As Thanksgiving Approaches, MFAs Fear Families’ Awkward Questions

MEDFORD, Mass. Isabella Gostini is a semester away from receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Tufts University, but a look at her face for signs of relief after nineteen years of formal education reveals only angst. “This is just a terrible time of the year for all of us,” she says as she takes in her fellow MFA students sitting at a table in an off-campus coffee shop. “Every day we’re here with the best and the brightest of our generation, and at Thanksgiving we go home to our relatives.”

“Should I lie and say it’s an MBA program?”


Gostini and her friends are representative of their fellow students nationwide, who pay enormous sums of money for advanced degrees only to face a tight market for low-paying jobs. “Last year my Uncle Ned said it was like a reverse lottery ticket,” says Nora Holcomb, who is only three clinical credits away from an MFA degree in Puppetry. “’High cost, low payout,’ he said but dammit, puppets are important!”

The US has been remarkably free of the turmoil that has roiled European nations as young people prolong their entry into the job market while they pursue worthless advanced liberal arts degrees, but some say a day of reckoning is coming. “A day of reckoning is coming,” says Dean Otto Coffin of the College of the Northwest, who counsels students in the low-residency poetry MFA offered by his institution at various locations around Oregon, including a strip mall in Eugene. “These kids sacrifice so much, except for the ones who were unemployable to begin with.”

“I’m going to the Placement Office to check job postings, then slit my wrists.”


Some MFAs have discussed a “March on Washington for Jobs, Dignity or Whatever” in the spring of 2024, but others say they feel more comfortable parsing poems that practicing politics. “I think I’ll pass,” said Ray DeLaMontaigne who is midway through his first year at Brainerd College’s MFA program in theatre arts. “While everybody else is marching or riding the bus back and forth to D.C. I’ll have unlimited access to the photocopier in the Placement Office.”

But before that day comes, MFAs-in-process and newly-minted have to face intrusive questions next week when they get together with relatives who don’t understand the value of a degree in the fine arts to an economy that runs on productivity, not creativity. “I guess it will pay off for you,” says Bob Holcomb, Nora’s father, as he writes her last tuition check. “You can entertain people with your puppets while you’re standing in the unemployment line.”

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