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Should You Get an MFA? The Pros and Cons

Jan 2, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

If you have an artistic passion and you’re struggling for work in a down economy, an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program may be calling your name. And it may seem like a great idea—you get to postpone the difficult task of getting your career started while you go to school and focus completely on your artistic passion. But there are pros and cons to the decision to go back to school. Here are a few things to consider.

Advantages of Getting an MFA

You get to spend two or three years dedicated to your art

An MFA gives you a wonderful opportunity to focus on your art, improve your skills, and get feedback from professors and peers. Many students go back to school for fine arts degrees because they want to take this time out from the difficult job market to focus on the activities and pursuits that make them happiest—their art. That time, paired with the attention of professors, can improve your skills as an artist as well.

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If you have an artistic passion and you’re struggling for work in a down economy, an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program may be calling your name.

You need an MFA to be a professor

If you want to teach at a college, you need an MFA Degrees unless you’ve already established yourself as a successful artist in the field. And even if you have, it can be very difficult to get tenure without an MFA. Not every student who studies art wants to be a professor, but if you do, getting an MFA is pretty much a prerequisite.

An MFA may help you get other artistic jobs as well

Getting an MFA can add to your employability if, say, you want to work in an art gallery or teach art at a private school (it’s not always required, though). If you’re looking for a job in a field that revolves around the arts, do some research and see if an MFA will give you an advantage over other candidates.

Cons—Why Getting an MFA May Not Be a Good Idea

You don’t need a degree to be an artist

When you envision your ideal career, chances are it’s being a successful artist in your field. If this is your dream, you don’t need an MFA to do it. In fact, the debt you incur from getting your MFA may hold you back—requiring you to take a job outside of your artistic field in order to pay back your loans. If you want to be a working artist, in most cases, the best path is to practice your art as often and as fully as possible, with a degree or without it.

You could add to your debt in a difficult economy

Debt stunts careers. It forces graduates to take jobs they don’t necessarily want in order to pay back loans. If you want to be an artist, chances are you’ll earn a lot less money starting out than you could if you went into business or even waited tables. You might not have the freedom to experiment or take time off to launch an artistic career if you’re struggling with debt from your MFA program. If you want to be an artist, it may be a better career move to graduate your BA program with as little debt as possible—and then stay away from more student loans.

If you’re considering earning an MFA, think carefully about whether you need it—not whether you want it. Does the career you want require it? Or are you just thinking of earning it to make connections, focus on your art, and maybe land a halfway-decent fallback job? If it’s the latter, getting an MFA may not be the right decision for you. In this tough economy, keeping your debt level down is often the better choice—unless that debt is unavoidable.

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