Need advice on choosing an MFA program

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by Conner Jones, Feb 13, 2019.

  1. Conner Jones

    Conner Jones Member

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    hello all,

    So I have been lucky enough to be accepted by two awesome colleges and I am having the difficult task of choosing between them. A great problem to have... but still a hard choice.

    The two places are NIU and U of I. Both have a lot of merits to their curriculum and both promise to keep me busy doing real world productions. Both have classes on automated lighting and programming with them. Both have significant connections.

    However, at NIU I’m near enough to Chicago to start building a career there while in grad school. U of I is in a small town, but it connects me to the network of alumni’s that they have, which is significant and wide spread. Not sure where to go on this issue.

    Does anyone know these two schools or have any advice on what to look for?
     
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  2. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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  3. gafftapegreenia

    gafftapegreenia CBMod CB Mods

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    Who’s giving you more money?
     
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  4. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    Which one is going to cost the least amount of money and time ?. In the long run, possibly the only reason for the MFA is to teach and simply having it at XX vs. YY isn't going to matter too much. If you can do a 2 year vs. a 3 year, do that with the time spent in year 3 actually working, which is more important long term.
     
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  5. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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  6. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    This.....

    Added to that how much student loans are you ignoring over these 3 years. Personally, U of I would be my pick, Krannert is well worth it.... but you already knew that.

    Finally, the Chicago theatre scene is still pretty small and tight... and somehow still dominated by Yale alum....

    If I were to go to grad school I'd either push for Cal Arts or Yale and thats about it, and only do it for the Rolodex. The connections you make in your MFA are way way more valuable then anything you learn in a classroom.
     
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  7. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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  8. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    There's some truth to all the input so far, but like Bill I'd hesitate to characterize the degree program as ONLY a route to teaching or professional connections. People who treat it that way may wind up disappointed and jaded about their experience, because that's just not a great value considering you can take alternative routes into the profession that you don't have to sign loans for (even college teaching - I was full time, if lower salary, before I got my MFA). At the MFA level you will be (or else don't consider that school) working one-on-one or close to it with faculty mentors. You should know each other and be invested in each other as intimately as any colleagues possibly could be. The faculty should be interested in assisting you, personally, as you develop more skills in lighting, yes, but also as you develop a robust, independent capacity for research and self-criticism. This is not a level achieved in undergrad. It's really a completely different experience. The individuals you'll work with really matter - not just their own accomplishments and connections, but also their readiness and willingness to mentor you specifically. It's a really personal decision. So how well do you know the faculty at these two schools? Do you know (personally, not "know of") anyone they've mentored? You can't make an informed decision from a distance. Before you make your choice you should have conversations with them over phone if not in person. If the faculty are "meh..." about working with you or vice versa then their program is probably a poor choice for you even though it may be a great choice for others. And guess what else tends to go with a graduate faculty that really wants to work with you? A better financial package and more access to work opportunities.
     
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  9. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    No doubt about that... Ben Sammler too.
     
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  10. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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  11. erosing

    erosing The Royal Renaissance Man

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    Did you visit either? If not, do that. See if you like the flow.

    Money is important, but if there's something you really want to do, somewhere you really want to be, or someone you really want to work with it can be more valuable to take a small hit now. If you wanted to be in a warm climate because you absolutely hate the cold, for example, do not sign up for three years in the middle of Wisconsin, you are going to be miserable for half the year. Similarly, if you want to do big musicals, find a program that does a lot of musicals. If you want to study with an industry leader, find one attached to a school. Do you want to get a foot into the touring world, go where the shops are, Upstaging is right next to NIU. Want to see your family on the weekends, stay closer to home.

    There is no right answer, and everything is a trade off. Figure out what your deal breakers are and then figure out which school has less. Or, go work for a year or two and see if you still want to go to grad school after that.
     
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  12. Ancient Engineer

    Ancient Engineer Well-Known Member

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    Yes, yes, yes... many data points to weight and consider.

    Never forget to ask the question: "What do I want?".

    In my limited experience most young folks forget to ask that one about personal stuff and then weight it adequately.

    It makes digesting the compromises inherit in decision making far less bitter...
     
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  13. Conner Jones

    Conner Jones Member

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    Thank you everyone for this advice. Figured I would give an update.

    I have chosen U of I. Originally I did not think too much about what I really wanted in personal life, but when I did, the choice became obvious.

    (Don't kill me for this next bit) I realized I wanted my theater education to be very structured and filled with colleges. Theater is a tradition, and I want to learn that from people who know it. In some sense, I also want to work with a large class of students that I can bounce ideas off of and develop rapport with. I think organic collaboration among peers is just as important as being mentored by a quality designer/teacher. Often I run into problems that my mentor never gave me an answer for. In that situation I need to be able to create solutions on my own, or with the people around me. U of I has a bigger graduate class than NIU and I want to live in a lighting design community. That makes me happy. I don't want to just work with the same 2 other designers. Obviously my mentor choice is important, but so far I really like him, and there is multiple lighting faculty at U of I

    I also pursue busking and live event work, but I don't like that being so structured. There are places to work in that town as a crew member, an ME, and a programmer that I will do my best to take advantage of. U of I also makes graduate students program shows and act as ME's who have a large crew of electricians at their disposal. That's not something I have had before. In undergraduate school being ME meant I hung and focused every damn light myself. I want the experience of being a real ME, and I can only do that in a place with sufficient crew skill/manpower.

    all and all, I think I am going to the right place for who I want to become. Never do I want to be just a designer, just a light tech, or just a programmer. I want to pursue the whole lighting world to varying degrees, and I think U of I can help me do that. Whichever aspect of the business gains most traction for me is the one ill do most often, and honestly, I am very happy with that. I am not terribly specific with who I need to be, as long as I am a part of this community and a well functioning cog in this machine.

    Eventually, after a hopefully long and good career, I will teach at the best university I can get a job at and pass on as much of what I have learned as I possibly can.

    Also, I have put on a show at Krannert before and my gut feeling just tells me its right. Gotta trust my gut. :)
     
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  14. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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  15. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Fight Leukemia

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    Not killing you, and congrats on your choice. School IS the right answer for some people. I loved being a student. I'll just point out that I've learned just as much on the job from people who do it and know it, than I did from college professors and working as a designer you get to do the same thing, collaborate and work with peers and have a rapport, sometimes it just takes finding the right theatre. I'm learning more about running a theatre and the costs or profits I never through about now that I'm on staff and ATD of a roadhouse than I ever learned from classes I took.

    My point is just that once you're done with your next school step, you can absolutely still find that feeling and scenario, it might just take a few tries to find the group and what you're looking for.
     
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  16. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Well, you are joining a long list of people who went to the same high school you and I both went to and then went onto U of I. A few were successful, a few weren't. That place is a bit of a grinder and you will make of the education what you put into it. Lets just hope Illinois keeps funding schools. WIU is laying off a lot of people due to budget issues. U of I is usually more protected but who knows how long that will last.

    Funny thing is though, you went to probably the best high school in the entire state to learn tech/production... Day to day I use way more of what I learned in high school then I ever learned in college.

    Also, its all about the Zorba's and don't act like its not.
     
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  17. Darin

    Darin Member

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    Interesting opinions here. I loved grad school and wouldn't have my current job without it. I also started my career in Chicago (in the early to mid 2000's) and in now ay found it "dominated by Yale grads". In fact, most of the people I went to undergrad and grad school with are doing very well in that theatre community
     
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