Sunday, July 17, 2011

the little writer that could.

Hey, all. I posted back in March about my visit to Columbia and whether I would choose to go there, since I was waiting on one more (non-MFA) decision. I decided to go to Columbia....and then a week or two later, had a complete breakdown over financial anxiety and told them I wasn't going to go. I already have graduate degrees and I've been paying on them for 2+ years, and got overwhelmed at the thought of the staggering cost of tuition+books+living in NYC. I've paid my own graduate education up to this point, through grants/loans/workstudy and working part-time, and will be paying for my MFA myself - this isn't a case of mommy and daddy footing the bill, so I wasn't taking cost issues lightly. If anything, my family was super concerned about the debt I would incur. Everything I read online pointed me in a direction far, far away from NY.

We've all heard and read the horror stories about Columbia and the other NYC MFA programs, about being "cash cows" and rude admins and no funding, and so on - it could go on for days and multiple Facebook threads, as we're all aware. Maybe some people have even experienced this themselves. My experience, however, has been far from that. Ever since the beginning, with sending in my confirmation deposit, the School of the Arts and the larger institution have been nothing but helpful and accomodating through email and phone conversations. Being a naturally anxious person, I'm sure I drove them crazy, asking a ton of questions "just to make sure," and they always responded promptly, politely and with a note that it was no trouble.

Very long story short, I decided to go because of a funding offer that opened up that eased my financial worries considerably. Am I still taking out some loans, especially to live? Yes - but drastically less than originally thought. Is this the norm? Maybe not. Maybe this experience is the exception and not the rule, but I never would have known if I didn't take that plunge and try to go for it. It is really easy to get caught up in the funding maze and talk of different programs and debt, and make "practical" decisions in lieu of going balls-to-the-wall and taking a flying leap towards your dream. Of course, practical is necessary sometimes - I'm not advocating going 100k in debt for the sake of not being practical - but if a program is perfect for you, and doesn't necessarily offer full funding, you never know what may happen until you try. Apply. Talk with administrators. Meet with students. Get to know the financial aid, housing and student services people. If you get in, you don't have to go. Be honest with the school about your financial concerns, look at other aid sources and ask the financial aid people about other sources of money. As Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

Because what it comes down to, really, is finding the program that is the best fit for you. But if you really want a program that seems out of reach for financial reasons, it might be worth going for it and seeing what happens.

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