I am a big proponent of education because unlike material things, education is something that can never be taken away from you. However, the cost of some educational programs are very steep and can leave many graduates without a job and with a large amount of debt. So what to do?
There are some graduate programs such as medicine that offer a good return on one's investment, but for M.F.A. programs, is it worth it to drop $50,000 to $100,000 when there is a high possibility you may not "make it" as an artist? My answer is this. Paying for a M.F.A. is worth it if you are realistic with your expectations that you are paying more for a life experience, and that you may never earn back the money you spent. Think of it as a two year sabbatical where you get to meet people who share your interests, learn from creative professionals, and work on your craft. On the other hand, if you expect to gain employment, sell your script or novel, or gain exposure/prestige from a M.F.A. program, then it would be wiser for you to save the money you would've spent on a program and instead work in the field you desire to learn more about. This way you will be in the industry, meet key players, and educate yourself through life experience. (If you want to find out how to get a job in the industry, that's another post entirely, but I will say that to work in entertainment you do not need a M.F.A. Next month (August 6) I will publish a post about what it is like to intern in Hollywood.)
I do want to note that a small percentage of people do get agents, sell their scripts or novels, or get jobs from participating in M.F.A. programs, and I also want to say that they are a small percentage and not the norm. If you want to pay for a M.F.A. program because you think you may be a part of this percentage, then just be aware that this is more of a gamble than a solid investment.
Thankfully, there are quality graduate programs that do not cost a fortune. I found this great resource online from Mainstreet.com, and they compiled a list of reputable colleges that offer free or low-cost graduate programs, including M.F.A. creative writing programs:
So in conclusion: should you pay for a M.F.A. program? If you have the funds and have realistic expectations of what you will get from the program, then yes. If the program will put you into debt and you are looking to propel your career, then no. It would be a better financial decision to educate yourself through work or to attend a free or low-cost program.