Frequently Asked Questions

Below find the answers to some common questions regarding the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature program. The links below will help you skip to the topic in which you are interested.

Admissions Process
Academic Standards, Degress, Degree Lengths
General Program Questions
The GRE Exam
Campus Visit
  • Admissions

    What are the requirements for admission to the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature?

    The university requires a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 (on a scale in which A=4.0) and combined Quantitative and Verbal GRE scores of no less than 1,000.  Requirements for admission to study in the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature program include the following:

    • Bachelor’s degree in any area of study
    • Transfer units accepted from MA Literature or MFA Creative Writing (but a Master’s degree is NOT required for application)
    • GPA, undergraduate and graduate (if applicable)
    • GRE General Test and GRE Literature Subject Test
    • creative writing sample
    • critical writing sample
    • statement of purpose
    • statement of interest in teaching composition
    • official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate coursework
    • letters of recommendation from at least three academic referees; students may include additional letters from other sources

    Do I need to have an undergraduate degree in English or Creative Writing to be eligible to apply?

    We welcome applications from students with all kinds of academic backgrounds.  Your undergraduate (or graduate) degree need not be in Creative Writing or English.

    Regardless of educational background, we expect our applicants will be accomplished creative writers, who are actively practicing the craft, and apt scholars, who have a keen interest in literature. To meet the demands of the Ph.D. program in Creative Writing & Literature you should be writing creatively with consistency. You should also be able to conduct scholarly research and write critically about literature, a factor which your critical writing sample should exhibit in order for your application to be competitive, no matter your academic background. 

    Do I need a Master’s Degree in English or Creative Writing to be eligible to apply to the program?

    No. The only educational requirement is that you have a Bachelor’s degree. If you have a Master’s in English, or an M.F.A., you may transfer units to the coursework requirement for the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature.
  • Admissions Process

    How will I find out if I am admitted? / How long does it take to process my application?
    Applicants are notified of their admission status via postal mail. Offers of admission usually go out in the month of March.

    How many students are admitted each year?
    The program is small and, therefore, competitive. We usually accept 4-8 students each year, out of 120-140 applicants.

    May I be admitted in spring or summer?
    Unfortunately, we can only offer one application cycle per year. All applications must be submitted by Dec 1.

    Where do I send my materials?
    The application is entirely online.  The only items you need to send in hard copies are your transcripts and GRE scores--your transcripts will be sent directly from your previously attended institutions, and GRE scores will be sent from ETS. Please request that these items be sent to the USC Office of Graduate Admission:

    USC Office of Graduate Admission
    3601 South Flower Street
    Room 112
    Los Angeles, CA 90089-0915

    Please note: this is a separate address from our office address. We cannot guarantee that any hard copy additional materials you send to the office will be included with your application materials. Therefore, make sure to upload all of the necessary documents for the application, such as your writing samples, statement of purpose, statement of intent to teach, and your recommendations.

  • Genre

    Can I apply to the program as both a fiction and a poetry applicant?

    You must apply to the program as either a fiction or a poetry applicant. We recommend that applicants apply to their strongest genre, even if they are multi-genre writers.

    Will there be opportunities to take coursework in other literary genres?

    While the majority of your creative coursework requirements you have will be in your primary genre, and your creative dissertation must be written in your genre as well, you will have opportunities to take creative writing classes outside of your primary genre, in addition to your normal coursework.

    Is there a non-fiction degree track?

    We do not offer a non-fiction degree track in our program. All applicants must apply to the program as either fiction or poetry candidates. Although there are opportunities to take elective courses in creative non-fiction writing, we do not anticipate adding a creative non-fiction degree track.

  • Academic Standards, Degrees, Degree Lengths

    How long does it take to earn a Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature?

    The program is designed to be completed in five years.

    Can I finish more quickly if I have a Master’s degree in Creative Writing or Literature?

    You may transfer up to 12 units of similar coursework from a related degree, but this will not significantly reduce the number of years to earn the Ph.D. You should still plan to spend 5 years completing the program.

    Is the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature a full time, in-residence program?

    Yes, the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature program at USC is a full time, in-residence program. We do not offer a low-residency or online option.

    When do the academic sessions begin?

    The USC academic calendar is divided into two terms: fall and spring. The fall semester begins in late August and ends in mid-December. The spring semester begins in early January and ends in mid-May. There are also summer sessions with six-week classes, but not all courses are offered during the summer. The academic calendar can be found on USC’s website:

    Can I transfer units from my MA in English or MFA to the course work requirement for the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature?

    You may transfer up to 12 units from an M.F.A. or a Master’s in English to your coursework requirement in the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature, which would reduce the total units needed from 64 to 52.  However, you may not choose to make use of the transfer option, as transferring creative courses, for example, would decrease your opportunities to interact to faculty members with whom you'd like to work in workshops. Your academic advisors will help you decide the best transfer strategy for your individual needs.

    What are the course work requirements for the Ph.D. program?

    The program consists of 56 units of coursework, 32 in Literature & 24 in Creative Writing, and 8 units of dissertation work. Only one class is required: ENGL 501, History of Literary and Cultural Theory.  Beyond that, each student crafts an individualized course of study under the guidance of his or her academic advisors to meet the unit requirements.
  • General Program Questions

    Is the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature program at USC associated with any magazine, literary journal, or literary review?

    The program is not associated with a magazine or literary journal, however, the students in our program run a chapbook press.  

    Is there a language requirement?

    Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature students are required to demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language. This may be demonstrated by completing a course in the literature of that language at the 400 or 500 level (with a grade of B [3.0] or better) or by passing a foreign language exam that tests proficiency in reading comprehension and translation. Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature students may also demonstrate proficiency by completing a creative translation project in their primary genre, under the guidance of a professor whose areas of expertise include that specific language.

    Do you offer an M.F.A. in Creative Writing? Do I obtain a Master’s degree while earning the Ph.D.?

    Our program is strictly a Ph.D. program—we do not offer a Master’s degree. If you are interested in a creative writing Master’s degree, please check out USC’s Master’s in Professional Writing program: /mpw/.

  • Costs

    Is there funding available to students admitted to the Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature program at USC?

    All applicants who are offered admission into the program are also offered funding in the form of either fellowships or assistantships, which offer tuition remission, year-round health insurance coverage, and a modest stipend.

  • The GRE Exam

    What is the latest date I can take the GRE General Test and GRE Subject Test in Literature to be considered for admission to the program?

    You must take the GRE General Test and the GRE Subject Test before the application deadline, which is December 1. As long as you take the test before the application deadline date, we will receive the score directly as soon as ETS releases it.

    I took the GRE several years ago. Do I have to take it again?

    Official GRE scores must date no earlier than five (5) years prior to the start of your intended first term at USC. For example, if you were to apply for the fall 2017 term, you must submit GRE scores from August 2012 or later. Please be aware that in order to apply to the program, you must take the GRE as well as the GRE subject test in literature. You can find more information about the test dates and testing centers on the ETS website :

    How important is the GRE in the application process?

    The GRE Literature subject test is an important piece of your overall application.  However, it is not nearly as important as the writing samples. Certainly the most important parts of an application are the writing samples.  The other elements -- letters of recommendation, test scores, GPA, publishing history, and the like -- while important, are secondary to the writing samples.  While we do require applicants to take the GRE and the GRE Subject test in Literature, there is no cut-off score which applicants must meet. 

    What do I do if my country does not offer the GRE or GRE subject test in literature?

    All PhD degrees awarded at USC are under the jurisdiction of The Graduate School, which establishes standards, guidelines, and requirements for each program. Unfortunately, the GRE Subject test in Literature is one of our requirements. We would be unable to consider an application without this piece.

    However, in extremely rare situations when countries do not offer any GRE tests, it is possible to petition to consider the application without the scores. We cannot guarantee that we will accept any applications without GRE subject scores. Cases will be determined on an individual basis. 


  • Recommendations

    If my recommender does not want to upload a recommendation to the online system, is it possible for them to send a hard copy?

    Our application is entirely online. Therefore, your letters of recommendation must be submitted online.  We cannot guarantee that any hard copies of materials that are sent to our office will be included in your application file.

    Do all of my recommendations have to be from academic sources?

    While we prefer to receive recommendations from academic sources, we will accept recommendations from people other than your previous professors. If writing mentors, publishers, editors, or employers (especially if writing is a part of your job) can attest to your ability to write creatively, show your experience in the writing world, or can explain to the admissions committee that you have the critical thinking abilities necessary to be in a Ph.D. program in literature, we would be happy to receive their letters.

    Is it possible to submit my letters of recommendation through an online system like Interfolio?

    It is possible to submit letters using Interfolio. However, please note that our application is completely electronic--during the application process online you will be prompted to enter the email addresses of your recommenders. If you are using Interfolio, please submit the email address the Interfolio service provides to send out electronic letters of recommendation, rather than the email addresses of your teachers. 


  • Campus Visit

    Do you conduct face-to-face interviews with applicants?

    We do not require or offer any face-to-face interviews with applicants as part of the admissions process. However, we do commonly schedule appointments with applicants who want to visit our office to learn more about the program, and to see the campus. Please be aware that these visits do not positively or negatively affect applicants chances of admission, they are simply provided to allow the applicants to learn more about the program.

    Is it possible to schedule an appointment with the Program Coordinator to discuss the program?

    We are more than happy to meet with prospective applicants. If you would like to meet with the Program Coordinator, please contact our office  to arrange an appointment.

    Can I sit in on a class?

    Sometimes we are able to arrange for prospective applicants to sit in on a class.  Our ability to do so depends on the willingness of the professors to accept visitors in their classes, as well as the course offerings each semester.


  • Dissertation

    What does it mean that I am required to write a “critical” and “creative” component to my dissertation?

    The dissertation consists of both critical and creative components. The creative component should be a book-length manuscript and the critical component will be a document of no fewer than 60 pages, although it can be more. While the creative and critical components often work in conversation with one another, the critical aspect is not a “foreword” to the manuscript.


  • Janalynn Bliss, Creative Writing Graduate Coordinator
  • University of Southern California
  • Department of English
  • 3501 Trousdale Parkway, THH 431
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0354