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Grad Program: Acting (M.F.A.)

Basic Information
There are many ways to break into the world of Acting. Some people get their faces on TV commercials when they’re kids and go on from there. Others attend undergraduate institutions designed specifically to nurture their talents. Still others work laboriously in college and community productions or film groups, and then try to plunge into the spotlights of LA or New York City, or join a troupe of professional performers. And then there are those that go the M.F.A. route, earning the graduate degree of choice for aspiring stage or film actors who are looking to: a) polish their talents for professional and personal reasons; b) teach their art form at the university level; c) both a and b.

But getting into an M.F.A. program—particularly a highly competitive one—may be as difficult as actually making a living as a professional actor. The admissions process at a highly competitive M.F.A. program in acting (New York University, for example), can be grueling. Candidates prepare monologues and travel to an audition site to perform their acts live in front of an admissions committee, not to mention having headshots taken, updating résumés, writing personal statements, and completing all other application forms. After all of this is done, only a miniscule percentage of applicants get the thumbs up. And while admissions crews certainly take into account personal statements and college GPAs, the audition is what makes or breaks a candidate.

Unlike an M.A., which emphasizes the scholarship of a discipline, an M.F.A. focuses on the creation and practice of the discipline, hence the standard audition requirement. So if an M.F.A in Acting sounds like your ticket, you should prepare to hunker down and do some research. Some programs specialize in a particular style of performance, some don’t want you unless you’ve already had one leg in the professional arena, and some are prepared to charge you the cost of a suburban home in exchange for a place in their program.

Degree Information

The M.F.A. is a terminal degree, as opposed to an M.A. or any number of other degrees and certificates offered by various institutions. This means that when you earn an M.F.A., you’ve completed the highest level of training in your field. If you want to find a permanent position at a university, a terminal degree is exactly what they’ll want to see. And it certainly won’t hurt when Hollywood talent scouts or Chicago stage directors glance over your résumé and portfolio.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Who are the faculty members and what have they accomplished recently?
  • What sort of access do you have to faculty members, especially any big names?
  • What about the students? Where are they from? What are they doing?
  • And the graduates—what have they done since leaving the program?
  • What sort of assistantships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities are available?

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