How to Get More Out of Your MFA Program

a cat professor wearing glasses and a bowtie

MFA programs are supposed to teach you things.

Sometimes, however, you may find yourself feeling like you are getting a less-than-stellar education.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are wanting to get more out of your art school experience, the good news is that you can get it.

Below is a list of things to help you brainstorm about what’s missing for you, and to give you ideas about how you might go about getting it.

Ask for What You Need.

How do you get the most out of your college MFA education? Ask a lot of questions! The only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask.

Ask for the Numbers.

Are you getting buried in debt? Ask how much you owe at the beginning and end of every semester. Knowing the amount of money you are borrowing—as you are borrowing it—helps you to feel empowered to ask for the things you want and need. You’re paying for it, after all.

Ask for More Feedback.

If you’re passing, yet you still don’t know if the work you are doing has any merit, ask for more feedback. If you’re not getting the feedback you want, ask more specific questions. Instead of asking, “is my work any good,” ask specific questions such as, “did you understand the message hidden in the background in this image?” The more questions you ask your professors, the more they’ll understand your work, and the easier it will be for them to give you constructive and actionable feedback.

Ask for Income Generating Opportunities.

For every dollar you spend on tuition today, you might end up paying an addition dollar in student loan interest over the next 20 years. Ask the school staff if you or they could invite someone to come and speak about making a living as an artist. Ask if they have connections to internships, residencies, and potential job offers. Even if the school has no official job placement program in place, folks might be happy to refer and recommend you to potential opportunities if you ask them to do so.

Ask for Sustainability Tips.

Ask your professors how they make a living with their art. What they know can help you, and what they don’t know might surprise you. Either way, having more information is better than having no information.

Ask Where the Money Goes.

If you’ve ever wondered how your tuition money gets spent, ask someone. You have every right to know where your money gets used.

Ask Uncomfortable Questions.

Giving and getting true and honest feedback is kinda what graduate art school is all about. In some cases, grad school is all about social networking. Dig in! Doing so will inspire and enrich your work.

Ask for What You Want.

You’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if my school had _____?” Make the request. If they can’t provide it for you, ask for support in proactively making it happen. Some school administrators are open to new ideas, and they’d welcome inviting a guest speaker, hosting a one-time workshop, or buying equipment that would improve the program.

Ask for Decency.

You questioned your professor, and it just made them angry. That’s not good. As long as you are being respectful, you deserve respect in return.

Ask for What is Missing.

If you thought about transferring, but did’t go through with it, try turning where you are into where you wanted to be. Obviously you can’t transform a state school into a private one, but you can examine what made you want to transfer, and why you wanted to go someplace new. Make a list of the things you yearned for at the place you wanted to transfer to, and see if you can create any of that where you are.

Ask for Money.

You received a request to volunteer your time for the school creating a logo, making a web page, or painting a mural in the cafeteria. Great! Ask for compensation and/or credit. Your time and skill is valuable.

Ask for Guidance.

Ever wondered what you’re going to do after you graduate? Start taking action now. Make connections. Set yourself up for success and get the faculty and staff to help you long before graduation. If you take the initiative, people will either say “you’re a go-getter,” or “you’re jumping the gun.” Invest your time in the people who think you’re a go-getter.


Stick to the staff, and stick to the school. Stand out. Get to know people. Ask for what you want and need. You only get one shot at the MFA experience. Before you know it you’ll be back to work and paying bills. Half of your MFA experience is how you deal with what’s in front of you.