Frequently Asked Questions


What are you looking for in the Writing Sample?

Your storytelling abilities. The ability to surprise. To engage. To enrage. To shock. We are looking for maturity of topic, understanding of character, playfulness with genre. Ambition, scope, passion. In short: Potential. You may submit a play, screenplay or teleplay. No journalism, prose or poetry please.

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What are you looking for in the one-page Statement of Purpose?

Most importantly, we are looking for a deeper understanding of your background and goals as a writer. You may also address what you hope to learn in this Program and/or what you will bring to your peer group. We are looking for YOU in your Statement. Don't write what you think you should, write who you are.

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Do I have to be proficient or knowledgeable in screenwriting, TV writing and playwriting in order to be accepted in the Program?

No. The Program is looking for creative writers who know how to spin a story. We are much more interested in your “voice” than your knowledge of proper formatting.

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Will I be able to take classes outside of screenwriting, TV writing and playwriting?

Yes. One of the reasons this MFA program is so unique is that it allows the student to focus on and/or discover other interests. As a graduate student, you will be able to (and are encouraged to) take advanced classes in departments such as Performance Studies, Radio-TV-Film, Theatre and more. Some examples of such classes are Studies in Film Noir & Neo Noir, Adaptation and Stage of Texts, a seminar on Media and Performance, Computer Animation, Dramatic Directing, Studies in American Theatre and Drama.

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Will any “specialized” writing courses will be offered?

Yes, a variety of “topics” courses are usually offered once a year. Some examples of past courses are: Writing The Comedy, Writing Character, Writing the Romantic Comedy, Story Structure in the Feature Film, Writing the Thriller, Writing the TV Pilot, Writing the Successful Short Film and Rewriting.

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Who will my teachers be?

Depending on the classes you elect to take, your teachers will most likely vary each quarter. Northwestern teachers are working writers with a wealth of experience and anecdotes (see faculty). They understand the Art of Writing, the Business of Writing, and the Life of a Writer.

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Although I'm interested in exploring screenwriting, mostly I consider myself a playwright and I'm interested in an MFA in playwriting. Is this the right program for me?

Absolutely. Our goal is to admit 6 students per year (out of 12) who identify themselves as primarily playwrights, so you'll be with a like-minded cohort. Although our approach is interdisciplinary and we believe you'll be excited by all three idioms, your second year courses and activities can be organized around playwriting if you so choose. For example, your second year full-length project (created over 3 courses) can be a play. In addition, you will have opportunities to see your work read/workshopped and/or possibly in your second year. Click on the icon above of the Theatre Department (a partner in the MFA): You'll be with the next generation of theatrical directors, designers and actors. Look also at our list of past and current faculty and visiting artists – Tracy Letts, Wendy Macleod, Tony Kushner, Barbara Wallace/Tom Wolfe, Mary Zimmerman, Frank Galati, Jamie Pachino. Leading voices and rising voices in theatre. Furthermore, two of our faculty, Rebecca Gilman and Brett Neveu, are prominent working playwrights (see their faculty bios for information). Finally, you'll be in Chicago, the center of playwriting/theatre in the country. So if you're a playwright, this is a great program for you.

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Although I'm interested in exploring playwriting, I'm mostly interested in screenwriting. Is this the right program for me?

Absolutely. Although our approach is interdisciplinary and while we believe you'll be excited by playwriting and the possibility of having a command of different media forms, you are required to take only one course in which the product is a play. The rest of your courses and activities can be organized around screenwriting if you so choose: Writing a full-length screenplay in your second year, taking topic courses that concentrate on screenwriting, possibly producing one of your screenplays as a film or video. So yes, this is a great program for you.

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I've heard of something called the "Northwestern Mafia"... is there really such a thing?

Well, not in the literal sense, but Northwestern alumni are known for their generosity, warmth, and willingness to “give back.” Other qualities Northwestern alumni are known for: helping new arrivals to LA or NY find jobs or even apartments; recommending their peers and colleagues for jobs, grants, fellowships; building a strong sense of community; adhering to the belief that “when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.”

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Is the GRE required?

No. Writers can be unconventional. Some don't test well, but still have tremendous potential. We emphasize the writing sample, and statement of purpose over tests.

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Am I REQUIRED to film/stage my play, screenplay or TV play in order to graduate?

No. You are required to complete the 18 units of coursework. You are required to create a portfolio of plays, screenplays, and/or television plays (most of which can be done within the context of courses). Whether you bring one of your pieces to life in some way is optional, although highly encouraged.

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How much is tuition?

Our tuition next year will be approximately $50,000. Financial assistance includes $6,000 for the first year of enrollment, as well as a full health insurance subsidy for the two years of the program. You are guaranteed at least one quarter of graduate assistantship (GAship) during your second year of enrollment. During the quarter you are GA, your tuition is covered by the program, and you will receive a monthly living stipend. The Graduate School can be contacted regarding further financial assistance.

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Can the writing sample be more than ten pages?

Nope. It's got to be ten. Due to the volume of applications we receive, we can only read ten pages from everyone. These can be any ten pages that you want to submit: an excerpt; a complete work; a few shorter works. Just keep it under ten teleplay, screenplay or play pages—no prose, poetry or short stories, please.

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Is there anything else you can tell me about the essay questions?

Choose the one you're most excited to write. If you choose the second one, it's OK to write about a movie and a remake or a play turned into a movie. In other words, the same work that's been translated in some way. What you choose and the way you analyze it will show that it's meaningful to you so don't be overly concerned with making that connection. Mostly, we just want to see how your mind works and how you view films, television shows, and plays critically.

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Other questions

Please email write@northwestern.edu or call 847-467-1157. We look forward to speaking to you.

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