So You Were Accepted By an MFA Program

Congratulations! After all those personal statements, interviews, recommendations and a generalized state of anxiety/expectation, you’re probably feeling pretty good about life. You should revel in that feeling! Enjoy it, embrace it and, please, try to at least remember a little about this moment: that flush of excitement, that delicious feeling of being chosen and, yes, a little validated.

Please bookmark this post, and when you’re done celebrating, come back here for a little straight talk. Because while you’re probably like, “Um, Kat, why? I already know I’m gonna go!”, I’m here to say, “Sure, but let’s be sure you know exactly what you’re choosing…and let’s do some things now that’ll help you make it through the times when you’re like ‘WTF WAS I THINKING WITH THIS GRAD SCHOOL BUSINESS?!!!'” Because you will question yourself, but tapping into your memory of this celebratory, hopeful, excited point will help keep you just a little from grad art school blues.

Take a moment to write down why you applied to school

Make a list, free associate, draw or take a photograph or something…but whatever you do, try to remember the big reasons why you want to attend a program in the first place. And while you’re at it, jot down what it was you wanted to learn, your goals, the ways you hope to grow and learn with grad school. At some point, you will be so sleep-deprived, disheartened, irritated, overwhelmed and BUSY that you will lose track of why you made this life-altering decision for yourself, so it helps to see a reminder of it, written at the time you actually had the most amount of idealistic hope.

Start stockpiling ideas (creative and funding ones!)

I can hear you balk a bit — like, why do you have to do homework now? But trust me…it’s very pedal to the metal in school, and you’ll be glad to have a brief store of ideas to develop when you’re awake at 4 in the morning trying to bang out 20-50 pages of a draft and YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT. Just get a little notebook or a nice little app for your phone and keep jotting down ideas, characters, bits of dialogue, images, whatever — get down a kind of creative/artistic notetaking system and start filling it up with stuff.

On another note — and this goes to all you filmmakers out there — also start planting the seeds for your fundraising efforts now. Make a list of possible funders, fundraiser ideas, and all that now, because chances are, you’re going to need to hit some people up to fund your films in some way or another.

Get a little real about the money you’ll be spending or borrowing

I know. This is soooooo not what anyone in such a flush of pride and excitement wants to hear. You feel you’re at the beginning of an exciting new novel/show/movie called “My Brilliant Vocation as an Artiste,” and you don’t want to dampen it with financial stuff. I hear you; and I do feel bad about being a bit of a wet blanket. But if you’re in a program where you might be borrowing a significant amount of money, then please hear me out.

It is very, very, very easy to take out a student loan and not realize its impact on your future. We’re not equipped to project that far in the future. And it’s abstract, phantom money that you haven’t even touched yet and likely never will. But the real talk is that unless you landed in a program that funds you, you’ll likely be paying for school long after you’ve graduated…and it’s in your best interest to make peace with this now before you even begin.

Indulge me and partake in a little thought experiment with me: imagine you’ve graduated and you didn’t become the international cultural rock star you wanted to become. You didn’t land an all-star agent, a manager. All you had were years of focusing exclusively on your craft, learning from top-notch instructors and teachers and the fellowship and lifelong friendships of a creative community. All you had was a grand creative, artistic and intellectual adventure. Would the $_______ have been worth it?

Now let’s do an comparison thought experiment, just to give you a different perspective. Take the $_______ you’re going to borrow for school — or the $_______ you would’ve earned if you stayed working or what have you. If you didn’t spend it on school, what else would you have spent it on? A house? A trip around the world? A year with no job and just travel? Would you have saved for real estate? Imagine you got whatever else you wanted — would you be sitting in your house or on a plane or laying on a beach somewhere, mulling over “Gee, I wonder what grad school would’ve been like?” And would you feel regret?

I guess my larger point is that an MFA is an investment and a trade-off. You’re investing in your creativity, your talent, your intellectual, emotional and even spiritual growth. It has to align with your values and your deepest self if you are going to go through with it to make it worth your while. And you are going to trade off time, sanity and possibly a more comfortable financial future — unless you are pretty wealthy going into an MFA program. (Yep, you will probably encounter more than a few trust fund kids!) I thought long and hard about the finances of an MFA program, and I’m glad I did — because I do know plenty of MFA grads who feel great bitterness every time they get their student loan statement in the mail and send off a check. Don’t set yourself up for a monthly dose of bitterness, friends — think long and hard.

Have fun and relax and travel and make out and have hijinks

Because while you’ll have a great time in school, it’s not quite the lazy-dazy kind of fun. Enjoy your life and loved ones, travel, read books, binge-watch all your favorite shows — because you really will not have time once you’re in school. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE! So love life now, enjoy your triumphs and savor your hours in a beautiful, rich way.

This post is part of a group of entries on MFA applications; I wrote one about getting rejected as well. I’ve written earlier on writing the personal statement, general tips and strategy, whether or not you should apply and go, my own personal decisionmaking process, and what to do after you get your MFA.

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