MFA Jobs and Career Opportunities
Every artist in graduate school wants to know what type of MFA jobs are available after earning your degree. For MFA students, parsing the various fine art career opportunities can be a little less intuitive than the options for recent law, medical, and business school graduates.
After all, a career as an artist is not even strictly contingent upon a degree. But, you’re not as pigeon-holed as you may think.
In fact, your skills as an artist, creative thinker, and other soft skills are rare and in demand by all types of businesses.
Here, you’ll find different types of careers you can pursue with your MFA and ways to find a job after graduation.
Did You Know?
According to the World Economic Forum, “social skills”, such as persuasion and emotional intelligence, will be in higher demand than technical skills.
Interior Design MFA Programs
Choosing to earn an interior design MFA degree teaches how to understand and meet the unprecedented challenges in the industry, such as sustainable design practices, developments in technology, and social changes.
There are a variety of options for your MFA degree, including:
- Those designed for students with bachelor’s in interior design
- Programs designed for students with bachelor’s degree in unrelated field
According the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for interior designers in 2016 was $49,810.i
To find the perfect program for you, click on any of the sponsored listings below for more information regarding any of the programs, including how to request more information directly from the school.
With campuses in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, the Pratt Institute is able to offer programs that are consistently ranked among the best in the country. It’s faculty and alumni include some of the most renowned artists, designers, and scholars in their field.
The Interior Design MFA at Pratt encourages philosophical explorations, ethical responsibility, aesthetic expressions, and practical applications. With a firm commitment to social and environmental responsibility, the degree strives to create interior designers who effectively contribute to culture.
Rochester Institute of Technology
As a vibrant community with students collaborating with experts and specialists, Rochester Institute of Technology is a place where brilliant minds can pool together their individual talents across disciplines in service of big ideas and creative solutions.
RIT offers a variety of MFA programs, including one in furniture design. This major seeks to strengthen your techniques, advance your aesthetic and design sensibilities, and hone your own personal expression.
MFA in Creative Writing Programs
MFA in Creative Writing programs are designed to take your fiction, nonfiction, or poetry to another level. Typically, this is through intensive writing courses and constructive feedback. Many programs also include working one-on-one with a mentor to guide you through your master’s thesis.
Some of the careers you can pursue after earning your MFA include teaching creative writing and English at the university level as the MFA is the terminal degree in the field. The BLS states that the median annual salary for writers and authors in 2016 was $61,240.ii
Learn more about some of the MFA programs at the sponsored schools listed below.
Chatham University has the mission of preparing students to build lives of purpose, value, and fulfilling work through professional skill development and liberal arts learning. Founded in 1869, Chatham is a fully-coed institution with over 2,200 students.
The Creative Writing MFA program at Chatham is all about giving you options. Yes, you choose a primary genre focus (i.e. poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or children’s writing), but you can also choose concentrations such as travel writing, teaching, publishing, or nature writing.
With programs designed for the world of entertainment, media, arts, and technology, Full Sail University takes an approach centered on real-world industry experience. This provides an immersive, fast-paced, and relevant learning experience that mirrors the workflow throughout today’s rapidly evolving industries.
By incorporating visual elements into your writing process, you’ll explore a variety of narrative structures while writing across mediums and genres. The MFA in Creative Writing at Full Sail focuses on creating characters that resonate with an audience.
As a medium-sized private university, the University of Tampa has more than 8,900 students and 200 academic programs. Students at UT explore global issues, examine career possibilities, and refine communication and critical thinking skills.
The low-residency MFA in Creative Writing is designed to help writers advance their command of craft through exposure to literature from a writerly perspective and with supportive critique and mentoring.
Since 1938, the Goddard College has provided an environment for students and faculty to build a democratic community that views learning as a function of the whole person and intellect.
The Creative Writing MFA program teaches the craft of writing through by allowing you to work one-on-one with advisors, all of whom are working writers. This low-residency program has two intensive residencies per year in either rural Vermont or the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
Master of Fine Arts Programs
Fine arts degrees combine teaching the processes involved in creating new art and the history of art in order to understand how those processes have developed. While there are many types of MFA programs, a Master of Fine Arts is usually oriented toward creative production.
In 2016, the median annual salary for craft and fine artists was $48,780.iii Click on any of the sponsored listings below to learn more about the individual programs, curriculum, and how to apply.
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
By encouraging experimental and interdisciplinary approaches and focusing on developing both technical and conceptual skills, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts teaches through individual studio practice.
The MFA provides an intense and transformative immersion in contemporary art-making practice through a two-year, intensive experience. The program fosters a strong sense of community and students are both supported and challenged by their peers and faculty.
Columbus College of Art and Design
Founded in 1879, Columbus College of Art and Design is one of the oldest private art and design colleges in the United States. With 12 undergraduate majors and two graduate programs, CCAD produces graduates equipped to shape culture and business at the highest level.
CCAD believe that an artist’s studio practice is best learned through self-design and execution. While pursuing your MFA, your curriculum is focused on project-based thinking, by designing, creating, and explaining your work.
University of Hartford
The University of Hartford offers a dynamic student experience charged with diversity in its programs, activities, and student body. With more than 6,500 total students, Hartford students pursue a wide range of interests and talents.
As the only low-residency MFA in the country dedicated exclusively to illustration, the Hartford Art School allows you to earn an MFA while maintaining your career and commitments at home. Learn more about how to surround yourself with fellow students who are as motivated as you are:
Sierra Nevada College
With a location high in the Sierra, and as Nevada’s only accredited, private, four-year institution, there’s nothing conventional about life at Sierra Nevada College. Focused on engaging students to become confident critical thinkers, SNC fosters problem solving, teamwork, and innovation.
The MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts encourages participants to consider how to engage the material and social worlds of our respective environments. This low-residency program uses personalized mentorship and extensive studio time to help you realize your personal visions.
Graphic Design and Multimedia MFA Programs
If you’re passionate about art, technology, and are open to emerging mediums, earning a graphic design MFA degree may help you combine all of those into your career. This degree, considered a subset of visual arts, is defined as the process of visual communication, and problem solving through the use of type, space, image, and color.
According the BLS, the median annual salary for graphic designers in 2016 was $47,640.iv Check out some of the graphic design MFA sponsored listings below to find the perfect program for you.
University of Houston
The University of Houston empowers students in their pursuit of learning, discovery, leadership, and engagement. The school prepares students to envision their future, emerge as leaders, and launch careers that transform the world.
The graduate program in graphic design promotes advanced research and critical theory. Students define an area of specific interest and concentrate their research and development on this new direction to push the boundaries of theory and practice.
New York Institute of Technology
The New York Institute of Technology is a dynamic, highly ranked, and accredited not-for-profit university committed to educating the next generation of leaders. With over 10,000 students representing all 50 states and 100 countries, the school inspires innovation to advance entrepreneurship.
NYIT offers three MFA degrees in computer graphics. The graphic design degree addresses complex problems and creative research. Plus, you’ll graduate with a professional-grade portfolio demonstrating your solutions to real-world design challenges.
Careers with an MFA
With an MFA, a recent graduate is now considered an expert in the field. And an expert in the fine arts can be quite attractive to a company looking to fill a related role within its department.
For instance, a studio artist may link up with a company in need of a graphic designer or creative director. An MFA degree in theater has led many to work as a private acting instructor or as a public-speaking coach in the corporate world.
As a creative thinker and artisan, you will find that the specific skills you possess are, in fact, rare and in-demand. And, the ability to see yourself and your abilities as a commodity will go a long way during the inevitable interview process while you search for MFA jobs.
The field with perhaps the most—or most obvious—fine art career opportunities is education, whether at the high school, college, or graduate school level. In academia, the MFA is recognized as a terminal degree, shows your accomplishments as a working artist, and your ability to teach in the field as well.
In fact, many universities require an MFA in order to teach. Of course, though the job market for a full-time or adjunct position within a university’s art or theater department is certainly competitive.
However, it is not unusual for a recent graduate armed with an MA or an MFA to make the leap from mentee to young mentor, especially if he or she has found some measure of professional success.
At the high school level, or even in middle school or lower, an MFA degree can open doors as well. Many private and parochial schools fashion their art departments after the university model and actively search for working artists to fill mentoring roles.
You’ll need an additional certification to become a teacher. But, if you wish to teach at a public school, an MFA degree can also help you get a head start on a teaching certificate or an MA in education.
Art as Commerce
Another area with plenty of MFA career opportunities is within the channels through which art is disseminated or in the greater landscape of the arts world.
For a studio artist, this might lead to the design department of a museum, a sales position at an auction house, or an administrative position at a gallery. Again, since the MFA is a terminal degree, it may provide a candidate a leg-up in your career search over someone with a more traditional MA in art history.
Unconventional MFA Careers
MFA careers in the arts are, in a sense, inherently unconventional. As such, many MFA grads in the pursuit of a sustainable living end up walking an unconventional path.
Extending on the writing workshop, which has by now become a phenomenon, community programs, and even prisons, have become viable places to teach one’s craft in an intimate setting.
Actors and studio artists may find workshop opportunities in community theater, local galleries, and myriad regional public arts agencies.
Administrative work in the university setting can also be an attractive option, as a clerical job in a school’s art or theater departments typically provide access to libraries, studios, office space and other amenities, as well as comprehensive health care.
MFA Degree – How You Learn
Most MFA programs are defined by the mentor/mentee relationship. In other words, an established artist working closely with a group of talented apprentices.
While working closely with your mentor, you have great opportunity to pick their brain and develop that relationship.
5 Questions You Should Ask Your Mentor
- How they became a teacher?
- What strengths you have as an artist?
- What careers may suit you and your skills?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What can you do to improve and become more marketable?
Throughout your studies, you should talk with your classmates or cohort members to see what careers they’re thinking about, how they find opportunities, and if they’ve had any professional experience or internships.
Talking about their responsibilities and aspirations can show you other skills that you could work on before you graduate, such as specific programs or techniques and give you ideas that you may not have considered.
Low Residency MFA
Typically, MFA programs take two years and can be very intensive as you refine your craft as an artist. Many schools offer low-residency options, which means most of your work is completed online.
Then, usually twice a year for one to two weeks, students convene on campus for a residency, which may include courses, private studio time, and panels.
These residencies are a great opportunity for you to meet professors, students, and guest speakers in other fields and discuss their careers, professional experience, and the skills you should work on.
Developing these relationships can also give you more options for references and grow your network.
Networking to Increase Your Odds
In every career, including those in the fine arts, finding a job is all about who you know. This can be even more important to those graduating from an MFA program because art can be such a solitary pursuit.
Plus, many artists tend to be introverts, making networking and attending conferences even more difficult than for those in other careers, such as, lawyers, sales reps, and other professionals, who may be more comfortable in those environments.
In the end, what may truly open doors for those searching for MFA jobs is the network of fellow practitioners met over the course of his or her studies—both students and mentors alike.
Some of the ways to grow your network while earning your MFA and after graduation are listed below.
#1: Nurture relationships in school
While earning your MFA, you have access to some of the great minds in your field. Your professors, program directors, and even adjuncts have probably been in the field for a number of years and can pass on valuable advice as you consider various career opportunities.
Plus, don’t overlook your fellow students. Like you, they are close to becoming experts themselves and are the future of the field. Developing close relationships can help you throughout your career.
#2: Go to conferences
Every art field has plenty of conferences and exhibitions. These are great opportunities to see:
- What’s trending in the field
- New technologies
- Companies in your industry
- Companies that market to your industry
- Find jobs for MFA graduates
Usually, these conferences also have a number of guest speakers who are widely-recognized as influencers and can be a chance to meet them and share ideas.
#3 Join professional organizations
Professional organizations are a great way to meet others in your field. Normally, the leadership in the organization, even at the local level, have plenty of experience and may take on the role of mentor and pass that knowledge on to the next generation of artists.
Most of these groups also put out a publication or newsletter that shows the latest trends and techniques, so you can try them out yourself while earning your degree and afterwards.
#4: Don’t be afraid to reach out
Most artists, even successful ones, understand the challenges of balancing employment with the demands of one’s craft. As a result, there is a palpable desire on the part of those who have, in some sense, “made it”, to help grease the path of those who are on their way.
In this regard, many emerging artists have found gainful employment working in the studio of a mentoring master. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to others in your realm of the art world who you admire, besides your professors and fellow students.
Share your praise and thoughts on their work and then ask for advice on your own, even if it’s in more of a general sense. While all of them may not respond or offer you a job, more often than not, they’ll be glad to help in some way.
Resources for Finding Post-MFA Jobs
Searching for MFA jobs can be difficult. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help you along the way.
Some of the best ones are:
Finding the Perfect MFA Program
If you’re still considering whether to pursue an MFA, you have plenty of options. Plus, many schools help prepare you for different types of careers with a fine arts degree.
Check out any of the sponsored schools above that offer an MFA in interior design, creative writing, fine arts, or graphic design. Or, click the link below to get matched to the perfect program for you.
[i] bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/interior-designers.htm#tab-5 [ii] bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm#tab-5 [iii] bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/craft-and-fine-artists.htm#tab-5 [iv] bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm#tab-5
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.