Four Reasons to Get Your MFA

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

October 5, 2020

If you are at the stage where you are considering an MFA, I’ll bet you’re pretty sure that you like art and are good at it. But do you need an MFA? MFA programs only consider artists who can provide a portfolio that demonstrates their skill and commitment to their craft. So if you have skill and commitment already, why do you need an MFA? Here are four reasons why an MFA might be the right choice for you.

Context and connectivity

Artists are limited by their own imaginations and perspectives. MFA programs give you access to how your art is situated within the greater context of the art world through coursework and through the art produced by your peers.

MFA programs also create a support group. In art school, you are surrounded by people who share your interests. The connections you make with artists and teachers remain long after you graduate. They will become collaborators, advocates and trusted peers who are there to help you with projects and give you career advice. While these connections can be made in other contexts, MFAs guarantee you access to a vibrant community of artists.

Scaffolding to succeed in “the real world”

Many MFA programs offer courses that not only develop your artistic skills but help you with the soft skills needed to build a successful career. For example, Columbia University School of the Arts, located in the vibrant Morning Heights area of NYC, has a visiting artist lecture series and an artist-mentor program included in their curriculum; both help students get a better understanding of the realities of being a working artist. Many programs also offer support in entering the workplace after your studies are complete. For example, the Stanford University’s Department of Art and Art History offer a graduate workshop on preparing for the academic job market. Even if your MFA program of choice does not specifically include components that actively assist in building your art career, the school you attend will have a career center that will offer general help in everything from writing cover letters and grant applications to searching for academic positions.

MFA may be a job requirement

An MFA is considered a “terminal” degree, that is the highest degree attainable in your given field. As such, highly selective and prestigious jobs will require that you meet this standard of excellence. These jobs may include art gallery manager positions or museum of fine arts director positions. One area that will certainly require an MFA is teaching at a college level. If this is your passion, an MFA is non-negotiable.

Even if an MFA isn’t required for the job you envisage, having a postgraduate degree of any kind will look good on a resume. MFAs are more rigorous and take more time than a Master of Arts (MA), so candidates with MFAs rather than MAs will be more competitive for jobs like K-12 art teachers as well as art historians, curators, and critics.

Making time for art

No matter who you are or what your goals are, getting an MFA is an excellent way to dedicate structured time to your craft. By pursuing a degree, you are giving yourself permission to focus on your passion and to further commit yourself to your art. If the idea of dedicating two full years to your artistic endeavors excites you, you are ready for your MFA. But can you afford it?

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