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5 Questions to Ask Before Enrolling in an MFA Program

Thinking about pursuing an MFA? Ask yourself these five questions before you do to know if it's the path you need to take for your future career.

The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree has become something of a punch line as of late. However, there really can be value in earning an MFA You just need to make sure it’s right for you. An MFA is a creative master’s degree that typically takes two to three years. An MFA differs from an Master of Arts (MA) in that the course work focuses more on practice in a given field, while an MA is focused more on the academic aspect of a field. Common MFA programs include areas such as creative writing, art, screenwriting, dance, drama and theater, design, and filmmaking. If you’re debating what to do after undergrad and you’re considering pursuing an MFA, it’s important to do some research and ask yourself a few key questions before coming to a decision.

1. Do you need an MFA for your future career?

Aspiring writers and other artists are often attracted to the idea of an MFA, thinking it will guarantee their future success. But it’s important to keep in mind that many successful artists do not have an MFA, and many people who’ve earned an MFA haven’t published a book or sold a painting. An MFA can certainly help you expand your knowledge and refine your talent, but it won’t necessarily guarantee your success. That said, an MFA is a terminal degree, which means you’ll need it if you want to teach in your field.

Related: Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for Your Goals

2. Will the degree really help you hone your craft?

Do you feel that a few years of intense instruction will make you a better writer or artist? An MFA gives you the opportunity to learn from accomplished professors who’ve made a name for themselves in your field. Jobs, internships, volunteer work, and working independently can also help you develop your skills, but if you want the structure—not to mention the networking opportunities—of a classroom environment, then an MFA could be a good option for you.

3. Are you comfortable in a highly competitive environment?

MFA programs are populated by highly creative students, which can make for a very competitive environment. Everyone is vying for the professor with a Pulitzer in his office to take a look at their manuscript, or the professor with the Oscar to read their screenplay. Though being surrounded by fellow artists can be inspiring and may offer opportunities for collaboration, ultimately everyone wants their own work to be published or hung in a gallery. If you think you can handle the heat, jumping into the fire of a dog-eat-dog MFA program can be good preparation for the real world.

Related: Helpful Answers to Your Questions About Grad School

4. Can you handle (sometimes harsh) criticism?

In such a competitive environment, it stands to reason that your work will be scrutinized and critiqued—sometimes harshly. MFA professors are there to cull from students the best work they’re capable of producing. That can potentially do wonders for your artistic skills, but for some students, it can also be discouraging. It’s important to keep a thick skin and understand that your professors are on your side—they’re just going to expect a lot from you.

5. Will the investment pay off?

MFA programs can be pricey, and even tuition for low-residency options can ring in at tens of thousands of dollars per year. Costs should never stand in the way of your education, and scholarships can certainly help. But before you decide on an MFA program, you should research your future job prospects and determine whether the investment in a graduate degree will pay off in the long run. Will an MFA give you greater earning power? If you’ll need to take out loans in order to go to grad school, will you be able to comfortably pay them off on your future salary? Many colleges and universities across the country offer excellent MFA programs, and higher tuition doesn’t implicitly mean a better quality education. Look for a program that offers the academics you want and the reasonable tuition rates you need.

Related: Paying Your Own Way: Financial Aid for Graduate School

Regardless of which degree you’re seeking, deciding to enroll in a master’s program is not a decision to be taken lightly. These five questions will help guide you to the best decision for you for the future of your career and your finances. An MFA is an amazing opportunity to expand your skills and will surely benefit you in heightening your future success. Just make sure when you enroll you’re mentally and financially prepared for it—and it will all be worth it in the end.

Check out our featured grad schools lists to start searching awesome college and universities with MFA programs.

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie Darlet and CollegeXpress. Stephanie holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 


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