Innovating Through Artistry

Undergraduate Degree, Masters, Doctorate?

In Author: Lisa Canning, Authors, Creative Support on November 6, 2006 at 1:29 pm


What is an artistic education worth?

To get an undergraduate degree at a university, on average, some being more, some being less, will run you $20,000 a year. $20,000 X 4 years is $80,000. Let’s add another $20,000 for 4 years of living expenses, which is likely too low, but for sake of this discussion lets use it. So at a minimum, your undergraduate degree will cost you $100,000.

Assuming you go on to get a masters, which takes usually 2 years, using the same logic, you can add $50,000 to that. And a doctorate, while many are stipend to teach or assist, defraying the cost of the degree, let’s assume the same amount of time and money, leaving us with another $50,000 investment in your future.  

The grand total for an undergraduate, masters and doctorate degree a whopping  $200,000.

 An education, artistic or not, is a significant investment. As an investment, it is VERY important it significantly advances you and your future. An education is designed to do that but only you have control over how well it does do that.

Let me be the first to encourage you to pursue a degree in the arts.  I HIGHLY value a creative artistic education and believe without it you cannot express properly the creative being you are!  However, to make that statement, requires that I explicitly tell you a few things that are required of you to make it be the best decision of your life, and not, potentially, a poor financial choice that then will dictate the life you can afford to lead!

By spending as often as possible, as soon as possible, exploring where you want your degree to help you go in your life, will ensure the future you want!  If there is not an artistic career development course at your school, that you can take as a freshman, you must create your own course to teach yourself.  Here are some of the basic things you need to do to accomplish this: 

 #1  The development of artistic talent is a skill to be used to build your life on.  Get to know someone who you want to be like when you graduate. Find a mentor who is earning a living IN the arts to emulate and learn from. A good mentor needs to and will want to share a lot about themselves with you; including how they attract their audience, customers, students, how they developed their work, how much they earn and how they went about creating their living in the beginning. Keep searching for this person until you find the right someone you are comfortable with and who wants to help you. Make it a part of your MBO (read post titled MBO) to have that rich resource, a mentor, in your life now.  

Invite them to coffee to start a dialogue, invite them to a concert. Involve yourself in their life and the right someone will want to become involved in yours!

A good mentor is someone that you get more from then you give but someone who in return gets something from you by watching you evolve and change. Your commitment to growth, in your chosen professional pursuits, is a pre-requisite and essential.

  1. 2 Consider the economics of your educational choices and build a financial model that applies only to you. Everyone’s financial circumstances in life are different.  While your mentor might show you the way he or she was able to financially thrive and love his or her work doing it, you might not have the same financial resources or might be lucky and have more! 

Either way, you need to actually build a financial model of your life to ensure you have a plan that makes economic sense.

What that financial model needs to include is:

  •  Your future debts from education and what it will cost you monthly. (assuming you will be responsible for paying for all or part of your education) 
  • Any additional tools you need or resources you need that will cost you money to begin your chosen artistic work and earn money doing it.
  • Your living expenses, what you can REALLY live on, and must have to maintain a lifestyle you can accept and be happy with.


  • The income you can realistically earn, its source and monthly net amount to you. If you don’t know the answer to this question, you MUST find out!

Actually all of the components of your financial plan require you to do some research and really understand what your financial plan will look like.

The goal is cash flow break even, as my husband says. ( My husband Chuck is a CPA and amateur guitar player)  

Regardless of if you want to be an entrepreneur or you will be employed in an artistic capacity by someone else, starting out in life is the same as starting a business.  As a start up, the goal is cash flow break even. If you are not loosing money and can afford to continue doing what you are doing, then you are doing an excellent job with your start up venture or start up life.

If your financial statement reveals that you will lose money at first, you need to use your creativity to figure out a way to change that to, at a minimum, cash flow break even; without totally compromising your goals and vision for your creative life, but instead creatively rearranging it.

If you are making money out of the gate, before I tell you to count your blessings, go back and double check that your numerical calculations are factually based and are correct.

Thank you, Dawid, a Music Major at Millikan University, for your question that inspired today’s post.

  1. The topic is quite hot on the Internet right now. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write ?

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