Top 10 College Creative Writing Programs

Alex Henderson, Director of Creative Writing

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Many young writers are often told that writing, particularly creative writing, isn’t a viable career path. Instead, they’re encouraged to relegate this passion into a hobby or side project and to pursue a more ‘realistic’ future. While it’s true that creative writing doesn’t fit into a traditional career path quite as nicely as pursuing law or medicine, it is certainly just as legitimate a future as any other slightly offbeat profession. How do I know this? Well, it’s evidenced by all the colleges across the country that have creative writing programs, including both majors and minors. Why would they teach a course at a college if it didn’t have a relevant, ‘real-world’ application? I mean, just look at the professors, they’re making money off of it! So for all the young writers out there that are looking to take the next step on their creative writing journey, I present, in no particular order, a list of the best college creative writing programs in the United States.

 

  1. Princeton University

We’re coming out of the gate strong with this one, as anyone with even a little college know-how is familiar with the name and reputation of Princeton. A member of the elite Ivy League, Princeton is known for its academic prestige and is home to some of the country’s brightest young minds. It’s obviously no surprise then that Princeton’s creative writing major has given birth to some of the best literary minds in the country, including the incredibly successful Jodi Picoult, who has published over 25 novels since her time at Princeton. The creative writing major at Princeton, housed in the Lewis Center for the Arts, has between 25-30 students annually. Throughout their four years in this program, students work closely with professors both individually and in workshop style classes of eight to ten students, in which students can expand their abilities in all modes of writing. The program culminates in a senior thesis, in which students are tasked with publishing a piece of their work, be it a screenplay, anthology of poems, or full-length novel.

 2. Northwestern University

Home to one of the first and most developed creative writing programs in country, Northwestern offers not only a major, but a series of specified minors including the sequence-based and cross-genre minors in creative writing. Northwestern’s program has birthed some of our generation’s most prolific writers, including MacArthur “Genius” Award Winner Karen Russell and Veronica Roth, who began drafting her best-selling novel Divergent during her time in the program. Northwestern hosts an annual Festival of Writing in which students get the opportunity to learn from some of the nation’s finest authors. Additionally, the program offers the unique option to create an honors project before graduation. For particularly driven students, the option to seek out internships in nearby Chicago, write for the student-run literary journal, or enter the Department of English’s yearly writing competition are all available as well.  

3. University of Iowa

The University of Iowa houses an incredibly well known creative writing program, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which extends well beyond just undergraduate programs. The workshop is renowned for its high school summer program and graduate MFA program, which is considered by many to be the best of its kind in the country. Its undergraduate program is equally lauded, admired for its arts colony structure and wide range of classes. The professors the students encounter are just as impressive, however the program also has students under the instruction of great young writers and established authors. The program is selective, however, the opportunities it holds are incomparable, including writing prizes and scholarships, as well as the chance to write for The Iowa Review.

4. Brown University

Similar to the aforementioned University of Iowa, Brown offers both a graduate MFA or undergraduate degree within its Literary Arts Program. Another member of the Ivy League, Brown’s creative writing major is strongly influenced by Brown’s liberal arts foundation, requiring four creative writing workshops and six reading intensive courses. Brown allows students to focus in one genre such as fiction or literary hypermedia, or it allows students to study multiple genres or even cross genres into visual, musical, or performance art. Unique classes offered within Brown’s advanced writing workshops include American Political Drama, Electronic Writing, and Plasticity in Playwriting.

5. Oberlin College

While Oberlin may be a smaller school than those previously mentioned, its creative writing program is just as strong. Oberlin’s undergraduate creative writing major focuses on the interrelationship between literary mediums in six genres: fiction, nonfiction, drama, translation, poetry, and screenwriting. Founded in 1975, the program stays true to its liberal arts roots by providing a balanced and broad study program that pushes students to explore the bounds of creative writing. This Ohio-based program also boasts its own series of impressive professors and alumni, including writer and actress Lena Dunham.

6. Cornell University

Yet another Ivy League school that offers a top tier creative writing program, Cornell has a creative writing concentration available only to English majors and a creative writing minor available to all students. Cornell boasts a wide array of courses including Intermediate Narrative Writing, Intermediate Verse Writing and Advanced Creative Writing. For those with a particular interest, the school also offers Imagining Rome: Art Studio and Creative Writing Workshop in Italy over the summer. This coupled with their MFA program makes Cornell a school abundant with opportunity for young writers. It is also abundant with successful young writers, having educated the likes of Pearl S. Buck, Toni Morrison, E.B. White, and Kurt Vonnegut.

7. Emory University

Only 25 years old, Emory’s creative writing program is one of the best in the nation. Emory’s program welcomes fifty young writers who are able to pursue undergraduate degrees during their time at Emory. They also have the privilege of being able to work with a revolving door of accomplished visiting writers and scholars. Emory also offers unique opportunities such as intimate question and answer sessions with award winning authors as well as special scholarships and awards. Similar to other programs discussed in this article, the Emory program requires seniors to complete a culminating project senior year, in this case, an honors project that students complete independently with the guidance of an advisor.  

8. University of Southern California

USC has an incredibly unique creative writing program, as they not only provide undergraduate degrees, but also offer a dual PhD program through their Department of English in Creative Writing and Literature. Their creative writing faculty is staffed with only the best of the best, giving the students the opportunity to learn from professors who have received a medley of awards for their work, including Pushcart Prizes and the National Book Award. Upon entering the program, each student is assigned a faculty mentor who they work with through the duration of their time at USC. A differentiating aspect of USC’s program is that they require students to take critical courses which are typically either literary or theory based and this aspect is incorporated into their final thesis.

9. University of Michigan- Ann Arbor

For those interested in attending a big school with a creative writing major, the University of Michigan may just be the school for you. While also offering an acclaimed MFA program, the University of Michigan has a remarkable undergraduate program as well. Newberry Honor Book award winners Chris Van Allsburg and Christopher Paul Curtis are just two of the established alum to graduate from Michigan’s program, the two having wrote The Polar Express and Elijah of Buxton respectively. In their last term in the program, students are tasked with creating a full-length work of prose, that is, with assistance from faculty members.

10. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt’s creative writing program operates similarly to some of their sports teams, recruiting established young writers during their junior year. These students are given the opportunity to enter Vanderbilt’s 4+1 program. This program allows students to earn both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in creative writing within a five year window. Vanderbilt’s degree has a few requirements that are differ from the other degrees we’ve looked at thus far, as students must study pre-1800 literature and ethnic literature in order to obtain their creative writing degree.  

 

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