MFA Nation

From the September/October 2011 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

First things first: The decision to attend a creative writing MFA program is not, despite what some people may have told you, the most important decision you’ll ever make. Picking the programs to which you will apply isn’t either. Ditto the final choice of which program to attend. The secret to your success as a writer more than likely does not reside in the hallowed halls of an MFA program. No matter how many connections you make or how much good advice you take, the real work of being a writer is done not around the workshop table but in your heart and in your mind. (And if you’re a real writer, you’ve been using those two things long before coming to this set of decisions—and will continue using them long after.)

No, these aren’t life’s biggest decisions, but they will undoubtedly have a significant impact on both your immediate future (two or three years, depending) and your long-term outlook on your literary life, so it’s important to proceed with an open mind and a clear set of objectives. The program you choose will affect where you live, how much money you spend, whom you will be studying with, the quality of your job prospects once you graduate, and so on. That’s why we’ve put together this annual guide: to provide a spark for the deep thinking and serious consideration that the process requires and to help prospective students track down the necessary information that will aid their decision making.

Start with the 2012 rankings of the top fifty full-residency MFA programs in the country—or, if you’re looking to take the low-residency route, the top ten low-residency programs. (And if you’re considering a doctorate, check out the brand-new ranking of the top fifteen PhD programs.) These rankings are chock-full of valuable information, including program length, class size, available funding, cost of living, and teaching load, and they will serve as a good foundation for further individualized research. To learn about how the rankings are compiled and why, read the FAQ; for more information on the demographics of the surveyed applicant group, see "2012 MFA Rankings: The Methodology"; and for a look at how all graduate writing programs measure up, visit a ranking of the remaining eighty-one full-residency programs, a ranking of the remaining thirty-nine low-residency programs, and a ranking of the remaining sixteen doctoral programs.

We’ve also asked directors, coordinators, and professors of MFA programs to offer some advice for students trying to decide which programs are best for them. And don't miss our slideshow featuring the MFA students and graduates on our cover; read their opinions about what matters most in a graduate program.

We hope you’ll find these resources to be a useful guide. Best of luck.