May 8, 2006, 11:38 AM
Post #25 of 117
First, let me say that I think both TNS and SLC are fine programs - the faculty at TNS is stellar. A good friend of mine also had to choose between SLC and TNS - he chose The New School, the right decision for him, I'm certain. I was really torn before visiting the two schools, but afterwards, my gut instinct kicked in.
The only, only con on my list at SLC is the location, and the only pro of TNS was location. Faculty-wise, for me, SLC is better. While I admire people like Vivian Gornick and Philip Lopate very much, I think Jo Ann Beard (at SLC) is brilliant, I know from friends that she's also a great teacher and have heard the same of Vijay Seshadri. I also sat in on a class taught by Lawrence Weschler that was revelatory.
TNS wouldn't let me sit in on a class. I understand not sitting in on a workshop, because that's such a personal thing, but no class? This attitude seemed to pervade every communication I had with the program there. In retrospect, I had a series of pretty lame experiences when I visited. I asked if I could talk with a student, again - no. They said I could attend a public forum, which I did, and basically tap someone on the shoulder. I asked if I could meet with a faculty member or program rep. - this seemed like a big imposition ( I was in NY for 3 days from California and trying to accomplish as much as possible while I was there). I finally met with a program coordinator, though they wouldn't make an appt. - just "pop by" the office. While I was in her office, Robert Polito strolled in. She tried to introduce me, he either didn't hear or pretended not to, and she pretended she'd never tried. It was awkward and kind of funny, but along with everything else, just added to the lameness of it all. Other students I met who were deciding between SLC and TNS had similar experieces. As did my friend. He's really into living in the city, wasn't a fan of the sleepy hollow factor of Westchester, likes the fast-paced, no hand holding, looseness of TNS, and doesn't mind the lack of organization.
I like the bi-weekly conferences with faculty at SLC. I loved the class I sat in on. The thesis project I want to work on is a collection of autobiographical stories and I think SLC's faculty/program is better suited for that than TNS's. I'm not bothered too much by the commute or living in Westchester....
It still nags at me from time to time. There are a couple other programs (west coast) that I was also really interested in, and passed up for SLC. But I've talked to and worked with students, faculty & staff now at SLC - all of them have been super helpful, responsive and pretty frank about the program's strengths and weaknesses. So, I feel like I know what I'm getting into - for better or worse - and I don't think I could say the same for TNS.
Incidentally, I also visited Columbia and met with students there. There was definitely a "don't go to SLC" vibe, which generally seemed to stem from the belief that the SLC's program is not as rigorous as Columbia's. I think that's probably true, in terms of the course load/reading requirements. But I'm not really worried about it - I'm looking at these two years as a time to hunker down and write, to finish a major project, and believe I can take care of myself when it comes to rigor - both in reading of literature and in writing. What I'm not interested in is clawing my way up for access to faculty - which was the vibe at Columbia and TNS. I don't want to spend my energy competing for attention, fellowships, etc. in an MFA program. I want to spend it getting the work done, writing. And I think I'll be able to do that at SLC.
In the end, all you can do is make your best educated guess, right? SLC fits my goals, but I can totally see that it doesn't fit my friend's goals, and plenty of people's goals. One way I plan to "fill out" SLC's program is by attending TNS's public forums, doing internship work & utilizing the vast literary resources that NY offers.
I say, figure out first what you want out of the program & where you'd feel most comfortable/able to write. Whichever program you choose, you'll be giving up - something - because both have so much to offer. It is a pretty wonderful decision you get to make. Though it's nerve-wracking for sure.
I hope this helps. I wish you the best of luck wherever you end up. I wish both of us, all of us really, best of luck over these next few years in MFA-land!