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.

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