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Jan 11, 2007, 11:43 PM

Post #301 of 764 (13925 views)
Re: [JKicker] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't want to brag, but most of my links are hot. With a little help from a moderator, of course.

Clench Million

Jan 12, 2007, 3:18 AM

Post #302 of 764 (13906 views)
Re: [umass76] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post

My research suggests there are maybe 110 or so (and yes, I'm rounding toward this number to make the math easier) programs which ought to be taken quite seriously, which would make 11 spots around a 10% difference in "score."

I guess this is just our difference of opinion. I wouldn't insult these programs by saying they shouldnt' be taken seriously, but I think that if we were say doing a ranking of the top 30 programs there are really only 44 or so that could seariously make a claim to be in there. It is like if we were making a list of the top skylines in the world. I guess technically every city has a skyline, so there are a billion candidates, but I can't imagine more than 15 or 20 having any real claim.

Like Hopper said, this is an issue that gets more important as we go up the list. An 11 spot difference in the 50s doesn't mean much. But an 11 spot difference in the top 20 is a huge difference, at least it strikes me that way.

I stopped taking math classes in high school, so this talk of margin of errors and such flies over my head. What I meant wasn't really that the math was off or the margin of error was too big. It was more like... well, let me go back to my NFL comparison. Every week during the regular season different sites like ESPN or Sports Illustrated come out with "power rankings" of the 32 teams. Those lists are never identical, but most teams rank within 1-3 spots from the others power rankings. There is also a site called ABQ rankings which has a statistical model instead of the subjective lists on other sites, and again teams aren't ranked too far from each other. A difference of 11 spots would be astrounding in that context. Obviously its a little easier to rank teams, who have win and loss records, but 11 places still stirkes me as a big difference of opinion, at least when dealing with the top 30.

perhaps each ranking is "only" 5.5 spots off, which would be close enough to the "truth," I think, to satisfy Clench and others.

Well I don't think you need to satisfy me and I'm certainly not looking for the "truth." I just thought it was kind of odd how astounded (I think you used that word) to see so many schools "only" 10 or so spaces off. To me that is a big difference. That doesn't mean your original ranking looks more right or more wrong, it just looks different.


What I find interesting in all of this is that none of the rankings seem to list student success rate post-graduation.


Well, success is hard to define here. You go on to talk about CW teachers, but while I and many others here are probably interested in that, it isn't what everyone in an MFA program is looking to do. I do agree with you though, and when I making my own little list I definitly took into account publication success (as far as I could tell for programs, which isn't far).

It does seem like that is an important factor in gauging a programs worth.


Jan 12, 2007, 12:54 PM

Post #303 of 764 (13849 views)
Re: [Clench Million] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post


Thanks for clarifying/restating. For some reason it didn't hit me that you were particularly concerned about the top twenty, though indeed I see now you said that. The good news is, the LJPW/TKS margin of error (MoE) is much smaller for the top twenty than for the schools below that in the rankings, so your concerns should (I hope) be assuaged, I hope. Two points on that:

1) Whereas 77% of the top 48 schools in TKS and LJPW are within 11 spots of one another, that confidence-interval jumps to an incredible 91% for the top 21 schools (i.e., 19 of 21 are within 11 spots); more importantly,

2) That 11-spot MoE is very, very misleading, particularly for the top twenty-one schools. Here's why: the average MoE for the "matching" nineteen (of the top twenty-one schools in the LJPW and TKS) is a scant 4.63 spots. The average MoE for all of the top twenty-one schools in LJPW (including, now, Notre Dame and Ohio State, which are more than 11 spots "off") is just 7.29 spots on average.

Hope this clarifies any confusion.

I should note, also, that almost the entirety of the MoE mentioned in point #2, above, comes from six schools, which are (in order of greatest to least affect on the MoE for the top twenty-one): Ohio State (N/A), Notre Dame (28 spots), Iowa (11), UMass (10), The New School (9), and Irvine (8). Ironically, at least half of these MoEs say a lot more about the oddities of the LJPW than the validity (or lack of validity) of TKS. For instance, which ranking seems more likely for UMass: the #3 of LJPW, or the #13 of TKS? #9 for Notre Dame (LJPW), or #37 (TKS)? As for The New School, Kealey's clerical error left it out of his Handbook--a human mistake, nothing more--and there's just no way to ascertain whether the ranking I gave it (#26 in TKS) is WKWD (What Kealey Would Do). That said, I can agree that Iowa and Irvine essentially swapping spots--as between TKS and the LJPW--does emphasize Kealey's weighting of "funding" as a criterion, one reason I created the TSE Composite, which now (I think more realistically) puts Irvine at #5 and Iowa within even the most modest MoE of that, at #7.

I tend to think of Ohio State as one of just a handful of Kealey's "dropped balls." It's perfectly excusable to have SIU, Illinois, and BGSU just bubbling under in TKS when maybe they deserve to be between 35 and 50, or to miss a mid-40s school like the Art Institute of Chicago, or to put the University of Georgia twenty spots higher than USNWR97 when the LJPW shows it off the radar completely, but the Ohio State omission is simply inexplicable, I think. Maybe I misread something somewhere along the line, and there's an explanation for it? I just don't know.


(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 12, 2007, 12:57 PM)


Jan 12, 2007, 1:29 PM

Post #304 of 764 (13834 views)
Re: [umass76] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post

P.S. Clench, another way to look at this--i.e., just how close Kealey came to the general consensus of prospective MFA students here and at Live Journal--is the chart below, which shows the schools Kealey (i.e. TKS) was within 6 spots or less of (in terms of the LJPW Reader Poll):

1 spots (7): Indiana, Cornell, Syracuse, Columbia, Oregon, Minnesota, Colorado State
2 spots (0): [None].
3 spots (4): Michigan, Brown, NYU, Arkansas
4 spots (4): Virginia, Texas State at San Marcos, UNC at Greensboro, Brooklyn
5 spots (3): Johns Hopkins, Hollins, Wisconsin
6 spots (4): Houston, UC Davis, Arizona, Sarah Lawrence

That's 22 schools with a ridiculously-low 3.36 average MoE, well within the (not unreasonable) five-point MoE you said would probably be most compelling to MFA prospective students. Included amongst these 22 schools are at least 18 we'd probably all consider "highly" competitive (i.e., in the top twenty-five to thirty MFA programs).


(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 12, 2007, 1:31 PM)

Bob S.
e-mail user

Jan 13, 2007, 8:43 AM

Post #305 of 764 (13762 views)
Re: [umass76] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post

This is starting to look like the creative writing Bowl Championship Series.

I think there's nothing wrong with rankings so long as people use them as a general guide to which programs are good and don't get too bogged down in the prestige of getting into program x vs. program x-minus-1. I think the fairest, simplest and most accurate ranking would be to go by the admission rate. It would favor the smaller programs but maybe it should. It's pretty easy to go back over the history of the Speakeasy and get a general handle on which programs are the toughest admits. For years not a single person got into Cornell or Brown. Then there would be a tier with Iowa, Warren Wilson, Columbia, Virginia, Houston, Hopkins, Irvine. Among the newer programs, Wisconsin. The other selective low-residencies would be Bennington and Vermont College, though I imagine there will be others soon with the proliferation of programs and the rising application numbers.

I guess I agree that it's kind of silly to rank low-res against residential with so little overlap in the applicant pool. It's just weird to see all these rankings without mention of what may be the most selective MFA program in the country. And the omission of a certain New England rival offends my sense of school spirit.

Purple Frosting

Jan 13, 2007, 11:03 AM

Post #306 of 764 (13738 views)
Re: [ecphraticknolls] Shall we try? [In reply to] Can't Post

I've been following this list for a few months, and this is my first time contributing.
One thing I've noticed is that the programs which are considered "top 10" or even "top 20" for fiction do not necessarily coincide with the "top 10" "top 20" lists for poetry. Close scrutiny of the MFA programs clearly reveals that various programs are much stronger in one genre than the other. It seems to me that the majority of participants in this discussion of rankings have been fiction folks. I think we might see a very different ranking if we were to make a specific one for poetry. In any event: I want to specialize in poetry. The factors that led me to apply to the places I chose to apply to were largely subjective: I have read almost all of the poetry by almost all of the poetry faculty at approximately the top 20 MFA programs, and I was quite struck by the marked differences in my responses to the poetry. I found that some of the professors' poetry, even if they were well-known, big-name, etc., simply didn't resonate for me - didn't move me. And I found that some of the professors who are not well-known and who don't presently have wide "name recognition" blew me away. I guess it's a matter of taste, which there's no real accounting for, or "chemistry", kind of like in a relationship. And I know that people have warned me that I should not base my decision too much on the faculty, since faculty move around, take leaves, retire, etc., but the reality is, that if several members of a program are writing poetry that I love, and at another program I can't even find one poem by one faculty member that "speaks to" me, I think that says something about whether that program would be a good "fit" for me. Also, while I know that people have often said that a good writer doesn't necessarily make a good teacher and vice versa, I just have this deep feeling of not wanting to spend 2-3 years of my life being taught poetry by poets whose own work I don't admire or respond positively to, at least a little bit.
Another factor for me was that I would really like to do at least a certain amount of cross-genre work, and it's pretty hard to find programs that let you do that - i.e., at least to be permitted to take one workshop in a second genre.
And a third factor for me, a very subjective one I admit, is that although intending to specialize in poetry, I would like to be in a program and/or a university in which playwriting exists as a field of study - either within the MFA itself or at least, within the university's department of Theater or English, simply because I like associating with playwrights and I am interested in doing some experimental work which combines poetry with drama.
Anyway, sorry for being so longwinded (very unpoetic!), but here is the list of places to which I've applied, in a very rough approximation of my present sense of my order of preference, along with a few comments:

University of Houston (extremely impressive poetry faculty, both at present and in past years - was number 2 in the USNWR 1997 rankings, and I'm really surprised that it's not being given a higher ranking in the most recent discussions on this list - they seem to have some really exciting things going on.) (note: Kimiko Hahn is no longer there, she has gone back to New York, and Ed Hirsch is no longer there, he is now heading the Guggenheim Foundation. This means they have no women in their poetry specialization, though they do have some great women in the fiction specializtion, and they seem to bring in visiting writers who are women on purpose, presumably to make up for the present lack of women in the regular poetry faculty caused by the departure of Hahn. Amazing history with the playwriting program, Edward Albee was there for about 15 years and did a lot of teaching and training and his influence there still seems strong.)

Hunter College (also has an extremely impressive poetry faculty, some very exciting recent books by nearly all of them, affordable, just feels like a very dynamic, up-and-coming program)

University of Virginia (faculty, especially Charles Wright, whose work is truly extraordinary; funding; location) Note: Rita Dove is going to be on leave for 2007-2008, which means those going to UVA in poetry would only get to study with her for one year.

New York University (faculty whose poetry is wonderful, and community outreach opportunities)

Columbia University (reputation, networking, faculty)

New School (faculty, reputation)

Iowa (reputation, assumption that quality of the students in the workshops will be very high because the program is so selective, feeling a part of a strong literary community with a very rich history of involvement in literary life, presence of playwriting program at same university)

U. Texas Austin Michener Center (exciting and rare cross-genre opportunities, funding, location, reputation)

U. Mass. Amherst (location, community outreach opportunities, thriving literary community in the surrounding area, faculty)

Brown University (reputation, presence of playwriting program within MFA, some cross-genre opportunities)

Adelphi University (I like the poetry by faculty, cross-genre opporunities, presence of playwriting program within MFA)

Brooklyn College (presence of playwriting program within MFA, location, small community atmosphere in program and people who have been involved in this program have spoken favorably about it)

Boston University (has got several of the most outstanding poets in the country, all of whom I would love to work with, but is only one year and is not an MFA, it's an MA, which are the factors that cause me to list it low on my order of preferences. If based on faculty quality alone, it would be my number 1, because I really love the poetry of Robert Pinsky, Louise Gluck, Roseanna Warren, and Derek Walcott, all of whom are on the faculty of this program. The program also has an amazing history, and a very strong track record of publication by students.)

So, there it is.... I should add that as I am presently living outside of the U.S., I have not been able to visit any of these programs in person, attend any open houses, talk to any present students, etc. So, my impressions are based mainly on what I've been able to glean from the Internet and of course, from reading the poetry collections by the faculty members.
I must say that I feel a bit dismayed that others on this list don't seem to have as deep a respect as I do for Houston's program. I am curious about why. They've got Mark Doty, Nick Flynn, Tony Hoagland, and Adam Zagajewski - what more could you wish for? - they've also had amazing visiting poets. My sense is, as mentioned above, that the main reason is that more folks in this rankings discussion are from the fiction genre and not the poetry genre.

Any chance of a "rankings" specific for poetry?

I hope this information is of some kind of interest to somebody out there......

Bye for now!

Purple Frosting

Jan 13, 2007, 11:08 AM

Post #307 of 764 (13735 views)
Re: [umass76] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry, I can't recall who mentioned this so I am just replying to somebody on this thread at random:
regarding Robert Hass at U. Iowa: to the best of my knowledge, Robert Hass is a visiting faculty at Iowa for this academic year only, i.e, 2006-2007. He is not a member of the permanent faculty. I don't think that anybody who is entering Iowa in fall of 2007 would have the chance to study with him. Likewise with Brenda Hillman, to the best of my knowledge.
Is anyone able to provide any clarification on this?


Jan 13, 2007, 2:13 PM

Post #308 of 764 (13695 views)
Re: [Purple Frosting] Another New MFA Ranking [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey Purple,

Interesting comments. Two things, though: 1) I'm not sure Houston is as overlooked as you say it is. As far as I know, it's got a good reputation, and -- to address your concern about these new rankings -- it's on the Top Ten at lleast on one of the three rankings that Seth (umass76) has compiled. Off the top of my head, I'd say it's # 10 in one of them; can't remember about the other two; 2) I'm not sure either about the rankings having a fiction bias. Isn't Seth a poet? (I don't know whether he's applying to poetry MFA programs; haven't looked back, but I assume he is). Still, you're right that maybe two separate rankings (poetry/fiction) would be interesting. Some programs are strong in both fields, but others aren't.


Jan 15, 2007, 10:08 PM

Post #309 of 764 (13583 views)
Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

...I did another new "ranking" of MFA programs, though this one is not truly a "ranking" so much as a series of Indexes (specifically, Selectivity Indexes). Also, it uses hard data only, so it should (I hope) not be particularly controversial. It has limited usefulness as anything more than a curio, something I admitted in the introductory remarks which precede the Indexes. The Selectivity Indexes can be found here:


I should say that one reason I did this (despite having limited data to work from) is because, as schools release new information (particularly this spring), it will be possible to add new indexes and/or make the existing ones more accurate.

One thing I found, in doing these Indexes, was that a school we've all been talking about quite a bit--Columbia University--fared incredibly poorly, which might help to explain why it was #4 in 1997 but (depending upon which if any of the new rankings you acknowledge as having any validity) is now #13 (TSE), #15 (LJPW), or #16 (TKS). [NB: The surprisingly high placement of other schools, like Wisconsin and SIU, and even Texas, is also becoming clearer now]. Specifically, it seems evident from the hard data collected in the Indexes that, at best, Columbia is the 23rd most selective program in the country, but is, more likely, much lower than that. [NB: I say this because only 25 of the nation's 400 programs were included in the Indexes, and while I admit that my "200 standard minimum APP" (you'll have to read the Introduction to the Indexes to understand this) likely only applies to the top fifty to seventy-five programs, that still leaves a lot of room for Columbia to fall to, say, between 30th and 35th in terms of selectivity].

Now, I can hear folks saying that "Columbia accepts more people than other schools, and shouldn't be punished for that," but remember, these are simply Selectivity Indexes. It's not necessarily any sort of judgment on the school. But that said, I'll also point out that Columbia isn't necessarily to be given a pass for accepting more people than other schools do and consequently giving their accepted students (or many of them, at least) less funding than they need. In fact, it lines Columbia's pocket to accept more students than almost any other program (because they're taking $35,000/yr. from each student, minus the occasional fellowship or grant or stipend). It seems to me unrealistic to claim that the only reason Columbia accepts so many people is because--say--they want to make their unique MFA experience available to everyone. Do schools really think that way? I'm not sure they do, or even, necessarily, that they should (if it comes at the pecuniary expense of all the school's admitted MFA students).

Anyway, not trying to start an argument here, just wanted to post the link to the Indexes and mention a few interesting things I think they show. Cheers,

(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 15, 2007, 10:31 PM)


Jan 16, 2007, 1:21 AM

Post #310 of 764 (13535 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

Great tool!

I would like to see it be more extensive, though. I think such an effort could potentially help students tier their applications in the future.


e-mail user

Jan 16, 2007, 1:32 AM

Post #311 of 764 (13532 views)
HOW DARE YOU?!! [In reply to] Can't Post

When I first decided to get an MFA, Columbia was my #1 choice, even above Iowa (mainly because I wanted to live in New York City rather than Iowa City). But I quickly knocked Columbia off my list entirely, as I realized I'd be going many tens of thousands of dollars into debt. I also had a lot of questions about their apparent business practices, as you've outlined, umass76. But I don't think that Columbia is any less of a school simply because it accepts 10.8% of its applicants, as compared with Houston's 8.9% or even Johns Hopkins' 5.5%. Because it also received the second or third most applications of any school on this list, I'm sure they're able to recruit the cream of the crop. So a school that ranks low on this particular list wouldn't necessarily be performing "incredibly poorly," if I'm interpreting you fairly. Other than that, this is a neat list, and of course I'm glad to see my SIU up there with the likes of Iowa, Virginia, and, yes, even UC Irvine.



Jan 16, 2007, 8:54 AM

Post #312 of 764 (13504 views)
Re: [jargreen] HOW DARE YOU?!! [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey there Ryan,

I don't know, maybe "incredibly poor" isn't the right adjective. It just struck me that Columbia, relatively speaking, fared poorly against schools (e.g. Brown) with more applications per year but an acceptance rate one-fifth as low (or Iowa, which Columbia [I think] sees as a natural rival, but which gets 66% more applications and accepts at a 40% lower rate). I think those are interesting discoveries, given that a) in rankings such as USNWR97, Brown, at least, was ranked 16th and Columbia 4th (which at a minimum suggests, broadly, that Columbia was, at the time, more selective), b) I'm not sure more applications necessarily means more quality in the applicant pool (that is, I think schools which get 550 applications, like the University of Virginia, and even schools which get 325 applications, like the University of Washington, may nevertheless get the same number of top applicants), and c) there really isn't enough data yet to draw conclusions to the extent we might like to draw them--for instance, if all the MAX schools actually get about 550 or 600 applications a year (which is entirely possible), it makes Columbia's acceptance rate seem more and more like an outlier, and less susceptible to a simple explanation like, "they get more top applicants than [insert listing of forty of the top MFA programs in the country]."

If I had to guess, Columbia has to accept so many students because its "yield" is low; many students who get accepted there just can't afford to go. But that's just a guess.

I'd love to expand the list--and will do so if folks have more data that they can share with me--but for now it'll have to stand as is, which is, as I said, as an interesting curio and not too much more.



Jan 16, 2007, 9:01 AM

Post #313 of 764 (13501 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
...I did another new "ranking" of MFA programs, though this one is not truly a "ranking" so much as a series of Indexes (specifically, Selectivity Indexes). Also, it uses hard data only, so it should (I hope) not be particularly controversial. ....

Hey Seth, this is kind of interesting, but the problem is that your data, hard or not, is fundamentally flawed. And again, whether or not you preface this with the idea that it's simply a "curio," the problem is that - with your verbose elaboration of methodology - your rankings garner some veneer of absolutism and accuracy.
One fundamental flaw in your data is that you don't seperate fiction and poetry, which affects some programs more than others: Iowa had between 750-775 fiction applicants last year. Using those numbers, their acceptance rate changes significantly.
A second flaw is your assumption of a base of 200 applicants. There are a number of programs - of the top of my head I can think of two that have been championed by you as 'up and coming' - that had less than 100 applicants in recent years. Again, that fucks up the rates signficantly.
The third flaw is that some of the numbers posted by programs are a) out of date, or b) basically estimates by the program

And, of course, you didn't include a number of schools. As a cheerleader for my own school, I'll point out that Cornell is - by a fairly large margin - the most statistically difficult school to get into.

Again though, my biggest problem with ALL of these rankings that you have done is that even though you'll usually have a sentence or two saying why they are flawed, you'll also have about twelve paragraphs saying how accurate they are based on your methodology; the numbered rankings that you then post then come across with an aura of validity, as if you are somehow an authority on MFA programs rather than one of the chattering masses like the rest of us.
All I know is that when I have talked to people who seem like they would have an idea of which schools are hot - actual professors, editors, agents, published writers - the schools they talk about don't line up closely with any of your lists, and the "rankings" swerve back and forth depending on what you are looking for.

I'm tired of this argument though. [edited to remove an unintentionally snippy comment that I made and to add: I'm done arguing about rankings]

(This post was edited by HopperFu on Jan 16, 2007, 9:05 AM)


Jan 16, 2007, 9:45 AM

Post #314 of 764 (13486 views)
Re: [HopperFu] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post


I know we don't agree on any of this, which is probably why--as you said--there's no point in arguing about it further. I'll simply tell you the reason I started doing all this: because prior to these rankings, there was a generally chaotic atmosphere surrounding MFAs, as no one had collected any hard data, let alone done anything to synthesize it. The rankings I've done line up perfectly with the categories of information they intended to show: for instance, which schools, working off the 1997 rankings, also have strong funding (TKS); which schools a large sample (140+, and counting) of prospective MFA students are applying to; a composite ranking which conjoins these two measures (funding and popularity); and Selectivity Indexes which give a little more hard data about certain schools. This is far, far more data than the "chattering masses" had on 12/30/06, just seventeen days ago, and that's why thousands of people are looking at the rankings and using them as one [very small] resource in their decision-making process. Unlike you, I've found that these rankings match up almost perfectly with the schools people are talking about. I agree with you, however, that it will take longer for rankings run just two or so weeks ago to filter into the professorial or agent class you've referenced. Those classes are still working off a) personal anecdotes (which they always will), b) the 1997 rankings, and c) their own genre biases (for instance, in poetry everyone is indeed talking about UMass these days, and the rankings reflect that; if you're in fiction, you might wonder why UMass is where it is and why the rankings seem to indicate it's a big deal, but there's a simple explanation of "genre bias" which "fixes" that problem of perception). I can tell you that, as a poet at least, these rankings match up perfectly with what I've seen in the field, and as you know, I've been around the block (especially in terms of publishing work) a few score times or so, so I'm not totally green (not saying you are, just saying that I'm not some number-cruncher who's never been out "in the field," so to speak; far from it). As for fiction, all I can say is the top fiction-leaning schools in the rankings are the same ones I happen to see discussed on these and other boards. [Shrug]. What can I say beyond that?

As a lawyer and amateur sociologist, I don't want to operate in an atmosphere where people make comments the numbers simply do not support, as those comments are usually made out of [harmless, unintentional] bias. For instance, it is statistically impossible that your comment about Cornell is accurate or true ("I'll point out that Cornell is, by a fairly large margin, the most statistically difficult school to get into"). In years past, people would have had to take your word for it, or, alternately, decide you weren't trustworthy and ignore you (albeit they'd have no real basis to make either determination about you, and so they'd be stuck in a "chaotic" atmosphere of unanchored, disorganized information). Now they can look at some hard data, and ask: If Brown has a 2.1% acceptance rate with a 20% smaller class than Cornell (and the second most reported applications in the country), how could it ever be possible that Cornell, with that 20% larger class, has "by a fairly large margin" the lowest acceptance rate? In order for that to be the case, we'd have to see Cornell showing far and away the most applications in the LJPW Reader Poll (as that Poll gives us some indications of where applications are going). It isn't, however, albeit that it's up there. But even if it was far and away #1, by definition it could only have a 2% lower acceptance rate than Brown (because Brown is at 2.1%) at most (which isn't the case, because Iowa's acceptance rate would then be forty-eight times higher than Cornell's). So, unanchored statements which aggrandize to the benefit of one's alma mater would no longer be believed in an atmosphere where numbers are available.

Likewise, you say the rankings don't reflect the schools people are talking about. Well, respectfully, the LJPW Reader Poll proves you wrong: TKS was highly predictive of which schools people were actually applying to. And, in the same sense Clench said Columbia was one of the five most selective schools in the country--and we now know that claim to be significantly off the mark--we can use the rankings and polls as tools (nothing more) to evaluate claims. Needless to say, we'll find some (as I do yours about Cornell; it's an admittedly kick-ass school, however) wanting.

Rankings and polls are seen as threatening to people. I know that. Even students at a school ranked #10 in the country in 1997, and ranked #4 here (TKS), will feel as though they're having an injustice done to them personally. And certainly so will students in other schools (like Columbia) who don't like what the data shows, either. But let's be clear: I never said the data I gathered wasn't useful, or wasn't, even, incisive and ground-breaking in spots. I simply said it shouldn't be abused by being taken further than it can go. And I do stand by that.



Jan 16, 2007, 10:06 AM

Post #315 of 764 (13483 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

Hopper, look, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that post to sound as argumentative as it may have. I just don't want you, or anyone else, to have a false impression of what's happened here thus far:

1. I did a ranking based upon the opinions of the man who "wrote the book" on MFAs, and thus has done more independent research than any of us, particularly as to the funding angle. I made clear that TKS was based on Kealey's work, not any sort of consensus. If you go back and read the introduction, you'll see how clear I made that.

2. I was criticized because I had done a ranking organized around the opinions of just one man.

3. In direct response to the criticism I took a "poll" of actual prospective MFA students, with a decent sample size, to see where they were applying. I made clear everyone knew what the sample size was and made clear this was really just a popularity poll, and that the poll couldn't look at the reasons behind individuals' applications to particular schools.

4. For curiosity's sake, I did a TSE Composite ranking which conjoined the funding-weighted TKS and the popularity-weighted LJPW Poll. I said outright that the poll wasn't scientific at all and was mainly just a curio. I did not write a lengthy defense of that ranking, and I think everyone here knows that.

5. Purely in the interest of providing hard data, I did an index of acceptance rates, stating clearly where the numbers were coming from. Again, I did not write a lengthy defense of the index, and fully conceded that the data was incomplete--not because of my laziness, but because of the various schools' secrecy (which is their right). What I will do, here, is note that the two primary criticisms I think you made, apart from the foregoing, is that we can't trust data from the schools (in which case, we can't trust any rankings, including the 1997 reputation scores which came from the schools and were far, far more "fudgeable") and that the "200 standard minimum APP" is wrong. The one extrapolation I've probably made in this whole thing is that I do think the LJPW can provide a rough guide as to whether or not the minimum APP is fair; that is, if schools in the top 50 of the LJPW (which tracks applications) regularly receive 500+ applications, what is the chance that other schools similarly ranked (again, in terms of how many applications they're getting) are under 100 in terms of their applications?

I guess what I'm saying is, can you name a single school from the TSE Composite top fifty ranking which receives fewer than 100 total submissions, across all genres, per year? And can you tell me where you got that information? If you can, I will amend or adjust the Selectivity Indexes accordingly.

[As to your criticism that poetry and fiction aren't separated, I think that's just being unfair to me--it's raising the bar needlessly because it's a standard you know that I, and even the schools themselves, could not possibly reach. While any individual school might know their separate admissions rates, that's not data which is publicly available, it's not data anyone not on the hiring committees knows, and it's certainly not data other schools have available to them when filling out "reputation" forms as they did for the USNWR97 rankings].


(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 16, 2007, 10:07 AM)


Jan 16, 2007, 10:28 AM

Post #316 of 764 (13469 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey-- haven't had a chance to check out the new "selectivity" ranking yet, but I was wondering about this PWLJ poll you keep referring to as "hard data." Did you just go through last year's posts and see where people were applying? Because that doesn't sound like a method that would get an accurate cross-section of applicants, seeing as P&W and LJ are online communities. It's pretty likely that tech-savvy applicants would be more likely to apply to an experimental school like Brown than, say, someone who writes sonnets and has never touched a keyboard. And that's the person that got left out of your poll. So what I'm saying is, the nature of the places you took the "poll" data from probably skews the rankings.

I suppose the only direct way to get the real info is to contact schools directly; however I seriously doubt that a lot of them would tell you their numbers.

And this is not meant to be a slam on your rankings--just something I thought of.


Jan 16, 2007, 10:31 AM

Post #317 of 764 (13466 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To

As a lawyer and amateur sociologist, I don't want to operate in an atmosphere where people make comments the numbers simply do not support....
For instance, it is statistically impossible that your comment about Cornell is accurate or true ("I'll point out that Cornell is, by a fairly large margin, the most statistically difficult school to get into")....
Now they can look at some hard data, and ask: If Brown has a 2.1% acceptance rate with a 20% smaller class than Cornell ....
So, unanchored statements which aggrandize to the benefit of one's alma mater would no longer be believed in an atmosphere where numbers are available....

Alright, I'm trying to get out of this argument, but this is a perfect example of my problem with your sense of authority. You claim a scientific numerical accuracy. But you're often wrong.
Cornell admits eight students a year. Brown admits 14. Cornell got approximately 500 - 550 applications last year (I can't remember the exact number off the top of my head). Brown, according to you, 675.
So yeah, my comment about Cornell being statistically more difficult to get into appears to be anchored.

But it doesn't matter. I'm bowing out. It doesn't seem to make a difference what anybody says or responds.
I hope that future applicants find something worthwhile in this thread and that they take the time to do independant research before settling on a school.
Good luck to all.


e-mail user

Jan 16, 2007, 10:57 AM

Post #318 of 764 (13453 views)
wait a minute ... [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey, just wanted to chime in and say that it's a good, good thing to put some of this data out there. I think we should all, including the author of the blog, take it with a pinch of salt. Those numbers seem to be mere estimations, at best. But it gives present and future applicants some idea of what kind of competition they may be facing. So I say, it's good to remain very humble about such findings, but keep 'em comin'!


Jan 16, 2007, 11:18 AM

Post #319 of 764 (13445 views)
Re: [renapoo] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

You're right, we can't know the demographic composition or specific inclinations of posters here and elsewhere on-line, so if there is in fact some causal relationship between not being tech-savvy and applying to a particular school (which I suppose there could be, though it doesn't necessrily present itself to me as a likely proposition) that school's going to be slightly under-represented in the LJPW Reader Poll.


Jan 16, 2007, 11:32 AM

Post #320 of 764 (13436 views)
Re: [jargreen] wait a minute ... [In reply to] Can't Post

After I saw the post in the UVA thread stating 500 or so applicants to their program, I was interested in starting a thread asking people to post similar numbers to other programs -- either for this year, or a general average, because I wanted to do mentally the very thing that umass has done "on paper" in his blog.

I think a thread in this forum is the best vehicle for this kind of information, since so much of it will have to be based on rumor and hearsay ("I saw the stack of UVA applicants"; what Hopperfu said about the number of Cornell apps; U. Florida's web page says around 200). This list umass has posted is nice for people that can't do math, perhaps, but fairly useless lacking the hard data that would make it useful. If anyone wants to start such a thread (it says I can't start threads myself) I would find the information interesting, if not very useful at the moment (I'm done sending out applications this year.)


Jan 16, 2007, 11:42 AM

Post #321 of 764 (13436 views)
Re: [HopperFu] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post


Respectfully, to the extent our most recent exchange is an example of something, it's that we're still talking past each other, and that whereas I think you assume bad faith in that (and clearly, and understandably, are losing patience with my loquaciousness), I do not see our disagreement as a matter of bad faith, stubbornness, or obtuseness.

I claimed "numeric accuracy" in the Indexes only as regards schools which have released their admissions data, as I don't think I'm obligated, or anyone is, to indulge the theory that schools are misrepresenting that data to the general public. As to data I did not have--such as the Cornell admissions figures, which Cornell independently decided not to release (one reason it doesn't seem fair to me to be ridiculed for my limited data by a Cornell student, when it is his school, not me, that is "to blame" [as much as that word is even appropriate] for any confusion)--I merely said that I would need more data to make the Indexes complete. What I think you're referring to, when you cite my "claim of scientific numerical accuracy," was my assertion that your words--"I'll point out that Cornell is, by a fairly large margin, the most statistically difficult school to get into" [emphasis supplied]--were not accurate. Specifically, I said that those words could not have been accurate because, "how could it ever be possible that Cornell, with that 20% larger class [sic]*, has 'by a fairly large margin' the lowest acceptance rate?" You'll notice I harped particularly on that "by a fairly large margin" claim.

[* = That was a clerical error on my part, and not one I made when I did the Selectivity Indexes. Cornell's poetry class is 4, and its fiction class is 4; Brown's class sizes are as follows: "five fiction writers, five poets, three playwrights and one electronic writer." So Cornell's class is smaller, and it is Brown's poetry and fiction classes which are 20% larger than Cornell's].

You're now claiming that Cornell's 1.5% acceptance rate (by the way, thank you for that information, which I do assume is accurate; can you source it anyway, though? I'd appreciate it) substantiates your belief that "Cornell is, by a fairly large margin, the most statistically difficult school to get into." [Emphasis supplied].

Except that your numbers don't substantiate that.

I never told you Cornell couldn't or didn't have the lowest acceptance rate in the country, I said that it couldn't possibly beat out Brown for the lowest acceptance rate in the country "by a fairly large margin," because that would require that it have well over a thousand submissions, which I speculated (correctly) it did not. Frankly, using the LJPW and the Selectivity Indexes one would have extrapolated (if one was forced to do so) that Cornell was most similar to Brown and Virginia in its applications/year (i.e., only Iowa has 1000+ applications a year, other top ten schools are, in a range of 350, between 325 and 675 applications/year each), and that Cornell would therefore likely have somewhere between the two schools (Brown and UVA) in terms of applications. Between the two, according to the hard data released by Brown and UVA, would be a little over 600 applications. Not a bad estimate, given that the reality is (as you say) 500 to 550. Knowing Brown and UVA's "hard data" (and knowing a little something about the popularity of those schools as compared to Cornell--i.e., the three are roughly equal in that regard) thus gave us a reasonably fair guide to Cornell's (at the time unknown) hard data, right?

So, Brown's acceptance rate is 0.6% higher than Cornell's. Respectfully, that's not "a fairly large margin." Nor am I playing games with semantics here. Prior to the LJPW, TKE, and TSE, if you had made that comment, don't you think people would have presumed, say, a 5% difference between the two schools' acceptance rates? I think so. Certainly, in the undergraduate realm, when someone says School X has a lower acceptance rate than School Y "by a fairly large margin," I'm thinking, what, like a 10% difference? Aren't you?

However, with the benefit of LJPW, TKE, and TSE, we can say that Cornell and Brown are more selective than their Ivy-League counterpart, Columbia, "by a fairly large margin." Which is a useful point to make, as before I did these rankings, I'm sure Cornell and Columbia students would have been very self-assured that their programs had more in common with one another than with Brown's (largely because of a decade-old "reputation" score). In reality, both Cornell and Brown are incredibly small programs with incredibly low acceptance rates, excellent funding, and excellent student-to-faculty ratios. I am frankly in awe of both programs, and didn't intend any of my analysis to suggest otherwise.


(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 16, 2007, 11:55 AM)


Jan 16, 2007, 11:47 AM

Post #322 of 764 (13433 views)
Re: [hamholio] wait a minute ... [In reply to] Can't Post

That's a fair point. I have hard data for only 13 of the top fifty schools: useful, but not compelling. With Cornell, in theory I'd have 14 schools now. The other data points in the Selectivity Indexes (12 of them) just tell you the maximum acceptance rate a school is likely to have, and I admit that's of limited value [and said so right on the blog: "on many levels, it seems a futile exercise to create Selectivity Indexes for MFA programs, as a) so many programs do not give out the information necessary to chart them in this index, b) those programs who do release an 'IA' number often do not release their 'APP,' thus leaving prospective students with only a 'maximum' figure for the school's acceptance rate, and c) because of the foregoing flaws in the methodology employed here, the rankings below are of the very roughest sort indeed"].

Not that I'm saying you did this, Ham, but as a general comment I really can't figure out why I'm occasionally getting accused of trying to pull the wool over people's eyes...I wrote the introductions to each ranking for a reason, and they are not intended merely as apologia, but (as we attorneys might say) as "limiting instructions" for the use of the rankings themselves.

(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 16, 2007, 11:49 AM)


Jan 16, 2007, 11:56 AM

Post #323 of 764 (13422 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

"I never told you Cornell couldn't or didn't have the lowest acceptance rate in the country, I said that it couldn't possibly beat out Brown for the lowest acceptance rate in the country "by a fairly large margin," because that would require that it have well over a thousand submissions, "

Well, you did say that based on the assumption that Cornell admitted MORE students than Brown, which we all know now is not true.

We don't expect you to know everything about every program, but spinning your mistakes like this is poor form.


Jan 16, 2007, 12:07 PM

Post #324 of 764 (13414 views)
Re: [hamholio] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

Honestly, I'm not trying to spin anything. I edited my post and admitted my mistake. That was not a mistake I made when I was looking at the data to answer Hopper's challenge. That was a mistake I made when I went to write the post using the data I had (i.e., the Selectivity Indexes, whose credibility is at issue here, didn't make the "mistake"; I did. That's all I was saying). Look, I've got no problem admitting I don't have a handle on all this data, 'cause there's so much of it(!)

P.S. Ham, if you're really just trying to be fair here, and not after me in particular, why don't you ask Hopper to put his money where his mouth is and tell us all which top fifty MFA program gets less than 100 applications? He made that claim and now he won't tell us. Don't you want to know where he got that data, and whether it's real data? I do. Because the lowest reported application base I've seen so far in the top fifty programs (and now more than a quarter, 28%, of those programs have reported data) is 250 applications. And that was from one of the lower-ranked programs. Generally, all the schools have 300 or more applications, which would make Hopper's revelation that "there are a number of programs--off the top of my head I can think of two--that have been championed by you as 'up and coming' and had less than 100 applicants in recent years" quite a stunner indeed. So I'd like to know the names of those two schools.

(This post was edited by umass76 on Jan 16, 2007, 12:16 PM)


Jan 16, 2007, 12:15 PM

Post #325 of 764 (13402 views)
Re: [umass76] Don't yell at me, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

"why don't you ask Hopper to put his money where his mouth "

Oh, I could, but he's at a school I want to go to and I don't want any bad vibes bouncing off of him and onto the admissions committee! ;-)

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