Bwogger Daniel Ortega-Venni shares his experience as a creative writing major in this new ongoing feature from Bwog!

Major Declaration is around the corner and to help you with this process, five of Bwog’s best and brightest are here to guide you through some of the majors at Columbia and Barnard! We start with the Creative Writing major, perhaps one of the most easygoing and fun majors (I’m not biased, I swear).


The Creative Writing Major is offered by the Creative Writing Program in the School of the Arts for Columbia students and consists of 36 credits minimum (divided as follows):

  • 15 of those credits come from workshops, which are each 3 credits. Four of them have to be in your concentration/chosen genre (either fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry) and the last one has to be in one of the other two genres. These classes are divided into levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced, and senior. The beginner workshops in each genre don’t require any sort of writing samples, but tend to fill up fast, since they are super small. Every other workshop requires writing samples of increasing size, starting at 10 pages.
  • 12 of the credits come from seminars, which are also 3 credits apiece. These aren’t contingent on your concentration, so you can take any of the ones you want – there are even cross-genre seminars for those that don’t want to limit themselves in what they read.
  • 9 credits come from related courses (or electives), which can basically be whatever you wish so long as you run them by your faculty advisor first.

The seminars and workshops only meet once a week, but the related courses vary depending on what you choose. Unless you’re given permission, you’re only allowed to take one workshop and two seminars max per semester.

NOTE: Barnard only offers creative writing concentrations. I cannot speak to the requirements for that but Barnard’s English department has some information on their website.

Overview of the Classes:

Workshops: Each workshop functions more or less in the same way – you’re expected to hand in two (or three – my third workshop said three was required while my second said three was optional) works of at most 20 pages to share with the class. The class is given a week to read the submission and write up a letter to the author and is expected to come to class ready to critique the piece with everyone else. Usually, two or three people are critiqued per class and the teacher leads the discussion, but in one of my workshops, the students were randomly selected to lead. The professor might also give some exercises and readings throughout the semester and perhaps a midterm assignment (which, for me, was to interview another person in the class about one of their submissions). For the “final,” you’re expected to “radically revise” an earlier submission, but in my third workshop, you could also theoretically submit an entirely new piece.

Seminars: The seminars are basically any standard English class but geared much more towards understanding craft rather than themes and underlying messages (but we talk about those too sometimes!) The topic of these seminars changes every semester. My first one was called “The First Person,” where we discussed the significance of the first-person narrative and how it can be turned on its head or subverted. The one I’m taking right now is called “Time Moves Both Ways” and is about time travel as well as the way in which time can be manipulated in stories. In both seminars, you’re expected to read a book a week as well as any other additional readings that may be assigned. However, the workload varied between the seminars. In “The First Person,” I was expected to write a weekly response to the novel assigned as well as submit three creative exercises by the end of the semester (the prompts were supplied by my professor). The final assignment was a short essay about one of the books. However, in “Time Moves Both Ways,” we’re supposed to hand in seven creative exercises, complete a time-inflected adaptation of some existing piece of fiction and, finally, revise one of our earlier exercises as the final project. Either way, you will definitely be doing a lot of readings for the class, but all of the assigned ones will, for the most part, be really interesting and fun to read!

Department Newsletter:

The Creative Writing Department sends a newsletter out to all of the undergraduate creative writing majors, usually with a list of events. If you’re not yet signed up, make sure you are because they also send important information regarding classes that will be offered in the coming semesters as well as information about applying for the major (which is earlier than the usual deadline for declaring a major). I have not been to any of these events, so I cannot remark on them, but they are still an option for any and all to attend.

Applying for the Major:

If you decide to apply for the major, you’ll need to fill out a form with some basic information and attach a writing sample of around 15-20 pages (or 10-15 if you’re writing poetry) based on the genre you want to concentrate in. You can also double concentrate or do a cross-genre concentration, but you’ll need to submit a piece in both of the genres you’re interested in.

Last Minute Tips:

Before finishing, let me give you prospective creative writing majors some tips about how to navigate this major:

  • Don’t be afraid to use different parts of the same story (or revisions of older submissions) in your applications to other workshops or for the major! I’ve workshopped different revisions of the same story at least twice – if you find it helpful, go for it!
  • If you apply for the major and don’t hear back within a month or so, stop by the creative writing department in 609 Kent to ask Dorla, the head, directly.
  • Make sure you save up your printing dollars, because you’ll be using a lot of them to print out your submissions for workshops.
  • If you’re a slow reader, like me, listen to the books you need to read for class on Audible!

If any of this sounds awesome – and it should – go ahead and get started on building up your writing samples! Good luck!

look at all the writing u will be doing! :0 via Pixabay