Prospective Student FAQ

Bennington Writing Seminars/MFA in Writing

What are the minimum requirements to apply?

Our admissions committee is looking for the strength of writing on the page. They’re looking for talent, of course, and also voice, potential, teachability, humility, honesty, and promise. The Writing Seminars does not require an associate or bachelor’s degree to apply, nor do we require students to even have a high school diploma. The strength of a writer is determined by their strength on the page. Their ability to succeed here must, however, be demonstrated by experience.

What is the average age of your students?

Our students range in age from their late 20s to mid 70s and their average age is 45 years old. Many of our students have had successful, high-profile careers and want to now focus on their writing. The key to success as a student here is to be willing to learn, transform, and grow. We encourage vulnerability and honesty here, not competition and hierarchy.

Where are your students geographically in the world?

We attract students from across the country and around the world. We’ve had students come to Bennington from Japan, Hong Kong, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, and beyond. In the U.S. students come from such varied places as California, North Carolina, the Pacific Northwest, Texas, Colorado, and throughout the Northeast.

Why a low-residency program?

The Bennington Writing Seminars MFA is one of the first of its kind in the country. Many programs model themselves after the Seminars because of the format’s success. A low-residency model means that you are not place-bound. Our students live and study all over the globe, spending their correspondence terms working intensively and one-on-one with their teacher on their work, whether that is a novel, short story or essay collection, memoir, book of poetry, or in our dual-genre program that blends disciplines.

We gather together at two residencies each year: in January and in June.

What is the advantage of a low-residency program?

You need not quit your job or disrupt your life to move to a new city or country in order to study here. Bennington is built for writers who are self-directed, curious, collaborative, and self-motivated. We offer individualized work, personal mentorship, and a community that will be with you well after you graduate.

What is your alumni network like?

Because we are one of the oldest low-residency programs, we have one of the largest, most robust, and well-connected alumni communities of a low-residency program in the country—numbering nearly 3,000. Students who enter the program join a community of writers that extends far beyond your time here. Our alumni manage, read for, and publish in the top literary journals in the country, so mentioning you’re a student/alumni at Bennington can be an advantage when you submit your work.

How are teachers chosen?

At Bennington, you have the opportunity to study with four (five if you’re dual-genre) faculty members who will bring different perspectives, practices, connections, and feedback to your work. Each teacher you work with represents fresh and diverse eyes on your manuscript. In your first term, you will be assigned your teacher. In subsequent terms, we offer you a chance to rank teachers with whom you want to work. While we don’t guarantee any particular placement, your writing will transform with any teacher you are paired with.

What differentiates Bennington from other low-residency MFA programs?

We value collaboration over competition. At Bennington, the only person you’re competing with is yourself on the page. Good literary citizenship is the rule, not the exception — please consider that when joining our community. The program is self-directed, your reading list is collaborative, and we like to say the pace is “a marathon at a sprinter’s pace.”

What is your approach to teaching the business of writing?

We’ve developed a series called the Professional Development Seminars and we bring agents, editors, residency directors, and other writers to our residency to talk honestly and openly about everything from finding and working with an agent, to the business of small presses, to how to write a residency application (among other things.) Our approach to this, as it is with everything we do, is egalitarian. These sessions are open to all and our students can ask anything.

How do I move through the program term by term?

Sixteen credits are conferred per term, upon successful completion of all required work, and 64 credits are required for the MFA degree, 80 for the dual-genre option.

The Seminars are designed, over four terms and five residencies, to develop a steady engagement with the processes of composition of new work, revision, reading, and critical thinking. The Seminars aim, by stages, to prepare students to bring their work to readers and to the public through a final portfolio/thesis, a final critical essay, and a final reading of a student’s original work.

Summary of Requirements by Term

(a full description can be found on our Program Requirements page)

First Term and Second Term (and Third Term for dual-genre students)

  • Ongoing original work, including revisions
  • 20 to 30 books read
  • Selected critical responses to readings
  • 10-page essay based on readings
  • Four or five packet exchanges (depending on the term) with their teacher, at regular intervals

Third Term (Fourth Term for dual-genre students)

  • Ongoing original work, including revisions
  • 20 to 30 books read
  • Selected critical responses to readings
  • 20- to 25-page critical essay based on readings
  • Four or five packet exchanges with teacher, at regular intervals

Fourth Term (Fifth Term for dual-genre students)

  • Ongoing original work directed towards completion of a thesis, critical paper, and readings
  • Minimum of 10 books read
  • Selected critical responses to readings
  • Four or five packet exchanges with teacher, at regular intervals
  • Revision of a critical essay written in their third term, to include faculty feedback received after conferring with a faculty panel
  • Preparation of a formal 20-minute reading of one's work to be given at the parting residency, with a mandatory 5- to 10-minute Q&A following the reading
  • Submission of a thesis and critical paper to two faculty readers
  • Submission of a thesis and critical paper to Crossett Library

What happens at a residency?

During your two years, students complete four (five for dual-genre) terms of one-on-one mentorship and attend a total of five (six for dual-genre) residencies, one per term (at the beginning), including a final graduation residency.

The residency days and nights are jam-packed with workshops, master classes, lectures, discussions, readings, activities, and visits from scholars, Alumni Fellows, and others. We encourage everyone to join all classes regardless of your genre, because you’ll likely always learn something new and useful.

Take a look at a typical residency schedule here.

What happens in a workshop? How big are they?

Prior to attending the residencies, students will be asked to submit new work that will be workshopped at the residency. Our workshops are typically led by two faculty members and 10 students. Each teacher has no more than five students each (some have fewer). Some teachers opt to teach alone and in those workshops there is one teacher and five students. You are assigned a teacher when you receive your workshop packets prior to residency. Your workshop teacher is the teacher you’ll work with during your correspondence term. If your workshop has two teachers, the other faculty member will be working with their own five students.

As a student, you are required to read and comment on all the manuscripts in your workshop since you’ll be discussing this work throughout. We ask that you be kind, generous, and substantive with your feedback. You may print out the manuscripts and hand write comments or use track changes etc… whatever is most comfortable for you.

Workshops are a mandatory part of the residency and it is necessary for students to attend each one as a requirement for graduation.

How do you keep alumni engaged?

Each term, we bring back alumni volunteers who plan a slate of after-hours activities that are fun and engaging, and that bring the classes together. We encourage everything from karaoke, to literary trivia, to dance parties, to movie nights, among other things.

Do you accept transfer students?

Bennington will accept the transfer of one semester’s credits (16 credits of work) from an accredited low-residency or traditional MFA program. The student must be accepted into our program before seeking approval for said credits. The dean of the college and director of the program must approve the credit transfer.

How much does the program cost?

A Bennington MFA remains an excellent value. Our tuition includes room and board and is quite competitive among other low-residency programs. We award 16 credits per term. Tuition and fees are listed on our Tuition and Fees page.

What financial aid might I be eligible for?

As a Master of Fine Arts candidate, you may be eligible for funding through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident). The application process requires that you complete a FAFSA (using the FAFSA-IRS data confirmation process, if possible). Writing Seminars aid applicants will receive a web ID from the Bennington College Financial Aid Office in order to complete the form. For more information on financial aid, please review Bennington's Financial Aid webpage or, with specific questions, contact Michelle Rodda (finaid@bennington.edu or 802-440-4325).

What scholarships are available?

Bennington is committed to supporting our students by developing grants and scholarships. Our awards are given based on a combination of merit and need, and with awareness that it is good for our community to maintain an aesthetically and socially diverse community of literary artists. The committee prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion when making scholarship decisions.

Do applicants need to complete a FAFSA in order to be considered for scholarships/grants?

Students are not required to complete a FAFSA and the Bennington Financial Aid application unless they need to borrow a federal unsubsidized loan. All students are considered for merit-based scholarships and should check the box on the application if they'd like to be considered for a scholarship in a particular category. Awardees will be notified of their scholarship amount in their acceptance letter. Scholarships are applied across a student's four/five terms.

How do I apply and when?

Application deadlines are September 1 (for admission to the January residency) and March 1 (for the June residency.) You may apply here. We look forward to seeing your application.

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Questions? We can help

You can find all manner of information on our webpages, and we encourage you to pay particular attention to the outcomes page and to the program requirements. If you’d like further information, please inquire here and one of our staff members will be in touch.