10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Enrolling in an MFA Program

a baby using a large knife to cut a cooked turkey

1. Do You Feel Special?

You just have a feeling inside that you will somehow figure out how to pay for school after you’ve finished. You know it’s expensive, but you just know you’ll be okay. You can afford to pay out $600 per month for the next 20 years.

2. Are You Trying to Escape?

Maybe you’ve got a newborn, and a dead-end job. Maybe you live at your parent’s house, and hate it. Perhaps you’re over 40, and you think an MFA would give you that career boost you need. These aren’t good reasons to get an MFA, especially if you have to borrow money for tuition.

3. Have You Spent $50,000+ in One Place?

You purchased a new car on credit and completely paid it off one month at a time. You’ve got a house, but you paid your mortgage off early. You accumulated debt on credit cards then paid them all down to zero. You borrowed money from a loan shark and managed to not get your fingers broken. If so, you might be prepared to borrow money for graduate school tuition and pay it off monthly over the next ten or twenty years.

4. Do You Have a Romantic Vision of What Graduate School Will Be Like?

Graduate school might be an amazing experience. It’s also possible your experience will suck, or be mediocre. But then again, maybe it will be better than you could ever imagine. Gambling on whether or not grad school will be great is kind of the fun of it, right? If you don’t do enough research before enrolling, high stakes gambling is what you’re doing.

5. Are You in a Rush?

You want an upper level degree and you want it now! You need money. If you had that degree in hand, you could apply for so many great jobs. Maybe you’ve got a narrow window before the ease of going to graduate school closes, because you’re getting married, or your living situation is changing. If something external is pressing you to make a split decision, perhaps it’s not the best time to make such a huge commitment.

6. Do You Think the MFA will Land You a Job?

If you have it in your mind that an MFA will help your career, because potential employers are throwing out resumes that don’t contain the letters M, F, and A, then you may be right—if you’re looking to teach. College hiring teams claim to choose potential professors based on their portfolio. That may be true, because in order to be considered for a professorship the assumption is that the applicant already has an MFA.

7. Do You Have a Need for the MFA?

If you have you been repeatedly rejected from opportunities that were offered to you, but then rescinded because you don’t have an MFA, then going to graduate school to earn your MFA might open doors for you.

8. Are You Sure You Want to Teach?

Some people go to graduate school to earn their MFA with the idea that at least they will be able to teach when they graduate, if they want to. If you’re considering teaching on the college level as an adjunct, check out the Adjunct Project, which was a collection of experiences penned by actual adjunct professors, but now just features pay scale data for colleges in your area. Also see Reddit.com/r/Adjuncts.

9. Are You Looking for Feedback?

If you’re going for an MFA primarily for the experience of being critiqued by your peers, it simply means you’re not currently getting your work out there enough. If you’re making and sharing your work then you’d be getting critiqued, praised, criticized, and reviewed all the time, for free.

10. Have You Counted the Ways?

Write down all of the reasons you want an MFA. How many reasons do you have? How many of those reasons can be remedied without paying tuition? Can you find creative solutions to address your reasons? For instance, if you want to learn about pottery, can you learn it at a local pottery studio? If you’re looking to study with a world-class writing instructor, do they offer master classes or one-on-one private tutoring for less than the cost of college tuition? If your list of reasons can only be satisfied by attending graduate school, then graduate school might be the best next step for your work or your career.