I read an article today where someone racked up $100,000 getting their MFA. I couldn’t believe it! That’s a lot of money to study the arts. The author rationalized that they would be able to get a teaching job at a college and could then pay the money back. But $100,000 is still a lot of money and they will most likely take a good chunk of their lives. It’s like having a mortgage.
I can’t be too mad at them. I ran up a good amount of debt getting my MA, although it was around $12,000 instead. Still debt is debt. I paid a lot of money for something that wouldn’t necessarily lead to a higher paying job, or even publication.
Next month it will be four years since I graduated. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether my degree was worth it. I think it was because of where I am now. But I do have some thoughts about my experience.
Pick a program that will work for you. When I made the decision to go, it was during the Great Recession. After seeing people losing their homes and being out of work so long, I knew I would be a fool to quit my full-time job for school. So I looked for a part time programs and low residency. The school also had to be okay with me writing my speculative literature. No sense in going to a school that would look down on the work I would produce.
Be sure of your “why”. Ask yourself why you are doing this. Is it to get published? Make more money? Better think twice. I went because I wanted to know more writers and to get better at my craft. That’s it, nothing more. If the program didn’t do that for me, I would be in trouble. Luckily I met great people, whom I am still friends with today. I also grew as a story teller and became more confident in myself as a writer. You are investing a lot of time and money in this. Have a good why.
Be financially prepared. I’m not here to say whether student loans are good or bad. All I know is you should go in with your eyes wide open. I saved for a year before I even applied to grad school. Things went off the rails when I got to my last few classes. I had to take a pay cut and some unexpected furloughs took a toll on my bank account. When it came time to pay for my last few classes, I pulled out my credit card and charged it. The card’s interest rate was the same as Navient was offering and I didn’t want to get into the position of owing the money (Student loans don’t get discharged in bankruptcy court, but credit card debt does.) if something bad happened. I knew it would take me a couple of years to pay it off (It did.) But it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.
Overall, my experience was good. When I started the program, creatively, I was at a low point. Investing time and money into myself and my passion was one of the best decisions I made. It pulled me out of a semi-depression and gave me something to work toward. Sometimes I’m amazed I did so much: went to school, held a full-time job, and was able to have some sort of life. As I said, I grew as a writer and met some wonderful people. I had debt, but I was able to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time.
MA and MFA are a lot of work and may not lead to fame and riches. For some it may be wrong, leading to lots of debt and stress, but for others, it may change their lives. Only you can answer whether it was/will be worth it.