopkins. The programs have separate admissions processes and standards. Click here for more information about the Sems. The Seminars requires applications by Jan. 15 each year for the following Fall term cohort class, while the MA and Science Writing programs accept applications year-round. If accepted to the MA in Writing or Science Writing program, you can start in any term within one year of acceptance.

22. How much does the MA program cost?


Each course costs the assigned tuition rate, so your total cost for the nine-course MA will be nine times the courses tuition, plus books. For the certificate, multiply by five. The university also charges small fees for some courses or purposes, like at our summer conference, for the thesis course, and for graduation/diplomas. The tuition rate changes each year beginning in the summer term. The current 2014-2015 tuition rate for the Writing Program is $2,698 per course. Every online course requires an additional $150 Technology Fee for 24/7 tech support.

23. What are your writing workshops like?


The heart of any writing program, a writing workshop is a group-editing experience in which students submit their writing to their classmates and instructor for revision discussion. In our workshops, we avoid the highly competitive or aggressive tones that define some graduate writing programs. We try to focus workshop discussion on how students can improve their writing based on what they intend to accomplish, not what other students or faculty members would do with that piece of writing. We also try to focus as much on what works with a piece as what needs improvement. However, we want our workshops to be as truthful as they are respectful. We don’t avoid the hard discussion and work that is needed to make us better writers. We are not a book club.

24. How old is your typical student? I’m in my (fill in the blank – twenties, thirties, forties, sixties, etc.), so I wonder if I will see students like me in the classroom?


Our average age is in the 30s, so we have twenty-somethings sitting next to retirees, sitting next to middle-agers — whatever that is nowadays. A small percentage of our students are just out of undergraduate school; most students are working in regular jobs or have other full-time obligations. We’re proud of the diversity of ages, backgrounds, and interests in our program. Our Science Writing students come from around the nation and world.

25. I’m as busy as anyone else with a (fill in the blank – job, family, commute, etc.) How much time does each course take in each week?


That depends in part on your individual reading, writing, and research pace. For online courses in Science-Medical Writing, you should expect about six to ten hours per week of work per course, depending on the course and other factors. The Residency is exciting, intense and packed for a full week, with some breathing room here and there to enjoy the location.

26. A thesis sounds challenging. What’s that like?


Writing students learn the most by writing. Our thesis is a compilation of your best, most-revised work from earlier courses, so you are drafting your thesis from the moment you start the program. This makes the thesis term easier – For that course, you revise your thesis draft in a one-on-one experience with an individual mentor and you join other thesis students in a capstone, communal experience. This class experience focuses on a plan to advance your career goals, whatever they may be.

27. I have a specific writing project. Will that fit at Hopkins?


For the most part, yes. While not all courses and exercises fit a book project, for instance, students often pursue a specific writing project in workshops and electives, resulting in that project being finished or drafted for the thesis. Remember, though, that basic writing improvement will help any project. Just because you can’t work on a specific project all of the time in every course doesn’t mean you aren’t ultimately learning something that will help that project.

28. What about internships?


Online students can propose internships where they live, as long as the program reviews and approves. Some students apply to existing local intern programs at magazines, newspaper, or publishing organizations, while others create their own internship opportunity. One recent student earned a prestigious internship at [Science] magazine. An Internship usually counts as one course toward the Certificate or MA degree.

29. Does the program have a literary journal?


The Writing Program is the proud home of The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, an independent, national literary and arts journal operated by Rae Bryant, a writer, faculty member, and program graduate. As editor in chief, Bryant teaches an online course that focuses on Eckleburg.

30. What do you offer outside the classroom and after the program ends?


We sponsor or co-sponsor seminars, writing conferences, readings, and other opportunities for our students and alumni. Some events are in the Washington/Baltimore area, but we encourage online students to attend seminars, conferences, readings, and other events where they live. Some courses require such activity. Online, we will offer regular networking and other interactions in which editors, writers, students and alumni get together in person or online, and our graduates can take courses after they finish for half price, on a space-available basis. Alumni also enjoy online job postings, freelance listings and other opportunities, and all students can engage with our job and careers office.

31. Tell me about your summer conference.


The MA in Writing Program and the Science Writing Program jointly offer The Hopkins Conference on Craft in the summers. The conference incorporates the Science Writing Residencies with intensive courses in Fiction, Nonfiction or other fields. For instance, recent summer conferences featured Science Residencies at the same time we offered Reading New England (Maine), Reading Baltimore, and Reading Washington. The conference, which is optional, is open to alumni for half price. For more information, click here or email craftconference@jhu.edu.

32. How can I find out more about Science Writing?


Email sciencewriting@jhu.edu or Science Writing Advisor Melissa Hendricks.

Whether or not you consider us for your graduate studies, we urge you to look carefully and thoughtfully to find the right fit. Good luck in your search!