A master in fine arts degree can be obtained via 3 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 which option a student chooses, a master of fine arts is usually a 2-year program that typically requires between 48 to 60 credits, depending on the selected college and specialization.
A master in fine art 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 a broad degree, like the master of professional studies. Therefore, the degree awarded to students is always accompanied by a suffix that highlights 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, which necessitates extra years of study, as the terminal degree.
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 all about creating art and expressing oneself through art, more than understanding art, as an MA does. Those who have MFA degrees are qualified to teach in colleges under most circumstances.
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 actually 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:
- 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.
- MFA Performing Arts – The study of performing arts typically involves a variety of aspects, each of which is designed to provide a unique facet of a live entertainment performance. It includes elements of dance, theater, stage management, and musical performance.
- MFA Design – The design program encourages creativity among students in a vibrant, diverse studio setting. Students learn all aspects of design, such as motion graphics, user experience, branding, interaction, typography as a visual language, media directing, video, art, and digital publishing.
- 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, as well as its cultural, political, and social significance.
- 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. The multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of this program 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. To enrich practices and establish theoretical, philosophical, and practical connections between art and society, the MFA sculpture curriculum strongly emphasizes mentorship, transdisciplinary study and investigation, and research.
- 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.
- 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. As they work with a variety of mediums and techniques, including experimentation and integrative and interdisciplinary approaches, students develop into well-rounded printmakers.
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 chosen by them to strengthen their understanding and refine techniques specific to the subject. Usually, the final year culminates with presenting a body of work or 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:
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
- 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) 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 predefined 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), such as:
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
In the study of fine arts, some specific programs may be programmatically accredited by agencies such as:
- National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
- National Association of Schools of Theater (NAST)
- National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD)
- Council of Arts Accrediting Associations (CAAA)
- National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA)
The Accreditation Guide explains why accreditation is critical when choosing a school.
Timeline for graduation from Master of Fine Arts Online 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 2-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 would 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.
Master of Fine Arts Online 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 or 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.