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To MFA or not to MFA—that is the question many working designers ask themselves. Unlike other professional fields, a higher-level degree is not required for designers to advance in their career. But that doesn’t mean an MFA is unnecessary.
Check out these 5 reasons why getting your MFA will supercharge your design career by boosting your creative skills and making you a more dynamic designer.
Rediscover How to Play
Remember the freedom of creativity you had in college? Die cuts? Yes! Foil? Sure! A poster silkscreened on leather salvaged from an old thrift store chair? Absolutely! Reality? Nope, but it doesn’t matter because your undergraduate studies helped you grow as a designer by encouraging unbound creativity. Now budgets and client demands rule your days. The constant grind can really sap that creativity. While an MFA program can’t roll back time, it can give you permission to play again. In fact, you are encouraged to toss constraints out the window and say to hell with convention. It’s the backbone of an MFA—creative play, unconventional thinking, and authorship of new ideas.
MFA graduate Emma Brooks explored her playful side in these handlettered illustrated silk-screened posters.
Satisfy the Itch
As a creative, we all have the itch—that tingling we feel after looking at the latest awards annual or seeing amazing designs posted to social media—the yearning to create something amazing of our own. For some it’s exploring new techniques, for others it’s the desire to design for good. Whatever your itch, you need to listen to it. Why? Because according to researchers at San Francisco State University detaching from your daily duties and participating in other creative interests positively affects your professional life. So, in other words, satisfying your creative itch outside of your day job can actually make you more innovative during your day job.
MFA student Mary Kintzi returned to her roots of designing for good by developing a hacktivist campaign to challenge viewers’ assumptions about what they are seeing in their news feed, and to know their social media algorithm.
Up Your Current Game
With an industry shifting to an expectation that designers should know everything—traditional design, interactive design, social media, UX/UI to name a few—it’s not a stretch to say that going back for an MFA can help your career. Whether you need to bring an entirely new game to the table by learning an unfamiliar skill, or enhance your game by honing skills that got a little rusty, advancing your marker on the game board will make you a more valuable and desirable designer.
MFA student Juss DisCiullo combined two skills she always wanted to learn, 3D printing and letterpress, by 3D printing a mini-self inking letterpress plus a full set of custom type—then set about learning how to use it.
Conquer the Fear
Too many designers wait for the a-ha moment to come to them. Perhaps fear of the unknown keeps them from taking action, or not knowing that the moment’s solution is even a possibility. An MFA forces you to examine your creativity from every perspective. It pushes your boundaries and challenges you to seek out answers you didn’t know were there—an invaluable skill to bring to both personal and client work.
Coming from a engineering background, MFA graduate Al Bronakowski tackled two unknown topics, illustration and motion graphics, in this fun advertisement for Guys Read.
Flex your Design Muscles
Face it, we’ve all had a job that paid the bills but did nothing to enhance our portfolio. It’s not that the work was bad, it just didn’t show our full creative potential. Then one day we realize our portfolio is out of date, lacks variety and is missing the creativity we know we have. Going for your MFA is the perfect opportunity to give your portfolio the design strength it needs. You are exposed to a diverse, innovative and inspiring environment that not only challenges you to create great portfolio-quality work, but also implores you to explore your career potential.
Kalyn Kepner utilized her MFA time to enhance her portfolio presence with this elegant restaurant design for RoseWall.
Looking for an MFA design program that is flexible, affordable and lets you keep your day job?
With only 3 weeks a year on campus, Kutztown University’s low-residency MFA in Communication Design enables you to work full-time and get your degree at the same time. Whether you are a graphic, advertising or interactive designer, KU’s MFA program helps you take control of the creative freedom. The curriculum provides the exploration of personal and professional aspirations by charting your own course. Find your voice. Design your KU MFA journey.