2011 MFA Rankings: The Top Fifty

by Seth Abramson

Special Section

Posted 9.1.10

September/October 2010

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A combination of hard data from programs that release funding and admissions figures to the public and a vital survey of what the individuals comprising the next generation of U.S. poets and writers have to say about their own priorities in choosing a postgraduate program, here are the 2011 rankings of the nation's top fifty MFA programs.

2011 MFA Rankings




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capablanca says...


Talent always trumps everything else. At the same time, getting an MFA gives a lot of time to develop that talent and give it direction. As a former editor for a literary journal, I can tell you that where/if someone went to school had no bearing on my decision-making. I didn't even look at it. But, in truth, most writers are getting an MFA because it offers you time and good company, both of which are invaluable.


I think one has to take these rankings with a grain of salt. Still, they're useful. Before Seth started doing these polls Tom Kealey wrote the MFA handbook, people were relying on another poll done in 1998. And they were doing that because the programs themselves weren't being as forthcoming as they might have been. Schools like Columbia were relying on name recognition and general prestige, and students were paying a lot of money for something they didn't need to pay any money for (ideally). Tom began with a simple thesis, that schools that paid for their students' way were probably the schools that cared more about their students.

These polls seem to me to be a mix of that original "prestige" idea along with Tom's thesis, which is a lot healthier than the way it was before. I think one should take them for what they are--and, let's be honest, Seth is honest to a fault regarding how he puts these rankings together--and use them as one of many resources when making these decisions. It's better than it used to be. To "repeal" these rankings would give the programs an incentive to return to the days when their websites hadn't been updated since that 1998 poll.

And if you have a better alternative, throw it out there.

jaye fortune says...

There's a plethora of ads touting various MFA programs in writers' magazines.

With grad. school being incredibly expensive,is it in every serious writers best interest to acquire an MFA.

Does talent trump an MFA or is it necessary to have the MFA behind your surname to have work considered?

Roger Lathbury says...

In my judgment, these rankings are a very bad idea. To say that one program is "better" than another as these rankings imply is as wrong-headed as saying that one kind of writer is "better" than another or that one writer irrespective of other considerations is able to foster the talents of a student better than another.

Persons considering MFA programs should examine the programs one by one for their qualities. Rank ordering, which seems dubious and irrelevant in itself, instead of helping that process encourages a snobbery that would be absurd and dismissible were not our culture so ready to embrace it.