Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blah blah blah rankings blah blah blah

The new MFA rankings are up:

The methodology for these rankings has been argued here (and elsewhere) exhaustively. There are applicants this ranking will help. Great.

My own thoughts (not attacks on or defenses of the methodology, just thoughts), with my major caveat at the end:

To me, the overall ranking is less useful than the genre ranking, since you do all of the work that you care about (and in some programs, all of your work) within your genre. Separate rankings for poetry, fiction and non-fiction (not just listings, but actually separating these out) makes sense to me--but that would be less confrontational/awesome (in the full sense of that word), and P and W probably prefers the monolithic listing.

Many of these programs have singular attributes that make them super-interesting and are hard(er) to graph. For Iowa, it's the brand name, for Wisconsin, it's the single-genre cohorts, for UT Austin, it's the second-genre focus. Mind you, these aren't the only interesting things about these from everything I've heard wonderful programs. At University of Houston, it's the joint MFA-PhD mix (possibly one of only two in the country--I don't know if UNLV has their MFAs and creative writing PhDs take classes together, as we do), which is awesome.

Look, applicants (for the most part) are probably doing the work they should be doing to figure out where they want to apply to schools. And whatever, they're going to be fine, anyway. But I don't bring up the PhDs just to cheer-lead Houston, I bring them up because they help demonstrate the one funny thing about the rankings that has nothing to do with the applicants, and everything to do with the programs. That is, programs don't care so much about where their students are applying. Programs care, generally, about one thing: the writing sample.

Let me put it another way: 50 people apply to Iowa and 50 to University of Illinois in Urbana (picked at random--from everything I've heard, a good school). Those schools might accept entirely different cohorts. I bring up the PhDs because we have a number at UH who are graduates of prestigious programs (Iowa, UT-Austin, NYU) who get accepted to Houston just the same as the MFAs (and we use a blind approach, by going through manuscripts without attention to previous degrees--which just sorts out where you are on the degree track once you're here). There are also new PhDs who went to less-prestigious programs, and ended up in the same place. The teachers just picked who they want to work with.

I guess it's a small point to make, to say there are damn fine students in every MFA program, but I think it's worth reminding...


  1. Thanks for this. I get sick of rankings. In the end, if you write and put in the work, you'll be a good writer, no matter the program.

    anyway, great post!

  2. UNLV's MFA & PhD students do indeed take classes together and co-exist in the same sphere, with the requirements of the program being the primary separating factor. And the mix has indeed been an exciting, inspiring, and positive attribute of the program.

  3. I agree. It'll all turn out regardless of where you go. And if it doesn't, it could be possible to go somewhere else. It's not like people are just lining up to give people who graduate from "top-ranked" mfa programs jobs immediately upon graduation.

  4. The longer I'm in an MFA program, the more strongly I feel that the experience is what you make it: the more work/effort that you're willing to dedicate, the more you'll be rewarded. Rankings are always going to be somewhat subjective. Faculty, funding, location, etc. are all important aspects to take into consideration, but at the end of the day, I am the only one who is accountable for my creative work.

    I think that my goal during my MFA is not to create the best poems of my career (which is probably what I would have said a year ago); it is to produce the most creative, meaningful, & inspired work that I am capable of at this time--and to be influenced/shaped/attentive to the world around me.

  5. I love this post! I wasn't ranking focused when I was applying but the numbers sure do get a lot of hype! I second what Bethany said: what you get outbid a program is largely based on what you put in.

  6. @ Margosita, yes!

    @awessels, fantastic. I couldn't agree more about how positive, inspiring and exciting the mix is--glad to hear your program is as I suspected.

    @ JayTee, this is true! (We actually just got a fiction PhD'er from UVA this year--she seems really nice).

    @ Bethany, indeed, those sentiments strike me as more accurate every day. Not just for the MFA, but for after, too...

    @Jessie, I second your seconding...


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