The decision to go back to school, especially for actors, is a tough one. Read on as graduate student Jasmine B. gives you the inside scoop in a candid detailing of the pros and cons…
After undergrad, I hit an unexpected wall. After nearly a year of working a low-wage, part time job, I secured a seven month touring gig and thought I was finally going to get to use all of those hard earned skills of my undergraduate training, I was going straight to the top!
During the tour, I struggled. I couldn’t get myself into a warm-up routine that adequately prepared me for each show, and I felt absent from most of the performances. I needed a better foundation and to learn how to harness my few moments of clarity, precision, and inner life into more than just moments.
The decision to pursue acting in one of the best MFA programs stems differently for everyone, but just in case you’re thinking about it - here are some of the pros and cons of going back to school as an actor, from my point of view. I needed to be a better actor. I needed to go back to school.
The Clock is Ticking…
For the next 2-4 years, you’re out of commission save summer and winter breaks. You’ll likely sign a contract with your school that prohibits you from booking outside work, and that means exposure to the opportunities that may or may not come with that work.
…Or So You Think.
Two to four years is really not a lot of time. When I graduate my school’s name and my skill set will open doors that I could never open myself, or at best, would probably take me four years to try to open. My resume isn’t worse off because of time taken to go back to school – it’s better.
You Already Have a Life…
When I entered my first year of graduate school, I had a whole set of obligations that didn’t involve school. I in no way wanted to give any of that up.
But It Could Be So Much Richer.
However, I had to in order to improve. Improve what? Improve my overall quality of life, including the way I valued my work, my life, and those around me. I’m glad I made some small sacrifices for the improved life I have now, and the life I will have in the future.
No One Wants to Relearn Something They Already Paid For…
My first semester at Juilliard, I went through a myriad of responses to the training. At first, my inflated, I-already-have-a-four-year-degree-in-this ego led me to these thoughts:
“I know that already!”
“Why are we repeating this thing I learned in high school?”
“I’m gonna punch myself in the face, this is obvious.”
Soon humility kicked in:
“Oh, I never knew that.”
“I forgot about that.”
“This is why they call it a craft.”
An actor never stops learning. Anyone who wants to master their craft must return to the basics every once in a while. Just as a dancer returns to the barre, or soldiers to their basic training and PT, we must return to the training.
Speaking of Paid For… I Don’t Need Any More Debt!
Okay. This one’s for real. I refuse to lie to you: this battle is one you have to make sure you’re ready to take on. It’s completely okay if you cannot or choose not to. Debt is not a thing to consider lightly.
Most likely, if you’re an independent sans support, you will be hit with some serious debt. If you’ve saved, have a wealthy benefactor, generous family members, or a loving spouse, thank your stars. Most graduates of the best MFA programs can count on up to a decade of repayment, of up to and beyond $100,000. No, I’m not kidding.
But Scholarships and Grants are More Plentiful than You Think
I’ve heard that Yale is heaven-sent in this regard, and Juilliard’s financial aid department gives everything they’ve got in order to make sure you can attend. I was an independent student with not a penny to my name and they’re making it happen. Grants are great allies in the fight for financial aid, as well as private scholarships, contests, and work-study programs.
Here are Some More PROS for the MFA Journey…
- The Environment
You have the opportunity to do what every artist dreams of: work on your craft. That’s it. You won’t have to wait tables, or work a dead-end job that keeps you from your true calling. You get to wake up and get to work on your craft. Not only do you get to do that, but you get to work on it with like-minded individuals; people with similar dedication, spirit, and work ethic who know how to help, motivate, and inspire you to do your best work. Talk about an artist’s dream!
- Connections, Connections, Connections!
What I wouldn’t give five years ago to know some of the people I know now on a first-name basis! In addition to people of current influence, my classmates, drama family, and drama alumni network is a group of people to be reckoned with.
- Educational Outreach
Want to be a teacher of the arts? This is a must-have.
Agents. Managers. Casting higher-ups. Directors.
All of the best MFA programs put on a Showcase – and if a reputable graduate school builds it, they will come.
With All of This Said…
Know that an MFA program is not for everyone. There are studio programs that allow for more time to yourself and less money out of your pocket. There are ways to make working a 9-5 and studying acting work! There are plenty of ways to work as an actor, and not one way is better than the other. Choose what feels right and makes the most sense for you. Good luck, and happy acting!
Jasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She’s studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School. Learn more about Jasmine here!
Photo by Will Folsom