Are you considering advancing your artistic skillset, but unsure which educational path to take? An MFA degree, or Master of Fine Arts, might be the perfect fit for your career ambitions.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll unravel what an MFA degree entails, its distinctive advantages and how it could significantly impact your artistic journey. Ready to embark on a transformative exploration into the world of MFA degrees? Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • An MFA degree, or Master of Fine Arts, is an advanced – level degree in visual arts, performing arts, design, or creative writing that signifies high proficiency and expertise in these creative disciplines.
  • The key differences between a Master’s degree and an MFA are that an MFA is professionally focused on practical skills rather than theory, requires a bachelor’s degree plus letters of recommendation and samples of work for admission, and offers concentrations primarily in the arts.
  • Prospective students pursuing an MFA degree should have a profound passion for the arts and desire to refine their skills under seasoned mentors. Admittance into MFA programs typically requires completion of a bachelor’s degree and evidence of talent and commitment towards their chosen art form.
  • MFA programs offer concentrations such as creative writing, visual arts, and performing arts. These programs provide intensive training and mentorship to develop technical skills, artistic voice, critical thinking abilities necessary for successful careers as professional artists or educators.


What is an MFA Degree?


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An MFA Degree, formally known as a Master of Fine Arts, is an advanced-level degree earned by students who delve into the study and practice of visual arts, performing arts, design or creative writing.

This graduate-level college degree signifies high proficiency in these creative disciplines and is offered with varying concentrations such as painting, acting, sculpting or creative writing.

Conforming to guidelines set out by the College Art Association of America (CAA), the MFA stands as a terminal degree – considered equivalent to professional degrees granted in other distinct fields.

Thus it represents not just academic accomplishment but also deep-seated expertise across artistic professions like authors, editors, playwrights and more.


Differences Between a Master’s and an MFA

The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and the Master’s degree can often get confused due to their similar names; however, they differ significantly in their focus and structure. This section aims to delineate the key differences between a Master’s degree and an MFA degree.


Master’s Degree MFA Degree
A Master’s degree, for the most part, is academically focused. It is structured around coursework and research in a specific discipline. An MFA is a professional degree centered on the practice and application of a creative skill. It emphasizes practical skills over theory.
Admission often requires a Bachelor’s degree and potentially some relevant work experience. Admission demands a Bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and samples of work that demonstrate artistic ability.
A Master’s degree can range across a wide array of subjects, from business and education to social sciences and natural sciences. The MFA degree is primarily focused on the arts. Concentrations commonly include creative writing, design, performing arts, and visual arts.
Typically, a Master’s Degree capstone includes a written thesis or research project related to the student’s chosen field. In contrast, an MFA program requires a thesis project that often includes a creative body of work, displaying the student’s mastery of their art.
Many Master’s programs offer part-time and full-time options, with various attendance and residency requirements. MFA programs may have similar flexibility, but it’s important to consider factors such as residency requirements, full or part-time attendance, and teaching opportunities when choosing a program.


Understanding these differences can help prospective students make informed decisions about which graduate degree aligns better with their career goals and personal aspirations.

Credit To:Megan Maclaine | On Writing

Who Should Pursue an MFA Degree?

Consideration for an MFA Degree typically involves individuals with a profound passion for the arts who desire to further refine their skills and work under seasoned mentors. This advanced degree spans across various artistic disciplines such as design, performing arts, visual arts, and notably creative writing.

Potential candidates may include aspiring authors, dancers, actors or even college-level teachers aiming to gain a competitive edge in their respective fields. It is important to note that admittance into MFA programs necessitates previous completion of a bachelor’s degree alongside submission of letters of recommendation, personal statements,and samples of work exhibiting talent and commitment towards one’s chosen art form.

In essence, pursuing an MFA isn’t merely about professional advancement but serves as an avenue for individuals to delve deeper into their artistic passions while opening doors toward diversified career opportunities within the thriving artistic industry.

Types of MFA Concentrations

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MFA programs offer various concentrations, including creative writing, visual arts, and performing arts.

Creative Writing

Creative writing is a popular concentration within MFA programs, offering aspiring writers the opportunity to explore and develop their craft. With concentrations such as fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenwriting, students can delve into various genres and styles of writing.

By honing their skills through workshops, seminars, and one-on-one mentorship with experienced faculty members, MFA students in creative writing gain invaluable guidance and feedback on their work.

Graduates from these programs have gone on to become successful authors like David Moloney ’17MFA, Nadia Owusu ’17MFA, and Derrick Craigie ’09MFA. The MFA degree provides aspiring writers with the technical training, critical thinking skills, and artistic mentors necessary for a career in professional writing or teaching creative writing at the college level.

Visual Arts

Visual Arts is one of the popular concentrations offered in MFA programs. It encompasses various forms of artistic expression, including drawing, painting, illustration, and sculpting.

Through intensive training and critique sessions, aspiring visual artists refine their technical skills and develop their artistic voice. The MFA program in Visual Arts equips students with the necessary knowledge and tools to succeed in careers as professional artists or educators.

With a median annual salary of $100,890 for art directors and growing job opportunities in the field of multimedia arts and animation, pursuing an MFA degree in Visual Arts can open doors to a fulfilling creative career path.

Performing Arts

Performing arts is a vital and exciting concentration within an MFA program. It encompasses fields such as theatre arts, acting, directing, and more. With a focus on honing their craft and developing their artistic voice, performing arts students delve into the nuances of character development, stage presence, and creative expression.

Through intensive training and practical experience, MFA graduates in performing arts gain the skills necessary to pursue careers in theatre productions, film editing, or even teaching at the university level.

This concentration offers a unique blend of technical training and artistic exploration that prepares individuals for success in the dynamic world of performance.

Understanding the Structure of an MFA Program

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Understanding the Structure of an MFA Program

MFA programs have specific academic and thesis requirements that students must fulfill to complete the program successfully.

Academic requirements

To pursue an MFA degree, aspiring students must fulfill certain academic requirements. Typically, applicants are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fine arts or literature.

In addition, most MFA programs require submission of letters of recommendation from professors or professionals familiar with the student’s work and potential. A strong personal statement expressing their artistic goals and motivations is also important.

Finally, applicants must submit samples of their work demonstrating their creative abilities and potential for growth. These academic requirements help ensure that students entering an MFA program have a solid foundation and are prepared to further develop their artistic skills and knowledge through rigorous coursework and mentorship.

Thesis requirements

MFA programs typically include specific thesis requirements that students must fulfill during their program. These thesis projects serve as a culmination of their artistic and academic development, allowing them to demonstrate their creative skills and critical thinking abilities.

For example, in an MFA in Creative Writing program, the thesis requirement may involve writing a full-length novel or poetry collection. In visual arts programs, it might entail creating a body of work for an exhibition or developing an original artistic concept.

The completion of these thesis projects not only showcases the student’s talent but also prepares them for professional opportunities in their chosen art form.

Duration of an MFA Program

MFA programs vary in duration, with most programs typically taking two to three years to complete. However, this can differ depending on the specific program and whether a student is attending full-time or part-time.

For example, Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA in Creative Writing is a 48-credit program that usually takes around two years of full-time study to finish.

It’s important to note that some MFA programs may offer accelerated options for students who want to complete their degrees more quickly. Additionally, low-residency MFA programs often have a different timeline compared to traditional full-residency programs.

In these low-residency programs, students typically come together for intensive writing residencies once or twice a year and work independently during the rest of the year.

When choosing an MFA program, it’s crucial to consider not just the duration but also factors like residency requirements and teaching opportunities. These aspects can greatly impact your experience and goals as you pursue your MFA degree.

Key Advantages of an Online MFA


  • Flexibility: Online MFA programs offer flexibility in terms of location and schedule, allowing students to earn their degree from anywhere in the world and at their own pace.
  • Accessibility: Online MFA programs have made pursuing an MFA degree more accessible for career-changers and individuals with family responsibilities, as they can study from home without having to relocate or put their career on hold.
  • Networking Opportunities: Despite being online, these programs still provide opportunities for networking with fellow artists and industry professionals through virtual workshops, forums, and social media groups.
  • Industry-Relevant Curriculum: Many online MFA programs, like Southern New Hampshire University’s program, focus on the “business” side of the arts, teaching students marketing strategies and how to navigate the publishing world effectively.
  • Cost Savings: Online MFA programs often have lower tuition fees compared to traditional full-residency programs. Additionally, students can save on expenses like housing and commuting.
  • Individualized Instruction: Online MFA programs typically offer one-on-one mentoring and feedback from experienced faculty members who are working professionals in their fields.
  • Accessible Resources: Through online platforms, students have access to a wide range of digital resources such as e-books, databases, and art-related software tools that enhance their learning experience.
  • Diverse Perspectives: Online MFA programs attract a diverse student population from different geographic locations and cultural backgrounds. This diversity enriches class discussions and enhances artistic growth through exposure to varied perspectives.


Benefits of a Low-Residency MFA

A low-residency MFA program offers several benefits for aspiring artists and writers. Here are nine key advantages:


  1. Flexibility: Low-residency programs allow students to balance their education with work, family, or other commitments. They offer a more flexible schedule that accommodates diverse lifestyles.
  2. Accessibility: These programs often attract students from all over the world, providing a diverse and global perspective. Students can engage with peers and faculty members from different backgrounds and cultures.
  3. Intensive Residencies: While the majority of the coursework is completed online, low-residency programs include intensive residencies where students gather in person for workshops, seminars, and networking opportunities. This allows for valuable face-to-face interaction with mentors and peers.
  4. Personalized Mentorship: Students receive one-on-one guidance from experienced mentors who are established professionals in their respective fields. This mentorship helps students refine their craft and develop their artistic voice.
  5. Creative Community: Low-residency programs foster a tight-knit community of like-minded individuals who share a passion for the arts. Engaging with fellow students and faculty during residencies and online discussions provides support, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities.
  6. Networking Opportunities: Residencies offer ample opportunities to network with industry professionals such as publishers, editors, agents, and acclaimed artists/writers. These connections can open doors to future career opportunities or collaborations.
  7. Emphasis on Self-Motivation: Low-residency programs require a high level of self-discipline and self-motivation to complete assignments on time while managing other responsibilities. This cultivates important skills that are valuable in any creative profession.
  8. Focus on Craft Development: The structure of low-residency programs allows students to focus on honing their craft without having to juggle numerous classes across different disciplines. This concentrated approach fosters deep learning and mastery of artistic techniques.
  9. Accessible Faculty Support: Online platforms enable constant communication between students and faculty members, ensuring easy access to guidance and feedback throughout the program. This personalized support enhances the learning experience.


The Financial Aspect: Cost of an MFA Degree

Attending an MFA program is a significant financial investment that requires careful consideration. The cost of an MFA degree can vary greatly depending on the institution and location.

On average, prominent art schools charge around $30,000 per year for tuition alone, not including additional expenses such as housing and materials. This highlights the financial commitment associated with pursuing an MFA degree.

However, it’s important to note that scholarships and financial awards are often available to help alleviate some of the costs.

The average age of MFA students is 29, indicating that many individuals choose to gain real-world experience before embarking on this educational journey. As a result, they may already have existing financial responsibilities or debts to manage while pursuing their passion in the arts.

It’s crucial for prospective students to carefully consider the long-term impact of taking on student debt before committing to an MFA program. Graduate studies typically require at least two to three years of study, during which most students accumulate significant financial debt.

However, earning an MFA degree can open doors to various professional opportunities in artistic fields such as publishing or teaching at the college level.

When deciding whether or not pursuing an MFA degree is financially feasible for you, it’s essential to look into factors like part-time versus full-time attendance options and residency requirements that could affect your ability to work while studying.

Additionally, exploring online programs can be a more affordable alternative due to their flexibility and reduced overhead costs.

In conclusion, although obtaining an MFA degree comes with its fair share of financial challenges, there are resources available such as scholarships and part-time opportunities that can alleviate some of these burdens.

It’s crucial for aspiring artists considering this path to weigh both the potential benefits and costs associated with pursuing an advanced artistic education while keeping their long-term goals in mind.

How Prestige Matters When Choosing an MFA Program

The prestige of an MFA program can greatly impact your artistic career trajectory. When choosing an MFA program, it’s important to consider the reputation and name recognition of the institution.

A highly-regarded program can provide you with valuable networking opportunities and open doors to industry connections that may not be available through lesser-known programs.

Prestige also plays a role in how your work is perceived by potential employers or collaborators. The quality of the art produced ultimately matters most for artistic career success, but having an MFA from a prestigious institution can give your work added credibility and legitimacy within the industry.

Additionally, some MFA degree holders find that attending a prestigious program increases their chances of securing teaching positions at colleges and universities. Institutions often prefer candidates with degrees from reputable programs as they are seen as more qualified and knowledgeable in their field.

Ultimately, while prestige should not be the sole deciding factor when choosing an MFA program, it is worth considering as part of your overall decision-making process. By carefully researching each program’s reputation, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your artistic goals and aspirations.

How to Become a Competitive Applicant for an MFA Program

To become a competitive applicant for an MFA program, you will need to take certain steps to showcase your qualifications and dedication to the arts. Here’s a guide on how to stand out:


  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fine arts or creative writing, to demonstrate your foundational knowledge and commitment to your craft.
  • Cultivate relationships with professors and mentors who can provide strong letters of recommendation that speak to your talent, work ethic, and potential for growth.
  • Craft a compelling personal statement that showcases your artistic aspirations, motivations, and unique perspective. Use this opportunity to explain why pursuing an MFA is essential for your artistic development.
  • Submit a portfolio or sample of work that represents your best pieces and demonstrates your skills in your chosen medium. Be selective and include pieces that highlight both technical proficiency and creative expression.
  • Research MFA programs carefully to find the ones that align with your artistic goals and values. Consider factors such as faculty expertise, program structure, alumni success, and opportunities for specialization.
  • Attend workshops or conferences related to your field of interest to gain insight into current trends, techniques, and industry standards. This shows dedication to ongoing learning and professional development.
  • Consider participating in community art projects or exhibitions to demonstrate your active involvement in the arts community. This can also help you build connections with other artists and potential mentors.
  • Stay up-to-date with industry news and publishing opportunities through publications like Poets & Writers database or organizations like The Authors Guild. This shows that you are engaged with the larger artistic landscape.
  • Create an online presence by maintaining a professional website or portfolio showcasing your work. Utilize social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter for networking purposes and sharing updates about your creative process.
  • Familiarize yourself with the specific application requirements of each MFA program you’re applying to. Pay close attention to deadlines, supplemental materials needed (such as transcripts or test scores), and any additional application essays or interviews.
  • Consider taking preparatory courses or workshops to strengthen any areas of weakness in your artistic practice. This could include classes that focus on technique, theory, or specific skills related to your chosen medium.
  • Seek feedback and constructive criticism from trusted peers, mentors, or professionals in your field. This will help you refine your work and demonstrate a willingness to grow and improve as an artist.


Potential Career Paths with an MFA Degree


An MFA degree opens up a range of potential career paths for graduates. Here are some options to consider:


  • Authors: MFA graduates can pursue careers as published authors, writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays, or even speculative fiction genres like young adult, fantasy, or romance.
  • Editors: With strong writing skills and critical thinking abilities, MFA graduates can excel as editors in the publishing industry, working on various forms of written content including books, magazines, and digital publications.
  • Playwrights: MFA graduates specializing in theater arts can become playwrights, creating scripts for stage productions that showcase their artistic vision and storytelling abilities.
  • Dancers & Actors: Those with an MFA in performing arts can pursue careers as professional dancers or actors in both live performances and film/television productions.
  • Visual Artists: MFA graduates specializing in visual arts such as painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic design, or illustration may work as freelance artists or find employment as art directors in advertising agencies or studios.
  • Post-Secondary Teachers: Many MFA degree holders go on to teach at the university level, sharing their knowledge and expertise with aspiring artists and writers.


MFA vs. Ph. D

Choosing between an MFA and a Ph.D. can be a tough decision for creatives. Both offer valuable experiences and advantages, but they differ in their focus and expectations.


Criteria MFA Degree Ph.D. for Creatives
Primary focus Emphasizes practical application and honing craft skills. Centers on producing original research and contributing new knowledge to a field.
Duration Typically takes two to three years to complete. Can take five to seven years or more to complete.
Admission requirements Requires a bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, a strong personal statement, and samples of work. Requires a master’s degree in most cases, with some exceptions. In addition to similar requirements as the MFA, also requires a proposal for a dissertation research topic.
Career paths MFA graduates have a broad spectrum of options, such as writers, authors, art directors, editors, or post-secondary teachers. Ph.D. holders often work in academia as professors, but may also work as senior-level creatives in their industry.
Financial considerations The financial commitment can be significant, though scholarships and fellowships are often available. Funding is more widely available for Ph.D. students, with many programs offering full funding in exchange for teaching or research duties.
Prestige and reputation The reputation of an MFA program is important, but ultimately, career success in the arts is determined by the quality of the art produced. In academia, having a Ph.D. can open doors and provide a certain level of prestige. However, like the MFA, success ultimately depends on the quality of work produced.


While each has its merits, the choice between an MFA and a Ph.D. highly depends on an individual’s career goals, their commitment level, and their passion for their craft.

The Impact of an MFA on Professional Opportunities

An MFA degree can significantly enhance professional opportunities for artists, opening doors to gallery representation, teaching positions at the college level, and a wide range of creative career paths.

Gallery representation

Achieving gallery representation is a significant milestone for artists, and pursuing an MFA degree can help fast-track this process. By attending top art cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or Berlin, MFA graduates have the opportunity to network with industry professionals and gain exposure.

For example, the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford offers a supportive environment that fosters artistic practice and theoretical knowledge development. Alumni from this program have successfully pursued careers as practicing artists, teachers, curators, and gallery professionals in both public and private galleries.

Attending an MFA program like this provides opportunities for students to engage with contemporary discourse related to their work while establishing valuable connections with museums and art institutions that can lead to future gallery representation.

Teaching options

MFA graduates have a range of teaching options available to them, making it a popular path for those interested in academia. With their strong writing skills and critical thinking abilities, MFA graduates are well-suited for college-level teaching positions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), post-secondary teachers in artistic fields earn a median annual salary of $69,960 with a projected job growth rate of 9% from 2019 to 2029.

This presents promising career opportunities for MFA degree holders who aspire to inspire and guide future artists. So if you’re passionate about both creating art and sharing your knowledge with others, pursuing an MFA can open doors to fulfilling teaching careers at universities or colleges across the country.


In conclusion, an MFA degree is a valuable credential for aspiring artists looking to advance their careers in visual arts, performing arts, design, or creative writing. It offers rigorous training, networking opportunities, and the potential for higher salaries in artistic professions.

Whether pursuing a full-residency program or opting for the flexibility of a low-residency or online program, an MFA can provide artists with the skills and credentials they need to succeed in today’s competitive artistic landscape.

Don’t underestimate the power of an MFA degree—it can make all the difference in launching a successful career as a professional artist.


1. What is an MFA degree and why does it matter?

An MFA degree, or Master of Fine Arts degree, is a graduate-level program that focuses on the development of artistic skills and creative abilities in fields such as visual arts, performing arts, writing, and more. It matters because it provides advanced training and education in a specific artistic discipline, allowing individuals to enhance their skills and knowledge to pursue careers in the arts.

2. What are the benefits of obtaining an MFA degree?

Obtaining an MFA degree can provide numerous benefits including enhanced artistic skills, expanded understanding of art history and theory, networking opportunities within the industry, access to resources such as studios or equipment, exposure to different perspectives through interactions with faculty and fellow students, and improved career prospects through increased credibility within the art world.

3. Is an MFA degree necessary for a successful career in the arts?

While an MFA degree is not always necessary for a successful career in the arts, it can significantly enhance one’s chances of success by providing specialized training and education that helps develop technical proficiency and critical thinking skills. The degree also offers networking opportunities with established artists or professionals who can mentor aspiring artists.

4. How long does it typically take to complete an MFA program?

The duration of an MFA program varies depending on factors such as full-time or part-time enrollment options, specific requirements of each program or institution. On average though – most programs require two to three years for completion if pursued full-time; however part time enrollment may extend this timeline accordingly so individuals should consider their personal circumstances before committing too heavily toward any particular pathway


  • William C Miles

    I earned my MA in US History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. I also hold a BA in East Asian Studies. My educational journey equipped me with deep knowledge in diverse cultural and historical contexts, particularly those shaping higher education trends. Presently, I work as a freelance writer and consultant specializing in online colleges across the USA. Over the past eight years, I have collaborated with various educational platforms and e-learning organizations. This role involves creating insightful content that helps potential students make informed decisions about their education paths. Throughout my career, I've had the privilege to contribute articles to notable educational websites and online journals. My work is frequently cited for its clarity and helpfulness, aiding students and educators alike. I've taken part in over 50 webinars as a speaker, sharing my expertise on online education dynamics in the United States. My passion goes beyond writing; it's about making a tangible impact through my words and advice. With over 1,000 articles published under my name related to online education, my aim is clear: to provide readers with reliable information that supports their educational pursuits and career objectives. You can find more details about my professional background and contact me on LinkedIn or through my personal website.

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