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.