Thursday, May 11, 2006


Stumped in San Francisco writes in...

I applied to 5 MFA programs in Fiction (Iowa, Syracuse, Montana, Irvine,
NYU) and was only accepted at NYU. I know NYU has a good reputation, but
beyond that, I haven't heard too much about it.

Originally, NYU was my last choice because of the cost (I'm getting little
if any fellowship money), not to mention that I'd have to work in NY in
order to live there. That's not a problem since I am a copywriter and have a
lot of contacts in NY, but I don't want to be working so much that I don't
end up focusing on and immersing myself in my writing.

Can you tell me what you know about NYU's program? Is it worth the money
for tuition and living in NY? My other option is to keep writing, and
reapply next year to places that offer better teaching/fellowship

SiS, I can tell you that the students I've spoken with (five off the top of my head) rated the program from excellent to good. There were no red flags with the NYU program, besides the cost of course. It's one of the most expensive programs.

I can't tell you which way to go. You'll have to decide the money factor. When I applied to programs, I wasn't in any position to apply to expensive programs. That said, all of my information about NYU points to it quite favorably.

I'd appreciate, as always, other comments. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I did not get into NYU, so I didn't look into it much, but other students at NYC schools gave the impression that NYU was weak compared to the competition, meaning Columbia and The New School. It was apparently seen as a school for people who couldnt' get into those.

The main concrete problem people meantioned, other than funding, was the faculty. For fiction they have Doctorow (and how much does he teach? I have no idea...) and pretty much no one else. Apparently they even list teachers that don't teach there.

On the other hand, the one person I know who actually goes there (for poetry) was positive about the program.

Anonymous said...

I believe NYU allows students to complete the program part-time, so that may be an option and would likely help with the cost of tuition.

Anonymous said...

I went through the journalism MA at NYU, and it has paid off.

Three pieces of advice: Live in Brooklyn for the cheapest rent possible, make as many friends as possible with other students in the program (they will help you when you graduate), and seek out individual attention from all your professors--nobody at NYU hands you anything. You have to ask for it.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely disagree with the comment about NYU being the "safety" school compared with other NYC schools - most of the people I know who got into Columbia, for instance, were rejected by NYU. And with more than 700 applications and only 16 acceptaces (in fiction), I'd hardly call it weak.

The difference between NYU and Columbia is mainly an ideological one. Columbia expects students to be full-time students -- kind of an impossibility if you are trying to pay your own bills and live in the city. NYU, in contrast, expects students to be students and workers, which is why the MFA requires only 32 credits to complete (compared with Columbia's expectation of 60). At NYU full-time is considered to be 2 classes a semester. At Columbia, it's 4.

Stumped, if I were you, I would ask myself what you want from an MFA program. Do you want to go anywhere and only write fiction (even if that place is Montana, say)? Or would you be happier, and more productive, and ultimately write better fiction if you had one foot in the fiction world and the other outside of it? Personally I would not be happy going to the middle of America to just write (though I was rejected by Iowa, so it's not as if I had the choice). I also think that balancing writing and "work" is a good skill to develop if you want to continue writing upon your return to the working world post grad school. Because the chances that you will be able to live on your fiction are pretty slim (and I think banking on that is a dangerous bet).

I think that the part-time option is a good one and you can definitely string together freelancey stuff. Plus you'll have health insurance from the school and all the benefits of being affiliated with a university. You won't have to sit in an office or be locked in an ivory tower, you'll have time to work on your fiction and be in the "real" world, and you'll have NYC at your fingertips.

As someone who has lived in the city on a shoestring for the past few years (>23000 before taxes), I can tell you that it's doable, though tough.

full disclosure -- I'm planning on going to NYU and doing the part time thing. I'm a totally independent student, and no one (not parents, not partner) will be helping to pay the bills.

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine went to NYU for fiction and gave a relatively mixed review of the program. He said that, other than visiting authors, he was not at all impressed with the faculty. They were often too busy for one-on-one help or had a hands-off approach to workshopping, allowing the class to run on its own, often in an unproductive way.'re in New York, the mecca of publishing, with a ton of other talented writers. The friends/contacts you make in the program may be valuable enough to make NYU's MFA worth it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the feedback. If anyone is willing to put me in touch with someone who is going or went to NYU, I'd appreciate it, as long as you/that person is okay with putting their email on this blog.

I've also heard about the faculty not being too involved in the students, which is a source of concern. I guess my question is, if you only go to two classes a semester, and you only need 32 credits for an MFA, as opposed to 60 at Colombia...what makes NYU so great? I'm worried it's more of a continuing ed program than a true MFA program.

I'd love more feedback. This blog has been great, and thanks for all your comments.

Stumped in SF

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea that NYU isn't a safety school for New York It's less than half of the price of Columbia overall and offers greater chances at fellowships to boot, making it, I imagine, at least feasible (if still pricey)for a lot of people who would never even think about Columbia.
However--in digressive, rant-ey fashion, I have to register amazement at the previous poster's comment I'm clipping here:

"Do you want to go anywhere and only write fiction (even if that place is Montana, say)? Or would you be happier, and more productive, and ultimately write better fiction if you had one foot in the fiction world and the other outside of it? Personally I would not be happy going to the middle of America to just write ..."

The idea of wanting to be in New York seems fine to me, but why set up the false dichotomy of NY being the "real world" and "middle America" being some alternate universe where you would be separate from all that is real in life and the only thing you could possibly do is write 24/7? Just the language of, "even if that place is Montana ..." seems so narrow-minded. Lots of people WANT to be in Montana.
It makes me pause because the implication here seems to be that a person would never actually choose to go to middle america in order to--I don't know--get a different perspective on life, or live somewhere pretty, or meet people who don't live in New York, or live a "real" life that doesn't take place in New York? (Do those even exist???)

I mean, isn't it also possible to get jobs in the midwest, meet people in the midwest, have a life in the midwest? Can't the midwest also offer the "real world", if that really is a person's aim?

For full disclosure: I currently live on the east coast and briefly thought about NYU before turning it down for a fully funded deal at a school in "middle America". And I'm pumped. I've always figured that the more places you get to live, the more settings you have to mine for your fiction.
Which is maybe why this whole New York obsession that I often see as the assumed world-view on literary blogs bothers me.

I mean, go to New York if it's where you'll be happy--I in no way mean to be disdainful of NYC. Although I've never lived there, I visit it all the time, I love it, think it's a great city, and would never rule out living there someday, maybe. But it's one of about fifty cities/towns on 4 continents that I would think about living in one day--not the only one. Defining it as the place that's the "real world" and where you can learn to live in this "real world", implies a real lack of respect for other places.

What seems to be bound up in this issue is wanting to go to New York because you want to be part of a "literary scene"--and yes, it's the epicenter of publishing. But that too is a very different issue than the issue of wanting to writer. Being in New York doesn't get you any closer to the currents of real writing, thinking and feeling does. That can happen even in, yes, Montana. (Fuller disclosure: I've never been to Montana and don't imagine I'll go anytime soon, but the pictures sure are nice).

Anonymous said...

It's great to see so many people writing regarding my question, but I feel the discussion got a little off course. I don't live in NY. Never have, and have always wanted to. That said, I want to be in a place where I have the time and space to write, be in a community of writers, etc.

I'm really just trying to decide if it's worth it to pay to go to NYU, or if I should reapply and see if I get into places that are less expensive/free, etc.

For the record, I love Montana and would have loved to have gotten in. The coast/midwest thing doesn't really matter to me.

Can anyone offer more answers in terms of NYU specifically?


Anonymous said...

I don't think that NYU is a saftey school by any stretch. Its very selective, as all the top programs are. You can't guarentee getting into any of them. However, I think the idea was more that the program was just the weakest of the three good ones in NYC and that the publishing world in general looked down on it. I don't know if this is true or not, but this is what I was told.

It's less than half of the price of Columbia overall and offers greater chances at fellowships to boot, making it, I imagine, at least feasible (if still pricey)for a lot of people who would never even think about Columbia.

Are you sure about this? When I was looking into Columbia and NYU the info I got was that they were the SAME price, except NYU had marginally better funding, normally in the form of a small percentage of students getting full or great funding. The rest of the students were paying full or almost full rate, which again was virtually the same as Columbia's.

TK's book says that a lot of students have to pay full price at NYU and I have a hard time imagining that tuition for NYU, a private NYC college, is HALF of Columbia's, meaning it was like 17 thousand a year.

It just seems impossible.

I think it is great that NYU offers full fellowships if even to only a few people, but since the letter writer said he wasn't getting any of it, it seems like it shouldn't factor in here.

Anonymous said...

Looking it up quickly with google, it seems that NYU's tuition for a full credit load, 15 credits, is ~15,700 a semester or ~31,400 a year. So a few thousand less than Columbia, but pretty similar.

It does appear that tuition is based on how many credits you take, so I guess it could cost you half of Columbia's tuition if you took half the classes that you would at Columbia, but it seems like a misrepresentation to say it costs less than half of Colubmia or any other private city college's tuition.

Anonymous said...

People at NYU said that it was about 17,000 a year. The difference that makes this possible--as was already pointed out above--is that in order to finish the MFA at Columbia you needed to take 60 credits. At NYU you only need to take 32 credits. That means only 8 credits a semester--which ends up being one workshop and one "other" class a semester. It's a workshop-elective model instead of a more academic model. Both are nice in their ways, it depends on personal taste. But the office does give across the idea that it ends up being significantly less expensive.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's all well and good, but I guess I feel like it would be like if BC had a really good MA program and tuition was the same at BU and BC but BU people would brag how their program was only half the cost. Sure, its half the cost, but its only one year long, so its half the program too.

Anonymous said...

That's a good point, except that some people genuinely don't want to take the other classes offered by Columbia (or the lit-heavy programs in general). Their extra courses aren't extra workshops, they're lit and form classes. NYU's a 2 year program, it's just a workshop only format. And, in being such, is significantly less expensive each semester. Yes, you're in class less, but you're in a workshop each semester for 4 semesters. A lot of programs work on that format. It's just a different form.
The thing that makes it different than the BU/BC scenario is that you aren't allowed to finish the program in one year even if, theoretically, you could take 16 credits a semester--because you couldn't take more than one workshop a semester. And I doubt anyone would want to anyway.

I think your point is totally valid and I'm not particularly advocating the NYU program ... but I think the distinction between lit and workshop focused programs is a pretty important one that doesn't always get that much attention, oddly.

Anonymous said...

I see you point and I didn't mean to sound like it makes NYU's program bad*, I guess I meant that that style seems more like some halfway point between low res and a full program. As someone said, it is good if you want to work full time and live half in the "real world" and half in an MFA program. I can easily see how that appeals to people in certain situations.

* Although there is a degree where I can't imagine paying 35,000 dollars just to take four workshops, when I could do that for a lot less elsewhere... Which is to say, an MFA is more than merely four workshop classes (or more than four studio art classes in non-writing) and if you aren't doing the full workload and getting the normal MFA experience I'm not sure what that says about the program. This is an academic degree and one should expect to be engaged in academics.

Anonymous said...

That's actually a really interesting response and, I think, explains the difference in perspective here because I actually don't see the MFA as a particularly academic degree--I mean, I understand that some people want that out of it but I know other people who don't (including myself).
I primarily view it as a way to get universities to pay aspiring writers, and to allow aspiring writers to congregate together and form a community while they work on their writing.
Personally, I would see being required to take lots of lit and form classes and lectures as a distraction rather than as something in a program's favor. I have no desire to be a lit critic and therefore don't have any particular desire to write essays matching the form of lit crit which non-workshop classes seem to primarily be about. I understand that sometimes the classes help some people write but, personally, I'd rather take electives in history or philosophy or phyics or anthropology. I have an interest in learning, just not an interest in literary academia--and I don't see an MFA as a path to academia anyway.
What I do have interest in is writing and reading and talking to other people who like to write and read. Hence my taste for more workshop focused programs, I guess.
But if people really want all the other kinds of classes associated with the more theoretical side of things then, yes, Columbia makes more sense. It's all about taste I guess, which isn't that suprising.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the MFA, by definition, a studio degree rather than an academic degree? Am I missing something here?

Anonymous said...

You are getting the degree from academia and it's primary currency is within academia. Its an academic degree.


Anonymous said...

I am biased because I'm going to NYU, but I don't think it's a bad thing for a program to resist padding the curriculum with lit crit courses.

I have a string of publications in lit crit journals and a masters' in English. What I learned by doing that is that it DOESN'T teach you much about the mechanics of writing and can in fact devalue your appreciation of craft. (If you've made it through THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT twice, you won't understand that most readers need good suspense or pacing to finish a novel. Trust me.)

How I learned what I know about that is by reading stuff that isn't lit crit - "primary texts", writing, and talking with better writers. So I'm going to NYU to do more of the same -- not to practice writing more research articles.

Of course, there's no way you can be a good writer without reading a lot, but I expect that MFA programs expect their students to do that independently.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to jump in but this NYU thing and all you knowledgable people make me need to ask: What is the reputation of the Tisch School Dramatic Writing Program for undergrads? Is it considered serious by you MFAers or do you have your nose in the air for this program and/or this type of writing? Please give me some mentoring here.If I get in, should I go?MFA Preschooler.

Natalie Wasmer said...

Hi SF,

Just wondering if you ever ended up going to NYU and how did it go? I am a Copywriter too and would love to know how it went for you-- I am thinking about the same thing.