Graduate students in fine arts typically follow one of two paths: (1) an MFA or (2) an MA and PhD. The reason is that they are tailored according to career options within the field. The MFA is typically for those wanting to practice their art and teach others how to paint, sculpt, dance, act, and so forth. The MA and PhD are generally for those wanting to study and write about art and teach others about its history and principles.
The MFA is a terminal degree, which means that it is the highest degree a student can earn. It encompasses practicing fields within the arts, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic design, creative writing, dancing, acting, scenic design, lighting design, and costume design. The curriculum might include coursework, research, and substantial creative output. Through all of this, students engage in coursework designed to help them their skills and prepare for to pursue an active future doing what they love. They may also teach others to do the same, either while they are working artists or once their performing career has come to an end. An MFA may help prepare them to pursue a wide range of teaching jobs, including those at the college level.
The MA is not a terminal degree, which means that some people who earn an MA might continue their education and earn a PhD as well. It is offered for students in academic or analytic fields within the arts, including art history, dance history, theater history, and dramaturgy. Some MA in fine arts programs includes a thesis requirement, while others do not. People with an MA might pursue potential career opportunities in museums, archives, or arts organizations, though a PhD (or a complementary master’s degree in another field) may enhance certain potential career options– especially for higher level positions at such professors or researchers at universities.