Just came across this article in Capital New York on doing an MFA in New York City. An excerpt:
New York City is renowned all over the world as a great place for writers. But it can be a terrible place for M.F.A. students, at least those at programs that don’t offer much by way of funding, with its prohibitively high cost of living and famously anti-ascetic temptations. (By way of disclosure: I still owe the federal government $37,300 for my four-year-old New School M.F.A.)
Programs like the New School’s, in contrast to smaller, more exclusive and better funded programs of renown at large universities in less glamorous locales, function a little bit like the notorious for-profit technical institution in the disadvantaged neighborhood: only instead of luring the unwed mother into debt promising lucrative skilled positions in medicine, they attract like bees to honey the waylaid liberal arts postgraduate working an unsatisfying advertising job, certain he’s got a novel in him if only someone else will drag it from him.
Thought it might be an interesting read. Turns out pretty much everybody has the same sorts of concerns Tom and I have been writing about for many years. Including graduates of NYC MFA programs.
In '08 I was accepted to the New School MFA program but didn't go because of the price tag. I remember reading real vague info about funding on their website, but they also say "No one should decide against applying to graduate school for financial reasons." (I just looked this up to make sure my memory was correct.) So I assumed they must have some funding available. When I got my financial aid packet, they offered me a small scholarship that would have covered only a fraction of the cost, so I declined, and here I am back in the application process three years later. After reading the harsh criticism of "programs like The New School" in this article, I feel reinforced in my decision and grateful I didn't go deeply into debt for it.
That "No one should decide against applying to graduate school for financial reasons" made me think the same thing about possible funding this year, Sarena. I just sent in my application two weeks ago. We'll see what happens, I guess.
About six months ago, I attended a writers' workshop with a graduate of the New School's MFA program. And though I probably wouldn't have applied to the New School simply for funding reasons, after reading this person's stuff, I wouldn't apply even if it were well-funded. I realize this is only one grad of hundreds or even thousands from that program, but it was bad enough to discount the program entirely.
I'm glad you said that, as... well... I know -- I really do -- that this is hurtful to some people to say, and I don't mean it that way... but the reality is (and this blog does aim to somewhat conform to reality) that I am hearing so many stories now, every week, about the lack of talent at some of these big NYC factories that it just has to be talked about openly now.
I have always believed -- unlike AWP -- that you spend far more time with classmates than professors, that your spend more time with the work of classmates than professors, that classmates end up being lifelong readers of your work more than professors will or can or do, that you are ultimately more inspired by being around and reading the work of classmates than you are being around professors -- even if you're more likely to get a few lasting pearls of wisdom from faculty -- that it just doesn't make sense going anywhere that isn't selective enough to ensure a top-notch student body. The New School is unranked as to selectivity. Columbia is unranked as to selectivity. Sarah Lawrence is unranked as to selectivity. NYU is at risk of losing its Top 50 selectivity ranking (#43) at some point in the next 12-24 months. Only Brooklyn and Hunter are holding strong, in NYC, as to their selectivity.
We are simply past the point where a young poet or writer could say, "Well, my classmates aren't great, but hey, I'll pay $100,000+ to meet with Lucie Brock-Broido twice a semester!" That way lies madness. And this is a truth that is spreading. And it's spreading because we all want to be good to each other -- to help each other and see one another be happy and successful -- not out of any malice whatsoever.
So, as I said, I'm glad someone raised the student talent issue...
Interesting points. Since a place like TNS has a large program, do you all think it's safe to assume that any talent issues stem from the number of people in the program? In other words, can a good program have a combination of great and not-so-great writers attending it simply because they take a lot more people than a small program?
I guess I just find it hard to believe that TNS doesn't have at least a small crop of very talented writers studying there.
I'm sure there's a small crop -- but it means that you'd have fewer such persons in any workshop you took there (i.e. they'd be a smaller percentage of your individual-course workshop cohort) than at many or most other programs in, say, the Top 100.
My general thought was, "How did this person graduate?" I assumed one couldn't obtain an MFA from such a place without at least obtaining the basics. In other words, even if the characters are flat, the style is terrible, and the story is absurd, at the very least it should reach a higher level than that of a typical freshman comp paper. It did not.
I imagine this would be impossible at a program such as Cornell's, where the class is so small, even if by some fluke someone undeserving got in, that at the end of two years they would have improved dramatically.
Just a guess.
I've never heard of a program failing a graduate student due to the poor quality of his or her writing. Maybe Seth could speak to that. In my program, you do the work, turn in a thesis, meet language requirements, and attend class (8 total)then you get your degree. Large programs like TSN will care even less about the quality of their graduate's work because the faculty physically can't read it all to make comments. You pay your tuition and fees, you meet the requirements, you get a degree. Yes, you put a hundred aspiring novelists in a room one is bound to write something worthwhile and that is the one TSN will say, look, she graduated from our program and got a book contract. They won't say anything about the 99 others who are paying 12k+ a semester and writing drivel.
Seth is right, I spend way more time with the students in my cohort than I do with any of the professors, and I'm in a small program (9 in my cohort and 3 professors). You're not paying to work with an author, you're paying to work with fellow writers in a supportive environment, and the more selective the program, the more likely your cohort will be the thing that truly improves your writing.
These assumptions don't make sense to me. I graduated from NYU a few years ago. Although there were a few outliers, my classmates were generally quite talented. Several have gone on to major publications, awards, books, et cetera. However, they had comparatively little influence upon my writing in comparison to my instructors, who were both prominent writers and quite dedicated to teaching. Did I wind up paying far too much for my MFA? Absolutely. No question. But the program was certainly selective and the big-name instructors taught and taught well.
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