The Uninitiated’s MFA Rankings

Because no one asked me to, I devised a system to rank creative writing graduate programs in the U.S. in order to provide an alternative to the controversial rankings published by Poets & Writers. (It’s not too late to join in the fun is it?)

The ranking system consists of several weighted categories. These include:

-Points for each member of faculty who signed the complaint letter that disputed the methodology of the Poets & Writers rankings. Having a faculty that is engaged–and has a little spunk–is vital to success in any program.

-Deductions for every time I saw someone criticize the rankings on social media because their school was ranked too low.

-Deduction for each school that Seth Abramson has attended. This one is just for fun. Seth’s work–along with the Creative Writing MFA Blog and the Creative Writing MFA Handbook–has moved the debate on creating transparency in the MFA application process, and has been great. The P&W rankings are really the least of what he and the MFA Handbook have accomplished.

-I reversed the Cost of Living rankings. If a city is more expensive, it must be better! A low cost of living is fine, but you also have to live there for 2-6 years. Is it really better to rank Syracuse, NY as more desirable than New York, NY? Or Spokane as more desirable than Seattle? I don’t think so.

-Added bonus for great college football tradition, minor and major league baseball, and for any school I attended, or that accepted me at some point. (My ranking is very open about its inherent bias.)

-Schools received a bonus if I have good friends who live in their city. Conversely, if my wife would never move to where a school is, points were deducted.

-Finally, I factored in popularity and prestige, using the P&W rankings. Here’s my thinking. Everyone wants to be liked and respected, right? Also, you don’t want people making sour faces at AWP when you tell them what program you’re in. It’s a little thing, but one that still counts.

Here are some other things to remember. First, I only did one list for MFA and PhD programs, and left low-residency programs out altogether. There’s a significant amount of farce in any ranking system, so deal with it. Second, what’s good for me may not be good for you. I’m sorry if you don’t like minor league baseball. But, to me, its presence is a critical part of any graduate program.

And the winners are…

1  University of Texas-Austin (64.3 points, #8 in the P&W MFA rankings)

Who knew that Bevo was such a literary afficionado? I fully expect to see poetry slams featured on the Longhorn Network–assuming Texas A&M doesn’t object.

2  University of Washington (63.7, 64)

3  Boston University (62.5, 50)

4  Portland State University (60.8, 68)

5  The New School (58.4, 42)

6  Emerson College (56.3, 63)

7  New York University (56, 16)

8  University of Oregon (54, 11)

9  Columbia University (52.9, 47)

10  Brown University (52.2, 4)

11  University of California-Irvine (51.1, 15)

12  Hunter College (49.8, 28)

13  University of Southern California (49.5, 6 in PhD)

14  Ohio State University (46.8, 33)

15  University of Nebraska-Lincoln (46, 10 in PhD)

16  University of California-San Diego (44.5, 31)

17  Arizona State University (43, 21)

18  University of Houston (40.7, 19 in MFA/4 in PhD)

19  University of Utah (40.5, 4 in PhD)

20  University of Iowa (40, 1)

21  Florida State University (39, 69 in MFA/2 in PhD)

22  University of Alabama (38.3, 18)

23  University of Idaho (37.9, 71)

24  George Mason University (37.4, 52)

25  University of Miami (37, 56)

You know, it’s not actually too bad of a list, for people who are biased against massive northern rust belt schools, of course. All of the listed schools above should expect to see a healthy boost to their application numbers this year. Feel free to thank me later.


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