An aspiring writer choosing a college is a lot like a child trying to make a decision in a candy store. Cliched simile aside, the amount of colleges with utterly brilliant writing programs, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, is astounding. That being said, everyone has a different set of preferences for a writing class, and writing programs can vary quite significantly, making that meticulous search for the right school highly rewarding in the end. As with any college search, you should take into account school location, class size for your concentration, and faculty, among other factors, to ensure the right decision for your future. And, of course, always keep in mind what style or genre of writing you wish to pursue.
1. Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia): Ask anyone for the best schools for writers, and Emory will inevitably emerge. With a plethora of outstanding minds flocking to and from Emory every year (be it guest lecturers, students, or alumni), it is no wonder why Emory would be a prime place for a budding writer. Emory offers extraordinary flexibility to its students; the only required course of all English majors is Poetry. Emory also allows English majors to double major in creative writing through Emory's very own undergraduate Creative Writing program, which offers workshops spanning over several genres, including poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, playwriting, and screenwriting. Students looking for more personal settings with professors will be happy to find that most English classes cap at 15 students, while the largest cap at 25.
2. Hamilton College (Clinton, New York): Hamilton College is known not only for its high quality coursework or wide breadth of options for English majors but also for its nationally renowned writing center. Like Emory, Hamilton College allows English majors to concentrate in either English literature or creative writing. Hamilton's creative writing program offers courses and workshops in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and playwriting (in which students will write and stage a one-act play). Whether concentrating in English or creative writing, Hamilton strives to cultivate all its students into elegant writers and great thinkers. And with one of the greatest writing centers in the nation to boot, it is a challenge to find a better place to study the English language.
3. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland): There are few programs in Johns Hopkins that aren't among the best in the nation. Their English department boasts a long history of producing well-received and distinguished writers. While they do offer courses in creative writing, Johns Hopkins focuses much more on literary writing, critical analysis, and literature education to improve writing skills. Those seeking workshop settings should perhaps look elsewhere, but those wanting to master their control and understanding of the English language should look no further. With a published and highly regarded faculty in small, intimate classroom settings, great ideas and voices have nothing to do but flourish.
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts): Most people wouldn't immediately think of MIT as a great writing school given its enormous reputation for engineering, computer science, and technology. However, MIT offers an extensive and unique writing program that not only produces great writers but prepares them to be competitive in the harsh job market of English graduates. One thing that sets MIT apart from other universities is the fact that, rather than having one English department that covers both writing and literature, they split the traditional English department into two entirely separate programs. Their writing program not only instructs creative writing but also science writing and digital media. They boast a dynamic faculty of novelists, essayists, poets, translators, biographers, historians, engineers, and scientists. Students focusing in creative writing are encouraged to choose a sub discipline as well (humanities, arts, or social sciences) which creates for an extremely unique, well-rounded, and practical English language experience at the university level. Not to mention, Cambridge is just a stone's throw away from the lively cultural hub that is Boston.
5. New York University (New York, New York): Beyond the acclaimed faculty and progressive coursework, the location of NYU itself is reason enough to study there. Imagine living in the heart of New York City (what some call the greatest city in the world) for four years. Surrounded by museums, parks, and huge historical landmarks, there is no way not to be inspired. Combine this with the large variety of English concentrations offered, including a creative writing program, and an English education at NYU seems unbeatable. What's more, NYU creative writing graduate program has enormous amounts of prestige and is often ranked top five on most publications' top creative writing programs lists. Maybe this is due to the location; maybe it's the published and award-winning faculty; maybe it's the variety and quality of courses.
6. Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri): A haven for any growing writer, Wash U's creative writing program offers a variety of courses, taught by their talented MFA faculty as well as second-year MFA students. Beyond your traditional poetry and fiction classes, Wash U offers unique special topics such as The Short-Short, Sudden Fiction and Microfiction, Literary Journalism, and Stories From the Suburbs with plenty more in mind for increased expansion. The program places added emphasis on critical reading and workshopping to produce well-rounded writers with a deep grasp of their craft. Wash U's MFA program is often ranked in the top ten of MFA programs each year, and, with such a blossoming undergraduate program and dedicated faculty, this trend seems very likely to continue.
7. University of Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa): For at least the past decade, Iowa has dominated the ranks of creative writing MFA programs. Easily labeled the best program in which to study fiction writing (and their poetry program is nothing to sneeze at either), Iowa has recently taken their creative writing success at the graduate level and started applying it to an undergraduate creative writing track. Offering a variety of courses including writing for fiction, poetry, non-fiction, playwriting, translation, new media, and ecologically aware, this undergraduate track is great for young writers looking for a diverse writing experience. With an exception faculty, numerous unique courses, and plenty of opportunity for writing, editing, and workshop experience, this creative writing track is a recipe for success for any writer.
8. Columbia (New York, New York): Columbia may be the only school in New York that can stand head to toe with NYU's location. Just a few miles north on the Island, surrounded by parks and only a couple blocks away from Central Park, Columbia is the perfect environment to muse off your surroundings and become entranced in inspiration. With names like J.D. Salinger, Federico Garcia Lorca, Hunter S. Thompson, Eudora Welty, Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, and Allen Ginsberg, Columbia boasts an enormous literary legacy of producing great writers. While Columbia is known for its preparation in journalism, they also offer a very nice creative writing program. Their undergraduate creative writing program combines intensive writing workshops with seminars that study literature from a writer's perspective, resulting in a vital and unique experience for writers that you can't receive from just any English program. Their graduate MFA program is ranked among the best in the nation every year and boasts a highly talented and respected faculty.
9. University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan): Like most undergraduate schools these days, Michigan offers an undergraduate writing program in addition to their English major. Both English and non-majors are encouraged to take the program; in addition to teaching students to write effective analytic arguments, the undergraduate writing program also offers courses in creative writing for fiction and poetry. Michigan's notable creative writing MFA program remains top-ranking for the past few years, and that does not appear to change anytime soon.
10. Colorado College (Colorado Springs, Colorado): This private liberal arts college offers a great deal of variety through their English department. In addition to studying the English major, students can concentrate in creative writing or film studies. Both concentrations require additional courses and study than it would to simply complete a regular English major, but with great work comes great reward. In the creative writing concentration, students review each other's work, collaborate on projects, and present writing pieces near the end of their course of study at Colorado. In the film studies track, the department focuses on story development and film writing. While filmmaking is also an offered course, more emphasis seems to be placed on writing, understanding character development, and plot.