Anyone in an MA or MFA program gets the same question, usually accompanied by a puzzled expression: What do you plan to do with that?
It is true that a degree is not needed to be an artist, writer, or musician, but that is not necessarily a good reason to not pursue an MA or MFA.
From what I have talked about with those on my MA Creative Writing program, each student has their reasons to pursue a degree so frowned upon in academia and among family and friends. These are those reasons.
1. To improve in their craft.
Some may think a Master-level arts degree to be a little self-indulgent and to some extent, it is. However, students do not enroll in these programs because they are the best writers ever. On the contrary, all they may have is their passion for what they do. Some students come in never having published, while others may have been published somewhere, anywhere.
2. To make connections.
While some may call this "networking" I like to this of it in more personal terms. Studying in a creative community forges connections with professors and classmates that won't soon fall away. Particularly in my small classes and with my involvement in the university's and the city's community, I'm in a good place to connect with other creative people, which could lead to future opportunities and projects that I would not encounter otherwise.
3. To affirm their passions.
This comes as a result of the two above and may not be the case with everyone, but some people see arts programs as a way of dedicating time and investing into something they feel they may be able to do. The time that a student spends in one of these programs may be pivotal to their success, and it is a success they make for themselves, outside of others' expectations.
4. To have the option to teach.
Creators and writers usually take up a day job to supplement their typically lower incomes. While some may reach the point that they don't require a "normal" job, it does not happen for everyone, and it may not happen quickly. However, a writer or artist will be hard-pressed to find a decent job in teaching if they do not have at least a Master's-level degree. Plus, as I've experienced with some of my own classmates, some of them do genuinely want to teach and build up others.
5. To learn.
Yes, who would've thought? Going to a university Master's program involves learning, even when a portion of the work consists of things that you make up. Since being in my own program, I've learned much about the applications and types of writing that exist and what I'm capable of. I take my interests much more seriously now than I did at any point in the past, and the future looks bright.