Should I Get an MFA or Not? The Pros and Cons

Jun 23, 2014

I just graduated from my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco in May 2014. It was a long four years. I was working full-time at my accounting job while going to school part-time. Now that I’m done, the big question is, was it really worth it?

When I was deciding, I looked at the pros and cons of getting an MFA:


  • Expensive: MFA tuition: $60K; Materials $20K.
  • future income potential due to MFA is questionable; income not guaranteed.
  • High opportunity cost. You have to factor in the lost income that you would otherwise have earned had you not gone back to school.
  • Interest costs, if financing the MFA with debt.
Most people get an MFA because they want to teach at a university level. I did not have that goal. If I only looked at the quantitative aspects of this problem, I would not have gone. It would be totally crazy. I then looked at the qualitative factors:


  • Improve my photography
  • Time intensive. All personal time at night and weekends will now be devoted to photography.
  • Risk of personal relationships suffering; alienating friends.
These factors are hard to quantify. There are many ways to improve one’s photography: one could go to photography workshops like those in Santa Fe or Maine or classes at a local art centre or college. I did all that at the beginning, and my photography did improve technically. However, I was looking to improve in some other way. At the time, I couldn’t define exactly what that meant. I had decision paralysis. I did not do anything for two years.

Then one day, I happened to read an interview given by Viggo Mortensen. Asked why he signed on for the role of Aragorn in the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, he replied:

Well I certainly had no idea äóînor did anybody else and if they say so now they’re lyingäóî that it would be such a resounding success. Of course, I could see that the various connectionsäóîCeltic, samurai and so onäóîcould register in places where Tolkien was not known. But what really changed my mind was my son, who was a big fan of the books. I also had a nagging feeling that I might feel later I had missed out on a journey. I might miss out on an interesting life experience.

And that, I’m embarrassed to say, is what finally convinced me. I realized that all the analyses in the world will never be able to address that nagging feeling inside that I was on the wrong path. It was time to answer the call. There was no other choice.

About the Author

Jonah Calinawan

Hello! I’m Jonah Calinawan, an accountant, artist, and mythologist. I create cyanotype art that makes you think and feeds the soul and write about the quest for a meaningful life through art and mythology.

On August 6, 2020, a night-time dream led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Mythology with a special emphasis on Depth Psychology. I don’t know how grad school connects to my art and writing, but I’m willing to find out. Subscribe for updates.

Post Comment

© 2021 Jonah Calinawan. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy