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lazuli29

Columbia MFA - To go or not to go?

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Hi all,

This is my first round applying to MFA Fiction programs and I did so mainly just to see if I would get in anywhere since I am graduating this semester and felt like if there was every a time to take a chance on something, it was now. I applied to the big fully-funded programs, which were obviously a huge long shot, as well as Columbia, and only got in to Columbia. I didn't really expect to get in anywhere, but now I have to decide if I actually want to accept Columbia's offer. I've been lurking on these forums and Draft for a few weeks since I don't know much about the MFA world, so I was wondering if anyone had any advice: should I go?

The cost of it is enormous and I didn't get much of a scholarship from them, but is the program worth it? How is the Columbia MFA perceived in the writing world? Is the Columbia name/NYC worth the loans I would have to take out? I had a full-ride for undergrad so I don't have any student loans, but the idea of taking out that much money for a degree that doesn't really have concrete job prospects scares me a lot.

Any and all honest, brutal advice is very welcome!

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Short answer: Don't go.

Long answer:

I didn't have to take out loans for my undergrad either, but I'm still not going into debt for an MFA. Generally, debt is not conducive to a positive MFA experience or a successful writing career. The whole point of an MFA is giving you time and freedom to write, and debt will take that away from you. You want a fully-funded degree so that you don't have to balance work with school/writing, and so you can take that unpaid internship at a major publishing house.

Moreover, loan payments will put a LOT of financial pressure on you after graduation (easily hundreds per month with Columbia's tuition rates). This often leads graduates to taking on a full-time job outside the literary world, where they have less time to write than ever. Based on my research, this is the #1 reason some MFA graduates never publish (and why some regret getting their degree).

Columbia is a well-respected program, but it's generally believed that it's not competitive to get in. Due to the cost, many applicants turn down their acceptances, leading to a large number of accepted applicants come April. And frankly, I think you're overestimating what an MFA can do for you. This degree will not give you money, success, or career opportunities. You get those things from networking, sending out manuscripts over and over (despite countless rejections), and writing consistently. An MFA can certainly help with those three things, but only if you have the time, energy, and financial flexibility to begin with.

If you want this degree, by all means go get it. But in my opinion, the best way to do that is to keep applying until someone funds you. I know reapplying next year would suck -- trust me, I'll probably be in the same boat, and I'm not happy about that. But 2-3 years of fun is not worth decades of soul-crushing debt. I hope that's not too harsh. I'm just telling you what I wish someone had told me when I started applying to schools with minimal funding.

Edited by feralgrad

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I agree with feralgrad. I say don't go. Yes, going to Columbia could theoretically land you great contacts and set you up for great future success in the writing world, whatever that means to you. But nothing is remotely guaranteed, especially when it comes to money, and going into (what sounds like to me) tens of thousands of dollars in debt for this degree is a risk not worth taking. Like feralgrad said, you will likely be paying off this debt for many years. And with interest, you will end up paying much, much more than you took out. I do not know your personal financial situation, your specific career goals, your specific job prospects, so a lot of this is devoid of context, but that's my general advice. If you do not have access to your own cash to pay this tuition up front, don't go. You already are in a wonderful position of having no debt from undergrad and I wouldn't jeopardize that.

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9 hours ago, Adelaide said:

Yes, going to Columbia could theoretically land you great contacts and set you up for great future success in the writing world, whatever that means to you. But nothing is remotely guaranteed, especially when it comes to money, and going into (what sounds like to me) tens of thousands of dollars in debt for this degree is a risk not worth taking. Like feralgrad said, you will likely be paying off this debt for many years. 

To be clear, I'm describing just the financial payoffs that Columbia might offer, not the creative, intellectual, or social ones.

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