Tuesday, May 06, 2008

From a Columbia MFA Student...

From an MFA Student at Columbia... Thanks for the insights! -- TK


I was reading your MFA Blog and though I am not at all surprised about the harsh tilt most people have about Columbia's funding, I felt compelled to write as I am soon-to-be second year. I did not receive any funding, (and if there is more funding available to incoming students this year, I am alternately happy for them and jealous). I made the choice of Columbia over another school who was offering me nearly a full ride (and moved across the country to do it). The tone you take towards Columbia is much the same of other blogs that I was researching when trying to make my decision, and while I am glad I was able too make an informed decision, I feel like the program's merits sometimes get drowned by the barrage.

In response to the letter someone wrote about a student here not having any contact with the "big name" professors- I simply don't see how that can be true. Of the forty students per year, we all know each other fairly well, and workshops they are headed by big name teachers- Binnie K, Ben, Sam L, etc. In my opinion, we both have access to and are welcomed to interact with the faculty. With such a large group, no one literary style is heralded above another- some friends write fantastical, magical realism, others straight prose, others experimental- and I think that's one thing about the program that is refreshing, and comforting to the students. With the large faculty, whatever your leanings, there is someone who is interested in the work you are trying to achieve. The edge of competition, too, I think, is somewhat eased by the larger group of students. It is more a community, less a sibling-rivalry.

The Creative Writing Lecture series (which is open for anyone..Columbia student or not) is a series of craft-talk lectures by visiting writers put on throughout the semester, which has been enormously helpful to me. George Saunders just came to speak the other week. Speaking to the cross-genre question, there are opportunities for independent studies, to work exclusively with a professor in another genre during a semester and get a personal response to your work.

We all worry about the money. Some of us are plagued by it. Nevertheless, I don't know of a single student who has regretted their decision to come here.

74 comments:

Nicholas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lincoln said...

I feel that for the sake of accuracy it should be noted that Columbia's funding has increased and some students get quite substantial fellowship packages. This is not to say that all or even most students do, but the funding is increasing and it is much better than it was when Tom Kealey wrote the MFA Handbook.

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

Has Columbia released specific details on what it now offers? If folks are going to spend $100+ on an application, there's a real difference between a handful of $10,000 scholarships to a school that costs $40,000 total per year to attend, and full rides for, say, even 1/10th of the scores of students admitted each year. The funding may have improved since 2004, but so has public knowledge of the three dozen programs nationally that are free or nearly free. And with that has come a dramatically decreased willingness to spend even as much as $10,000/year on an MFA. What is Columbia's precise funding package now? If it's improving, I imagine the school has been touting it, so hopefully you can shed some light on those specific numbers.

As to the letter, I admire MFA students willing to speak out on behalf of their school. I think it's important to remember, though, that the only knocks on Columbia have been the horrific funding and the low selectivity. As far as atmosphere and so on, I'm sure it's fine--which is not to say there aren't dozens of schools out there with excellent faculty, a fine reading series, and substantial aesthetic diversity. While I don't doubt one can find that at Columbia, one doesn't have to go to Columbia to find it, either.

Best,
S.

Faneul H. Peabody said...
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Faneul H. Peabody said...

First of all, the program is not that expensive. The estimated cost that is so often spoken about includes an exaggerated estimated cost of living in New York City. One thing Columbia does have is a terrific housing network. There are also abundant teaching options for second year students. 2nd year students who get the teaching fellowship position are reimbursed their entire first year tuition and given benefits. As for the notion that Columbia is any less selective than any other program, that is just silly. It's one the top rated programs in the country, and part of an esteemed Ivy League University. They except only a very very small number out of the thousand or so that apply.

Lautreamont said...

Well, Seth's post was filled with such thinly veiled disgust toward Columbia's program that I wasn't even going to respond. But as a Columbia MFA student I feel it is my duty to fill people in. Let me talk about the selectivity first. At accepted candidates day last month there were 2 other boys besides me allowed into the poetry MFA. I think there were 3 girls. So even if this number Doubled, which I don't think it will because they said they had a high turnout, Columbia would STILL have a smaller acceptance rate than most other programs. Furthermore, Mr. Peabody was almost under-stating the new funding since Columbia has such a huge variety of teaching programs that are now a major factor of tuition reimbursement. There are so many teaching options in the NYC area (that really wouldn't be open to people in, say, Ithaca) that even if Columbia doesn't offer you the fellowship Peabody spoke of they can hook you up with something else almost instantly. And, what I am surprised Seth didn't mention, is that its faculty is the shit and it's in NEW YORK CITY. I mean I know we can all go to Iowa and write 1980s style suburban verse but at least recognize that there are some positive aspects to learning under Richard Howard and Tim Donnelly in the second most literary city on earth (i think London wins but thats another post) So anyway, I chose Columbia above New School, UNH, NYU, and SDSU for a reason and that is because it is a genuinely good place to be with a startlingly good faculty and amazingly intelligent students.

Lincoln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lincoln said...

Columbia is a big program and the new class will probably have somewhere between 60 and 70 students (most of those are fiction though, Non-fiction and poetry are smaller), but doubling the poetry number to 12 might be about right.

As a large program it will inevitably be less "selective" on a mathematical level than a program that takes only 2 or three people a year (I mean, the large program would have to have 6 times as many applications, which isn't going to happen).

But selectivity goes beyond that kind of base math. As lautreamont notes, he picked the program over other programs and that is a pretty common theme. I know people who picked columbia over other top-top schools, even ones with better funding. Because it really does have a lot of other benefits that most programs don't, many of them thanks to being in NYC.

The funding is improving and I hope it continues to improve, but the insinuation that Columbia's students aren't as talented couldn't be further from the truth. There is a high degree of talent at Columbia. I've read for a lot of journals and am used to seeing what MFA students produce. I'd feel pretty safe putting the best Columbia students up against the best students of any other program.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

Alright. Perhaps mathematically it could seem that it's not as "selective" as say, Iowa, but that doesn't mean that they aren't selective at all. Is it not possible that they simply have the resources of a vast University and extensive and impressive faculty necessary to accommodate a larger number of students? When you get a rejection letter from a university (which everyone of course has at some point) they invariably use the phrase, "we get so many more well-qualified applicants than there are spaces". Columbia obviously has the means to give a slightly wider group of applicants a chance. Furthermore, the new class of students are spread out- 65 admitted includes students in fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction- so it does even out.
The two main reasons I chose Columbia (for the coming Fall) are the faculty and the resources of such a huge University. I've mentioned it before here, several times, but the depth of assets at the fingertips of someone at Columbia is definitely something to consider- the libraries and the beauty of the campus alone are enough to draw me in!

But Bravo Seth on starting this thread- your condescension to the institution comes shining through- "I'm sure it's fine" ? Come on.

Ultimately I think, I hope, that a CW MFA program is successful because of the passion of the students. People don't apply to get an MFA (a universally acknowledged "terminal" degree) on a lark- they do it because they are dedicated writers looking to hone their craft among great professors and like minded peers. The string of rants about Columbia's MFA in the blogs and books did make me ill at ease before making my decision, but in the end the faculty shines, and the writing and writers coming out of there are not to be taken lightly, and everything else (ie, the funding), while important to some, shouldn't be a rise-or-fall issue.

Lincoln said...

As far as selectivity goes, to say Columbia has low selectivity is just to say it is a large program.

Columbia has one of the largest application pools of any MFA program. Only Iowa and perhaps one or two more have larger.

But it is a large program so takes a lot of students. Every large program has "low selectivity" by that measurement, even Iowa. It doesn't mean anything. If two schools get 400 applications and school A takes 4 students while school B takes 8 students, it hardly means that school B is twice as good or that its students will be twice as good.

The applicant pool is a more important measurement than selectivity, at least in my book. I think that it is more likely for a respected and desired school with 600 applicants to find 30 great students that it is for a bad program with only 60 applications to find 3 great students, even though mathematically it is the equivalent.

Now, there are a lot of differences between small and large programs, and prospective students should certainly look into which type will be better for them, but that is a different question.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

I find this all so intriguing. I never imagined there was such an undercurrent of competition amongst MFA students regarding their respective schools. It's strange though that Columbia gets ripped on so much simply because of the funding. One would think that the great faculty and the success of the graduates would be enough to solidify the school as one of the top programs, period.

Seth Abramson said...

Faneul,

I respect MFA students wanting to defend their alma mater, I only take issue when/if it misleads several thousand prospective candidates about the program in question. The reality is that my concerns about Columbia are well enough known that defenders of the program will (via genetic fallacy) dismiss even legitimate questions from me as unfair attacks. But my question was a valid one, and that was, what is the exact funding package?

Faneul, you respond by saying that "the program is not that expensive" (I don't know how to respond to that; it's only not expensive in the sense of it being the most expensive MFA program in the United States) and that there are "abundant teaching options for second year students." What does "abundant" mean here? The school has way, way, way over 100 students in its MFA program at any one time, does abundant mean 10? 20? 50? Even 50 teaching positions would place Columbia (with, under that scenario, TAships for just over a third of its program) in the bottom 20% of all programs nationally for funding. So again, the "how many" and "how much" questions were legitimate, and not answered. Finally, Faneul, why in the world are you telling us that "a thousand or so apply" to Columbia every year, when the school's own website says it gets 650 applications per year? What's more important to you here--protecting the school, or telling the truth to prospective candidates? That's what worries me, because the one thing that's been clear in my posts here and elsewhere about Columbia is that I want the real data on that school (and every school, including Iowa) to out.

Finally, in your second post you say that I said Columbia is "not selective at all." If you want to argue against that straw man, you may. But I don't argue points a second time I didn't argue a first time. Columbia has reduced selectivity because of its funding, that's a fact. Ask Ben Marcus himself, and see what he says. Of course, it'd be a miracle if your own administration would ever be willing to release their yield data to you. And as if you needed to get just one more thing wrong: I didn't start this thread, Faneul, sorry. Wrong there too. I'd be gentler in this response to you, but that would require a level of effort (and attention to details) I didn't see in your own comments to me.

Lautreamont,

Your post was filled with such not-at-all-disguised contempt for Iowa that I almost didn't respond, and then I realized there were so many inaccuracies in what you wrote that I'd do a disservice to prospective applicants if I didn't correct you.

1. Your statement that Columbia has "a huge variety of teaching programs" is no better than Fanuel's statement that such positions are "abundant." It doesn't answer the question as to how many there are, and doesn't address the fact that (due to the largeness of the program, touted by all of you) Columbia needs a vastly larger number of TAships than nearly any other school for the "average admittee" to feel the same degree of confidence s/he will be funded at Columbia as elsewhere.

2. You then say that if you don't get a TAship--which, as I understand it, is true for nearly if not more than 100 members of the Columbia program--"they can hook you up with something else almost instantly." Really? What would that be? I think if you're going to make a claim like that, without any research or statistics or proof of any kind whatsoever, and are asking young folks to apply to your school based on that representation, you need to do something to lend some credibility to that bald assertion.

3. "And, what I am surprised Seth didn't mention, is that its faculty is the shit and it's in NEW YORK CITY." Yes, it must have surprised you, as every single time/place I've written about Columbia I've said it has the best location in America and one of the top ten faculties in the nation. I didn't mention it here because the topic was funding, and while you may have intended your response as a full-scale defense of Columbia, the truth is I didn't intend my "can you tell us what the numbers are?" question--still unanswered--as a full-scale assault on the University. It's telling, actually, that the school's defenders took it that way.

4. Where do you get your knowledge of Iowa's aesthetic diversity or lack thereof? I go to the school, so I think I'm better prepared to speak on that. And by the same token, you're better equipped to speak about Columbia's aesthetic diversity (or lack thereof), one reason I didn't--and have never had the gall to--presume to know Columbia's aesthetic landscape. Predictably, your blind thrust at what's happening at Iowa mistakenly skewered Polonius through the wall-hanging. Entirely off the mark.

5. You were absolutely right to choose "Columbia above New School, UNH, NYU, and SDSU..." For some reason, all the programs you were choosing between were poorly-funded--lack of research is a potential explanation there (and is one thing Tom Kealey's Handbook is designed to avoid, particularly as to funding)--so given the situation you were in, or put yourself in, you made the decision I too would have made. Please don't think I'm saying otherwise.

Lincoln,

The concept of "selectivity" in college/graduate school admissions is what it is. It can't be changed several decades into the educational data-tracking game. It means the percentage of those who apply who are admitted. It means that and only that--with undergraduate colleges, undergraduate universities, dental schools, medical schools, law schools, engineering schools, divinity schools, PhD. programs, and every other program of higher education which involves even a single person sitting in a classroom. If you want to create a new term for what it is that Columbia has, you should do that--but selectivity means exactly what I've been using it to mean, and it wasn't a term I created. Besides which, no one yet has given me a good explanation for why Columbia's entering class needs to be so big--that's a conscious decision of the University, let's not forget. It wasn't an edict from the Almighty. Iowa's program is 16% to 20% smaller (depending on the year), but Iowa also gets 250% more applications, and is several decades older.

S.

P.S. In the comprehensive tiered rankings I researched and wrote for the second edition of the Creative Writing MFA Handbook, Columbia is in the first tier, along with eleven other schools. And as all of these schools are unranked within their tier, I've essentially put Columbia in a twelve-way tie for the best MFA program in America. So claims that I'm biased against it are about as absurd as telling someone who's coming out of a voting booth that they're biased against the candidate they just pulled the lever for. What I'm saying--all three of you--is that I don't like a lot of things about the candidate. Which is a completely legitimate thing to say, even about a candidate you voted for.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

Correction accepted regarding the number of applying students.

However, I still stand by the notion that the price tag that is so often bandied about includes an exaggerated cost of living estimate for New York City. I don't know why the estimate is so high- I've never known a student who spends that much- but I believe that that is what the alleged high cost represents. I just don't see why a university is obligated to provide full funding for MFA students, especially one's who could afford to pay the tuition. Why should a student with the means to pay the tuition (at any school, really) be given the level of financial aid that he or she would not qualify for at the undergraduate level? And as for the TA'ships, oughtn't they to be earned? Let's say University X offers all of it's admitted students TA'ships- University X could well have accepted some less than stellar students who would have no business teaching.
As there seems to be little to no question that, aside from the funding question Columbia has one of the finest CW MFA programs in the country. It's graduates are successful, and the program's students are producing interesting and fine work. Why then is funding a question at all? I do not have the statistics to say here's where the University has markedly improved it's funding of MFA students, it's frankly not something I'm looking for. However, I think the bottom line is that if you want to go there and you are accepted (which apparently is as easy as getting accepted onto a crosstown bus) you'll find some way of paying for it- either with scholarships, university funding, or loans.

cotton said...

Seriously guys? All Seth did was ask a question, one that (while it might not matter to you three) matters to a lot of people who are deciding where to apply. It *would* be really nice to know specifics, especially if the funding has improved in any significant way, and all we've heard from you is antagonistic generalities. And fanuel, I don't know what your background is, but for me $33,000 a year for TUITION ALONE is a hell of a lot of money.

It's great that you picked Columbia for all the reasons that you did, and I'm sure you all are happy/will be happy there, but is it possible that maybe other people have different priorities? Ones that are just as reasonable (albeit different) as yours?

forgotten the cat said...

In the interest of disclosure to applicants, I'd just like to pass along an issue with the Columbia MFA that arose as I was applying.

I was accepted to the MFA this year with a 10,000 fellowship (which was stated to me as one of the highest they offered). As I was still on many waitlists, I took the offer based on the fact that the tuition was listed as hovering around 33,000. I would probably have to sell a kidney, but hell, I really wanted my MFA, and like the supporters have pointed out, the faculty and location are very good.

I got my full financial aid packet a couple weeks after I accepted. Tuition was listed not at 33,000 but as a whopping 43,000 and change, rendering my fellowship pretty much pointless based on the budget I had made. I was forced to decline the offer based on the utter impossibility of affording the program. Luckily a few days later I was accepted to Michigan with their lovely full support for MFA students.

I'm sure the Columbia MFA would have been fantastic. The faculty is great and the location prime. But I can't afford 44,000 a year for tuition. And I wish that I had been made aware of the true cost before sending the University my 800 dollars.

sweaterboy said...

43,000!? That is obscene. Who can afford that?

I think the issue with schools like Columbia comes down to personal background. I was accepted into Emerson College (which has an array of problems in addition to funding), and in much the same way, a current student kept telling me that "it was not that expensive." Come to find out, she revealed that she was still living at home with her parents when I asked her about Boston's affordability. And, big surprise, she told me that living in boston is not that expensive. Well yes, not when you're living in mommy and daddy's coach house. I am sure that, given her situation, it is not that expensive. Bottom line: it would have been 20,000 dollars per year in just tuition, not including an additional 10,000 dollars per year (at least) to cover living expenses. And no amount of spin could argue away those numbers. They were what they were.

Regarding Loans. The limit that most independent graduate students are able to borrow in Federal stafford loans is 20,500 per year, unless you are eligible for a pell grant or a federal perkins loan (which most people are not). That would have just covered yearly tuition at Emerson and not living expenses, which means I would have had to take an additional 10k per year in private loans to make up the difference (and private lenders typically have higher interest rates and less flexible repayment plans that the federal government.) Now, that is a grand total of about 60K in debt after 2 years. As far as federal borrowing goes, the standard repayment plan is 10 years. That usually is also the same with many private lenders. this means that in order to pay the loans back, I would need to pay back 6,000 dollars per year (actually higher w/ interest, but for simplicity's sake...). Most lenders suggest that one borrows an amount that will be approximately 10% of his or her expected annual income, and if your payments are approaching 15% or more of your annual income, you are going to have serious financial problems. That means that, in my situation, I needed to expect an income of 60,000+ dollars (again, actually more than that with interest) to make the loan payments and have enough to cover all other living expenses. Landing a 60,000K job with an MFA in creative writing? Not likely. At all.

Of course, if one has professional experience in other areas that generate income, that's a different story. And if you are a trust fund kid or independently wealthy, you are probably saying "so what?" to all of this. However, I do think many people don't realize just how much loans cost and how much you really can bury yourself in a financial disaster by taking on huge amounts of debt with limited ways to pay it back.

I can't even imagine having the debt in forgotten-the-cat's situation if he/she would have chosen to go to Columbia. If I had gone to that school and gotten the same fellowship, I (having to pay my own way) would have been a whopping 80K in debt after 2 years to cover 30,000 per year tuition and 10,000+ per year living in NYC. That means payments 8000 to 10,000 per year and a needed income of at least 80,000 for a degree that gives one virtually no professional skills!

Sorry I'm beating this to death, but for prospective applicants who often only have a vague concept of what it is to repay a loan, which MUST be repaid, mind you, I think a realistic overview of the stark repayment woes needs to be disclosed. Don't believe me? Go to any lender, inclulding the department of education, and they will have a link to a repayment calculator, which will give you a pretty exact idea of what your payments will be under various timelines (the most common being 10 years, though you can do extended repayment plans with SOME lenders, which will inflate the interest so high that you will have paid back nealry double what you had originally borrowed).

I shutter to think of the financial ruin that many people are walking themselves into with the "borrow now, figure out how to pay later" mindset. I agree that SOME programs are worth going into SOME debt for, but 43,000, 30,000, or even 20,000 in the hole per year? I would be very concerned for anyone choosing to do that who wasn't rich or already has an MBA salary waiting for them upon graduation.

Please, please, please, be careful of taking out huge loans for your mfa. I know everyone really wants one, but It is only two years of your life, and it is not worth ruining your financial viability for the next 10 to 30 years.

forgotten the cat said...

Sweaterboy,

You raise a good point. Loans are death, and certainly the bain of my existence. But to add to the difficulty, even though the LIMIT for a federal loan is 20,000 and some, most students will not be awarded that.

I applied for a loan for Columbia thinking that since I was applying as an independent with about 1000 dollars to my name, I'd probably get a good sum paid for by loans, also considering that I got pretty much the full loan amount as a dependent for my very expensive undergrad. Sure, I'd be paying back that loan and my college loan till I was 80, but as I said above, I really wanted my MFA.

To make a long story short, I wasn't awarded all that much in loans. I have no idea how they thought I was going to pay for it, seeing as I don't have a yacht in the garden shed or a hidden diamond mine under my house. I was actually thankful because it meant that I couldn't even be tempted to pay that much for my education. It's sad really, because Columbia seems like a great way to go. It would have been a pleasure to attend.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

Gee, Cat, I'll take your $10,000. This is so typical of the way people think today. Young people want everything handed to them on a silver platter, and that's just not the way it is. Now, I know there are several programs that give their students a free ride. I always knew I wanted to go to college, and then to get a masters degree, so I saved- and I started very early. I know so many people who graduate from college and up and decide to go to graduate school to kill time, and whine that "oh! It's going to cost some money!" And for your information, there are plenty of fine and famous writers who came from very wealthy backgrounds, and attended Columbia. For the record, I do not live in my parents coach house, that is typically where the help lives. I have my own wing of the mansion.

forgotten the cat said...

Faneul,

My post was not intended to bash Columbia or even to whine about the lack of funding. It was intended to raise the very real concern that the tuition is listed on the website as a full 10K lower than the reality.

Thank you though, for making rampant assumptions regarding my financial means, my intent as it relates to my graduate career, and my 'silver platter' expectations.

If you'll scroll back up through the comments on this thread, you'll see a few people like Seth raising questions about very real aspects of the Columbia MFA, which, if you are not the wealthiest person around, present important problems for potential applicants. At the same time he, myself, and others have praised the areas of the MFA that are wonderful: namely the faculty, the location, and the overall quality of the education.

And these few commenters have on the whole been attacked on the basis of not only their respective schools but of their general person and integrity as well. If you want to raise the admiration of your institution, you'd do well to address these concerns in an adult manner, and be a bit more sensitive to the fact that money is a huge issue for many prospective MFAers, one that cannot simply be overcome by sheer will or even the most careful saving.

sweaterboy said...

Please note, I was not faulting people for being wealthy, either, and I was not implying that everyone at Columbia is paris hilton. I realize I was a bit crass in some remarks. On the contrary, I wish I had more financial resources because that would have given me more options in choosing schools.

I am saying that, if you are going to one of these schools, I hope you ARE wealthy, because if you are not and if are taking out massive loans and putting yourself 40, 50, 60, 80, 100K in debt, you could be setting yourself up for financial disaster if not a really hard life. I've seen it. How are you going to get that string of first 3 groundbreaking novels written and land your tenure track position if you have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make the payments and meet the rest of your expenses? Writing, especially after the mfa, requires little more than time, time, time!

My other point in speaking about Emerson was that you need to just look at the numbers yourself, do a budget yourself, and see if you can remotely afford an investment of that magnitude. I do not think the student I talked to was being deliberately evasive or insensitive with regard to the cost when she was saying "it is not that expensive," I think she just couldn't relate because she had had a completely different background.

sweaterboy said...

PS, the idea that people worried about finances are expecting to receive everything on a silver platter is ridiculous. In my experience people with limited financial resources are anything but waiting for a silver platter and probably have never seen a silver platter, hence why they have limited finances and are worried about the cost.

Also, do you realize how many potential applicants could be reading this thread? If I were representing my school, I would not want be saying things like people who are concerned about the cost of the most expensive mfa writing program in the country are whiney and expect silver platters and free rides. If current students at a school are that obtuse when speaking about financial worries, this would make me think that those current students have probably seen a fair amount more of silver platters than I have. That is an interpretation that one could derive from the insensitivity shown to money woes. I'm not saying that this is the case, but the image you are projecting is dismissive when it comes to money concerns, and I hope people working in Columbia admissions show more thoughtfulness, for the school's sake.

Furthermore, the theory of the low-cost mfa is based on the idea that the degree is an artistic one aimed at developing craft and has little application in the professional world. Thus, the skills learned in the degree probably won't be what you use to make the money back that you spent on the degree. I can see your point if we are talking about an MBA, MD, or a JD, because then students have made an investment in something that will generate substantial income. Also, those degree programs have a much higher operating cost because they use things like medical equipment, computers, and other expensive technology for in class intruction. So the idea that one should have to pay the same for a creative writing degree as a med. school degree or law degree is odd. A lawyer graduating from Columbia's law school is virtually guaranteed a 6 figure income upon graduation. What income can an mfa student expect? Read the "after the mfa" thread on this blog, and you will see it is bleak. More and more mfa programs are recognizing this idea with nudges from this blog, the handbook, and other blogs, so if Columbia wants to make a case for its mfa's cost, it is welcome to, but it will be a lonely fight when so many other reputable programs (including prestigious IVY league schools) have made it a priority to support its students financially.

KSY979 said...

I don't agree with some of the pot shots the Columbia defenders (not all) have made, but I think I understand where the defensiveness comes in.

I am going to Columbia this fall, and I am nowhere near wealthy. I've thought about it for a long time. I've read every one of Seth's posts on every one of the relevant blogs. I respect and understand his criticism. And I'm still going.

I know Seth and the others praise the faculty, the opportunities, etc. Still, every time there's a post about Columbia, my heart sinks. It just seems like when the critics get to their (very fair) criticism of the funding situation, there's often a "not sure why anyone would do it" remark or insinuation. I feel insulted.

I've obsessively read these blogs, and no other prospective MFAers get criticized for their choices in the same manner as the ones who are considering or attend Columbia. Ok, we got it, it's a huge financial burden. But for those who have decided to take that on after careful consideration, can't you respect our decision? Or if you don't, is there a point to the remarks you make that are beyond valid criticsm of the funding situation?

Faneul H. Peabody said...

KSY- you're absolutely right. Thanks for saying rationally, what I tried to put across but apparently could not. The arguments against Columbia are mostly about the funding issue, but it comes across as sounding like Columbia is just out to get peoples money. And then the issue of the class size comes in to play, and the accusation is made that (and I know the argument has been fairly addressed in this thread) they are not very competitive or selective. That's a direct dig at Columbia students, and it's especially discouraging to incoming students who are celebrating the fact that they were accepted to any University for their MFA in the first place. Here's another bottom line: if you're so ignorant of the cost of the tuition while deciding where to apply, then it's your own funeral. Columbia makes no bones about it's tuition, it's written up on the website in black and white. Seth and Forgotten, and Cotton and others can say all they want about how balanced their arguements are, and that they simply want to get to the bottom of the issue of funding at Columbia, but frankly all we're going to hear is, "you're a sucker for giving them your money."

forgotten the cat said...

Faneul,

Don't put words in my mouth. The only person speaking crassly about Columbia's students is yourself. And yes, the tuition is written in 'black and white' on the website, but it's years out of date and quite off the mark.

KSY,

Point taken. As I said above, I was all set to go to Columbia, having sent in my acceptance and my deposit, and was looking for housing and eagerly looking forward to being there this fall. I was heartbroken when I realized I wouldn't be able to afford it, and however off the mark I may have gotten from my original aim, I really just wanted to save other students from that. And you're right, it made me cringe every time I read a thread like this.

So, congratulations. I mean it sincerely. Columbia's a great school, one that I would have been lucky to go to, and I hope you will ignore all this crap. I'm kind of sorry I got into it at all, at this point. Good luck with your MFA!

KSY979 said...

hey forgotten, thanks for that. i should ignore all of this! you, too, faneul!

let's all move on to how rocked we are for each other for getting through this whole process and for getting in.

Lincoln said...
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Lincoln said...

Well, this thread has gotten pretty long. I don't have the time to sift through it all, but a few quick comments responding to things I saw.

I think Columbia's funding situation is obviously sub par. The only thing I find perplexing is how a few anti-Columbia internet activists tend to act like Columbia is the only program with bad funding. It is not. There are a fair amount of programs with bad funding and sadly bad funding seems to be the norm in NYC. This is not to defend badly funded programs, but I do resent the false portrait of Columbia as some lone financial rebel or something.

As for the number of students with substantial or full funding... I think it is an interesting issue. If program X gives full funding to 4 students, with 4 being the full student body, and program Y gives full funding to 8 students but has another 12 with no funding, does that make program X better for fully funding everyone or program Y better for funding more people?

Personally I think applicants should apply to as many good schools as they can and then go with the school that best suits their need and gives them the most money. But that is something to worry about after being accepted. I don't know about poetry or non-fiction, but Columbia offers a handful of huge fellowships to incoming fiction students at least. If the program interests you, I think it is certainly worth applying and seeing if you get one of them, as the students, faculty and location are pretty hard to beat.

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

As I've said before, I do think this "total number of fully-funded spots" idea is a fallacy. The average applicant doesn't care if a school has two students and gives one fellowship or has a hundred students and gives fifteen. The average applicant has only a single relevant question before them: what are my percentage chances of getting funding at this school? At thirty-seven universities, the answer is either 100% or nearly that--as to full funding. At Columbia, the answer seems to be something like 15%--as in, you have a 15% chance of getting not nearly enough funding to cover your costs (say, 50% of costs are covered), and an 85% chance of getting nothing. All this talk of program sizes and "number" of funded positions is a smokescreen--not that I'm claiming you're doing this intentionally, but you must see, now that it's being pointed out to you, that your "numerical" analysis is program-centric (i.e., it looks at things from the prospective of a program, and how "proud" they can be of how many students they fund, in an absolute sense) and that the proper analysis, a "percentage-based" analysis, is the applicant-focused one, and therefore the only one in the world we should care about or be talking about here.

As to Columbia versus other schools, let's be frank: while other schools have funding nearly as bad,

a) Columbia's is most likely the worst in America (because it costs more and they give less than even other NYC schools);

b) Columbia is the highest-profile of the horrifically-funded programs in the U.S., with only NYU in competition for that spot;

c) Columbia, unlike other schools, has taken a public relations position on the funding issue, by allowing its website to contain language chastising prospective applicants for believing they should be getting some funding from the University; this attitude is then reflected in a small but vocal group of Columbia defenders, who come on the boards and parrot, I'm sure with the best of intentions (i.e. school pride, which I do understand), the Columbia PR line on the allegedly dodgy importance of funding. NYU students don't do that, nor do SFSU or Sarah Lawrence students.

I think that'd be the best answer to your query that I could provide.

Take care,
Seth

P.S. Don't forget that I've stated on many occasions why this is personal to me. I have more than $100,000 of student loan debt at this very moment (9:54 PM CT), and I've been living with that debt for seven years now. I know now what that does to one's life. I didn't when I was a kid (at thirty-one, I've started, I admit, to consider twenty-one year-olds "kids"; I certainly know I was a kid at that age). Columbia--and, yes, other schools too--are taking advantage of young people who a) don't know what debt can do to you, and b) don't know that their are fully-funded programs out there with equal or better reputations for quality (program-wise) than Columbia, and c) have no conception--largely because the program doesn't want to them to have a conception--of how little monetary value there is to an MFA. So, respectfully, when I hear all this nonsense (again, specific to Columbia, oddly enough) about Columbia swarming with agents (really? How many grads as a percentage of the graduating class come out of Columbia with book deals, then?), I know--I know--it's really about convincing kids who don't know better that if they're just willing to pay $100,000 for an MFA, they too can be famous. Well, that's hogwash, and the faculty knows it, but sadly their applicants--who are thirty or more years younger than the Columbia faculty--don't.

Lincoln said...

I'm afraid to say I disagree with you. The "percentage" based analysis is the program-centric one and the total spots are the applicant-centric one. What is relevant to most applicants and students I know, as far as funding goes, is how much money they get or what their chances are of getting money. This is a spot based question. If school X has 10 spots and 5 are fully funded while school Y has 2 spots and both are funded, if the two schools have the same number of applicants the percentage chance for getting funding at school X is better than at school Y for the applicant. This seems pretty obvious. This is why Tom Kealey ranked NYU as a top program in his book, despite only have a few funded spots and it is the more relevant question to most applicants I've talked to. You are of course free to whatever opinion you would like, but the number of spots is a more pertinent question to most MFA applicants that I've known.

I'm pretty confused about the rest of your post. Perhaps you were responding to other posters in this thread who were equally rude, but your tone is a bit of a turn off. This should be a place of friendly discussion, not insinuations and accusations. But hey, I guess intonation doesn't always come across online.

best

Lincoln said...

As for agents, I can't say agents were every much discussed at Columbia when I was there. There were indeed agents around and there were indeed a lot of people who got book deals, especially non-fiction students, or agents while at Columbia... but it was not something I heard the program itself brag about much.

I did read a lot of third party sources claim that Columbia, along with Iowa and one or two other schools, attracted the attention of agents. I'm not qualified to say if this is true or not, but it was not something the Columbia faculty bragged about in my experience.

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

I was responding not just to you but to others as well, though I'll admit I didn't think I was accusing or insinuating anything in an underhanded way about posters here--throughout, I've been pretty up front about when I'm making a generalization and when I'm responding to a specific point or poster. As you know, I've had dozens of interactions with current and former Columbia students, so when I say I've noticed a trend that doesn't mean I'm impugning you personally.

As to "percentage-based" versus "numerical," I don't know what else to tell you, Lincoln, except that your math is wrong. The average admitted applicant--which is the only designation prospective applicants will accept as the starting point for this kind of analysis (for reasons I lay out below)--has a 100% chance of full funding at a program with two spots total and both fully funded, and a 10% chance of full funding at (for instance) a school with 100 open spots total but only 10 fully funded.

The reason your method is wrong (and, related to this, your math) is because you added an additional variable unrelated to funding into the calculus, and one that precedes the offer of financial aid--acceptance rate. In essence, you're saying that because Columbia is relatively easy to get into for a top 25 MFA program (acceptance rate: 10%+), it "has better funding" than a school that is extremely difficult to get into, like Cornell (acceptance rate: 1.5%+). Not only is this ironic--you've found a way to make a school being selective a negative, which seems very convenient given Columbia's selectivity issues--it's also, as I've intimated, a) beside the point, and b) simply wrong.

It's beside the point because you can't measure "funding" by measuring "funding plus acceptance rate." Which is what you're doing by considering class size. By your logic, Naropa has the best funding in America, because it has a 70%+ acceptance rate and a small applicant pool, which means even if hardly anyone gets funding there one's chances of getting funding are, by your math, excellent. So in other words, the least selective and least popular programs by definition have the best funding--thereby (again conveniently) making any funding analysis of U.S. MFA programs impossible, because such a ranking would simply be a listing of the "worst" (in those two measures) programs in America. That's preposterous.

Making a list of the most selective schools that the applicant thinks s/he can reasonably expect to get into is a separate step in the application process than determining whether--within that list--a school has strong funding. Moreover, from a more philosophical standpoint, applicants analyze not just some but every feature of a program, apart from chances of admission, from a single assumption: that they're admitted. Does Columbia have a 10% chance of having a good location? No, it has a 100% chance, because when you consider Columbia you're assuming you've been admitted there, and asking yourself whether you'd like the location enough to accept an offer of admission there. Same with funding. A student wants to know, if I get in there, will I get funding? Your method of reasoning puts the cart way before the horse (in fact, as I indicate below, it pretty much slaughters the horse altogether). Which is why, from the standpoint of "the average admitted applicant," the "percentage-based" analysis is the only one that matters.

Re: slaughtering the horse. Look at it this way: if, in the "funding plus acceptance rate" analysis, a school's fully-funded FA scheme is totally undercut by its low acceptance rate, then, by your logic, one shouldn't apply there. Meaning, Cornell has great funding, but since 90% of the "funding plus acceptance rate" analysis is going to--mathematically--depend on the school's low acceptance rate, Cornell must be considered (per you) as having "bad funding," and therefore no one should apply there. That way madness lies, because it means considering funding requires an applicant to not consider selectivity. You straitjacket applicants by forcing them to choose between a selectivity-based and funding-based analysis. My method allows applicants both rights. And they are, to me, the rights of an applicant.

So, I also said your math is wrong. And it is. First, because it requires that we presume every school has the same number of applicants, which makes as much sense as presuming that the Earth is square. Essentially, your system rests on an initial fallacy which--again--would make any funding ranking impossible, because it's just not so.

But let's say (trying to help you out here) that we don't presume equal applicant pools, but rather simply divide the number of fully funded spots by the total number of applicants. Say Columbia has 650 applicants (as it does), and accepts 70 (as it does), and provides full funding to 0 applicants (as it does). That means applicants have a 0% chance of full funding. Cornell's 525 applicants are vying for 8 fully-funded spots, so applicants have a 1.5% chance of full funding. It makes no sense whatsoever to take into account Columbia's ten to fifteen half-funding fellowships, because students receiving those still pay more than students at (say) Iowa will pay for the entire year, even without any funding whatsoever. Which means, under your system, we now have to equate Columbia's half-funded spots with Iowa's non-funded spots. Which, of course, is a paradox. How can Iowa get credit in a funding ranking for not funding someone at all? Which means that you would have us turn the funding rankings into, essentially, a ranking of which schools are the least expensive. That too is not the purpose of a funding ranking. By all means, feel free to make up a "tuition cost" ranking--but it's not the same thing, from either a program- or applicant-centric viewpoint (for many reasons, including, but by no means limited to, the fact that applicants view funding as a sign of commitment to students, that funded students can usually switch to in-state tuition if they have a TAship, that we need a ranking system which doesn't simply send every applicant to the state school of the state they live in [always the least expensive alternative], and because you'd end up saying, then, that Cornell's funding package is "better" than the one at the University of Illinois--simply because Cornell is covering a higher tuition with its funding, when the applicant doesn't care about that, they just care about how much money they'll have to live on).

When students apply to schools, they make two separate assessments: one, what their chances are of being admitted; two, what their chances are of getting funding if they are admitted. The reason these have to be separate considerations is that the first factor--selectivity--is how (among other ways) prospective MFA students determine the quality of the program. So a student, say, ends up with thirty programs whose selectivity (and other cohort-quality indicators) are acceptable to them. They then look to see where funding is guaranteed. A program with fully-guaranteed funding is always going to be rated higher on the "funding" scale by applicants than a program where one has a 10% chance of funding, simply because to conflate the two would make it impossible for an applicant to do that initial "quality" screening--as the second part of the analysis, the "funding" piece, would force the student to push aside any consideration of selectivity. And lest you argue that applicants could employ a two-tiered process--first, pick the most selective schools; then, divide funded spots by number of applications--I'm sure you realize that that would make a funding ranking absolutely impossible, because every student would choose a different group of schools to apply to, making the funding decision a wholly personal one. I--and others interested in going to an MFA for free--am not going to accept a method of analysis which obliterates the possibility of a funding ranking. It's like saying (speaking only of the logic involved) that the best cure for cancer is to shoot cancer patients in the face. Funding rankings may be imperfect, but they're better than nothing--much better--and what you're offering is simply the erasure of funding as a common consideration applicants can go to the virtual town square and discuss/compare.

I'll admit, though, it's a nice--even elegant--attempt (again, well-intended) to make Columbia even a mid-tier funding option.

S.

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. I should clarify: even under your two-tiered funding/selectivity analytical tool, Columbia would be among the worst-funded programs in America., due to: a) its astronomical cost of tuition, b) its astronomical cost of living, and c) its lack of any fully-funded (full tuition, plus costs, plus a living-wage stipend) fellowships or scholarships whatsoever. So it's not even clear which schools this new, impossible-to-discuss-centrally analytical tool would "save" from a false reputation of cheapness.

KSY979 said...
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KSY979 said...

"NYU students don't do that, nor do SFSU or Sarah Lawrence students."

That's because neither NYU students nor SFSU students nor SLC students are chastised on these blogs. And much of the defense is not a parroting of the PR line; it's a knee-jerk reaction to the pointed bashing of Columbia students' choices.

There's a difference between criticizing the school and judging the student. Can we stop this already?

orange said...

Oh gosh. I've been trying to stay out of this, but, well, I'm giving in. Despite Seth's apparent attempts to make Lincoln's point seem completely ridiculous, I agree with Lincoln. What applicants want to know is, "What are my chances of being accepted with funding?"

Yes, Seth, if you try to use that question to figure out which schools have "good funding" versus "bad funding," you could come up with some wacky answers. But my point, and I think Lincoln's point, is that it's a question of "funding selectivity." And this is really easy to figure out: number of funded positions, divided by number of applicants. Of course, the applicant will want to consider other factors as well, including overall selectivity, location, program format, etc. No slaughtering horses before ... whatever.

Does calculating funding this way help Columbia out? Not really. This year, Columbia gave out 2 fellowships that covered tuition: If 650 people applied this year, that means 0.3% of applicants received full fellowships. Yikes! I'm not sure about the $20K and $10K fellowships, which were more numerous. Of course, Columbia looks better in the Columbia .3% to Cornell 1.5% match up, than in the Columbia 3% to Cornell 100% match-up. (But I recognize it's not a fair comparison, since Cornell gives living stipends as well.)

Then of course, every applicant should remember that these percentages only make sense up to a certain point. I know my application results went contrary to statistics, anyway.

Seth Abramson said...

Orange,

You wrote, of the "funding selectivity" assessment (a misnomer, I think, but I take your meaning), "this is really easy to figure out." Having spent more time researching MFAs than (I think) anyone, partly because of my own interest, and ultimately because it became the subject of some freelance [paid] work, I can tell you that, in fact, what you say is "really easy" is actually, at this point in time, literally impossible. Ideally, if we had all the data points we needed--which won't happen, at this pace, for a few decades from now--we could create a "funding + selectivity" assessment tool which allowed applicants to use a two-tiered determination of where to apply: first cutting out all schools not considered selective enough by the applicant, and then honing that list based upon a need for a certain number of "high odds for funding" programs to be included in the mix. But here's the data you would need for that, none of which we have (and what we do have, I'll say in all frankness, we only have because I researched it and put it on my website; no one else has put more than an hour or two of work, at most, into collecting this data, despite folks' readiness to speak on these data-sets at great length and with great confidence, but with little evident understanding):

1. Application numbers for every program. Right now, after some tireless research, I've found numbers for roughly fifty programs in America--one-sixth the total number of programs. And yet, even for the numbers we have, only ten of them (that is, one-thirtieth of all potential recorded application figures nationally) come directly from the programs themselves. Others are anecdotal. Moreover, to accurately do this assessment we'd need application numbers to be updated per year--not even so that we could do year-by-year figures, but so that we could (after waiting five years) do "rolling five-year averages." We'd have to, because application numbers can range by as much as 50% in a three-year period (NYU is the best example; its applications range from in the 600s to in the 900s). Again, right now only ten programs of 300 report official applicant-number data, and they do not update year-by-year, so that data is useless.

2. Class sizes. Class sizes are unknown for approximately two-thirds (actually slightly more) of the MFA programs in America.

3. Number of funded positions. Besides the forty schools which have publicly announced full-funding levels at 75% or above, only ten programs provide publicly their number of funded spots. Moreover, this number of spots changes from year-to-year. So five-sixths of all the programs nationally don't report even the category of data we're discussing here, let alone a year-by-year tally of funded positions. This is yet another reason, as if another were needed, for a funding-only ranking that tracks the level of assurance a student has he or she will get full funding, because at this time (with the exception of three or four schools, like ASU) it is not possible to track partial scholarships/fellowships, because no data is available on these.

4. Costs of living. This data is available, but (as I can tell you) is time-intensive to research and deploy into a larger calculus for funding, largely because on-campus housing costs may be disproportionate to off-campus housing costs, depending upon the school, and because in-state tuition rules are not uniform nationally, and many programs are located in small municipalities whose cost of living is not readily available (the cost of living for a suburb of Atlanta, say, can't simply be equated to the cost of living in Atlanta).

5. Tuitions at each program. Good luck finding this information. I'd estimate less than a third of all MFA programs nationally announce this information on their websites, and while at some schools the tuition is the same for graduate students as undergraduates, there are certainly variations in this regard, just as there are variations in renumeration (stipend as well as tuition remission) for TAships. Not all TAships are created equal. And as to tuitions, they too change on an annual basis, and often include fees applicable to some programs and not others.

All that said, your own recitation of how a "funding selectivity" tool would be deployed--in a universe where all of the above data was available for all programs--makes no sense. Columbia, you say, has two fully-funded spots program-wide, so you've divided this number by 650. But what if both are in fiction? Then the figure is 0.6% in fiction and 0% in poetry. And what about half-funded scholarships? Quick: is a 1% chance of a 50% [automatically renewable] TAship at Vanderbilt with health care better or worse than a 0.8% chance of a [renewable by application] 75% fellowship at Florida State with 50% health care? You don't know, because you'd need cost of living estimates, risk-aversion rubrics, access to healthcare plan info, and tuition data for both schools, which is irrelevant, of course, because programs don't release data on 50% and 75% scholarships or fellowships, so even the above hypothetical is an impossibility. And that's not to mention how things get further complicated if, say, the student applying to Vanderbilt assigns a monetary value to teaching (or not teaching), to renewability (or lack thereof), and so on. But if, instead, I say that Vanderbilt has a 100% chance of full-funding with health care, and FSU has a 75% chance of full-funding with health care, do you see how the analysis suddenly becomes a very real possibility? And incidentally--those figures happen to be accurate, too (as to percentage chance of full funding).

I guess I'm just a little irked that folks treat this issue as though I'm shooting from the hip when they themselves have not put any thought into it whatsoever, such as that something which is actually an impossibility is called "really easy," and therefore is considered a line of thinking eminently prepared to eradicate the notion of/usefulness of a funding ranking. I spent countless hours working on this issue, I think there's good cause to give me a little more benefit of the doubt than that.

S.

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. I should note that the first Vanderbilt/FSU analysis I proposed--the hypothetical--is impossible first and foremost because we don't even have single-year application-number data for FSU, let alone five-year averages for both schools, and that's absolutely crucial: the "funding + selectivity" analysis actually gives (another one of its many fatal flaws) substantially more mathematical weight to the selectivity piece than the funding piece (as acceptance rates vary far more widely than number of funded spots [at least in the "numerical" analysis required by the "funding + selectivity approach]).

Lincoln said...

Seth, I'm having even more trouble with this post of yours, as it seems to bear zero relation to anything that has actually been discussed and instead reads like an exercise in fallacious attacks. To begin with:

In essence, you're saying that because Columbia is relatively easy to get into for a top 25 MFA program (acceptance rate: 10%+), it "has better funding" than a school that is extremely difficult to get into, like Cornell (acceptance rate: 1.5%+)

I have said no such thing, nor have I implied anything like that. Columbia's funding is weak no matter how you slice it. I have made no claims about Columbia's funding being better than any other program, not in the least.

But frankly it doesn't seem like you have any interest in having an honest discussion here. This is supposed to be a friendly blog to discuss MFA programs and provide information for applicants and students. It is not a place to grind your personal axes or fling attacks at students in rival programs.

If you are incapable of discussion MFA programs without resorting to straw men attacks, pompous condescension ("but you must see, now that it's being pointed out to you"), pot shots ("I hear all this nonsense (again, specific to Columbia, oddly enough) "), cheap shots, backhanded compliments, insinuations and misinformation.... well, maybe this isn't the blog for you. Those kind of tactics might be acceptable on something like the O'Reilly factor, but that isn't really what this blog is about.

I'm afraid I couldn't make it past your first two paragraphs. I can only take so much blatant manipulation of my words. I know there is a lot of rival school stuff that goes on in MFA programs, but I don't find that kind of petty in-fighting interesting.

I posted in this thread because I thought potential applicants would be interested to know that Columbia's funding has increased in recent years and there are even a few fully funded spots. I am not claiming Columbia's funding is suddenly one of the best or anything like that. I am only posting information that would be of use to future applicants. I'm sorry if you disagree that students might be excited about fully funded spots at Columbia, but we should all be able to discuss this as level-headed adults.

Best
Lincoln

Lincoln said...

Blogger orange said...

Oh gosh. I've been trying to stay out of this, but, well, I'm giving in. Despite Seth's apparent attempts to make Lincoln's point seem completely ridiculous, I agree with Lincoln. What applicants want to know is, "What are my chances of being accepted with funding?"


Thanks orange, I'm glad someone understood what I was saying.

But the whole debate about what tool or system or ranking to use seems quite silly to me. I, again, was only pointing out that Columbia's funding situation has improved somewhat because that might interest future applicants. The rest of the jazz here seems a little pointless.

Faneul H. Peabody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Faneul H. Peabody said...

Seth, since you seem to be hell-bent on crushing the "kids" dreams and ideals, here you go. Your bizarre condescension and strange need to knock people down a peg is outrageous. You (and others) may mask it under the guise of wishing to simply warn young innocents of the dangers that lurk out there, but you come off as snobby and unpleasant. I applied to all (and I do mean ALL) of the top and many of the lesser MFA programs in the country, and I got into three, and Columbia is one of them, and your dumping on, for reasons that I still cannot comprehend is beginning to get depressing, which is obviously what you want, since this is clearly a competition. It's your own fault that you're burdened with $100,000 worth of debt, as it is anyone else who manages to amass that much debt. Nobody out there who gets in and goes to Columbia (or any school for that matter) that boasts that its readings and graduations are swarming with agents chomping at the bit for hot talent straight out of Columbia is too dumb to live. I'm going there and I wouldn't expect anything out of it after three years expect for a diploma. Furthermore, Columbia University never makes specific notice that agents are there recruiting their students- they would be fools to do so. And as for the monetary value of an MFA, I say again that anyone who's dumb enough to believe that there is any such value is too dumb to live on this planet. Spending time getting an MFA in creative writing is a self-indulgent exercise.
People have weighed their options. People have looked at the schools they were accepted to.
Some decided to go to New York City. (The cost of living, by the way Seth, is that of New York, and not of Columbia as you wrote.)
Your attempts to smear Columbia's program are very clever, I must admit, as you do concede that there is a fine faculty and the location can't be beat. However what comes across is a rant against this program and it's students, whom I contend are being portrayed as suckers with deep pockets and empty heads. Frankly anyone who's in such a horribly tenuous financial situation as you've described should either postpone or forget their dreams of getting an MFA, because apparently it's not for everyone. Maybe people should wait until they're in their mid-30's and saddled with debt to take on another useless degree- I don't know, it's not for me to say.
My bottom line is this: financing or money shouldn't influence one's decision in choosing an MFA program. Bad financing does not mean bad students or faculty, as is the tenor of this conversation. Any artist who spends one second of his or her life concerned with money or debts is not a true artists and is wasting his time. Anyone who is sitting around fretting about "risk-aversion rubrics" is wasting their time. My advice to students considering an MFA program is this: go wherever you want, and base your decision on your gut instinct about the people and a desire to be in a certain part of the country/world, and nothing else. If you're that concerned about the little things, you should just go get an MBA or a JD, wait for your six-figure white-collar job to come to you, and stop whining. I know I'm done.

Lincoln said...

Looking back through some of this thread I see that Lautreamont and some others said some unacceptable things as well, so perhaps that is what set Seth's temper off or perhaps everyone fed off each other. In particular lautremeamont made a jab at Iowa's poets and I can see why that would make Seth angry and feel he needed to respond in kind.

I think everyone should take a step back and cool off.

In truth Iowa and Columbia seem like the two most attacked programs on the web and most of the attacks tend to come from someone at the other school. I think MFA rivalries are a bit silly. (I've never really understood that kind of school pride... maybe because the sports teams at my undergrad all sucked.) Both are very good programs and produce good writers. We should be able to discuss these topics without insults or attacks on other mfa students, faculty or what have you.

One last thing I would say to Seth though is that you seemed to get quite upset at lautreamont's insinuation of a lack of aesthetic diversity at Iowa. I think you were fair to get angry about this, but I think if you look at your own posts here you will notice you have done the exact same thing you denounced. Your posts have been filled with insinuation and jabs at Columbia's students and faculty (The teacher's lie about funding and trick students into thinking they will all get agents, columbia students are ignorant of the MFA options, they are the only students that brag about agents [really? When I was researching MFAs Iowa students were the most vocal about agents] etc. etc.) despite the fact that you do not go to Columbia and do not know the students or faculty. As someone who has gone through the program, I can honestly say the portrait you've painted of the faculty and students is quite inaccurate... on almost every level. I'm also sure the idea of Iowa's poetry program lacking aesthetic diversity is also inaccurate.

Let's all try to keep this discussion civil and avoid pot shots at rival program's students, faculty and administration.... especially when we are dealing with two fantastic programs as is the case with Iowa and Columbia.
Best
Lincoln

Faneul H. Peabody said...

Lincoln-

Too late.

Faneul

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

A few thoughts.

1. I apologize for the condescension and any vitriol in my remarks.

2. As a fellow moderator on this board, albeit one whose efforts on behalf of the MFA Handbook have been largely off-line rather than on-line, the one thing that would offend me the most is if this website became a source of misinformation. Ironically, the danger in the misinformation I feel you and others have spread here--either directly, or by implication--is precisely the sort of danger posed by a show like the one you mentioned, The O'Reilly Factor. Repeatedly I have seen you and others make factually inaccurate statements about Columbia that have gone unchallenged, and many more statements which are "merely" misleading. I've said before (in this thread) and I'll say again that I don't think you're acting in bad faith. But I do think you're biased. Were I to spread as much misinformation about Iowa (my alma mater, for those new to this thread) on this blog and elsewhere as is regularly spread about Columbia, I would be rightly charged with bias and with being a misinformer. That's one reason I don't often comment about Iowa except when something has been said that I know for a fact is wrong. That is not what you do, or what Fanuel does, or what the Columbia supporter who, on my own blog, told me if I really valued poetry I would move to New York City, does. What you do is you enter into arguments and/or discussions about Columbia with the intention to persuade, not to correct. That is the primary reason I came on this thread--to ask you to not do what is normally done, by you and others, which is advocate for Columbia (something I don't do re: Iowa), but rather to educate us if we have wrong assumptions about the facts surrounding the Columbia program. Consistently, my requests for information in this thread were met with vitriol, evasions, or, worse, the sort of condescension that comes with telling the guy who's worked harder on these issues than anyone that the work he did trying to help prospective MFA applicants out was actually "really easy" if he'd just been smart enough to see it. I've put my time and energy where my mouth is, Lincoln, and can say with some pride that I've done more to try to put accurate information about MFAs out there than you. That's not patronizing, that's the truth. So when I, who have been openly trafficking in statistics for months, ask you to provide statistical support for your opening salvo in this dialogue--"I feel that for the sake of accuracy it should be noted that Columbia's funding has increased...it is much better than it was [in 2004]"--I do believe the appropriate response is to either state the basis for your assertion or admit it for what it is, loose talk. And another thing to not do would be to create, off-hand, a new rubric for assessing financial aid packages which depends on gathering information which a) isn't available, and b) which you personally have no intention of putting in any effort to access. And finally, when you're challenged on each of these first two points, certainly the last thing you or anyone else should do is to declare, wryly, that really there's not much need for a funding ranking or a funding assessment tool anyway. Really? Well, I've got several hundred e-mails of thanks from twenty-something MFA applicants which tell a different story, and I bet Tom over the years has had double that number or more. And I (we) didn't receive those e-mails because I (we) came on a website and engaged in some loose talk about my (our) own program(s) to persuade more people to apply there. Speaking for myself, and knowing the substance of those e-mails, I can say that I received those e-mails because I did the difficult leg-work to get as accurate information as possible about a couple hundred programs. [NB: I'm nobody special; anyone could have done this research, I just happened to be the one to do it. I don't claim any special status, I just claim--because I know it's true--to have worked hard].

3. So yes, when I ask you for accurate information about a single program--your own, and moreover one you've made strident assertions about--and your response is this thread, I'll admit to being a bit peeved. And when, in that context, I reveal my motives--to protect younger folks from making the same mistakes I made, which mistakes Columbia is not just inviting them to make but herding them toward as best they can--to have those motives mocked as some sort of arcane bias against a school which I've ranked #1 in the nation, and which was my #1 choice for an MFA until I visited its ultra-condescending website (whose tone is roughly reminescent of Fanuel's) and realized I couldn't afford it, well, yes, that hugely offends me also.

None of that is a justification for stooping to the level of the debate as Columbia supporters have framed it. And so I apologize for my own behavior in that respect, and I hope you find this e-mail more direct about my feelings. No insinuations. In that spirit, I will add this: if you really want to do something for your school, go to your admissions office and get us some data. Otherwise, stop trying to be a booster for one program or another--I don't do that, and as a moderator on this board I find it inappropriate for you to do it.

As to whether my arguments in this thread have made sense, I have every confidence that they made sense to nearly every person who read this thread who doesn't have a dog in the Columbia fight, just as 99% of the e-mails sent to me about my MFA writings are positive, except for the attacks against me on websites such as this one by supporters of a single program in New York City, a city I should move to (such supporters tell me) if I really have ambitions in the world of poetry.

Take care,
Seth

Seth Abramson said...

Fanuel,

I think anyone reading this thread will be able to make up their minds about you and your arguments based on your last post, so I've nothing to add. Good luck to you.

S.

Lincoln said...

Seth

1. I accept the apology, although you seem to revert in the rest of your post.

2. I don't find your characterization of the situation accurate in the least. I don't post too often on here, but when I do it tends to be about what I know about (Columbia's program) and I only do it to correct misinformation or to answer a question that has been asked about the program. This is what I was asked to post about here and so that is what I do. This is not what I've seen you do on here. When you post it is almost always to make snarky comments and elicit responses. I've corrected misinformation to you before and your response has always been to ignore it (see, for example, your agent attack in this thread).

You commented earlier in this thread about how you've dealt with angry Columbia students and you drew some conclusions about it. What you seem to be ignoring is that you are asking for angry responses by resorting to condescension, snark, insults, insinuations and so on. To put it blankly, what you are doing is dangerously close to trolling.

Trolling isn't particularly hard to do. I could easily elicit a string of angry responses by jumping into every Iowa thread (or any other program) and posting condescending attacks under the guise of educating posters.

On the flip side, you would not receive the angry responses that you do if you spoke in a respectful and honest manner.

None of that is a justification for stooping to the level of the debate as Columbia supporters have framed it. And so I apologize for my own behavior in that respect

Again, you are missing your own role in framing it this way. You are not stooping to the level of columbia supporters (again with the condescension and backhanded apologies). I've been reading this blog since its inception. Tom Kealey always had very honest if harsh assessment of Columbia's program and he never received the kind of responses you seem to gather here. Why? Because he spoke respectfully.

Do your arguments make sense? Mostly yes, and indeed I doubt we disagree on much. Most of your arguments here, however, have been against straw men that bear no relation to what I was saying. I never claimed there was no need for a funded ranking. I didn't make any comments about rankings or rubrics at all. I'm unsure of what your comments even mean. My comments about fully funded spots does not put Columbia in some very positive light financially. They only had 2 fully funded spots last year. That is not very many. Nowhere did I claim Columbia's funding was as good as Cornell's under any measure and it beyond even the realm of parody to read that into my post. Columbia's funding is bad no matter how you measure it and I have never said anything else.

The only area I disagreed with you was your claim that applicants don't care or shouldnt' care about the number of funding spots but only about the percent of funding. I disagreed, and disagreed politely I might ad, because it is not how the applicants I know consider programs. Under your math, if I read it right, a Program A with 10 spots all funded 50% and a Program B with 5 fully-funded spots and 5 no funded spots would have equal funding. This might be the case. But from the applicant's perspective, more people would put program A on their short-list than would put B. Do you disagree?
Nowhere in my argument did I say that makes COlumbia's funding great, nor could one possibly believe that as it only has a few spots anyway so would be far far down the list in that regard.

It isn't the substance so much as the style of what you are saying. The tone, insults and attacks really aren't appropriate or necessary. Indeed, I'd say they are counter productive both to discussion on the blog and to your own arguments in particular.
best
Lincoln

Lincoln said...

Now that that is out of the way, since you asked me semi-politely to provide some factual information about Columbia, I will try to do so.

You were addressing someone else with some of these comments:

and that there are "abundant teaching options for second year students." What does "abundant" mean here? The school has way, way, way over 100 students in its MFA program at any one time, does abundant mean 10? 20? 50?

If by teaching options you mean fully-funded teaching spots, they are picked by another department (undergrad writing program) and so vary year to year in terms of how many are accepted. You can only apply in your second year. I believe the number was somewhere between 12 and 20 last year.

(Those positions are separate from the fellowship spots that have been mentioned)

If by teaching options you mean opportunities to get teaching experience, they are indeed abundant. There are a myriad or programs from teaching young children to high school students to columbia undergrads. The pay varies (it is nowhere near a tuition remission, but they also are not very time intensive) as do the spots and programs, but I can assure you there are enough spots that anyone who wants teaching experience can get it.

Finally, Faneul, why in the world are you telling us that "a thousand or so apply" to Columbia every year, when the school's own website says it gets 650 applications per year? What's more important to you here--protecting the school, or telling the truth to prospective candidates?[..]I want the real data on that school (and every school, including Iowa) to out.

Hmm, I think you are both wrong in this situation. Faneul seems to be talking out of his buttocks with the 1,000 number, but you are quoting an outdated number. The 650 number is from 2003. Given the increase in demand for MFA programs as well as the increased wisdom of applying to many programs at a time, it seems fair to assume that number has increased a good deal in the last five years.

Now I grant you that it is quite stupid that School of the Arts hasn't updated their FAQ in 5 years (both because of the number of applications is outdated, but also because the tuition listed is lower than it is now), but if your primary goal is "telling the truth" and getting the "real data" out, I would think you would contact Columbia to get the real data or at least list the caveat that your numbers are out of date.

Certainly I would not claim that Columbia's tuition is what it was in 2003 to prospective applicants either.

Besides which, no one yet has given me a good explanation for why Columbia's entering class needs to be so big--that's a conscious decision of the University, let's not forget. It wasn't an edict from the Almighty. Iowa's program is 16% to 20% smaller (depending on the year), but Iowa also gets 250% more applications, and is several decades older.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but the numbers I had read where that Iowa accepted about 25 poets and 25 fiction students a year. Is that accurate? If so, Iowa's fiction and poetry departments are about the exact same size combined (Fiction is larger and poetry smaller at Columbia).

Columbia is only larger because it also has non-fiction students.

I'm a bit confused what you mean by a "good explanation" for why the program "needs" to be large. Are you seem to be suggesting that a large program is a bad thing? I don't believe I would agree with that. Large and small programs both have pros and cons.

c) its lack of any fully-funded (full tuition, plus costs, plus a living-wage stipend) fellowships or scholarships whatsoever

I've always heard the term fully-funded to mean the tuition and costs are paid for. Stipends tend to occur only when a job is attached to the fellowship, no? Either way the UWP teaching spots I discussed above cover costs, tuition and provide a stipend.

This is a long thread a little too full of bickering on all sides for me to read it all. If you have any other specific questions you want answered you can ask or email me.

Best,
Lincoln

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

We should probably put aside the issue of method of argumentation, as I just don't think we're going to see eye to eye on it. To my view of things, the issue has primarily been one of longevity--when I first started posting comments about Columbia elsewhere, the initial responses were similar to those Tom has received, because I was (like Tom) only infrequently addressing the issue (say, once every few months). The moment it became clear I would be more substantially involved in Columbia-related discussions, the attacks started coming. And when, as in this thread, I post non-patronizing comments (if you re-read my first comment in this thread without presuppositions about my tone, I hope you'll agree it wasn't patronizing) I immediately get a response from Fanuel not only accusing me of exaggeration and calling my comments "silly," but assigning arguments to me that I never made and must now "defend" against, as well as making false assertions about Columbia which, while irrelevant to the question I asked--or the thread--I now feel a duty to correct. I think it's easy to--comforting to--think that when a thread goes sour someone can simply be identified as a "troll" and the problem excised, but in reality I think things are a lot more complicated than that. And things aren't made easier when I respond to questions asked of me in the Queen's English and then am told my remarks are incomprehensible. Falsely claiming a literal inability to comprehend is every bit the rhetorical tool that sarcasm is, Lincoln, I'm sure you know this.

As to the conclusion you drew in your hypothetical, yes, I do disagree with it. Here's why, in a single sentence: You are presuming an applicant with the money to pay half-tuition at School A. That has not been my experience, with the scores and scores of MFA applicants I've corresponded with. In fact, they tend to lie on either side of a binary: either money is not an issue, or no substantial sum of money is available to the applicant for an MFA. For those in the first category, funding rankings are meaningless, and they need not even be looked at (in the second edition of The Handbook I've gone further, actually, and said that if money is not an object, Columbia should be that applicant's first choice, due to location, the school's overall reputation, and its faculty). For those in the second category, it does not help them in any way to be told that School A is offering (if we add to the hypothetical for the moment that both School A and School B cost $40,000/year for tuition plus living expenses) ten scholarships for $20,000. Because that still means that even if the student is admitted, while they will be guaranteed a funding package--true--they will still end up personally borrowing $40,000 if the program is two years, and $60,000 if the program is three years. And at least some of those loans (given the federal cap per year) will have to be private loans, which tend to have no forbearance or deferral option when the MFA grad suddenly realizes they can't find a job post-graduation. And even 40k to 60k in federal loans would be a staggering load for a graduate school degree-holder whose degree conferred upon him/her no immediately employable skills.

In contrast, the issue at School B is far simpler: the applicant applies, and, if accepted, waits to see whether s/he is one of the 50% of the class to get full funding. If they are, they attend. If not, they do not. But that 50% chance (upon admission) of full funding is infinitely more valuable to them than a 100% chance of funding they still can't afford. As I said before, because I feel you made this argument already above, your math does not take into account the complexities of financial aid packages and student needs. You are trying to use straight math a) using incomplete data, and b) in a situation where straight math fails to address the particularities of the situation.

In the second edition of The Handbook, programs with 100% funding for all students are ranked highest in the funding ranking, followed by schools with 75% full funding [read as: 75% of students get full funding] and 50% full funding (and those few schools which lie in between these markers are ranked accordingly). Only when we start talking about programs where (to use a legal formulation for a moment) the average admitted applicant is "more likely than not" to not receive full funding do things start to get complicated. At approximately 40% fully-funded programs, like, for instance, Massachusetts, one tends to feel as though percentage is still high enough that even a risk-averse applicant would find those odds at least distantly palatable. The better question is whether a, say, 20% fully-funded program would be better than a 40% half-funded program (I only use these examples because, in all my research, I never founded a single program that was 100% half-funded, or even 75% half-funded). The good news is that there are enough schools in the "higher-rated" funding categories that the two hypothetical schools above won't make the top fifty, anyway. Mostly likely both would end up in an Honorable Mention category of about ten to twelve schools.

Take care,
Seth

Seth Abramson said...

We cross-posted, sorry. I'm reading your second post now.
S.

Lincoln said...

The only caveat I should add to my last post is that Columbia's funding is improving year to year due to increased funding to the program-part from outside funding, part from the recent merger of the grad program with the undergrad-so one would have to check with the program next year to find out what the 09-10 class will get.

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

I agree the thread is too long, I'll just clarify that "full funding" denotes the rate of funding at which both tuition and living costs are covered. Both TAships with full tuition remission and stipend, as well as fellowships of an amount covering tuition plus living expenses, would qualify as full funding. One reason, therefore, why Notre Dame is not ranked as high in funding as, say, Texas, is because Notre Dame only guarantees full tuition will be covered, but not every admittee gets a TAship with a stipend (though many do). At Texas all expenses, of each of the two major kinds (tuition and living) are covered.

S.

Lincoln said...

Seth,

Perhaps I did misread your original post. If so, I apologize. And having reread some of the start of the thread I agree that Faneul was out of line with many of his comments as well.

Putting all that aside I just wanted to address a few things you said.

I still think you are misreading my comments about funding. I'm not claiming anything about how funding should be ranked for programs and you and I probably don't disagree about that.

As to the conclusion you drew in your hypothetical, yes, I do disagree with it. Here's why, in a single sentence: You are presuming an applicant with the money to pay half-tuition at School A.

I'm not presuming that at all. In fact, what I'm presuming is that most students will not want to pay half tuition and that is exactly why they would apply to school B instead.

In contrast, the issue at School B is far simpler: the applicant applies, and, if accepted, waits to see whether s/he is one of the 50% of the class to get full funding. If they are, they attend. If not, they do not. But that 50% chance (upon admission) of full funding is infinitely more valuable to them than a 100% chance of funding they still can't afford.

We are in total agreement here. This is what I was saying. Most students apply to programs that give them a chance at full funding, regardless of the percentage of full funding there is, and then go with the program that gives them the most money. That is all I was saying.

Lincoln said...

Seth,

That is all? You demanded information and made quite a few claims about myself and Columbia students in general. I answer your questions and point out a few factual inaccuracies you were stating.... and you do not even acknowledge them.

This is precisely why I did not answer your questions before. You demand things and then ignore the information when it is presented to you. I am pretty sure I have corrected a few of those points of misinformation from you before, yet every new thread you state the same inaccurate information.

For what purpose are you asking for information then?

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

I misread your post, then, as I was thinking you had said a student-focused analysis would suggest more students would choose the 100% half-funded program, School A (you wrote, "from the applicant's perspective, more people would put program A on their short-list than would put B"). If that wasn't what you meant, or I misinterpreted, then yes, we're in agreement. My comments about rubrics were largely in response to the poster named "Orange," though that poster was likewise under the impression that you were proposing a "funding selectivity" ranking (as that poster indicated, in his/her first post in the thread, "But my point, and I think Lincoln's point, is that it's a question of 'funding selectivity.' And this is really easy to figure out: number of funded positions, divided by number of applicants"). Many of my later remarks were directed specifically toward (and, more specifically, against) that assertion, and toward Orange's proposal of "funding [plus] selectivity" as a better measure than "funding-only."

Take care,
Seth

Lincoln said...

Seth:

Gah, a typo there. Yeah, I meant Program B. My mistake.

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

We're cross-posting now. You specifically asked us to close down the thread, and that if I had more to say to contact you by e-mail, which is the only reason I didn't respond to your comment about the 650 figure--which, to be clear, was not a correction, as you're not suggesting that you know the number is different now, merely that you'd guess it is. That, to me, is loose talk--which I don't mean as pejoratively as you seem to think I do, as all of us engage in loose talk from time to time, the question is the time and place. One reason the School of the Arts may not have changed that figure is because it's still accurate; in any case, it's the public statement of the University as to applications, and so students are entitled to rely on it and presume it to be accurate. And indeed it just might be: the only program in America whose five-year application numbers have been broadly discussed are those of NYU, a fellow poorly-funded NYC program, and NYU has seen drastic fluctuations in its application numbers from year to year. It has not, as you're supposing, been a steady climb, as has been the case with several "new" programs whose data is available on-line, and who start from very low application totals and gradually move (the trend appears to be) into the 200s or 300s and settle there. More established programs experience fluctuations, possibly due to the influence of Kealey and others. For instance, UMass just set a personal record for its applications, as did Iowa; both programs have seen improved press (and buzz) in the past two years. Columbia, in contrast, has received almost singularly bad publicity (as you and others have rightly noted) which might explain that 650 number not being removed by the University, and still being listed on the website as the official statement of the University on admissions.

I've made clear that, yes, I rely on the official public statements of programs whenever possible, and do not individually query programs for information they have already refused to release to the public. Were I to do so, it would not only require demanding this data of all 300 programs nationally, and moreover require demanding all data (not just those pieces the program wants to release), but moreover would do nothing to encourage more transparency from the programs--and I've made clear that encouraging that transparency by quite patently relying on the information the programs put out publicly is one of my primary goals.

I'd appreciate it if you didn't try to convince me to stop responding to you, and then berate me when I don't provide a full response to you (per your request).

Seth

Lincoln said...

I did not ask for the thread to be closed. I said it was too long for me to read in entirety, by which I meant if I have missed any questions you had I'd answer them if you either asked again (on here) or emailed me.

I'm sorry if that was unclear.

Seth Abramson said...

I'll say, then, that I do appreciate you trying to provide some additional information about Columbia's funding and am happy to respond to every piece of it, one by one.

The general problem with the data, I'll say first, is that, while I appreciate what you said, I don't know what to do with it. A summary of what you wrote would look like this:

a) "fully-funded teaching spots are picked by another department (undergrad writing program) and so vary year to year"

b) "[fully-funded teaching spots] can only be applied to in your second year"

c) "the number [of fully-funded teaching spots] was somewhere between 12 and 20 last year"

d) there are outside teaching opportunities not through Columbia directly which pay an uncertain amount of money and do not include any tuition remission

e) Iowa and Columbia are the same size, if you ignore non-fiction students [NB: a field in which Columbia is the undisputed #1 program in America]

Items A, B, and C consitute a single piece of information, which is not new per se. I've already said (and you've now confirmed) that there are no fully-funded teaching positions in the first year, which is almost exclusively what funding rankings look at--the first year. You might well ask, "why?" The reason Columbia offering 12 to 20 of its 70 per-year second-year students (17% to 29% of the class) fully-funded teaching positions doesn't matter is because a) it's not clear whether that grants full tuition remission, which would be necessary (given the cost of Columbia; e.g., even 2/3rds remission would have students paying more toward toward tuition than 100% of the cost of Iowa tuition second-year in-state), and b) there's no way whatsoever for us to compare that number with other programs, because at every school it's the case that new funding opportunities open up for the second year once you get there, and that's not properly part of the anticipated funding package at most schools. Likewise, there are numerous schools which review funding at the end of the first year, so Columbia's system is really no different, it's just that we have data for it now, per you. The problem is, increasing funding for, on average, 23% of the second year class is by no means impressive--though, again, no other programs reveal this data, so there's no context into which we can put that information. The one thing I'll point out, though, is that Iowa's previously-derided funding scheme (which never lowers funding for students in the second year, and only raises it) awards 13 fellowships to second-year students (26% of the class) through its Teaching-Writing Fellowship program alone. Meanwhile, all students with TAships in the Rhetoric or General Education Literature department at UI (50% or more of the class) get raises in their second year, and can request 1/2-time appointments instead of 1/3-time appointments, which (combined) could raise their salary by about $7,000 (from a 1/3-time first-year appointment to a 1/2-time second-year appointment). Meanwhile, several students are on two-year fellowships that don't change from year-to-year, and every single student I know who was on an expiring first-year fellowship at Iowa was either given a renewed fellowship, placed into the Rhetoric or GEL departments, or given a 1/3-time creative writing teaching appointment (and all TAships at Iowa come with at least 2/3-tuition remission; with Iowa's rock-bottom tuition costs, that leaves even a student with 2/3-tuition coverage only $2,700 or so to pay in tuition--for the year).

As to D, outside, non-university jobs are not part of a financial aid package, because their granting isn't controlled exclusively by the program. Likewise (as with the above), outside jobs are available at all programs, but they're not reported because they're not part of financial aid, so again there's nothing we can do with that Columbia info.

As to E, Columbia has 70 students, Iowa 50. You can't simply discount the non-fiction folks, and I'm not sure why you think you could. UI has a non-fiction program, but it is literally an entirely different program--an entirely different administrative unit with its own funding--and is not run by the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The same cannot be said for the Columbia MFA. So when we're looking at the Columbia MFA funding scheme, obviously we look at every student under its custody and control funding-wise. The non-fiction program here is literally as distinct an entity from the IWW as is Columbia's poetry program from the IWW.

S.

Lincoln said...

Seth:

Still a bit confused by your posts. I was answering some questions, but your response is all about rankings and rubrics and other things I have not commented on at all. Is that this entire discussion on your end? Were you looking at everything threw the lens of funding? I was answering a few questions and correcting a few comments I saw and they did not all have to do with funding.

For example, you asked about teaching opportunities. I explained that there are a lot of opportunities to teach and to get teaching experience if one seeks that. I was not pumping up Columbia's funding there, but providing information on teaching opportunities for those interested in teaching.

I don't even know what comments like "there is nothing we can do with that info" means. I'm providing the information I know for potential applicants. Students can read the info and judge it how they wish. Who is the "we" and what is the "do"? I'm also not sure what the long fawning over Iowa's program means here either. I wasn't comparing Columbia to Iowa, just answering questions and comments that were made.


As to E, Columbia has 70 students, Iowa 50. You can't simply discount the non-fiction folks, and I'm not sure why you think you could. UI has a non-fiction program


As I said before, I don't know what you are asking when you ask for a "good explanation" for why the program "needs" to be large. You then talked about Iowa's size in relation to Columbia's.

You seemed to be implying something about the size there and I was just pointing out that Columbia's program is not abnormally large compared to Iowa. In fact, poetry and fiction combined at Columbia is the same size as poetry and fiction combined at Iowa.

But again, I'm unclear what you are driving at about the "need" for a large program. There are large programs and small programs. They have pros and cons. Columbia's program is one of the large ones, but not really any larger than the other large programs like New School or Iowa.

Lincoln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

Respectfully, the better question is, who are you responding to? The original post--by Tom--was a letter a Columbia student wrote to complain about how Columbia is being assessed with respect to its funding. Several other comments were made, in the letter, about the faculty at Columbia. Your first post in this thread was about funding, as was your second. Your third was about selectivity, and your fourth was--again--about funding. Every other comment in this thread, by persons other than you (and by you as well, but I'll leave you out, as you seem unwilling to acknowledge it now), is about funding. Now you're telling me that you just randomly wanted to talk about program sizes and off-campus teaching opportunities--not having anything to do with funding, selectivity, or the original letter's (and some of your responses') references to how funding and selectivity can be used to rank programs. And you're asking me who I'm responding to? I think your most recent response is a sign to me that we're pretty much done here. Take care,

Seth

Lincoln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lincoln said...

Nevermind, I will allow you to have the last word there.

It seems that at the very least we aren't communicating well. I'm content to leave it at that and let anyone reading this draw their own conclusions.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

This has certainly become a very heated discussion, and proves that this is a very emotional and touchy subject, mainly for Columbia students. After reading the last round of comments I would like to pose a hypothetical scenario. I had this notion after reading Seth's comment that for a student for whom money is not a concern, Columbia should very well be their first choice. Here's the hypothetical: What if a student has applied to say, 24 programs and was rejected from ALL but Columbia. This student is thrilled to get in to Columbia and excited to be studying there despite the many sacrifices that student will need to make in order to pay for the tuition. How on earth do you expect that student to feel when reading this blog? Pretty lousy, I'd imagine.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

And for the record I never accused you of saying anything that you did not say in this thread, Seth. I am not the only one who was able to decipher from your tone the zealous condescension with which you've been writing. And it would be foolish for one to expect students who worked extraordinarily hard to get into the MFA program of their dreams not to feel extremely defensive given the tenor of this discussion, and the attacks on Columbia elsewhere on the internet and in publications.

Faneul H. Peabody said...

One more thing, since I feel this thread is closing up- in the end I feel that this business of "rankings" is on the wrong track. The strength of a program should be judged on it's faculty, students, resources, and maybe literary reviews. As I've said before I don't think that funding should be a concern in ranking an MFA program. I will also state for the record that Seth has, many many times said that Columbia "ranks" among the very best MFA programs. I just find the business of "ranking" these schools distasteful, and I think that such a practice is what fosters the sort of rancor we've all seen on this page.

Dovlatov said...

The $120 application fee required of Columbia applicants is outrageous and insulting. Furthermore, the tuition is over $40,000 per year for most students. If you care enough about prestige and networking to go over $100,000 in debt over 3 yrs in an MFA, then more power to you. My suggestion - wait until you get into a program that respects your talent enough to give you the funding you need.

Dovlatov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dovlatov said...

One more thing Lincoln and Peabody.
You fellas should be getting paid by Columbia for your help spinning this B.S. It's so obvious you are trying to maintain some semblance of your wounded little ego's with outright generalities and lies. COLUMBIA LIES on its own website about the cost of tuition. Disgusting. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves for spinning this bull to minimize the outrageous funding situation at Columbia.

Lincoln said...

dovlatov,

I'm not a paid employee of Columbia. I'm a student who choose to go there over other, even better funded, options. I have been happy with my experience here. I have no wounded ego. I went through the same process you did and am only giving my opinion. I see a lot of distortions and vitriol against Columbia's program from people who don't go there and I think it paints a false picture.

I'm not sugar coating Columbia's funding situation. It is bad. But the program has many other strengths and I think people should give it a balanced look.

If you disagree you can say so or contact me directly, but I'd prefer if you didn't sling insults at me (or anyone on here) from behind an anonymous user name.

pepper said...

I'm applying to Columbia this year and honestly, I am just praying I get in. I don't care if they don't fund my education. It's one of the best schools and part of the Ivy League.

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