Ok, you’ve done it. You’ve completed your undergraduate degree in photography and you are ready to take the next step with your practice. There are endless possibilities emerging into the real world, but it can be incredibly difficult to decide which path is the right one for you.

The question: should you pursue a Master in Fine Arts or launch into the working world to start building a career?

We will break down the pros and cons to the MFA, but first: what is it?

An MFA is a creative degree in fine arts, including visual arts, creative writing, graphic design, photography, filmmaking, dance, theatre, and performing arts. The graduate degree typically requires 2 to 3 years of study after a bachelor’s degree has been completed. Universities all across the country offer MFA programs to help emerging artists and creators further hone their craft while immersed in an environment of like-minded people. Collegechoice.net ranked Yale University, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA and Cornell University amongst the top MFA programs in the country.

There are a number of elements to consider when deciding if an MFA program is the right step for you. Here are some pros and cons to help you make the decision:

Pros

  • The environment. This element of an MFA is crucial, as you will be fully immersed in your craft. This is an excellent opportunity to put all you have into your study, and by surrounding yourself with others who share your passion, you will strengthen your motivation—you’ll have no reason not to give it everything you’ve got.
  • Strong network. Not only will you develop connections with your peers, who will likely launch into the same industry as you, giving you some allies in your field, but the connections you make with professors and staff is invaluable. Oftentimes MFA professors are incredibly established in their field, and by studying under their instruction, you will develop a network that could seriously help you in the future.
  • Portfolio. By immersing yourself in a rigorous creative program, you will, of course, come away will a lot of work to show for it. Because you will likely be dedicating a large majority of your time to the program, you are sure to perfect a number of complete projects, giving you a really solid collection of work for your portfolio, making it much easier to secure a job post-graduation.
  • Access to equipment. With all of the money funneling into universities, they often have top-notch equipment to work with, meaning you will have access to these things that you may not have otherwise.

Cons

  • The money. This is, perhaps, the biggest con to doing an MFA—these programs are often costly. After having completed an undergraduate degree, taking on another program is sure to put a dent in your wallet, and many people debate if this, alone, makes an MFA worthwhile. Though you will be paying for the experience, many MFA programs offer tuition scholarships and stipends for their creative students to aid them while they study. Also, there will likely be a required teaching component to your program, which is a paid job. Still, you may not want to spend your money furthering your study when you could be out in the world making the money.
  • Uncertainty in payback. Although you are sure to develop your skills and hone your craft, there is no certainty that any of it will pay off in the real world. People who skip the MFA and go straight to real-world experience can be equally, if not more, successful than those who have completed an MFA. There is no certainty surrounding your future career, no matter how long you study a craft.
  • Courses can be outdated. Because you are studying at an institution, under professors, they will dictate what/how you learn. The photography world is ever-changing, meaning being out in the field gives you a front-row seat to the industry and its inner workings. In an MFA program, you are constricted to the program and coursework that rarely changes from year to year. These courses are sure to teach you a lot, but there is really something about experiencing the realities for yourself that can’t be taught.

Deciding if an MFA is right for you is a huge decision, and something that is not to be taken lightly. Either way, if you are dedicating yourself to your craft and constantly working to build your portfolio and network, and giving all you have to your passion, your hard work will pay off.