How Much Difference Does a Degree Make?

by Katy McGlaughlin

Will A Degree Bring You Happiness (or at least Greater Job Satisfaction)?Having recently embarked on my own MFA journey I find myself asking this question, a lot. When I was applying and even after I was accepted in to my program I constantly had to answer the similar question, “Why grad school?” I made the decision to go back to school for myriad reasons, some personal and some generic; after helping facilitate the National Stage Manager Survey ( I started to wonder if there were trends in the benefits of going back to school.

At first the numbers looked promising, 50% of stage managers who hold MFAs make their entire living stage managing (up from 36% in 2013) while only 28% of stage managers who hold BAs claim stage management as their sole income (down from 32%), however 32% of the stage managers without any formal stage management training were also making their entire living in the field, an increase from the 28% of stage managers without formal training in 2013.  

This shows a general but inconclusive trend toward MFAs being more successful in careers stage managing; fellow blogger, David J. McGraw, proposes that “Internships prepare you for the job; the MFA prepares you for the career" and the data that we have suggests that this may be true – while the percentage of stage managers with no formal training who earn their whole living from stage management increased (above) they are also almost twice as likely to leave the field than those with MFAs. This may be influenced by many factors but one of them is certainly job satisfaction.

Now, people who made 100% of their income from stage management were more likely to be Very Satisfied with their work than those pulling income from multiple sources regardless of their level of education; but 27% of people with MFAs were very satisfied while only 19% of those with BAs were very satisfied with their jobs.

Aside from showing us that statistics can be manipulated in various ways what does this tell us about getting/having an MFA? Are people who are more invested in their work more likely to pursue further education? Does a MFA prepare you to advance more quickly in the field of theatre? Does having the degree make people happier or are happier people more likely to return to school? How likely are people already making a large part of their income from Stage Management to leave and go back to school?

I am glad that I decided to come back to school, but it remains to be seen whether getting the degree will bring me great satisfaction in my (hopefully full-time) work. Do any of you have strong feelings for or against grad school?