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upsetme


Mar 17, 2008, 4:55 PM

Post #176 of 430 (13257 views)
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Re: [hackofalltrades] Columbia, again Can't Post

I'm in the same boat as everyone here ...

Has anyone gotten a formal acceptance package or word on the accepted student days -- when we can sit in on class, et cetera?

Has anyone been able to get better funding then they were initially offered?


jeramey



Mar 17, 2008, 10:33 PM

Post #177 of 430 (13195 views)
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Re: [upsetme] Columbia, again Can't Post

To everyone waiting on packets, I visited the school a few days ago and they were in the process of putting the packets together to be sent off (double checking names and addresses and that sort of thing). They said they were hoping to get them sent off this week.


(This post was edited by jeramey on Mar 17, 2008, 10:36 PM)


ksy79


Mar 17, 2008, 11:06 PM

Post #178 of 430 (13177 views)
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Re: [jeramey] Columbia, again Can't Post

thanks for the update, jeramey. i called today to bug someone in student affairs about funding and info. david beeman offered to email me whatever is email-able. i'm guessing it's because he could tell that this whole ordeal has turned me into a bit of a, um, spaz, and he was being kind.

i just read this thread from the beginning, and my head is spinning. i was on such a high when i got accepted, but the beating columbia takes on the blogs has put a damper on all of that good feeling. and the lack of funding really does make me feel like columbia doesn't care if i accept their offer or not.

see? total spaz.


kijordan


Mar 19, 2008, 1:10 PM

Post #179 of 430 (13084 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

Wow ! Wow, ksy79 ! I've had precisely the same feeling. I was running around my apartment and hopping up and down for hours when I got the call. At first, I was so certain I'd go. Then I did a little more investigating and became deeply discouraged and conflicted. I still might not go because of the funding and, well, the general ire the school seems to draw from the writing community.

And I definitely know what you mean when you say it seems, due to the miserly funding, like the school doesn't care whether you decline or accept their offer. They've got quite a big list of waiters and the lecturers who call us are instructed to be unattractively tight-lipped about money, which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be read as "wooing," which is what I thought recruiterish telephoners were traditionally meant to do.

Ugh.

By the way, are you fiction or poetry ?


lovesapricots


Mar 19, 2008, 2:32 PM

Post #180 of 430 (13049 views)
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Re: [kijordan] Columbia, again Can't Post

Same feeling here as well. If there is anyone out there thinking about nonfiction and Columbia, please PM me! I think it's especially tough to turn down nonfiction at Columbia because it is such a strong department, and the course range for nonfiction is much wider there than other schools. But it's hard to get past the funding issue. I'm trying to decide between Columbia and a fantastic offer from Ohio State. I have to say OSU has been wonderful, welcoming and incredibly friendly from the get-go. I've been wanting to go to Columbia for a long time, but after doing the math--and visiting OSU--I'm thinking sometimes plans change!


ksy79


Mar 19, 2008, 3:21 PM

Post #181 of 430 (13016 views)
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Re: [lovesapricots] Columbia, again Can't Post

hi lovesapricots and kijordan,

so i'm really trying to let go of my ego and resentment. i think i've been paying way too much attention to things like acceptance rates and rankings--and columbia's decline in both of these areas. i thought "well, how much does getting into columbia mean anymore?"

i kind of lost sight of what i really need from a program. the mfa should be about two things: opening doors and getting time to write. despite the bad rap it's been getting lately, i still believe columbia has so much to offer. i will be challenged; i will have access to the new york writing community; i will have a degree from f'ing columbia.

would i like to be fully funded at brown or cornell? of course. but they didn't accept me, and i have a great opportunity.

oh, and i'm in fiction.


shireen


Mar 19, 2008, 3:52 PM

Post #182 of 430 (12987 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

ksy79, I could not agree more.

I'm so so thrilled about my poetry acceptance, and the faculty members that I've spoken with have been nothing but open and honest about the funding situation, promising to do what they can in the coming months.

Regardless of whether I end up with funding, I don't think I could turn down the offer... the CA/T program, elective offerings, location, the faculty, the NAME...! I think basing this decision solely on funding would be careless on my part, though one could certainly argue convincingly from the other side.


h orange


Mar 19, 2008, 4:00 PM

Post #183 of 430 (12977 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

I completely agree. I don't worry too much about the bad rap among the blog set, b/c from what i've heard, the literary world at large still thinks highly of columbia.

i also think that the rankings perpetuate this idea that people get into these programs based on some objective measure of how good they are. we all "know" this isn't true, and the rankings can be useful, but it's still hard not to let it affect your ego. but different programs look for different things, and after going through this process, I've realized that I applied to a lot of programs that just weren't a good match for me. I think my writing falls into a too-weird-for-michigan-not-experimental-enough-for-brown middle ground, which I think makes me a good fit for columbia.

in any event, i'm excited for columbia! yay!


ksy79


Mar 19, 2008, 4:08 PM

Post #184 of 430 (12970 views)
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Re: [h orange] Columbia, again Can't Post

shireen, h orange, kijordan,

you guys have made my day! i am back to being excited about columbia. btw, i visited the campus last week (i'm in nyc), and i fell in love. it's unreal. have any of you been in touch with students yet?


ksy79


Mar 19, 2008, 4:10 PM

Post #185 of 430 (12968 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

you too, lovesapricots!


h orange


Mar 19, 2008, 5:08 PM

Post #186 of 430 (12930 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

Has anyone received their acceptance letter/packet yet? I'm guessing no, but ... I just want it!


LauraJean1


Mar 19, 2008, 5:43 PM

Post #187 of 430 (12915 views)
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Re: [h orange] Columbia, again Can't Post

I was accepted in Fiction at Columbia a few weeks ago and I haven't received my packet yet either.

That said, I want to address a lot of people's concerns about the quality of Columbia's program / is it worth it in light of all the negative buzz on blogs, etc.

From what I have learned, something that sets the Columbia program apart from many other MFAs is that students take more classes in addition to workshops than other places. For me, this is a plus because I believe that learning about the world is nearly the best thing a person can do to improve their writing.

Also, most of the gripes that revolve around Columbia are this: they are insular, they publish their friends, they help their students get contacts in the publishing world, etc. This complaint is usually lodged from people who say that writing should be pure, and it should only matter how good writing is, and not who wrote it.

While this is a lofty ideal to aspire to, I have no knowledge of anything in life that works this way. Including OTHER MFA PROGRAMS. It matters who you know. Period. It has ALWAYS matter who you know. Once you are fortunate to be deemed "above average" whether in business aptitude, writing, or what not, the main thing that will differentiate you from a million anonymous faces is who your contacts are. It ain't fair. But that's how it is.

For me, going to grad school means an opportunity to focus exclusively on writing, and make the "contacts" that I need to not be a boring-ass cover letter in a pile of submissions.

As for the money -- it is expensive. So freaking expensive. But I was thinking about it, and if I don't go to grad school, I'm going to be working and writing in my spare time. If I do go to grad school, afterwards I'll probably be working and writing in my spare time (to pay off debt). But at least I will have had those two years of concentrated time, that booster shot, with those contacts. I may not be able to own a house for decades, but I will have spent a part (and hopefully it will turn into all of my life) doing exactly what I love. Debt be damned.

I have been through that same yo-yo about Columbia. Are they out of favor? Are they in favor? Who cares! You're in New York, doing what you love, on the tails of writers at a school where Pulitzer Prize winners have recently tread. Your MFA, where ever you go, will be what you make of it anyway.

That is all.


ksy79


Mar 20, 2008, 9:39 AM

Post #188 of 430 (12846 views)
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Re: [LauraJean1] Columbia, again Can't Post

That is all, LauraJean1. Thanks for that.


LauraJean1


Mar 20, 2008, 11:50 AM

Post #189 of 430 (12818 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

Now you've seen my post about YAY Columbia, and then shortly thereafter, my post about choosing between SLC and Columbia.

This is because I received my SLC packet in the mail yesterday saying yay, acceptance!

But then my brain got wonky because I had been operating as though Columbia was the place. Now I have to choose between there and another great program.

One thing I saw on these message boards was that SLC is not so hot for commuting on foot or by public transportation. My husband-to-be and I are planning on selling our cars before we head to New York (and trying to figure out if it is worth it to keep our bikes). We both commute to work by bike right now, and I'd really like to be able to walk, bike, or public transport it.

I applied to SLC because Melvin Jules Bukiet was there (who is also an Alum of the Columbia program) and I applied to Columbia because its, well, Columbia. They have a unique program. I like that it is affiliated with the Arts school and not just and English department, etc. etc.

That said, I'm dying to get my freakin' Columbia packet in the mail so I can comb through both their literature and SLC's and figure out what I want to do. The fact that SLC is cheaper is enticing, and that Bukiet is there is awesome, but I'm still starry-eyed over Columbia. Ah! What to do!!


umass76


Mar 20, 2008, 1:58 PM

Post #190 of 430 (12760 views)
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Re: [LauraJean1] Columbia, again Can't Post

LJ1 (and all),

Congratulations on your acceptances. The one thing I would say, however, is "debt be damned" is not the most responsible advice to give to younger applicants--or, really, anyone. I don't know that folks with substantial student loan debt ever say "debt be damned." I have $120,000 in outstanding law school debt (roughly commensurate with the $100,000 in debt Columbia would set an applicant back) and it affects one's life negatively, period. Debt is not something that can be dismissed. Especially when you consider that the average debt of, say, a graduate from the University of Florida is

$0

Columbia is an outstanding school, but the times are no longer than any MFA program can claim to be worth $100,000 more to a student than any another, and certainly Columbia can't make that claim on the nearly two dozen top-ranked schools with full funding: Cornell, Virginia, Notre Dame, Texas, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Alabama, Vanderbilt, LSU, Minnesota, Oregon, Ohio State, Syracuse, Arizona State, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, California at Irvine, and Brown. Or the schools that offer full funding to nearly everyone (75%+): Houston, Washington University, Illinois, McNeese State, Iowa, UNLV, Southern Illinois, Arkansas, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, West Virginia, Florida State, Georgia College & State, Wichita State, and VCU. Of all those (36) schools, thirteen currently poll better than Columbia in terms of popularity among applicants (a poll taken 2007-8, and including now 300 individual respondents). Those schools are: Cornell, Virginia, Notre Dame, Texas, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Oregon, Syracuse, Iowa, Johns Hopkins, California at Irvine, and Brown. Five additional schools (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Houston, Washington University, and Ohio State) are within ten spots of Columbia in the polling (Columbia is #16, and these others are between #17 and #25 nationally).

I mention all this not to rain on anyone's parade, but for the more personal reason that I've suffered under the load of staggering debt--for years now--and I don't want any twenty-something applicant who reads this board making the decision to follow that path lightly. Columbia's a nice experience. There are a few dozen other nice experiences out there, too, and many won't set the beginning of your adult financial life back ten to fifteen years. I just think that's worth keeping in mind; I have no doubt that anyone who chooses to go to Columbia despite such warnings will nevertheless have a fantastic time, and likely not regret it whatsoever (except financially).

Please don't shoot the messenger. I'm only trying to be helpful, and do sincerely congratulate all who were accepted by Columbia.

Best,
Seth


umass76


Mar 20, 2008, 2:16 PM

Post #191 of 430 (12743 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

I posted a follow-up to the above, which then was lost accidentally.

I just wanted to dispel, also, the myth, repeated in this thread, that the current rankings devalue Columbia solely because of its poor funding. That's not entirely true; while I have no doubt (quite honestly) that those who were accepted to Columbia on this board are fantastic writers one and all, generally it can no longer be said that Columbia is getting the cream of the crop in terms of its admissions cohort, as the school currently ranks 32nd in selectivity among MFA programs (and perhaps even below that, as not every top fifty MFA program has revealed its acceptance rate; current trends project that, when all the data is in, Columbia will barely crack the top fifty in the selectivity measure, at somewhere around 45th). Also, while it's true Columbia has an excellent reputation in the publishing field, so do a few dozen other schools, and I worry that folks are basing their reputation assessments in part on a now-more-than-a-decade-old ranking by U.S. News and World Report. 60 MFA programs--more than 25% of the national total--have been started up over the last twelve years (i.e. since the USN&WR ranking), and countless others have leapt in the rankings due to increased funding and/or better faculty, so it's unwise to simply rely on what a few MFA professors told a magazine in 1996 for such a crucial decision. That Columbia has a great reputation is unquestioned; that other schools have an equally good reputation, and other schools beyond that nearly as good a reputation, is also, I think, unquestioned now (and I don't just mean Iowa).


(This post was edited by umass76 on Mar 20, 2008, 2:18 PM)


ksy79


Mar 20, 2008, 2:24 PM

Post #192 of 430 (12727 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

Hi Seth,

First off, I really appreciate all of the work you and Tom have done for MFA applicants. This response is not a shot aimed at you, the messenger. It's just that most of us on this thread have already heard your message. I don't think LJ1 was saying, "Debt be damned." I think she was saying if you've weighed all of your options and have decided to shoulder the costs, then it is okay to be excited about Columbia.

Personally, I would love to be able to go to Cornell or Irvine or UFL or even Brooklyn. But I was not accepted to any of those programs. I've taken all of your advice to heart (maybe too much), and I still want to go to Columbia (well, maybe. Depends on what FSU has to say). More importantly, I want to be excited about my choice and focus on what's good about the program. I think that was the point to the "Yay, Columbia" turn this thread has taken.


ksy79


Mar 20, 2008, 3:03 PM

Post #193 of 430 (12688 views)
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Re: [ksy79] Columbia, again Can't Post

Oh, and LJ1, I sent you a PM re. Columbia v. SLC, since I think we're the only ones deciding between the two.


LauraJean1


Mar 20, 2008, 4:55 PM

Post #194 of 430 (12646 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

Up front: This is not a kill the messenger response.

I think that your points are 100% valid. And I completely admit that my post came off as rather like a manifesto.

I agree that no 20-somethings should be headed into debt for the first time or the second time or third time without thinking about it very, very, very carefully. For people who have had jobs out in the world, this careful consideration is also mediated by a "what am I willing to do/sacrifice" mentality. In my case, I have been working at a job and writing in my spare time for a while. As I'll likely be doing that again in three years, but this time with [time at Columbia] or [time at Sarah Lawrence] behind me, I will, theoretically, have more contacts in the writing world than I did before (I already do, upon acceptance) and a deeper body of work under my belt.

I am also no stranger to debt. I'm marrying a man who comes with a considerable amount of education debt. He doesn't regret it for a day, however, because if he had not gone to the programs he attended (in graphic design), he wouldn't have the network, the experience, the portfolio, and awesome job, that he now has. The fact is that if you grow up very poor in a rural area of the south with very poor friends, and your parents have very poor friends, you're not exactly going to get a spectacular boost in the world from your network. This has been true for him, as it is for me. School has been invaluable to him, as I expect it will be for me. I understand that an MFA is not one of those "you'll get a great job!" degrees. I expect it will be what I make of it, plus some chance, good/bad decisions, and the mess of everything else that goes into it.

As a prospective MFA student, I have followed your blog attentively, and the research you have compiled there is a fantastic resource. I didn't apply to many of the schools you have mentioned because of different reasons (for example, and if I remember correctly, programs like Wisconsin and Texas require that you have undergraduate credits in English. I was a linguistics student in undergrad and all the literature classes I took were in German and Russian. I had zero English credits.), chief among these reasons was the location of many of the schools, or personal preference.

At this point, that is not very relevant though. I think that there is an odd tendency for a lot of the MFA-blogs to participate in a great deal of Columbia-bashing, even though (as these blogs have stated), the funding problem at Columbia has mostly to do with the University's administration and not the staff or directors of the School of the Arts. We get it, Columbia is expensive. So, so, so, very expensive. There is also Columbia-bashing because they are not as selective as many other schools. This is an interesting thing to me, since Columbia is still considered to produce good writers, some even exceptional. Their greater entrant pool could also be looked at positively, that they are giving themselves the chance to find a diamond in the rough now and then. When criticizing their ranking, would you go so far as to say that MFA students at Columbia are unequivocally worse than students at other comparable schools?

I think that for people like me, and the others in this forum who are having a hard time deciding on Columbia or somewhere else, it has become very hard to see through the blog and forum noise. It is hard to figure out if a serendipitous event (acceptance!) is not what it seems. The constant bad-mouthing of Columbia begins to take its toll, however mediated by slight "oh it is still a good program....BUT" comments.

Lastly, I think my original post came out of an enthusiasm for figuring out what to do, and owning my decision. If I go to Columbia, I know full well what kind of a rat's nest I'm getting myself into (debt). An MFA for me (and I hope for most?) is not just "time to write" or "time to not be working" or "time to figure out what I want to do". If it were, I would be much more cautious about taking on debt. The fact is that I know how to support myself, and do so successfully. For me, an MFA is a booster shot to change the direction of my career toward supporting myself with my fiction. I know this is what nearly everyone in MFA programs wants to do, but that doesn't make it anymore unique to my own experience.

Students who choose to go to Columbia shouldn't have to endure sentiments of people telling them they are foolish for their decisions. Like you have said yourself, no one can say what debt feels like who has not had debt. The students at Columbia know exactly what it feels like to stare at their bills. Students at Columbia should also not be subjected to ridicule or derogatory comments because their school has a larger acceptance pool than other schools. I understand the logic behind this, but what matters most is what they are writing, whether the school has a history of producing students who publish, whether the school can offer the professional network that many writers need to become someone that isn't an anonymous above-average or exceptional no-name.

I guess it comes down to what a person's priorities are, what they are hoping to get from an MFA, and what they are willing to live with to have that.


umass76


Mar 20, 2008, 7:37 PM

Post #195 of 430 (12596 views)
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Re: [LauraJean1] Columbia, again Can't Post

KSY79 & LJ1,

I do appreciate your thoughtful responses. I (and others) continue posting comments (such as mine above) on Columbia from time to time, not to bash admitted applicants, denigrate their valuation of Columbia, or suggest they won't ultimately be happy with the decision (as I'm sure at least some will), but rather because this board is read not just by those already well-exposed to the various MFA web-logs (including mine), but also newcomers to online MFA information sites. It tends to be the case (and I hope you'll agree this is merely a logically-based occurrence, and not one intended to disparage anyone) that the Columbia boards tend to have a slightly higher percentage of folks on them who have not done online research into MFA programs. [Again, it simply fits, as to the extent a percentage of those who do online research will be swayed away from Columbia--and in the interest of full disclosure, I'm one of those people; Columbia was my top-choice school (yes, over Iowa) before I started researching programs online--those still very much considering Columbia are slightly less likely to have done substantial online research. By the same token, I imagine those who applied to, say, Notre Dame or Illinois or Vanderbilt--current online information-site darlings--are slightly more likely to have done substantial online research]. It's for this reason that, redundant as it may be, it's still useful for the cynics among us (such as myself) to on occasion offer what we (and perhaps not others) view as a sort of finances-/selectivity-based "reality-check" on the Columbia boards, not for older or more experienced applicants, or even for applicants who've already done significant online research and made the decision to apply to Columbia anyway, but for the 21 year-old applicant who applied with minimal research, got into (say) both Columbia and Minnesota, and is now considering going to Columbia because in 1996 Minnesota was not a highly-ranked program, and unless you've read it online you don't know that the current conventional wisdom says "don't pay for an MFA, period." [Or, such comments might be useful, say, to those who only applied to NYC-area schools, didn't get into any, and now plan on reapplying to all the same schools next year, only to (perhaps) discover when their dreams finally come true next year or the year after that they can't afford those long-awaited dreams. Witness the heart-breaking comments, on this board, by all those who got into Pitt and can't afford to go, and who openly opine now that they wish they'd read about Pitt's funding situation on-line beforehand]. So my comments were really directed to those posters, and not to any other group or person. I agree with what's been said here, that ultimately you have to go where you're excited to go. If you're not excited to go somewhere, that's a bad start to a two- or three-year experience.

Best,
Seth


wardis


Mar 20, 2008, 9:58 PM

Post #196 of 430 (12542 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

Hi Seth,

A few weeks ago I posted this question on your blog and got no response, perhaps because I posted it under the wrong topic and you simply didn't see it or maybe because you didn't want to divulge the methodology of your rankings, which I completely understand. In fact, if you'd rather not address this issue until your "funding-only" rankings come out, I certainly understand: but since you were just talking about the issue of funding, I thought I'd ask it again:

How are you going to factor the "size" of a program into your funding-only rankings?

Here's why I ask: It seems to me that the funding-only rankings will inevitably favor those smaller programs that can afford to fund all of their students generously (Texas, Cornell, Wisconsin, etc), and overlook those larger programs that have great funding but may not be able to completely fund every student simply because of their size. The reason this is worrisome to me is that I think it reinforces the idea that smaller programs are somehow more generous or supportive than larger programs when in fact this is not always true. More to the point, it seems to suggest that the new model for an ideal MFA Program is small and fully funded, when in fact there are many disadvantages that go along with attending a smaller progra,, as I know friends who have attended them.

I don't want to get into a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of small and large programs. I simply wanted to say that it seems like there should probably be a separate ranking for small and large programs. It seems unfair, for example, to rank a program like Houston in the same category as a program like Texas. Texas, after all, is a very small program that can fund all of their students very generously because of their size. Houston, on the other han,, is a much larger program that has to fund not only MFA students, but also Ph.D. students. As it turns out, Houston is a very well endowed program that funds its students very generously given its size, but it might not necessarily appear that way on a list in which "fully funded" programs are given the highest rankings. Similarly, it seems unfair to rank a large program like Iowa in the same category as a tiny program like Cornell. Certainly Iowa could afford to fund all of their students very generously if they chose to cut down their incoming class to four fiction writers and four poets, but then something about the community and the experience at Iowa would be lost, wouldn’t it?

In short, it seems that programs like Houston and Iowa, which are well endowed and very generous given their size, should be compared to other large programs like Arizona and Columbia, and small programs like Cornell and Texas should be compared to other small programs like Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins. Otherwise, I can see a troublesome trend emerging, one that inevitably favors small programs over large.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this issue, Seth, though I completely understand if you'd rather wait until your rankings come out. Apologies to the rest of you, as I realize that this issue only relates to Columbia in a tangential way.


(This post was edited by wardis on Mar 20, 2008, 10:08 PM)


umass76


Mar 20, 2008, 11:58 PM

Post #197 of 430 (12500 views)
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Re: [wardis] Columbia, again Can't Post

Hi Wardis,

Unfortunately I did miss your comment--sorry about that (NB: my in-box gets about fifty messages/day that are just comments from the blog, and sometimes I miss reading a few of them by accident). This is a good question and one I'm actually happy to answer.

The answer is that it's a question of who the rankings are intended for. The concern you've raised suggests, if we break it down, one way of looking at funding rankings, which is that the rankings are intended for the benefit of the programs, and so being "fair" to individual programs is of paramount importance. Under that rubric, you're absolutely right, we'd have to take into account an endless series of factors, many of which we'd have no way of knowing (largely because the very programs we were trying to be "fair" to had no interest whatsoever in divulging such information to us). For instance, a program-centric measure of funding would require not only information on the size of each program's entering class and the number of financial aid packages available, it would also--because "fairness" would be the byword of the analysis--require that we consider the endowment of the university or college, the efforts made by program administrators to secure additional lines of funding, trends in alumni giving, the availability of on-campus housing, cost of living comparisons, and so on.

The problem here, of course, is that it's not the programs that need the rankings, it's the applicants. It's not the programs who are lacking in information about, well, themselves--once again, it's the applicants. In fact one of the main reasons I started analyzing MFA programs using hard data was because I felt MFA programs were waging, purposefully or not, an asymmetrical brand of Information-Age warfare against their applicants. A war in which programs regularly had data they could release to students, but decided not to.

I tend to have less sympathy than others for the programs and their administrators, if only because I've scoured the websites of 200+ programs (literally) and have seen first-hand (and en masse) how intentionally misleading, disingenuous, vague, and sometimes downright confrontational these websites are (NB: Columbia happens to have one of the worst websites in this respect--which is fitting, given the bad news it otherwise would have to, in bold and unambiguous and apologetic terms, disclose to its prospective students). It shouldn't, actually, be hard to find out the stipend associated with a program's TAship offerings, but in fact--at most program websites--it's absolutely impossible (because the information isn't public), even though the programs have that data readily available. Some schools won't even tell you how many students they admit, and only 45 schools (of nearly 300) will reveal how many applications they receive, even though every single undergraduate institution in America does so annually. And that's just the tip of the iceberg: the general trend with MFA programs is to tell prospective applicants absolutely nothing the program doesn't want them to know. And since most programs want the students that are applying to them to know nothing--judging simply from the various programs' skeletal promotional materials--the students are told nothing, and many of them end up knowing nothing. Which, of course, is hardly their fault.

It's in this context, and against this backdrop, that I decided that the funding rankings had to be targeted at prospective students, not program administrators. And so I utilized Rawls' "veil of ignorance" philosophy, which says (in rough-and-tumble paraphrase) that if we're assessing a society's institutions, we want to judge them from the perspective of an unborn child who will be born into that society, but whose place in the society is as yet unknown. That way, we end up with the fairest assessment, because the assessment is unbiased by knowledge of where any particular individual will be situated in the society whose institutions are to be judged.

So how does that apply here? Basically, it means that the funding rankings are targeted at the archetypal, anonymous, median student. In other words, the student who, having been accepted to a program, has a chance at funding at that program that represents the average chance for a random acceptee to that school. And what question would that archetypal, anonymous, median student ask? S/he would want to know the following: all things being equal, what percentage of students get funded at this program, and how much money (taking cost of living into account) does the average student receive? And that's the question the upcoming funding rankings will answer. Because truthfully, it's no consolation to the 85% of Pitt acceptees who don't get funding to say that, if only Pitt were smaller, they would have. Likewise, it doesn't cause even a flutter in the hearts of Cornell acceptees to be told that, hypothetically, if Cornell were larger they'd have half as much funding, or even less--because every one of those acceptees knew ex ante, when they applied to Cornell, that if they got in their funding was guaranteed, and was guaranteed at an exceedingly high level. What the funding rankings will tell applicants, then--and, importantly, will tell them before they apply to any school, so they can factor these calculations into their decisions on where to apply--is what the relative percentage chance is that they will get funding (and how much funding they will get) if they are admitted to the university or college they're considering applying to.

I'll have to leave it to someone else to compile a funding ranking targeted at programs, rather than students. That sort of ranking just doesn't seem very interesting--or useful, or needed--to me.

Hope this answers your question.

Best,

Seth


upsetme


Mar 21, 2008, 1:33 AM

Post #198 of 430 (12478 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

If I may … In discussing Columbia’s shortfalls and merits, its foolhardy, I’d say, to speak of the program as one Borg-like hole.
There’s a tectonic difference in the advantages, in my mind, depending on concentration. As a nonfiction student who wants to work in New York media Columbia – even with the debt – seems a no brainer.
There’s a special agreement between the MFA program and The New Yorker for interns. James Wood taught the criticism class last semester. The professor who called with my acceptance news I knew because I’ve seen his byline in the New York Review of Books. Connections matter.
For someone with a newspaper background that wants to make the transition to magazines (like … wait for it … wait … ready? … The New Yorker – OK, everyone laugh!) how does getting an education in that world not make sense?
If I was working on a book of poems, sure, I’d consider amassing debt, but in a nonfiction case Columbia seems no different than picking up an expensive MBA at Harvard or law degree at Yale.
Now, you can always get an A+ law degree, become a PD, and bitch eternally about debt, but some people would have leveraged that a little differently = )


upsetme


Mar 21, 2008, 1:58 AM

Post #199 of 430 (12473 views)
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Re: [upsetme] Columbia, again Can't Post

One more thing (and I hope you know I'm just ribbing you above, Seth -- I respect and rely on your work) but Columbia was very upfront with me about the funding situation. I sat down with an admissions person before applying and she stressed again and again that even in the best case scenario, if I went to Columbia, and if I didn't have rich parents, I'd graduate with debt. She even apologized and said for years the school has lost many talented students because of the lack of funding. Reading these posts I get the sense that Columbia is in someway misleading prospective students about the funding situation. That hasn't been my experience at all.


lovesapricots


Mar 21, 2008, 9:03 AM

Post #200 of 430 (12449 views)
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Re: [upsetme] Columbia, again Can't Post

Hi all,

So I'm fall a bit in between. First of all, like upsetme, I'm nonfiction, and I think this does make a difference. I'm especially interested in literary nonfiction, which is sometimes a harder focus to find in departments. Columbia has classes in literary nonfiction (anyone seen the 20th Century Politics and Literary Nonfiction class this semester? That's the kind of thing I would love to take!) I know all three at strong at Columbia, but I think it has to be taken into consideration there are only around 30 nonfiction programs in the country (please correct me if I'm wrong on this). And Columbia has one of the greatest range in terms of faculty and coursework for nonfiction.

That being said, my attitude, for reasons both personal and financial, is not debt be damned. Personally, I believe it's funding is one important measure of school support for their students; financially i have a paycheck to paycheck job, no savings, and have no other form of support (husband, family member able to help offset cost, etc). That being said, I know other students who have gone to Columbia in similar situations and shouldered the debt. It's a choice I respect. I'm not sure if it's one I can make. I've done the math, and with a 20 year repayment plan, my debt would look something like $837 dollars a month. Thinking along the lines of upsetme--that there's a good market for nonfiction right now--I decided not to be cynical and figure out what sort of salary I'd have to have to be able to pay off that kind of debt. Factoring in rent, utilities, food, and pre-existing (but not massive) student loans, I'd have to be making 45K a year to be able to pay it off and still have something (read: almost nothing) to live on. Does 45K seem like a total unrealistic stretch for me at some point? Not at all! But I'd be damned happy to be making that kind of money, and I don't think I'll be making it in my first year or two out of grad school.

I've been going over this for a year. I almost went to Columbia last year, but had cold feet about the funding at the last minute. I applied to more programs this year, and Columbia again, in hopes the rumors of better funding were true. My funding from them increased, but not by enough. I'm in at 4 other programs, two with full funding and teaching assistantships. Do I love the program at Columbia? Absolutely. I'm thrilled and surprised and grateful to have options I'm trying to decide between. If I wanted to write first person memoir, I be still less inclined to accept at Columbia. What pulls me to Columbia, and NYC, are the opportunities for literary/narrative journalism.

I know it's not all number crunching, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut and your heart. But the numbers have helped me put things in perspective a little bit. I'm still not sure what to do, though. April 15th, take your time!

Good luck, everyone.

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