Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing

There are approximately fifty Low Residency MFA Programs in the U.S. The Institute of American Indian Arts’ program is modeled on the most successful of these, with one important difference: IAIA’s mission “to empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures through higher education, lifelong learning, and outreach” means that the program and the literature we read carry a distinct Native American and First Nations emphasis. Over 60% of our faculty mentors are established Native American or First Nations authors. Our program is open to everyone, but the focus will remain aligned with our unique mission.

Mud City—IAIA Low Rez Web Journal

Mud City—IAIA Low Rez Web Journal

IAIA faculty mentors are a dynamic group of writers who have won, among many other awards, Lannan Literary Awards, Whiting Awards, a National Book Award, a ScotiaBank Giller Prize, a PEN/Faulkner Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, a PEN Open Book Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, and a Donald Hall Prize from the Associated Writing Programs.

Faculty mentors include Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), Pam Houston, Joan Kane (Inupiaq), Sherwin Bitsui (Navajo), Natalie Diaz (Mojave), Melissa Febos, Santee Frazier (Cherokee), Geoff Harris, Chip Livingston (Creek), Eden Robinson (Haisla/Heiltsuk), Ken White, and more.

The deadline for priority consideration is February 1 to begin the following July, however, applications are accepted until June 1. For more information, see the how to apply section.

The Institute of American Indian Arts’ Low Residency MFA program is among the most affordable MFA programs in the country. For a detailed accounting, see tuition and the college catalog.

Apply to the Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing

The graduate application for the MFA in Creative Writing is available at . Please note that although the Low Residency MFA Program begins with an on-campus residency in July, the July residency is considered part of the Fall semester. Please choose “Fall” not “Summer” on the application. If you find you need to submit additional materials, please e-mail those documents to admissions@iaia.edu or mail them to the Admissions Office at the address below.

Your application will not be considered for admission until it is complete.

To process your application, we will need:

  1. A completed application (submitted electronically)
  2. A $25, non-refundable, application fee
  3. A sample of your creative work (see guidelines below)
  4. An application essay (see guidelines below)
  5. A sample craft or scholarly essay (see guidelines below)
  6. Two letters of recommendation sent directly by recommenders to:
  7. Admissions Office, The Institute of American Indian Arts, 83 Avan Nu Po Road, Santa Fe, NM 87508 or e-mailed as attachments to admissions@iaia.edu. Letters should address the applicant’s aptitude, determination, and ability to work within a community of writers.
  8. College transcripts from all colleges attended sent directly to:
    Admissions Office, The Institute of American Indian Arts, 83 Avan Nu Po Road, Santa Fe, NM 87508. Links to electronic transcripts should be sent to admissions@iaia.edu.

Once we have received all of your application materials, your application will be reviewed. Materials must be received by 5 pm on February 15 for full consideration. Applications completed after 5 pm on February 15 will be considered for any remaining openings, wait-listed, or considered for the following year. At this time, we are only accepting students into the program in the fall semesters.

Admission will be competitive; we will be accepting only thirty students into the program each year. There is no separate application for the Institute of American Indian Arts’s Scholarships; students who apply before February 15 will be considered for all IAIA scholarships.

A bachelor’s degree is required, but it need not have been with an English or writing major. Students who have completed a significant number of undergraduate hours may request an exception to the bachelor’s degree requirement; however, given the competitive nature of the admissions process, such an exception will be granted rarely. Contact the MFA Director at jdavis@iaia.edu.

Several criteria are assessed when an applicant is being considered for a waiver. The criteria include:

  • the applicant’s submission of creative work must show extraordinary accomplishment and engagement with the world of creative writing and writers, comparing favorably with the work of the strongest applicants;
  • the applicant’s college level work, which should be roughly equivalent to two or more years, must demonstrate promise;
  • the applicant’s life experience or professional work should be analogous, in breadth and depth, to the intellectual engagement normally associated with a completed undergraduate education.

To apply for a waiver, please send a detailed letter to the MFA Director describing life experiences, describing college level work and explaining why the Bachelor’s degree was not attained, and addressing, in particular, creative writing experience, such as workshops, conferences, positions, and publications. In addition, include the writing sample (see guidelines) that you will submit with your application.

Should you be accepted into the program, you will need to pay a $200 deposit by March 15 to hold your place.

For questions about the application process, please contact admissions at admissions@iaia.edu

Creative Manuscript

Please submit examples of your work in one of these areas:

  • poetry: a maximum of 10 pages (single-spaced, not more than one poem to a page)
  • fiction: a maximum of 20 pages (double-spaced)
  • creative nonfiction: a maximum of 20 pages (double-spaced)
  • screenwriting: a maximum of 30 pages (industry-standard formatting)

You may apply in two genres, but a complete manuscript must be submitted for both genres in which you choose to apply. Each manuscript should be typewritten, single-sided, numbered in the lower-right hand corner, and set in 12 point Times Roman (or Courier for a screenplay). Please do not staple. Manuscripts will not be returned. Any pages beyond the maximum will not be read.

Personal Essay

Please submit an essay (2–3 typed, double-spaced pages) in which you address the following questions:

  • How long have you been writing seriously?
  • What previous study have you done in writing and literature?
  • Is there any additional experience that seems particularly relevant to your application?
  • Are you prepared to hear direct criticism of your work and apply that criticism to revision?
  • What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of your writing?
  • Do you foresee anything that might prevent you from devoting 25 hours per week to your study or from corresponding consistently with your faculty advisor?

More than transcripts or letters of recommendation, the essay gives us some understanding of your experience with writing and criticism, your goals for work in the program, your readiness to work in the low-residency format, and the appropriateness of your admission.

Craft Essay

Please submit a writing sample (3–4 pages, double-spaced) that demonstrates your abilities as a reader and critical thinker. This sample may be something formal that you have written previously for a class, or you may write a short essay on a literary work you’ve recently read. The essay should in some way engage questions dealing with the writer’s craft and/or ways in which the writer’s work has served as a model for your own literary ambitions.

Admissions Procedure Checklist

  • Application completed and signed
  • Application fee $25 (non-refundable) included with the application
  • Application Essay enclosed
  • Creative Manuscript enclosed
  • Craft Essay enclosed
  • Official college transcipt(s) sent
  • Two letters of recommendation sent directly to the Admissions Office

Application should be submitted electronically or mailed with a $25 application fee (payable to The Institute of American Indian Arts) to:

Admissions Office
The Institute of American Indian Arts
83 Avan Nu Po Road
Santa Fe, NM 87508

To applicants who are reapplying: If you are reapplying to the IAIA MFA in Creative Writing Program within one year of your previous application, submit the following: 1) a new or revised creative manuscript, 2) a new or revised personal essay, 3) a new or revised craft essay, 4) a new application form, and the $25.00 application fee. Updated references and transcripts are optional.

Housing Application

Students who are accepted into the program will be e-mailed a housing application prior to the late July residency.

MFA in Creative Writing Residency-Only Option

Writers wishing to deepen and refine their work and expand their writing community are invited to attend the MFA Residency week as non-degree students.

Join us for seven full days of craft talks, workshops, panels, classes, conferences, and readings featuring some of our finest contemporary writers, as well as guest editors and agents. The twice-annual residencies are rare opportunities to engage in sustained and meaningful conversation with others who share your passion for writing.

The Residency-Only Option is ideal for:

  • individuals who already have an MFA or MA in Creative Writing
  • teachers seeking continuing education credits (the residency awards 3 graduate credits)
  • individuals who are exploring the idea of enrolling in a creative writing graduate program
  • individuals who seek new directions or inspiration for their work

Upcoming Residency Dates

  • July 23-31, 2016
  • January 7-15, 2017
  • July 29-August 6, 2017


The residencies take place on the beautiful campus of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, just 10 miles south of the Santa Fe Plaza. Surrounded by mountains, the IAIA campus features green belts and open spaces for hiking or biking, and opens onto some of the most gorgeous sunsets imaginable.


Each day is filled with presentations and readings designed to provide skills and inspiration for the art of writing. In the mornings, students attend workshops. After lunch they attend craft talks, panels, guest-taught workshops, or meet in conference with visiting writers, agents, and editors. Each evening closes with readings by the MFA faculty and visiting writers. In addition to the scheduled events, the residency includes time for contemplation, writing, and informal gatherings with other students, faculty, and visiting writers.


Residency-Only participants, together with the full-time MFA students, are assigned to a workshop specific to their genre (fiction, creative nonfiction, screenwriting, or poetry). Workshops meet for six sessions and include up to 12 students. Each student receives at least one close critique of his or her manuscript, then spends the remaining workshop hours offering reviews to the other students.

Faculty Mentors

The writers who serve as faculty mentors are outstanding for both their level of literary achievements and for their teaching records and abilities. These accomplished authors bring careful attention and diverse writing styles and voices to the mix. For more information, visit faculty.

Meals & Lodging

Because a strong and supportive community is an integral part of the residency, students are encouraged to reside together for the seven days. In the July-August residency, students stay in the IAIA dorms. In January, students stay in private rooms at the nearby Inn at Santa Fe. Meals are provided by Bon Appetit in the IAIA cafeteria. Students who live in the Santa Fe area are welcome to commute, but should plan their schedules to take full advantage of the 9 am to 7:30 pm immersive experience. Attendance is required at all residency events to receive credit.


Students who have demonstrated talent, are committed to developing their writing, are able to look objectively at their work, and are willing to use criticism in a discriminating manner are encouraged to apply. Admission is based primarily on the quality and promise exhibited in the application manuscript. An undergraduate degree is not required for admission to the Residency-Only option.


To apply, please submit the following:

  • Completed application (Important Note: In the online application, please select “Non-Degree Seeking” status and select “MFA in Creative Writing” as the program/major.)
  • $25, non-refundable application fee
  • Sample of your creative work

Please submit examples of your work:

  • Poetry: maximum of 10 pages (single-spaced, not more than one poem to a page)
  • Fiction: maximum of 15 pages (double-spaced)
  • Creative nonfiction: maximum of 15 pages (double-spaced)
  • Screenwriting: maximum of 20 pages (industry-standard formatting)

Each manuscript should be typewritten, single-sided, numbered in the lower-right hand corner, and set in 12-point, Times Roman (Courier for a screenplay) font. Please do not staple. Manuscripts will not be returned. We encourage you to send a smaller sample of your best work. Any pages beyond the maximum will not be read.

You may also e-mail the creative manuscript in a Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF attachment to admissions@iaia.edu.

Application should be submitted electronically or mailed with a $25 application fee (payable to The Institute of American Indian Arts) to:

Admissions Office
The Institute of American Indian Arts
83 Avan Nu Po Road
Santa Fe, NM 87508


For priority consideration, submit all application materials by June 15th for the July residency or November 15th for the January residency. Applications will be considered up until two weeks before the residency as space allows.

Information will be posted soon.

MFA in Creative Writing Tuition

2016–2017 Creative Writing MFA Fees (First Year)

Admissions Application$25
Books and Materials$1,000
Residency Housing $1,200$100 (refundable)
Classroom and Libraryn/a$75 (refundable)
Key Card and Room Keyn/a$20 (refundable)

2017–2018 Creative Writing MFA Fees (Second Year)

Admissions Applicationn/a
Books and Materials$1,000
Residency Housing $1,800$100 (refundable)
Classroom and Libraryn/a$75 (refundable)
Key Card and Room Keyn/a$20 (refundable)

Creative Writing MFA Additional Fees

Returned Check$30n/a
Student ID Replacement$20n/a
Transcript$5 (per transcript)n/a
Please see course descriptions for additional course fees if applicable.

*Spring residency and graduation residency students are responsible for accommodations. IAIA rate is available at Inn at Santa Fe, 5 miles from campus, at (888) 871-7138.
**No transcript fee for scholarship applications that are sent directly from the Registrar’s Office for currently enrolled students.

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