FAQ

1. Please describe the experience your writing program offers. What will it be like for me if I get accepted and decide to enroll?

The MA in Writing Program has helped writers with their creative or professional goals for more than two decades. In Fiction and Nonfiction, you will attend onsite classes that meet once a week in Washington at Dupont Circle or at our main Homewood Campus in Baltimore. We are designed for part-time study, so our onsite classes meet on weeknights or Saturdays. Most of your fellow students, who are of all ages, will be taking only a course or two each term. In our low-residency Science Writing concentration, students take most of their courses fully online, with brief residencies for face-to-face interaction. For all concentrations, 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 are craft-based, meaning nearly all of what you will cover in a class is designed to help you grow as a writer. Overall, we hope you would feel pressed to grow as a writer if you join our program, and we will help you find the tools and knowledge to do that.

2. What is your admission rate?

We are purposely designed to be a broader admissions program than other, more exclusive graduate programs at Hopkins and elsewhere, so we 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.

3. 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 joke we make is that your grade in sophomore French five or ten years ago should have little impact on your current writing potential.

4. What are you looking for in an application?

The Writing Sample and Statement of Purpose are the key 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 Fiction, Nonfiction, or Science-Medical Writing, and 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 techniques, but they show great tone or spirit on the page. Other applicants seem practiced in technique. Both groups have a good chance of being accepted. The easiest way to get rejected is to demonstrate poor command of grammar, usage, sentence structure, or other basic writing issues. Bottom line: 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 sit down and try it – before you apply here. However, if you have tested your writing voice and goals on the page, we would be glad to see an application from you. For more details about what the Writing Program wants in an application, click here. To find out more about our online admissions process, click here or email aapinfo@jhu.edu.

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

No. Most of our applicants haven’t been published in their chosen field. While about half of our applicants work in writing or writing-related jobs, the others may have little professional experience beyond what they have done on their own. And we have students from all ages and professions. Our Science-Medical Writing program has attracted doctors, nurses, and PhD scientists, but it also includes young old office clerks or lab technicians – or just writers who love science. In Fiction and Nonfiction, we enjoy a similarly wide range of ages, professions, and walks of life. In DC, we once had a bike messenger in the same classroom with a member of Congress, a househusband, and a CIA agent. In Baltimore, a computer engineer was in the same classroom with a high school teacher, an exotic dancer, and a speechwriter.

6. What value will this program have to me as a writer? 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, dialogue, reporting, or scores of other on-the-page skills. Second, we will introduce you to writers and forms that you didn’t know existed, and they may inspire you into new directions. Third, we offer a supportive community for what can become 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, whatever your field. Fifth, we 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. Finally, we focus on quality and flexibility in teaching, courses, and curriculum, where you decide the best teachers and classes that fit your writing goals.

7. Do your students succeed? Will I?

No graduate program in creative writing should guarantee that a degree means you will be famous and rich as a writer. 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 step in a brick and mortar or digital classroom, until after you leave. And we will push you toward publication, which is our major goal for all students. So far, after twenty years, our graduates have published about 200 books and counting, with a new book coming every two or three 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.

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

Onsite or online, we offer courses in a Fall, Spring, and Summer term. You choose the terms you want. Our Fall and Spring onsite classes meet once a week in DC or Baltimore, usually from 6-8:30 or 6:30-9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, over 14 -15 weeks. (Our summer classes meet 3 hours per week for 12 weeks, or some meet twice a week to finish earlier in the summer.) We reserve Friday evenings for occasional readings and other events. Saturday courses usually start around 10 am, so students from either city can commute to the other if they want. So yes, students can take courses in either city. Most onsite students, however, take all of their courses in their home area of Washington or Baltimore. We have a thriving community of Hopkins buildings at bustling Dupont Circle in DC. Online for Science-Medical Writing, students most often study in an asynchronous digital format that allows maximum flexibility for each student. That means you don’t need to be in a certain digital classroom at any special time each week, like for an onsite course. You complete that week’s course work on our own time, as long as you meet deadlines.

9. Do you offer Financial Aid and student advisors?

Yes. Aid comes through student loans. Many students also receive tuition assistance from employers. We don’t offer teaching assistantships because we’re a part-time program and most of our students work in the daytime or otherwise can’t attend full-time. Each accepted student is assigned a faculty advisor who can help guide their course selection.

10. How long does the program take?

That’s up to you. Some finish quickly; others take their time. Many of our students take one course per term, for either two or three terms a year. Some take the summers off. Other students want to finish more quickly and take two courses per term, for all three terms per year. Those faster-paced students can finish the program in less than two years. However, most students, whether onsite or online, take three to four years to earn their MA so they can enroll in the courses they want with the teachers they most want. All have five years to finish, with extensions and leaves of absence possible beyond that. (You 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.)

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

The program requires nine courses for an MA: foundation (core) courses, writing workshops, electives, and then the final thesis course. The theory behind that curriculum is that students get a good foundation and then head in the direction they want – finishing with a final portfolio of publishable writing. We believe writers develop the best by the practice of writing and by learning how to read as a writer, so nearly all of our coursework includes those two goals. Onsite, our typical nine-course degree program in Fiction and Nonfiction starts with two foundation (core) courses. Students then choose three workshops and three electives that best fit their writing goals, before enrolling in the final thesis. In the online / low-residency Science-Medical Writing concentration, students take two cores, two workshops, two electives – all online – plus one residency of a week to 12 days. Science writers then choose one more online course or residency before heading to an online thesis course. Past residencies have been in Maine and Italy, with the 2013 Science-Medical Writing residency planned at Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Future residencies will be in Washington, to study policy and politics, and at prominent labs or in the field, witnessing science in action. For more about our courses, click here. You will see a wide range of workshops, electives, and cross-concentration options.

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

Writing is ultimately an individual art, so students need to pursue their own goals and interests. Some advanced applicants can waive one core course, giving them more choice later for electives. Some students want to take courses outside their concentration. For instance, Fiction Techniques is a popular Nonfiction elective. Some students focus on books, while others specialize in short stories, essays, etc. Some tend toward the experimental, non-traditional, while others are learning forms and techniques that will fit a specific professional career. In Science-Medical Writing, students who want more face-to-face interaction can take more residencies than the one required. But if they need the convenience of online study, they are required to attend only one brief residency and can take all other courses digitally. For those who can’t find the right course in our curriculum, we can arrange Independent Studies that allow special projects or goals.

13. Why nine courses? Don’t most MA programs have ten courses?

We pack 35 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.

14. How many credit hours are each course?

Hopkins doesn’t use the credit hour system, but we have certified that each of our courses equate to four credit hours.

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

Johns Hopkins has two 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. Its Fiction and Poetry MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs are difficult to get into, with only a handful of acceptances each year for a full-time, two-year program that is offered in residence only at the main Homewood Campus. The second program, the MA in Writing Program, was designed specifically as a broader admission, bigger-program alternative that offers part-time options in Washington and Baltimore. We’re proud that the Seminars is our parent/partner program at Hopkins. The programs have separate admissions processes and standards. For more about the Sems: http://writingseminars.jhu.edu The Seminars requires applications by Jan. 15 each year for the following Fall term cohort class, while the MA program accepts applications year-round. If accepted to the MA program, you can start in any term within one year of acceptance.

16. Do any of the full-time MFA faculty members teach in the MA program?

Yes, to an extent. Novelist Alice McDermott, poets Mary Jo Salter, Dave Smith, and John Irwin, fiction writer Jean McGarry, and others have taught in our summer conference, and all of those regularly lecture or read in our program. They do not teach regular Fall or Spring term courses in our program. However, fiction writer Tristan Davies and poet Greg Williamson, both full-time faculty members at The Sems, do teach regular courses in our program.

17. 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. 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. For the current tution rates for the MA program please visit this page.

18. Do you teach a certain style or approach to creative writing? Will I take literature or English courses?

We have no official program style or form. We try to expose our students to as many different styles and forms as possible, so they can find their own writing goals. We do offer reading electives, but those courses are craft-based just like our other courses. We read to help us develop as writers, not just to discuss literary theory.

19. 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 for revision discussion. In our workshops, we avoid the highly competitive or aggressive tone that some programs promote. 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 shouldn’t avoid the hard discussion and work that is needed to make us better writers. We are not a book club.

20. 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 that means we have twenty-somethings sitting next to retirees, sitting next to middle-agers — whatever that is nowadays. Only 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. Our oldest student was an 87-year retired lawyer writing a novel about her childhood in Brooklyn. We’re proud of the diversity of ages, backgrounds, and interests in our program.

21. 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 and outside the classroom?

Our Fall and Spring courses in Fiction and Nonfiction last 2.5 hours a week, for 14 weeks. Depending on your writing and reading speed and time, we broadly estimate you will spend from five to ten hours per week outside of class for each in-class session. For online courses in Science-Medical Writing, you should plan on about six to ten hours per week of work per course, depending on the course and other factors.

22. 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 a mentor. The thesis course also is a capstone, communal experience: In regular weekly classes, students publish a course literary journal / magazine, formally plan a writing life or career, and rehearse and conduct a public reading, among other final goals.

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

We hope so, for the most part. 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.

24. What about internships?

Online students can propose internships where they live, as long as the program reviews and approves. Onsite students also can propose internships. Some apply to existing local intern programs at publications such as The Washington Post, National Geographic, or The Baltimore Review; others create a Washington or Baltimore internship experience that is reviewed and approved.

25. 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. We offer regular networking events in which editors, writers, students, and alumni get together, and our graduates can take courses after they finish for half price, on a space-available basis.

26. Tell me about your summer conference.

The Writing Program offers The Hopkins Conference on Craft in the summers. At the conference, students earn a full course credit in a condensed period from one week to 12 days. Past conferences have been held in Florence, Italy, and Bar Harbor, Maine, although we are reviewing finances before continuing the event in those exotic locations. Our 2015 conference has been held in Shenandoah National Park. Prominent writers and editors teach at our summer conference, including Alice McDermott, Amy Hempel, and Jill McCorkle in fiction; Mary Jo Salter, Dave Smith, Charles Martin, and Rachel Hadas in poetry; and Robert Wilson and Brenda Wineapple in nonfiction. The summer conference provides the residency for the Science-Medical Writing low-residency program, so the conference is useful to onsite or online students. The conference, which is optional, is open to alumni for half price. For more information email craftconference@jhu.edu.

27. Your online / low-residency Science-Medical Writing concentration interests me. How can I find out more?

We offer a nine-course MA in Science Writing and a five course Graduate Certificate in Science Writing. Unlike our Fiction and Nonfiction degree, Science Writing courses are fully online except for one, brief required Residency course that is onsite for the degree. The Residency is optional for the Certificate. That means you can study Science Writing at Johns Hopkins from anywhere in the nation. For more information, please visit the MA in Science Writing or the Graduate Certificate in Science Writing. Our science-medical writing advisor is Melissa Hendricks.

28. Who teaches in your program?

Our faculty members are practicing writers and editors who do what they teach. They are selected because of their teaching ability. Learn more about our award-winning faculty here.

29. Can I visit a class to make sure this program is the right fit?

Sure. Just contact any of us to make arrangements, and you can see the Writing Program on the front lines. We encourage you to talk to current students or alumni, and you can chat with faculty members or the advisor in your desired concentration. We also offer online and onsite Open Houses to prospective students can learn more about the program. In the end, you should find the graduate writing program that best fits your goals and interests; we want you to feel comfortable with our program before you decide to enroll here. For any questions, contact us here.

Good luck in your search!