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Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree Program Overview

Majors Overview February 22, 2016

This article talks about Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree programs and their education requirements, coursework, career choices, job and wage outlook, and continuing education choices.

Information on Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree

Students who hold a baccalaureate in photography, studio art, design, sculpture, writing or a similar subject and wish to further their education and skills would benefit from these programs. Graduates can pursue careers as professional artists; professional artists may have to satisfy a wide variation of employment requirements, and not every school insists on applicants having a graduate-level education. However, graduates can use the MFA program to earn postsecondary teaching positions at some community colleges and technical schools (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Master of Fine Arts Programs

Aspiring or current artists can hone technical and conceptual skills in their area of specialization through enrollment in MFA programs. These degree programs may be available in areas such as graphic design or photography. Individuals keen on focusing on disciplines such as printmaking, illustration, sculpture and painting would benefit from enrolling in a studio art MFA program. All students participate in independent study projects and group critiques to develop a cohesive portfolio of work. Students often present this portfolio as an exhibition or thesis project in their final year.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree and meet a GPA standard of 3.0. Applicants who don’t hold an undergraduate degree in art or a related area may be expected to complete additional art courses in the first semester of the program. They may also have to submit resumes, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement, in addition to a portfolio with 12-20 images. Some schools may require students to participate in an evaluation of their work before they can continue with the program.


Coursework in MFA programs is available through studio courses and independent study, as well as lecture courses and special topics seminars; the curriculum can vary by specialty and cover topic areas such as:

•Discourses in sculpture
•Motion graphics
•Studies in visual culture
•History of Photography
•Digital Photography
•Contemporary photographic theory
•Graphic design theory

Career Choices

Program graduates can seek careers as professional artists in their specialty area.

Job and Wage Outlook

Fine artists, such as painters, illustrators, and sculptors, are expected to see a 9% job growth, over the 2008 – 2018 decade. Over the same period, multimedia artists are expected to witness a 14% job growth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In May 2014, painters, illustrators, and sculptors brought in an average annual wage of $51,120 while multimedia artists earned a median annual wage of $58,510 (BLS).

Continuing Education Choices

Program graduates who seek continuing education may earn doctoral degrees in art history. Some schools, though few, also offer fine arts doctoral degrees. Enrollees in these interdisciplinary programs are allowed to study studio art apart from philosophy and the performing arts.

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