Mar 21, 2008, 1:36 PM
Post #205 of 430
A few thoughts...
Re: [hackofalltrades] Columbia, again
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,
(This post was edited by umass76 on Mar 21, 2008, 1:36 PM)