** Location: Your first inclination should always be to leave the area where you did your undergraduate study. This is for a number of different reasons… First – You already know the other artists, teachers, and mentors in this area. As you grow and progress as an artist, you need to explore a range of influences and experiences. Going to a new environment will always benefit you in the long run. Secondly, if you have a range of different experiences with other schools and artists from different parts of the country or world, you will become much more well rounded as a person and artist and therefore a more appealing for candidate for hire in your field.
** 2 vs. 3: MFA programs are either 2 or 3 year programs and there are advantages and disadvantages of each. While it may seem that 2 years is plenty of time, keep in mind that if you are interested in teaching after grad school, the applications for those positions will be due halfway through your last year. So, if you want to be ready for those jobs, you need to be ready in a year and half. Most people agree that the 3 year approach is better because of this very reason and that it allows more time for the development of your work. Additionally, in a 3 year program there are usually more opportunities to teach either more often or different classes while in grad school.
** Your Time: Grad school is a time to intensely focus on your work and grow as an artist. It is your work and endeavors during grad school that will help you achieve the first step in your professional career. Be skeptical of your decisions and try to look at them as objectively as possible. Are you really interested in going to the University of Hawaii because it’s the best place for you to grow as an artist? Or are you really interested in the beaches there? Are you really interested in going to IU Bloomington because it’s a good program? Or is it that you have family there? Analyze your decisions from all angles and make them with the long run in mind.
** # of Schools: Start with a list of about 15 schools you are interested in and narrow it down using the questions on the back of this paper. Then pick about 6-10 schools that interest you the most, keeping in mind you might want to employ AT LEAST the 2-2-2 rule: 2 longshots, 2 50/50 shots, and 2 you think you have a solid chance of getting in to. And of course your odds of getting in are directly related to the number of schools you apply to.
** Ask a lot of questions!: This is a huge decision. Ask tons of questions – of the people there and the people here. And VISIT the school if at all possible. You will be amazed at how much easier the decision can be if you spend a day or two at a school. Many schools have current students that have been designated to give tours and answer questions. Many schools will offer this but if not, ask if you can attend a critique. Visit their studios. Spend some time with the current students.
** Challenge Yourself: Don’t waste your time with schools that won’t challenge you to grow as a person and as an artist. This is not a time to relax and rely on the work you went into grad school making. Grad school should be tough. The easy way out will come back to bite you.
Questions to ask:
– Do the current students feel challenged by the program?
– What are the alumni of the program doing now?
– What is the atmosphere of the critiques? Are they tough, easy, boring, engaging?
– How interdisciplinary is the program? Do you see students staying strictly within their media?
– Can you take courses outside of your media? How flexible is the program?
– What is the reputation of the school?
– Do they have a visiting artist program? Who has visited? How often are artists visiting?
– What is the art history program like? Are the current students happy with the art history courses?
– Do you need to take the GRE? Is there minimum score needed?
Faculty and Student Work:
– What is the student work like? Do you see a diverse range of work being produced by the students? Or is the work very similar to each other?
– What is the faculty work like in your field? Are they active in the field?
– What is the faculty work like outside your discipline?
– Is there a prevailing direction of the program? (figurative, conceptual, etc)
– Do you and/or the other students have a good working relationship with the faculty?
– Do grad students teach courses? When do they start teaching (1st year, 2nd year, etc)?
– Are there creative research opportunities? How many students receive them?
– What are the exhibition opportunities? Is there a large thesis exhibition opportunity available?
– Are the current students showing their work? Showing together? Is there a supportive atmosphere for showing work?
– How often do you have formal critiques?
– How many grants, scholarships, fellowships, assistantships are available?
– How many students receive non-loan aid? Is it merit based?
– Do the grad students pay in-state or out of state tuition?
– What is the tuition for graduate school?
– Are the current students happy with the amount of aid they are receiving?
– What are the facilities like?
– What technology is available to you to use in your work? (computers, 3-D scanners, printers, projectors, software, etc)
– Will you have your own studio?
– Do you have to pay for your materials? (mostly for ceramics people)
– Does the department have a technology center? What kind of equipment do they have?
– Is the program proactive in acquiring new technology?
– Does the department have an art library? What is it like?