I’m Emptying My Bank Account to Go to Columbia

Growing up in northern Uganda, I managed to piece together an education by winning one scholarship after another. But I will somehow have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars on my own to attend one of America’s most elite institutions.

columbia creative writing mfa cost

The good news came first: I had been admitted to Columbia University’s MFA writing program. I danced in celebration.

The bad news came later: The school would provide no financial aid—at least this was the news at first. I was devastated, but told myself, Anena, this is Columbia, you can’t let it go . I put up a GoFundMe where I am presently begging the world to contribute to my approximately $100,000 costs of attendance for just the first year of a two-year program ($62,912 of that is tuition, the rest is “living expenses” and other fees). By mid July, I had slightly more than $1,500 in donations.

In the months since I was admitted in March, I have continued singing into Columbia’s ears, telling her how much I need her, asking her to give me some funding. She said, I don’t have funding now; when I get it, I’ll let you know. In early June, I received an email saying I had received a scholarship after all. My heart leapt into my hands. I clicked the link to my student profile to see how much I had actually been given. $10,000. I quickly told myself, Relax, Anena . This is a more-than-good start. It means Columbia wants you for real real . So I wrote again and asked Columbia for more. On July 9, Columbia gave me another $10,000.

I danced again, but cautiously, careful not to jinx further good fortune. The cost of attendance for just one year is tens of thousands more, and I simply do not have it. I am praying, hoping. Every little bit helps, and I’m determined to come up with the rest . The mystery was—and still is—how.

Read: Elite colleges constantly tell low-income students that they do not belong

I have spent 18 years in school, 16 of which were on some form of scholarship. From when I began primary school, in 1993 in northern Uganda, I knew that my parents didn’t have the means to sufficiently take care of the eight children they had brought into the world. But I understood that if I excelled in class, I would always get a bursary for school, as was common at the time: Because of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency led by Joseph Kony, northern Uganda had become a hub for humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations, many of which sought to help poor children—especially bright girls—attend school.

I began secondary school in 2000 at one of the best schools in the region, Sacred Heart Girls Secondary School, which had given me a partial scholarship. My father rode his bicycle to school every fortnight to bring me roasted groundnuts and peanut butter, and to remind me not to lose sight of the twin goals of keeping my grades high (so that I could keep my scholarship) and graduating. I was happy.

During the long vacation before I started high school, I sat under the mango tree at home with my mum one day. We were listening to Radio Mega, the government-owned community radio station we always used to listen to, when an announcement aired about a writing competition. I quickly left the shade of the mango tree for the hut I shared with my two big sisters. I plucked out a sheet from my exercise book and wrote a poem. I won the contest and secured a bursary for a year of high school. The poem had saved my future.

I grew up in a culture of storytelling. By the fireplace, my paternal grandmother would tell us endless stories that made us laugh, awed and scared in equal measure, until she became born-again and said the folktales were ungodly. Luckily for me, the stories had found a home in my head. They were not going to leave.

During secondary school, I fell in love with literature. I read Soyinka, Achebe, Ngugi, and p’Bitek. Mills and Boon novels were the it then too. I buried my face in between pages as others screamed their voices hoarse at athletics. I went on to study literature—literature, always literature, as writing was never on offer—in high school as well. I emerged at the top of my class.

Read: When disadvantaged students overlook elite colleges

University beckoned. When results for the national exams were released, I was among the top five students from the district and was offered a scholarship to Makerere University. I wanted to be a poet but, because no university in Uganda offers creative writing, I settled for journalism. I loved literature, but what I wanted to do was write. With a journalism course, I would write my fingers numb.

For three years, I studied journalism, contributing articles to different newspapers. I continued writing poems in a big book specially dedicated to them. I graduated and worked as a writer and an editor in a newsroom for four years. During this time, I wrote more poetry and ventured into the short-story form as well.

I eventually decided to leave the newsroom to write more. The following year, 2015, I published my first collection of poems, A Nation in Labour . Three years after publication, the collection won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. My short stories also started getting recognition, becoming finalists for various prizes.

I wanted formal education in creative writing, the education I’d never had. I applied to universities around the world. For five years now I have been applying to schools, gaining admission but not financial aid. I have declined admissions offers and deferred many more, failing, always, to raise the necessary funds.

But Columbia is different to me. This was the program, the education I have dreamed of all my life. I put my all into my application for admission (granted) and my application for financial aid (denied). Only my appeals for further aid—what’s known as “institutional aid”—have been met with success so far, but I still have a long way to go.

Sometimes I get tempted to ask Columbia with a tone of entitlement— Columbia, you say you want me, then show me you want me —but I don’t, because she was clear from the start that all applicants had to be sure of their funding source. I had none. I just applied because she was the one I wanted.

I have taken the risk to pursue the course anyway. I have emptied my bank account to pay the tuition and housing deposits. I have put aside my shame to beg strangers to contribute to my GoFundMe. A poetry performance in June at the National Theater in Kampala managed to bring in $4,603. I plan to do another. My hope has never been this fat, this wild. But my anxiety has never been this intense. I try to breathe. I smile when it gets unbearable.

I’m trusting the road will smoothen out eventually—this road to bettering my craft; this road to writing and not just reading like school here taught me to; this road to a dream that has refused to go, like a scar on a forehead.

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Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA)

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Creative Writers are at the heart of our cultural industries. Poets, novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, graphic novelists, magazine writers: they entertain, inform and inspire. For more than 50 years, UBC’s Creative Writing program has been producing writers who’ve shaped Canadian and international culture. A studio program with the writing workshop at its heart, the MFA focuses on the work created by students as the primary text. Through intensive peer critique and craft discussion, faculty and students work together with the same goal: literary excellence. 

For specific program requirements, please refer to the departmental program website

What makes the program unique?

UBC’s Creative Writing program was the first writing program in Canada, and is the largest and most comprehensive in the country. It is highly ranked internationally, and draws students from around the world for its multi-genre approach to writing instruction. Students are required to work in multiple genres during the course of the degree. As a fine arts program rather than an English program, students focus on the practice of writing rather than the study of literature.

Small, intensive workshops characterize the program, as does our breadth of offerings: with 12 genres of writing available for study there are more opportunities for learning than at any other writing program in the world.

Faculty are distinguished, working writers. We have 12 professors, an additional 9 permanent instructors and regularly bring in a wide variety of writers in residence and adjunct instructors from the writing community.

The Creative Writing program is one of the best programs in the country and I was really honoured to be accepted. I really appreciate the talented faculty, the wide range of workshops available, and the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful community!

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Fiona Revill

Quick Facts

Program enquiries, admission information & requirements, program instructions.

The residency MFA program only has a September intake.

1) Check Eligibility

Minimum academic requirements.

The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies establishes the minimum admission requirements common to all applicants, usually a minimum overall average in the B+ range (76% at UBC). The graduate program that you are applying to may have additional requirements. Please review the specific requirements for applicants with credentials from institutions in:

  • Canada or the United States
  • International countries other than the United States

Each program may set higher academic minimum requirements. Please review the program website carefully to understand the program requirements. Meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission as it is a competitive process.

English Language Test

Applicants from a university outside Canada in which English is not the primary language of instruction must provide results of an English language proficiency examination as part of their application. Tests must have been taken within the last 24 months at the time of submission of your application.

Minimum requirements for the two most common English language proficiency tests to apply to this program are listed below:

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language - internet-based

Overall score requirement : 90

IELTS: International English Language Testing System

Overall score requirement : 6.5

Other Test Scores

Some programs require additional test scores such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Test (GMAT). The requirements for this program are:

The GRE is not required.

2) Meet Deadlines

September 2024 intake, application open date, canadian applicants, international applicants, deadline explanations.

Deadline to submit online application. No changes can be made to the application after submission.

Deadline to upload scans of official transcripts through the applicant portal in support of a submitted application. Information for accessing the applicant portal will be provided after submitting an online application for admission.

Deadline for the referees identified in the application for admission to submit references. See Letters of Reference for more information.

3) Prepare Application


All applicants have to submit transcripts from all past post-secondary study. Document submission requirements depend on whether your institution of study is within Canada or outside of Canada.

Letters of Reference

A minimum of three references are required for application to graduate programs at UBC. References should be requested from individuals who are prepared to provide a report on your academic ability and qualifications.

Statement of Interest

Many programs require a statement of interest , sometimes called a "statement of intent", "description of research interests" or something similar.


Students in research-based programs usually require a faculty member to function as their thesis supervisor. Please follow the instructions provided by each program whether applicants should contact faculty members.

Instructions regarding thesis supervisor contact for Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA)

Citizenship verification.

Permanent Residents of Canada must provide a clear photocopy of both sides of the Permanent Resident card.

4) Apply Online

All applicants must complete an online application form and pay the application fee to be considered for admission to UBC.

Tuition & Financial Support

Financial support.

Applicants to UBC have access to a variety of funding options, including merit-based (i.e. based on your academic performance) and need-based (i.e. based on your financial situation) opportunities.

Scholarships & awards (merit-based funding)

All applicants are encouraged to review the awards listing to identify potential opportunities to fund their graduate education. The database lists merit-based scholarships and awards and allows for filtering by various criteria, such as domestic vs. international or degree level.

Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA)

Many professors are able to provide Research Assistantships (GRA) from their research grants to support full-time graduate students studying under their supervision. The duties constitute part of the student's graduate degree requirements. A Graduate Research Assistantship is considered a form of fellowship for a period of graduate study and is therefore not covered by a collective agreement. Stipends vary widely, and are dependent on the field of study and the type of research grant from which the assistantship is being funded.

Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA)

Graduate programs may have Teaching Assistantships available for registered full-time graduate students. Full teaching assistantships involve 12 hours work per week in preparation, lecturing, or laboratory instruction although many graduate programs offer partial TA appointments at less than 12 hours per week. Teaching assistantship rates are set by collective bargaining between the University and the Teaching Assistants' Union .

Graduate Academic Assistantships (GAA)

Academic Assistantships are employment opportunities to perform work that is relevant to the university or to an individual faculty member, but not to support the student’s graduate research and thesis. Wages are considered regular earnings and when paid monthly, include vacation pay.

Financial aid (need-based funding)

Canadian and US applicants may qualify for governmental loans to finance their studies. Please review eligibility and types of loans .

All students may be able to access private sector or bank loans.

Foreign government scholarships

Many foreign governments provide support to their citizens in pursuing education abroad. International applicants should check the various governmental resources in their home country, such as the Department of Education, for available scholarships.

Working while studying

The possibility to pursue work to supplement income may depend on the demands the program has on students. It should be carefully weighed if work leads to prolonged program durations or whether work placements can be meaningfully embedded into a program.

International students enrolled as full-time students with a valid study permit can work on campus for unlimited hours and work off-campus for no more than 20 hours a week.

A good starting point to explore student jobs is the UBC Work Learn program or a Co-Op placement .

Tax credits and RRSP withdrawals

Students with taxable income in Canada may be able to claim federal or provincial tax credits.

Canadian residents with RRSP accounts may be able to use the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) which allows students to withdraw amounts from their registered retirement savings plan (RRSPs) to finance full-time training or education for themselves or their partner.

Please review Filing taxes in Canada on the student services website for more information.

Cost Calculator

Applicants have access to the cost calculator to develop a financial plan that takes into account various income sources and expenses.

Career Options

Graduates of the MFA program have found success in varied fields related to writing and communication. The MFA qualifies graduates for teaching at the university level and many graduates have gone on to teach at colleges and universities in Canada, the United States and overseas as well as holding writing residencies. Many publish books and win literary awards. Others go on to work in publishing, and graduates have become book and magazine editors.

Although the MFA is a terminal degree, some graduates go on to further study in PhD programs in the US, UK and Australia. 

Enrolment, Duration & Other Stats

These statistics show data for the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA). Data are separated for each degree program combination. You may view data for other degree options in the respective program profile.


Completion rates & times.

  • Research Supervisors

This list shows faculty members with full supervisory privileges who are affiliated with this program. It is not a comprehensive list of all potential supervisors as faculty from other programs or faculty members without full supervisory privileges can request approvals to supervise graduate students in this program.

  • Belcourt, Billy-Ray (Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry)
  • Hopkinson, Nalo (Creative writing, n.e.c.; Humanities and the arts; Creative Writing: Speculative Ficton, Fantasy, Science Fiction, especially Other Voices)
  • Irani, Anosh
  • Koncan, Frances
  • Leavitt, Sarah (Autobiographical comics; Formal experimentation in comics; Comics pedagogy)
  • Lee, Nancy (Fiction; Creative Writing)
  • Lyon, Annabel (Novels, stories and news)
  • Maillard, Keith (Fiction, poetry)
  • Marzano-Lesnevich, Alex (Nonfiction)
  • McGowan, Sharon (Planning of film productions from concept to completion)
  • Medved, Maureen (Fiction, writing for screen)
  • Nicholson, Cecily (Languages and literature; Poetry)
  • Ohlin, Alix (Fiction; Screenwriting; Environmental writing)
  • Pohl-Weary, Emily (Fiction; Writing for Youth)
  • Svendsen, Linda (Fiction, television)
  • Taylor, Timothy (fiction and nonfiction)
  • Vigna, John (Novels, stories and news; Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction, Creative Writing)

Sample Thesis Submissions

Related programs, same specialization.

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Distance) (MFA)

Same Academic Unit

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Theatre (MFA)
  • Master of Fine Arts in Film Production and Creative Writing (MFA)

At the UBC Okanagan Campus

  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Further Information


Creative Writing combines the best of traditional workshop and leading-edge pedagogy. Literary cross-training offers opportunities in a broad range of genres including fiction, poetry, screenplay, podcasting, video game writing and graphic novel.

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Departments/Programs may update graduate degree program details through the Faculty & Staff portal. To update contact details for application inquiries, please use this form .

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Vivian (Xiao Wen) Li

I really liked what the program would be offering, and I love the mountains as well as nature—I find a lot of peace and inspiration from water, wind, and clouds. While I was at an Explore Program for a month at the University of Victoria (I wanted to explore the West Coast), I managed to visit UBC...

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Brandi Bird

I only applied to UBC. I couldn’t justify upending my life with my partner and my cats for two years of schooling. I decided if I didn’t get in, I’d try again next year. But I was lucky! I just finished my undergraduate degree at UBC and so the familiarity of campus was and is comforting but the...

columbia creative writing mfa cost

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The Best 15 Creative Writing MFA Programs in 2023

April 7, 2023

mfa creative writing programs

Whether you studied at a top creative writing university , or are a high school dropout who will one day become a bestselling author , you may be considering an MFA in Creative Writing. But is a writing MFA genuinely worth the time and potential costs? How do you know which program will best nurture your writing? This article walks you through the considerations for an MFA program, as well as the best Creative Writing MFA programs in the United States.

First of all, what is an MFA?

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is a graduate degree that usually takes from two to three years to complete. Applications require a sample portfolio for entry, usually of 10-20 pages of your best writing.

What actually goes on in a creative writing MFA beyond inspiring award-winning books and internet memes ? You enroll in workshops where you get feedback on your creative writing from your peers and a faculty member. You enroll in seminars where you get a foundation of theory and techniques. Then you finish the degree with a thesis project.

Reasons to Get an MFA in Creative Writing

You don’t need an MFA to be a writer. Just look at Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison or bestselling novelist Emily St. John Mandel.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons you might still want to get a creative writing MFA. The first is, unfortunately, prestige. An MFA from a top program can help you stand out in a notoriously competitive industry to be published.

The second reason: time. Many MFA programs give you protected writing time, deadlines, and maybe even a (dainty) salary.

Third, an MFA in Creative Writing is a terminal degree. This means that this degree allows you to teach writing at the university level, especially after you publish a book.

But above all, the biggest reason to pursue an MFA is the community it brings you. You get to meet other writers, and share feedback, advice, and moral support, in relationships that can last for decades.

Types of Creative Writing MFA Programs

Here are the different types of programs to consider, depending on your needs:

Fully-Funded Full-Time Programs

These programs offer full-tuition scholarships and sweeten the deal by actually paying you to attend them.

  • Pros: You’re paid to write (and teach).
  • Cons: Uprooting your entire life to move somewhere possibly very cold.

Full-Time MFA Programs

These programs include attending in-person classes and paying tuition (though many offer need-based and merit scholarships).

  • Pros: Lots of top-notch programs non-funded programs have more assets to attract world-class faculty and guests.
  • Cons: It’s an investment that might not pay itself back.

Low-Residency MFA Programs

Low-residency programs usually meet biannually for short sessions. They also offer one-on-one support throughout the year. These MFAs are more independent, preparing you for what the writing life is actually like.

  • Pros: No major life changes required. Cons: Less time dedicated to writing and less time to build relationships.

Online MFA Programs

Held 100% online. These programs have high acceptance rates and no residency requirement. That means zero travel or moving expenses.

  • Pros: No major life changes required.
  • Cons: These MFAs have less name-recognition

The Top 15 Creative Writing MFA Programs Ranked by Category

The following programs are selected for their balance of high funding, impressive return on investment, stellar faculty, major journal publications , and impressive alums.

Fully Funded MFA Programs

1) johns hopkins university, mfa in fiction/poetry (baltimore, md).

This is a two-year program, with $33,000 teaching fellowships per year. This MFA offers the most generous funding package. Not to mention, it offers that sweet, sweet health insurance, mind-boggling faculty, and a guaranteed lecture position after graduation (nice). No nonfiction MFA (boo).

  • Incoming class size: 8 students
  • Admissions rate: 11.1%
  • Alumni: Chimamanda Adiche, Jeffrey Blitz, Wes Craven, Louise Erdrich, Porochista Khakpour, Phillis Levin, ZZ Packer, Tom Sleigh, Elizabeth Spires, Rosanna Warren

2) University of Texas, James Michener Center (Austin, TX)

A fully-funded 3-year program with a generous stipend of $29,500. The program offers fiction, poetry, playwriting and screenwriting. The Michener Center is also unique because you study a primary genre and a secondary genre, and also get $3,000 for the summer.

  • Incoming class size : 12 students
  • Acceptance rate: a bone-chilling less-than-1% in fiction; 2-3% in other genres
  •   Alumni: Fiona McFarlane, Brian McGreevy, Karan Mahajan, Alix Ohlin, Kevin Powers, Lara Prescott, Roger Reeves, Maria Reva, Domenica Ruta, Sam Sax, Joseph Skibell, Dominic Smith

3) University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a 2-year program on a residency model for fiction and poetry. This means there are low requirements, and lots of time to write groundbreaking novels or play pool at the local bar. Most students are funded, with fellowships worth up to $21,000. The Translation MFA, co-founded by Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, is also two years, but with more intensive coursework. The Nonfiction Writing Program is a prestigious three-year MFA program and is also intensive.

  • Incoming class size: 25 each for poetry and fiction; 10-12 for nonfiction and translation.
  • Acceptance rate: 3.7%
  • Fantastic Alumni: Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Garth Greenwell, Kiley Reid, Brandon Taylor, Eula Biss, Yiyun Li, Jennifer Croft

4) University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

Anne Carson famously lives in Ann Arbor, as do the MFA students U-Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. This is a big university town, which is less damaging to your social life. Plus, there’s lots to do when you have a $23,000 stipend, summer funding, and health care.

This is a 2-3-year program, with an impressive reputation. They also have a demonstrated commitment to “ push back against the darkness of intolerance and injustice ” and have outreach programs in the community.

  • Incoming class size: 18
  • Acceptance rate: 4% (which maybe seems high after less-than-1%)
  • Alumni: Brit Bennett, Vievee Francis, Airea D. Matthews, Celeste Ng, Chigozie Obioma, Jia Tolentino, Jesmyn Ward

5) Brown University (Providence, RI)

Brown offers an edgy, well-funded program in a place that doesn’t dip into arctic temperatures. Students are all fully-funded for 2-3 years with $29,926 in 2021-22. Students also get summer funding and—you guessed it—that sweet, sweet health insurance.

In the Brown Literary Arts MFA, students take only one workshop and one elective per semester. It’s also the only program in the country to feature a Digital/Cross Disciplinary Track.

  • Incoming class size: 12-13
  • Acceptance rate: “highly selective”
  • Alumni: Edwidge Danticat, Jaimy Gordon, Gayl Jones, Ben Lerner, Joanna Scott, Kevin Young, Ottessa Moshfegh

Best MFA Creative Writing Programs (Continued) 

6) university of arizona (tucson, az).

This 3-year program has many attractive qualities. It’s in “ the lushest desert in the world ”, and was recently ranked #4 in creative writing programs, and #2 in Nonfiction. You can take classes in multiple genres, and in fact, are encouraged to do so. Plus, Arizona dry heat is good for arthritis.

This notoriously supportive program pays $20,000 a year, and offers the potential to volunteer at multiple literary organizations. You can also do supported research at the US-Mexico Border.

  • Incoming class size: 9
  • Acceptance rate: 4.85% (a refreshingly specific number after Brown’s evasiveness)
  • Alumni: Francisco Cantú, Jos Charles, Tony Hoagland, Nancy Mairs, Richard Russo, Richard Siken, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, David Foster Wallace

7) Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ):

Arizona State is also a three-year funded program in arthritis-friendly dry heat. It offers small class sizes, individual mentorships, and one of the most impressive faculty rosters in the game. Everyone gets a $19,000 stipend, with other opportunities for financial support.

  • Incoming class size: 8-10
  • Acceptance rate: 3% (sigh)
  • Alumni: Tayari Jones, Venita Blackburn, Dorothy Chan, Adrienne Celt, Dana Diehl, Matthew Gavin Frank, Caitlin Horrocks, Allegra Hyde, Hugh Martin, Bonnie Nadzam


8) new york university (new york, ny).

This two-year program is in New York City, meaning it comes with close access to literary opportunities and hot dogs. NYU is private, and has one of the most accomplished faculty lists anywhere. Students have large cohorts (more potential friends!) and have a penchant for winning top literary prizes.

  • Incoming class size: 40-60
  • Acceptance rate: 6%
  • Alumni: Nick Flynn, Nell Freudenberger, Aracelis Girmay, Mitchell S. Jackson, Tyehimba Jess, John Keene, Raven Leilani, Robin Coste Lewis, Ada Limón, Ocean Vuong

9) Columbia University (New York, NY)

Another 2-3 year private MFA program with drool-worthy permanent and visiting faculty. Columbia offers courses in fiction, poetry, translation, and nonfiction. Beyond the Ivy League education, Columbia offers close access to agents, and its students have a high record of bestsellers.

  • Incoming class size: 110
  • Acceptance rate: 21%
  • Alumni: Alexandra Kleeman, Rachel Kushner, Claudia Rankine, Rick Moody, Sigrid Nunez, Tracy K. Smith, Emma Cline, Adam Wilson, Marie Howe, Mary Jo Bang

10) Sarah Lawrence (Bronxville, NY)

Sarah Lawrence offers speculative fiction beyond the average fiction, poetry, and nonfiction course offerings. With intimate class sizes, this program is unique because it offers biweekly one-on-one conferences with its stunning faculty. It also has a notoriously supportive atmosphere.

  • Incoming class size: 30-40
  • Acceptance rate: N/A
  • Alumni: Cynthia Cruz, Melissa Febos, T Kira Madden, Alex Dimitrov, Moncho Alvarado


11 bennington college (bennington, vt).

This two-year program boasts truly stellar faculty, and meets twice a year for ten days in January and June. It’s like a biannual vacation in beautiful Vermont, plus mentorship by a famous writer, and then you get a degree. The tuition is $23,468 per year, with scholarships available.

  • Acceptance rate: 53%
  • Incoming class: 40
  • Alumni: Larissa Pham, Andrew Reiner, Lisa Johnson Mitchell, and others

12)  Institute for American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM)

This two-year program emphasizes Native American and First Nations writing. With truly amazing faculty and visiting writers, they offer a wide range of genres offered, in screenwriting, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Students attend two eight-day residencies each year, in January and July, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At $12,000 a year, it boasts being “ one of the most affordable MFA programs in the country .”

  • Incoming class size : 22
  • Acceptance rate: 100%
  • Alumni: Tommy Orange, Dara Yen Elerath, Kathryn Wilder

13) Vermont College of Fine Arts

One of few MFAs where you can study the art of the picture book, middle grade and young adult literature, graphic literature, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry for young people. Students meet twice a year for nine days, in January and July, in Vermont. You can also do many travel residencies in exciting (and warm) places like Cozumel.

VCFA boasts amazing faculty and visiting writers, with individualized study options and plenty of one-on-one time. Tuition is $48,604.

  • Incoming class size: 18-25
  • Acceptance rate: 63%
  • Alumnx: Lauren Markham, Mary-Kim Arnold, Cassie Beasley, Kate Beasley, Julie Berry, Bridget Birdsall, Gwenda Bond, Pablo Cartaya


14) university of texas at el paso (el paso, tx).

The world’s first bilingual and online MFA program in the world. UTEP is considered the best online MFA program, and features award-winning faculty from across the globe. Intensive workshops allow submitting in Spanish and English, and genres include poetry and fiction. This three-year program costs $14,766 a year, with rolling admissions.

  • Alumni: Watch alumni testimonies here

15) Bay Path University (Long Meadow, MA)

This 2-year online program is dedicated entirely to nonfiction. A supportive, diverse community, Bay Path offers small class sizes, close mentorship, and a potential field trip in Ireland.

There are many tracks, including publishing, Narrative Medicine, and teaching. Core courses include memoir, narrative journalism, and the personal essay. The price is $785/credit, for 39 credits, with scholarships available.

  • Incoming class size: 20
  • Acceptance rate: an encouraging 78%
  • Alumni: Read alumni testimonies here

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Julia Conrad

With a Bachelor of Arts in English and Italian from Wesleyan University as well as MFAs in both Nonfiction Writing and Literary Translation from the University of Iowa, Julia is an experienced writer, editor, educator, and a former Fulbright Fellow. Julia’s work has been featured in  The Millions ,  Asymptote , and  The Massachusetts Review , among other publications. To read more of her work, visit  www.juliaconrad.net

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MFA Program

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Poetry: Timothy Donnelly, Dorothea Lasky, Shane McCrae, Deborah Paredez, Lynn Xu

Fiction: Paul Beatty, Anelise Chen, Nicholas Christopher, Rivka Galchen, Heidi Julavits, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Victor LaValle, Sam Lipsyte, Ben Marcus, Orhan Pamuk, Matthew Salesses, Gary Shteyngart, Alan Ziegler

Nonfiction: Hilton Als, Jaquira Díaz, Lis Harris, Leslie Jamison, Margo Jefferson, Wendy S. Walters

Translation: Susan Bernofsky

Recent Adjunct Faculty: Mark Bibbins, CAConrad, Cynthia Cruz, Mark Doten, Joshua Furst, Alan Gilbert, Xiaolu Guo, Madhu Kaza, John Keene, Nicole Krauss, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Lynn Melnick, Daphne Merkin, Ben Metcalf, Erroll McDonald, Jen Percy, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Alice Quinn, Camille Rankine, Leanne Shapton, Benjamin Taylor, Jia Tolentino, Lara Vapnyar, Natasha Wimmer, Brenda Wineapple, Phillip B. Williams, James Wood, Monica Youn, Jenny Zhang

The program offers partial funding, including administrative and teaching fellowships, research assistantships, scholarships, and internships.

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Elisa Albert, Mia Alvar, Jonathan Ames, Daphne Palasi Andreades, G'Ra Asim, Hannah Assadi, Jesse Ball, Mary Jo Bang, Mandy Berman, Lucie Brock-Broido, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Jessamine Chan, Tina Chang, Melissa Clark, Emma Cline, Henri Cole, Kiran Desai, Rebecca Donner, Stephen Dubner, Peter Farrelly, Lexi Freiman, Matt Gallagher, Philip Gourevitch, Eliza Griswold, Marie Howe, Katrine Øgaard Jensen, Mat Johnson, Owen King, Jordan Kisner, Alexandra Kleeman, E.J. Koh, Rachel Kushner, Catherine Lacey, Stephen McCauley, Campbell McGrath, Lynn Melnick, Dinaw Mengestu, Susan Minot, Rick Moody, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Sigrid Nunez, Julie Otsuka, Gregory Pardlo, Martin Pousson, Richard Price, Claudia Rankine, Camille Rankine, Karen Russell, Vijay Seshadri, Brenda Shaughnessy, Mona Simpson, Emily Skillings, Sarah Smarsh, Tracy K. Smith, Lynn Steger Strong, Wells Tower, Mai Der Vang, Adam Wilson, Brian Young

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The One MFA Program to Rule Them All

Scott Kenemore is very angry that his beloved Columbia University has fallen to #47 in the Poets & Writers MFA rankings and he’s going to tell you exactly why Columbia has the awesomest MFA program in all the world .

1. Columbia is expensive and that makes it awesome.

2. Fancy writers teach at Columbia and that makes it awesome.

3. Writers who go to cheaper schools end up selling chapbooks in quantities of 500 (?) and teaching at those terrible  regional universities in fly-over states so Columbia is awesome.

4. He has written six novels! All his Columbia friends are equally successful. Even though you may not be able to name one of his six books, Columbia is awesome.

5. Only writers who attend Columbia (or the one school he considers superior, Iowa) have genitals. The rest of you have the smooth plastic of  Barbie and Ken so Columbia is awesome.

6. Unlike the thousands of writers at other MFA programs, or heaven forbid those writers who dare to write without the degree, students at Columbia want to be successful so Columbia is awesome.

7. The MFA rankings should include a category for manuscript placement and FOUR FIGURE advances so Columbia is awesome. (That last idea, minus the suggested prestige of a four figure advance is a good one.)

To summarize, Columbia is the awesomest and only MFA program worth attending if you are a serious, important writer. Other than Iowa.

Here is a rational, smart response to all this MFA ranking business (via Hobart’s Tumblr). 

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 15th, 2011 at 4:18 pm and is filed under Mean . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


I actually do think that ranking programs based on alumni success would make a lot mores sense than teaching placement or an unscientific poll on a blog. Columbia’s funding sucks, but the writers I’ve known from there have had a huge degree of success. 

Alumni success could be a key and useful factor to include in the rankings. I don’t really care about the rankings because I don’t have a stake but most people agree the rankings are deeply flawed. This guy’s argument though, does more to insult people and make him look a bit off than to make a compelling case. I kind of think the article is satirical. I think he writes satirical zombie books so that would make sense. I need it to make sense.

Also, while this guys’ tone is pretty silly (as is the idea that it is “so” worth the money), the response letter (not to this, but to the initial thing) by Poets and Writers was one of the dumbest things I’ve read. They didn’t even attempt to address the criticism. 

I wouldn’t say it is a useful factor, I’d say it is about the only useful factor as far as “ranking” goes unless you wanted to rank reputation. Funding is very important to note, but I think that is a much more individual thing. For example, some people get full funding at Columbia. Some people at highly funded programs get nothing. You should make a funding decision when you know what funding you have. 

what a self-righteous douche rocket. i imagine if i were a one-trick pony writing only about zombies in all of my books, i could probably justify having an ego too.

This guy thinks of himself as someone who thrives in the world of American letters even though all of his books are cheesy, trend-chasing novelty zombie books that are prominently displayed in the 80% off section of Barnes & Noble.

The trick would be not only to compare alumni success between programs, but to compare the program success to the success of authors who haven’t attended a program. 

he’s strident and vain, but in there somewhere is an interesting notion: that Columbia teaches how to make a living as a writer versus how to become a writing teacher, and that writing programs should somehow be judged for the former as well as the latter. 

Who cares about all this MFA bullshit! Okay MFA GIANT! ANYONE who teaches Creative Writing(.)should be ashamed of themself.

I dunno if Columbia teaches students that more or less than other programs, but it seems likely only in the last few years have people started thinking MFA programs as merely some kind of way to get a teaching job. Wasn’t the entire point to be a writer? To publish books? To have readers? 

The idea of ranking programs based on who becomes writing teachers is crazy.

i just finished my MFA at the University of San Francisco and i can assure you that there was more emphasis on living as a writer than there was on any aspect of teaching the writing. personally, i plan on teaching as well, so i took the more academic seminars to put me in that direction, but overall the program looked at us students as writers first.

obviously i can’t speak for other programs across the country, just my own experience over the last two years.

Except that one of the best ways to make a living as a writer is to keep one’s personal expenses down.

One of the best way to keep one’s personal expenses down: don’t take out enormous loans.

Watching people talk about this from a way outside of/no access to MFA programs in general has been very interesting. It makes me wonder do these rankings really matter that much? Do people choose their programs based on rankings and how big or existent the genitals of their potential teachers are? I have so many questions, the whole experience is so foreign to me.

The idea that the MFA could “lead toward a teaching job” is becoming a thing of the past, because of the advent of PhD programs in Literature and Creative Writing.  Today, if you choose the MFA as your terminal degree, you better have 1-2 books to overcome your lack of formal training in literature (the days when creative writers could expect to teach a a 2/2 load of graduate workshops are fading rapidly, and more MFA applicants are aware of this reality than ever before). How many people leave their MFA programs with 1-2 books already published? No one.  So the idea doesn’t even make sense. 

Dude, I respect that you walk it like you talk it and juggle fiction, journalism, and everything else that goes into writing as a living-wage profession, but once you get past the laugh-factor of Googling Kenemore’s catalogue, something really sick about his argument sinks in. Not how ill it is that he had to go to an elite program to learn to write those novels; not even the diseased arithmetic where he mentions taking on 45 grand in student loans because authors have the right to expect to make “thousands” for finished work – but the foundation of his case is prioritizing “manuscript placement” as a ranking factor for programs. We just blew Labor Day in a tizzy over whether it was okay for poets to cough up a few bucks to see their work hit the street – and 45 G.’s for “manuscript placement?” That’s the lesson on what it takes to make a living as a writer? Hrmmm.

so you can get full funding to CU after your first year (through the english department) and teach in their comp program. you get tuition, stipend, free insurance and an extra year. a great deal, hard to get, and you still have to pony up for the first year’s tuition. 

…which is why I like PhD programs in Lit/CW right now.  RIGHT NOW is the perfect time to attend such a program, because they’re so new and aren’t competing with each other left and right.  You can’t really “rank” the PhD programs because a top 20 list would contain most if not all of the programs.  You don’t hear Texas Tech grads arguing with Nebraska grads about what program is better, has more successful alumni, etc., blah blah blah. People go to these programs to become more versatile teachers, scholars, thinkers, and receive 4-5 years of funded writing time to boot.  People in MFA programs often get 24 months and then plenty of time afterward to haggle over stupid rankings. 

My understanding is that they offer full tuition to a few students starting first year now. Their funding has increased in the last few years. 

title and image on this post are SO GOOD

But do the rankings actually matter, other than as a measure of genital size? Serious question.

Do publishers look at these rankings and use them to determine which manuscripts they’ll give serious consideration to? Do English dept.’s use them for hiring? I’ve heard that it’s common for publishers to have a special pile for Irvine, Columbia, and Iowa grads (despite what any rankings might say). Can anyone speak to this?

Or is this just about saying, “Yeah, dad, I know it’s imagination college, but my program is ranked 3rd in the country!”

yeah it’s painful to those of us who paid. i wonder how CU will move up in these sorts of ranks as they fund more and more students and super high tuition can’t dominate the discussion

Can I just say as a full-time RN entering my MFA program, it did matter. I had, finally, TIME. Years to read and write. A divorce from the real world. I found it unbelievable.

Having said so, an MFA is one way to carve out time for writing. Academia and writing is a just a tiny sub-set of writing. I wrote as a nurse, too. I was just a much more tired writer.

I don’t know anyone in the publishing world (editors, agents, etc.) that take these rankings seriously at all. But I’m sure they affect where students apply so matter to applicants and MFA programs. 

MFA programs should be ranked on:

1.      Funding. This just makes cents. Do not pay for an MFA. Have them pay you, poorly, just enough for coffee/beer/rent/(—). I would rather sell novelty staplers to farmers than pay for an MFA. If they will not pay you, take that as a clue. Most jobs allow time for writing.

2.      How big are the trees? I like big-ass trees on campus. Like oaks and shit. Like trees older than my dad. It is important.

3.      How long can you live off the capitalistic grid? At Bama they gave us a ridiculous 4 years. That’s crazy, but aim for 3.

4.      Will they let you edit a magazine? Will they let you work for a press? Will they let you design books? Or manage the finances of a magazine? This whole “They train you to teach thing” I never saw, personally. Sure, they farmed us out to teach comp, but so what? That’s just business. If teaching was your dish, cool. But there are many other avenues. Creativity is actually valuable. It’s like being funny. Comedians used to be under-valued, too, like skateboarders—freaks, right? Right. They now own every sit-com and clothing line in the world.

5.      Nearby bars that give discounts to writing students because they love books. (Bama had two)

6.      Genre. Go to the programs that don’t give a shit what genre you write, or how you mix/blend, etc. Others get all uptight on said issue. Fuck them.

7.      Highways. You need to have at least one major highway nearby. Highways are great for story material. And to enter and leave town.

8.      Do they serve alcohol at university functions? The good ones will. Raiding university functions is an art and science that EVERY grad student must learn. Wow, the carrot/ranch dip/red wine dinners I have enjoyed. Sort of like:

9.      How near is the Mexican restaurant? For grad students, eating the free chips and milking a beer is many a dinner.

10.   I’m kidding, somewhat. Who the fuck reads MFA rankings? Think hard before going anywhere. OR ask yourself, “Can’t I write just fine without academia?” Yep. BUT, if you want TIME and a group of people who DIG WRITING, this is one way to go. One way. So.

There are all sorts of urban legends about “special piles” in publishing houses, but I doubt such piles actually exist.  Publishers do not have time to create special little slush piles for Iowa grads or writers from MS or NC (another urban legend is that houses have an affinity for writers from these two Southern states). 

If I was considering an MFA program (which I’m not, but maybe I will at some point, who knows), only three things would matter to me: 1) funding, 2) alumni manuscript placement, and 3) location. Nothing else matters IMO.

It’s too bad his article is so focused on Columbia and not on the larger issue, which is that the methodology Seth Abramson uses to construct these rankings is completely dishonest and misleading. These rankings are indeed a sham, but not just because they screw over Columbia. Just too bad he had a big national forum like Slate to expose this and he chose to make it about one program.

The amount of money Scott Kenemore went into debt for his MFA at Columbia is the same amount my fellowship at Texas State University-San Marcos paid me to sit on butt and write for three years. It was kind of an “august” fellowship. Dick.

Can I say, as someone who went to Columbia, that 500 chapbooks is a ridiculously long run. This guy’s an idiot and there’s a better way to talk about what’s good about that program and it doesn’t start by saying what’s bad about the P&W rankings is that Columbia’s not number 2. 

pre-, primary, secondary, tertiary . . . and vanity education

(. . . tertiary – and even earlier – is sometimes vanity

but you don’t always get a vanity degree)

‘I got an MV from poop chute u that launched me into the real world of publishing majesteriality’

Teachers? or a teacher?

I earn a four-figure fee just translating a bad screenplay, so his four-figure advance on a book contract really makes me laugh.

P&W ranked the phds too. There are dozens of them, actually. Like over 40 now. So both your claims are off. And all the haggling still happens in the phds too.  

Do you know who you’re talking to? “Do you know who I am?!?!?!” [/Tom Cruise voice] I’m a CW PhD student. I think I might know a thing or two. 

P&W/Seth have been ranking PhDs for a few years, but no one pays attention to the rankings and even Seth has admitted on his blog how difficult it is to “rank” only a handful of programs (even 40, the number you cite, which I’ll get to in a minute, is a very small number). I’ve also followed discussions of PhD programs online for some time and have yet to see much haggling between Ohio U grads and UW-M grads, but maybe you can point me to such debates and the ensuing shitstorms they caused? Most shitstorms involving PhDs come from either MFAs who are insecure with their own degrees or people who think a CW PhD is just a longer MFA program. 

And those “40” programs you mention that are often listed by Seth and P&W? Many have strange or loose wording about the option of creative writing dissertations, one is Wisconsin, a program that magically became a CW PhD program once Seth enrolled there, and programs that barely (if at all) advertise themselves as programs. 

Roxane is my hero.

Do your art wherever and however you damn well feel.

Hah! My program had media celebrities who couldn’t teach for shit, but were constantly plucking the ripe fruit of young, female MFA incomers, avant guarde poets who screwed their workshop members while critiquing their poetry, and a few badasses who actually cared about the writing.

To decompensate is an excellent neologism of (to my knowledge) hers.

this is actually the best MFA advice that’s ever appeared / good work addressing the mexican restaurant factor / umass amherst has Bueno, which isn’t a mexican restaurant, but it’s so cheap and filling

All major life decisions should be triangulated by Mexican restaurants.

For anyone is in debt (federal debt that is):

IBRINFO.org has information about the various mild government repayment programs, including the one that discharges debt in 10 years for non-profit and government workers (i.e. all professors, among other things)

Private debt for an MFA is horrible idea, but payments capped at 15 percent of income might change the equation for people.

Maybe this is karmic payback for Columbia’s publishing course, which has polluted the earth with agents.

Does it make more sense if you consider that the Columbia ranking was all due to James Franco’s book or is that just a snarky overreach?

John, see, there are points on which we can be in perfect agreement.  This is sure one of them.

Never having heard of Scott Kenemore, I looked him and his books up.  This is what Columbia prepares one for?  Never has a greater ocean existed than that between the ridiculous cover art and the oh-so-serious author photo.  And yes, this is ad hominem, but good lord, zombies and pretension?!

one important thing that should be mentioned is that columbia is a huge program. in terms of admissions, this makes them somewhat less selective than many other popular programs, simply because of the # of spots. selectivity is one of the primary means by which most school rankings (p&w or otherwise) are compiled. in terms of selectivity, columbia was not one of the top 50 most selective schools in the country. one could argue that, given its selectivity, size, and poor funding, columbia’s reputation is significantly stronger than hard numbers suggest it should be. this means that reputation of school and faculty were taken into account by the ranking.

columbia’s size also means that, in raw numbers, more columbia mfaers are going to be publishing than, say, people from brown or syracuse, even if every single brown or syracuse grad has a book and only 10-20% of columbia grads do. further, one could argue that because of its location, faculty connections to large publishing houses, and (somewhat perversely) because of the huge debt students take on to be there, students who attend columbia are likely to be more marked-oriented than students at other programs. this is not a good or bad thing, but the fact that columbia students are self-selecting for certain writerly goals does not mean that those goals ought to be the standard by which programs in general are judged.

this is not to say that i’m a fan of the p&w rankings. i wish that, instead of a single ranking, they made a series of lists like ‘programs that are open to experimentation,’ ‘programs with excellent teaching opportunities,’ ‘programs with strong literature/theory emphases,’ ‘programs with strong mainstream publishing connections’ etc. then applicants could figure out which of those things they wanted and and find which programs fit their needs best.

for example, i know that, personally, a big reason to enter an mfa program was because i want to teach, so teaching opportunities were important in my search. for others, teaching is a burden they wish to avoid. i also wanted a program where formal experimentation would be encouraged and i know if i had to go to class every day and workshop would-be future bestsellers, i’d drop out within a month. many people would probably feel exactly the opposite. this is all pretty obvious stuff, but it shows how patently absurd single hierarchical rankings are.

 *market-oriented, not ‘marked-oriented’

Columbia’s MFA has a different structure than most MFA programs, you’re paying to take a full-credit load at a private university of seminars and lectures alongside of your workshops. If this is not something you want, or wish to pay for, then don’t apply. If it sounds like might help your writing and you wish to borrow modestly to pay for courses along with your degree, then Columbia is a compelling choice.

But you had to live in Texas for three years

And $15K/year kind of sucks if you had to teach a clatch of retards

Are they hiring?

Yeah, it must suck to live in a town 30 minutes a way from Austin, and in a state w/ no income tax. 

No teaching requirement with the fellowship (hence the word fellowship and not assistant ship). But, hey, they also gave me a TAship (like stackable coupons!) because I wanted to teach and I enjoyed teaching my “clatch of retards,” many of whom were first generation college students, the polar opposite of the entitled rich kids who have nothing better to do than revel in their own ennui. 

You aren’t going to pay much income tax on $15K no matter where you live and Austin sucks

I know the difference, but some schools like to give ‘teaching fellowships’ so I thought I’d pry. Hey, Columbia has a course-heavy program with lots of exposure to supposedly great faculty. To many that makes it worth paying a premium…but I’m glad you found the experience you were looking for in San Marcos. I wouldn’t have chosen it but I can see how some might. 

I’m sure you could have access to an MFA program if you so desired

Most decent MFA programs are course-heavy, offering exposure to good faculty and Texas State was no different.  Tim O’Brien, Bob Stone, ZZ Packer, and Dagobero Gilb all taught at Texas State while I was there, and in the two years before I entered the program the university brought in Denis Johnson and Barry Hannah to teach.

No one paid a premium to study with them, at least not a Columbia-sized premium.

*Plenty of people would disagree w/ you that Austin “sucks.” That particular part of Texas was also good enough for Tim O’Brien. Who are you again?

*Personally, I’m not very impressed with Columbia’s faculty, despite the big names, other than Victor Lavelle (love his work–real heart, soul, and intelligence there). But who else?  Sam Lypsyte, one of HTMLGiant’s favorite writers (big surprise)? Not digging the pomo-misogyny-ironic-thing. Gary Shteyngart? LOL. While it’s true that a good teacher should not be judged by his own work, I’m not forking over that kind of coin to work with such an overrated cast of writers, either (you’re not included in that group, Victor Lavelle). Oh, and Ben Marcus bores me to tears these days. What happened to him?

*One can still take out loan money even w/ an asst’ship, so you could earn more than 15K if you wanted and still save a boatload of money compared to paying for Columbia. That’s okay, though–we get that you’d rather pay 2K a month to live in a 40 SQF closet and never have enough money to actual enjoy the city.  Then again, you’ll be writing 24 hours a day like most other Columbia grads, so I guess it doesn’t matter if you never leave your shoebox apartment. 

“teach a clatch of retards”

So a mid-tier state university that serves many first-generation and working class students is beneath you?

Yep, you’d definitely fit in with the vegan, trust fund hipsters at Columbia. 

You’re such a shitty fucking troll… but whatevs…

* Tim O’Brien is an old fart and a hasbeen. Austin is a hipster-infested sore. And it’s hot. * A quick glance at their website, aside from the names you mentioned: editor of Granta, James Wood, Deborah Eisenberg, Philip Lopate, Richard Howard, Lorin Stein, Heidi Julavits, Timothy Donnelly, etc etc… I mean come on, the structure of the program (i.e. charging high tuition) means bringing a lot more faculty

* Brooklyn doesn’t cost $2000/month, and there are jobs that pay pretty nicely in NYC, and a lot more of them involve writing than tehy might in San Marcos. 

* And who says I had to pay a dime?

After reading all you MFA tarholes I have to say I’m so glad the book is DEAD!

Maybe I’m regionally biased but I don’t recognize a single name on your roster. Seems like a fine program — and for someone who wanted to stay put in Texas, sure why not… — but the courses aren’t really the same. Whether Columbia’s special seminars and master classes are worth the price is debatable but UT is offering something different. 

I don’t want to teach, Roxanne… I want to write 

You will die too but the books will still be there… 

MFA programs are a Ponzi scheme.

That is an ignorant statement / no wonder I only read writers after they have killed themselves.

“tarholes”? Are you a Duke fan? If so, it would make perfect sense…

Do whatever you want, Junior. You obviously want a Columbia MFA badly, so go for it.  I’m beyond the MFA degree at this point and no longer need workshops. If a six-figure tuition bill will help you write a publishable story or novel, then by all means, give it a whirl. You don’t need to convince us.  I’d rather herd all of you snooty, regionalist types in one city anyway.

Then why comment at all?

Okay, what?  You aren’t familiar with Denis Johnson and Barry Hannah? Are you serious?

Alumni success is a stacked deck. A large % of agents went to Columbia for the publishing course. Most agents court the top-tier schools. An agent doesn’t = success but it increases the likelihood by miles and miles.

But there’s a key problem with alumni success: most schools will be leery about giving out info on former students, and at times, because it can take a decade or more to get a book, they may not know themselves. How would anyone effectively and authoritatively track this?

Everything in life involves stacked decks. Honestly not sure what you are getting at here? If going to a certain school (say Iowa) increase your likelihood of your manuscript being taken by an agent and thus of being published, that’s a real benefit to the program at Iowa. Whether it is fair or not in some abstract sense is irrelevant here, I think. 

Also, these rankings already take into account “fellowship placement” and “job [teaching] placement” which include plenty of deck stacking bar don’t seem remotely as relevant as actual manuscript placement. I mean, this is a degree in writing! Not a degree in fellowship getting or teaching!

How is this any different than teaching job placement or fellowship placement that these rankings already have? (And again, I think few if any applicants would consider more important than actual alumni publication success) 

Columbia’s faculty is probably the most impressive in the country and all the people in it actually TEACH students. Unlike a lot of other programs that hire big names for non-teaching roles or very limited teaching roles just to boost the reputation. 

Oh I don’t know, if these rankings mean anything other than prestige, like say the student’s experience while in the program. You know, the educational opportunities. There’s a class element at work when prestige of the institution is the most important factor in future success of the student.

There are plenty of comparable programs with respect to faculty and plenty of assumptions in this statement with respect to who is teaching what.

Other than at a Princeton or Harvard, it’s rare for any university to hire a writer who doesn’t “teach students.” 

Do you have any recent examples of MFA programs who have recently hired well-known writers who don’t teach students? 

And those well-know writers at Princeton and Harvard aren’t teaching graduate CW students. 

Also, a 2/2 or even a 1/1 + dissertation and thesis work is a standard teaching load for any well-regarded person in academia, regardless of field/area/discipline.

posted this comment to the slate article, thought it could be of use to people here:

Mr. Kenemore writes: “On top of this, when I graduated in 2002, I had about $45,000 in student loan debt.” I applied last year and was accepted into Columbia’s MFA Writing program for fiction starting Fall 2011. I was ecstatic. I had applied to eight other schools and only Columbia had accepted me. An email told me I could expect a package to be mailed to me with more info. I was offered $0 in funding was told my first year of tuition (out of a two-year program) would run approximately $75,000. I was also informed tuition was expected to go up during the second year. I inquired about work-study programs and research assistant positions that would help put me in the ballpark of even being able to think about affording attending, and was told I had (at best) a 1 in 4 chance of winning such a slot, and that competition for second-year, full-tuition-wavering teaching slots was even more fierce. I applied to Columbia (btw, a $150 application fee) because of its amazing faculty, but I just couldn’t justify what would have amounted to a SCUD missile directly impacting on my financial future. I’m verging on 30, and worked out if I had to pay ~$1,000 a month to repay necessary private and gov’t-backed loans, I’d have to earn something like $60,000 a year for just over 20 years on day one after graduation. [brag]Something I could actually do[/brag], but I doubt doing so would ever afford me the time to get any real writing done. I mean, honestly, $150k for a two-year MFA? For that kind of money, Thomas Pynchon himself would have to star in a porno I was writing and directing.

formatting error, trying again:

Mr. Kenemore writes: “On top of this, when I graduated in 2002, I had about $45,000 in student loan debt.” I applied last year and was accepted into Columbia’s MFA Writing program for fiction starting Fall 2011. I was ecstatic. I had applied to eight other schools and only Columbia had accepted me. An email told me I could expect a package to be mailed to me with more info.

I was offered $0 in funding and was told my first year of tuition (out of a two-year program) would run approximately $75,000. I was also informed tuition was expected to go up during the second year. I inquired about work-study programs and research assistant positions that would help put me in the ballpark of even being able to think about affording attending, and was told I had (at best) a 1 in 4 chance of winning such a slot, and that competition for second-year, full-tuition-wavering teaching slots was even more fierce.

I applied to Columbia (btw, a $150 application fee) because of its amazing faculty, but I just couldn’t justify what would have amounted to a SCUD missile directly impacting on my financial future. I’m verging on 30, and worked out if I had to pay ~$1,000 a month to repay necessary private and gov’t-backed loans, I’d have to earn something like $60,000 a year for just over 20 years on day one after graduation.

[brag]Something I could actually do[/brag], but I doubt doing so would ever afford me the time to get any real writing done.

I mean, honestly, $150k for a two-year MFA? For that kind of money, Thomas Pynchon himself would have to star in a porno I was writing and directing.

Seriously, name one… 

I didn’t recognize many of the names on the roster. Barry Hannah taught there in ’05 I think

You think about pornography a great deal, don’t you?

Hence the recent BusinessWeek article calling the MFA the new MBA (not even kidding)

Rather than paying six figures for tuition, why don’t they just read and edit voraciously? 

Then you need to correct it right now.  Barry Hannah’s Paris Review interview link below.  Read it.  Now.  Yonder stands your education.


Was “plucking the fruit” done to directly illustrate show, don’t tell?

I don’t think many people going there actually pay the full tuition for two years… any way, IBR dude

Do you recognize any of these people? http://www.mfatxstate.com/faculty.asp Barry Hannah died (and he was allegedly in talks to join the Columbia faculty at the time, btw), maybe they seance with him once a semester at UT, but if they do it isn’t mentioned on the site.  

Not to piss on my own shoe, but you could probably say that about Omar Pahmuk at CU

ICM and William Morris Endeavor readers and agents assistants have told me they are instructed to set aside submissions from Iowa, Columbia, Michigan, NYU, Irvine, John Hopkins and Brown (though this is the equivalent of being automatically skipped from the sub-literate pile)

I call BS.  Johns Hopkins? 

And, Brown? Brown is an experimental program. 

Not BS, I swear… but honestly, it’s not as much of a boost as like publishing a half dozen short stories or having a prof (even a third tier toilet professor) personally recommend you

John Hopkins is highly credited: they require a foreign language and there’s a mandatory teaching requirement but the tuition is waived)

John Barth, Professor Emeritus: fiction.Tristan Davies, Senior Lecturer: fiction.John T. Irwin, Decker Professor in the Humanities: criticism and poetry.Brad Leithauser, Professor: fiction.Alice McDermott, Richard A. Macksey Professorship for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities: fiction.Jean McGarry, Professor: fiction.Mary Jo Salter, Professor: poetry.Dave Smith, Elliott Coleman Professor of Poetry (Chair): poetry.Greg Williamson, Senior Lecturer: poetry.Visiting AppointmentsWayne Biddle, Visiting Associate Professor: nonfiction.Ann Finkbeiner, Visiting Associate Professor: science writing.Marc Lapadula, Visiting Assistant Professor: playwriting/screenwriting.Joint AppointmentsRichard A. Macksey, Professor (T

Yeah, I know, but reputation-wise, its similar to several other programs you didn’t even mention. 

Do you mind sharing your age? Are you published? Just wondering…

Why give you fodder?

Somebody else was talking about selection bias below — agent shit i’s ridiculously coastal – I mean where’s Mitchner, UHouston etc. but they like known knowns and Columbia, Iowa, NYU etc are known knowns

You named quite a few yourself in this very thread. Anyone with Google and an open mind can find no shortage of seriously good programs.

You are just misinformed here. Lots of friends at programs complain about faculty who don’t teach or teach very rarely at various MFA programs. 

I’m glad you’ve taken that anecdotal evidence from “your friends” to the bank.  I have an MFA–do you? Or, have you been spending too much time on the MFA Handbook website as a potential applicant?

Oh, and since we’re doing the anecdotal-thing, I’ve known “lots of [primadonna]friends” at MFA programs who expected faculty to fawn all over them 24/7, and when the faculty didn’t, the faculty “didn’t teach.” 

In today’s market and economy, the average MFA professor is not teaching one course every two years, and the ones who do are usually older, full professor types who have already put in years in higher ed, but these folks are not the norm. 

Fodder? I’m just curious–this topic seems to mean a great deal to you, what with you feeling the need to respond to almost every single post on the thread, it seems. I’m curious about the source of your intensity. 

There are many good programs, but there are few programs that have as many faculty and offer as many writing courses as Columbia (b/c of the size and expense of hiring professors).

I do just fine. The source of my intensity is likely the same as yours, I enjoy amusing myself by bothering people on the internet

Things might be working out OK for you, Marc, which is no small thing. But what about the rest of your cohorts? Do many of them have books out, or stories? Do you honestly see many of them making it to the next level? Because when I visited a couple years back that was the thing I didn’t see and it scared the crap out of me.

I was fortunate enough to have had the choice between Texas State and Columbia for fiction. And there’s never been a single day where I’ve thought: boy, I should have taken the fellowship money and moved to San Marcos. Nothing against them, they all seemed like nice people, the offer they gave me was fairly generous, and I’m sure there are more than a few writers, like yourself, who go there and are able to get something out of it.

But the difference between the quality of the two program seemed completely unambiguous. This was across the board–faculty, peers, coursework, school prestige, even just the seriousness with which people approached writing and a general “life of the mind.” The writers I got to work with and build relationships with at Columbia was pretty mind-blowing. And if you include the “contacts”–a gross word, I’d prefer to call it “community”–poor Texas really doesn’t have a chance.

This isn’t really accurate: “Most decent MFA programs are course-heavy”

MFA programs wildly vary in the number of courses they require. Some, like Columbia, require a lot. Some require/allow only two courses a semester. 

I won’t argue one is necessarily better than the other, but the number of courses required varies. 

Exactly: Columbia offers a courseload of seminars and lectures about writing taught by writers, which the others don’t. Most other course-heavy programs offer a one or two writing workshops plus your pick of literature classes. Columbia has an entire curriculum built around writing.

You mean you don’t even recognize the Columbia grad? : p

Not even her! I’m sure she’s GREAT though

No. Most do not have multiple Zombie-themed books published.

UT is not Texas State . . . thanks for playing!

Nelly Rosario, acclaimed author of “Song of the Water Saints,” and proud professor of fiction at the great Texas State University – San Marcos appears to be Columbia SOA ’02 

To be fair, I’m sure undergrads at TSU are a 1000x more attractive than Columbia’s

i have the time to, since i’m not fretting over 150k of debt.

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It’s worth taking a look at the Literary Man’s defense of MFA programs in general and the Columbia MFA program in particular: http://theliteraryman.com/2011/09/18/long-live-the-columbia-m-f-a/

At 60K/year, owing 150K you’d have to pay $550 a month (not $1000/month) with IBR, for 10 years with the non-profit PMLF program and 25 years otherwise. You can also try asking for a fellowship – sometimes schools will bend if you push them

judging from this and your other comments in this thread, i’d wager that you either work for columbia or have gone to school there.

the non-profit program you’re referring to helps forgive debt from gov’t-funded loans (see http://www.ibrinfo.org/can.vp.html).

to go to columbia, of the 150k potential debt i would’ve incurred, approximately 50k or so of it would’ve been gov’t-funded loans.

private loan companies are predators. this is why it was such an easy choice to not attend. not only are interest rates higher with private loans, but they’re next to impossible to get rid of if you don’t pay them off in huge chunks. student loans don’t go away if you declare bankruptcy.

i didn’t have a spare beach-front property to sell to pay for tuition, so i didn’t go.

re: ‘sometimes schools will bend if you push them’

everyone i spoke to at columbia seemed nice enough (including the famed faculty member who called me with the congratulatory acceptance call), but not once did i ever feel like i was being given a rational explanation for the cost of tuition.

i’m hesitant to speculate as to what kind of fiction writers are starting school there right now, but i wish those in similar (or worse) economic conditions as myself all the best. 

It’s insane to take out private debt for education in my opinion, and if you’re already in so much debt that you’d max out Staffords and Pells then you’re probably making a wise decision… (FWIW interest on private loans is usually lower unless your credit is shitty) 

Columbia, like Sarah Lawrence, Bard, New School, etc etc is expensive for many, many reasons – the biggest being that it is a professional program (housed in the School of the Arts) in a private school rather than a quasi-academic program housed in an English department. The high tuition goes to paying faculty salaries and for a long list of classes that are devoted to writing (as opposed to literature or just electives). 

Is it worth it? Who knows… but that’s why it’s expensive.

I don’t go to/didn’t go to/don’t work at Columbia. 

Financial aid is mostly need-based, so if you report 60K on your FAFSA, you’re going to get screwed… 

talking to current and former students when i was making a decision, i got the impression that columbia is a great place to teach, as well as a great place to study if you’re wealthy.

if money is not an issue, the program is conceivably ‘worth it’ if you’ve haven’t been accepted anywhere else (as was my situation). but for those who worry about such things, there’s also the issue of how essentially uncompetitive it is to get accepted into columbia. they accept like 15% of all applicants, though i imagine most decline given the cost.

i applied for FASFA and received the maximum amount allowed: ~$20.5k or so. there’s another ‘graduate plus’ loan scheme that i think would’ve doubled the amount i would’ve received, but when i saw how much tuition would actually cost, i walked away without applying for it.

Hmmm… 20.5K sounds like it might be per semester, but if they’re unwilling to bend at all then maybe it wasn’t the best choice for you. Javits Fellowships and the like might be another option to consider… If you’re truly committed to your craft and being a writer, I wouldn’t let things let debt bother you. For reals. Do an MBA, MAccounting, MFinancial Engineering or a JD instead

the max ~$20.5k amount through FASFA was for the academic year 2011-2012.

“If you’re truly committed to your craft and being a writer, I wouldn’t let things let debt bother you.” <– i'm sorry, but this is incredibly irresponsible advice to be giving writers. people get sick or injured, children get born, car payments get made and require biweekly (if not weekly) trips to the gas station, all sorts of insurance is paid for in monthly installments, rent, rent, rent, food, food, food, utilities, internet access, and then maybe there's a bit left over for the occasional vacation. now add $500-$1,000 a month for 15 years or so to pay off the loans from your two-year arts degree, along with all their accrued interest.

time to write and quality of life counts, and if you don't get how taking on massive amounts of debt can eat into that, given the meager social safety net available to the vast majority of americans, then i don't know what to tell you.

If you’re afraid of debt and the thought of paying bills troubles you then don’t be a writer, get a PhD or like I said an MBA/JD etc

my only overarching point has been that columbia is charging an unrealistic amount for tuition. 

do you think $150k for a two-year arts degree is reasonable?

Tuition isn’t 75K, it’s ~$45K, presumably most people have some sort of job for living expenses, or a working spouse or something like that to defray the cost. Borrowing 30K a year for living expenses in NYC seems silly.

I think Columbia undergrad costs roughly 45K per year, Harvard is about 40K, NYU is about 50K a year… so no, I don’t think paying 45K tuition for a year of full-time study at a private school seems unreasonable.  

are you sure you don’t work for columbia? this is copy and pasted straight off one of my acceptance package letters (hope the formatting holds):

—– 2011-12 ESTIMATED COST OF ATTENDANCE —–                                          Budget Category AmountTuition 47,135Fees 3,358Living Expenses 15,300Books & Supplies 2,000Transportation 1,300Personal Expenses 3,465Loan Fee 185———Budget Totals 72,743

Please note that the amounts listed for Tuition and Fees have not yet been approved by the University’s Board of Trustees and are subject to change.

yargh, that should be: tuition 47,135 …. fees 3,358 … etc. etc.

So? It seems consistent with the other expensive schools in the area… where did you end up going?

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Columbia MFA - To go or not to go?

By lazuli29 April 10, 2019 in Literary

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This is my first round applying to MFA Fiction programs and I did so mainly just to see if I would get in anywhere since I am graduating this semester and felt like if there was every a time to take a chance on something, it was now. I applied to the big fully-funded programs, which were obviously a huge long shot, as well as Columbia, and only got in to Columbia. I didn't really expect to get in anywhere, but now I have to decide if I actually want to accept Columbia's offer. I've been lurking on these forums and Draft for a few weeks since I don't know much about the MFA world, so I was wondering if anyone had any advice: should I go?

The cost of it is enormous and I didn't get much of a scholarship from them, but is the program worth it? How is the Columbia MFA perceived in the writing world? Is the Columbia name/NYC worth the loans I would have to take out? I had a full-ride for undergrad so I don't have any student loans, but the idea of taking out that much money for a degree that doesn't really have concrete job prospects scares me a lot.

Any and all honest, brutal advice is very welcome!

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Short answer: Don't go.

Long answer:

I didn't have to take out loans for my undergrad either, but I'm still not going into debt for an MFA. Generally, debt is not conducive to a positive MFA experience or a successful writing career. The whole point of an MFA is giving you time and freedom to write, and debt will take that away from you. You want a fully-funded degree so that you don't have to balance work with school/writing, and so you can take that unpaid internship at a major publishing house.

Moreover, loan payments will put a LOT of financial pressure on you after graduation (easily hundreds per month with Columbia's tuition rates). This often leads graduates to taking on a full-time job outside the literary world, where they have less time to write than ever. Based on my research, this is the #1 reason some MFA graduates never publish (and why some regret getting their degree).

Columbia is a well-respected program, but it's generally believed that it's not competitive to get in. Due to the cost, many applicants turn down their acceptances, leading to a large number of accepted applicants come April. And frankly, I think you're overestimating what an MFA can do for you. This degree will not give you money, success, or career opportunities. You get those things from networking, sending out manuscripts over and over (despite countless rejections), and writing consistently. An MFA can certainly help with those three things, but only if you have the time, energy, and financial flexibility to begin with.

If you want this degree, by all means go get it. But in my opinion, the best way to do that is to keep applying until someone funds you. I know reapplying next year would suck -- trust me, I'll probably be in the same boat, and I'm not happy about that. But 2-3 years of fun is not worth decades of soul-crushing debt. I hope that's not too harsh. I'm just telling you what I wish someone had told me when I started applying to schools with minimal funding.

I agree with feralgrad. I say don't go. Yes, going to Columbia could theoretically land you great contacts and set you up for great future success in the writing world, whatever that means to you. But nothing is remotely guaranteed, especially when it comes to money, and going into (what sounds like to me) tens of thousands of dollars in debt for this degree is a risk not worth taking. Like feralgrad said, you will likely be paying off this debt for many years. And with interest, you will end up paying much, much more than you took out. I do not know your personal financial situation, your specific career goals, your specific job prospects, so a lot of this is devoid of context, but that's my general advice. If you do not have access to your own cash to pay this tuition up front, don't go. You already are in a wonderful position of having no debt from undergrad and I wouldn't jeopardize that.

9 hours ago, Adelaide said: Yes, going to Columbia could theoretically land you great contacts and set you up for great future success in the writing world, whatever that means to you. But nothing is remotely guaranteed, especially when it comes to money, and going into (what sounds like to me) tens of thousands of dollars in debt for this degree is a risk not worth taking. Like feralgrad said, you will likely be paying off this debt for many years. 

To be clear, I'm describing just the financial payoffs that Columbia might offer, not the creative, intellectual, or social ones.

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columbia creative writing mfa cost

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4 fully funded Creative Writing MFA programs in the US worth exploring

columbia creative writing mfa cost

With fluctuating costs and other economic uncertainties piling up around us, one might think it outlandish to pursue a Creative Writing degree. But those who are enthusiastic about honing their creative grasp of the English language—whether to develop themselves as a poet or fiction writer or to finish a novel/longform nonfiction project in a conducive environment—take the idea of a Master of Fine Arts seriously despite the potential glares from stunned eyes. That is because they are well-informed and passionate about the career prospects that come with an MFA—which mostly involves the prospect of academic jobs for creative writers. 

If you are one of them, read on to discover some of the most popular MFA programs available in the US, where the MFA in Creative Writing was first conceived at the University of Iowa. While Canada, and now some programs in the UK, have also started offering the degree, it is in the United States that it is most common and rigorous. 

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columbia creative writing mfa cost

Unpacking the craft of creative writing

A word of caution here: an MFA degree is typically considered a terminal degree (the highest academic degree that can be awarded in a particular field) in the field of Creative Writing in most US universities; however, there are PhDs for Creative Writing available in the UK and a very small number of US universities. The American programs are more generous with funding, and they include coursework as part of the first two years of the PhD programs. 

The British programs have funding packages that are more complicated and less generous than US-based MFA programs.

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Admitting only 12 writers per year, the MCW, part of The University of Texas at Austin, is a highly competitive program. Their mission is to provide all its students fully funded residency and support for three years so they can channel all their energy towards the craft and production of creative projects. During this time, candidates also get to study a secondary genre alongside a primary one (fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and playwriting). Former students include: Sindya Bhanoo, who won the 2022 New American Voices Award for her debut short story collection, Seeking Fortune Elsewhere: Stories , Catapult, 2022); Rachel Heng, author of The Great Reclamation: A Novel (Random House 2023) and Nathaniel Harries, author of The Sweetness of Water (Little Brown, 2021), longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. Other writers from the program have been finalists of the Pulitzer Prize, International Dylan Thomas Prize, and National Book Award.

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Accepting only six poetry and six fiction writers per year, the MFA at Syracuse University is another competitive program. While the students at MCW are not required to take up teaching duties to fund their program, students at Syracuse University are required to do so via teaching assistantships. They are also given the chance to teach in their Writing Program and the Living Writers course, which often invite some of the most prominent contemporary writers. The work requirement makes it possible for them to fund their tuition fully. Other expenses are covered by the annual stipend of USD 17,500. Their faculty members include 2017's Booker Prize winner George Saunders, author of books like Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House, 2017). Saunders graduated from the same program in 1988.

columbia creative writing mfa cost

Matthew Salesses demystifies the craft of writing

Brown's MFA program is known as "Literary Arts" as it involves poets, fiction writers, and cross-disciplinary writers. Highly selective and fully-funded, the program prides itself on admitting around 10 to 30 percent of its students from abroad. Unlike the previous two, this program spans for two years. They vow to give writers the time and resources to explore their creative and critical potentials fully, and faculty members include the National Book Award finalist Karan Mahajan, critic, essayist, and books such as The Association of Small Bombs (Penguin Books, 2016).

The University of Iowa

The University of Iowa's MFA program in fiction and poetry is better known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop—the first creative writing program in the world, launched in 1936. Their graduates include eminent, award-winning writers such as Tennessee Williams, Kurt Vonnegut ( Slaughterhouse-Five ), Marilynn Robinson ( Gilead ), Yaa Gyaasi ( Homegoing ), Nobel laureate Louise Glück, and Bangladeshi writer and translator Shabnam Nadiya. 

columbia creative writing mfa cost

You are what you eat in Mashiul Alam's "The Meat Market" (trans. Shabnam Nadiya)

UIowa is a pioneer and a hub for creative programs, and the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop was soon joined by the equally prestigious MFA in Nonfiction Writing Program, also the nation's first, with acclaimed writer and critic Melissa Febos among its current faculty members. 

Both these programs are fully funded throughout its three years, which usually includes a full tuition scholarship in addition to teaching stipends for Graduate Assistantship positions and grants provided through arts fellowships. 

columbia creative writing mfa cost

The MFA programs at UIowa have produced writers that have been up for major recognitions such as the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, and the Booker Prize. Internationally acclaimed writers such as Yiyun Li, Rebecca Makkai, Carmen Maria Machado, Karen Russell, and V V Ganeshananthan have been some of the teachers at the program.

Meanwhile, their prestigious International Writing Program, which hosts writers from around the world in the Fall semester, has included Bangladeshi writers such as Humayun Ahmed, Shihab Sarkar, Mohammad Rafiq, Ruby Rahman, Anisul Hoque, and most recently Mashiul Alam . IWP's summer writing program, called  Between the Lines , is currently accepting applications from Bangladeshi creative writers aged 15-18. 

columbia creative writing mfa cost

In defense of brevity

There are many other prestigious creative writing programs in the US, among them the MFA programs at Columbia University, New York University, Bennington College, and others, but funding, if available, is partial and difficult to get by. 

If you have completed graduation or will be doing it by the end of this year, and are interested in creative writing programs, you should look up these program websites and start preparing accordingly. Interested candidates should focus on their writing samples and recommendation letters. Most of their admission windows open in September and run up to December. They allow students to apply without their final semester grades in cases where the students' universities delay in publishing the results. While none of these programs makes GRE scores mandatory, English language proficiency tests like the IELTS or TOEFL are an essential requirement for international students who have not completed formal schooling in an English speaking country.


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