I’ve been in graduate school for three years now. It is one of the best decisions I ever made. I have learned a great deal and met more influential people than I could have ever imagined. However, before I came to graduate school, I was worried it wasn’t worth it either for the amount of debt I’d take on or because it wouldn’t be worth the time I’d have to put in.
To help make the decision I reached out to people. One person in particular, Dan Pink, noted author, took time to respond. Here’s what he said:
Allen Cochran of Cincinnati sent me an email the other day in which he asked an interesting question. Here’s what he wrote: “I applied to and was accepted to the The Ohio State University’s graduate school for Visual Communication and Design Development. I have worked as a freelance graphic designer since I was 15 but have never had the validation of a ‘degree’ to aid me that sacred search for a ‘design’ job. So, I pose the question: Is getting an MFA in design worth the debt?” With Allen’s permission, I now pose that question to you, loyal readers. Should Allen pursue an MFA? Offer your answers in the Comments section below.
Mr. Pink’s post generated a lot of comments. Here are a few snippets of what was said:
Something to really consider is that this discussion is so heated because the monetary cost of higher education is so outrageous in this country. This is not the case all over the world, where returning to school does not imply a massive financial sacrifice that can alter the quality one’s quality of life for years to come due to student loan payments. Mr. Cochran will either have to go into a significant amount of debt or use a good chunk of his savings to pay for tuition, fees, books, not too mention living expenses. Although in other countries with great educational systems like the UK and Canada students do go into educational debt, the average amount is considerably below that of the US. Thankfully Mr. Cochran he has chosen a state school which is considerably less expensive than a private design school. Will he benefit from an MFA? Most likely yes, he’ll get a new perspective on his field and meet like-minded individuals that can become collaborators, friends and professional resources. Will it be a significant money investment? Undoubtedly yes, unless you get good financial assistance, otherwise years of student loan payments. I am very curious to know what Daniel Pink thinks about the accelerating costs of college tuition and the student loan crisis in this country. – Alfredo on June 22, 2010
At this point in Allen’s career I would say that an MFA is THE opportunity to turn his plethora of tacit knowledge into an external body of work that distinguishes knowing and doing from understanding what you know. While an MFA might help his job prospects in larger organizations that tie degree programs into pay schedules, this is not an apt justification for the time and financial commitment that an MFA demands. In our design management program at SCAD we see numerous graduate students suddenly grow into their intellectual boots at the end of their first year. This is when they discover their potential to create a relevant body of work that would not occur otherwise. You can see the oscillation from confident realization to the uncertainty that accompanies too much new information almost every day. An MFA is not about skills development, nor is it about design thinking as the process of thinking about design, although both of these contribute to the student’s growth. It is, rather, the acquisition and practice of a new way of thinking in which the visual and empathic parts of the brain become reoriented in the process of creative logic. If Allen’s corpus callosum is not in good shape he should think twice. Personally, however, I feel that he would love the OSU environment. – Robert Fee on April 18, 2009
To read all of the comments, something I encourage you to do, please visit Dan Pink’s personal blog at: http://www.danpink.com/archives/2009/03/is-getting-an-mfa-worth-the-debt