True Life: I’m a BA/BFA Student
For those of you who travail in pursuit of a singular degree, I’m glad we’re not doing this in person so we can skip over the confused pause in which you examine me like I’m a unicorn or some other mystical creature you’ve never seen before. You have seen me and my peers — we do walk among you; it’s just typically at a brisk pace with our heads in our laptops typing papers on our way to class. The BA/BFA program allows students to cross-enroll between Lang and either Parsons or the Jazz School, earning two degrees in five years.
I’m at Parsons studying Fine Arts and at Lang for Art History. When I applied in 2006, it was one of three such programs in the nation (the others being at UPenn, and between Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts). These programs were devised to make parents more comfortable sending their kid to art school. But, are they really useful to students, or do they allow the already driven to drive off the proverbial cliff?
Think about the seductive possibilities of earning two degrees like a value meal. Yes, I have more opportunities to engage in campus life as I get spammed by two colleges. Yes, I probably have met more people than single-degree students. Yet I find I’m more acutely aware of what I’m missing within the so-called “college experience.” As my fellow BA/BFA student Hanna Sender summed up, “My time in the courtyard between classes? That’s the extent of my social life.”
My own experience with the program has been a mixed bag of horror and joy. Yes, I am getting a fulfilling college education and I'm grateful for the opportunities my program-linked scholarship has offered me. Still, after speaking with several BA/BFAs past and present I can highlight the largest problem with the program: the utter lack of clear advising direction provided by the university.
Every single BA/BFA student I spoke with mentioned what recent BA/BFA graduate Grady O’Connor called the “two different stories from [his] two different advisors.” Personally, I’ve sat across a desk from six advisors in my time here, each of whom has outlined a different ‘definitive plan’ for my degrees. It’s the lack of direction that is the reason many BA/BFAs have dropped out of the program. Caitlin Gibbons, a Parsons student, dropped out of BA/BFA because she wasn’t especially impressed with Lang and felt that it “wasn’t doing [her] any real good.” Other students have stayed in the program, annoyed by the lack of advising support but remain because they are, as Hanna says of herself, “stubborn and fucking determined.”
As for myself and BA/BFA, I think we’re going the distance. We’ve had our ups and downs, but that’s normal for any long-term couple. Or so I hear.