District of Columbia Graduate Programs in Fine Arts

Fine Arts Graduate Programs include Masters of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Arts (MA), and PhD Fine Arts degrees. Within these levels, students choose an area of study to earn their degree in. Art history, art education, visual arts, literary arts, digital media, and performance arts are several examples.

How to earn a graduate degree in Fine Art

Why Consider Fine Arts Graduate Programs?

Fine Arts graduate programs might prepare students to turn their passion into a professional career in their chosen field. Most art universities offer programs that blend studio time, lectures, seminars, and internships. This type of curriculum may help students explore their creativity through new and refined techniques. Also, to think critically, and define their vision through the give and take of critique and feedback.  Moreover, through practice of their medium and for-credit projects, students usually build a portfolio of their work. This could take the shape of a manuscript, photography, paintings, or other medium.



Managers, clients, and others look at artists’ portfolios when they are deciding whether to hire an employee or contract for an art project.i

Tailor a Graduate Degree in Fine Arts to Your Interests

General fine arts graduate programs are often tailored to student interests. Often a graduate student works with the faculty to select courses that will support the thesis research. While in their program, students may attend lectures, workshops, and student-led critiques. Also, while topics vary between schools, a fine arts graduate student might take upper-level studio courses in drawing, printmaking, or design—classes that refine and or teach technique.

Finally, fine arts electives often play a critical role in a graduate program. Through them, one might expand their viewpoints and approach. In some art universities, these electives might extend in to the disciplines Architecture, Landscape Architecture, City and Regional planning, and Historic Preservation—all great themes to help build up potentially marketable skills.

Apply to Graduate Programs in Fine Arts

Most art universities with fine arts graduate programs ask to see official transcripts. They want to see proof of graduation with a bachelor’s degree (or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree) from an accredited institution. Also, students may be asked for letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and a statement of goals. What drives your artistic interest? Which artists or theorists have influenced or inspired you?

Moreover, future art graduate students usually furnish an artistic/creative resume. This itemizes relevant experience. Things like performances attended, places where art was made, art, exhibitions that were meaningful or work was displayed. Finally, applicants submit a creative portfolio of work samples, such as written, digital, video, media and promotional pieces.

We asked graduates of fine arts about how earning a master's degree in fine arts can build your skills to practice your passions:

"Earning a Masters of Fine Arts Degree helped me expand my horizons and train myself to be a writer. For me, the MFA program was not about a career goal, but about building the life I wanted with the skills and practice that I picked up during my graduate courses."

~Sarah Donawerth, Writer

Click to Tweet

Master of Fine Arts

The MFA degree is academically recognized as the highest degree in the creative practice of visual and performance arts. In some art universities, the Masters of Fine Arts is a 60-credit program. This course of study might take a full-time student about two years to complete. Most Master of Fine Arts programs focus on the professional development of student artists.

To that end, many arts schools offer self-directed programs. Students base their courses around their unique interests and goals. Faculty advisors often work one-to-one with each student, to help them define their vision. Guidance may also be offered through open exchanges with peers. This stimulus often promotes innovation, and certainly, an opportunity to show one’s art to new networks. And, while project-based, the MFA degree often concludes with a thesis project, written thesis paper, and oral defense.

Doctorate of Fine Arts

The Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA) degree is a doctoral degree in fine arts. It is sometimes awarded as either an honorary degree to someone who has made a notable contribution to their art. While academically equal to a PhD, the DFA may entail applied research or a practical approach to the arts.

By contrast, a PhD is a research-focused course of study where students often have to contribute original thought to their area of study (e.g. art history or archaeology). Time to completion will vary. In some universities, full-time students may take up to seven-years post-bachelors to complete the PhD requirements. These usually include upper-level courses, seminars, research methods, and a final dissertation. 

Fine Arts Graduate Certificates

A graduate certificate in fine arts may provide theory, technique, and essential tools and ideas. Shorter-term than a full degree, a certificate program may offer several courses that highlight one theme. For instance, a certificate in fine arts foundations might expose learners to color theory, drawing, painting, and live model sketching. This type of program may extend one’s expertise in various mediums, such as studio art. Also, it may help the budding artist work on their portfolio.

Fine Arts Concentrations

Often, students choose to earn their MFA in the field of study they aspire to succeed in. That said, fine arts graduate program concentration areas could provide a good differentiator between art universities, so let's take a look.

Arts and Culture

A focus in arts and culture explores the social significance of art and culture. As an area of emphasis, it might provide a solid base in theory and communication methods, especially for students who want to pursue a career in a creative industry, tourism, art history, or art policy.

Art Education

In art education, students may develop the skills to teach art to elementary and secondary students. Usually offered as a focus area within a Master of Arts Art degree, course work is often based on theory and current best practices. Topics of study tend to include strategies for art teachers to use in their classroom, aesthetics, art criticism, and therapeutic art education.

Art History

Graduate studies in art history often provide students with the opportunity to focus in on specific historical period, type of artwork, or museum studies. Often, while topics dive into the past to examine legacies, students are often taught to consider the past in context of the present. This may foster intellectual development as students expand their view and think critically.  

Modern and Contemporary Art

The goal of the Modern and Contemporary Art is to train students to be effective art world professionals, including learning how to navigate the marketplace. Students often take courses that are designed to foster connoisseurship skills. Other topics may be more organizational, for instance, how to catalogue and write with art history and current art business practices.

Interdisciplinary Arts

Interdisciplinary arts programs are often designed to help students articulate their unique vision. At the same time, refine their expressive skills, and branch out into new artistic mediums. For these reasons, an interdisciplinary program in fine arts might include discourse, practicum, and engagement with a community of peers.

As a result, one might get the chance to study with artists from a variety of practices. Visual arts, dance, music, theater, performance art, social practice, design, digital media, and the literary arts are a few examples. 

Poetry & Literary Arts

Studying poetry, creative writing, and other literary arts may help students to hone their manuscripts, network, and seek publishers for their literary works.

Studio & Digital Art

Studio and digital arts usually stress topics such as visualization, ideation, and creation of visual imagery. This may provide students with the opportunity to refine their graphic design, 2D, and 3D skills.

Find Accredited Fine Arts Graduate Programs

Fine arts graduate programs may be offered by regionally-accredited universities. Also, a school may be an accredited institutional member of the National Association or Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Filter your search for online fine arts graduate programs or look for art universities in a specific city, state, or country.

Easily look through programs right here to find fine arts graduate programs at the degree level you need. Refine by doctorate, certificate, or masters in Fine Arts programs. While you are on the page, click to request information. Get started now!

[i] bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/art-directors.htm

Find Schools