Is Earning a Graduate Degree in Fine Arts Worth It?

By Laura Morrison, February 2015


With the expense of earning a master’s degree mounting year after year a lot of people might ask themselves if earning a graduate degree is worth the investment. This fear might be particularly poignant for those brave and talented individuals who are considering earning a graduate degree in the fine arts, where competition may be high, and career opportunities may be slim.

MFA GraduateGradSchools.com connected with Kristin Deiss, M.F.A./Reiki Master who earned her degree in Dance Performance and Choreography from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU in 2012, to learn more about what it is like to make the decision to earn an M.F.A., and her opinion about career opportunities in the field.

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Hopefully, this will help us determine how to answer to the question: “Is Earning a Graduate Degree in Fine Arts Worth It?”

GradSchools: Tell us, in your own words, whether or not you believe earning your M.F.A. was worth the time and expense?

KD: I go back and forth wondering if it was worth it, especially given the large amount of student loan debt I am now currently in. But for me, I don't see my life going any other way.

I was training to become a ballet dancer my whole life. I wasn't even planning on going to college- I just wanted to get into a company and dance professionally. But an illness and various injuries made me realize that my dream might not be attainable. So at 18 I went to college for history. After 4 years I decided I would get a PhD in history. But while doing so, I missed dancing. In the meantime I had been taking more contemporary and modern classes, and realized there was a whole other world of dance outside of ballet that I really knew nothing about. So after earning my Masters in History I decided to get an MFA in Dance.

GradSchools: Did you know what you wanted to do in your career after you earned your M.F.A?

KD: I knew I wanted to teach in a University setting, so the MFA was necessary. But unlike most of my peers, I wasn't coming in with a BFA in dance. I had never learned about dance in a university setting. In my master’s degree program I got to learn about history and the intellectual side of dance, not just the technique and artistry. I also had been out of dance for so long, that for me, this was the only way to come back to it.

GradSchools: What is your current career? Did earning your M.F.A. help you qualify for this career?

KD: I am now teaching at three different colleges as an adjunct faculty member in Los Angeles, CA. I know that my degree has certainly opened doors for me, and while my student loan debt can be frustrating, I ultimately am happy that I got my graduate degree in fine arts.

GradSchools: The career path for an individual with a degree in Fine Arts is sometimes ambiguous, as a professor; what are some ways that you work to keep your students feeling positive about their future career prospects?

KD: That's a great question. The career path is absolutely ambiguous! But that's also what’s great about getting a fine arts degree: the ambiguity.

Often times I think we tend to view ambiguity when related to a career path as a negative. I try to turn it into a positive by telling students that with a degree in Fine Arts, they can blaze their own path. No, there might not be one already made for you to simply follow, but the exciting part is making your own that’s unique to you as an individual.

Is it scary? Absolutely.

Is it not always stable? Sure.

But, you are doing what you love, and there’s nothing in the world that I would trade that for. A degree and career path in Fine Arts is not for the faint of heart, but chances are that students who are invested enough in their art form to want a degree in it will have the courage, fortitude, and passion it takes to blaze their own trail and love every step of the way.

GradSchools: Great, just one final question: What 3 questions do you think every person considering earning a graduate degree in Fine Arts should ask themselves before enrolling in a program?

KD:

  1. What are your top priorities in life? Make a list and then really think about whether or not a graduate degree in fine arts would support those priorities.
  2. Although the career path with a fine arts degree can be ambiguous, make sure you know what you're working towards. At the end of your career, where do you want to be? Allow that answer to guide you when thinking about whether or not a graduate fine arts degree is right for you. And if it is, allow that answer to then guide your career choices.
  3. Would you regret not getting the degree? Or would you regret getting the degree? I tend to regret more the things I didn't do. But that's just me personally. So, even though I had my doubts, and even though I knew a graduate degree would get me to my career goals, I still figured that if I never even used that degree to land a certain position in the work force, that the knowledge I had gained during my time spent earning it would certainly be such a great gift to myself and would inform anything I did moving forward. That's what's great about earning a degree in fine arts, especially at the graduate level. Not only are you learning more about your craft, but you are really learning more about yourself as an artist and an individual. And that kind of knowledge, regardless of what it "gets" you, is priceless.
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About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.

The experts interviewed for this article may be compensated to provide opinions on products, services, websites and various other topics. Even though the experts may receive compensation for this interview article, the views, opinions, and positions expressed by the experts are theirs alone, are not endorsed by, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, and positions of GradSchools.com or EducationDynamics, LLC. GradSchools.com and EducationDynamics, LLC make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in or resulting from this information or any losses or damages arising from its display or use.
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