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The Top 25 Underrated Creative Writing MFA Programs (2010-2011)

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These twenty-five (actually twenty-seven) programs fully fund 70% or more of students, yet receive less attention from applicants than they deserve:

Boise State University. A small but stellar program in a gorgeous city in the Great Northwest. The faculty is extremely strong in both poetry and fiction and the program's per-genre cohort size was recently reduced (to three) to ensure full funding for all. [Website]

Bowling Green State University. Sure, it's in Bowling Green, but it's fully funded and has been around forever. It ranks in the top 50 nationally in Poetry, Funding, Selectivity, and Placement, and just misses the top 50 in Fiction and in the overall rankings. [Website]

Cornell University. Hard to imagine an underrated Ivy, but Cornell's MFA struggles to stay in the top 10 nationally despite boasting the third-best funding scheme in America -- even if you don't consider the fully-funded one-year lectureship virtually all graduates receive. The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) rates Ithaca the top college town in America (PDF). Plus, the student-to-faculty ratio is jaw-droppingly good. [Website]

Florida Atlantic University. A dark horse among dark horses. [Website]

Florida State University. Tallahassee gets mixed reviews, and some worry the program has gotten too large for its own good, but it's three years of full funding at a university with not only a creative writing MFA but a top-notch creative writing doctorate, too. [Website]

Georgia College & State University. A sleeper among sleepers. [Website]

Indiana University. If a perennial top 20 MFA can be underrated, this three-year program with a strong multi-cultural focus and fantastic faculty certainly is. [Website]

Iowa State University. The secret's almost out of the bag on Iowa State, and what's not to like? It's three fully-funded years in one of AIER's top 5 college towns, at a program to which few apply. ISU's unique focus on the environment (as well as interdisciplinary work and one-on-one mentoring) are stand-out features. [Website]

Johns Hopkins University. A little stodgy in its public presentation, admission requirements, curriculum, and faculty aesthetic, but it's a university with a strong reputation generally and in creative writing, all students are fully funded, and the teaching load's reasonable. Can you stand Baltimore for two years? You probably can, and as many feel they can't, you're not competing with as many folks as you'd think for the privilege. [Website]

McNeese State University. Another deep sleeper. Folks aren't necessarily clamoring to live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but on the other hand they report acceptances early and fund nearly all their students surprisingly well for three years. A small program that's worth checking out. [Website]

Ohio State University. Popular, but still half as popular as it should be. Three years in an AIER-rated top 15 "mid-size metro" with a strong faculty, reasonable teaching load, and vibrant university community deserves a look from any applicant. [Website]

Old Dominion University. When U.S. News & World Report last surveyed programs in 1996, Old Dominion was just graduating its first class. Now it's a three-year program that fully funds more than 75% of incoming students. And not for nothing, it's located right on Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk. [Website]

Pennsylvania State University. Who knew State College was the #2 college town in America? Maybe AIER's onto something: full funding for all, and yet almost no one applies. That's changing. [Website]

Purdue University. Three years in a college town recently named one of the ten "smartest" by Forbes, and ranked just outside the top 10 college towns by AIER? A reasonable teaching load, low cost of living, and highly-regarded faculty? Yes please. [Website]

Southern Illinois University. Top 15 in Funding, top 25 in Poetry, top 40 in Selectivity,
three years, a low cost of living, and a vibrant, aesthetically-eclectic writing community. [Website]

University of Arkansas. One of two four-year MFA programs in the world, and it's fully funded for all. It's been around nearly a half-century and has an optional focus on translation you can find hardly anywhere else. [Website]

University of California at San Diego. There are four fully-funded MFAs in "major metros" ranked in the top 15 by AIER (unfortunately, none of which are in New York City): Johns Hopkins, University of Miami, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, and here. A new program, but it's at a highly-regarded public university and it's already developing a reputation for being open to experimental poetry and fiction. [Website]

University of Colorado at Boulder. Located in the #1 "small city" in America according to AIER, the program in Boulder is particularly welcoming to experimental poets and writers; only a handful of MFAs can claim that. [Website]

University of Houston. Houston's making a comeback: Both city and MFA. With recent hires enhancing the diversity of the faculty, the opportunity to workshop with the nation's top creative writing doctoral students, and a history of excellence in the field, Houston's worth a look. You're asked to teach a ton, but for many, that experience is worthwhile too. [Website]

University of Kansas. Three years, well-funded, a light teaching load, and one of the few U.S. universities that cares enough about creative writing to host both a creative writing doctorate and an MFA. And did you know Lawrence, Kansas is deemed a top 10 college town nationally? [Website]

University of Miami. See University of California at San Diego, above. If you love big cities, enough said. [Website]

University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. Again, see University of California at San Diego. But also consider that this is a three-year program in one of the best cities for literary artists in America, and that UM is strong in (and encourages work with its excellent faculty in) not just one genre but three. [Website]

University of Nevada at Las Vegas. If you can stand the heat, there's so much to like here: the opportunity to workshop with creative writing doctoral students, the presence of one of the nation's most competitive postgraduate fellowship programs, a stellar faculty, a stand-out focus on international issues and public service, and full funding for all for three years. [Website]

University of South Carolina. Low cost of living, full funding for all for three years. More should apply here. [Website]

Virginia Commonwealth University. Three years, strong funding, and Richmond is a top 15 mid-size metro according to AIER. [Website]

West Virginia University. They've been cagey about their funding in the past, but reports are that the funding is excellent and that the program's annual applicant pool is swelling. [Website]

Wichita State University. It may be the weakest program on this list, but it's also the most obscure by far, meaning there's little competition for admission to what is, by all accounts, a well-funded three-year program with a light teaching load and at least one superstar on faculty (poet Albert Goldbarth). That said, it is Wichita. [Website]