I'm not going to comment on the specifics of this year's applications, or how we do things at Cornell. But I wanted to respond more generally about a particular breed of question--not representative, by the way, of the whole--that keeps cropping up in the comments of that post. Here are a few examples, from various commenters:
I'd like to ask an MFA faculty member what is the biggest and most common mistake applicants make. What (if anything) makes them place an applicant immediately in the "no" pile?
what is the most common mistake a first year MFA'er makes either specifically in their writing or in their academic work as a whole (so that we can all avoid it, of course =)
I think the question I have for faculty may be unanswerable -- but here goes -- what are you looking for in applicants' writing samples?
Now, I am not going to pretend that the MFA is not a professional degree, or that it's misguided to want to attend an MFA program in order to make connections, learn the ropes of the publishing world, and get an "inside track." Without question, these are benefits that the MFA offers students, and I took advantage of them myself, back when I graduated from the University of Montana in 1995.
But none of this is remotely useful if you don't have something to write. And the questions I quoted above seem to me to be hopelessly misguided--they are focused not upon the writer's work, but on the people who are judging it. And let me tell you, there is nothing that can be done about the latter.
Here's my MFA story: I applied to U of M because I'd never been west of Wisconsin in my life, and I went there because it was the only place I got in. In retrospect, I lucked out--I loved Missoula, and studying there. But the fact is, my application sucked, I didn't know what I was doing, and it was only some bizarre fluke that got me in. Somebody there must have seen something in the hideous muck of my writing that I might someday make something of. But honestly, compared to the people we let in to Cornell, my writing at the time was simply awful. The me of today would have rejected the me of 1993 after a page and a half.
My point is that, the only reason anyone gets in anywhere is that something they wrote connects with somebody who reads it. There is no forumla to this. There's no way of calculating it. It's like falling in love--it just happens, practically at random. Sure, some writers are especially talented, and are able to connect with more people than others, and probably those writers will get offers from a lot of places. But I wasn't one of those writers, and I might easily have not gotten in. And I like to think that, if that were the case, I would have done the right thing--put it out of my mind and dug back in.
If you're asking what we "want," or what mistakes you should avoid, you should go back to square one and do a little soul-searching. Because we don't know what we want, and there are no mistakes. There's only the same kind of connection between people that happens when anyone reads something they like. You have no control over us, but you can control your work. So do that: write what you want to write. If I have one piece of concrete advice, it's that you should do everything you can to forget about your "career," forget about the possibility of teaching, forget about publishing, about book parties, about the "in" crowd, about blogs, about everything except your personal obsessions and their expression. Though it's necessary to get a few recommendations, to write a personal statement, to send transcripts, to take the GRE, those aren't the things that really matter to readers. What they want is what they want when they read anything--to be surprised. To make a connection with another person. To feel some kind of spark. They want the same thing you do, when you read.
And when you send out the applications, forget about them completely and forever. Do not post on the internet about them. Go write something else. If you don't get in, it's nobody's fault, and you didn't do anything wrong. You just got rejected. Rejection is the norm. Most of what I write does not get published; most of my stuff that is published has been rejected a dozen times. It's not failure, and you shouldn't think of it that way. It's just that it didn't stick. That's the way it is now, and it's the way it will be in 25 years, when your tenth novel has just come out. You just have to shut it all out and write.
Ultimately, if we don't want you, you don't want us. It's that simple. The MFA is like any degree: it is all about what you bring to it. You could say that some schools are "better" than others, and I guess there's a case to be made for that. All of us like to think our program is the best, and yes, I'm really proud of the one I teach at. But the fact is, Princeton is "better" than SUNY Binghamton, unless you drink yourself to sleep every night at Princeton and study like a madman at Binghamton, in which case Binghamton is better. The point is that someone with internal resources can take advantage of every opportunity to learn. You need to be that person, so that you can kick ass at Iowa, but could also kick ass in your crap apartment, in your crap town, after your crap job is done for the day. You and your work are all there is, and it's nice to get to do it at school, but if you really mean it, you will do it no matter what. Keep that in mind, and good luck.