Derick de Souza
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Fine Arts refers to pieces of drawing, sculpting, painting, literature, music, dance, photography, animation, architecture, filmmaking, graphic design, and theatre. It is the process of converting an individual’s imagination into tangible or intangible art forms. The Master of Fine Arts online program will enable students to study in a chosen field of fine arts and is ideal for creative practitioners looking to develop their skills further, tutors who want to develop their artistic practice, or undergraduates who are looking to choose a postgraduate program outside of the conventional brick-and-mortar higher education system. Students who have completed their online fine arts masters can pursue jobs in varied areas like museums, universities, and colleges. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for arts and design occupations was $51,150 in May 2022[1], higher than the median annual wage of $46,310 for all occupations. Read on to find out more about this unique graduate-level program.

Master of Fine Arts Online

Table Of Contents

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online MA in English And Creative Writing

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Best Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

The best online master of fine arts degree programs emphasize studio practice, integrating theory, context, and professional practice. Therefore, students must choose the right program and school that aligns with their personal and professional needs. There are various methods of ranking the best online masters in Fine Art programs, like accreditation, availability of financial aid, fees vs. career prospects, admission requirements, program requirements, graduation rates, quality of faculty, and more. Based on these, OMC has prepared a list of the best master of fine arts programs online:

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College Name & AddressTuitionGraduation Rate
Emerson College
120 Boylston Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Drexel University
3141 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
Savannah College of Art and Design
342 Bull St, Savannah, Georgia 31402
Liberty University
1971 University Blvd, Lynchburg, Virginia 24515
Regent University
1000 Regent University Dr, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23464
Vermont College of Fine Arts
36 College St, Montpelier, Vermont 05602
Southern Utah University
351 West University Blvd, Cedar City, Utah 84720
Radford University
801 East Main St., Radford, Virginia 24142
Concordia University
1282 Concordia Ave, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104
Portland State University
724 SW Harrison, Portland, Oregon 97201
Bay Path University
588 Longmeadow Street, Longmeadow, Massachusetts 01106
Full Sail University
3300 University Blvd, Winter Park, Florida 32792
Southern New Hampshire University
2500 North River Road, Manchester, New Hampshire 03106
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
128 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102
Academy of Art University
79 New Montgomery, San Francisco, California 94105

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Understanding Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

A master in fine arts degree can be obtained via three options, the regular brick-and-mortar school model, the online university option, or a hybrid option in which most courses will be conducted online, while students will physically attend classes for a specified duration. Regardless of a student’s option, a master of fine arts is usually a two-year program that typically requires between 48 to 60 credits, depending on the selected college and specialization.

A master in fine arts online provides flexibility to students who may be working professionals, professional artists, or individuals who have child and family care commitments. The online curriculum is structured in such a way that it is as rigorous as a program offered to students physically attending a school. The online fine arts degree program allows students to pursue their studies at their own pace through asynchronous classes available at most universities.

Master of Fine Arts Degree Types

The online master of fine arts or MFA online degree is broad, like the master of professional studies. Therefore, the degree awarded to students is always accompanied by a suffix highlighting the specialization or domain within fine arts; for example – Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts, Master of Fine Arts in Design, and so on.

Master of Arts vs. Master of Fine Arts

Students often debate MA vs. MFA. So, how exactly does a master of arts or MA differ from a master of fine arts or MFA degree? Here are some key differences:

Master of Arts (MA)

A Master of Arts (MA) degree includes a variety of arts and creative subjects, much like an MFA. Nevertheless, the MA frequently focuses more on the academics and history of a creative subject than the art itself, making it more of a scholarly degree. Studying any form of art in an MA degree is usually to understand what it is rather than learning how to create it. Many MA holders view a Ph.D. in their field of study as the terminal degree, which necessitates extra years of study.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

The highest level of study available in a particular domain of art forms is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, making it a terminal degree. The MFA is about creating art and expressing oneself through art, more than understanding art, as an MA does. Under most circumstances, those with MFA degrees can teach in colleges.

Specializations in Master of Fine Arts Programs

The master of fine arts, being a broad or ‘umbrella’ degree, offers several specializations within its ambit. These specializations are full-fledged degrees rather than mere concentrations. Students can choose one that aligns with their interests and professional goals from the many options available.  Listed below are a few for prospective students to consider:

  1. MFA Creative Writing – For students who desire to write professionally in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, playwriting, and poetry, the MFA in Creative Writing is a good fit. The program’s curriculum combines the study of writing with the study of literature, poetry, memoirs, and fiction. 
  2. MFA Performing Arts – The study of performing arts typically involves various aspects, each designed to provide a unique facet of a live entertainment performance. It includes elements of dance, theater, stage management, and musical performance. 
  3. MFA Design – The design program encourages creativity among students in a vibrant, diverse studio setting. Students learn all design aspects, including motion graphics, user experience, branding, interaction, typography as a visual language, media directing, video, art, and digital publishing. 
  4. MFA Visual Arts – In addition to highlighting the experience and value of creative problem-solving and visual thinking in art, the study of visual arts also highlights the significance of critical thinking, experimentation, creativity, and perception. Students of visual arts programs learn the history of art and its cultural, political, and social significance.
  5. MFA Studio Art – The study of Studio art provides in-depth instruction in the field and promotes an atmosphere that encourages experimentation, learning, achievement, and expression. This program’s multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary nature allows artists to work and think across media. Students learn drawing, ceramics, painting, sculpting, new media art, and printing, typically in their own studio space. 
  6. MFA Painting/Drawing – The fine arts in painting or drawing program is intensive and focuses on painting and drawing as visual expression. Students learn contemporary and conventional painting, study various techniques and art materials, and indulge in intensive research and studio work. 
  7. MFA Photography – As the name suggests, the MFA photography program is solely based on all things photographic. The program outlines lighting, imaging, modeling, printing, and much more, allowing students to become professional photographers in various settings like portraiture, wildlife, landscape, sport, etc. 
  8. MFA Sculpture – The sculpture program embodies an in-depth, experimental approach to sculpture that incorporates time-based media, large-scale architectural installations, research-based practices, material and object-based practices, performance, sound, film and video, and socially involved art. The MFA sculpture curriculum strongly emphasizes mentorship, transdisciplinary study and investigation, and research to enrich practices and establish theoretical, philosophical, and practical connections between art and society. 
  9. MFA Ceramics – An MFA in ceramics enhances one’s creative and intellectual thinking through a deeper understanding of techniques and craftsmanship in ceramics. Students will meticulously analyze the creations of historical and modern artists and craftspeople. They will improve their artistic expression and personal voice by learning more about their own work and those of their peers through in-depth criticism. This program also develops one’s understanding of aesthetics, forming techniques, and fine art philosophy. 
  10. MFA Printmaking – Graduate students of the printmaking program dive into various topics on the subject, such as artists’ books, photogravure, papermaking, collotype, and digital printmaking techniques. Students develop into well-rounded printmakers as they work with various mediums and techniques, including experimentation and integrative and interdisciplinary approaches. 

Curriculum and Skills Gained in Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

The MFA curriculum largely depends on the specializations within the chosen master of fine arts. In most MFA programs, students work within the specializations they choose to strengthen their understanding and refine techniques specific to the subject. Usually, the final year culminates with presenting a body of work or a written analysis of it and sometimes an oral defense of these. In general, students can expect the following fine arts courses based on their concentration area:

Core courses in the Master of Fine Arts – Creative Writing usually cover:

  • Poetry 
  • Fiction 
  • Nonfiction 
  • Screenwriting

Core courses in the Master of Fine Arts – Visual Arts usually cover:

  • Art History 
  • Critique Studies 
  • Media Strategies 
  • Exhibition Design 
  • Graduate Independent Study 
  • Professional Development 
  • Body of Work / Thesis 

Core courses in the Master of Fine Arts – Graphic Design usually cover:

  • Graphic Design
  • Expanded Design
  • Collaborative Studio
  • Visual Identity Systems
  • Typography
  • Graphic Design for the Web
  • 3D/Alternate and Virtual Reality
  • Interactive Media

Although the online master of fine arts does not call for a specific project or capstone, it is common practice for final-year students to present a body of work in their specialization. The body of work (painting/drawing/sculpture/installation art/written manuscript/graphic design/piece of music) has to be supported by a written analysis, and both the body of work and written analysis have to be orally defended as part of the MFA program requirement. 

Upon completing the MFA program, graduates will be able to:

  • build a distinctive and unified body of visual works based on conventional design ideas that convey a distinct message;
  • utilize cutting-edge methods of research, development, and execution, and address complicated creative challenges at a professional level;
  • demonstrate technical proficiency in the use of suitable creative media and technology in a focused area;
  • demonstrate the professionalism required to compete in their chosen artistic discipline;
  • support their thesis by providing written and visual evidence for the role and purpose of their body of work;
  • examine historical patterns in the theory and practice of the arts; and
  • show proficiency in representational painting and drawing, as well as visual storytelling.

Accreditation for Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

It is always advisable for prospective students to choose from accredited Master of Fine Arts online programs or schools rather than those not accredited. When a school or program is accredited, it means that the institution has been evaluated by one or more independent accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE)[2] and the industry. The school is found to have gone through a high educational quality assurance procedure. To be accredited, entire institutions and/or educational offerings must undergo an extended, rigorous accreditation process and pass stringent checks against pre-defined standards and accreditation criteria. In most instances, colleges are accredited by regional accreditation agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)[3], such as:

In the study of fine arts, some specific programs may be programmatically accredited by agencies such as:

The Accreditation Guide explains why accreditation is critical when choosing a school.

Timeline for graduation from Online Master of Fine Arts Programs

MFA programs offered by schools vary from the completely online model to hybrid programs that require students to be present in school for at least some courses or semesters. Depending on this factor, a master’s in fine arts may be differentiated as a high or low residency program.

  • Low-residency programs are more flexible because students do most of their learning remotely with occasional campus visits.   
  • High-residency programs are more involved because students do most of their learning on-campus, immersing themselves more fully in the community.

A master of fine arts online is typically a two-year 45 to 60-credit program that can be pursued full-time or part-time. While full-time students can earn their degrees in 2 to 3 years, part-time students require 3 to 5 years or more. It is also noteworthy that some MFA programs require in-person attendance for some courses or semesters, especially the master’s in fine arts in visual and performing arts.

Online Master of Fine Arts Programs Admission Requirements

The admission process for a Master of Fine Arts online program is similar to most other master’s programs. Students must note that each school may have specific requirements apart from general requirements. In general, however, these are the most common and basic master of fine arts admission requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • Application form and fee
  • Official transcripts of the recently completed bachelor’s degree*
  • The cumulative minimum required Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.5 (varies by school)
  • A Graduate Résumé
  • A Statement of Purpose, Personal Statement, or Letter of Intent
  • A Narrative or Artist’s Statement
  • At least 2 Letters of Recommendation 
  • Creative Portfolio or examples of work (especially for the visual arts programs) with titles, details of materials used, and dates of completion
  • Proof of English proficiency (for those whose education was not in English or whose native tongue is not English)

*An unofficial copy of the transcript showing completion of the bachelor’s degree can be submitted during the application process. However, the official copy must be submitted once admission is received.

No GRE Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

Schools in the United States usually require scores from standardized tests from domestic and overseas students as part of the admission process. The most common standardized tests are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Some schools do not require the GRE or GMAT scores during admission. For example, Stanford University[16], Louisiana State University (LSU)[17], Southern New Hampshire University[18], Berkeley University of California[19], and many other schools offer online master of fine arts no GRE programs.

Accelerated Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

Accelerated master of fine arts online programs allow students to earn their degrees faster than regular ones. In the accelerated MFA masters, students will cover the same content and gain the same qualifications as a regular program. While most online master of fine arts programs can be completed in about two years, some schools offer accelerated programs that take only twelve to eighteen months to finish, while others combine a bachelor’s and master’s program that students can complete in five years instead of the usual six. These are great options for working professionals or students with family or other commitments requiring a shorter program. The Master of Fine Arts in Media Design at Full Sail University[20] is a fine example of a fast-track program.

Free Fine Arts Courses Online

Free accredited online master of fine arts programs are hard to come by. However, several sites offer free Master of Fine Arts online courses suitable for those who wish to expand their knowledge beyond what a textbook provides or help with assignments and projects. Most free courses will give students a completion certificate at most, which may or may not be helpful in their careers. Here are a few to explore:

CourseArts and Culture Strategy[21]
Provided byClass Central
DescriptionThis course outlines the challenge facing leaders in the arts and culture sector and teaches the building of long-lasting organizations that truly benefit society. It shows how a successful leader requires ongoing adaptation and astute use of the best resources to reach the most people. 
CourseModern and Contemporary Art and Design Specialization[22]
Provided byCoursera
DescriptionThis course provides a deeper understanding of artists’ and designers’ processes, develops critical thinking and looking skills to understand how artists and designers respond to social and cultural issues and looks into modern and contemporary art and design.
CourseIntroduction to Ceramics and Pottery Theory[23]
Provided byAlsion
DescriptionThis course combines the theory and practice of working with clay to explore the world of ceramics. In addition, it teaches various hand-building and wheel-throwing techniques that can be used to create stunning works of art while explaining the theory and history of ceramics.

How to Pay for a Master of Fine Arts Online Program

The cost of an online Master of Fine Arts varies from school to school. When choosing a master of fine arts online program, students should consider the costs and weigh them against potential earnings after graduating. Although no precise statistical data is available on the cost of an MFA online, a quick assessment of most programs shows the average tuition to be about $30,000 (unconfirmed). Fortunately, students have access to several funding mechanisms that could ease the financial pressure of a college education. Here are some to explore:


Scholarships are usually merit-based and awarded to students with an excellent academic track record. They are frequently awarded by individuals, community groups, for-profit organizations, non-profits, and even universities.


Grants are similar to scholarships, but instead of being merit-based, they are usually need-based. Grants can be used to pay for tuition or other education expenses such as stationery, books, transport, accommodation, library fees, etc.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate Assistantships are part-time jobs on campus. Graduate assistants assist the faculty in classroom-related activities or assist in teaching undergraduates in exchange for a fee waiver or stipend.

Student Loans

Students can apply for federal government, banks, or financial institutions loans. Loans attract interest, increasing the cost of education. They must be paid back to the source, unlike scholarships or grants.


FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is available to all students pursuing a college education. Students must apply for FAFSA to check their eligibility for aid and which financial aid package suits them the most.

Read more about Scholarship Scams, the Cost of a Master’s, and the Financial Aid Guide.

Scholarships for Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

Scholarships are a more practical means of fully or partially funding Master of Fine Arts online programs since they need not be repaid. They could be merit or need-based but also based on athletic and other achievements. Graduate school scholarships are also available specifically for women, minorities, and other groups (based on sexual orientation, race, religion, medical history, family associations, etc.) Here are a few to explore:

Stantec Equity & Diversity Scholarship[24]

Stantec Equity & Diversity Scholarship aims to assist upcoming leaders and activists committed to increasing diversity in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) professions. The scholarship is meant for historically underrepresented black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) populations.


$1,500 to $10,000 + 10 paid internships

Application Deadline 


Fine Arts Association (FAA) Scholarships[25]

The Fine Arts Association (FAA) is dedicated to ensuring that the opportunity for arts education is accessible to those who desire it. Scholarships are provided to students who can benefit from an FAA education, improving access to the arts through equity, diversity, inclusion, and acceptance.


$1,000 minimum for five years

Application Deadline 

Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters

F. Lammot Belin Arts Scholarship[26]

The F. Lammot Belin Arts Scholarship offers financial support to artists with exceptional talent and promise in the fine arts. It is meant to assist the beneficiaries in becoming successful artists in painting, sculpture, photography, music, drama, dance, literature, and architecture.


Up to $10,000 

Application Deadline

January, annually

Careers and Salary Outlook for Master of Fine Arts Graduates

Career opportunities for online master’s in fine arts graduates span various industries and fields. Organizations continue to provide excellent opportunities for professionals with exceptional verbal and visual communication skills. With the education they would have received with an MFA, graduates could elevate their art to make it more unique, perceptive, and engaging. Ultimately, the career path of fine arts online master’s graduates depends on their specialization. Here are some possible career options and job descriptions depending on the fine arts domain one wishes to enter:

Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing

  • Professional Writing/Authorship
  • Marketing and PR
  • Copywriting
  • Heritage and Tourism
  • Journalism and Broadcasting
  • Museum Curating
  • Banking
  • Education

Master of Fine Arts Visual Art

  • Professional Artist
  • Professor
  • Museum or Gallery Curator
  • Illustrator
  • Conservator
  • Commercial Art Gallery Manager
  • Printmaker
  • Community Arts Worker
  • Concept Artist

Master of Fine Arts Design

  • Stage Lighting Designer
  • Set Designer
  • Graphic Designer
  • Animator
  • Special Effects Technician
  • Multimedia Programmer
  • VFX Artist

Master of Fine Arts Performing Arts

  • Musician
  • Singer
  • Musical Composer
  • Actor
  • Film Director
  • Stage Director
  • Dancer
  • Choreographer
  • Music Scorer

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2022, the median annual wage for arts and design jobs was $51,150, which was higher than the overall median annual wage of $46,310 for other occupations[1]. Listed below are some roles and salaries as examples of MFA careers:

OccupationArt Directors
Skills RequiredCreativity, time-management skills, communication skills, leadership skills, resourcefulness
Median Annual Salary$105,180
Job Growth (up to 2032)6% (faster than average)
Job DescriptionThe work of other designers and artists who create pictures for television, movies, live performances, ads, or video games is generally overseen by art directors. They choose the overarching aesthetic through which a message is visually conveyed to its audience.
OccupationSpecial Effects Artists & Animators
Skills RequiredCommunication skills, time-management skills, computer skills, creativity, artistic talent
Median Annual Salary$98,950
Job Growth (up to 2032)8% (faster than average)
Job DescriptionSpecial effects artists and animators work for television, movies, video games, and other forms of media, creating two- and three-dimensional models, pictures that seem to move, and visual effects. They frequently specialize in a single media, with some producing animated films or video games while others provide visual effects for motion pictures and television programs.
OccupationWriters & Authors
Skills RequiredDetermination, adaptability, persuasion, creativity, social perceptiveness, critical-thinking skills, writing skills
Median Annual Salary$73,510
Job Growth (up to 2032)4% (as fast as average)
Job DescriptionIn addition to advertisements, writers and authors create content for blogs, novels, magazines, plays, movies, and television shows. They choose the content they wish to use and convey it in ways that the target audience can receive the intended message.
OccupationMusic Directors & Composers
Skills RequiredMusical talent, discipline, perseverance, leadership, interpersonal skills, promotional skills
Median Annual Salary$62,940
Job Growth (up to 2032)1% (little to no change)
Job DescriptionMusic directors lead and oversee choirs, orchestras, and other musical ensembles. By balancing the melody, time, rhythm, and volume, they make sure that musicians produce a single, unified sound. They also provide musicians with sound and stylistic criticism.
OccupationArchivists, Curators & Museum Workers
Skills RequiredOrganizational skills, customer service skills, analytical skills, detail-oriented
Median Annual Salary$53,420
Job Growth (up to 2032)10% (much faster than average)
Job DescriptionDocuments that are historically significant and permanent records are evaluated, processed, cataloged, and preserved by archivists. Curators manage art and historical object collections and may perform charitable work on behalf of an organization. Objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits are prepared and restored by museum technicians and conservators.

Certifications and Licensing for Fine Arts Graduates

Certifications are an excellent way to enhance career prospects and move up the hierarchy of an organization. Professional certifications do not require as much time, effort, and financial investment as an academic certification. They are designed for working professionals who wish to keep current with current practices and knowledge. In the fine arts industry, certifications are domain-specific in that art professionals will have art-related certifications, creative writers will have creative writing-related certifications, and so on. Some examples of professional certifications that online master’s in fine arts graduates may apply for include:

  1. Graphics Design – Adobe Certified Professional (ACP) – Adobe Certified Professional (ACP) is an industry-recognized certification that shows that a person has mastered Adobe Creative Cloud software and the fundamentals of a profession in digital media. 
  2. Creative Writing – Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) – The Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) is a three-tiered professional certification: Foundation, Practitioner, and Expert. The foundation certification focuses on knowledge of the field; the practitioner certification demonstrates mastery of applying best practices and leading others in their use. The expert certification shows that the candidate is thorough in technical communication. 
  3. Photography – Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) – The Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) program gives photographers the tools they need to become more effective, informed, and technically savvy professionals in the field. This certification aids customers in comprehending and appreciating one’s level of expertise and professionalism.

Additional Resources for Fine Arts Professionals

Successful artists will try to motivate themselves to become better artists to forge a clearer vision of their art careers. They must stay ahead of the game to be ardent culture warriors. To equip themselves to do this, they will tap into various resources. The best fine art resources are the ones fine art professionals keep returning to. Here is a list of resources available for fine arts professionals:

  1. International Resource Centre for Performing Artists (IRCPA) – The International Resource Centre for Performing Artists (IRCPA) is a unique, charitable service organization that provides post-academic resources to musicians, especially those marginalized. The organization aims to assist emerging professionals in achieving sustainable, fulfilling careers that meet or exceed their goals and search for excellence.
  2. American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) – The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) promotes a better awareness of the importance of design and designers in industry, media, and government. It emphasizes design as a skilled profession, tactical advantage, and vital cultural force. AIGA offers its members a wealth of resources in academic and design education, business and freelancing, and more. 
  3. National Association of Independent Artists (NIAI) – The National Association of Independent Artists aims “to strengthen, improve and promote the artistic, professional and economic success of artists who exhibit in art shows.” NAIA supports the greatest ideas and practices in all facets of the art show environment through its dedication to creativity, integrity, and excellence.

A few domain-specific professional organizations and associations are:

Art and Art History

Theater Arts

Theatre and Music

Theater and Media Production

FAQs About Master of Fine Arts Online Programs

What is a master of fine arts?

A Master of Fine Arts is a graduate-level degree that deals with the domains of Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Design Art, or Creative Writing.

What can you do with a master of fine arts?

Who can apply for a master of fine arts degree?

How long is an MFA?

Can you teach with an MFA?