Received an application decision email at 10:22am PST this morning. I'm on the (apparently unranked?) waitlist.
First of all Patrick, I just want to say thank you for taking the time out to help the rest of the aspirers out. I’ve followed a bit of your work going back to Kansas and you definitely have an eye.Congratulations to everyone that got accepted! If you didn't (and I genuinely believe this is the case) you will find your way so keep trying!
There has been a lot of posts about Financial Aid so I wanted to share some personal experiences and advice when it comes to financial aid at Columbia. I hope it will be helpful and let me know if you have any questions.
1. Grad PLUS Loans for Low-income US Students
3. "Service Positions"
4. Additional Money for Projects
5. Money Available (Laptop/Rent Increases/Utilities Increases/Health Increases)
6. Rando advice
Columbia is one of the most expensive MFAs in the US. It costs a lot of $$$$. Including housing, meals, travel, etc you are looking at $200K-$450k depending on the length of your degree (2.5 to 5yrs). Debating the value of the degree is for each student to figure out. Regardless, Columbia is maybe THE WORSE when it comes to communicating financial aid and available money. Seriously, it's a joke. You have to do a lot of sleuthing and/or know a wise student to fill you in on the particulars. As a low income student having gone to four universities over ten years I've gotten pretty good at asking the right questions and being persistent. I'm going to share my experiences and wish everyone the best of luck!
1. Grad PLUS Loan
If you are a US student and qualify (StudentLoans.gov) a Grad PLUS loan is a great way to finance your time at Columbia. The Grad PLUS loan will cover all of your remaining costs of attendance (after your other loans, SUB and unSUB) including rent, meals, supplies, tuition, fees, etc. You cannot apply for a GradPLUS through the USGOV Website however, you need to apply through Columbia directly (Federal Direct PLUS Loans | Columbia University Student Financial Services).
Make sure you fill out your FAFSA before June 30th! FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Columbia will let you borrow up to the COST OF ATTENDANCE, which is set by the university each year:
1st- and 2nd-Year MFA Students
Career Services Fee $160
Student Activity Fee $40
University Facilities Fee $960
Health Services Fee $1,082
Medical Insurance $2,991
Other estimated typical costs (per 9-month academic year)
Living Expenses (Room & Board) $20,682
Personal Expenses $4,671
Books & Supplies $2,874
Loan origination fees (for U.S. Citizens and
Permanent Residents with federal loans) $218
In combination with ALL of your loans, you will be able to borrow all $93,495 needed to cover you for the entire school year.
The Grad PLUS will kick in after your other loans and financial aid has gone through to cover "the gap," all outstanding money needed after other loans. Assuming you qualify for the Grad PLUS loan. From my research the only people who regularly need to appeal a denial for a GradPLUS are people with a Bankruptcy. They do run a credit check, but from a person with "ok to low" credit, I was able to get one.
Basically, you should feel OK about MONEY AVAILABLE. This was a huge relief for me. In undergrad there are loan limits (which means working while in school), but the USGOV opens up the limits once you get into grad school. Technically, there is no limit. Only a number set by the school. The school determines maximum loan limits and costs of attendance.
If you are concerned about repayment, join the club However, for now (and I mean that FOR NOW so get while the getting is good) the US Gov has a loan repayment plan that is income-based. Its called the REPAYE PLAN (Income-Driven Plans) which amounts to 10 percent of your discretionary income ("discretionary income is the difference between your annual income and 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your family size...") once you graduate.
There is a good calculator here:
With $300,000 in loans on a $20k per year adjusted gross income (this is after deductions) and I had a repayment of $16 per month. Also loans are forgiven in 15/20/25 year groups. So when you graduate if you are an intern or doing coverage for $25 a script, you wont get pummeled by loan payments if you play your cards right!
TIP: A very friendly loan servicer tipped me off to a nice loop hole. Since I am a full time student, and my annual income is like $5-$10k, I actually went into repayment my second year at Columbia. Why? Because my income is so low, my monthly payments are $0 and the other four years at Columbia will count towards my 25 year pay off. Smart. Clever. Do it!
TIP: DO NOT SELECT WORK STUDY ON YOUR FAFSA. I EXPLAIN WHY IN #2 BELOW.
TIP: Disbursement (your $$$) is split, it will be deposited in September and February every year.
TIP: http://sfs.columbia.edu/files/sfs_new/forms/Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan Request 2018-2019 FINAL VERSION.pdf
I BREAK DOWN SOME OF THE COST OF LIVING ISSUES IN #5 BELOW
I BREAK DOWN BULLSHIT COLUMBIA SOA "STUDENT WORKER" NONSENSE IN #2 BELOW
Basically, there isn't any. Not from Columbia anyway. Well, there is the very small one they might give you in your first year, i think its like $15k. Enjoy it while it lasts. Enough students put up a stink a couple of years ago and I think the thesis students get like $5k a year. I
ll have to double check.
2. SERVICE POSITIONS
Columbia Film has "service positions." These are student workers who get "paid" to do jobs like assist faculty, work the projectors and TA. If you are a loan borrower THINK HARD ABOUT TAKING THESE POSITIONS. And here is why: If you are a loan borrower, you will actually have to borrow your own salary ($2,500k/semester), then give it to the SOA, who will then give it back to you for your work. Yes. It is dumb and it ONLY AFFECTS LOW INCOME LOAN BORROWERS. I dont know why, but itS bullshit and another example of why Columbia doesn't accommodate or genuinely care for their low-income students. Its not opinion, its policy. if you pay you tuition without loans, guess what...the school actually pays your money.
The Columbia Grad union has been fighting the University for years to get representation, you can Google it. But I voted with many of my classmates to form a union and next month I will vote for strike authorization. The Film MFA is just as bad as the rest of the university with low pay, no benefits and no system in place for arbitrary work violations. For example, my boss withheld my paycheck for three weeks. Just because. No reason. And I wasnt notified. Also remember, it was my money they were giving back to me.
TIP: You can request to get all of your unused work study money at the end of the year. So if you dont use it, you dont lose it.
4. ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR PROJECTS
There is money available for your projects. Loan increases. You will have to submit a form and have administration sign off, but you can get a loan increase to pay for your bigger projects.
8-12 (end-of-first-year project) $1,500/$2,500
Dir4 (end-of-second-year project) $2,500/$3,500
Thesis - up to $15k
* I'm pretty sure these are right, but not 100 percent sure on 8-12 and Dir4.
** The limits are based on "in-town" or "overnight" shoots.
There are a number of grants available every year. In fact they've just come in for us a couple of weeks ago. There has been some debate between students regarding the selection of who receives grants and why. I won't delve too deep into this (full disclosure I applied and did not receive a grant) but like all grants they should not be considered when budgeting for projects. But know that the GRANTS ARE NOT NEED BASED. Plan accordingly.
5. OTHER MONEY AVAILABLE
You should get to know this form very well:
http://sfs.columbia.edu/files/sfs_new/forms/Budget Increase Form 2018-2019.pdf
This is the form you will submit to receive loan increases.
You can borrow up to $2,000 a month for rent during the school year. The school will automatically give you $1343/mo for rent for the 9 month school year. If you need any more than that you will need to fill out the form and submit a signed lease. Columbia under values this expense (I think on purpose to keep their "Cost of Attendance" low and look competitive with other universities). My Columbia-owned studio is over $1,400 a month. So, figure that one out. Remember, you can only borrow for nine months (four in the Fall and five in the Spring). You will have to pay for your Summer rent.
You can borrow I think up to $2000 ONCE while at Columbia for a laptop. But most of the poor students just borrow the money and use it to pay rent.
Unless you want to submit a ton of increases, the easiest way is to just get the schools insurance. Honestly, get the platinum plan. Its expensive, but it covers alot and the school allows you to borrow all of it. Spoil yourself with a large robust plan, and skip out on the marketplace with high deductibles and co-pays. My 2cents.
TIP: Basically you are going to be fucked for food. Columbia budgets you for $7 per meal. Its like they dont know they are in New York City. Two small bags of groceries are going to be $50-$60 a pop. You WILL eat into other money, so just try to be careful. You cannot request an increase for food.
TIP: Make sure you add in the origination fee for all of your loans. Add the 4.264% every increase or it'll be deducted from you total.
6. RANDO WORDS OF ADVICE
I said it above, but Columbia is not Low-Income friendly. They make it hard (or, well they dont make it easy) for low-income and loan borrowing students, but if you navigate their system (and figure out the particulars) you can take care of yourself and find a way to get by. Bottom line is, I am able to be a full time filmmaker for five years. Loans made that possible and getting to know all of the ins-and-out for CU's aid system made it alot easier.
This is information I've gathered over the past three years and some of my own experience and advice thrown in. I am just one student with one perspective and one opinion.
Don't let financial insecurity keep you from doing what you love.
This is a fantastic resource and I hope more people get a chance to see this. Thank you so much for posting this.Congratulations to everyone that got accepted! If you didn't (and I genuinely believe this is the case) you will find your way so keep trying!
There has been a lot of posts about Financial Aid so I wanted to share some personal experiences and advice when it comes to financial aid at Columbia. I hope it will be helpful and let me know if you have any questions...
First of all Patrick, I just want to say thank you for taking the time out to help the rest of the aspirers out. I’ve followed a bit of your work going back to Kansas and you definitely have an eye.
I know most of us applying to these grad schools are introverts. Taking our work that we’re already critical of ourselves and submitting them for judgement is no small task. Then getting in and worrying about cost and conforming to the “starving artist” role is a lot to think of as well.
Everything you’ve articulated is exactly what I needed to hear. I didn’t get into Columbia but I did get into Chapman and LMU. I haven’t committed to either and I’d be lying if I said money wasn’t the reason why.
With the information you’ve provided, I’m going to take a deep breath, focus on finishing this semester and graduating next month. Idk where I’ll go but I’ll definitely know that whatever it happens, it’s up to me to make the most of it. 100k in student loan debt or not. One life, & I don’t want any “what if’s” later on.
Thank you, Patrick. The movie-loving community owes you a great debt. If I’m ever in NYC, I owe you a beer.
This is a fantastic resource and I hope more people get a chance to see this. Thank you so much for posting this.
I have a few follow up questions for you. I've been doing some heavy research on loans myself so I'll be ready when I apply next year, so here are some questions I haven't been able to find answers to yet. Perhaps you'll know.
1. If a student takes out the regular Stafford Loan (Unsubsidized Direct Loan) for $20,500, and then Grad Plus loans to cover the rest, that would be two separate loans. Using Income Based Repayment, would someone be paying 10% of their discretionary income to cover the Stafford Loan, and then another 10% of their income to cover the Grad Plus loan? Or are the two loans combined into one, so you just pay 10% and that covers both?
2. What will the impact of this debt be on one's ability to obtain a mortgage later in life? One of the things I know mortgage lenders look at is the recipient's debt to income ratio. If one is using Income Based Repayment, would the mortgage lender look at the monthly payment you're making on the student loan, (10%) or the total debt of the loan? ($200,000+) If the latter, then Income Based Repayment is only masking the crippling debt that could destroy anyone's future mortgage options, unless they've gotten a job paying $150,000+ per year.
3. Is it true that the loan forgiveness will be taxable? At the end of the 20 years, the remaining balance (which will almost certainly be massive unless we made it big) is forgiven, but from what I've seen, what the government forgives is considered taxable income. Considering the massive cost of these loans, and the fact that they'll be gathering interest every year, since Grad Plus has a very high 7% interest rate and a random 4.5% fee, it's likely that even at the end of the 20 years, you'll still owe a huge amount in loans, and whatever the government forgives would then be considered taxable income, so that would be a huge burden come April 15th, unless I'm missing something?
4. What is the fee involved in the Grad Plus loan? Like, is it a one time payment, or is it an annual thing? How exactly does it work? If it's just an added 4% annually on top of the already bad 7% interest rate, we're talking about $200,000 adding another $20,000+ per year, which would make the recipient even further on the hook than we might have been at first.
for me it's loans and savings and an ascetic lifestyle (I hope)
Long time lurker here too. In the same boat of now trying to figure out how to pay for this whole thing. Got into Columbia and NYU and got some funding from both, but I'm international and not sure if I can get loans to cover the rest. The whole thing is a bit nerve-wracking. But definitely planning on that ascetic lifestyle. And if anyone has any ideas, would be great to hear them too.
Also beginning to think ahead to things like housing and what the cheapest options might be. Any NY natives have any advice?
Thank you so much for all the advise, that's amazing! so from what I'm reading, the total estimate cost of attendance for the year: $96,521, is not very accurate? From your experience, will this amount be much higher, or do you think it could be somehow lowered?Columbia under values this expense (I think on purpose to keep their "Cost of Attendance" low and look competitive with other universities).
Do we know if anyone on the waitlist for producing or directing/writing previous years ever got off the waitlist? What are the odds?
That number will go up based on your loan increases and project costs.Thank you so much for all the advise, that's amazing! so from what I'm reading, the total estimate cost of attendance for the year: $96,521, is not very accurate? From your experience, will this amount be much higher, or do you think it could be somehow lowered?
People in my year definitely go in off of the waitlist. Although I'm not sure of the exact number. I think some people are probably a little embarrassed for having gotten in on a second pass, but they shouldn't. I think some people have even gotten off of the waitlist in like late July/August.Do we know if anyone on the waitlist for producing or directing/writing previous years ever got off the waitlist? What are the odds?