It seems like this new blog format is getting rolling and I assume many readers here are getting rolling on their application process (or at least giving it a slight nudging) so I thought I'd post a few thoughts which I wish I'd thought when I was applying.
One fact that sometimes gets lost in the flurry of concerns over applications (what work to send, funding, teaching experience, faculty, etc.) is that an MFA program is two to three years of your life. The program you attend is something you are devoting valuable time to and it is the only MFA experience you will have (most of the time). By this I mean that I think you should be careful to apply only to programs you want to attend. Programs that will help your own work the most, that have students you want to work with and that exist in cities where you want to live. The first thing I realized after I mailed my applications in was that several of the programs, though highly regarded, were in cities or places that I really had no interest in living in. In Tom Kealey's book, he suggests that the first criteria you use to narrow down your application list is location. I think he is correct.
Personally, I was lucky enough to get into a great program in an ideal (for me) location. I think this was a bit of a bullet dodge, as I was probably desperate enough to do an MFA somewhere somehow that I would have gone to whoever accepted me and maybe been miserable for two years. However, I know people who went down that route and it is definitly something to avoid.
Recently I heard someone say something that I found a little odd. To roughly paraphrase: "I'm applying to over a dozen programs and I'm going to whichever one gives me the most funding. Even if Iowa excepts me, but someone else gives me more I'm going there." I think that Tom Kealey's book and blog have done a good service in highlighting funding options at different schools and funding is certainly something that should be considered by each applicant. However, I think it would be quite a mistake to abandon a great program that you really want to go to (not commenting on if Iowa is or is not such a program, but this person seemed to feel so) over a few thousand dollars more in fellowship money. Future debt is something to be very weary of, but so is two years spent at a program that doesn't help your work and is not a good environment for you.
Which leads me to one other thing I've realized from my MFA experience so far: the peer group may be the single biggest factor of your MFA experience. I don't see this factor discussed much, perhaps because it is so hard to measure, but I think it is very important. Your peer group is who will be reading your work and providing most of your feedback, as well as the people you socialize with, discuss literature with and share work outside of class with. The paraphrased person might be taking a huge risk in that hypothetical situation by giving up a great peer group to chase something else. I think it would be a good idea to weigh the peer group in heavily on the levels of quality (which programs will have students you want to work with), aesthetics (do you want a program where everyone is doing domestic realism, a program where everyone is doing experimental fiction or something of a mix?) and size (would you prefer a small close-nit program or a large program to provide a variety of friends and styles).
There are, of course, many factors to weigh in your application and selection processes, but those are two that I didn't hear much about when I was applying. Please feel free to jump in with comments or disagreements... and best of luck.