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Creative Writing and Literature Degree Requirements

The Master of Liberal Arts, Creative Writing and Literature degree field consists of 12 courses (48 credits). A 1- or 3-week on-campus writer’s residency is required. You can choose a thesis or capstone track.

Getting Started

Required Courses

12 Graduate Courses

The program is designed for creative writers interested in fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic writing. You choose the creative writing and literature courses that meet your learning goals. While we offer a few poetry courses, poetry-related thesis topics are not an option.

  • HUMA 101 Proseminar: Elements of the Writer’s Craft
  • 1 advanced fiction writing course
  • 3 creative writing courses
  • 1 creative writing and literature elective or creative writing independent study
  • 2 literature courses
    • EXPO 42a is a literature option
  • On-campus summer writer’s residency

Thesis Track: Additional Courses

  • Thesis proposal tutorial
  • Master’s Thesis (8 credits)

Capstone Track: Additional Courses

  • 1 additional literature course
  • Precapstone: Building the World of the Book (fiction and nonfiction options)
  • Capstone: Developing a Manuscript (fiction and nonfiction options)

You enroll in the precapstone and capstone courses in back-to-back semesters (fall/spring) and in your final academic year. The capstone must be taken alone as your sole remaining degree requirement.

The Harvard On-Campus Experience (One-Week Writer’s Residency)

For the on-campus requirement, you have two summer course options:

  • One-Week Writer’s Residency with extended online sessions
  • One-Week Writer’s Residency with extended on-campus sessions

After completing 7 or more courses, you come to Harvard Summer School for a week-long master class taught by a notable instructor.  An agents-and-editors weekend follows.

During the 2 weeks that follow this intensive week of on-campus instruction, you attend additional writing classes either online or on campus and submit a final piece of writing.

3-week housing is available for the One-Week Writer’s Residency with extended on-campus classes.

International Students Who Need a Student Visa

To meet the on-campus requirement, you study with us in the summer for a minimum of 3 weeks. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa through Harvard Summer School. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.

Admissions

Below are our initial eligibility requirements and an overview of our unique admissions process to help get you started. Be sure to visit Degree Program Admissions for full details.

Initial Eligibility

  • Prior to enrolling in any degree-applicable courses, you must possess a 4-year regionally accredited US bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent. Foreign bachelor’s degrees must be evaluated for equivalency.
  • You cannot already have or be in the process of earning a master’s degree in creative writing or a related field. Check your eligibility.

The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.

Earning Your Way In: Courses for Admission

To begin the admission process, you simply register—no application needed—for the following 2 graduate-level degree courses (available online).

  • HUMA 101 Proseminar: Elements of the Writer’s Craft
    • Before registering, you’ll need to pass our online test of critical reading and writing skills or earn a B or higher in EXPO 42a Writing in the Humanities.
    • You have 2 attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.
  • Advanced fiction writing

The courses above, including EXPO 42a, count toward the degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses.

While the 2 courses don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we highly recommend that you start with the proseminar. The 2 courses must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Search and Register for Courses

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round. You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).

To find degree courses in the DCE Course Search and Registration platform:

  • Under Search Classes, scroll to Browse by Degree, Certificate, or Premedical Program.
  • Select Graduate Degrees
  • Choose Creative Writing and Literature to explore program courses.

Applying to the Degree Program

During the semester of your second degree course, submit an official application to the program.

Don’t delay! You must prioritize the two degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. By doing so, you’ll:

  • avoid the delayed application fee or the loss of credit for expired course work.
  • ensure your enrollment in critical and timely degree-candidate-only courses.
  • gain access to exclusive benefits (see bottom of page).

Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have 10 more courses after admission to earn the degree.

For details about full eligibility, the application process, and application fees, visit Degree Program Admissions.

To Complete Your Degree

Required 3.0 GPA, 2 Withdrawal Grade Limit, Repeat Course Policy

GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the 2 degree courses required for admission and a B– or higher in each of the subsequent courses. In addition, your cumulative GPA cannot dip below 3.0.

Withdrawal Grades. You are allowed to receive 2 withdrawal (WD) grades without them affecting your GPA. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA. See Academic Standing.

Repeat Courses. We advise you to review the ALM program’s strict policies about repeating courses. Generally speaking, you may not repeat a course to improve your GPA or to fulfill a degree requirement (if the minimum grade was not initially achieved). Nor can you repeat a course for graduate credit that you’ve previously completed at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School at the undergraduate level.

Courses Expire: Finish Your Coursework in Under 5 Years

Courses over 5 years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As stated above, the proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.

Further, you have 5 years to complete your degree requirements. The 5-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any 2 degree-applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to a degree program.

Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the 5-year course expiration policy or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work.

Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the 5-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).

Graduate with Your Harvard Degree

When you have fulfilled all degree requirements, you will earn your Harvard University degree: Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Extension Studies, Field: Creative Writing and Literature. Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May, with the annual Harvard Commencement ceremony in May.

Degree Candidate Exclusive Benefits

When you become an officially admitted degree candidate, you have access to a rich variety of exclusive benefits to support your academic journey. To learn more, visit degree candidate academic opportunities and privileges.