Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 MFA Rankings: Creative Writing PhD Programs

{NB: As there are only 31 creative writing doctoral programs in the United States, and as the largest reported annual applicant pool for any one of these is 200--with the second-largest being under 170--the total number of applicants to such programs annually is undoubtedly in the hundreds rather than the thousands. For this reason, what might seem like a small polling "N" (were it to be used for Master of Fine Arts programs) is actually not insignificant. Still, the "N" remains below that point at which one could say with confidence that this ranking--as a whole--carries substantial statistical validity. Thus slight differences in rankings, as between two programs, may not actually be statistically significant. The data below was compiled from the Poets & Writers website over a three-year period}.

2011 Top 25 Creative Writing PhD Programs

(with votes in parentheses)

1. University of Denver (27)

2. Florida State University (23)

3. University of Illinois at Chicago (21)

4. Ohio University (20)

5. University of Houston (19)

6. University of Cincinnati (17)

7. University of Utah (15)

8t. Texas Tech University (14)

8t. University of Georgia (14)

8t. University of Missouri (14)

11t. University of Southern California (13)

11t. University of Tennessee (13)

13. University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (12)

14. University of Nebraska at Lincoln (11)

15. Western Michigan University (10)

16. Georgia State University (8)

17. Binghamton University (7)

18. University of Wisconsin at Madison (6) *

19t. University of Kansas (4)

19t. University of Nevada at Las Vegas (4)

19t. University of North Texas (4)

22t. State University of New York at Albany (3)

22t. University of Southern Mississippi (3)

24t. Illinois State University (2)

24t. University of Hawaii (2)

Programs Bubbling Under (26t): Oklahoma State University (1); Texas A&M University (1); University of Louisiana at Lafayette (1).

Other Programs (29t):

University of North Dakota (0)
University of South Dakota (0)
University of Texas at Dallas (0)

[N = 49; through 4.15.10].

As the rankings above only consider programs with fiction or poetry tracks among their offerings, Southern Illinois University's doctoral program in playwriting is not listed here. Nor are the discontinued programs at University of Iowa or University of Connecticut.

* This program is a traditional (critical dissertation) English Literature doctorate with an elective Creative Writing Internal Minor. Students selecting this Minor may satisfy between 20% and 25% of their total course credit requirements through MFA workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Madison MFA program; all told, a doctoral student at University of Wisconsin-Madison with an Internal Minor in Creative Writing will take as many MFA workshops as would a two-year MFA student at the University. University of Wisconsin-Madison therefore appears, on occasion, on the application lists of creative writing Ph.D. applicants, and for this reason appears in this ranking as well.


  1. I realize that I'm biased (who isn't to some extent), but I cannot possibly understand how USC isn't ranked in the top 5 (as it is in The Atlantic, along with most of the other top 5 programs). Among other things, USC has:

    1. Has some of the best CW faculty in the nation: TC Boyle, Aimee Bender, Percival Everrett + Marianne Wiggins on the fiction side + Carol Muske-Dukes, Marc Irwin, David St. John

    2. LA might be polluted + car-crazy, but it also has some of the best weather in the country with an effective mass transit + insane multiculturalism, not to mention proximity to the ocean, the desert and mountains

    3. I don't know about current data, but USC's PhD program in Literature + CW used to have one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country + regularly admits students with MFA's from the best programs in the nation (e.g. NYU, Columbia, Iowa, Washington, Pitt, ND, Alabama, Southern Miss)

    4. Most importantly, USC guarantees five years of funding at 20.5-21k (depending on the year), which is one of the best stipends for a CW PhD in the country

    How in the hell is USC ranked lower than Ohio University? Or what about UIC? As much as I love UIC, if you compare the stipends of UIC to USC, the CW faculty + their publications + the years of guaranteed funding for PhD candidates, it's not even a close contest. The only thing UIC has is Chicago, which is an awesome city. No comparison there, but in terms of program comparisons, I don't understand what the metrics could possibly be that puts UIC + OU above Utah or USC, whether it's funding, faculty or reputation.

  2. To add to this: While I think OU + UIC are both great programs + both provide 5 years of funding as SC does, I don't understand why they'd be ranked higher than Utah or SC considering the funding breakdown per program websites:

    USC: $20,500-$21,000 compared to UIC: $14,000 + OU: $15,000.
    As for reputation + CW faculty, well, that's a subjective matter, but I think if you compare publications + awards, SC + Utah should both be top 5 almost every year.

  3. Jackson,

    These rankings are about to be updated, and both of the schools you've mentioned will be moving up.

    Generally speaking, as "N" increases, rankings become more accurate. As to the other things you've said, I'll only say that stipends are adjusted by cost of living in the rankings where possible, and that polling has a margin of error, so that when the new polling comes out you have to add +/-5% (say) to the vote total to every school to see its rankings "range." I think you'll find that most if not all schools fall within a "range" that includes your expectations. Also, keep in mind that one factor applicants take into account is the presence of other programs in CW at the university; e.g., OU has a top CW MA on-site, just as USC has an MPW, but it's not clear (and I make no conjectures on this) which is a bigger draw for Ph.D. applicants looking for a strong cohort. The new rankings will be up shortly and will be linked to from the TSE (The Suburban Ecstasies) homepage in the right-hand sidebar.


  4. Seth,

    I'll look out for that. Thanks for responding so quickly. If there's one thing I've grown to expect from you, it's a prompt reply. I hope all is well in Madison. As for me, while I love my program, I miss the shit out of Chicago + can't wait to go back + remember this thing called a season (+I don't mean that in a Rimbaudian way either).



  5. Jackson,

    Just put it up now -- look for the link up in the right-hand sidebar.


  6. THANK YOU! I'm glad I found this as I'm almost finished with my MPW at Chatham.

  7. i stady Florida State University

  8. Does anyone have any thoughts on doing a PhD in Composition and Rhetoric after a MFA in Creative WRiting? I have been adjunct teaching(comp-all levels and some CW)for the past three and half years since my MFA degree. I would like to secure a full-time position teaching-I am thinking about the PhD in Comp/Rhet(instead of the PhD in CW) and then continuing my creative writing-I feel equally committed to teaching comp and CW-I love teaching writing-any kind-and writing and publishing my CW is what I will continue to do regardless of what my PhD is in. I would love to hear others' thoughts and ideas, on this subject. Thanks!

  9. Hello, I just wanted to recommend that you change the information on your site that Texas A&M-University has a PhD in Creative Writing. I am finishing my M.A. at one of the Texas A&M campuses and while I've been accepted to an MFA program out of state, I keep going back and forth with myself, wondering if I should get a PhD in CW instead...I've spoken with the director of A&M's graduate programs and they've made it very clear to me that their PhD is in Literary Studies, however, you do have the option to write a creative dissertation. That is completely different than getting a PhD in Creative Writing. Just wanted to let you know!! Thanks!

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