mfa resources

Applying to the MFA with Novel Excerpts

If you’re a fiction writer you probably have written, or are writing, a novel. Or maybe short stories just aren’t you’re thing; you’re too verbose or your ideas are too complicated to confine to 3,000 words. Or maybe you’re street savvy and you know there’s potential money in novels, and not much in short stories. Either way, you might have this question. Can I submit a novel excerpt as my writing sample for the MFA?

I’ve seen this question time and time again and in a field as subjective as writing, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might like it to be.

Of course you can submit excerpts from a novel, very few schools I know of forbid it and many school websites mention that you can submit short stories and/or novels. But is submitting parts of a novel really the best idea?

No, but also, yes.

You’ve probably heard it before, but you always want to submit your best work. If you (and others, ask for some opinions!) feel your novel is your strongest piece of writing, submit it! But if you’re unsure, you might want to go the short story route. Short stories have the benefit of allowing admission committees to see you carry a narrative arc all the way through. Also, at many schools, the workshop experience is better suited to short stories.

If you do decide to submit excerpts from a novel (which is fine, if it is your best work), keep some guidelines in mind.

1. Make sure whatever section(s) you chose from your novel can somewhat stand-alone. It should have conflict and some sort of narrative arc. 2. Provide a synopsis only if you feel the excerpts need one. Or, if the school requires it, which some will. Keep the synopsis short. 3. Mention in the title, that these are excerpts, chapters, etc. from a novel. 4. Don’t just submit a novel excerpt. Writing is subjective and only one person on the admission committee might be reading your application. If, for whatever reasons, your novel doesn’t interest them, then you’re out. But, if you pair your novel excerpt with a short story, you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket and get the best of both worlds. You can show the admission committee your best work (your novel), but you can also show them that you have mastered the narrative arc and the act of story telling with the short story. This has an added bonus of helping you meet different page requirements for the writing sample. Ideally, a 7-10 page short story will allow you sufficient pages for your novel, whether the page limit is 20, 25, 30 or higher. Novel excerpts are great because you can add or remove pages to fit under requirements.

In short, if you have a novel you are really passionate about, of course you should use parts of it in your writing sample. I applied last year with excerpts from a novel, as well as a short story and was successful in many applications.

So start editing those novels!


by Michelle Donahue

MFA Application Process: What you Need and When you Need it

It can be really confusing to keep track of every school and what they want. So I created a list of schools and what they want. My suggestion would be to do the same with your specific school choices and highlight the parts that overlap. So if two schools want 10-15 pages of poetry, highlight those. Label each highlight 1, 2, 3, or 4. Then write each thing down on a piece of paper like this: Poetry Sample 1: Adelphi, Wichita State, Iowa. Poetry Sample 2: Syracuse, University of Delaware. Statement of Purpose 1: Wichita State, University of New Mexico etc. This way, when you go back to review your list, you can easily identify what every school needs and hopefully, many of those things will overlap. Adelphi University: Garden City, New York:  ROLLING ADMISSIONS

the following information is from the Adelphi University Admissions Website.

  • Essay/Personal Statement

"Tell us something about your writing life and what you hope to accomplish during the program. Tell us what you have read, are now reading and what you intend to read. Describe your current literary interests, your current or future challenges, and your literary goals. Please limit your essay to 1,000 words."

  • Writing  Sample

"Submit the manuscript only in the genre to which you are applying. Choose one of the following:

  • Poetry: 10–15 pages (approximately a dozen poems)
  • Fiction: maximum of 30 pages, double-spaced, which can consist of one or more stories or part of a novel
  • Dramatic Writing: maximum of 50 pages, double-spaced, which can consist of a monologue, a one-act play, or a scene from a full-length play or screenplay or television script. If an excerpt from a longer work is submitted, please include a one-paragraph description of the work as a whole."
  • Students must submit:
  • Completed application form
  • College transcript
  • Two letters of reference from people familiar with your writing
  • Personal statement
  • Manuscript in one genre only


Boston University: Deadline-- March 1st

The following information is from the Boston University Admissions Website

  • Essay/Personal Statement:

A personal statement (2-4 pages in length)

  • Writing Sample:

 Poetry- 1o poems

Fiction- no more than 40 double-spaced pages (stories are preferred)

  • Recommendations

  3 letters of recommendation

Recommenders can upload their letters online or send hard copies of their letters.

  • Transcripts

Transcripts from any college or university that you have previously attended (even if no degree was earned.)

  • GRE scores

Examination scores from the GRE General Test

Please send anything that must be mailed, including your transcripts and GRE scores, to:

Admissions Office Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Boston University 705 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 112 Boston, MA 02215


City University of Hong Kong: Deadline: March 31

This information was taken from the City University of Hong Kong's admission website.

  • Essay/Personal Statement


3-5 pages on the applicant's desire to be a writer & include a creative philosophy.

  • Writing Sample


Poetry- 10 pages

Non-fiction or fiction: 25 pages

  • Critical Essay

A critical essay of 3-5 pages on some aspect of writing craft.

  • Recommendations

2 letters of recommendation from writing teachers, editors, established writers, former professors in any academic discipline or professional associates who can attest to the candidate's written ability. E-mail letters directly to with the candidate's name in the subject line.




When applying to multiple schools, I would suggest doing something like this for each one of them. Create one document with all of the information you need. Then create the list. Remember to number similar items. Once all of the items are numbered, you can start printing, sorting, and packaging.


It can be helpful to create envelopes for each school. Write the address on the front and then add a sticky note to each envelope with directions on what you need to put inside. For example, you could address the envelope to the City University of Hong Kong and then put "personal essay, critical essay, 2 letters of recommendations, and writing sample" on the sticky note. As you place each article in the envelope, cross it off the sticky note. This way, you will be able to keep track of everything.


If you have any suggestions feel free to email me at