Ask the Art Prof: How are European MFA Degrees Viewed in the United States?

Final Crit

“I know you’ve said before on this blog that the prestige of your graduate school is critical. How are European MFA degrees viewed in the United States?”

My guess would be to say that it’s neutral.  I don’t think it hurts, but I don’t think it helps tremendously either. The majority of people who apply for college teaching positions in the United States have graduate degrees from the United States, so perhaps a European degree might make you seem more “exotic”?  It’s tough to say, as every search committee has its own specific agenda that is impossible to predict.

I wish I could tell you that graduate school should only be about the educational experience that you have during that time, but unfortunately the reality is that that just is not the case. One of the most important things to attain in graduate school is the strong professional connections that will help launch you into the art world. In terms of professional contacts, location is everything.  For example, if you want to make it professionally in New York City after graduate school, going to a graduate school in Alaska is not a smart move.

The faculty that you study with in graduate school is critical; they will provide the bridge into the professional world for you.  If you study with faculty who are at the top of their field and live either in or within a few hours of New York City, they will have invaluable contacts that you won’t find anywhere else.  I dislike having to put so much emphasis on New York City, as I don’t want to discount other artistic communities in other parts of the world, but New York City really is where the “movers and shakers” are in the art world.

Opening reception

In your case, if your intent is to eventually work professionally in the United States, an MFA in Europe probably isn’t the best choice in terms of networking.  All of your professional contacts will be in Europe, and you’ll essentially have to start from scratch when you come back to the United States. If the professional networking is not a concern for you, then it doesn’t matter where you go to graduate school, and you can just focus on the educational experience. Whether or not the professional networking matters to you depends on your reasons for attending graduate school.  Some people go because they want to teach at the college level, whereas others just do it for themselves. If you’re going to graduate school because you want to teach college, then the networking is going to be crucial to have.


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4 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How are European MFA Degrees Viewed in the United States?

  1. I would add that it is true that most applicants to teach in the U.S. have an MFA or PhD from U.S. institutions. But also that most applicants have taught some already as adjuncts (temps) and have worked some years in the field in the case of design fields like graphic design, digital media, ID, and architecture. it is very rare to come strait from an MFA into teaching full time. (PhD graduates have already taught for years so, they can go strait to it.)
    The exception would be professionals who come in later in their career to teach. Often, they have worked as pros for many years and taught for many years part time. RISD has brought in many part time, adjunct, and even full time professors who have degrees mostly from European institutions to teach in graphic design, for instance, over the decades. This is also not entirely uncommon at other university design and art programs or private design and art schools.
    But the majority of new design and art professors (a good percentage from overseas originally – but getting an MFA in the U.S.) tend to be educated in the U.S. perhaps, because, we have some great design and art schools in the U.S.! But, there are some excellent graduate level programs for design and art in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Britain, Japan, Australia, Canada, etc. Keep an eye on China, Brazil, etc. too.

  2. After I initially commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox
    and from now on every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails
    with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you
    are able to remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    • Which post did you originally comment on when you clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added?” Was it “How are European MFA Degrees Viewed in the US?” I looked in the comments section of my admin area, and I only see this one comment from you about checking the notify box by accident. I’ve Googled this and looked everywhere in my admin, it doesn’t seem like I can change it. Perhaps an option is to block the wordpress email address that is sending you the new comments? I’m sorry I can’t be more help!

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