About 15 years ago, I knew a guy who worked as a regional sales rep for Verizon Wireless and was known for employing crazy, offbeat sales techniques. He once told me about a time when he tried a new approach on a potential customer. A man wandered over to the cell phone display and was casually looking at the phones. My buddy walks over to him and says, "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." "Excuse me?" the incredulous customer replied. "I'm sorry, sir, but I can't sell you any of our phones." "And why not?" said the main. "Well, sir, you're just not cool enough."

He didn't make the sale. Years later, I'm starting to wonder if my friend's problem wasn't in his pitch, but instead in his choice of product.

During this time of the year, when many of us are starting to receive, consider, and accept offers from graduate schools, I've noticed an interesting psychological phenomenon among MFA hopefuls. Most of the schools to which we have applied (UCLA, USC, AFI, NYU, Columbia, et al.) are almost as notoriously exclusive as they are notoriously expensive. However, the dialog on this site (and others) seems to focus entirely on the former and nearly disregard the latter. It seems that so many of us are so eager to feel validated as artists and filmmakers that it can obscure the fact that we are diving head-first into one of the most significant purchasing decisions of our lives. The resulting dynamic is a counter-intuitive reversal; we try desperately to sell ourselves to these schools, rather than the other way around, and pray that we will be allowed to become customers.

Maybe my situation is outside the majority, but I have no trust fund, and my parents will be contributing $0 toward my graduate school tuition. I will be exclusively reliant upon two sources to finance my degree: grants/scholarships offered internally at each institution, and the ol' student loan gambit. Therefore, I want to remain keenly aware of the value of each school to which I am accepted. This website is a fantastic resource for reading opinions about the equipment, facilities, and campuses of schools. However, it is surprisingly light on user info about the cost of tuition and how each applicant financially justifies it. With MFA tuition costs easily exceeding $100,000, this is a pretty big elephant in the room.

What I'd love to see are answers to the following questions from all of y'all:

1. How are you planning to pay for the tuition at the schools you are considering?
2. What specific grants/scholarships are you pursuing? If you don't get them, will you pay sticker price for tuition?
3. How specifically are you planning to repay your loans after graduation? What is the basis of your plan?
4. How much does the cost of tuition factor into your choice of schools, and why?

I've heard that when a loved one dies, a good idea is to bring a trusted friend to the funeral parlor to help with the purchasing decisions surrounding the memorial. In those tense times, it's beneficial to have a clear-headed partner that isn't wrapped up inside their own emotions to ask important questions like, "Do we reallllly need to get the EternaRest 9000 Coffin for $75,000? Isn't that a little expensive?" For many of us (myself included), the graduate admissions process is a roller coaster of self-doubt, exhilaration, and anticipation. Therefore, the same wisdom could easily help here, too. We should be there for each other to ask questions like, "But that experimental film degree from CalArts is going to cost you $150,000, and you're planning on paying for it with loans. How will you possibly be able to pay those back?"

Thanks, and please: share your thoughts!
I've been thinking about film school for a really long time. My parents were in the military and I traveled all over the world with them, moving on an average of 3 years. I've been enveloped into so many different cultures, and picked up various life viewpoints along the way. I knew someday I would end up telling their stories to countless of people. I graduated highschool in 2004 and knew there was no realistic way I could afford a college degree. My parents saved up for me to go to school, but due to the skyrocketing costs of college classes, they seriously miscalculated how much to invest when they started the trust fund. I would have had only enough to go to a decent university for about 10 months. That's not bad, but it's definitely not enough. Screw working the midnight shift at a gas station because I need to pay back loans.

So I joined the Air Force and survived 4 years. While in, I took advantage of college classes, CLEP tests, and DANTE's tests as they are completely free to those on active duty. I completed my associates and earned a CCAF degree 2 months before I separated in 2009.

Now out of the military and armed with the GI Bill, I went to one of my state's best universities, Grand Valley State University, and earned my BS in Film and Video Documentary. Unfortunately, almost none of my CCAF credits transferred so I had to start with less than 30 credits to my name. No big deal as the GI Bill covers everything. I graduated from GVSU in 14', moved south to Florida to escape the snow, applied to FSU, and was accepted to their MFA production program.

If you're unfamiliar of the benefits of the GI Bill, it covers the costs of everything (I mean EVERYTHING) and gives you a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). If you're smart with that money you rack up roommates so you can save on living expenses and pocket the rest. However, it only lasts for 36 months (counted by days of attendance).

I only have a year left on my GI Bill and 2 years of school to go. I'm hoping that my with my savings account, filming small business/corporate jobs during school, and earning a small scholarship or two, I can graduate with zero debt. My life up to this point has been incredibly variant and has taken forever to get to a spot in my career and professional life most are at when they are 24. But, I have played my cards right and can walk out of this school with absolutely zero pressure to pay anything back. It's nice.

Long story short: do 4 years in the military so you can enjoy the rest of your life.
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You can still join the U.S. Military for 4 years and gain the same benefits without giving up your citizenship. Not that I recommend anyone go down this route, just saying it is an available option.


Well-Known Member
This thread is great. It doesn't give a ton of specific details. I suppose maybe that's because most of us don't know. I think it's near impossible to know what job you'll be able to get leaving film school and, for me, is hard to "count" on getting any job that pays more than 30k a year which makes loan payments pretty difficult. The military post gives some good practical advice but more for undergrad.

I really enjoyed reading the ROI article @Chris W shared and am going to look up the books he recommended - just wondering is there one of the three that you think is more relevant today?
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