Graduate School

Grad school can be a great experience and a stepping-stone to a career in architecture, art and art education. But it is also a significant investment in both time and money, so it is not something you want to do on a whim. Do your research and make sure graduate school is the best thing for you to do.


Here's a handout we call "Grad School 101" which give you a ton of useful information.

If you are considering graduate school, talk to your professors about whether or not grad school makes sense for you, and if it does, what schools to consider. Then talk the graduate students in your department and other departments related to your chosen media or profession. Ask about the schools they went to for their undergraduate degree and what they wish they’d known or considered before they made the decision to go to graduate school. 

You should go to grad school if…

  • You are passionate about a chosen field and want to work within that field for the foreseeable future.
  • The career field you have chosen for yourself requires an advanced degree or additional education beyond undergraduate school.
  • You can afford it.

You should NOT go to grad school…

  • when you can’t get a job an don’t know what else to do – keep looking rather than go deeper into debt (use a free online grad school calculator);
  • when you’re not quite sure what you want to study

What’s so great about grad school?

  • It sets you apart from those with only an undergrad degree – it suggests to others that you  have advanced skills, focus and ambition.
  • It connects you with professionals in your chosen field and extends your knowledge and understanding.
  • It can help you with a career change if that’s what you want.

If you are thinking of going to grad school now or in the future, it is important that you keep in touch with your undergraduate faculty. Letters of reference are necessary for most applications. If you do need a letter, it is polite to provide pre-addressed envelopes, or at least send pre-made labels and appropriate postage if the letters are not electronically submitted. If you are requesting a letter from a faculty member from the past, it might be a good idea to forward an updated letter CV, artist statement, and images of work so that the faculty member can comment on your current body of work.

Read each school’s admission procedure carefully to find out what you need to submit and when. Most accept some form of electronic slides of your work, but will have different ways you should submit them. You will also need your Temple transcripts (as well as transcripts from any other school you may have attended if you transferred to Tyler). Information about how to do that at Temple is here; if you need other transcripts, go to the school’s web site and type “transcripts” in the search engine. It’s also a good idea to get your application in as early as possible and not wait until the application deadline. It can take several weeks to get transcripts from some institutions, and it is difficult to track credentials at the last minute. When sending important credentials in the mail, ask for delivery confirmation in case the school cannot find them.

Architecture and Art History students (as well as working Art Educators continuing for a master's part time) will find that going to grad school right after getting an undergraduate degree makes the most sense.  Many career paths, especially in those fields, require graduate degrees and continuing on will get you on that path much more quickly.  Don't be afraid, however, to take a year or two off if you need it to start paying down your undergraduate loans, clarify your career goals, or just need a break before starting an intense period of study. Often working for a year or two will help you really understand what you want, or more importantly DON'T want to do!

If you’re thinking about getting teaching certification and are not in a BS in Art Ed or in the Art Ed concentration, you can either go for just the certification (Moore and Kutztown offer cert-only programs) or apply to a master’s program.  Eventually, you’ll need a master’s degree once you’re a certified, practicing teacher.

Unlike other academic disciplines, studio art programs generally prefer to enroll students who did their undergraduate work at other schools. Some departments will not admit students from their own undergraduate programs, so you may be going to another school and possibly another area of the country. Many MFA programs also prefer that you have some post-baccalaureate life experience before attending grad school and may not accept you until you have been out of school for a couple of years, so think about working for a couple years and perfecting your portfolio (and begin paying off your undergraduate student loans), before you start applying to graduate schools. You may also wish to consider a post-baccalaureate program. Many schools offer them in either the summer, or for one year after you receive your BFA. A post-bac is another way to see if a graduate program is a good decision and develop a portfolio further.

Financing grad school is different than financing your undergraduate education. Keep in mind your undergraduate loan debt when you consider taking on more educational debt; your undergraduate loans will accumulate interest while you’re in graduate school! Beginning in the Fall of 2012, Stafford graduate student loans are no longer subsidized, so interest begins accumulating as soon as you take out the loan (instead of 6 months after you finish, as some of it did in the past). You may be able to get a fellowship (where you don’t have to work) or a graduate assistantship (where you will have to work) to help pay some or all of the costs associated with your degree. But not all schools offer these, and they have different levels of support for their students. Do your research, and make sure you can afford to pay off your education when you are finished. 

Remember that the stronger your credentials, the better the chance you’ll have for partial or full scholarship, fellowship or assistantship funding.  Building those credentials often means working in the field after you complete your undergraduate degree – for example, art historians can write blogs or art criticism, work in museums or non-profits; studio artists can apply to residency programs and exhibit work and curate work; art educators can teach in after school programs, summer camps or community centers. 

  • FAFSA- for need based aid. Be sure to research all funding opportunities both through completing a FAFSA and by checking the various grad school websites.  It’s also important to be clear about needing financial aid in order to attend. 
  • Scholarships and grants. Look into scholarships and grants that the government, corporations or private organizations set aside for various types of qualifications (war vet, single parent, cultural member, etc.).
  • Grad assistant positions. Many universities receive a certain amount from the government for each grad student they accept. As such, they will often waive the tuition fee and sometimes offer living expenses via a part-time grad assistant position.
  • Research grants/positions. In a similar vein, your thesis advisor might have research grant funds coming and might offer that to you in return for your participation as a research assistant. (Note that this might force you into research work that does not interest you, but when you choose a thesis advisor, you often do so because of their previous research topics or academic interests.)
  • Employer education programs. Some large corporations set aside funds to pay partial or full tuitions in the pursuit of advanced education by qualified employees.
  • Savings from work.  You might consider spending a few years working after getting an undergraduate degree and saving for grad school expenses (which often include relocating to another city). 

Important things to keep in mind…

  • Some employers will help pay for grad school.  If you are employed (especially with a larger firm), check with your HR department.  Sometimes it has to be in a related field, but not always!.
  • Some grad programs can be done part time or are low residency (mostly online, with a week or two on campus each summer – and that’s not the scam schools, Bard College and UArts both have great lo-res programs).
  • A graduate degree does not guarantee a job or additional income (although statistically, those with a masters make up to $17,000 more per year than those with a bachelor’s degree).
  • A graduate education may be the last time you get to focus exclusively on your own interests and research – which can truly enrich your life.
  • A graduate education is not a guarantee for future employment or success
  • Visual Studies students can apply for MFAs – so can Art History and Architecture students; BFA students can apply for March programs – don’t assume that you don’t have the credentials for a certain degree, check the school’s admissions website.  Sometimes all you need to do is to take some courses prior to entering, and sometimes for MFA programs, it can be largely based on portfolio.
  • Be sure to check the admissions and application requirements for each school.  Some MFA programs require the GRE examination.  Sometimes GRE scores are used in determining fellowships or assistantship eligibility - check that out with the college and department- it may mean spending some time doing GRE prep work.
  • Be sure you have a good resume and CV.  If you don’t know the difference, there are great websites that will help you.  
  • Keep in touch with your faculty and any mentors and employers you’ve had.  Keep them aware of what you’re doing.  Connect with LinkedIn (although many won’t do this until after you actually graduate). Ask them to keep you in mind for recommendations (many schools now ask for them to be submitted electronically).
  • If you’re a studio artist, build a website.  Information about good resources for this are here.

More resources:

Temple University's Guide to Applying for Grad or Professional  School

Article: “Master of Fine Arts Employment Opportunities,”

Article: “Making a Reasonable Choice,” Chronicle of Higher Education

Article: “Paying for Graduate School,” US News & World Report

Article:  “The 10 MFA Programs That Give You the Most Bang For Your Buck“  Blouin ArtInfo

Article:  "Should I Go to Grad School?" Lifehacker

Article:  "Shouid You Go to Graduate School?"

Article:   "A Guide for Potential Grad Students: Should You Go To Graduate School?"

US News Grad School Rankings

Online Master's Programs


Changing Directions

Are you done with your bachelors degree and found that what you studied isn't quite what you were thinking it was?  Have you been out in the world for a while, and realized this isn't what you thought it would be?  Well, that's a sign that you should consider changing direction.  Remember that NO education is a waste of time--even if what you thought you wanted to do doesn't turn out to be what you find you want to do, what you studied will help you get to where you are supposed to be.  Grad school can help you tweak it a bit.  Many students find this to be the case.

If you're thinking about changing directions, research, research, research!  Volunteer to do what you think you want to do for a while to make sure before you make the investment of time and money.  Talk to other people who do what you think you want to do.  And make sure you can afford graduate school before you take the plunge--if you have significant undergraduate loans, those loans may incur interest while you're in grad school, which can significantly increase what you'll need to pay back on top of whatever loans you take out for grad school.  Consider working for a few years and get some of that debt paid off before you start to incur more debt.

Here are some career ideas that creative types find work well with art or creative background:

If you do decide to go in another direction, you may need to go back and fulfill some course prerequisites.  Most BFAs don't take Organic Chemsitry.  If you do find you need to do that, some schools offer programs to help you; for example, Temple offers a post-baccalaurate program for getting into Medical School. In other cases, you might find that it's most cost-effective to take the basic courses you need at a local community college while you work to pay down some of your debt.  Your art school professors can serve as recommenders; make sure you keep in touch with them, and ask those who can speak to your flexibility and ability to think creatively/outside the box; those are the skills you're going to be emphasizing when you apply to a program with a diffferent direction.