15 Top Creative Writing MFA Programs 2024

Thinking about getting a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing? It’s like trying to choose the best book in a huge library. But is it worth the time and money? And how do you know which program is right for you? This article breaks down what to think about when considering an MFA program and shares some of the top Creative Writing MFA programs in the U.S. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, this guide can help you figure out your next steps in the world of writing.

What exactly is an MFA?

Well, it’s a fancy way of saying Master of Fine Arts. It’s a graduate degree that typically takes a couple of years to finish. To apply, you usually need to submit a portfolio of your writing, around 10-20 pages of your best stuff.

But what do you actually do in a creative writing MFA program? You’ll join workshops where you share your writing with classmates and a teacher who gives you feedback. There are also seminars where you learn about different writing techniques and theories. And finally, you’ll wrap it all up with a big project called a thesis.

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Reasons to Get an MFA in Creative Writing

Why bother with an MFA in Creative Writing when writers like Toni Morrison and Emily St. John Mandel didn’t need one? Well, there are several good reasons. Firstly, having an MFA from a top program can give you some serious street cred in the writing world, which might help you get published.

Secondly, MFA programs often provide you with dedicated time to write, along with deadlines to keep you on track. Plus, some even offer a bit of financial support.

Thirdly, an MFA is a terminal degree, meaning it qualifies you to teach writing at universities, especially once you’ve published a book.

But perhaps the most important reason is the community aspect. In an MFA program, you’ll meet other writers, forming connections that can offer feedback, guidance, and lasting friendships for years to come.

Types of Creative Writing MFA programs to find the right fit for you

Fully-Funded Full-Time Programs: These programs cover your tuition and even provide a stipend, but may require relocating to a new area.

Full-Time MFA Programs: Attend classes in person and pay tuition, with potential scholarships available. These programs often boast top-notch faculty and resources.

Low-Residency MFA Programs: These programs offer brief in-person sessions along with one-on-one support, providing a taste of the independent writing life.

Online MFA Programs: Conducted entirely online, these programs offer flexibility and convenience, though they may lack the same level of prestige as traditional programs.

Top Creative Writing MFA Programs

Fully funded MFA programs cover your tuition and sometimes even give you money to live on while you study. Let’s check out some of the top ones:

Johns Hopkins University, MFA in Fiction/Poetry (Baltimore, MD)

This two-year program offers $33,000 teaching fellowships per year. It’s known for its generous funding package, plus perks like health insurance and a guaranteed lecture position after graduation. However, it doesn’t offer a nonfiction MFA.

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

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

This fully funded three-year program provides a stipend of $29,500. You can study fiction, poetry, playwriting, or screenwriting. Unique to this program is the opportunity to focus on both a primary and secondary genre, plus a $3,000 summer stipend.

Incoming class size: 12 students Acceptance rate: Less than 1% in fiction; 2-3% in other genres Notable 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

University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop offers a two-year program in fiction and poetry with a residency model. This means fewer requirements and more time for writing. Most students receive fellowships worth up to $21,000. They also offer a prestigious three-year MFA program in nonfiction writing.

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

University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

Located in Ann Arbor, where acclaimed author Anne Carson resides, the MFA program at the University of Michigan offers a vibrant literary community. With a generous stipend of $23,000, summer funding, and health care benefits, students can focus on their craft without financial worries. The program typically lasts 2-3 years and is known for its commitment to social justice through outreach programs in the community.

Incoming class size: 18. Acceptance rate: 4%, Notable alumni: Brit Bennett, Vievee Francis, Airea D. Matthews, Celeste Ng, Chigozie Obioma, Jia Tolentino, Jesmyn Ward

Brown University (Providence, RI)

Brown’s MFA program offers a unique blend of edgy creativity and generous funding. Fully funded for 2-3 years with a stipend of $29,926, students also receive summer funding and health insurance. The program emphasizes a Digital/Cross Disciplinary Track and allows students to take one workshop and one elective per semester.

Incoming class size: 12-13, Acceptance rate: Highly selective, Notable alumni: Edwidge Danticat, Jaimy Gordon, Gayl Jones, Ben Lerner, Joanna Scott, Kevin Young, Ottessa Moshfegh

University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ)

Nestled in the lush desert of Tucson, the University of Arizona’s MFA program offers a diverse range of genres and a supportive environment. Ranked #4 in creative writing programs, and #2 in Nonfiction, this 3-year program provides a $20,000 stipend per year. Students are encouraged to take classes in multiple genres and can engage in supported research at the US-Mexico Border.

Incoming class size: 9, Acceptance rate: 4.85%, Notable alumni: Francisco Cantú, Jos Charles, Tony Hoagland, Nancy Mairs, Richard Russo, Richard Siken, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, David Foster Wallace

Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)

Also situated in the dry heat of Arizona, Arizona State University’s MFA program offers small class sizes, individual mentorship, and a distinguished faculty. With a stipend of $19,000 and additional financial support opportunities, students can focus on their writing without financial stress.

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

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New York University (New York, NY)

Situated in the heart of New York City, this two-year MFA program offers proximity to literary opportunities and delicious hot dogs. NYU boasts a distinguished faculty and a large cohort, providing ample networking opportunities. Graduates from NYU often go on to win prestigious literary prizes.

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

Columbia University (New York, NY)

Columbia’s MFA program, lasting 2-3 years, offers courses in fiction, poetry, translation, and nonfiction. With renowned permanent and visiting faculty, students benefit from an Ivy League education and close access to literary agents. Many graduates from Columbia have gone on to become bestselling authors.

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

Sarah Lawrence (Bronxville, NY)

Sarah Lawrence stands out for its offering of speculative fiction alongside traditional courses in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. With small class sizes and biweekly one-on-one conferences with faculty, the program fosters a supportive atmosphere conducive to creative growth.

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


Bennington College (Bennington, VT)

Bennington’s two-year program offers exceptional faculty and meets twice a year for ten days in January and June. Students enjoy the scenic beauty of Vermont while receiving mentorship from renowned writers. The tuition stands at $23,468 per year, with scholarships available.

Acceptance rate: 53%, Incoming class: 40, Notable alumni: Larissa Pham, Andrew Reiner, Lisa Johnson Mitchell

Institute for American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM)

This two-year program focuses on Native American and First Nations writing, offering a diverse range of genres including screenwriting, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. With impressive faculty and visiting writers, students attend two eight-day residencies each year in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The program boasts affordability at $12,000 per year.

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

Vermont College of Fine Arts

VCFA offers a unique opportunity to study various forms of literature, including picture books, young adult literature, graphic literature, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry for young people. Students gather twice a year for nine days in January and July in Vermont, with additional travel residencies in places like Cozumel. The program features outstanding faculty and visiting writers, personalized study options, and ample one-on-one time. Tuition is $48,604.

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


University of Texas at El Paso (El Paso, TX)

As the world’s first bilingual and online MFA program, UTEP is renowned for its excellence. The program features award-winning faculty from around the world and offers intensive workshops where students can submit their work in both Spanish and English. Genres include poetry and fiction, making it a comprehensive option for aspiring writers. The three-year program costs $14,766 per year with rolling admissions.

Acceptance rate: 100%

Bay Path University (Long Meadow, MA)

Bay Path University offers a unique 2-year online program dedicated exclusively to nonfiction writing. With a supportive and diverse community, Bay Path ensures small class sizes and close mentorship for its students. Additionally, students have the opportunity for a field trip to Ireland. The program offers various tracks, including publishing, Narrative Medicine, and teaching, with core courses covering memoir, narrative journalism, and the personal essay. Tuition is $785 per credit for 39 credits, with scholarships available.

Incoming class size: 20 Acceptance rate: 78%