Are Master's Degrees Worth It?

January 23, 2020

After pouring four years of sweat, tears and money into a bachelor’s degree, signing up for more schooling might be the last thing on your mind. To be sure, pursuing a master’s degree isn’t right for everyone. But for some, it’s a valuable asset that can take their career to the next level.

Why Get a Master’s Degree?

Have a longer career.
Dancers can’t perform forever, and having a graduate degree can help you transition into another area of the field, such as dance education or arts administration. Certain jobs—like teaching in higher education or conducting research—require a master’s degree. But having one can set you apart during your job search, even for studio teacher or choreographer positions.

Explore new ideas.
Eric Handman, associate director of graduate programs at the University of Utah School of Dance, believes that a master’s program can be a deeply transformative experience if dancers enroll with a willingness to encounter the unknown. “I feel like a graduate program is a hothouse,” he says. “Students get dedicated time and space to focus on the things that really make them tick, and discover new things that make them tick.” Aspiring choreographers might find this especially appealing since it allows them to experiment with new movement.

Various limbs and torsos of dancers moving in a vertical line are visible behind the most downstage performer, who stares straight ahead from a flat back pose.
Work by University of Utah grad student James Wallace

Tori Duhaime, Courtesy University of Utah

The Price Tag

Don’t let the cost keep you from applying. Ask the school about any scholarships or assistantships available to grad students. At the University of Utah, for instance, every ballet and modern MFA candidate is offered a teaching assistantship, which covers the cost of 12 credits per semester. The accompanying stipend can fully fund their program.

Is It Right for Me?

If you’re not yet sure about a master’s degree, it might be better to wait than jump into a commitment you aren’t ready for, says Deborah Damast, program director of dance education at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “For people who are really invested in performing, they need to do that while their bodies are still in performance condition,” she says. In fact, some master’s programs require applicants to have several years of work experience before applying.

MA vs. MFA

Master of Fine Arts:
Typically focuses on the performance aspects of dance. This degree is a good option for students who want to explore things like choreography, production and performance.

Master of Arts:
Tends to be more academically focused. These programs often include courses in research, methodology and education, and are a good stepping stone for students who want to pursue a doctorate.

Interested in both?
NYU offers a unique dual-degree program where students can earn both an MA and MFA in three years.