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General Guidelines for Portfolio Submission

The only official prerequisites for students wishing to study Creative Writing at the undergraduate level normally are a full year first-year English course and permission of the Department of English. Students, however, do not need to be English majors. Students who take Creative Writing courses range from full-time students to working adults. 

To gain permission to enroll in any Creative Writing course, except the Introductory Creative Writing half course, students must submit a writing portfolio, the equivalent of an audition.  Because of high demand for most of these courses (they average between 60 and 100 applications for 20 places), we require a portfolio from students, on average 25 to 40 pages of writing, typed and double-spaced, on the basis of which the Department determines admission. 

The material you submit in your portfolio should match the genre of the course you are applying to. Note: the highly competitive nature of admission to Creative Writing courses means that NOT ALL STUDENTS GET IN.  If you are not accepted when you first apply, we encourage you to try again another year, and to make an appointment with the Canadian-Writer-in-Residence/Calgary Distinguished Writers’ Program, who is available to provide feedback on students’ work.  

Because you cannot register in portfolio admission courses until you receive permission from the Department, undergraduates should register in a second-choice course. 

In addition to reading carefully the specific details concerning portfolio submissions for individual courses, you should keep in mind the following general advice:

  • Try to demonstrate as wide a range of your writing abilities as possible.  For instance, in fiction a range of narrative possibilities (even if they are fragments) will demonstrate your abilities (a good descriptive scene, a good action scene, a good scene that employs dialogue) better than one or two “complete” short stories that might fail.  Formulaic science fiction and imitative television detective fiction may not represent your potential abilities best.  With poetry, instead of submitting a portfolio of 20 rhymed-stanza “hurtin’” poems about a love relationship you had that turned sour, you might include poems on other subjects and in other formats.  Variety in the form and content of your submission alerts the instructor to the breadth and depth of your engagement with writing to date.
  • Your acceptance into the class (or not) is not necessarily an absolute judgment of your writing ability at this point.  We receive many more portfolios than there are places in Creative Writing classes, and if you do not get into one class, you may get into another in another year, or you may gain admission to a class in another genre.  If you are not accepted, please don’t be discouraged.  Just keep writing (sign up for a Continuing Education Creative Writing class, if you can) and try again.
  • The questions asked on portfolio submission forms regarding your background (previous writing courses taken, which recent literary titles you have read, etc.) have no right or wrong answers.  They are intended to give the instructor a sense of what level of previous writing or reading experience the members of the class--when chosen--possess.  This is useful information for the instructor in fine-tuning his or her curriculum for the course. 

While our Creative Writing courses encourage diverse approaches to writing, these courses are instruction in literary writing. They are not courses in how to get published. They are courses about how to become a better writer, with respect to language, image, structure, form and all the other elements of poetry and fiction. These courses focus entirely on the craft of writing well within a literary context. 

Fill out the form that the applicable course requires, available either online (http://english.ucalgary.ca/cwundergrad), or from the Department office on the 11th floor of Social Sciences (SS 1152), and hand in your portfolio by the date specified on the form (early August). By the first week of September you will be informed or can contact the Department office to learn whether you have been given permission to register. Bring the portfolio, or mail it to:

Department of English
11th floor, Social Sciences Building
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB  T2N 1N4 

The forms ask for your name, student ID number, e-mail address, previous English courses and grades, previous creative workshops (where, with whom, and your grade) and other required information. 

Good luck, and we look forward to seeing you in a Creative Writing course in the future.