I’m not attending a Top Fifty Program.

Monday, November 9th, 2009 by Rachel

So I am one of the last people to get my copy of Poets & Writers Magazine. Of course, the first thing I do when I get it is flip to the Top Fifty MFA Rankings for 2010. Georgia College & State University is not on it…and I don’t care ONE BIT.


A year ago, I was completely immersed in the application process. I chose my schools carefully, applying to nine (five of those Top Fifty schools, according to this list). I was accepted at two schools with full funding. The rest were rejections—though I technically never even received my Ole Miss rejection letter.


While I can’t say that my life here in Milledgeville is perfect, Georgia College & State University was the most appealing possibility in terms of an MFA program. Here were the perks, outlined to me upon acceptance:


1) $$$: “Your annual stipend will be $8,750 plus an MFA scholarship of $500, for a total of $9,250. In addition, you will receive a full tuition waiver (worth $14,000 to $16,000 for full-time out-of-state students). Thus the full benefit of our assistantship package represents about $24,000 to $26,000.”


2) This was the only program that really rewarded me for already having a M.A. degree, both in terms of time (I’ll receive my MFA in only 2 years) and teaching (being able to teach my first semester, in addition to being able to teach a literature course and creative writing course during my time here) : “In the two-year program for applicants who already hold the appropriate Master’s Degree, first-year students on assistantship are eligible to teach (our students teach freshman composition and literature courses, and almost all our Teaching Fellows who demonstrate strong teaching skills have an opportunity to teach Creative Writing). You may be assigned other assistantship duties in one of our various Creative Writing program projects, but most likely you will only teach: two sections of first-year composition in the fall and two sections of first-year literature/writing in the spring.”


3) Guaranteed Journal Work: “All MFA students serve also as assistant editors with our national literary journal Arts & Letters, reading manuscript submissions in their thesis genres, contributing to the journal’s editorial screening process.”


4) Location: Location was the #1 factor in terms of deciding where to apply, and it did play a large factor into where we wanted to end up living. We are within driving distance from both our immediate families, which is nice. We are also in an area with a low cost of living compared to our previous residence in Flagstaff.


When I look at the list of the Top Fifty, I already feel like I am getting a “better deal” than some of these schools provide. Look at #4, University of Massachusetts Amherst is a medium-sized program, does not provide full funding, and is located in a high cost of living area. At #8, NYU is a large program, does not provide full funding, and is located in a high cost of living area. Though both of these are reputable program, since before I applied in the 06-07 season to MA and MFA programs, I have been a firm believer in not having to pay for school—definitely not having to take out loans for school. Because of the cost of living in relation to the funding, it just would never have been possible for me to attend either of these (regardless of admission). My friend Sacha said, once the application season was over and done with, that she wished she’d applied to only/more fully funded programs. (I don’t think I’m misquoting you here Sacha!) I really do agree though—funding should be the #1 priority of applicants, especially after shelling out the grand to apply.


Unlike U of M-A and NYU (I think that size is worth acknowledging too before I move on), I am in a small program, not just in terms of my fellow grad.students, but in terms of undergrads too. At 6000 students, GCSU is tiny, which keeps my composition classes small and manageable at 23 students each. Because I already have my MA, I get to take thesis hours every single semester (even my first). This sort of sets me up feeling like I am at a studio/academic program hybrid. I get a LOT of time to write, and I feel, for the most part, very productive with what I’ve been writing, considering that it is my first semester here.


Onto the teaching load, as I have previous teaching experience, I really wanted to be able to teach my first semester, and two classes a semester is very reasonable for me to handle. For students without an MA here, they are assigned other duties their first year, like work in the writing center, in order to help ease them into the teaching life. Again, reasonable and manageable. Compare this to a school like University of Houston in Texas ( #26 on the list), which apparently is not fully funded AND has a heavy teaching load. While I’m not quite sure what a heavy teaching load is, I think that I would have to be fully funded to justify taking on a heavy teaching load.


What so much of this list (and other similar ranking lists) comes down to is numbers, statistics that don’t really mean anything in the long run. Who cares if you get into the #19 or #23 best school in the country if you can’t afford to go there? It horrifies me that some people this application season are probably developing their application plan around this list, when there are so many other good schools (and well-funded programs) left off.


  1. If I had it to do over, I’d only apply to fully funded programs. I got into unfunded and poorly-funded programs and couldn’t justify going. I’m at UIC now because the program is fully funded.

  2. So what’s it like going to a program in Milledgeville? How does Flannery loom?

    We just finished a close read of her short fiction in my prose lit seminar.

  3. I love Milledgeville in terms of a town. I live less than a mile away from Andalusia (Flannery’s farm), and have yet to visit it… They just got peacocks after years without, so I really should take a trip over there now that the leaves are changing and it is FALL! Flannery O’Connor is everywhere. They offer a course on her in the spring, but it just doesn’t make it into my schedule.

    The only book I’ve ever read of hers is Wise Blood, never read any of her short fiction, though I’ve heard A Good Man is Hard to Find is her opus.

  4. A Good Man is Hard to Find is great. As for peacocks, read The Displaced Person. Revelation is awesome.

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