As the pursuit of a bachelor of fine arts degree nears completion, a student cannot help but be overwhelmed by the consequential lingering question of “What comes next?” As an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was determined to go directly to graduate school after earning my degree.
It seemed to be the obvious next step, which I would proudly announce to anyone who inquired as to my post-graduation plans. As far as I knew, graduate school was the logical progression and I had not really considered another option. However, much to my surprise, I was encouraged by a multitude of established artists to take my time instead, and pursue other, potentially more fruitful opportunities before grad school.
“Look for a residency, an artist to mentor with, or work as a studio assistant.” “Get to know yourself and develop your work,” they would suggest. So this is what I did, and it was valuable advice that I will echo to anyone who finds themselves in the same position. There was, however, an additional and equally valuable opportunity that I later discovered, to which I would like to sing my praise: a post-baccalaureate certificate program.
After graduation, my first move was to New York City for a two-year studio assistant residency at Greenwich House Pottery in the West Village of Manhattan. This experience was quite satisfying to me as it fulfilled the goals that had been impressed upon me. I was able to get to know myself better as a maker and focus on my work, while simultaneously learning priceless lessons through my responsibilities as a studio assistant. I developed a distinctive style, technical prowess, and a tight portfolio of elegant, large scale, abstract sculptures. Upon completion of my two years, I felt that it was now time for me to pursue graduate school and sent out numerous applications, only to receive a stack of “We regret to inform you…” rejection letters in return.
Faculty at the various universities offered me feedback, with a consistent response, saying “Beautiful, tight work, good enough for graduate school, but where is it going and what is the investigation?” It became apparent to me that, although I had made commendable technical advances, the isolation of my studio was not ideal for the development of content in the way that the critical dialog of academia demands. In order to take my portfolio to a higher level of maturity necessary for graduate school, I needed to be in an environment that would not only allow more time to focus on producing work, but also provide critical feedback to support thoughtful development of content.
Among the faculty feedback I received was a crucial suggestion encouraging me to pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate program. It amazed me to learn that there are institutions that offer a formalized curriculum for individuals in between undergraduate and graduate school, specifically designed to help students make that next step. I applied and was accepted to the program at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and gratefully found myself in the intense and nurturing environment that I needed.
Upon arriving at UMass, my new professors assured me that if I dedicated myself to developing my work and responded to the gaps they perceived in my portfolio that I would indeed get accepted into graduate programs the following year. They made it clear that my sole responsibility for the year was to be in the studio 100 percent of the time, seven days a week- morning until night. My life drastically shifted, from working 60 hours a week before having the time to get into the studio in New York, to spending over 100 hours a week in the studio, focusing all of my energy on furthering my artistic development. Weekly one-on-one faculty meetings to discuss the development of work, formal group critiques with faculty and students, and a weekly seminar that focused on topics pertinent to my artistic development complimented the studio time. Seminar topics included art theory, artist statement and resume development, and how to make thoughtful decisions about which graduate programs would be a good fit for each individual. Post-baccalaureate students are also required to take a supplementary course each semester to enhance studio practice such as clay formulation, glaze calculation, kiln building, mold-making, or art history, as well as assisting one of the associate professors in teaching an undergraduate course.
The program also surrounded me with three other post-baccalaureate certificate students, working with the same level of intensive devotion to personal development, striving to reach a similar goal. The four of us were constantly involved in informal critique of each other’s work and provided a healthy competitive desire to be in the studio 24/7. Not only our work but our general approach to art making developed a great deal; each of us were accepted into multiple programs, and are now attending graduate schools that suit our individual needs. We came out of the program with not only acceptance letters, but also nine transferable graduate credits, a mature body of work, and a prevailing drive to continue making.
As a second year graduate student at Indiana University, I feel that I ended up at the right school for me and arrived prepared and confident.
I owe both my preparedness and the opportunities that became available to me to the post-baccalaureate certificate program I attended. So, to any undergraduate ceramic students thinking about what to do after graduation I say, look for a residency, an artist to mentor with, work as a studio assistant, or better yet, apply to a post-baccalaureate certificate program, you’ll be happy you did.
David Katz lives in Bloomington Indiana, where he is working towards his MFA at Indiana University.
UMass Dartmouth Post Baccalaureate Certificate Program– A Nine Credit Graduate Certificate
-by Rebecca Hutchinson, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
At UMass Dartmouth we have a well-established post baccalaureate program for those interested in pursuing a “fifth year” of study, offering a critical environment with full access to our facilities. Our Post Baccalaureate (PB) students, after working with us for the year, go on to notable graduate programs, residencies and other professional goals around the country. (Post baccalaureate placements in the last five years include: Alfred University, Tyler school of Art, University of Minnesota, San Diego State, Cranbrook, Arizona State, UC Davis, Ohio University, Ohio State, University of Indiana, UC Boulder, University of Nebraska, Archie Bray Foundation, UMass Dartmouth, Penn State). Since 2001, 27 out of 33 PB students have been accepted to graduate school.
For information on our BFA, Post-Baccalaureate, and Graduate Programs:
|Umass Dartmouth Educational Philosophy
Students’ work in the studio is complemented by courses in clay and glaze formulation, kiln
construction and ceramic history and aesthetics.
The Artisanry/Ceramics program PBC offers students the opportunity for concentrated studio work involving both technical and conceptual challenges. Through questioning and experimentation, students work to consolidate materials and processes while developing strong conceptual and expressive ideas.
• 1,750 sq. ft. kiln facility
• 9 gas kilns, including a 82 cu. ft. Geil Shuttle, 3 Alpine Updrafts (16, 30, & 50
• 12 electric kilns of various capacities: a 28 cu. ft. Frederickson shuttle and a 14 cu. ft.
• Test kilns are installed throughout the labs.
• Approximately 22 wheels
• 3 slab rollers, 2 extruders, hydraulic lift
• Well-ventilated clay mixing studio; 2 Soldner clay mixers, Bluebird pug mill. Dedicated spaces (glaze mixing, kiln room, materials storage, plaster mixing,)
• Throwing and handbuilding studios
• Plaster room ventilated with point-source dust collection, blungers for
• Glaze lab is complete with well stocked material bins, a large spray booth, stainless steel work tables, scales, and test kilns. A dust collection system provides for excellent ventilation when mixing materials.
• Additional equipment includes a sandblasting cabinet, a brick saw, and a welding unit and chop saw.
• Access and invitation to fire Chris Gustin’s wood kiln
| The Faculty
Jim Lawton, Rebecca Hutchinson