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Art and risk

Chris Farrell Mar 21, 2011

Question: My daughter did very well as an art major in her undergrad degree, with lots of recognition for her talent, and then got herself accepted into a very prestigious graduate program. She loves doing her art, and thrives on the atmosphere and resources a college program offers. The problem is this program is very expensive, and they did not offer her any significant financial aid other than loans. We cannot afford to help her much with this. She has been trying to earn money, but it’s been hard to find work that pays enough to set any significant amount aside. It seems like a tremendous opportunity for her, but we wonder whether it is worth going into debt $80-100K or more in these job-scarce times. Steve, San Diego, CA

Answer: There is a vast difference between an undergraduate education and graduate school. Graduate school is specifically targeted toward a career, whether its law or art. The only reason to take on that kind of debt burden is if the degree more than pays for itself. I’m skeptical that she’ll earn an income from art that justifies $80,000 to $100,000 in loans.

It bothers me that graduate schools admit students knowing full well if they borrow the money it will be hard for them to pay off the loan once they graduate.

However, there is a simple solution for your daughter: Wait a couple of years. I believe that almost everyone benefits from a long break between their undergraduate experience and entering graduate school. She’s already out there making an income and I wouldn’t rush back to school.

She could use this time to learn more about her art. All over the country there are communities of people that create art without taking on graduate school debt. They share ideas, workspaces, and passions. Many of these aspiring artists are young, but not all. I’d take on the risks of pursuing her art rather than the risk of too much debt.

Of course, it all depends on what sort of art or aproach to art she’s taking. But she might learn by working with other artists that it isn’t the life for her. She could realize that she can create her art and earn an income from it without a graduate school degree. She may discover with time less costly avenues into graduate school if that does prove an important career step for her.

But at the moment, taking on a large debt at this stage of her life is asking for financial trouble. This is a good time for her to explore outside a university.

Any artists with additional insight or thoughts?

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