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2012 MFA Rankings: The Top Fifty

 Frequently Asked Questions About the Rankings
Additional Rankings of Full-Residencies

Note: The following table appeared in the September/October 2011 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Our most recent coverage of MFA programs is available in the September/October 2012 issue, on newsstands now.

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 2012 rankings of the nation's top fifty MFA programs.

Notes: The top-fifty and honorable-mentions rankings correspond to the most frequently applied-to programs for the 2010–2011 application cycle, as reported by 640 MFA applicants surveyed from April 16, 2010, to April 15, 2011. [star] (honorable mention); — (unranked); Nonfiction Rank: n/a (not applicable) indicates nonfiction track is not offered; Total-Funding Rank takes into account program duration; Selectivity Rank: n.d. (no data available); Size refers to total number of students per matriculating class: XS (2–9), S (10–19), M (20–31), L (32–49), XL (50+); Full Funding refers to the percentage of a matriculating class that receives full funding: Very Few (0–15), Few (16–29), Some (30–59), Most (60–89), Nearly All (90–99), All (100); Cost of Living is compared with Ann Arbor, Michigan; Teaching Load: n/a (not applicable) indicates too few teaching appointments to warrant inclusion in this category, n.d. (no data available) indicates teaching load is unknown, Light (an average of two courses or fewer to teach per academic year), Average (an average of three courses to teach per academic year), Heavy (an average of four courses or more to teach per academic year); GRE Required: * (GRE scores required of applicants with an undergraduate GPA below 3.0), ** (GRE subject test is also preferred or required), *** (scores required only from applicants seeking funding); Cross-genre: (genre availability may be limited by program). Read more information about the methodology used to determine the rankings and check out the rankings of the remaining eighty-one full-residency MFA programs.

Reader Comments

  • umass76 says...

    Hi Caterina, I'm sorry my responses struck you as condescending (or hostile) -- I don't agree with that representation, but I do know it was never my intent to condescend to you or to get personal with you, so I do regret hearing that you feel that way. For my part, I felt your comments here were often couched as personal attacks, including several references to aspects of my personal life (and other things which have nothing to do with the only appropriate topic for this space, the ranking methodology), but I know you don't agree with me on that -- and I respect your right to disagree on that -- and at this point it probably doesn't suit either of us to continue this back-and-forth. I think (and hope) you've had an adequate chance here to present your opinions; my guess is that anyone reading this thread will readily see both your position and mine. It's part of my job, in my view, to correct misimpressions people may have about the ranking methodology; I can't promise folks will always admire or appreciate the way I do that, but I do it as professionally as I can and just hope for the best. I don't harbor any ill will toward you, and hope you feel the same about me. All I can do now is sincerely wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors. Regards, --Seth

  • Caterina says...

    Online, Seth feels often works to "disabuse" others of notions (of him or his work) that he believes are inaccurate.
    I need to do the same, now that I've reread his initial response to me. (I haven't read his most recent postings and don't intend to read them, or any new ones, very soon; starting with his first posting, he made this topic personal when he referred to the small number of emails I wrote him over the years--as if he thought I was trying to pretend I'm someone I'm not and he was going to publicly expose me by referring to those emails--and I felt his responses were likely to get only more hostile.)
    1) I was very polite in my email exchanges with Seth until I finally got annoyed by his email to me on July 2, 2010, which was a response to another concern I had expressed to him about these rankings and which he opened by saying "I see where your confusion lies." I didn't consider it appropriate for a non-statistician to suggest that I must simply be confused about his statistical methods (it came across to me as very pedantic--not the way any professor of mine ever treated me).
    Prior to that, the last email I'd gotten from Seth was on May 28. It was a mass email promoting "Northerners." I also emailed him (and Tom Kealey) about the rankings on January 17, 2010.
    2) I NEVER said that I felt my professional opportunities were being hindered. I took a long time to finish my now-287-page thesis (which was 347 pages at the time of my thesis defense) because I didn't want to defend it until I felt it was closer to "finished"; though I completed my coursework in 2003, I didn't defend my thesis until last December, so I actually completed my MFA at the end of the fall of 2010; thus, I didn't even start applying for full-time jobs that might be compatible with an MFA until January. For two and-a-half years in the interim, I worked as a newspaper reporter (writing feature stories, mainly).
    I DID, however, express concern that these rankings COULD unfairly affect graduates' prospects for employment.
    Now that I've had a chance to clarify the content of my most recent emails to/from Seth Abramson:
    In June I finished editing a sizable portion of a book collection that's under contract with a well known academic publishing company (which I won't name because I don't want to drag them into this)--a job I got in large part because of my MFA.
    I don't want to be misrepresented. I also don't want to subject myself right now to any more "explanations" of why I just don't understand Seth's rankings. I do understand them. I just don't agree with certain of his conclusions, and I made a reasonable case for why I don't.
    As I mentioned yesterday, my brother is a statistician--his PhD is in mathematical statistics, and his dissertation, in which he disproved a well-known lemma, heavily utilized game theory--and he knows how tricky it is to interpret "hard data" of the sort on which this ranking system is based.

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