Should I do an MA?
Very much like art itself, I would say the reasons for choosing to read a Master of Art’s Degree is subjective, and the decision should be deeply personal. That’s why this article may not give you answers, but ask you some important questions that I hope will guide your decision.
I think it is impossible to even compare reading an MA to an MSc or MBus, because unlike these clearer career pathways, quantifying the value of an MA is hard, in both a financial and artist measurements. If you’ve chosen a career in the arts, you already know this, and probably don’t see a financial gain, or even if you do, that’s not what motivates you in choosing whether to do an MA or not. And this is where it gets tricky to really weigh up the pros and cons of why YOU want to do an MA.
*Context: I am a visually-impaired performer & theatre maker, but not from birth. Following the accident that blinded me, I received compensation from Criminal Injury Compensation Agency, which left me in the incredible (financially privileged) position to pay my fees for my masters in full, and debt free from any loan’s.
I will breakdown the key issues into a series of questions with reflections from my own experience of studying for an MA. So, as with anything in this industry, I ask you to check your own context before making your decision.
So, the big one: What’s it worth? How do I qualify the value? How do I even fund it?
As I said, I’m going to answer all my questions from my experience.
My degree was £12k in 2014-2015, which is mid-range in terms of fees. I’ve heard of friends paying £17k per year for their MA degrees, and to be honest, it really differs per institution, the course content and also regionally/nationally.
The burden of debt is lessened now thanks to the Post Graduate Loan scheme available, but this does not support everyone in the same respect, or in the same way as your Bachelors, with fees covered and grants for those from lower income households. But this may help and will spread the cost more through your working life.
Speaking of working… you’ll probably have a job on top of your studies. I worked in a hipster bowling alley as a waiter. It was shit. I was studying intense physical theatre for four days a week, then serving lobster and cocktails to tables and bowling lanes three days a week.
I. Was. Knackered.
And I quit. After 5 months of studying (and working the Christmas Period) my mental health plummeted when trying to balance my bank account with my MA workload. So I did the maths and calculated that after saving a little that I could survive if I opened my overdraft (maxxing it out at £3000), until I had completed my final performances. When I began my thesis in June, and had fewer contact hours, I began working at the bowling alley again, which helped me until I had finished the course.
It’s not fun, its pragmatic. It’s worth researching in depth the financial implications doing an MA will have on you, especially whilst you are studying. And maybe you can do it by balancing that part time job or tutoring for example. Do not underestimate the drain that even a part-time job can place on you whilst you are reading for an advance degree.
What do you want?
Deciding what you want to study is tough, but it should be what excites you.
Are you chasing to study at a specific school, or a particular course?
My Masters Degree course technically only existed for one year, and one year only. It was a fluke and the timing was perfect. I studied MA Ensemble Theatre at Rose Bruford College 2014-15, run in collaboration with Teatr Pieśń Kozła (Song of the Goat Theatre), there were two cohorts of the MA Ensemble programme that year, and I opted for the more expensive course to study and work with Song of the Goat. In all honesty, if my MA course hadn’t been run in collaboration with Song of the Goat, I wouldn’t have done it. I wasn’t too fussed about earning the extra letters after my name, I wanted to learn this company’s methodology in making theatre and gain the experience of a research expedition to Georgia and performing at the Gdańsk International Theatre Festival in Poland.
(YES, an expedition included in my fees!)
Where’s best to do it?
Perhaps you are looking a school because of their reputation, or because they are working with a specific company Get in touch with them and find out what their course will entail, will it be the company or will it be invited guests or associate artists.
What kind of course are you looking for? For example:
Acting/Acting Musician/Musical Theatre focused? (e.g. MA Musical Theatre, Mountview, or MA Actor Musicianship, Rose Bruford)
Theatre Maker focused? (MA Theatre Lab, RADA or MA Theatre for Young Audiences, Rose Bruford)
Director focused? (MA Theatre Directing, east15 or MA Directing for Dramatic Theatre DAMU Prague)
Design focused? (Light in Performance MA, Rose Bruford or MA Theatre Design, UAL)
Skill focussed? (MA Black British Writing, Goldsmiths College or MA Voice Studies Royal Central)
Academic focused? (MA Theatre & Performance, King’s College London or MA Contemporary Theatre & Dance, Utrecht University)
As part of your decision, ask whether to you want or need a showcase?
Once you’ve worked that out, that should help narrow your drama school/uni down. I appreciate you may want to apply for a course at a school because of their reputation. We all know what those big names have and what they offer for their BA courses. But find out what you will get from the school for an MA in terms of course content, and what you want afterwards?
I would suggest that the course, who teaches you and the course content (and what you do with it) are more important than any schools reputation.
In saying that, shop around. There are some amazing international MA programmes in Europe, some of which are free of course fees, and some even provide a stipend! Paid to be educated? I know!
Developing your network
There was an incredible and unexpected turn for me in how my network grew and developed.
The course you choose may be a haven of like-minded artists, who you’ll probably form friendships and working relationships following your graduation. I am lucky to have met my colleagues and fellow ensemble members. Six of us formed Seemia Theatre, wanting to continue our training and we decided to continue devising performances. This is common nowadays with many graduates forming companies, but more than initial and immediate colleagues, we often forget the wider network we have the opportunity to build. Tutors, visiting lecturers and industry professionals who you meet can all become part of your arsenal in the future.
Whatever your focus is for your thesis or practice-as-research dissertation, it can lead you to incredible organisations and artists for your future. My thesis investigated visual impairment, disability and accessibility of performer training. I reached out to UK leading inclusive theatre companies, Graeae and Extant, and just months following graduating, I had worked for both, and have now worked with Graeae on several projects.
And before I summarise with key questions, I want to leave you with what the head of the school I studied at told me when I was struggling with my decision:
“You can save your money as a deposit for a mortgage on a house, or travel, but once you have a MA, you will always have it. Plus if in future you decide to teach/lecture in higher education, there are some roles that require you to have MA level education to do so.”
Out of all this, I hope my experience and my questions have helped you think rationally and objectively about a pretty difficult decision.
How to fund the course fees?
How to fund yourself?
What’s the value of the course?
Why are you doing it?
To learn certain skills?
To gain experience?
To graduate from a certain reputable school?
Who do you want to meet and why?
Where do you want to do it?
What do you want after the course?
https://www.gov.uk/masters-loan (Further links to devolved nation’s Post Graduate Loan schemes)
Originally published by Jozara Arts who provide support, guidance and a community to help individuals from a performing arts background flourish beyond the stage. Find out more here.
Photo of 'Studying Hamlet' by Song of the Goat, courtesy of Mateusz Bral.