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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 one- or three-week, on-campus writer’s residency is required. You can choose a thesis or capstone track.

To get started in the program:

  1. Review the details below to learn more about the curriculum and course selection.
  2. Determine your initial admission eligibility.
  3. Complete the 2 courses for admission.

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 cannot be supported.

  • Proseminar
  • Advanced fiction writing
  • 3 creative writing courses
  • 1 general elective or creative writing independent study
  • 2 literature courses
    • EXPO 42a is a literature option
  • On-campus summer writer’s residency

Additional Thesis Track Courses

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

Additional Capstone Track Courses

  • 1 additional literature course
  • Precapstone: Building the World of the Book
  • Capstone: Developing the Fiction Manuscript

Capstone topics are subject to change annually. You enroll in the precapstone and capstone courses in back-to-back semesters (fall/spring) and in your final academic year.

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 four-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

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

Courses for Admission

  • 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 two attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.
  • Advanced fiction writing

While the two 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 two courses must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Applying to the Degree Program

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

Don’t delay! It is critical to 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, while gaining access to exclusive benefits (see below).

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.

The Harvard On-Campus Experience

For the on-campus requirement, you have two summer course options: One-Week Writer’s Residency with extended online sessions or One-Week Writer’s Residency with extended on-campus sessions.

After completing 28 or more credits, 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 two 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.

Three-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 three 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.

To Complete Your Degree

Required GPA, Withdrawal Grades, Repeat Courses

GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the two 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 two 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.

Finish Your Coursework in Under Five Years

Courses over 5 years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree.

Further, you have 5 years to complete your degree requirements. The five-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any two 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 five-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 five-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.