Best Master of Fine Arts Degrees

Are you ready to find your fit?

What kind of Fine Arts degree should you get?

Do you want to immerse yourself in a culture and community of artistic visionaries? Do you want two to three sustained years of concentrated work on your craft? Finally, do you desire a career that offers both creative freedom and job stability?

The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree will help you get there.

One can get a MFA in a diverse range of mediums and genres, from poetry to contemporary dance. While some universities may be known for having strong graduate programs in a single specific area, the programs we’ve chosen to include below have strong MFAs across departments and disciplines. This is no little thing.

Though arguments against the degree proliferate, the stigma of the MFA is allocated solely to its perceived lack of practicality, despite studies that have proven the MFA not only provides vocational flexibility and adaptability, but it can, in fact, lead to long-term job stability and sustainability.

Sponsored Schools

If flexibility is your thing, then consider an online course of study. We’ve ranked the top online liberal arts colleges, many of which offer fine arts programs.

How much money do you make with a Fine Arts degree?

The MFA also doesn’t have to break the bank. Many of the best programs (below) cover the student’s full tuition, offer stipends, and provide teaching and research opportunities to make graduate study in the fine arts affordable. We’ve been sure to note which schools have funding options.

This means an excellent return on investment once you’ve landed in the workforce. An affordable online degree can be paid of quickly with the average salary of one with a MFA. PayScale notes that, on average, people with degrees in the fine arts make around $58,000 a year.

What can you do with a fine arts degree?

In a century marked by code and data, the arts are needed now more than ever, and exponentially expanding graduate programs reflect that need and growth. Whether you want to write the next great American novel, perform on Broadway, teach, or get involved in non-profit work, a Master of Fine Arts degree will serve you throughout your life.

What are the requirements for a fine arts degree?

When you pursue your MFA you will have access to a number of high class museums, exhibition spaces, studio labs, studio equipment and supplies, and more. But perhaps the biggest reason to consider the MFA is its known curriculum that emphasizes mentorship. You will be required to work closely with an artist in their field, practicing under them and learning from them. You will then be expected to present your own work quarterly.

Not only will you have the opportunity to work with renowned artists in your field, you will also develop close working relationships with faculty during your studies, and after. Many students remain close with advisors, faculty members, and their program directors far beyond graduation.

What are the best Fine Arts degrees?

Below are the twenty-five best Master of Fine Arts programs in the country. Here at College Choice we’ve collated and compared the academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, and average annual salary of early career artists from MFA programs across the country to create a definitive ranking of the nation’s twenty-five best.

We first chose programs with the most renowned academic reputation and from those pared the list down to those with high retention rates (a reflection of student satisfaction) added those with the most economical accessibility, and finally we included the averages of early career salaries (care of PayScale) to arrive at a list distinguished by thorough research and extensive data aggregation.

Our figures come from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Carnegie Mellon University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Pittsburgh is a great place to continue your arts education, as it is home to multiple museums, a vibrant and growing art scene, and the top-rated MFA program in the country: Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Though a known tech and STEM school, CMU is also home to world-class arts programs.

    Features

    Most MFA programs consist of approximately two years of study and art-making; however, Carnegie Mellon’s program is three years long and takes students through an innovative curriculum that monitors the role of art in the public sphere. As a CMU student you will not only take studio courses, but academic classes, writing seminars, integrative studios, and more. This highly interdisciplinary approach to making and understanding art isn’t necessarily for everyone, but if socially engaged art projects, tactical media, institutional critique, culture hacking, and relational aesthetics are what you’re looking for, then Carnegie Mellon offers that and more. MFA tracks offered:

    • Visual Arts

    Notables

    For those pursuing studio arts—painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.—CMU’s program is consistently ranked among the top five in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. And it tops our list for early annual income; on average, graduates go on to make nearly $70,000 annually in their first years after earning their degrees. And with a relatively competitive tuition rate, CMU makes for a solid return on investment.

  2. Yale University
    Location

    New Haven, CT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The Yale School of Arts gives its students hands-on instruction and guidance to art-making as well as a broad introduction to intellectual integrations of aesthetics. With an emphasis on quality, creative freedom, critical insight, and formal and technical innovation, students at Yale learn how to make substantive and impactful inquiries into visual arts while honing their crafts.

    Features

    Whatever your medium, you can expect courses that span the aesthetic experience, from drawing and filmmaking to the relativity of color, gender dialectics, and critical theory. And in addition to the studio and mentorship focus of Yale’s MFA curriculum, students also engage in the School of Art’s lecture series, a program that brings in visiting artists and professionals from around the world for track-specific counsel, campus-wide lectures, and even work critiques. MFA tracks offered:

    • Visual Arts
    • Film, Video, and Interdisciplinary

    Notables

    Yale University offers, in addition to its prestigious name and its reputation for having the top-ranked MFA program in the country (U.S. News & World Report), a studio- and mentor-based approach to artistic training. Yale also offers its students access to a renowned exhibition space, open year-round, that allows them (as well as faculty and visiting artists) to display their work.

  3. University of California–Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Los Angeles is a mecca for artists whose mediums range from fine visual arts to screenwriting and film production, and UCLA’s MFA program offers concentrated studies in each. With over half a dozen tracks to choose from, students are encouraged to specialize even more through elective studies, media exploration, and cross-departmental study.

    Features

    The seventy-two credit hours required to complete UCLA’s MFA are divided into courses covering studio time, group critique, art history, and theory, and the degree culminates in a formal exhibition. The curriculum itself, whether you’re studying ceramics or photography, emphasizes current critical and theoretical thought and it addresses contemporary issues in the art world, both through the classroom and through the Visiting Artists Lecture Series. MFA tracks offered:

    • Visual Arts
    • Drama

    Notables

    Not only is the UCLA MFA one of the more affordable programs on our list (California residents can expect to pay just $16,325 annually), it is ranked as the second best MFA program in the country by U.S. News & World Report. UCLA is also home to two prestigious, renowned art museums, and in local proximity to dozens more in the Los Angeles metro area.

  4. Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Cornell University offers two kinds of MFAs, one in writing and the other in visual arts. Both are renowned programs that pair its students with faculty members who are internationally recognized artists and writers. MFA writing students at Cornell can anticipate a small cohort, generous financial support, and teaching experience.

    Features

    Through the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Cornell University offers a MFA in Creative Visual Arts that eschews a solely Western approach to art, instead stressing a global and interdisciplinary approach to art making and aesthetic questioning. Unique to the Cornell experience is the opportunity students have to organize and work closely with a special advisory committee, that is, a group of faculty members from across the university who oversee and mentor the students’ process. The MFA in Visual Arts—with specialization in painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, or studio art—at Cornell takes two years to complete. MFA tracks offered:

    • Creative Writing
    • Visual Arts

    Notables

    The creative writing MFA allows students to choose a specialization in either poetry or fiction while training them on the literary, theoretical, and cultural contexts of literature through one of four areas: English or American literature, comparative literature, literature in the modern or classical languages, or cultural studies.

  5. Columbia University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The School of the Arts at Columbia offers both a MFA in creative writing (with specialization in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) and in visual arts. The former is workshop heavy, with a curriculum (created for writers by writers) that examines literature from a practitioner’s viewpoint, rather than that of a scholar of theorist.

    Features

    The visual arts MFA, however, combines studio practice with critical approaches to contemporary art theory. Columbia’s students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty members inside the Visual Arts Program while also taking electives offered outside the school, including courses on art history, philosophy, architecture, writing, theatre, and more. Columbia thus seeks to develop in its students a broad foundation of art history and aesthetic theory, upon which they are able to build their own personal practice. MFA tracks offered:

    • Creative Writing
    • Visual Arts

    Notables

    Columbia University and its MFA programs are ranked as among the top five best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. With its prestigious faculty and access to one of the best art and writing scenes in the world, New York, getting your MFA at Columbia will serve you throughout your art career.

  6. University of California–San Diego
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of California–San Diego, recognized for its excellence in arts education, offers three kinds of Masters of Fine Arts programs, in theatre and drama, creative writing, and in visual arts. Each division then offers specializations in a number of mediums and areas. For example, MFA students in the theatre and dance department can choose from acting, dance, set design, directing, playwriting, or stage management concentrations. For both creative writing and visual art MFA students, the UCSD program is specifically designed to promote a cross-departmental and interdisciplinary approach to artistic applications. Those students thus engage in workshops and studios while also developing a broad base of critical theory.

    Features

    Furthermore, visual art MFA students at UCSD have specialized in everything from painting, sculpture, and photography to installation, environmental art, film, video, and computing. The writing students are equally encouraged to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction prose and between prose and poetry. MFA tracks offered:

    • Theatre and Drama
    • Writing
    • Visual Arts

    Notables

    In addition to its competitive annual tuition (around $16,600), UC San Diego is known for its high annual early career salary among graduates, averaging around $54,400. This makes the San Diego member within the wider University of California System a great return on investment.

  7. University of Michigan
    Location

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Like many other schools on our list, the University of Michigan offers a number of MFA degree options, in creative writing, art and design, and music, theatre, and dance. Each are two years long and mostly fully funded. Though, whichever concentration students opt into, they will learn how to integrate creative and academic work as well as take part in international study, community engagement, and teaching assistantships.

    Features

    The University of Michigan is not only one of the more competitively priced schools on our list, they offer the most fully funded programs, and graduates make, on average, over $60k a year in their early careers. For creative writing MFA students, they can choose between concentrating in fiction or poetry, while also taking graduate level literature courses. Likewise, visual art students are able to choose between a scholarly or studio-focused track of study. MFA tracks offered:

    • Creative Writing
    • Dance and Theatre
    • Visual Arts

    Notables

    Unique to the University of Michigan MFA experience is the opportunity to take part in one of the many certificate programs that can be paired with the full degree program. The range of certificate options is huge and contains everything from LGBT studies, sustainability, and ecology to museum studies, translation, and African studies. By including the certificate program into your MFA studies you will be able to set yourself apart upon graduation.

  8. University of Virginia
    Location

    Charlottesville, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Known most for its MFA in literature and creative writing, the University of Virginia also offers a MFA in drama that includes specialization in one of several areas: acting, scenic design and technical production, lighting design, and costume design and technology. MFA students who study drama are privileged to a curriculum that blends traditional and innovative stage practices and emphasizes the importance of questioning, engaging, and truth seeking.

    Features

    Situated in its world renowned English department, the creative writing program at the University of Virginia is equally prestigious. Because of the university’s long history with literature, MFA students are exposed to many opportunities to attend lectures and readings, to network among the English and literature communities, and to hone their craft under the tutelage of globally recognized scholars and writers. MFA tracks offered:

    • Creative Writing
    • Drama

    Notables

    MFA creative students can specialize in literary prose or poetry, and they are almost always fully funded. In addition to the creative work, UVA students also study form and theory, develop independent writing projects, and engage in workshops with peers and faculty. Likewise, as a MFA drama student you can anticipate close mentorship with faculty who will push you to place your art in a global context.

  9. Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University offers a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program with two tracks of study: fiction or poetry. For admitted students (of which there are approximately eight each year), financial aid is given in the form of full tuition and a teaching assistantship, making this both a competitive and competitively priced program.

    Features

    In addition to cultivating and developing a manuscript as well as attending workshops, students of the Johns Hopkins’ Writing Seminars also take literature classes that span diverse literary and theoretical topics, such as translation, women in literature, literary imitation, and world literature. They, likewise, teach courses and work closely with faculty to develop pedagogical principles and implementation. MFA tracks offered:

    • Fiction
    • Poetry

    Notables

    The Johns Hopkins curriculum specifically stresses genre-informed discussions, conference participation, independent study and craft, and interactions with visiting writers and speakers. If you’re looking to teach after earning your MFA in writing, then the seminars at Johns Hopkins University may be the best fit for you. They also boast an early average salary of approximately $61,500 annually for graduates.

  10. Brown University
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Brown University proffers a Master of Fine Arts degree in either creative writing, with specialization in fiction, poetry, digital language arts, or cross-disciplinary writing. Brown also offers two drama-related fine arts degrees, one in playwriting (which takes three years to complete) and the other in acting and directing.

    Features

    The drama programs are defined by the university and the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies as civic, chaotic, strange, and queer, meaning it is global in its outreach, post-disciplinary in its promotions, and subversive in its guidance and pedagogy. While the acting and directing MFA program is similar, it takes a more technical and rigorous approach to training its students, preparing them for real-world experiences. MFA tracks offered:

    • Theatre Arts and Performance
    • Literary Arts

    Notables

    With an emphasis on creative and intellectual time and freedom, the MFA programs at Brown University strive to give their students the space to explore their craft. Thus, students only have two courses per term, a workshop and an elective, which may be chosen from among the full curricular offerings provided by Brown and include philosophy, theatre, history, religious studies, modern culture and media, foreign language, and literature courses.

mini icon

Online College Resources

Helping you prepare and gain the most out of your educational experience.


Most Affordable Online Law Schools 2021

Most Affordable Online Law Schools 2021

July 30, 2021   |   CollegeChoice.net Staff

A law degree can increase earning potential and career opportunities. Here, we list the best online programs available.

Best Online Colleges and Universities

Best Online Colleges and Universities

June 3, 2021   |   Staff Writers

According to the , 6,932,074 students enrolled in at least one distance education course at degree-granting postsecondary institutions in fall 2018. The year 2021 marks an ideal time to pursue...

Discover a program that is right for you.

Search schools to find the program that is right for you.