Sep 14, 2008, 6:50 PM
Hi Seth --
To be perfectly frank, I was able to get my entire education funded, including a living stipend, for the entirety of the degree. I did not mention this because it's not exactly the type of thing that happens to everyone, so I don't want to promote it as a goal that is just within reach of anyone. I won a variety of grants in the $2000 - $9000 range, and one grant for $43,000 per year. This was all added to a by-no-means-insignificant departmental grant ($20k) from Columbia.
Even if I had not won the $43,000 grant, which was by far the most competitive, I still would have collected over $20,000 in grants through my grantseeking, not counting Columbia's funding. (I should also mention that Columbia is seriously devoted to increasing its funding for MFA students, though perhaps you've heard this old saw so many times that it doesn't mean anything any more -- I do believe that allocations are going up, however.) I did a good deal of work to find this money, because I knew that I wanted to go to Columbia but that I did not want to pay for it.
It is my pleasure to correct you vis-a-vis the living expenses issue, and not because I'm being facetious -- I am happy to report that most of the grants I applied to calculate "financial need" based on a school's official "cost of attendance" calculation, which almost always includes a (usually ultra-conservative) estimate of living expenses, MINUS the applicant's resources. So living expenses and the cost of books are considered a legitimate expense, just like tuition. Of course, this varies from grant to grant.
For many people, attending a smaller or newer program with excellent funding might be a better option -- but for those of us who want to get an MFA in New York city, don't write off Columbia. It is truly a fabulous program. (One of my teachers wrote a book a book last year that won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award; another teacher has been a finalist for both the Pulitzer and the NBCC Award; another was the ed-in-chief of Vanity Fair. These are the people I'm studying with in my first semester).
As you said, this might be more germane to the COLUMBIA thread, so I won't go into any more detail about how much I am loving the program. However, I want to remind applicants that while the suggestion to seek outside funding might sound like a brush-off or a daunting curse, it can actually lead you to excellent results.
If anyone is interested in more information, please feel free to PM me -- I would be happy to send you a copy of the spreadsheet that I used to track all the grants I applied to, and to give general counsel on where to look for $$.
Good luck everyone
EDIT -- Moderator feel free to move this to Columbia thread if necessary
(This post was edited by switchthai on Sep 14, 2008, 6:53 PM)