Should Creatives Go To Grad School?
In case you're brand new here and don't already know: I recently graduated with a Masters' of Fine Art in creative writing. My decision about whether or not to get an MFA involved a lot of tears and even more number crunching. I suspect this is true for most people since the value of higher education in the arts is hotly debated among the creative community. Even though doing my Masters was definitely the right decision (and gave me two of the most inspiring and educational years of my life), I can also really understand arguments to the contrary.
If you're a creative, you might very well be wondering if grad school is the right path to further your career and your artistic pursuits. Here are three things to consider before you fill out those applications.
Let's put it out there right up front: grad school is expensive and it's not like an MFA guarantees a return on your investment. Unlike most other fields, the time and money you put in to getting an MFA doesn't guarantee you a return in the form of a stable, financially viable career. For this reason, many people (including myself) advise against going into debt for an artistic education. Crippling debt can suffocate your creativity, and you may even find yourself incapable of pursuing your passion post graduate school if you've saddled yourself with too much debt. Investing in a creative degree isn't like investing in most other forms of education.
Since an MFA doesn't offer a clear career path, one of the degree's most valuable benefits are the connections you will make. Of course, if you're motivated, you can do all the networking you need on your own, outside of school. But graduate school is a way to fast-track your career connections with a built-in, ready-made support system. The connections creatives make in grad school can make all the difference in where their careers go after the program ends. With that in mind, make sure you research the professors, thesis advisors, and guest lecturers you'll have access to at the schools you're considering.
Here's the truth: You don't need a fancy degree to follow a creative career. I firmly believe that dedication to learning your craft is essential, but that learning can come from a wide variety of places. Give yourself permission to pursue your creativity without needing the seal of approval from an institution. Remember that a having, or not having, a degree doesn't make you any more or less an artist. This is particularly important when thinking about your reasons for attending grad school. If what you really want is to be branded with a magic "Approved Artist" stamp, you'll probably be disappointed.
Ultimately, the decision to go to grad school is different for every creative person. In my experience, art school has made my path toward a creative career shorter, easier, and more pleasant. But that being said, an arts degree isn't a prerequisite for a creative career. If you're considering an MFA, think long and hard about the reasons why you want the degree, whether or not you feel you can persevere on your own, and whether the financial investment is worthwhile.