Whether or not you should pursue an MFA in acting is a complex question. The real answer depends on a lot of different factors. Whatever your personal and professional goals are, there are costs and benefits to pursuing further education in acting.
First off, there is no right answer. There are opportunities for training and improvement no matter where you are. An MFA offers you the opportunity to develop as an artist within a relatively safe space. With an MFA program, you have the opportunity to surround yourself with colleagues and instructors who can help you grow and develop as an artist, as well as opportunities to experiment and grow with other talented, passionate theatre artists.
The best acting programs are generally at some the big name universities and colleges. Typically, they have a lot of name recognition, are in areas of the country with access to theatrical infrastructure and resources, and have the funding necessary to support programs. Harvard, Yale, NYU-Tisch, Brown, Columbia, and UCLA all have great programs that have produced some incredible artists. In the U.K., the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art has been producing some of the greatest performers in the world for over one hundred years. The reality is, however, that much like choosing a school for your undergraduate education – there are a lot of other factors involved in determining whether or not you will be successful at any given school.
What is the campus like? Would you rather be in a city or draw inspiration from a more rural setting? Can you deal with cold? Can you deal with heat? How open are the faculty and staff outside of class hours? Is the environment hyper-competitive or more familial? What professional connections does the school and its faculty have? What kind of work do alumni of the program go on to do? Do you want to be close to your family? Are you looking for funding or will you be footing the bill yourself? What kind of shows do you want to get involved in? Are you willing to design as well? Can you afford tuition? You need to be able to ask yourself all of these questions and more with complete honesty in order to determine whether pursuing a particular program is right for you. Regardless of whether you’re even able to get into the “school of your dreams,” if it turns out that you’re going to hate New England, there’s no point in going to Yale. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be miserable to be a great artist!
It’s entirely possible to get a great education and have life changing experiences away from the big names and bigger price tags of some of the most obvious choices for an MFA. Talk with faculty and current students to carefully determine whether the school you’re considering has the right connections, resources and atmosphere to best support your growth as a performer. Keep an open mind! Looking into regionally prominent or local schools might end up being the best decision for you.
The other thing to keep in mind is, it’s entirely possible that you won’t get into to any of the schools on your list the first time you apply, and that’s okay. Like a lot of terminal arts programs, most of the time it’s much more about everyone else in the room than it is about anything wrong with you, personally. The only thing to do after facing rejection (which you’ll be facing a lot of you’re serious about pursuing acting professionally) is to take some time to feel bad, take a breath, and move on to the next opportunity. You can always reapply next year. In the meantime work on networking, auditioning, taking classes, collaborating, and gaining more skills. You might find you career takes off and the idea of completing an MFA will be a distant memory.
Having an MFA in Acting has the potential to open a lot of doors for you if the right people see it on your resume. Having the resources to experiment and explore creative options full-time is a rare opportunity. It’s not the only option though, especially as the cost of tuition increases and the amount of fully funded programs decreases. Ultimately, the burden falls on you, so make sure you make a well-informed decision before jumping into a program that won’t benefit you in the long run.