Where to begin? The first step of this process is quite basic: Why an MFA? You’ll want to make sure that graduate school is the right step for you and that you’re “all in” before you take on this huge commitment of time and money. You may find that your career goals do not require an MFA, or that the timing isn’t right and you’ll return to the idea at a later time. I’ve done some research on this common graduate school question and tried to adapt the information to be more specific to studio art MFA’s.

We’ll start by analyzing why artists choose to enter MFA programs: Unlike with lawyers or nurses or grade school teachers, there’s no prescribed route or even job description to achieve the status of “Professional Artist”. Some have MFA’s, some are self-taught, and of all the artists I’ve spoken to over the years, no two have the same story of how they came to be. An MFA program is a great opportunity to build a body of work in a safe “bubble” environment with constant feedback from faculty and peers, to gain exposure to new techniques and processes, to network in your field and to perhaps gain teaching experience and credentials. It is not, however, a place to figure out whether you’re interested in a career in art, a free and easy passageway to a successful career or a way to pass the time because you can’t think of anything better to do with your BFA. An MFA is time consuming and expensive, and you can’t go back to do it over again! It can be a period of enormous growth, but entering into a program half-hearted won’t be constructive. Make sure you’re ready to give it your all so that you can take full advantage of everything the program has to offer.

Grab some paper and answer the questions below. Don’t worry, it’s not a waste of time – if you do decide to apply, you’ll have some great brainstorming ideas to start writing your Statement of Purpose!

Relating to your career:

  • Are there other fields I’d like to explore or things I’d like to do before I begin on a serious career path? (i.e. Experiment in other media, travel, etc.)
  • What are my career goals?
  • Can I achieve my career goals without attending graduate school?
  • How would graduate school help me to achieve my career goals?
  • Am I willing to commit to full-time study for the next two to three years? (There are also a limited number of one-year programs. I’m personally not aware of any part-time programs, but please comment below if you do!)

Relating to your artwork:

  • Am I interested in and able to create my own self-directed body of work?
  • Am I capable technically in my field or do I need more instruction to master fundamental techniques?
  • Am I open to growth in my work or am I happy with what I’m making now?
  • What would I like to explore in my work during graduate school? How would access to the facilities and faculty facilitate these explorations?

Relating to finances:

  • How will I pay for graduate school and am I willing/able to take on student loans?
  • Will my art career after graduate school be inhibited by the need to pay back loans?
  • Will I need to find a school that offers financial assistance via assistantships, scholarships, etc.?
  • Am I willing and able to put in the extra hours for an assistantship on top of my regular workload?

Take some time to write and really think about your decision. Sometimes we can get so set on doing something that we forget why, and there’s no shame in changing your mind or admitting to yourself it’s not right for you! That being said, if art is truly your passion and you feel that an MFA will give you the opportunity for growth that you need in your work, and your only hesitation is fear of rejection, failure or whether or not your work is “good enough”, then my advice is to make a plan and go for it! You have nothing to lose except not spending your life doing something you love!

My next blog entry will ask similar questions, but directed toward current undergrads specifically to caution those students who are considering going straight into graduate school after graduation.


**Note to Readers: As I begin to write the content for this blog, I’d like to note that entries will be based on my casual research and humble opinion and are intended only as an earnest effort to offer guidance to others. I strongly encourage participation via the comments portion of the Group; each person’s experience is unique and can offer a new perspective. When doing so, please keep in mind the mission of this blog, which is to be both informative and encouraging to potential and current students.  ~Jessica**

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Replies to This Discussion

This comment really resonated with me.

[Graduate school]It is not, however, a place to figure out whether you’re interested in a career in art, a free and easy passageway to a successful career or a way to pass the time because you can’t think of anything better to do with your BFA.

I'd like to add that from my experience it is much better to go to graduate school a few years  after getting your B.F.A.. A few years of hard knocks will test your dedication, and give you a better idea about why you want to go to graduate school and what you hope to achieve with a Master's education .


I think you have covered all the bases on this important topic.  I would add a couple ideas...if you are just completing a BFA and thinking about going directly into an MFA, I would look to a different school where there are well-known faculty who will give a fresh look at your personal directions.  If you are interested in teaching at a university, the MFA is almost a requirement for most places.  Never think that you know it all...the MFA program will stimulate growth and, even after that, further development can take place.  I think the investment in an MFA degree is well worth it in the long run.  It will give one a chance to meet fellow students where lifetime friendships will keep you focused on your career in art.  Of course, there are other routes and all that has to be considered before taking the MFA leap.  Finally, going for an MFA should be for those who really want art as a career.  The MFA degree can be a sign of professionalism.  Otherwise, there are many avenues for the hobbiest and part-time artist.  So much to ponder.  

Thank you so much for your comments, Harriete and Tom! I really appreciate the feedback so that there can be as much information as possible to help others with this important decision.

Harriete, I very much agree with waiting a few years before going on to an MFA program. I myself waited three years and I am in such a different place now than I was fresh out of school. My next blog post I'm working on now is actually addressing that exact issue. Tom, thank you for bringing up some great points about advantages to graduate school.


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