Many applicants to the Yale School of Art have stressful dreams about their admissions interviews, but yesterday Matthew Spiegelberg’s nightmare came true.

He left his home in Baltimore, Md. at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, packed all of his best paintings in his truck, and began what was supposed to be a five-hour drive to New Haven. Halfway through New Jersey, however, the bungee cord holding his paintings came loose, and the seven canvases he was planning to present to the admissions committees flew out onto the interstate. Four of his paintings broke in half.

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“That’s why they’re all floppy right now,” Spiegelberg said, pointing to a colorful canvas now hanging awkwardly off a bent frame. “Meanwhile they’re supposed to be very precise, rigid, computer-generated type stuff.”

At 7 p.m., Spiegelberg was still waiting in the Green Hall basement for his interview, with a five-hour drive back to Baltimore ahead of him.

Spiegelberg is one of 167 applicants interviewing in New Haven over the next two weeks before the final cut is made for admission to the Art School’s graduate programs, said Patricia DeChiara, the director of academic affairs at the school. The artists who made it to the interview round were selected from a record-high pool of 1,215 applicants, a 15 percent increase from last year. Of the 167 applicants interviewed, 56 will be admitted, DeChiara said.

Traveling from locations across the country, the Eli hopefuls must bring their work to New Haven, a process that can be arduous for students with large canvases or who are coming from far away. Yet Art School administrators maintain that the interviews, fairly rare among MFA programs, are vital to the admissions decisions, particularly in departments such as painting.

Painting and Printmaking Director of Graduate Studies Peter Halley said interviews are important for judging prospective students because they allow professors to evaluate their real work, not just the photographs and slides that accompany their applications. He said it is also important for professors to get a sense of the people with whom they will spend countless hours over the next few years.

“Teaching art on the graduate level is very interpersonal, and we’re involved with someone’s creative development, which is in some way related to who they are as a person as a whole, so it’s really important to meet people,” Halley said. “We talk about their work and hear what they have to say about what they’re making, and we offer some comments and engage in a discussion with them about what they’re thinking and how we’re responding to what they’re thinking.”

Associate Art School Dean Samuel Messer said the school decided for the first time this year to give current students in each department the chance to interview the applicants. Each applicant this year faces an interview with a group of faculty and an interview with two students, he said.

Sculpture DGS Jessica Stockholder said the faculty makes the ultimate decisions about admissions, but that the interviews between applicants and students allows the students to take an active role in the admissions process.

“We are looking for people who are excited by what they’re doing and involved in something that is on its way somewhere and at the same time are very open to what might happen,” Stockholder said. “We’re not looking for people who are completely cooked. We interview and accept people who make all kind of work.”

While some current art students said Yale’s interviews had been nerve-racking, most think the admissions process helped them make informed choices about which MFA program to attend. Graphic design student Rachel Berger ART ’09 said she met more faculty at Yale than she did at any of the other art schools she visited, which helped her make her final decision.

And despite the cost and difficulty associated with transporting their work to New Haven, many of this year’s applicants said they were glad to get the chance to interview. Dio Mendoza, an artist who makes mixed media wall paintings, said Yale does not reimburse applicants for their travel, but since he is from California, the Art School found him housing in New Haven for the night.

Ian Pines, a current undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said it cost him $750 to ship his work to Yale and that financial concerns might keep him from attending the University.

“The fact that I had to ship my work out here was a big pain,” Pines said. “And they were emphasizing how it’s still going to cost a lot of money to go here, since they don’t have merit-based aid. I’ll come out of here with basically like $60,000 of debt … Definitely financially I’m turned off by the place.”

Mendoza said he believes increased financial aid would help Yale secure top applicants.

“I think they could lose some good artists to other programs,” he said.

But many current students were happy with the school’s need-based financial aid. Sarah Lasley ART ’07 said Yale gave her a “really good” financial aid package.

“Yale is far cheaper than all of the other top-rated graduate schools,” Lasley said. “I think that they give really sufficient financial aid.”

Out of the 70 painting finalists, 21 will be admitted; of 39 in graphic design, 16 will be admitted; of 31 in sculpture, 10 will be admitted; and of 27 in photography, nine will be admitted, DeChiara said. Decisions will be mailed to applicants next month.