Master of Fine Art & Design Graduate Programs in California
When you think “fine arts,” you might have a very specific image in your head. You might envision masters like Leonardo da Vinci laboring over classical works—sculptures and paintings. While these traditional visual art forms are included under the umbrella term of “fine arts,” that’s only scratching the surface!
A master’s in fine arts also encompasses a vast array of concentrations, such as video game design, video and film production, creative writing, fashion, interior design, music, graphic design, and performing arts, among other creative areas.
What Is a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree?
If you’re considering pursuing a career in the fine arts, you may have come across the term Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. But what exactly is an MFA, and what are the benefits of earning one?
Definition and overview of MFA programs
A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree is a graduate-level program in the visual arts, performing arts, or creative writing. MFA programs typically take 2-3 years to complete and are designed to provide students with advanced education in their chosen field.
MFA programs often include a combination of studio work, seminars, and lectures, and typically culminate in a final project or thesis. Students in MFA programs work closely with faculty members, who are often practicing artists or writers themselves.
What is the difference between an MFA degree and MA degree?
If you’ve been researching fine arts design master’s degree programs, you may have noticed there are generally two types offered at universities: a master’s of fine arts (MFA) or a master of arts (MA) degree.
A master of fine arts (MFA) emphasizes the development of the art as a skill. Students could expect to engage with their chosen medium often—practical applications are this program’s MO. The intention behind this is to provide students with instruction that they may take with them into their future creative careers. In short, these degree programs focus on artists making art.
A master of arts (MA) takes a more liberal arts approach to its education. These degree programs emphasize scholastic coursework in students’ pursuit of the arts, often focusing on curation, critique, and administration. These degree programs may prepare students to pursue future careers in arts administration roles.
- Graphic design and multimedia
- Creative writing
- Performing arts
- Video game design
- Fashion, retail, and merchandising
- Music/audio production
Admissions requirements for MFA programs
Each MFA program has its own admissions requirements, but there are some commonalities across programs.
- A bachelor’s degree in a related field
- A portfolio of recent work
- Letters of recommendation
- Statement of purpose or personal statement
- Transcript of academic record
- Standardized test scores (such as the GRE)
Tips for preparing a strong MFA application
Preparing a robust MFA application might be a challenging process, but there are some tips that could help:
- Start early and give yourself plenty of time to prepare your application materials.
- Take the time to carefully select and curate your portfolio of work.
- Ask for letters of recommendation well in advance and provide your recommenders with plenty of information about the program and your goals.
- Craft a compelling personal statement that showcases your passion and demonstrates your fit for the program.
Benefits of Earning an MFA Degree
Earning an MFA degree may have a number of potential benefits for those in the creative arts. Here are just a few.
- Enhance your knowledge and skills: MFA programs offer you the opportunity to receive additional education in your chosen field, helping you to develop skills and technique. Pursuing an MFA might also push your boundaries with new methods or media you may not have encountered.
- Networking opportunities: MFA programs may provide you with opportunities to connect with other artists and writers, as well as with faculty members who may be able to offer guidance and mentorship.
- Inspiration: For some in the creative arts, it may be difficult to sustain the motivation to keep on writing, painting, practicing, etc. While pursuing an MFA degree you’ll be surrounded by peers and faculty who have the same passions and may provide inspiration for you to continue focusing on your craft. In addition, you might gain insight through constructive criticism from others.
- Credentials: An MFA degree could help demonstrate to potential employers or clients that you have achieved a high level of education and knowledge in your field.
- Increased career opportunities: With an MFA degree, you may be eligible for a wider range of career opportunities, including teaching positions at the college level.
- Increased earning potential: Across many fields, master’s degree holders have a higher median annual salary than those with a bachelor’s degree—in 2022, the median annual salary was $11,908 higher.
Potential Career Paths for MFA Graduates
Graduates of MFA programs might pursue a variety of career paths in the arts, from working as practicing artists to teaching at the college level. Here are some possibilities, along with salary and projected job growth.
Median annual salary (2022): $105,1802
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 6%3
Median annual salary (2022): $76,7004
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 3%5
Special effects artists and animators
Median annual salary (2022): $98,9506
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 8%7
Median annual salary (2022): $57,9908
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 3%9
Top paying metropolitan areas for Graphic Designers8
|Hourly mean wage
|Annual mean wage
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
|Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA
Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators
Median annual salary (2022): $57,56010
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 6%11
Writers and authors
Median annual salary (2022): $73,15012
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 4%13
Musicians and singers
Median hourly wage (2022): $39.1414
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 1%15
Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary
Median annual salary (2022): $77,28016
Project job growth, 2022–2032: 8%17
How to Choose an MFA Program
Choosing an MFA degree program is an important decision that could have a significant impact on your career as an artist or writer. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a program.
Look for programs with experienced and respected faculty members who are actively engaged in their fields. Research their work—do you like their paintings/music/etc.? Are they experienced in the specific areas you may be interested in?
Aside from looking for programs in your specific area, research the curriculum to determine whether it is challenging and well-rounded, with a balance of studio work, seminars, and lectures.
The facilities and resources available to students may vary widely among programs. Look for programs with well-equipped studios and access to the equipment and technology you might require.
TThe location of the program could also be an important factor to consider, as it might impact access to resources, opportunities for collaboration, and cost of living.
Rankings and criteria for selecting MFA programs
Program quality may be paramount to your success. Various organizations, such as U.S. News & World Report and Fine Arts College Rankings, provide annual rankings of MFA programs based on factors such as faculty quality, student selectivity, and peer reputation.
However, it’s important to note that rankings are not the only factor to consider when selecting an MFA program. Other important factors include the program’s curriculum, facilities, and location, as well as your own personal goals and interests.
Online or on-campus?
Selecting one of the below formats could help your education fit seamlessly into your established lifestyle.
- On-campus fine arts design graduate degree programs offer a structured course schedule as part of the traditional university experience. These programs are great for studio artists who wish to practice their art under the watchful eye of industry professionals—those would be your professors! On-campus studios, rehearsal halls, and extracurricular events may offer unique opportunities for students to apply their skills outside the classroom alongside their peers. Schools may also exhibit teaching artists’ works on campus for an extra dose of inspiration.
- Online fine arts design graduate degree programs are a convenient and flexible degree program format, making it potentially ideal for students with other priorities alongside their education. Students are able to log into their courses as their time allows to complete necessary coursework. These programs may be well suited for you if you’re seeking a degree in art history, curation, or critique because it does not require the hands-on approaches necessary in studio arts degree programs. Don’t worry about missing out on the on-campus experience! Universities may offer streamed lectures or class chat rooms so that you could engage with the physical classroom and your peers—from the comfort of your living room!
- Hybrid fine arts design graduate degree programs take a page out of the books of the above degree formats. You could take convenient online courses for academic-based classes such as art history or theory. Then, when you need to work with the physical aspect of your medium, come into the classroom to engage with your peers and professors. This could also be perfect if your schedule often fluctuates: take online courses when your schedule is busier, then head back to campus when your time allows!
Tips for researching and comparing MFA programs
When researching MFA programs, it’s helpful to do your due diligence and gather as much information as possible. Here are some tips that could help you in researching and comparing MFA programs:
- Attend information sessions and open houses to learn more about the program and meet faculty members and current students.
- Research the faculty members and their areas of concentration, as well as the program’s alumni and their accomplishments.
- Read program descriptions, course catalogs, and student testimonials to get a sense of the program’s culture and approach to education.
- Consider reaching out to current students or alumni to ask for their insights and experiences.
Popular Schools with Masters in Fine Arts in California
GradSchools.com offers 48 Graduate Schools with Master of Fine Art in California
Sources: 1https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm 2https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271011.htm 3https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/art-directors.htm 4https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271022.htm 5https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm 6https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271014.htm 7https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm 8https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271024.htm 9https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm 10https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271013.htm 11https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/craft-and-fine-artists.htm#tab-6 12https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes273043.htm 13https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm 14https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes272042.htm 15https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/musicians-and-singers.htm 16https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251121.htm 17https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-6
Based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Accessed 5/15/2023.
This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.
Claremont Graduate University
California State University, San Bernardino
Humboldt State University
Art Center College Of Design
California College Of The Arts
John F Kennedy University
New College of California
St. Mary's College Of California
Loyola Marymount University
University of the Pacific
American Film Institute