Is Art School Worth the Money?

By Carolyn Edlund


Art Schools top the list of institutions with the most deeply in-debt students


College graduation



The crushing amount of student loan debt these days is leaving many recent college grads as long-term residents of their parents’ basements – even those who are lucky enough to be employed. The average debt load per student has increased, and total debt has now topped $1 Trillion.


Accusations are popping up everywhere. Tuition costs are out of control. The government is making it too easy to borrow exorbitant amounts of money. Students have a warped sense of entitlement


Art schools top the list of some of the highest college loan debt incurred, including California Institute of the Arts and the College for Creative Studies, despite the fact that schools quite often do not equip future artists with any business education


MFA degrees reportedly don’t provide the bang for your buck, either. 


Even given these frightening statistics, many artists wouldn’t have changed their decision to go to art school.


Would you?




  1. I would still have gotten my art education but would also have sought a second major in business.

    I went to a university art program in the days when BFA’s were first coming into vogue at liberal arts schools. BFA’s (Bachelor of Fine Arts) stripped away requirements to have minors and otherwise diverse educational experiences so that students could “focus” exclusively on their art. It left us totally unprepared for the realities of our chosen career path.

    While working on my Masters in art, I asked a professor and dept. chair about how I would make a living as an artist. She told me that most artists waited tables and did their art in their spare time. I KID YOU NOT.

    Not satisfied with waiting tables for a career after receiving 2 degrees, I went back to school and got a third degree in a career where I could find a satisfying job, and I did my art in my spare time. I do not regret getting the art degree. I do, however, encourage young art students to prepare for other careers while pursuing arts degrees.

    • Thanks BZTAT, for sharing your experience and wisdom on this subject. I also wouldn’t trade my art education, but I didn’t incur the kind of debt that would leave me bitter about it. However, like you, I didn’t get a single business class, and ended up at the School of Hard Knocks (which is a good teacher, by the way.)

      How frustrating that your professor thought most artists did “spare time art.” What a negative and depressing message for students.

  2. I believe when considering education, we need to consider what it is we really want from it. Personal enrichment? A job or McJob? Skills? What kind? Mentorship? Social enlightenment? And so on.

    I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to go to art school. In many ways I’m glad I didn’t. Can’t tell you how many artists I know in my age bracket (over 40 and then some) who still carry at least 100k in debt, are not working in their field, aka, earning a living in the arts, and struggle with the debt that will not go away. (It is a gift that keeps on giving.)

    That being said, I think there is nothing wrong at all with higher education. I’m not talking job skills education, I’m talking critical thinking education. For me, this is a lifelong pursuit. Just because I never went to art school, does not mean I am not educated or continue my quest to quell my insatiable curiosity.

    • Terri, thanks for answering, and I’m glad you did, especially because you did not have the art school experience. Your points are well taken.

      Many times I speak with artists who came to a point in their lives where they decided to earn a living with their art skills. And the most successful ones I know have some background in business as well. It seems to me that all those friends of yours with oppressive debt might have done better if the art schools they attended taught them a little bit about that, too.

  3. I went to college and got my BFA in studio arts, and went on to two art schools but never accumulated any debt in going. My only complaint, and you mentioned it here…is there is absolutely no career guidance in this field. I wish my counselor would have told me the reality of getting a degree in art…but I also didn’t listen to my mother about getting a teaching degree as well and becoming an art teacher. when you’re young the world is your oyster…you can’t imagine not making it!! You learn as you go how hard it is to succeed in this field and the amount of blood, sweat and tears you end up putting into it. Yes…it is worth it…to me at least…experiences and skills I never would have learned otherwise…I don’t regret it at all! What I regret is not being realistic about succeeding in it and preparing myself with a really good day job!

    • Interestingly enough, I spoke with an art business instructor at a well-known art school in the Northeast, who said that most of her students are alumni. They come back when they realize as graduates that they haven’t any idea of how to do business. She also mentioned that undergrads who are offered business classes will often choose not to take them. It could be a right brain/left brain perception.

  4. i think it should just be part of the curriculum…no choice if you want an art degree…just my opinion from learning the hard and long way!

  5. I have a BFA and unlike the first commenter I had to take a fully diversified first 2 years of classes. Those classes haven’t made it any easier to sell my work. I finished with a grand total of 2,000$ in debt, a loan I took in my last semester so I could travel. I paid it off as soon as I got back.

    I would like to comment on these two points in the main article.

    The government is making it too easy to borrow exorbitant amounts of money.
    Students have a sense of entitlement.

    My opinion.
    The responsibility to take loans lie 100% with the student. Full stop.
    I think the second point, students having a sense of entitlement , explains how the first excuse can even be offered.
    I suggest students turn down loans, only take what is offered as a grant. It is a great way to stay out of debt. It will require an adjustment in lifestyle, usually in the more frugal direction.

    • Dave, Thanks for commenting, and your responsible and logical take on things. Extensive borrowing with no end in sight happened to homebuyers, and students as well – and look what has happened. So many young people are caught in a trap of their own making, but I’m sure at one time everyone expected to be employed at very good salaries upon graduation.

      Good for you that you didn’t overborrow. I’m sure it makes a huge difference in quality of life.

  6. I don’t fully agree. Not all students have a sense of entitlement. Neither to all borrowers seeking housing or cars.

    Predatory lending is a topic worth covering. Those who actually loan money are supposed to do the diligence regarding said loan and the borrower’s ability to repay the loan.

    I don’t think you can fully blame students or homeowners or any victims of such fraudulent lending practices. Responsibility also needs to be placed upon the lenders, who qualify the borrowers.

    • Terri, I totally agree there is blame to go around, and loans that have been available in past years don’t make sense. Predatory lenders were dead wrong to do that.

      But on the other hand, how can a student justify the astronomical amounts they have borrowed when they should know better? In my post, I linked to a newspaper article about a young woman with two degrees from private colleges who owes $188,000 in student loans. Those were poor decisions, and as Dave pointed out, the responsibility is hers. What could she have been thinking? This whole thing is sad.

      • As a prospective student myself I can say that there doesn’t seem to be very many options. It’s either borrow or not go to school at all. I meanevery college I was accepted into would leave me with around $100,000 in debt for just my bachelors degree. And that’s after financial aid. I think there are a lot of things wrong with tuition and debt but the least of them is student entitlement. If anything I think education is something we should feel entitled to. A more educated population makes more educated decisions. Which is beneficial to everyone.

        • Jackie, I understand your dilemma, but I don’t think we will see tuition prices decreasing any time soon. The worst part is that many of the art schools out there do little to prepare the student to realistically make a living – and be able to pay down that debt.

  7. I came out of college with no marketable skills from my education, with a BFA and MA in art. There is something wrong with that.

    I did not come out with an unmanageable debt. So the entitlement arguments just sorta boil my blood. I worked my way through school and earned scholarships.

    Art professors are often people who have never had to make a living from the proceeds of their art. They don’t give career guidance because the only career that they know is to be a professor. I think that arts programs should be required to have programming that teaches skills in entrepreneurship to at least prepare students for the realities. I probably would not have taken courses in business unless required, but then I wouldn’t have chosen to take Algebra either.

  8. The for profit aspect of this mess is exactly what is the problem. It’s a racket. Add to that the interest rates on top of the loans and you have indentured servants, for life.

    What they are thinking is that education is good, at any cost or price, that there is a viable job market for said education and that they’ll be able to pay off the debt. Sold a bag of goods by predators that know that these people are strapped with this debt until, or if, they can ever pay it off.

  9. I suspect that some profs choose that career path because there is not anything else they can do. But not everyone can be a professor. If the only endgame to getting an arts degree is to become a professor or a waiter/waitress – there is something really wrong.

    The argument about student loans is really a separate matter. I think serious students who may not have resources should have access to education, and I do not think their career choices should be dictated. But the educational programs have a responsibility to adequately prepare students for a career with which they can make a living. And they also have an obligation to responsibly inform potential and current students about the career expectations.

    The arts are laden with contradictions and ridiculous mind traps about what makes a good artist, and part of the problem is that many profs discourage artists from seeking monetary reward for their works. That is more the problem, in my mind, than the conservative beliefs around entitlement.

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