Pros and Cons for Low Residency MFA Students

dog and cat dancing

Low residency study has many benefits, but as with anything there are some potential bad sides.

If you’ve already experienced a low residency educational program, then you may have an easier time adjusting to the low residency educational model than a student who comes only from traditional educational.

Don’t have rigid expectations about what low residency will be like, because it’s different for everyone, especially in self-designed programs.

Below is a list of pros and cons for prospective art students to consider before attending a low residency MFA program.

The Pros

Stay in Your World

Low residency means you’re away from the interpersonal drama that often happens on college campuses. You can live your life, do your thing, keep your social circles, and get your degree all at the same time.

Follow Your Art

If you’re in a self-directed program, you’ll get to design and carry out your own unique education. You can’t do that just anywhere.

Pride & Confidence

Whatever you accomplish will have happened because of your own hard work. Independent learners make things happen, and that’s life-long.

Get Ahead

You can build a professional practice (or maintain an existing one) while earning your degree rather than waiting until after graduation to start.


If you’re not already bound to a place, then you’re free to learn wherever you need to go. Imagine getting a degree while living on a beach, or traveling the country in a van. It’s all possible with low residency.

Partnerships, Internships, Work

If you have a job, you can keep it. If you get an artistic residency, you can turn it into college credit. Bundle your experiences and get ahead.

Real Life Experience

The lessons that come from a self-designed, low residency education model are life lessons. The losses are yours, and the wins are yours.

The Cons

Flying Solo

Low residency programs can be lonely at times. You have a few very social, but short, residency sessions and then you’re back on your own.

In some ways, low residency education feels like you’re not in school at all, and that can be challenging for someone who never has experienced so much freedom in their education before.


It can be difficult to tell if you’re “doing low residency right” because there are no other students close by to measure yourself against.

Extra Syndrome

You’re in the middle of your semester, and feeling alone, when you realize you could’ve made art on your own without having to deal with the degree program work on top of the rest of your responsibilities.

Student Loan Debt

Maybe you don’t have the money to pay for tuition up front, and you opt to borrow. That’s gonna weigh on you, especially if you feel isolated or like you’re not getting the academic support you need.

Deal With It

In a university setting it’s easier to navigate interpersonal problems, because you’re not bound to any single person. One bad professor is easier to cope with if you also have five other good ones.

In a low residency program, you tend to have one or two people who have a lot of influence over your academic fate. When you don’t see eye-to-eye with your advisor, yet they are the only advisor available, that can make for a very stressful semester. Also, if you are building something over several semesters, having a mismatched advisor along the way can delay your overall progress. That can be frustrating, and expensive.