Saturday, March 22, 2008

Columbia vs. NYU, plus CalArts

We need some details, insider tips, personal experience, and just plain gossip about the following programs:

For sara:
She's been accepted to Columbia and NYU, and is having a hard time deciding between the two. Which is a better program? She'd like a side-by-side comparison of NYU and Columbia from people who know the programs well, aside from how expensive they are.

For megan, rima, and spillingink,
Anyone have insider, indepth info on CalArts?


Samantha Cohen said...

I just found this blog while searching for the inside scoop on Cal Arts. I'm interested to see responses, but I am also wondering: Are any of y'all going to the "Accepted Student Event?" I'm planning to go, but am a bit overwhelmed by the cost. Would anyone be interested in meeting up at LAX and sharing a rental car or maybe even a hotel room? If so, let's talk!

Lincoln Michel said...

I currently attend Columbia, so keep that in mind:

Both programs are very good, although in the publishing world I think Columbia is better regarded. Columbia has, I would say, a much better and more diverse faculty and has better alumni success (or is regarded to have better, as has been noted on here before that is tough to truly measure.)

One big difference between the programs is that at Columbia you take a lot of classes and get fully immersed in the community and craft. At NYU, as I understand it, the program is geared to be much more of a part time thing. You take far less classes. Basically a workshop and one other class a semester. People at NYU have told me there is much less of a community and less going on outside of classes.

So on that level, a lot of the decision is probably up to what you want. Would you prefer to take a wide variety of classes and be in that type of community, or would you rather be doing your own thing and just have workshop and maybe another class?

If you wanted to work a full-time job while attending MFA classes on the side, NYU would definitly be the way to go.

If you wanted to just work part-time or intern while immersing yourself in writing, Columbia seems like a better bet.

Funding is not the best at either program. Both offer good funding to a few students and not much to most. I believe NYU is less expensive, but only because you take very few classes (at a full class load it is as or more expensive IIRC).

Beyond that I can't comment on NYU although I'm sure others will be able to.

As for Columbia, I can say that anyone who wants to has multiple opportunities to teach or intern. Basically everyone I know at Columbia has taught classes (mostly at local high schools) and interned for at least a semester at a place like The New Yorker, Bomb or a lit agency.

Let me know if there are any specific questions I can answer and feel free to email me.
All best

Sara said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Lincoln. You mention that at Columbia, everyone who wants to has multiple opportunities to teach and intern. Two questions about that:

First, with teaching, what specific opportunities are available? (My understanding is that TA positions are pretty competitive and only available to second-year students, so I assume I can't count on getting one.) I read a little about the CAT program, but could you possibly elaborate on how it works? For instance, does it pay a stipend? And are there other teaching opportunities and/or fellowships besides those two (TA positions and CAT)?

Second, can internships count for credit, and if so, how many credits?

And last question--with all those classes, internships, and teaching stints, do you find you have enough time to devote to your writing? I agree that taking only 2 classes at NYU seems like too few. But all the same, I wouldn't want to be so bogged down with coursework and other responsibilities that it put a strain on my writing. That would resemble my undergrad experience. So I'm wondering how much time you spend working on your main writing projects vs. doing reading and assignments for other classes.

Thanks again for your time!

Lincoln Michel said...


Thanks! No problem. Okay let me see.


Yes you can count them for credit if you want. They count as three credits, or a normal class. I did this once and there was no problem. Although personally I think there are normally enough interesting classes that you might as well take them and slack on reading if you get behind. Either way, yes they can count for credit.


The grad program recently integrated with the undergrad so there hopefully will be some TAing spots soon. I don't know the status of this for new students or not though.

The thing people think of as TAing is actually teaching your own class, an intro expository writing class that all first year undergrads take at Columbia. You get a free ride plus a stipend. You can only get this in your second year. The deal is that this program is run by a different department. They give writing students some slots but the writing program itself oesn't get to pick who gets the jobs. So no, you definitely can't count on it.

Beyond that there is CAT which has a fair number of programs. They have creative writing classes in local high schools. They have a program for children of Columbia faculty. There are grammar classes and other classes at high schools and for high schoolers taking extra classes outside of school. Then there are intro class for Columbia students which are zero credit but give undergrads (and grads in other departments) a chance to do writing on the side.

There are enough programs that anyone who wants to teach through CAT should be able to.

Do they pay? Most of them do. How much depends on the program. They vary in length and time so the pay is not consistent.

Are there other fellowships?
There are merit fellowships given to students in varying amounts (a few students get large ones). There are no other teaching fellowships besides the undergrad class.

I have no found any problem finding time to write. Or rather, my writing problems stem from slacking off online or hanging out too much, not a work overload.

You have to remember that classes are only one day a week. So you can pile your classes on like two days of the week and have the others free.

Outside of workshop, you are taking craft classes (although you can take classes anywhere in the university if you want). These classes are discussions mostly, so your work is small writing exercises now and then and reading. You aren't writing essays every week or anything.

I wouldn't try to take a full class load plus work a part time job while also teaching and interning at a magazine. That would kill you. But it shouldn't be a problem to take the normal load while interning one semester and teaching the next.

I hope that was helpful.
All best,

Sara said...

Lincoln, that was definitely helpful! You cleared up a lot. Thanks.

Sara said...

Anybody from NYU out there? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

The Other said...

Hi Sara,

I applied to Columbia but haven't heard anything from them. Did they interview you? I'm just trying to brace myself for a rejection letter before it comes. Should I still have hope? When did you recieve your acceptance letter? I'm from the Bahamas so I'm hoping that things are just taking a bit longer for me, with the international postal system. Anything that you can tell me would be greatly appreciated.


Unknown said...

Can anyone shine some light on the rather limited information out there regarding MFA programs at ART schools? I asked about Bard's program ages no avail. Should there be more research done? They aren't listed in T.K.'s handbook.

Sara said...

Hi Vivian,

I got a phone call from Columbia about two weeks ago, and a few days ago, I finally got the "official" letter (which was actually a packet) in the mail. My impression is that acceptances sometimes go in waves, so I would say there is of course a chance that you could still be admitted. It's a good sign that you haven't gotten a rejection letter, since I think I heard from somebody who got one last week. Maybe they're still considering admitting you, and just waiting for the first round of admitted students to get back to them...That's what I would think, but remember I have no authority whatsoever on this topic--It's just guesswork. Good luck! And remember not to put all your eggs in one basket--admittance into MFA programs is really subjective.

The Other said...

Thanks Sara,

I fel a little better. Congrats on getting accepted!

Anonymous said...
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Lautreamont said...

Columbia rocks NYU, see you there Sarah.

LH said...

I just got accepted into Columbia for Fiction. Before I started reading this website (more specifically Seth Abramson), that would have been pretty good news. Especially considering that, so far, my writing "career" has consisted of some amateurish short stories and an post-undergrad musings.

This forum, however, makes it sound as though Columbia has been reduced to a revolving door in which any and all who are willing to drop $120k may gladly enter. My questions, if anybody out there is capable or intrigued enough to answer, is 1) does anybody know anyone who hasn't gotten into Columbia; and 2) has the program been able to reserve any of the sway it once presumably had with major publishing houses and magazines?

Hate to reduce it to dollar dollar bills y'all, but $120k is a ton of money for something we could all get from U of Alabama or New Mexico. Any and all help would be appreciated on this!

Shireen said...

Unfortunately I'm having the same dilemma -- torn between Columbia and NYU (for poetry).

Maybe I'll see you in the fall!

Lincoln Michel said...

My questions, if anybody out there is capable or intrigued enough to answer, is 1) does anybody know anyone who hasn't gotten into Columbia; and 2) has the program been able to reserve any of the sway it once presumably had with major publishing houses and magazines?


1) Someone just posted a rejection in the "alls quiet.." thread. But yes, I know people who have been rejected from columbia and, on the flip side, I know people here at columbia who picked Columbia over other top programs they had been accepted too.

Columbia has a very strong student body. I won't claim it is amazingly strong from top to bottom, but is any program? I've worked for several journals and I'm used to reading lots of submissions from top mfa programs. I'd be happy to put the best Columbia writers up against the best writers of any other program.

2) I'm not sure what sway it had. Columbia has often been a place journals turned to for interns and where agents came to try and get first dibs on students. THis is still very much true.

From talking to people in the industry I don't think Columbia (or Iowa for that matter) Have lost their luster in the actual publishing industry, even though they have both been bashed in certain online blog circles.

I really wouldn't worry about the quality of Columbia's program. The faculty is the best out there IMHO. The student body is strong and the opporunties for internships and so on are abundant. Last year's The Atlantic article on MFA programs listed Columbia as a top 5 program for faculty and a top 5 for student body (or alumni success, but I take it to correlate heavily) so its reputation is still intact.

The only thing to worry about is funding at Columbia, which is of course a significant thing.

I would note, however, that Columbia's funding has improved a lot since TK put out the MFA handbook. There are several big, even full, fellowships given out. There is a lot of misinformation about that.

That said, if you don't get them the cost is pretty crazy.

Lautreamont said...

Both of my friends who went for MFA's this year didn't get into Columbia (they are going to Arizona and are Very happy) and, while Lincoln's answer was much more eloquent, it simply boils down to the fact that Columbia offers a program with total immersion whereas NYU is more of a part-time/night class thing. If you have a job or publishing internship I understand why you would go with NYU but if not I go with Columbia.

Lautreamont said...
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Anonymous said...
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Megan said...

Does anyone have any insight/thoughts/feelings about CalArts after attending the Accepted Students Event? I wasn't able to go and would love to hear what others thought.

Heather said...

Hi guys, just thought I would post a comment about CalArts -- hopefully not too late to be useful! My boyfriend is currently in the MFA program and seems to really enjoy it. They're open to a lot of experimentation, and multiple genres and all sorts of things. My impression is, that rather focusing on strictly fiction, poetry or nonfiction, you can really take whatever you want. And the writing you do in each class is pretty open too. For example, my understanding is that in their "Poetics" class, you study poetic techniques, which you can apply to prose, if you want to. You can also focus more on a specific genre, if you'd like.

I've been to a lot of student readings, and there's a wide variety of styles, and some really good writers in the program. Also, the professors I've met seem really nice and interesting as well.

spillingink said...

I am completely in love with CalArts! I went to the open house and had a phenomenal time. The faculty was amazing. The profs mad it a point to talk to me individually. A few students read their work--which was all totally innovative and great. I am so going there. I never imagined myself in California, but now it is the only place I want to be. If you have specific questions about the open house let me know...

Samantha Cohen said...

hi megan. i also attended the calarts event and would be happy to answer any specific questions you have. i also have a tough choice to make, so talking things through with you might be beneficial!

Megan said...

I will be visiting the CalArts campus soon, so most of my questions can be answered then, but mostly I was just wanting to hear others' impressions of the school after the event. Did any of you get to talk to current students and hear about their experiences and how satisfied they are with the program? Other than heather's boyfriend :) Thanks for your help!

steve591720 said...

I've also been accepted to CalArts, and am looking for more information. The word of mouth seems really positive, but it doesn't show up on even the bottom end of any program ratings list. Any idea why this is? Also, does anybody know anything about California College of the Arts in SF/Oakland?

spillingink said...

I am not really sure why it doesn't show up on the lists...but I think it is because it is technically an "art school." Most of the colleges on those lists are like real "universities." Do you know what I mean?

But, that said, the program seems phenomenal. I am very much looking forward to going.

For anyone that has any unanswered questions about CalArts, ask away, and I will do my best to answer them. I attended the open house and the accepted students chat a few nights ago--and have pages of notes about the school. If you want to PM me, my email is spillingink at aol dot com.

JohnFox said...

Regarding CalArts, I think that they are heavy on the experimentation, but the professors credentials are rather . . . light. You might want to check WHO you want to be studying with there. I love Steve Erickson, but check on other prof's. On the plus side, Black Clock would be an amazing journal to work with.

Lisa said...

hi all,

did anyone find out more information about cal arts? everyone i've talked to about it has nothing but amazing things to say, but i, too, am worried that it does not show up in rankings lists...any thoughts?

Samantha Cohen said...


I've just made the (very difficult!) decision to attend Cal Arts in the fall, and I feel great about it. As for the rankings lists, a few things: 1) I'm pretty sure the lists generally only include universities 2) It's a fairly young program, and 3 and most of what my decision was based on) As far as a MFA goes, I think being in the most supportive environment for YOUR work is most important. I feel confident that CalArts likes what I do and that my work will be supported there. I'd rather leave the program with a strong body of work than leave with a degree from a top-ranked school. Not that both can't happen, but I do better in nurturing environments rather than competitive ones.

I attended the visiting event and have been in contact w/ professors...Please feel free to contact me if you have any more questions.

Good luck with your decision!

d. said...

I know that all these comments are from a year ago, but right now, I'm deciding between Columbia and NYU for poetry. Columbia has offered $10k in fellowships, and NYU, half-tuition. Can anyone tell me what they chose when they had to decide between the two last year?

That would help me much! Thank you!

David said...

Please, everybody, stay away from the writing program at CalArts. It is a horror. It is not a functional MFA. It's a wanna-be PhD program in Critical Theory. Very few of the professors in the "writing" program are even writers. The dominant tone is a complete lack of respect for the students, for the craft of writing, and for the few teachers who are writers. Since creative writing is of no interest to most faculty or the department, the idea is that the only reason students would choose an MFA program is that they're too stupid to get a PhD. It's unbelievable.

Plus, since the senior faculty are all theorists in other disciplines, they know nothing about publishing, or establishing a career or a working life and community as a writer.

If you like studying Marxist-Feminism, or your ambition is to work on Freud, Michel Foucault, or Roland Barthes, CalArts would be the place...if critical theorists didn't need a PhD to get a job. If you want to be a working creative writer with an MFA, learn from working creative writers. And if you want to be the best writer you can be, learn from teachers whose work as writers you admire. Stay away from CalArts!

Unknown said...

Hello. I am an undergraduate senior in NY state with some questions about the CalArts MFA in writing program. If anybody could help me out with some answers I would really appreciate it (as a trip out to California isn't exactly in my budget right now). From what I've read on the web site, the program combines multiple genres of writing including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and lit criticism and encourages experimentation and even cross over with some of the other programs at the school. My ambition is to become a fiction and poetry writer, and also to possibly work as a writer on an animated series or with a major animation company (I'm also hoping that attending CalArts could help me establish some business connections in regards to this area). I want to get a PhD in English at some point in my life too. If anyone who has participated in the MFA Writing program could tell me if CalArts sounds like the right school for me, or could suggest an alternative school that would be better, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

e said...
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Katie said...
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Katie said...

I currently attend CalArts. While I appreciate David's comment, I'm not sure it's completely accurate. That being said, CalArts is an art school and they do implement a lot of art theory and interdisciplinary rhetoric into the writing courses. The draw to the school for me (and it was in competition with UMass Amherst, Brown, Austin and Columbia) was the fact that the writing program at CalArts is completely interdisciplinary. I was a Philosophy undergrad with a minor in English and my passion is Creative Writing. So while other universities offer concrete and rather strong creative writing courses, none seem to address 'outside' disciplines as well as CalArts does. The critical studies department offers courses that are fresh, interesting and engaging.

I wanted a program that would push my intellectual pursuits and I believe CalArts, since I have been there, has been very successful in doing so. Within my fiction classes, psychological texts, philosophical texts and art theory weave themselves seamlessly into the course syllabus alongside literature.

I think if you want a traditional MFA Writing experience, maybe CalArts isn't the right choice. Personally, I believe this is the strength of the program. Several of my peers work with artists, illustrators and filmmakers to create outside projects. Debates in class don't lie primarily in the literary theory, which I have found to be a welcomed relief. It isn't uncommon to talk about Deleuze or Irigaray while examining a short fiction piece. I've found the experience to be great in that I feel I'm getting more than a Creative Writing MFA, I'm also getting an education in philosophy, psychology, art and literary criticism. This is important to me, because writing encompasses so much more than just writing.

But funding at CalArts isn't as strong as it could be. Once you're in, there are a lot of funds available to the student body (including funds to cover smaller needs like class materials).
TAships are widely available. I work as a tutor in the CAP program which works with the LAUSD. I intern at Black Clock as well as a small press in LA. I will be TAing next semester.

If you are wondering about CalArts, I have really enjoyed it so far. I do realize that it is different than the standard MFA, but it has suited my needs very well. The program consistently pushes my concepts of writing--and my actual writing--to exciting new places.

I feel my writing has grown from the outside influences as well as from the guidance of my mentor and various professors.

I would recommend CalArts if you are interested in avant-garde literature, unearthing new intellectual constructs, and experimenting within your own writing.

Hope this helps anyone facing The Decision.

p.s. I'm in a short story workshop this semester where each person is critiqued four times, which is a major plus of a smaller department.

Nikki Darling said...

Wow, I just stumbled upon this blog. Hmm, I recognize some of these e-mails and it's funny because wandering jewess ended up attending Cal Art's, we are both about to graduate and she is happily, my best friend in the program, a delight, she is, a delight! Anyhow, I just had to respond to this thread because of David's post. Which in my opinion is absolutely incorrect. ABSOLUTELY. A side note, I've been in the program almost two years, three months to go before graduation, and I don't know who this David is, it's a small program also, I'm fairly familiar with the past three classes before me, so it leaves me wondering if this person even went to Cal Arts, but I digress.
First and and foremost, Cal Arts won't hold your hand. And thank god. It is a program of self direction and it gives the students lots of time and opportunities to find what it is they want to write. But the love, nurturing spirit and excitement of writing is alive and well at Cal Arts. I have taken classes with the amazing Maggie Nelson, Steve Erickson, Sal Plascencia, John Haskell and many others. The program definitely encourages experimentation. That said, we don't have a bunch of Aimee Bender, Gabriel Garcia Lorca, magical realist imitators up in this joint either. In my graduating class we have five 'traditional' novelists, whatever that means to you, myself included whose influences run the gamut from Mary Gaitskill, Natahneal West, to Virginia Wolf, to Herman Hess to poets who read everything from Hannah Arendt to William Burroghs. The program is theory heavy, if you want it to be. It is completely possible to never take a theory class. The program encourages voices of color, queer voices and doesn't set you off into the sunset with a dog eared copy of Cathedral. You will read Kathy Acker and Eileen Miles. But you will also read Absalom Absalom and a Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again.
I think when people say it's a PHD theory based program what they are really saying is that it is a program that consists of queer professors, feminist professors, African American professors and that they teach from the place of identity. Often times the readings reflect that. If you want to read and try to write the next Ragtime, maybe go to NYU. The closest program I have heard Cal Arts compared to is Brooklyn College, another program that doesn't emulate the Iowa/Columbia machine. No diss to them as I have friends in each of those programs as well. My point is simply that Cal Arts is valuable and amazing. Oh yeah, that David guys an idiot, we totally have publishing panels that come and talk to our MFA 2's and hand out cards and discuss publishing. We also have a badass visiting artists series as well as visiting professors. The school has a constant roster of visiting professors as well as their regular faculty.

Nikki Darling said...

ps, cal arts if anything is a giant bunch of new yorkers and ny college undergrad refugees- i went to new school, my boyfriend who is also in the program went to pratt- who wonder why it took them so long to get to los angeles. a truly magical underrated gem of a city that, in many ways, i want to remain under the shadow of bad impressions. cheaper rent and more beautiful canyons to climb for us. oh yeah, if you do end up attending cal arts, DO NOT LIVE IN VALENCIA. strip mall hell, if you must live by school, choose val verde, there is a huge cal arts community there, its in the woods and kids have bon fires and get crazy. or do like i did, and live in LA proper, its a 20 minute drive on the 210. Thats the 'secret freeway' avoid the 5 at all costs!

Samantha Cohen said...

nicole, i love you. and also agree with everything you've said. obviously.

i had hesitations about attending calarts, in part because of the sort of opinions expressed in this thread, but i am so so happy i did. if you're in the throes of deciding whether or not to attend, please feel free to contact me with any questions you have and i'll try to answer them as honestly as possible. good luck to everyone going through the letter-receiving and decision-making process!

Nicole said...

I'd love to chat with any former or current Calarts students. I'm making a final decision shortly. So if any of y'all (wandering jewess, katie, nicole, spillingink, and/or david) still check this, please give me a shout at nicoleross07 at hotmail dot com. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

Dodo Bird said...


I'm currently a student of the CalArts MFA program, and I have yet to take a class that includes any theory whatsoever. If you want to take a class on theory, you can. Period. Overall, CalArts is a place where you can pursue nearly anything you're interested in (publication design, screen writing, Balinese dance). It's all there and available to you. The beauty of this program is you really shape your own education, and pursue your interests as you deem appropriate for what you need to accomplish in two years.

I am a poet, mostly straight-ahead in my methods. I stay within my genre, and have had incredible (INCREDIBLE) experiences at CalArts. The professors there have helped me bring my writing into realms I could not have foreseen and I truly believe I will have SEVERAL projects worthy of publication when I graduate. CLEARLY DAVID KNOWS LITTLE ABOUT OUR FACULTY, several of whom are accomplished poets and writers, winners of prestigious publication awards, grants and Guggenheims. The faculty are comprised of seasoned authors and scholars, with specialties running the gamut of fiction, film critique, memoir, poetry, biography, art critique and (yes) theory. Several of them publish books nearly every year.

Beyond this, one of the big secrets about the program (for some reason) is IT OFTEN OFFERS A GREAT DEAL OF FUNDING to the majority of those accepted. I received aid for nearly half of my tuition outright (more than I got anywhere else I was accepted). There is also a huge scholarship (The Beutner Family Award) which covers tuition completely and pays students a stipend of $6k to attend the school during their final year at CalArts. Five students within the institute receive this every year. This is a huge boon for the school, and you have a decent shot at getting the award as it is such a small pool of applicants (only within a school of around 2000, and only those going into their final year of study). You also are given a TAship during your second year (sometimes your first), which pays decently. This is incredibly helpful for giving you a huge edge when you get out into the real world. Many MFA programs do not offer paying TAships!

Frankly, I was uncertain about CalArts when I was accepted, but I went to the accepted student event and completely fell in love with it. It's a place full of talented, passionate artists and writers, interested in and open to different methods of writerly gestures. They're all fascinating, accomplished people in our field who are more than willing to discuss the trials and tribulations of publishing and writing (of which they are all quite knowledgeable). It's a wonderful creative environment, and I will be sorry to say goodbye to the place come May!

Dodo Bird said...

PS. There are SO so many faculty members worth naming, so I'd rather just give you all the direct link to the faculty list:

Some of the (many) hot-shots include: Steve Erikson, Maggie Nelson, Mady Schutzman, Doug Kearney, and Christine Wertheim.

AC said...

I'm beginning my applications to Columbia & NYU, and would like to see some example writing samples, especially for the essay & personal statement. Can anyone direct me to a link or book?

Brooklyn Music Gal said...

Wondering if anyone has thoughts about the Columbia vs. NYU discussion in regards to their poetry program:

Two years ago I was accepted to Columbia poetry MFA program - loved the school after a visit, met many of the very tempered and happy students. The school initially did not offer any funding. When I said the $100k degree was too much for me, they kindly offered me a small fellowship, but unfortunately it was still not enough to make a dent in the tuition.

I was recently accepted into NYU's MFA poetry program, and am finding myself in a similar (though not as dire situation). NYU has offered me a partial tuition fellowship and a teaching position.

Since it seems I'm going to go into debt in either case, I'm wondering about the practicalities of having a degree from either program. Can any alumni from these schools speak for their ability to find work with degrees from these schools?

Although my aim for applying to am MFA program is not money - it's to work and study - accruing debt from these places doesn't seem to make much sense.

Lisa Biv said...

What about Rutgers U.-Newark for an MFA program? I am currently teaching and want to go back for my MFA in fiction. I got my undergad at Fordham in Journalism. I just don't have the money for another 120k education. I'm still paying for my undergrad. I heard Rutgers is one of the best NJ programs. Thoughts, ideas? Also, I've also heard the MFA in writing is "wasted degree". thoughts?

viquetor said...

Hello there
I know this thread is some 5 years old, and I feel I'm just sending here a signal into outer space, but I should ask:
does anyone have any information on CalArts Creative Writing MFA alumni writing for TV or film?

Unknown said...

Hi dead thread resurrector (Viquetor)

If you're looking to work in the film/tv industry and insist on going the formal education route, stick to the gold standards which would be UCLA and USC. Don't bother with NYC. The film industry aka the people who hire you and make the movies are in LA. Also, if you do want to pursue screenwriting, consider skipping school entirely and working on selling scripts. Unless your goal for a graduate school degree in screenwriting is for teaching or to differentiate yourself (even slightly) from the small armies of servers-cum-industry fodder.