Monday, January 24, 2011

Top 10 Creative Writing MFA Program Websites

I've got a new article up at The Huffington Post; I'm hoping to give some recognition to MFA programs that have made real strides in transparency re: their promotional materials. Hope you'll pass on the link!


Eric said...

I'm very surprised with some of your choices. University of Michigan's site, from a design perspective, is atrocious and Southern Illinois University's is an outdated Wordpress theme.

Of course, this kind of ranking is completely subjective, so to each his own.

That said, I love the idea of this post as it calls attention to the new tools available to MFA programs in their efforts to recruit more, and stronger, applicants.

PAH said...

I think the list was more about information and not just aesthetics. Correct me if I'm wrong, Seth.

Aesthetics, after all, are subjective.

Eric said...

I believe the criteria was: design, structure, and transparency.

For the most part, the term design can be attributed to aesthetics, structure, and transparency.

I think the University of Wisconsin-Madison site is fantastic, but I'm guessing he left that off to avoid claims of bias.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Eric,

Design is just one piece of the larger analysis, yes.


Fielding Mellish said...

seth, now that you mentioned the web sites, there is something else that i wanted to point out, and it would be great if you could bring it up when you contact the programs. this was a year when most of the schools i applied to switched to electronic applications. now, some o them did it after the applications have already started (oregon), which was a bit annoying. also, some schools applied the switch to some degree. in that sense i would commend minnesota, especially since not only did they made the switch all the way, but they only require officail transcripts if you are accepted, which is great. i think all the schools should do that.
michigan's application was good, though they should make it possible for an applicant to go directly to a desired page of the application, so that you don't have to go through all the pages if you need to check something on the last one.
indiana has no way of tracking your application, though they responded to every email inquiry withing two minutes, even on saturday, which was incredible.
finally, some places like washington and arizona have electronic applications, yet you still have to mail them three copies of your manuscript.

Almond Punch said...

This was a really good idea.

My personal favorite websites are those that list pics and blurbs of current candidates (Minnesota, Illinois, Miami, Hollins, etc). That gives the program a community-oriented feel, I think, and allows me to hunt around for candidates' published work.

Rob said...


I understand that you have strong feelings about what you think applicants SHOULD care about, but once again I feel like you use very misleading rhetoric to paint an innacurate picture of what your own poll suggests candidates actually DO care about.

For example, in your article, you state, "In recent unscientific polling of hundreds of MFA applicants, fewer than half of respondents rated faculty and alumni among their top five reasons for applying to or matriculating at a graduate creative writing program."

Technically this is true, but what you fail to mention is that of the 15 factors you asked applicants to rate in your poll, faculty was actually the #4 most important factor (48%), behind only funding, reputation and location. Similarly, alumni was tied for the #6 most important factor (24%), ahead of such factors as selectivity, student-to-faculty ratio and cost of living, all of which you list among the attributes applicants "favor" most.

I wonder how you can imply that these are attributes applicants "favor" or consider "most relevant" when your own polls shows that only 9% of those polled consider student-to-faculty ratio a "top five" concern and only 11% consider selectivity a "top 5" concern.

Personally, I don't have a horse in this race, Seth, but I am troubled by the way you use rhetoric to imply a reality that's not entirely accurate. After all, if the goal here is to use an objective approach to understanding what applicants really care about and want (in the interest of helping them find those things) wouldn't it be best to first accept the results of the poll, whether we agree with them or not? The results of your poll tell us, for example, that applicants consider faculty a very important factor (#4 overall), and whether you or I agree with this is totally irrelevant. Bsically, I just don't see how it helps anyone, especially applicants, to pretend, or imply, that applicants don't about something that they actually do.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Rob,

I see what you're saying, but at the same time, you're admitting that the claim I made is true -- fewer than half of applicants rate faculty a top five consideration. That is an astonishing fact, when, for instance, you have AWP out there saying that faculty should be the top consideration for all applicants. So I don't regret making a claim that's both true and enlightening re: applicant mores. As to noting that applicants want to see certain information on MFA websites, that claim was the following:

"...applicants favor attractive websites which are informative and transparent as to those program features most relevant to the average MFA applicant: for instance, funding, healthcare, teaching, selectivity, student-to-faculty ratio, and cost of living..."

Three of those five pieces of information have to do with funding ("funding, healthcare...cost of living"), which certainly ranks ahead of faculty as a consideration for applicants. Teaching ranks right about the same as faculty. Selectivity and student-to-faculty ratio rank, as you say, much lower. The problem is probably how I worded the sentence, because for me the focus was on the first part of it: "...applicants favor websites which are informative and transparent as to those program features..." Meaning, in judging websites these are the traits programs can be transparent about, so these are the pieces of information applicants want to see. 48% of poll respondents in the poll referred to didn't say that "faculty roster" was a Top 5 concern, they said "faculty" was. I took that to mean (as we all do) faculty quality, not just a bunch of names. And MFA program websites can't be transparent as to faculty quality because teaching aptitude and writing aptitude are not one and the same -- having a famous faculty means nothing for what applicants care about seeing on a website if it doesn't transmit any real information about faculty quality.

As to alumni, I do see your point there. I think we can agree that 24% of applicants were saying that they care which writers went to a program. When I have time I'll try to re-write things to make that clearer.


Renee said...

really? Carbondale? I disliked the fact that I had to go to the English program website to find out about actual application details, and then the information was confusing. I had to email someone in the department to determine whether they wanted hard copies of everything and what exactly they wanted filled in on the application. I wouldn't call that a great website.

I thought the University of Michigan's website, however, was quite user-friendly

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Rob,

It's fixed now.


Rob said...


Thanks for your reply and for making those changes to the article. It's certainly a lot clearer now.

As I said before, I really don't have a horse in this race, and, for the record, I certainly don't think faculty should be the number one factor (as AWP suggests) and am not even sure it should be a top 5 factor. As you point out yourself, an impressive roster of big name faculty doesn't always translate to a good educational experience for students.

At the same time, your polling results are compelling, and I don't think we should downplay too much the fact that both faculty and alumni seem to be important to applicants. They at least rank among the top 6 of the 15 factors you listed. I don't know if this is good or bad; I just know that this is what the numbers suggest.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the article, Seth. I hope it does help keep the programs accountable: we applicants are not in a position to critique the sites too vociferously.

The Editor said...

I love Michigan's site. No, maybe it's not great to look at but the information is easy to access and they have very clear directions on how to apply. I feel they have more information about what their program offers than many of the other sites. I applied to Michigan on the basis I really felt like I knew what I would be getting myself into if I was lucky enough to get accepted.

Patrick said...

Anyone else get a little annoyed at programs that are completely online regarding applications, but won't send emails to your rec letter writers until the rest of the application is submitted and paid for?

x said...

@Patrick Dunn:

Me. It's annoying. =X

It'd be nice if those schools gave my recommenders more time to write their letters.

The Editor said...

I wish schools would all be entirely online for submissions. I hate the schools that make you submit half of it online and the other half you have to mail. On one of my school's websites recently I saw it said to mail three copies of my writing sample. It scared me because I'm pretty sure I did back when I sent it out in December but I never wrote myself a note so now I'm afraid I only sent one. If everything was just submitted entirely online I wouldn't even be worrying about it.

Katie Oh said...

i think my favorite might be penn state's website, because i like going to it and feeling like it's 1996 again. :P

DamionWoodley said...

I like Penn State as well. I currently go to University of Washington trying to be a web editor

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Steffi said...

Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

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