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.


If I understand what you're

If I understand what you're saying, Cat., then the most unpopular program, the program no one applies to, the program no one wants to attend, may very well provide the best quality. Everyone is just missing its greatness. So applicants should seek out the most reviled programs and ignore the supposedly good ones. If a program is popular, forget it: it's garbage. This makes no sense to me, but it does have a certain paranoid appeal.


If you are a prospective MFA student, and you are looking at these "rankings," you should be aware that they represent an arbitrary and incomplete evaluation of these programs. The people who are doing the evaluating literally do not know what they are talking about. The person who conducts this "ranking" has habitually focused on financial aid as the primary, at times the sole measure of the worth of a program.

What else matters? (a) A committed faculty that's willing to engage with the students. To find this out, you're going to have to talk to students who are actually in these programs, and not to prospective applicants, who don't know one way or the other. (b) A lively, congenial group of fellow students to inspire and console. Again, this is not something you can know about ahead of time. (c) The reputation value of a program, by which I mean the worth of your degree in the eyes of editors, agents, prospective employers, etc. There is a larger writing community, you can see it at work at Bread Loaf, AWP, Tin House and cocktail hours across the land. These people do have a sense of which programs are solid and which ones foundering. If you want to know what the reputation of a program is, you're going to have to ask them -- which P&W has not done.

What's the right MFA program for you? You're going to have to do some digging, read some books, maybe visit some towns, maybe have a long heart-to-heart with yourself about what you can afford and what's worth sacrificing for. But you're sure not going to find an answer here.

Lapwing, it appears to me

Lapwing, it appears to me that you do misunderstand what I'm saying. My Saying that there's no evidence to support a correlation between popularity and quality is not the same as suggesting that applicants should apply to one type of program (e.g., the "reviled" ones) over another type. I'm simply commenting on the assumptions that have been made by the pollster about the respondents' knowledge of various programs and their reasons for choosing the programs they do. The words "It's reasonable to assume..." (or words very close to those) appear more than once in the methodology. I remember what I thought when I first read that statement: that I wouldn't have dared include such an assumption in any of my undergraduate papers.
Some programs are chosen by certain applicants precisely BECAUSE those programs are easier to get into, as the author, Seth, acknowledges in reference to his latest list of "The Top 25 Underrated Creative Writing MFA Programs." My program's listed in the top 50 AND among the underrated (and who knows where it'll end up next), but that's not my point; it's the overall APPROACH I object to--though I won't pretend that I'm not stunned by the low positions several extremely reputable programs are taking in these so-called rankings.
On the other hand, the raw data, to whatever extent the'yre accurate, are extremely valuable, I think, and it would be stupid of me to have any problem with the compilation of such information.
From a professor emeritus at UT-Austin, a former abstract algebraist who also did/does work in statistics (this is basic stuff, but the considerations she includes are no less important when interpreting survey results):

The basis of the rankings is

The basis of the rankings is the "methodology". I had a faculty member with a PhD in research methods look at Seth's "methodology" and he stated simply: "I took a quick look and it seems like nonsense given the contextual limitations."

He is going to take a more thorough look, and I will post his full results when I have them.



Thanks for passing this

Thanks for passing this along to the stats person, Hello World. (I like your username, by the way!) My brother found the choice of sampling, among other details, "curious"--his polite way of putting it. (Yeah, he's my brother, but it's not as if we think alike.) Since he's a professional statistician, I'm going to have to defer to his judgment over Seth's on this one. Not that his judgment would come as any great surprise to many who are troubled by the rankings.

I don't have anything

I don't have anything personal against Seth Abramson; I don't even know him, though I admire his choosing to use his law degree to work as a public defender (I don't admire his combativeness when it occurs because I know it's the sole reason some people won't post here or on various other sites--and is, in fact, the sole reason I didn't post here sooner than this year.) I obviously do, however, have several problems with these supposed rankings.
The gist of what I wrote Mary Gannon (not that I necessarily expect it to be taken too seriously by her or anyone else on the editorial staff):
I don't know whether or not "Faustino," in her/his comment below, is accurate about Seth's contract with P&W forbidding Seth from "advising" prospective applicants. Either way, are the following comments by Seth (taken from the MFA Creative Writing Blog) examples of what Faustino calls avoiding "advising" potential applicants? I don't know how the magazine can consider them the comments of a disinterested (impartial) pollster. Abramson repeatedly refers to his POLL as "the rankings." One doesn't need to be a statistician to see the absurdity of that. Does no one on the Poets & Writers editorial staff think critically about the evaluation of this sort of pseudo-quantitative information? Or does the editorial staff simply not care? On the blog, Abramson repeatedly goes beyond simply providing information or, as Faustino puts it, "correcting bad facts"; he adds his own assumptions, for which he provides scant or no evidence, and his own interpretations of information from other sources--e.g., Richard Ford, "maybe"--along with his strong biases, none of which have anything to do with his "hard data." (It took me only seconds to find these examples. He's made numerous comments about Columbia on the blog. Again, I have no bias toward Columbia. I never applied there and I personally know no one who went there for her MFA, though I admire the work of many of that program's graduates.)
The "rankings" are not even "votes" but lists of schools to which people might apply, some of which are chosen because they are (or are perceived to be) easier to get into.
Here, in response to applicants who wanted to go to Columbia, are just a couple of examples from the blog, http://creative-writing-mfa-handbook.blogspot.com/2011/03/where-did-you-apply-mar-13.html (which I have saved in a Word document in case the page is later taken down):

I went to Harvard Law. Columbia's creative writing MFA program is not Harvard Law. Harvard Law has been ranked the #1 or #2 law school in the world for about seventy years. Columbia's fiction program isn't even ranked in the top 30% of programs in this country. And its poetry program is ranked #82 -- out of 150 full-residency MFA programs. HLS and Columbia cost about the same to attend -- the difference is that HLS is a three-year professional school which basically guarantees you a job upon graduation (and if you take a low-income job by choice, HLS offers the most generous, 100% loan-forgiveness program in the history of higher education), whereas Columbia will set a young poet or writer back $150,000 for a twenty-one-month course of study that does absolutely nothing whatsoever for one's chances of securing employment. Columbia can be turned down, shouldbe turned down, and unless one is independently wealthy it's not clear how or why it should be applied to in the first instance. Increasingly, applicants who do substantial research into the programs that are available around the country (200+ full-residency MFA programs, nearly 40 of them free and ranked higher than Columbia) are coming to this conclusion.


Columbia has a unique history -- their School of the Arts was devised as, and has always been, a cash cow. There's an article by someone who went there in the 1970s (is it Richard Ford, maybe? I can't remember) that explains how CU views its art programs, which is as a money-maker, pure and simple. They are not focused on artists first, and they really never have been -- it's about stats (books published, tuition brought in, &c). I'm afraid that's the sad truth about CU, which was covered up for years by ranking systems with no principle behind them except to laud famous writers and suck at the teet of Ivy League prestige.



By the way, Richard Ford went to UC-Irvine for his MFA. He didn't apply to Iowa because he didn't think he could get in, and he applied to Irvine not knowing how stellar its facutly was at the time (which it generally is, of course). Seth apparently didn't bother to look this up before he non-"advised" a prospective student regarding Columbia. (So, this is "freelance journalism" these days? Or is impartial blogging okay even when it's directly connected to these "rankings," which are published in a magazine Ms. Gannon describes, in her response to the open letter by 190 creative writing professors, as adhering "to the highest journalistic standards"?)


Ford's interview:


Those comments predated my

Those comments predated my current contract. It's the current contract that was earlier referred to as prohibiting "advising" applicants. As to the quote you provided, it was in response to an applicant query about whether CU is a program "you have to attend if you're accepted, regardless of price." One purpose of the rankings is to educate applicants about their options; no one should ever feel they "have to" attend any program, whichever program that may be. The question on the table at the time was whether an applicant can turn down a program they cannot afford; I did say, prior to my current contract, that programs one cannot afford can and should be turned down if one is only accepting an offer because one feels one "has to"--had I said otherwise, it would have implied a position the diametrical opposite of that position taken by both myself and P&W: that the rankings are some kind of absolute, that getting into a "Top 50" program (Columbia or any other) is an offer one "has to" accept. That's a position which would dangerously elevate the rankings above and beyond what they are intended to be. As the P&W FAQ says in response to the question, "Should I rely on these tables to choose where to apply?", the answer is "No." So yes, in the past I did explicitly encourage applicants to use the rankings responsibly (ironically, I am falsely accused of implicitly doing the opposite) and not to confuse the perceived prestige of a program (any program, CU being only one example) with whether that program makes sense for each individual applicant artistically, financially, or otherwise. There's been no hiding the ball here; in fact, the 2010 Methodology Article (published online for free and still available), notes that one aim of the rankings has been, in the past, "less overall student debt among MFA graduates." For their part, MFA faculty members recently surveyed by P&W also listed "funding" as the top concern for applicants (i.e., it is their stated position that this _should_ be applicants' top concern). All of this is consistent with the idea that applicants should not confuse the rankings with an encouragment to either apply to or matriculate at programs which don't suit their individual needs. As the P&W FAQ indicates, some individuals will be able to take on debt for an MFA, some will not; I took the individual I was responding to to be indicating that she could not readily afford to pay for her MFA degree, which made her comment about "having to" accept an offer from a high-prestige program worrisome to me. I would have given the same response (and indeed _have_ done so) had an under-resourced student indicated that they felt they "had to" attend any _other_ program financially beyond their means. All this said, under my current contract--the only one now relevant to this discussion--I would not have responded to that applicant at all. As to the second quote, which was also pre-contractual, you of course leave out the question I was answering in order to make my comment appear unsolicited. An applicant had queried me directly, asking, "Why do you think that such 'popular' or 'high-end' programs like Columbia still choose to not fund their students?" As a working scholar whose area of research is MFA programs and their history (a scholar and researcher being what I am when not acting under contract), I am often asked this question. My answer to this applicant was an accurate portrayal of the history (the factual history) of the program he was asking about. Others may dispute my presentation of that history--history, you may know, is often a bone of contention even among scholars--but that is most certainly what I was portraying in my response. It's historical fact that some graduate creative writing programs were originally conceived to increase university revenue, while others were intended to be revenue-neutral. One reason I have spent time researching this question is to correct the misimpression many have that all MFA programs are revenue-producers. Many are not. I am certainly not the first person to write about the unique history of the CU School of the Arts, nor am I the first person to observe that previous ranking methodologies tended to overvalue "pedigree" by essentially doing no more than quantifying the publishing-business luster of program faculties. No doubt I could have worded my responses to both applicants more delicately; when you're answering more than fifty MFA-related queries every week (sometimes more than a hundred), one begins to use shorthand and speak less artfully, it's true. You have the advantage of being able to sift through hundreds and hundreds of online comments by me to selectively present (and misrepresent) my overall conduct and views; I am differently situated--that is, I've had to do (for free) the hard work of answering hundreds of queries directed at me by strangers for the past five years. I envy you your armchair-quarterbacking, especially as you're paid the same amount to do it (nothing) as I was getting paid to try to answer those applicants' questions honestly and comprehensively. Having said this, I'll say again that under my present contract I would not have replied to that applicant (for which, you can be certain, I would have received as much vituperation as you're now giving me; the only thing people hate worse than having their questions answered is having them _not_ be answered).

P.S. "Chris," one of the

P.S. "Chris," one of the applicants you represented as "wanting to go to Columbia," in fact had no such intention; he'd said exactly the opposite in the very same thread you cited: Writes Chris, "I specifically chose not to apply to programs like Columbia simply because they don't assist their students financially. While the connections at programs like Columbia could prove invaluable over the course of a writing career, I didn't want to bet on that. I know that I can't bet that an MFA will get me a high-paying editorial job or professorship, and loans just aren't worth the possible financial ruin later in life." My response to Chris came _after_ he'd made that statement. Just so, the second applicant had already indicated that she was "definitely" applying to Columbia, so my comment (made in March, months after applicants had formed their application lists and applied to programs) was clearly not intended to sway anyone's opinion about where to apply nine months later in the following application cycle (that thread was specifically intended for applicants who had already applied to programs, which is perhaps why it was titled, "Where Did You Apply?"). If you'd read the entire thread, you'd see that another applicant, Naomi, was asking for _matriculation_ advice, having already heard responses from all but one of the programs she applied to. The advice she received from "Another" was that Naomi "had to" accept one of those offers, specifically the CU offer, because it was to a program which (at that time) was ranked among the Top 25 MFA programs in the world. My comment in that ongoing dialogue between Naomi and "Another" was intended the way I've already explained in my comment below. Naomi noted that she was choosing between three programs, of which CU was by far the longest stretch for her financially. Again, under my current contract I'd not have been involved in the discussion at all, but to excerpt my comments out of context is really beyond the pale. 

I'm still not reading Seth's

I'm still not reading Seth's postings. If I were to do so, and if his previous postings all over the Internet are any indication, I would certainly take issue with much of their content, and I don't have time to waste on the futulity of trying to argue rationally in response to his defensive (and self-interested?) position--though I readily acknowledge that he might truly believe he's impartial. I'm going to listen to my own reasoning and the opinions of the professional statisticians (three, now) with whom I've discussed this topic, discussions had only after those statisticians read the "Methodology" section.


(Someone else out there who knows me can let me know if there's anything in those postings I should know about; otherwise, I'm not going to bother with them. Seth has had his say on this plenty of times, and thanks to this magazine, he's been given a highly visible podium for doing so. Also, I've followed this debate online long enough to doubt he'll offer any new arguments.)


The opposite of the scientific method is choosing a position and then cherry-picking evidence that supports that position while ignoring other evidence, and the anti-scientific cherry-picking approach is what I see happening in the author's personal , passionate, and often hostile justification of these "rankings."    -C.

Caterina, In response to your


In response to your point below, that I and our editorial staff don't take seriously correspondence from our readers, I can assure you it's mistaken. We do it take it seriously. Our editorial staff, despite your perception, is made up of hard-working people who believe in our mission of serving writers and work tirelessly to do so. Please leave them out of it. As for myself, I also take all correspondence seriously. There comes a point, though, where there seems little to be gained from engaging in conversational battle. I can defend our work until I'm blue in the face, but I suspect it won't sway you from your position. I respect your right to your position. And as I've said, I will take all legitimate criticism under consideration as we move forward. At this point, I don't know what our future coverage will be on this subject. Nor would I be at liberty to say, if I did. No magazine would be able to do so. As a working journalist, you, I'm sure, understand this. Thanks.

Thanks, Mary, for your

Thanks, Mary, for your response.


In my second-to-last posting, I didn't say with certainty that I thought I would not get taken seriously by you; I implied, I thought, that I didn't necessarily think I would. The difference in this case was intended as a logical, and not merely syntactical, difference. I based my meager expectations, by the way, on your earlier contact with me (in which you said that you would contact me--after which I didn't contact you again except to thank you and say that you could take your time getting back to me). The next response I got from you, however, was two sentences long (or thereabouts, depending on my memory of the punctuation), which came across as suddenly quite dismissive of the points I raised. (Let's be honest here: You and I have not had a long ongoing exchange, but after your curt response, which I graciously waited for over some number of weeks, I wrote you what’s more or less included in my last lengthy posting on this site.) So, I'm not going to accept without objection the suggestion that I might have contacted you an excessive number of times. You know that I did not, and if you're trying to imply otherwise, that's an unfair method of trying to discredit my arguments.


I know a couple of brilliant people who are climate-change deniers, but they're in the minority (a tiny minority) of those who work in climate science; I also know a couple of"Truthers" in academe--Truthers being pretty common among the general public but part of a minority of academics (though the Truthers include their own "Scholars for Truth" subset). I also know a range of conspiracy theorists in general who are smart but, nonetheless, throw their reasoning out the window when it comes to their "pet" issues. I'm not simplistically equating these people with Seth, but my point is: Just because Seth possesses enough brains to have finished Harvard Law doesn't mean he can't have huge blind spots in his reasoning when he's invested so much or his time (and ego?) into a particular enterprise. Case in point regarding his reasoning at times: To defend himself, he's often said, "Anyone who knows me knows that I am..." He cannot possibly know what everyone who "knows" him truly thinks of him (none of us can have access to such private thoughts of others). He also said on Scarriet that it made no sense that some commenters there called him "compulsive" while others called him a "loose cannon"; one couldnt' be both, he argued. Of course one can be both! People are complex, and someone can be compulsive--even "anal-retentive" in some areas--while they are loose cannons in other respects; in fact, someone who's anal-rententive to the extreme, even, could get very emotional (erratic —that is, behaving like a "loose cannon”) when their systematic view of things is challenged. (If Seth ever decides to try his hand at fiction writing, maybe he'll need to think less categorically about human beings?)


In any case, it seems clear to me that Seth likes to categorize and label things--which is fine to a point, I think, in the realms of genuine science and mathematics, though the latter is different in certain respects from empirical reasoning (and I'm writing this in anticipation of a Seth-like objection from someone): mathematical "induction" is, in fact, deductive reasoning, not scientific empiricism. 


I don't believe that there's such a thing as truly "objective" journalism; journalists have biases (in fact, I wouldn't trust a journalist who lacks opinions). We can, however, try to be fair by acknowledging our biases. If this "ranking" system were presented as an op-ed piece, I never would have objected to it. However, Seth Abramson presents it as reflecting statistical merit—a position he expresses in spite of his having so often expressed online his own feelings about the purpose of an MFA and about specific programs, etc. Therefore, based on his followers’ comments online, I can't help but wonder if their views are influenced by his own views.


The more important point, from my perspective: To confuse this "methodology" with science is a mistake that Poets & Writers ought to take seriously into account if they decide to honestly reconsider where to move forward in their attempts to help future MFA applicants.



a haiku for cat get yourself

a haiku for cat

get yourself some help.

then when you are sound of mind,

write about those days


when you used to dance

to television static

while eating dog food.


I would buy that book.

don't you want to sell some books?


I don't know, I was a quiet

I don't know, I was a quiet member of the group last year and while Seth never specifically said, "I advise you all to do x" -- wait, actually, he probably did, casually, in his discussions encouraging us to seek fully funded programs. Specifically telling us everything negative he could find about the New York programs, too, to the point that he would get in arguments with people. This is all casual and offered as opinion, but where is the line drawn between someone's opinion and the opinion of the guy who does the rankings? When does it become advice about what Seth thinks is important?

Is there anyway this can be

Is there anyway this can be listed in an excel sheet so we can sort by our own metrics? 

Also what happened to studio/academic programs... I'd also like to see it gauged by having a strong literature component or not. Personally I'm not interested in taking the literature classes whatsoever and would view it as a waste of my money when I can go to other programs and take 10-12 classes that are ALL writing/technique focused. I took lit as an undergrad and have a grasp, I want more writing focus, not more lit classes especially forking up primo grad credit tuition for it. 

Location for me is the most important, I mean sure funding is also, but there are places I would not go even if fully funded, as funding is usually just enough to scrape by. Many funding packages are around what minimum wage jobs pay. It's insulting for those of us who have been out in the work force, I'd actually rather programs just offer night classes instead so I could move somewhere, get a real job and go to the MFA program at night. The fact that most programs I look at are daytime programs is a hindrence to me. 

New Fiction Anthology for MFA Applicants

Hey Everyone, I hope that the acceptances keep rolling in this MFA season! I know how exhausting the application process can be and that even writers with exceptional work are not always given the chance to attend the program of their dreams. A friend and I are planning to launch a fiction anthology--Best New American Slush--that will feature the work of MFA applicants that have not been accepted to a program this year. We are hoping to showcase a portion of the great talent that has not yet made into the madness that is the MFA world. If you are interested in submitting, please feel free to check out our page for instructions and further updates. 


I have just wasted a bit of

I have just wasted a bit of time reading all of the comments posted here, and for one reason really, I was fascinated as to why Caterina was so upset with Seth Abramson, and I think it doesn't have as much to do with this list of programs as it is a cry for attention. By the look of it, this woman is paranoid. I get her point that this list shouldn't be the end all be all for an applicant, but all she had to do was just leave it at that, which means that this person has ulterior motives in ranting against pw's methodology.

I found the list helpful as a "springboard" as another commenter said. I am currently applying to mfa programs, and I don't think anyone should expect a serious applicant to just refer to this poll as a means for making a decision. Caterina accused Seth of being contentious, and also got upset for him calling her by her real name when she had been calling him by his first name throughout her posts. Caterina, you're not helping yourself or anyone else by barraging this article with comments. You should have just made your point that was extremely obvious in the first place and moved on. Also, I'm almost positive that Caterina made up the other user name to try and make herself seem more credible. That was hilarious, especially the part where she claimed that she knew a statistician through both usernames. 

Anyway, the rankings are a bit arbitrary, but it's nothing to throw a fit about. Again, the list has been helpful for me in my application process. Thank you pw.


I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise, given that this is the "Poets & Writers" site, but y'all are some wordy so-and-so's...

In recollection of these comments

A friend and I went over this exchange this afternoon, two years after it'd occurred, because we were wondering whether Poets & Writers is planning on carrying on with this very flawed ranking system.

She reminded me that Seth had, two years ago, been insistent that I was reading his comments here and lying about doing so. No, I was not. I've seen his extremely long-winded "arguments" with others elsewhere, and I don't want to waste my time and energy on them. I wasn't commenting here for his benefit.

Also, unless a journalist is simply correcting a factual error, it's generally seen as bad form for that "journalist" to start arguing at length with a reader. If Poets & Writers is serious about Seth's enterprise qualifying as genuine journalism, they might consider requiring him to remain, for the most part, uninvolved with most of the comments in response to his "rankings." I've never seen a seasoned journalist argue with, attack, or accuse a reader the way Seth Abramson has in response to readers who don't share his views of on MFA programs or how those programs should be evaluated.

Fewer people have commented on these rankings in the past two years. Fortunately, the comments that have appeared since 2012--all of them--have also been calmer and far more civil.

Almost three years on...

Reading this a few years later, I want to make it clear that I NEVER hoped to get into it with Seth here. I don't think it's even appropriate for him to responsd directly to people's comments. I know nothing about hiis personal life, and I'm not interested in it. What I AM interested in is flaw in the methodology behind the rankings. I took a fair amoing of math in college, but I'm not a statistician. My brother, however, IS a statistician; he has a PhD in mathematicstatistics, and he looked at the exceedingly long description of the "methodology" and found numerous problems with it. Perhaps an actual statistician should design the methods used and then interpret them.

As for the person who called me "paramoid" or "needing love": childish cheapshot. If one can't transcend namecalling, then she probably should learn some more restraint in her comments.

I didn't pose in search of a response from Seth. Again, I think he should refrain from commenting in response to others' comments. Rarely have I seen the author of a piece in any major publication respond to comments unless a clear question has been posed or a serious error about what the author wrote is made, and those writers usually respond with great restraint. All I know about Seth is his incredibly long, defensive, and argumentaive posts on numerous other sites. (So what's that about "need[ing] love"? I should be able to criticize these rankings without being attacked by their creator for doing so. Oh, and I also know his credentials because he regularly presents them online.

I wholeheartedly agree with the ethical reservations posted by an earlier commenter: the person advising people regarding where they should apply should NOT then be ranking the schools to which those people, in a closed online community, appliy. Lots of less "popular" schools are chosen for other reasons: geography, ease with which one can be accepted, familiarity with one particular writer on the faculty, cost of living in the town...

By the way, Columbia--a fine program in many respects that offers LIMITED funding--is the program from which recent MacArthur Fellow Karen Russell is an MFA grad.

And one more time: Richard Ford did NOT attend any of the New York Schools. Not knowing how selective it was, he ended up in UC Irvine's MFA program. If Seth is a genuine journalist, might he do a better job of fact-checking than that?