Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Top 25 Underrated Creative Writing MFA Programs (Article from The Huffington Post)

See the full listing here.


Claire Dawn said...


Unknown said...

Nice to see that UCSD's future is growing.

Ashley Brooke said...

I'm a current student at Florida Atlantic University if anybody has any questions.

Apply apply apply. We're very well funded and kind of a secret. :)

Lauren said...

great article! some of my prospective programs are on there :) although, i hope people actually do research into the faculty of these colleges and base their decisions on who they will be studying with instead of going to a program because it's a got decent funding or it's located in a top-ranking "cool" town. yes, richmond/norfolk/miami/boulder are great locations. but what should matter is that students read and follow the writers they admire. location and money shouldn't be the main reasons to apply to creative writing programs.

i say this because i recently scratched one of those schools off my list because i couldn't stand the fiction faculty's body of work. when i called the office/emailed questions for simple information that wasn't provided on the website, they were rude and unhelpful. emails remain unanswered.

on the other hand, i looked into a program that is not on the huffpo list, and i noticed that it's also gotten some flack on this board. i'm applying because the writers there are so talented and i want to work with them (but i have to admit that location is pretty sweet, too).

nevertheless, articles like these are extremely helpful to people like me and i appreciate it. thanks!

FZA said...


I have to respectfully disagree with you to a certain extent. It's always good to be excited about the faculty and to think that a school is a good fit because faculty aesthetics are complimentary to your own. BUT I think it's a mistake to pick a school based on its faculty. I know this sounds strange. But good writers are not the same thing as good teachers. There is nothing more disappointing than workshopping or working with a writer whose work you love and realizing that he's either not a good teacher, doesn't care about trying to teach well, or both. On the flip side, I've found some wonderful mentors in writers who I might not have picked out based on their writing out of a large group.

I think it's much smarter to pick based on the way a program is structured, funding, and even location-- these things are more definable, and less likely to disappoint you.

Ultimately, the ideal school for anyone will have a mix of all these factors, faculty included.

I do have a school on my list, for example, that I'm particularly excited about because of a faculty member. But not because she's a wonderful writer, though she is, but because I've heard what a thoughtful and incredible teacher she is.

Lauren said...


That's a good point. There are a ton of factors that should be considered before taking the time to apply to a program. Of course, money/location/structure are things I take seriously in the decision to apply to a school. I like money, and i like to live in a cool place. But I think those who are serious about their craft should follow the writers with which they are familiar and they respect.

PAH said...

@ Blob and Loren

For me, choosing a school based mostly on faculty is like choosing to play for a sports team because you like the coach.

To extrapolate on my metaphor: I played college baseball and in four years I had 3 different assistant coaches and 2 different head coaches. And I've known a lot of players in different programs where this happened. My first head coach, in fact, told us a story about why he chose to play where he did in college (because the coach). He coached at the school 1 year and left to a better program and his recruiting class in the dust.

There are no guarantees a coach will still be there when you get there or stay there during your tenure. And the same goes for writing faculties.

If after one year the teacher moves on -- or you find out doesn't teach all that much and is just used as a name to get apps and prestige...then you might be more opposed to what Blob mentioned, the school's location and funding are usually pretty static.

Faculty played a very small part for me.

FZA said...

@writer dude

Interesting perspective and I like the analogy. But I have to say, I'd more likely go to a team because of a coach than a school because of a writer. Sure, either one could leave the minute you arrive. BUT I do think you can more or less evaluate how good a coach (or coaching staff) is than how good of a TEACHER a writer is. A coach coaches, so his accomplishments should speak for themselves. But a writer primarily writes, not teaches and the two do not necessarily lend themselves to one another.

I've experienced the opportunity to work with one of my favorite, favorite writers (someone who remains one of my favorite writers). But this person was not a good teacher, he/she very clearly did not want to teach and wasn't particularly skilled at it. I've also had WONDERFUL teachers and mentors, whose work I did not know beforehand and didn't have some of the star power. I never ended up going to a school because of a faculty member. But I've experienced the disappointment enough to know that if I had picked a school for that reason, I'd be pretty upset.

Having said that, I still got something out of the not-so great teachers. But they're not the ones who really improved my writing.

I also remember someone on an old mailbag (maybe even the current one, it's so long now), mentioning that a certain school was their top choice because of a particular faculty member. Someone else chimed in (maybe it was Seth) to say that that particular faculty member barely taught and was essentially retired. But nothing on the website indicated that.

Anyway, the reality is, I think, that most of the good programs are partly considered good because they have good faculty members.

PAH said...

@ Blob

Good point. And I'd agree. It would make more sense to go to a team for a coach than teacher. Coaching was a factor while choosing undergrad...faculty has not been a factor in choosing MFA programs.

And a coach doesn't have to have been an amazing baseball player to coach it well. Nor does he need to have the same swing and throwing motion as you ;)

Anonymous said...

Faculty has played little in my choices, mostly because MFA faculty members write books that I'm usually not gravitated towards (I'm actually not that big of a fan of reading literary fiction but oddly like writing it), and thus have never heard of them. Also, going to a school that offers little funding and going into tens of thousands of dollars in debt (if you don't come from wealth) is insane. I want to get an MFA but I also realize it has its limitations using it in the "real" world.

Unknown said...

@Ashley Brooke,

Glad to hear about FAU. It's a program I was considering (in nonfiction), and the late deadline is appealing! My email is I'd love to hear more about Boca in general--cost of living, things to do, etc. I had trouble finding in-depth information online.

I'd love to hear from you!


STC said...

The most pervasive opinion on this blog is that faculty should not be an important factor when evaluating strength of an MFA program. I am with Lauren on this one, though.

Obviously not all great writers make great "teachers" -- creative writing and teaching are two separate endeavors that require two totally different skill sets and passions -- but we are not talking about merely "teachers" here, we are also talking about potential mentors whom we might emulate and imitate, consciously or subconsciously, and whose artistic process and philosophy and even aesthetic may influence our own.

I don't mean we will become blind disciples or writer drones, but there is something to be said for the importance of mentoring in all disciplines, artistic, spiritual, whatever; it's a relationship that is and has always been important to me, in life and in writing.

Of course research whether the faculty members are active. Of course research whether they are committed to their students as well as to their own work. And of course don't put faculty above strong funding, which I agree is a more, even much more, important criterion. But I wouldn't totally disregard faculty. One of my personal statement prompts -- can't remember which -- actually asks that I express why I want to work with that institution's particular faculty.

I may be wrong. Probably current candidates and graduates of programs can speak to this issue more than I can. But I do seek to gain guidance and wisdom during my experience in an MFA program, as well as a community, as well as time to write and to think about writing, and therefore I can't deny that I consider the faculty.

Pet & Gone said...

I think it's probably a bad move to consider faculty. For all the reasons noted and more (what if that faculty member transfers/retires your first year in?).

But I picked a program with a particular faculty member in mind and couldn't be more thrilled with him.

Establish your criteria. Stick with it, even if others don't agree. This is a big decision.

Rorick said...

About faculty: I don't think there's anything wrong with making faculty a top priority. Yes, good writers are not always good teachers, but you also need to respect the work of your professors. If your professor is not writing on a level you aspire to, how can you expect that they'll be able to help you write on that level?

Jeff said...
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Jeff said...
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jdubs said...

@EGS and others who have expressed similar sentiments:

I`m curious that you don`t enjoy reading literary fiction, but (A) enjoy writing it and (B) want to pursue an MFA where, I imagine, a large percentage of your time will be spent reading and writing literary fiction. I write poetry, where I think "genre" is less of an issue, but I would imagine that just as a "genre" writer would be frustrated by a very conservative or tradionally minded workshop, someone writing literary fiction might have a hard time workshopping with people who profess to dislike and not read it.

I really don`t mean this to come off as accusatory or judgmental. I`m truly curious. I love reading poetry and I read it every day and it inspires my writing and thinking, and this is a big part of the MFA for me is the time to read and consider poetry more than I ever have before.

PAH said...

@ DMC1985

I can see where EGS is coming from. Personally, it's not that I dislike "literary fiction" -- I think there is just a lot of bad literary fiction out there and THAT'S what I don't like. And the idea that a story has to be drab and deliberately confusing to be "artistic".

I like genreless fiction more than anything else, even if it falls more on the side of commercialism. To me, there is a difference between "commercial" writing and "successful" writing, if we are speaking semantics -- a distinction that gets blurred often. I always found it weird that if anything is extremely successful it is immediately suspected of not being art or significant.

Pot Boilers (like Twilight) give successful writing a bad name and it then all gets lumped together as "commercial". But Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, I think, are good examples of successful genreless writing that is significant and funny; artistic and irreverent.

Anonymous said...

I guess I should clarify and say that I'm not a huge fan of 21st century literary fiction, but love 19th century literature to pieces. And there are some contemporary writers that I do enjoy, and I would also enjoy being exposed to more authors. I just have a tendency to avoid writing, like Writer Dude mentioned, that is "drab and deliberately confusing," which constitutes so much of what is being written nowadays (imo).

So yeah, what Writer Dude said - I like GOOD literary fiction but have a hard time finding it, thus I tend to stick to specific genres and authors. And I also just like to read for entertainment - yes, I'm a big fan of romance novels. :)

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