So…Why graduate school?  Why Arts Management?

…are the two questions I get asked the most when people find out I’m in grad school.  The answer I really want to give is: “Well, why not?”

But if a more serious answer is needed, then I’ll be honest.  I felt stuck and I needed to find a way to move forward.  After three years with a theatre company in Minneapolis, I was in a position with little upward mobility.  If I didn’t want to have to start over in another company at an entry-level position, I needed to get an advanced degree.  My dreams for the future include high-level management in a theatre company, so sitting in a dead-end position was not for me.  Now here I am, in the middle of my first semester of grad school, facing the stacks of reading and hours of homework and silently wondering if I’ve made the right choice.  That’s normal, right?  (I’ve been told repeatedly that it is…so, I guess that’s a relief).  But really, I feel confident in the decision I’ve made.

The depth of knowledge and expertise my professors display, the vast network of alumni, and the great reputation American University’s Arts Management program has in the arts community, are just a few of the reasons this place is unbeatable.



However, knowing that one perspective isn’t everything, I’ve enlisted the help of my fellow EALS committee members, as well as an alumna of the program and a prospective student, to help shed some light on the topic.


Do you think grad school is becoming the new standard of education?

I think a graduate degree is absolutely becoming the standard for the next generation of arts administrators. There is an increasing amount of competition for the high level positions in a successful arts organization. If that’s the kind of job you want, you have to make yourself an attractive, well educated candidate. — Amyjo Foreman ‘16

In my experience it sure seems that way. Grad school appears to be necessary in this competitive job market if one hopes to get a position which matches your level of education. I don’t know if it is because entry-level jobs are disappearing and giving way to internships and fellowships, or if the competitive job market has turned what might have once been thought of as an entry-level job into a position requiring a graduate degree.  — Pascale Rucker, prospective student


How has your understanding of what grad school is and its purpose in your life changed since you started?  

Before beginning grad school, I looked at the advantages of having a master’s degree mostly in metrics (ex: how many more contacts I will gain, how much potential earnings should increase, etc.).  Now I realize that for me, grad school has been so much more fulfilling qualitatively.  I found a sense of home in a new city and with a new group of friends, my perspective and knowledge is constantly growing and changing, and I have shaped and re-shaped my identity, curiosity, and tools I use to navigate everyday life.  I knew I would be changed, but not this deeply. — Erin Quinlan ‘15

At first, I really thought that grad school was just some more studying and focus of an area I’m interested in, but I realized it’s so much more. I’m surrounded by people with the same goals that I have and everyday what I want to do in life becomes more and more clear. I finally feel as though my goals are achievable and have the proper tools to achieve them. — Zenia Simpson ‘16


What do you think are some common misconceptions about grad school?

Some common misconceptions I find in grad school is that it is a strict continuation of how you’ve been studying throughout your life. It’s much more concentrated and in a smaller time frame. Grad school expects you to take a one sentence question and build a thesis and career out of it, whereas you’ve been able to get by on writing a 10-page paper on a 300-page book. There’s also a belief that grad school will make you employable, which, while hopefully it will, students still need to remember to build work experience and networks in their fields. And then, sometimes, it still comes down to luck. — Sarah Hewitt ‘15

A common misconception I have heard about graduate school is that it is a place to discover, more specifically, what you want to do. Although I think graduate school has a lot of room for self-discovery and exploration, students should decide to attend graduate school after they know which career path they want to take. Grad school should not be used for solely gaining experience, but learning the specifics about your desired career path. — Tori Sharbaugh ‘16


What led you to choose the Arts Management program at AU?

I picked AU because of the people. I met great people at the other amazing schools I looked at, but there was something about the people at American that spoke to me. The professors had more heart, and maybe more sarcasm, than the rest. The people were more like me in that they have worked a bit, they have seen the world, and they have my sense of humor. — Helene Genetos ‘16

I had been looking at all of the DC-area Arts Management programs and was very much drawn to the International Arts Certificate (given my background in Russian and interest in international cultural programs/exchanges). I liked being able to cross disciplines and that AU encouraged it. — Sarah Hewitt ‘15

My first reason for attending the AU program was because of the reputation it has amongst Arts Management programs across the country. From information I had collected, AU immediately stood out as one of the leading programs. In addition to the reputation of the professors and available opportunities, the location of Washington, D.C. was a huge draw for me. — Tori Sharbaugh ‘16

AU’s Arts Management program is well established and highly respected in the field with graduates working in leadership positions across the country. I was also particularly drawn to the experienced faculty, coursework, and endless opportunities for students to engage and learn from others in the field through symposiums, conferences and events. It also helped that the program was in Washington, which is where I wanted to further develop my career and build connections. (This answer was originally posted on Her Campus) — Erin Phillips ‘14

As an Art History major, my background is purely academic. I want to pursue a career of a more business capacity, so a graduate degree in Arts Management seems to be the ideal program. Alumni and current students speak so highly of the program at AU. I am currently seeking more information. — Pascale Rucker, prospective student


What do you think an arts focused grad degree gives you that a MBA doesn’t?

One of the push backs I got from people was why I was going after the MA programs instead of an MBA. Since these arguments were few and far between and coming from people who knew nothing about this field, I pretty much politely ignored their suggestions, offering a line something to effect of liking the ability to tailor my program more specifically to my needs as an arts manager. — Colleen Holroyd ‘15

An arts focused degree offers a critically important lense that an MBA or Non-profit Management degree would not.  Arts organizations are very unique beasts who present their own challenges, issues, and opportunities.  The chance to focus specifically on the inner-workings of organizations as similar to ones we will actually manage in our careers is a key element.  That is also why EALS is so great!  We focus specifically on the issues our colleagues are curious about! — Erin Quinlan ‘15

I struggled with the decision between arts management masters and an MBA. At the end of the day, I knew I wanted to work with the arts and wanted to be seen as a member of the arts community. I felt an MBA would set me apart from my colleagues and not in the way I wanted. Who knows, I could always go get one later… — Helene Genetos ‘16


What were some of the biggest arguments people offered to try to persuade you not to pursue an arts degree?  What made you choose to ignore them/how were they wrong?

People have a preconceived misconception that the arts aren’t profitable, you can’t make your living that way, or that arts should just be an extracurricular. Sorry, but you’re wrong, dudes! The cultural sector stimulates the economy, provides full time jobs, and can enhance the quality of life on all levels. We’re in this program because we understand that and part of our job is to help others understand that too. — Amyjo Foreman ‘16

The biggest argument I have always encountered revolves around compensation. It is no lie that arts managers do not make as much in the non-profit sector as other careers. But that is a choice I believe we all have made in order to pursue our passions (or should make sure we have made). I’d rather be ecstatic in my career and want to go to the office every day, than feel completely financially secure. My college adviser gave me this advice in a different context, but it comes down to “if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, than this is the career for you.” For me, that credo was enforced during the recession when I could gratefully say that I loved my job and was able to make a living, albeit a modest one, off of what I was doing. — Sarah Hewitt ‘15

The biggest argument I heard upon deciding to come to grad school was all about money.  I understand that to some, this investment seems frivolous or even useless but I had to go with my gut on this one.  It turns out that I have already gained more than I have paid for.  Yes, I have gained all the skills and knowledge I expected my tuition to cover but I can’t put a price tag on the pride, support, and confidence I will leave this program with.  This is especially important to me as a young woman arts leader as some voices discourage confidence in my education. — Erin Quinlan ‘15


What is your favorite thing about AU’s program?

It’s the people — students, teachers, alumni — they’re all such interesting people with brilliant ideas for the field. The location is also fantastic. There are opportunities I’ve been able to latch on to by virtue of being in the DC area. Certainly there would be other opportunities in other locations, but the things I’ve been able to do by being in this area are incredible, my job with the NCTA (Nat’l Council for the Traditional Arts) at the forefront. — Colleen Holroyd ‘15

My favorite thing about AU’s program is how interconnected we all are. With multiple active Facebook pages and blogs, I feel in constant contact with everyone in the program and am constantly learning about news in the industry, events, and even job opportunities. Even when not at AU, I run into alumni or people who hold the program in such high regard and are always asking if I know someone who needs work because people in our program are so top-notch. — Zenia Simpson ‘16


So… Why graduate school?  Why Arts Management?  Because we live and breathe art, it is a necessary and important part of our culture, it fulfills a place in our lives that nothing else can, and we can no longer deny the call of our passion.


This article was written by Jenni Amis. 

All opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the individual and do not reflect the views of American University or the Arts Management program.