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Is a DMA worth pursuing?


Is a DMA worth pursuing? Yes, it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, but some clarification may be helpful. As a DMA is geared toward preparing someone to teach in a college or university, my perspective is shaped by the climate of higher education as it stands now.

I earned my DMA in 2014. The world was still recovering from the Great Recession, and this economic crisis had set in motion a crisis in higher education. During the Great Recession, many colleges and universities faced declining funds and had to make difficult financial decisions. As full-time, tenured professors retired, many colleges and universities chose to turn their positions into adjunct positions, leaving fewer and fewer full-time, tenure-track positions available on the job market as time went on. At the same time, tenured professors who may have been nearing retirement age as the Great Recession swung into full gear decided to put off retirement to give their retirement funds a chance to catch up and enable them to retire in more favorable conditions. 

The math is simple: there are fewer full-time, tenure-track higher education jobs (read: jobs with reasonable pay and benefits) available now than there were prior to the Great Recession, and the jobs that remain (both full-time and adjunct) have therefore become all the more competitive. It is not uncommon for over one hundred applicants to apply for a single full-time, tenure-track position. 

This is not to make excuses for myself (I did not end up teaching at a college or university), but rather to bring clarity to the environment a DMA graduate can expect. It is not guaranteed that, after graduating with a DMA, you will land a full-time, tenure-track position at a college or university. It never was guaranteed, and the odds are now stacked even higher against the applicant than they may have been prior to the Great Recession. 

I have no regrets about the sweat equity I poured into my DMA, and would likely have followed the same path, were I to do it all over again. The skills I learned as a performer, educator, and scholar in my DMA are skills that I treasure and use every day, and I know that had I stopped at my Master of Music degree, there would have always been a part of me wondering “what if” I actually had gone all the way through the DMA. This being said, the expectation of earning a full-time position at a college or university on a full-time basis after earning a DMA needs to be more fleshed out than it was in my mind when I was in graduate school.

Expect to hustle. You need every adjunct teaching position you can get. These are the potential stepping stones to a full-time position down the road. Hustle to do full-time professor things as well, even though you don’t have the title yet: attend conferences and/or present there, publish articles and/or research, and network. At the same time, adjunct pay is certainly less than desirable, so expect to hustle with as many jobs as you need to in order to pay your bills and eat. 

Expect fierce competition. Simply earning your DMA is not enough. The people who earn the full-time, tenure track teaching positions at colleges are ahead of their competition by checking multiple “boxes” for the hiring committee. Someone who also has experience directing ensembles, or has expertise in another related field (musicology or theory background) will be able to check more boxes for the hiring committee than someone with expertise solely in their instrument.

Expect to wait. The sooner you can get email alerts set up on a site like or similar, the better. You will find that, in the span of a year, there may only be a handful of positions matching your qualifications that open up. Apply to all of them. That being said, with the odds stacked as they are, and only a handful of positions open in the course of an academic year, it may be a while before you finally land the full-time job you’ve been eyeing. To this end, when you do finally land that job, expect that it may be in a different city, state, or country than where you are currently located.

Lastly, read The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job by Karen Kelsky, Ph.D. Published in 2015, the book provides a more in-depth look at the realities of the current state of higher education while also providing clear advice to take concrete steps toward getting a job in higher education. If you have not yet started your DMA, or are currently in the midst of your studies, read this book now. There are things you can be doing, steps you can take now to get yourself ahead of the competition. 

Essentially, the goal of a DMA is typically to prepare and qualify someone to teach in higher education and, as such, my advice here is specifically oriented toward that goal. If your goal is not to work in higher education, you will obviously still reap benefits from the studies of a DMA, but will likely apply them in a different manner entirely from what is described here.



1 Comment
  1. MML2019 says

    Great article about DMA. If you are thinking about pursuing a DMA, read this for sure!

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