Monday, October 20, 2008

A Brief Clarification on Purdue MFA Funding

Seth's excellent Poets and Writers article was accurate in noting that Purdue's $13,000 stipend is especially generous given the low cost of living in West Lafayette. Hopefully, I can shed some light on Purdue's teaching and service opportunities. One of the reasons that Purdue's program has been a well kept secret until recent years is that we are not as explicit as we could be in advertising that all of our students are guaranteed to teach at least two sections of Introduction to Creative Writing.

The program does indeed offer four funded editorial and administrative positions: Editor and Chief of Sycamore Review, Managing Editor of Sycamore Review, Visiting Writers Series Coordinator, and Assistant Director of Creative Writing. These are not in lieu of teaching responsibilities, but are rather opportunities for students to earn more money while also earning valuable professional development experience.

Our website could certainly be clearer, and we are in the process of an update and redesign, with the goal of providing more transparent information about our teaching and funding, while also working within the boundaries of our department at large. At present, The English Department's Graduate Studies Committee requires that all graduate programs advertise their funding as a flat $13,000 annual stipend (plus full tuition waiver). The committee's reasoning is that they want TAs to leave as much time as possible for their academic and creative work, and therefore don't necessarily encourage teaching more than one class per semester. While the MFA program's teaching opportunities are an exception, and the opportunity for earning up to $19,000 does exist, our program still has to follow the guidelines of the department, and advertise the minimum stipend.

Lastly, Purdue does offer a variety of $18,000 fellowships through the College of Liberal Arts, but these fellowships are distributed among several departments throughout the College. They can either be a substitute for or a supplement to a Teaching Assistantship. The MFA admissions committee automatically applies on behalf of admitted students for any fellowships they might qualify for.

As always, many thanks to Seth for navigating hundreds of labyrinthine program websites to uncover those programs that offer their students what they are looking for: Funded time to write, and the opportunity to teach creative writing. Thanks to his hard work, applicants have become better consumers and programs are now more aware of how vital it is to provide as much information possible.

If you have any other questions about the Purdue MFA, don't hesitate to reach me via the blog, or at

Chris Arnold
Assistant Director of Creative Writing
Second year MFA fiction writer
Purdue University


Seth Abramson said...

Hi Chris,

Thank you so much for this update/clarification. I can honestly say that, from day one, my goal has been to increase the transparency of the process for applicants and--at the same time--help programs to ensure they're putting their best foot forward.

Several programs have already changed their websites in the wake of my article, listing clearly for the first time financial aid offerings they've had (they say, and I've no reason not to believe them) for years. The very, very few programs who have contacted me or P&W with concerns have quickly--some might say near-immediately--realized that their own websites are wrong, or else merely woefully inadequate to their short-/long-term goals, and are now setting about fixing them.

I can't say how gratified I am by this, in part because a) I predicted it, and, more importantly, b) I welcome it warmly as a positive development and just an all-around great result. Just as I've said about my rankings, every successive instance of them is more accurate than the last. That's because programs are increasing their transparency in response to the media finally trying to keep them honest (or, stated much more neutrally, to help them help themselves).

When I go to a program's website and see something that wasn't there just a week ago--as to its funding package--I'll admit I feel a huge amount of pride, and hope applicants for years to come will benefit from what's happened here. This is truly a sea-change in the field of CW graduate study, and it's happening right now. I look forward to a future second article on funding--at some point over the next year or so--which will take into account all these changes in programs' online promotional materials.

Best wishes,

Lisa N.R. said...

Thank you Chris and Seth. Purdue has just jumped up my list.

Raysen said...

I've had my eye on Purdue for awhile and was hoping no one else would notice. Damn it.

Anyway, I raised a question in the "MFA Funding" blog thread below. Maybe I can raise it here as well. If I'm lucky enough to get accepted by Purdue, will funding be guaranteed for all students regardless of need? What I'm wondering about is: I can afford the MFA education, but elect not to because I feel the market for an MFA education is such that no one should have to pay much (if any) at a top program.

Josh said...

I'll speak to that, raysen:

If you're accepted at Purdue, you'll receive the $13,000 stipend (and tuition remission). Even if you're Joe the Plumber.

Christopher Arnold said...


Josh is correct--all students accepted to Purdue's MFA program receive the minimum $13,000 stipend and full tuition remission with their teaching assistantship.

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