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kijordan


Mar 21, 2008, 9:27 AM

Post #201 of 430 (9036 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

I'd just like to reiterate to you, Seth, that I appreciate your thoroughness, but I do think, having previously read the long thread on your blog about your seemingly unchecked scorn for Columbia, that sometimes you should have a little more tact. Presumably everyone on this thread has an understanding of the very real risks that enrolling in Columbia's MFA program presents--in fact, your response here falls right in the middle of a discussion a few of us were already having about the miserable funding. While I, a relatively committed realist, wouldn't accuse you of "raining on our parades," I do think it would serve you (and us!) well to spend a half-second longer judging whether it's tactful or not to suddenly surface and repeat what most of us know already. Yes, the doom is apparent; it's been described, ad nauseam. We're attempting to tackle it.


(This post was edited by kijordan on Mar 21, 2008, 9:30 AM)


aiyamei


Mar 21, 2008, 9:59 AM

Post #202 of 430 (9027 views)
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Re: [LauraJean1] Columbia, again Can't Post

I just wanted to say something to LauraJean and anyone else who might be weighing Columbia vs. some other school. In my interactions with agents, editors, and critics in New York, I've found an odd thing: they tend to regard the Columbia/NYU/New School MFA people as "our kids", and all other MFA people as hardly more desirable than any other random non-MFA schmuck (such as myself). The Columbia people truly have their fingers in all the publishing/media pies, and are very much insiders.

And you know, I don't think it is evidence of some nefarious conspiracy that the New York MFAers have such an inside advantage. I just think it's evidence of the fact that when you work as a gatekeeper, you're inundated constantly with far more stuff than you could ever hope to adequately evaluate -- it would take all your time, literally every second. So the gatekeepers gravitate toward work they have knowledge of naturally through other channels, and that's where being in the city comes in.

So go to the city! Go to Columbia! You'll be saddled with debt, but you are willing. The main thing is that you know what you're getting into and you are willing.

The only thing I'd advise a writer with more vigor than I'd advise going straight to New York for an MFA would be to go out into the world and find your stories through the hell of your own bizarre experiences and travails, and skip the MFA altogether. But that not being on the table at this point, the next best thing is to go to the big city and seek your fortune with the help and support of the ultimate insider's club for men and women of letters. I think that's worth a huge pile of money.


hackofalltrades


Mar 21, 2008, 12:39 PM

Post #203 of 430 (8969 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

Seth, like other commenters, I want to preface this by saying that your points are well-taken, and that the following is not to dogpile on you. I'm also a devotee of your blog and found your MFA-related resources very helpful during this whole crazy process--thank you for your dedication to making that information available!

That said, some other thoughts:

1) The reality check re: Columbia already exists. Echoing kijordan's post, no one here is taking debt lightly; earlier posts are very clear on their concerns about tuition, funding, and debt load.

Although I'm sure it wasn't your intent, I think posters in this thread are just a little taken aback by your entrance into the conversation, which seems to suggest that one "debt be damned" comment--taken out of context--might somehow misinform future applicants about the situation at Columbia when this whole thread more or less centers on Columbia's funding inadequacies.

3) A related point: Columbia has been dissected so many times that I think it's a little coy of you to suggest that future applicants might not be able to find any critical discussion on the program. For instance: if you google "Columbia MFA," the third result is the Grumpy Bookman post on Mark Slouka's evisceration of the writing program; the fifth and the eighth results are also Slouka-related pages. If you google "Columbia MFA ranking," the top result is your own 2007 rankings, in which you dedicate the bulk of the intro to your comments section to Columbia's low selectivity. By the time your hypothetical 21-year-old applicant actually reached the P&W boards, I'd say that changes are good that s/he has become intimately familiar with Columbia's failings.

On the other hand, critical information on Pitt seems harder to find. So perhaps your time might be better served--and this is not meant snidely--starting a thread or posting on your blog about Pitt and its funding situation, rather than reiterating something that's already been said again and again.

2) Yes, Columbia has fallen from applicants' favor, but--and again, I'm sure that you didn't mean for your comments to be read this way, but in the interest of candor--I find your comments on Columbia's poor polling and ranking somewhat disingenuous. You suggest that Columbia has seen a decline in quality applicants, based on it being one of the least selective top 50 programs. I'd also like to add that Columbia has one of the largest applicant pools of those 50 programs; looking over your 2007 acceptance rate chart, Columbia, at #32, sees more applicants than 30 of the programs with lower acceptance rates. Do they admit a higher proportion? Absolutely. But one has to consider that (i) the size of the original pool does matter and (ii) that not all programs draw from one single pool of applicants, so it's difficult to draw conclusions about the quality of one pool vs. that of another.

Also, looking at the grad placement and grad awards charts on your blog, Columbia ranks #2 in both major poetry fellowships and awards and academy placement.

Again, I write this all with respect and thanks for the work you do for prospective MFAers, but applicants, generally, aren't so naive as to take on $100K in debt without some critical thought.


wardis


Mar 21, 2008, 12:55 PM

Post #204 of 430 (8946 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

 
Hi Seth,

Thanks for your very thorough response. I agree with your rationale completely and want to assure you that my allegiances are truly not with the administrators of these programs, but with the prospective students. I'm especially happy to hear that you're going to report the hard data: what percentage of students receive financial aid, what type of aid they receive, etc. This, after all, is the most important information. What still concerns me, however, is the notion of ranking these programs numerically (as you do your reputation-based rankings), as opposed to, say, grouping the programs in tiers. A tiered ranking, in my opinion would not only provide all programs with a realistic incentive to improve their funding, but also provide students with a realistic idea of how different the funding situations in different programs really is.

Here are my reasons:

1. Above, you listed a dozen schools that guarantee full-funding to all students and another eight or so that offer funding to 75% or more. If one were to create a tier, I think almost all of those schools would fall under the category of "good funding." In a numerical ranking, however, some of those schools would fall in the top two or three spots and others would fall at the bottom of the top twenty or beyond, giving prospective students the impression that thereís a larger disparity between them than there really is. After all, good funding is good funding. Who cares that UT offers a few more thousand dollars a year than Cornell, or that one program funds 95% of its students and another program funds 100%? As I see it, any prospective student looking at programs with such small differences in their funding situations should be thinking about other factors. And if they really do want more specific information about the subtle differences, then they can look at the hard data youíre providing.

To be more specific, I think whatís most important is drawing a distinction between a program like Cornell and a program like Columbia. Or a program that funds 95% of its students and program that funds 40%. I think itís less important to draw a distinction between a program like UC, Irvine and a program like Houston, as both of are well-funded programs and should be perceived as such. If someone who was concerned about funding asked me whether there was any reason not to apply to either program, I'd say no. At UC, Irvine they'd have a guarantee of funding, and at Houston they'd virtually have a guarantee of funding. The difference would be so small that it shouldn't be a factor. And thus, I'd group those two programs together, under the heading of "well funded" programs, along with schools like Iowa, Michigan, and Virginia, all of which offer all or virtually all of their students funding. Similarly, I think a program like Pittsburgh should be grouped in a bottom tier with programs like Columbia, and that other schools offering, say, 50% of their students funding should be ranked in a middle tier.

Ranking programs numerically, on the other hand, gives applicants a warped perception that there are major differences between certain programs' funding situations when those differences are really pretty minimal. And, in a purely practical sense, not that important in the long run.

2. Again, I'm not on the side of the program administrators here, believe me, but there does seem to be something inherently unfair about a numerical ranking in which it would be realistically impossible for certain programs to ever pass other programs simply because of their size. For example, Arizona could never offer all of its students the same deal UT does, unless they either got some extraordinarily large endowment or cut down the size of their program. Thus, the only way Arizona could realistically compete with Texas would be to change who they are fundamentally and make themselves smaller. And I don't think that's the message you want to send. I think the message you want to send is this: In order for you to fall into a better tier, you need to work harder to get every student, or almost every student, a TAship. If you do, you'll move up into a tier with other well-funded programs. In other words, Arizona, or any other large program, should have the same opportunity that small programs do to be perceived as well-funded, to be included among the ranks of UT and Cornell, even if they can't realistically give every student a hefty stipend.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Thanks agin for your response, Seth.


umass76


Mar 21, 2008, 1:36 PM

Post #205 of 430 (8918 views)
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Re: [hackofalltrades] Columbia, again Can't Post

A few thoughts...

1. One critical difference between Harvard (and this is just a quick note to "upsetme") and Columbia is that Harvard (in this case the law school) has a loan forgiveness program. I wouldn't have been able to afford to go if it hadn't had one, as I knew beforehand that I wanted to be a public defender. Which is sort of along the same lines as another poster, above, who asked (in paraphrase) "Isn't it as much a question of how much I can make doing what I want to do, as opposed to merely what I want to do?" I understand and appreciate the feeling here that everyone is making a well-researched decision about where to attend, but (and here I mention the word "naivete" in the same well-intended spirit as others have mentioned it),

a) Isn't it a little naive to believe, with 300+ programs out there, that Columbia offers, in a way no other school does, a leg up in a particular industry? Or that in a field (non-fiction) where opportunities span the entire country (and where most entry-level positions are not in New York), that where you go to school, moreso than what you accomplish--or as much as what you accomplish--will get you a job? Or that a single internship available to, say, a single person among 70 admittees is a reason to go somewhere? Or that one can spend two years "focusing on one's writing" (what we all say we're going to school to do) while simultaneously networking at the highest levels of NYC's publishing industry (a pretty time-consuming side-job)? Or that Columbia's nonfiction professors are uniquely connected (and how would we know this, anyway?) as compared to, say, Iowa's? Or Arizona's? Or Ohio State's? Or Notre Dame's? If the field is so small in terms of nonfiction--and it is, as I agree that there may only be thirty programs or so--doesn't that make it more likely that the 100 or so nonfiction MFA professors operating nationally all know one another, and many of the same people in the industry? I guess what I'm saying is, in the law school field--as rigid a system of "cultural capital" as could possibly imagined--there are 15 to 20 law schools that give you an identifiable "leg up" in terms of future legal work. Why would the arts be more restrictive? I know there's a sense here that everyone's clear-headed, and I'm sure they are, but isn't there a little mythologizing going on here?

b) The numbers don't add up for those who want to use Columbia to i) amass $100,000+ in debt, ii) make connections in NYC so they can get a job there, and iii) then live in NYC in order to benefit from those connections and those jobs. My own experience is that $100,000 in debt comes out to around $1,000/mo. in loan payments, or $12,000/year. Given the cost of living anywhere in NYC--not just Manhattan--how much does one have to make to live at the barest level of comfort, while also clearing an additional 12K annually to pay for loans? I don't necessarily see that calculus being the main discussion-point here, so much as, by and large, generalities about Columbia's poor funding and reasons to go anyway. Columbia's proffer is one which should drive prospectives directly to their calculators, and to the extent there's a public space here to discuss Columbia it should probably be filled as much with number-crunching as anything else. I say this as a debtor, but I also say it as a current MFA at a program where everyone presumes the graduates will land on their feet, yet speaking with many of my classmates they are terrified--and have no clue about--their futures. They in no way whatsoever are sanguine about getting a job making $45,000+, as a poster above imagined would be necessary to live in NYC and pay Columbia-level debt. Most of them are happy to take jobs that pay $30,000, and some are struggling even to find those and opting (as I too may, candidly) for PhD. programs, to increase their future marketability and elongate their time-frame to write in.

c) I don't blame anyone for not understanding precisely my perspective; it's largely because no one but me can see my in-box, both here at P&W and on my home computer. The reality is that P&W folks are well-informed, but P&W folks are in the minority. And the reality, too, is that the youngest applicants (perhaps because of the follies of youth; I was this way too when I was 21) are least likely to adequately research programs, or understand the realities of debt. P&W is the first and last waystation for such candidates, and so I tend to think, frankly, that enough can never be said about these sorts of issues--either by me, or anyone else. There's no coyness about these discussions when--this very year--a young man came to this board who had applied to only one school (Columbia), got in, and then was distraught, in a public fashion, when he realized he couldn't afford to go. Whatever P&W is doing--or I'm doing--to inform folks of the dangers of applying only to NYC-area schools, it clearly isn't enough. You wouldn't believe how many applicants (and I see this as I do the polling) are applying only to schools which I know (because I've read every website) won't fund them. The person who (say, hypothetically) applies to Texas, Wisconsin, CCA, CalArts, Mills, and Saint Mary's might as well have applied only to Columbia, because the two non-CA schools there accept well less than 2% of applicants, and the others don't fund hardly anyone. Or how about the Chicagoland applicants who apply to Iowa, SAIC, Columbia College, Wisconsin, and Minnesota? Roughly the same situation, if one doesn't make the cut at UM's 4% acceptance rate. These are things happening right now. And who's going to be Paul Revere here? Does this board really serve that purpose? My own feeling is that it doesn't necessarily, as much as it represents a discussion that does bemoan Columbia's funding (while also trying to, I think, at points, justify it as being worth the investment, which to me seems manifestly a stretch).

d) Re: class size and applicant-pool size. I think it's important, first, to note that even by this measure, a school many folks are claiming is #2 after Iowa doesn't, in fact, i) get in the top ten in terms of applicants, or ii) enjoy, presently, the same applications-number spike that nearly every other top twenty-five school is enjoying. Also, if the boards are any indication, Columbia has the worst yield of any program in America--more people turn it down, as a percentage of the total acceptee pool, than any other program--which neutralizes any advantage it could claim from being 11th or 12th or whatnot in terms of applicant pool size (keep in mind, some of the schools listed at TSE offer only fiction-only numbers, whereas Columbia is all-genre--including, I might add, that extra third genre of nonfiction--which means that for fiction/poetry apps only Columbia would be ranked much, much lower in total apps. In this sense, the very popularity of CU's nonfiction program argues against the selectivity of the school, numbers-wise).

e) The grad placement and grad award numbers, when controlled for size, do not put Columbia second. In fact, when controlled for size Columbia does not crack the top 11 (I'm not sure where it places, I just know it's not in the top 11). So I hope the claim of disingenuousness takes into account that the poster has misquoted my website. In grad placement, things look even worse. Here's what I actually said on my website:

"...the 'normalized' totals for these smaller schools would be as follows: Cornell (54); the University of California at Irvine (36); Brown (31); Johns Hopkins (26); and Virginia (21). In contrast, the 'normalized' totals for the two schools here which are actually larger than Iowa, Columbia and Arizona, would likely be (9) and (4), respectively."

That would put Columbia, at best, 7th or 8th in that measure, and a distant 7th or 8th at that.

All this said, I do realize that, at the moment, I'm like Joe Black (Death, from the movie Meet Joe Black) in that scene where he goes into the hospital to flirt with Anthony Hopkins's daughter, and then realizes that a hospital is no place for Death Himself to be--"I realize now that my being here," he says, "isn't entirely appropriate." I'm nowhere near Brad Pitt to look at (obviously), but functionally I do feel like Death in a hospital here. I promise I don't do this to stir the pot, I do this because the only reason Columbia has the rap it has now is because of one man: Tom Kealey. And so I firmly believe one man can--in the field of MFA information research--make a difference. But he can't make a difference if he stays quiet, particularly if he fears to tread the one place where vocalization is most necessary. Again, if you could see my e-mails, and what folks are saying about the usefulness of this sort of information (did the folks here really know that 36 programs--and specifically which ones--fully fund students at a 75% rate or above?) I hope you'd understand why I wrote what I did, and why I haven't left this thread quite yet.

But in the interest of full-disclosure (and to ensure the ingenuousness of any critics), please also note the other things I've said about Columbia:

1) a top-tier program (meaning, by the new rankings I'm devising, within the top twelve nationally);
2) my first-choice school before I realized I couldn't afford it (ahead of Iowa);
3) the one school that, if it were fully-funded, would in my estimation be the best program in America (ahead of Iowa);
4) A school that, if you can afford it, is perhaps the best school in America to go to (ahead of Iowa);
5) one of the five to ten best faculties in America, across all genres
6) the best location in America
7) the best school to apply to in America for students looking for a high-odds chance of getting into an elite program

And more. I don't hate Columbia, I just hate what it's doing to its students--and its website, which is disingenuous inasmuch as it tries to sell prospective applicants on the notion that "full-funding" is not only something they have no right to expect, but by no means the norm among the top programs nationally.

Best to all,
Seth


(This post was edited by umass76 on Mar 21, 2008, 1:36 PM)


umass76


Mar 21, 2008, 1:51 PM

Post #206 of 430 (8894 views)
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Re: [wardis] Columbia, again Can't Post

Wardis,

I think you hit the nail on the head: most programs, even large programs, could expand their TAship offerings if they tried, and since employees get tuition waivers, there'd be a domino effect, such that even a school like Columbia could make a real move toward full funding. But again, I'm not trying to send any kind of message to the programs, but rather to applicants, who should apply to a mix of small and large programs, of well-funded and only partially-funded programs, and should--always--apply to a few high-admit, high-funding, large-class-size programs if at all possible, and if not that then at least the first two of those (and yes, such schools absolutely do exist; there are a handful in the all-three category, too). To the extent any school takes a message from the funding rankings, I think it'll be the right message: hey guys, we need to improve our funding! Which of course nearly every school already knows (though some more than others, I suppose). And actually, the funding ranking will have a handful of larger-size programs in it, because there are those that fund a decent percentage of their student body. So it's not hopeless for larger programs, and I don't think they'll take that message from the ranking. The reality is that larger programs tend to reside at schools with larger endowments, one reason even slightly larger programs can make the rankings (and do) if they try.

As to your first point, cost of living differences do make some packages more valuable than others--even, among fully-funded packages, to the tune of thousands of dollars. The availability of "topping-off" fellowships at some schools and not others also can add thousands of dollars' worth of difference as between two programs. Likewise, post-graduate fellowships. So tiers would actually be more misleading than numerical rankings, as within one tier the reality is that (cost of living taken into account) the top school in a twelve-school tier might offer $10,000 more over two years than the bottom school. That's a significant difference, given the relatively low dollar amounts we're talking (at most schools, except a few like Columbia). But more importantly, you have to remember that, with 300 programs in the country, any school in the top 50 in funding is in the top 16% of programs. Which means, moreover, that the program ranked 3rd is in the top 1%, and the program ranked 20th is in the top 6.7%, which not only sounds around right to me ($10,000 or so in funding disparity probably should equal a slight, 5%-or-so difference in the ranking), but also won't, I don't think, cause any student to not apply to the 20th school simply because it's not 3rd. I make clear in an essay preceding the top fifty rankings that, hey, if you even appear here you've got pretty good funding. I think that's fair to everyone, or at least hope will be seen as being so.

S.


pensive
Adam

Mar 21, 2008, 1:57 PM

Post #207 of 430 (8888 views)
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Seth and Pitt Can't Post

Not to step on any conversation or thread toes (I'm only saying it here because it was first mentioned in this thread).
Someone mentioned a wish for Pitt's program to be elaborated upon in the way you have for Columbia. As one of those prospective Pitt student's you consistently make reference to, I think this would be very helpful.

Whoever made the comment is correct. There is virtually no information about Pitt's program. I applied knowing fully well that it didn't fund more than a few students; it's reputation has maintained itself despite this fact. It has a good acceptance rate and individualized attention... and is a three year program. Aside from that? Not really sure, even after talking to a current student.

On this thread, or another, can you talk about Pitt a little?


umass76


Mar 21, 2008, 2:01 PM

Post #208 of 430 (8881 views)
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Re: [pensive] Seth and Pitt Can't Post

Pensive,

Maybe Motet would be willing to start a Pitt thread, if there isn't one already? I think that'd be a good idea.

S.


pensive
Adam

Mar 21, 2008, 2:06 PM

Post #209 of 430 (8871 views)
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Re: [umass76] Seth and Pitt Can't Post

I hope that Motet does.

I applied to mostly well-funded programs, but was accepted to the two that aren't (Pitt and Sarah Lawrence). I applied to these schools because they were programs I liked (from what I could find) and for their reputations. SLC has been very eager to give me info because they can; they're the size of a large high school. Pitt is HUGE, and public, and retrieving information about them is practically impossible.


wardis


Mar 21, 2008, 2:58 PM

Post #210 of 430 (8833 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

Seth,

Thanks again for your response. I'm relieved to hear that your funding rankings will include a handful of larger programs and am hopeful that some will even make the top 10. After all, when you factor in cost of living, in-state tuition and other factors, there are quite few large programs that are not only well funded, but also relatively cheap in the grand scheme of thinngs (e.g., Iowa, Houston, etc).

Looking forward to seeing the list, and thanks again for all of your hard work.

wardis


motet
Dana Davis / Moderator

Mar 21, 2008, 3:27 PM

Post #211 of 430 (8815 views)
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Re: [umass76] Seth and Pitt Can't Post


In Reply To
Maybe Motet would be willing to start a Pitt thread, if there isn't one already?



Let's go with door number two.... :)


kijordan


Mar 21, 2008, 4:53 PM

Post #212 of 430 (8768 views)
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Making Decisions Can't Post

To those of you still deciding, keep us updated !

Also, I'm actually visiting Columbia a week from today and I return two weeks before the fateful 15th of April, so if any of you are still ruminating, I can report back on my (poet's) impression of the program.


upsetme


Mar 22, 2008, 1:36 PM

Post #213 of 430 (8697 views)
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Re: [umass76] Columbia, again Can't Post

Just a few things:

1) There's more than one New Yorker internship. As I was told there are several. They run Fall, Spring and Summer, full-time and part-time, from what I was told. They go to first and second year students across all concentrations.

1a) It is certainly naive (and this why I joked about it) to think one would get hired at The New Yorker, or Harper's or The Atlantic or any other first-rate magazine fresh out of school. It is not naive to think you'll get an internship at one of those magazines. Everyone I talked to said they abound. When I visit I will quantify the opportunities and report back.

2) To evaluate a program or organization based solely on their Web site is hardly thorough or all inclusive. I called my top choices and set up an appointment with one of them -- Columbia where I was told, frankly, if I don't have rich parents or the willingness to shoulder debt, don't waste the application fee. Going solely on Internet information on anything you do is a recipe for disaster. It's like reading Ford, Dodge and Chevy Web pages than deciding what truck to buy. Do your online research, but go to the lot and drive before you pull the trigger.

3) Location is very, very important. Since graduating college I've lived in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia and now California -- rural California, almond California -- so I feel I can personally stress, again and again, just how important location really is. As a self-declared "city person" being in farm country is hard. Borders being the only bookstore in town is hard. Having friends (who are solid, interesting, intelligent people) who think Olive Garden is high cuisine is hard. Don't underestimate location. My first criteria for schools was location and I stand by that. Three years is a long time. I'm not willing to get used to farmland anymore, even if it meant a free ride, and thank god I didn't find that out during year two of an MFA. THAT would be tragic.

4) One poster already mention something like "that sparkle in people's eye" when you mention Columbia. That is very real -- even in the media world. A quick example: I work at a reputable mid-sized newspaper. I had to explain to everyone of my editors why, when it comes to writing programs, Iowa is usually considered the strongest. Well why did I apply to Pitt, Hollins and Hunter, then? they asked. Columbia they understood. Now they want me to send them sweatshirts. There's a certain magic (maybe unjustified -- my gf went to Yale and thought it a joke) that's hard to quantify. Writing on a resume that you interned at the New Yorker or another first-rate magazine, I think, has that same appeal. As my interests are literary journalism, I'll go back to mid-sized newspapers if I can't transition to magazines and free lance work. So those editors are the people I'll be dealing with. And yes, I'll make the 45K needed to pay back 100K in loans. I bought something, see: the experience of living in the best city in world and learning from the best working writers and critics in the game.


kijordan


Mar 22, 2008, 2:44 PM

Post #214 of 430 (8679 views)
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Re: [upsetme] Columbia, again Can't Post

Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for that. A nice melange of realism and optimism. Much, much appreciated.


umass76


Mar 22, 2008, 2:56 PM

Post #215 of 430 (8672 views)
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Re: [upsetme] Columbia, again Can't Post

Upsetme,

Good points. A few notes though:

1. There are 140 students in Columbia's MFA program at any one time, across three genres. Even if there are 14 internships available with The New Yorker--which I doubt (I remember trying to get unpaid summer internships with cash-/manpower-strapped public interest organizations after my first year of law school, and more than 50% of the places I sent letters to never even responded, as interns are generally seen as more trouble than they're worth)--well, even if there are 14 such internships, that still means 90% of students are out of luck.

2. I hope no one thinks I was judging Columbia "solely" on their website. In fact, I don't believe Columbia has ever been analyzed using as many different factors as have gone into Tom Kealey's and my own rankings. I hope no one believes Columbia's poor showing is either the result of a misunderstanding or a mis-analysis (heck, the school's worst showing isn't actually in my/Kealey's rankings--where it's listed in the top-tier--but in the P&W poll, which simply reflects the opinions of applicants; there, Columbia is just inside the top twenty overall). The analysis done of Columbia over the past few years, which takes into account fifteen or more factors, is dead on; the question here is whether there are compelling enough reasons to attend Columbia despite the analysis.

3. Location is the number one consideration for nearly all applicants: Kealey has said that, as have I. But I also caution against stereotyping certain types of locations. I live in Iowa City, where there is farmland four miles away in every single direction (as the crow flies). Nevertheless, there are seven bookstores in this town of 65,000, six of them independent--and one of them the best independent bookstore I've ever been in in my entire life. Three of the remaining four bookstores are absolutely top-notch, huge used bookstores. I've found better bookstores in Iowa City than I did in Boston. Cuisine? I don't even think we have an Olive Garden here, but there is, within one block, an all-vegetarian bistro, a vegetarian Indian restaurant, a "regular" Indian restaurant, three of the best small, independent steakhouses you'll ever go to, and countless small cafes, sandwich shops, Irish pubs, coffeehouses, noodle houses, and so on. Most college towns worth their salt can offer as much culture as the average Houston-size city--maybe falling well short of NYC, or San Franciso, but a heck of a lot nevertheless. [Plus, no one I know who lives in those cities ever gets around to exploring them near-fully anyway; a smaller locale is far more eligible for being "mastered" by its residents].

4. It's generally considered typical, in the writing industry, for folks who do hiring for writing-related institutions to know which schools are the best. That's why students who decide to go to, say, University of Houston don't worry that English Department hiring committees will look at them funny--as though Houston's undergraduate ranking is somehow representative in any sense of the writing program--because they know one of the primary jobs of hiring committees, for any type of employment, is to have a sense of which graduate schools are best in the field. Not just the top three or four schools, mind you, but the top twenty or thirty. Folks who look at applications all day can't help but acquire this knowledge, even if they're not trying (though most, because they realize it's their job, do, in fact, try). It seems as though it is only here, on the Columbia board, that that conventional wisdom is commonly agreed to have been turned on its head in the creative writing field: that somehow Columbia (and Iowa) grads hold a special place in their respective fields, while even other top-five programs in their field (say, nonfiction; say, like Pitt) are absolutely name-recognition-less. While I can see how this would be true at a mid-sized newspaper, larger employers are by no means going to look at you with confusion if you've gone anywhere but Columbia, and at times I've gotten the sense on this board that not everyone here believes that.

My two cents. Best,

Seth


upsetme


Mar 22, 2008, 3:29 PM

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1. As for internships, I'll dig out some hard numbers in the next few weeks, so we can discuss without guesswork.

2. I don't doubt how much work went into the rankings. I doubt that rankings (of anything) can give so complete a picture that shoe leather and phone calls and test drives aren't needed. Rankings are a great place to start, but a terrible place to finish. Consumer Reports keeps telling me again and again to buy a Toyota, but boy does that Chevy drives nice ...

3. Agreed. Every city is different. My point was only that the potential applicant should have a very clear picture of the place they expect to spend two or three years REGARDLESS of funding. I could have full funding at a place like UC Davis or UC Irvine and be unhappy for a host of reasons. (I'm not built for California.) I think we agree on this.

4. I think you're missing my point. People who staff English and Creative Writing Departments, I'm sure, know SIU Carbondale is a good program or Texas is what it is. People who hand out assignments at regional and national magazines, people who hire at newspapers, don't.


In Reply To
It seems as though it is only here, on the Columbia board, that that conventional wisdom is commonly agreed to have been turned on its head in the creative writing field: that somehow Columbia (and Iowa) grads hold a special place in their respective fields, while even other top-five programs in their field (say, nonfiction; say, like Pitt) are absolutely name-recognition-less.


It's not a Columbia problem. It's a journalism problem. And in that field Iowa does not hold a special place. Iowa needs explanation. Columbia does not. This is not unique to Columbia either. I imagine Brown, Cornell, Stanford, Berkeley -- other schools that have a carry-over respect from the crazed undergraduate admissions process, they would resonate as Columbia does. Even at large newspapers and big magazines, unless people who make hiring decisions have experience with, say, a student from Pitt, they will not know the quality of the Pitt program. I know these people. Many are brilliant and very, very good at what they do, but they are not academics. Many of them start with the idea that graduate school is a big waste of time. Selling them the unfamiliar only makes it all the harder. It's not a Columbia thing. It's that the conventional wisdom that is commonly agreed to in the creative writing field does not apply in the newsroom. Like I said in my first post, I don't think this applies to poets or people working on a first person memoir.


(This post was edited by upsetme on Mar 22, 2008, 3:34 PM)


umass76


Mar 22, 2008, 5:48 PM

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Upsetme,

Fair enough; those are good points. Frankly the reason I originally wanted to go to Columbia is because of just the sort of "carry-over" you mentioned. I didn't believe anyone in the field would be familiar with any school that wasn't well-regarded already in terms of its undergraduate program (and I'm not talking about Iowa here, as I do think it's a very strong public university). While I've since learned that's not at all true--i.e., not at all a worry--in the poetry field, I can imagine that it might still be true with a number of nonfiction-related employers.

As to rankings being the be-all and end-all, we're in agreement. I've often said--on my blog, and elsewhere--that rankings should only be one of dozens of considerations. While, to me, those other considerations still preclude Columbia being a "smart" choice (albeit still an attractive one), I can certainly understand that considerations like name recognition and location are significant enough advantages, with respect to Columbia, that there's a real value there to many applicants. And I still feel as though, in a vacuum, Columbia would be a good choice for anyone--it was only when I saw how far behind Columbia lagged in terms of funding (six figures' worth behind) that I began to feel, and frankly many people I talk to now also feel, that the school is taking advantage of people who don't necessarily know about all the other options.

We should understand that the reason Columbia won't reduce its class-size--I think Wardis was wondering about this subject earlier--is because they just make too much damn money off MFA tuition, the way things are. There's nothing stopping Columbia from saying, "We're going to reduce our class size to six per genre, and fully fund everyone, until the University gives us more money." Well, there are two things stopping them: they'd have to drop faculty, and the University wouldn't permit one of its biggest cash cows to be slaughtered. But I still think reducing the program's size, in this environment, would be--morally--the right thing for Columbia to do.

Best,
S.


upsetme


Mar 22, 2008, 6:26 PM

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We agree on most points, but you said two things here I think warrant response:


In Reply To
... I began to feel, and frankly many people I talk to now also feel, that the school is taking advantage of people who don't necessarily know about all the other options.


I don't want to sound like a dogged Columbia-lover or pro-administration, but again, this isn't my experience. I was told by upfront, before I applied, if you can't afford it don't apply. Also, Columbia has increased it's funding exponentially in recent years. A great many students got at least $10,000 this year. Some, I'm told, got around $20,000, which amounts to half tuition. This was unheard of five years ago. They're moving in the right direction albeit slowly and in many people's opinion after the damage has been done. If leadership thinking was to simply milk students, as you suggest, because they can, I don't think we'd see this shift. Frankly, I don't know what the lines of leadership thought at Columbia are. I don't think any of us do. That said, I'm skeptical of arguments that claim leadership is willfully taking advantage of people. Call them and they will say: we're expensive. I don't have much sympathy for that 21-year-old kid who only applied to Columbia and couldn't afford it. He fell asleep at the wheel of research. He didn't do his homework. An MFA program isn't "What am I going to do this weekend?" or even a question like what car to buy. It's three-years of your life and to not plan that with intelligence and forethought is a crime only against yourself. Columbia, if anything, is capitalizing on its reputation in application fees and showing no sympathy for people who didn't pick up the phone.


In Reply To
But I still think reducing the program's size, in this environment, would be--morally--the right thing for Columbia to do.


Like another poster here discussed, I don't believe smaller and fully funded equals better. I'd go nuts with the same four people reading my work for three years -- even if they paid me. Editors, writing mentors, teachers, they're all like tires. Ride 'em as long as you can then get a new set. This, of course, is a personal preference. I went to a small liberal arts college for my freshmen year as an undergraduate and it didn't fit. I transfered to big competitive university and did just fine. I love the fray. I want as many people as possible with divergent tastes reading and commenting on my work. Columbia would be better off if every spot was fully funded, but don't touch the size. There are people out there who prefer bigger programs.

For someone doing nonfiction with no desire to teach, it seems like a real good fit. It's expensive, but few things in life are free.


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 23, 2008, 6:13 PM

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Quote

Like another poster here discussed, I don't believe smaller and fully funded equals better. I'd go nuts with the same four people reading my work for three years -- even if they paid me


I agree completely with upsetme on this point. Columbia is a bit too large for my personal preference, but is still vastly superior in size than most other programs for my taste.

I know a lot of people in small MFA programs and I definitly think that a large one is preferable. You have far more options for teachers and peers to judge your work. Some people love small programs and I can see how they are great for certain people. But not for me. I know people who went nuts at MFA programs where they only had a handful of peers and like 2 professors. If you weren't one of the students who caught the professors eyes or taste, you felt like an outcast for your entire experience.

Obviously fully funded is a better option. But a big program is a plus (for me at last), not a disadvantage.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Mar 23, 2008, 6:19 PM)


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 23, 2008, 6:29 PM

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Quote
1. There are 140 students in Columbia's MFA program at any one time, across three genres. Even if there are 14 internships available with The New Yorker--which I doubt (I remember trying to get unpaid summer internships with cash-/manpower-strapped public interest organizations after my first year of law school, and more than 50% of the places I sent letters to never even responded, as interns are generally seen as more trouble than they're worth)--well, even if there are 14 such internships, that still means 90% of students are out of luck.


Out of luck if you're only goal is the New Yorker.

You seem to forget how almost the entire publishing world exists in new york. There are hundreds of good magazines and tons of literary agencies.

For what its worth, from someone who actually goes to Columbia and actually lives in New York, I can promise that there are plenty of internship opportunities. Everyone I know at Columbia who wanted to intern somewhere has done so and almost always at a fantastic place.

Quote

(heck, the school's worst showing isn't actually in my/Kealey's rankings--where it's listed in the top-tier--but in the P&W poll, which simply reflects the opinions of applicants; there, Columbia is just inside the top twenty overall).


It doesn't reflect the "opinions of applicants" it reflects a small an un-statistical sample of people who post on this board and choose to post their application lists.

The fact is, Columbia has one of the largest application pools of any programs.

Quote

The analysis done of Columbia over the past few years, which takes into account fifteen or more factors, is dead on;


Yes, umass, your analysis of Columbia which contains numerous inaccuracies, is skewed by obvious personal bile, and conflicts with the opinions of almost every other source or expert in the field as well as the experiences of people who actually go to the program, is "dead on."

Yep. That's it.



Quote

Most college towns worth their salt can offer as much culture as the average Houston-size city--maybe falling well short of NYC, or San Franciso, but a heck of a lot nevertheless.


I've lived in several college towns and while I enjoyed my time there I don't find this to be remotely close to true.
Maybe if you are judging this purely in terms of quantity instead of quality.... but there is a huge difference in having some local art shoes and having museums showcasing historically important artworks or having some local bar bands playing every weekend or having your favorite bands tour through.

Again, there is nothing wrong with small college towns. For many people they are probably a preferable setting to larger cities. But that doesn't mean we need to pretend they offer the cultural opportunities anywhere close to a big city.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Mar 23, 2008, 6:38 PM)


wardis


Mar 23, 2008, 11:57 PM

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Seth,

I'm pretty much 100% in agreement with your concerns about Columbia, but I do want to say that I agree with Clench Millon on his point about size. I don't think the problem with Columbia is size. In fact, I think size is one of the major plusses of Columbia. I think the problem is simply that Columbia is an enormously wealthy institution that is not investing its wealth into one of its strongest programs. Certainly, they've done a lot to acquire a top notch faculty--probably the best in the country next to Iowa--but they haven't invested the same amount of money into financial aid for their students, though it's encouraging to see that they're making efforts in that direction.

As for the issue of size, I agree with Clench Millon that there are major drawbacks to a small student body and that it concerns me that certain schools who pride themselves on being very selective and small are rising so quickly in the rankings (or public perception), due primarily to the fact that they're small (thus, selective) and can give their students more money than a graduate student really needs. I have very specific concerns about a program like Texas, which ten years ago wasn't even on the MFA map, and which is not, in any other respect, very impressive. The faculty is decent, but not great, and the student success rate after graduation has been fairly abysmal. Nevertheless, there's this sense that because UT is offering large sums of money to a very small number of students that they're somehow a top-ranked school.

Personally, I look at Iowa as a model program. I didn't go there, but several friends of mine did, and I've visited Iowa City and know of the bookstores you wrote about. I also noticed when I was visiting that there was an enormous community of writers in town. I went to a party with a friend of mine who was in the program at the time and I was literally overwelmed by the high-level of conversation about writing and the overall energy and enthusiasm about writing that I observed. I thought, this is the closest thing America has to the Left Bank of the 20s. On top of that, in the years that have passed since then, I have bought several books by people I met when I was there, people who I shared drinks with and who my friend lived with. Not to be put too strong a point on it, but that was one of the best weekends of my life, and I honestly didn't ever want to leave.

Since then, I have met people who have gone to smaller programs, including Cornell, UT, and Johns Hopkins, and I haven't gotten the sense that their experience was anything like this. Personally, I went to Houston, and though the student body there wasn't nearly as dynamic or as talented as the one I observed in Iowa, it was still an amazing experience, largely because of the size of the program, because the community of writers was so diverse. I imagine Columbia is probably the same way, and it only saddens me that the administration isn't taking note of this and doing everything they can to keep the program as competive as it has been in the past. All that said, I do still think that Columbia is a well-regarded program and that it shouldn't be criticized because of this size. After all, if a program like Iowa suddenly decided to shrink its student body--and this was the point I was making in an earlier post--I think something that is very magical about that place would be lost.

Best,
wardis


(This post was edited by wardis on Mar 24, 2008, 12:01 AM)


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 24, 2008, 12:20 AM

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Quote
Certainly, they've done a lot to acquire a top notch faculty--probably the best in the country next to Iowa--but they haven't invested the same amount of money into financial aid for their students, though it's encouraging to see that they're making efforts in that direction.


The financial aid at Columbia is not nearly what it should be and I would certainly never imply otherwise.

The only thing that offends me about Seth's posts is that he feels free to insult and impugn the integrity of Columbia's faculty, claiming they are money hungry and don't care about their students, yada yada. This is completely untrue. The faculty in the writing program works very hard for their students and has been working for a long time to get better funding.

The issue is not with the integrity of anyone in the writing program, but with outside forces. Some of which include
a) The upper bureaucracy doesn't seem terribly concerned with arts funding.
b) For a long while there was no real dean of the School of the Arts (they finally got one recently), which hurts money raising
c) For a long long time there was no undergrad creative writing program. This means there simply where no classes that students could TA (ie, the way most MFA programs fund their students). Now there is one and it is tied to the grad program, so hopefully they will be able to get the TA thing running.

It is fine to question Columbia's funding and it is fine to question taking on debt to go to an MFA program. But I don't think it is fine to insult people who you've never met and know nothing about without even the basic facts at hand.

That's all.

Quote

After all, if a program like Iowa suddenly decided to shrink its student body--and this was the point I was making in an earlier post--I think something that is very magical about that place would be lost.



Agreed. I can completely understand why someone would want a small program and I wouldn't say anything bad about such programs, but a large program really does have a lot of benefits.
Most things I read, or read back when I was looking to apply, talked about how the student body and community you meet at an MFA is the most valuable part. You form connections in your field that will last your whole life.

Large programs like Columbia or Iowa allow you to have a vibrant literary community with tons of styles, aesthetics, projects and ideas swirling around you. I think it is very positive thing. In fact, I don't see any real downsides. People say you don't get the one-on-one teacher support... but I don't think that is true. It isn't like the class sizes balloon in large programs and the faculty number stays the same. Rather, the faculty increases with the students. My workshops have all been between 7 and 11 students. The same as anywhere else.

People's personal tastes will vary, but I'd personally suggest that a large program is almost always a benefit. At least in my experience and the experiences of friends in other programs.


umass76


Mar 24, 2008, 12:25 AM

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CM, if I'd ever said the things you say I've said about Columbia's faculty, your response would make sense to me. But I didn't, so it is a puzzle. Criticizing a) the University, and b) the webmaster, and c) the administration of the CU MFA program is not the same as "impugning the integrity," calling "money-hungry," and "insulting" the faculty. I didn't do any of those things, nor would I. Nor did I ever say the CU faculty doesn't care about students. Once again, you're full of it, and once again, I'd rather just not engage you, as this tactic from you--misquoting me--is par for the course with you, and I'm tired of it.

S.


(This post was edited by umass76 on Mar 24, 2008, 12:26 AM)


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 24, 2008, 12:42 AM

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Quote
We should understand that the reason Columbia won't reduce its class-size--I think Wardis was wondering about this subject earlier--is because they just make too much damn money off MFA tuition, the way things are. There's nothing stopping Columbia from saying, "We're going to reduce our class size to six per genre, and fully fund everyone, until the University gives us more money." Well, there are two things stopping them: they'd have to drop faculty, and the University wouldn't permit one of its biggest cash cows to be slaughtered. But I still think reducing the program's size, in this environment, would be--morally--the right thing for Columbia to do.


Here is the perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Look at the assumptions, based on nothing as far as I can tell, that this post makes. The post claims that there is "nothing stopping" the Columbia writing program from dropping enrollment to six and funding everyone and demanding the upper management give them more money. It doesn't even seem remotely plausible. Since when can any program in a school drastically change its acceptance rate without authorization from various levels of management plus dozens of other considerations. And the idea that dropping the acceptance rate would automatically raise available funding is also based on nothing and also quite unlikely. Cutting acceptance rates could easily dry up available funding.

Not to mention that the size is general considered a positive thing.

But nope, it must be because of the lack or morality of the people who work at Columbia.


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 24, 2008, 1:05 AM

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Anyway, debt is a huge thing to shoulder, especially if you are going into poetry or fiction. Not a lot of money to be made there.

It seems to me if you have an offer from a program that will put you way in debt and another that won't which is equally good, you should go for the equally good one every time.

That said, I think a lot of the Columbia bashing (and iowa bashing and NYU and New School bashing and so on) has created an myth that all programs are basically as good as one another and that you should go to whoever gives you the most money. I've seen this view expressed a lot on the internet and in real life about MFA programs.

I think it is a dangerous POV. I know lots of people who opted for programs that weren't that highly regarded but who gave them money and ended up having a really a horrible time or getting very little out of it. A good faculty does matter as does connections and peer group and everything else. You only get to go to an MFA once and it takes up years of your life. One should heavily consider what they are getting themselves into both in terms of debt and in terms of quality. Both are things that will likely affect you your whole life.

Again, I'm not pretending Columbia is some program miles above all the others. It isn't. It is one of the best, but there are many other programs just as great or nearly as great. But when looking at schools people should face the realities of both debt and the kind of education you will get. At least that is my 2 cents.

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