Master of Fine Arts | Top Universities

Master of Fine Arts degrees allow you to study subjects such as filmmaking, theater, graphic design, dance and creative writing at master’s level. These degrees are available as either an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) or an MA (Master of Arts) qualification. MFA degrees differ mainly in offering a more practical learning style, while MA programs are more likely to focus on critical study of the theory of art. 

During most Master of Fine Arts degrees, coursework is mainly of an applied or performing nature, with your final assessment bringing together what you have learned. The content and presentation of this will vary depending on your specialization – it could be an exhibition of photography, a dance performance or a completed short film, amongst other possibilities.


Master of Fine Arts


Courses are usually two or three years in length, but this varies between countries. In the UK, for example, most master’s degrees can be completed in just one year if you study full-time.

In the US, most MFA degrees are considered ‘terminal degrees’. This means that it is the highest academic degree available in this field of study, and considered a suitable standard of qualification for those intending to teach the subject at university level. 

Teaching and learning are likely to span a range of methods, including practical workshops and group tasks, along with peer reviews of your fellow students’ work. Your university may also offer the opportunity to contribute work to public exhibitions and events as part of the course.

Entry requirements

Most universities will ask for a good grade in a relevant undergraduate degree. However, this does not always have to be in exactly the same subject or field you intend to specialize in during your Master of Fine Arts. You’ll typically be asked to submit a portfolio of previous work, or attend a performance audition as part of your application.

Fine arts specializations

There are many Master of Fine Arts degrees which will allow you to cover multiple aspects of the subject, gaining a broad understanding of more than one specialization. These relatively comprehensive programs offer a range of course modules in the primary art forms, as well as general fine arts theory.

However, if you are passionate about a particular media or art-form, an MFA degree can provide a highly focused pathway to becoming a professional or expert in your particular field. This may be reflected in the course’s entry requirements; for example, if you wish to study an MFA in Creative Writing, then you will likely need to submit a writing sample with your application.

Popular fine arts specializations include: 

  • Visual artsVisual arts
  • Photography
  • Filmmaking
  • Art history
  • Dance
  • Theater
  • Acting
  • Creative writing – including playwriting, poetry writing etc.
  • Design – including graphic, fashion, costume etc.

However, fine arts is such a broad subject that you might be surprised what topics you can specialize in, with courses available in areas such as comic art, theater management, and dramaturgy (the study of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage). Columbia University provides MFAs with concentrations in the latter two subjects, while California College of the Arts offers an MFA in Comics.

As you might expect,visual arts in itself breaks down to many distinct art forms, allowing for further specializations which include:




  • Ceramics  
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Printmaking
  • Design and crafts
  • Architecture

Fine arts careers

The skills gained during a Master of Fine Arts degree are transferable to a wide range of careers – from visual communication to project management, idea development and art curation. You are therefore certainly not short on options, and by no means limited to careers which relate directly to your chosen course specialization.

Many artistic career paths are highly competitive, and you will therefore need to develop a strong CV and/or portfolio, along with a growing network of contacts – starting from your course-mates. In many fine arts careers, such as being a photographer, visual artist, musician or actor, you’re likely to be self-employed. You will therefore need to be able to motivate and sell yourself effectively to obtain work, while nurturing a relevant network of professional contacts.

Aside from becoming a professional artist in your chosen art-form, additional career options include:


Fine arts careers


Arts administrator

Arts administrator

As an arts administrator, you would plan and organize arts activities and ensure they are successful. If you’re passionate about the arts and enjoy managing and organizing projects, this career could be for you, enabling you to gain new perspectives on art in various social and cultural contexts. You will need strong administration and computer skills for this role.



They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, and indeed, photojournalists are visual storytellers whose images can have a huge impact on the news. This is another career in which gaining experience and building up a strong portfolio are very important, particularly as you will most likely be working on a freelance basis. You will also need to be proficient in digital media, including social media, online content, video and sound.



As mentioned earlier, in the US the MFA degree is considered to be the highest qualification available in this field, and in many countries a Master of Fine Arts will enable you to pursue teaching and tutoring roles. You may choose to teach in a mainstream school or university, through a community arts scheme, offer private lessons, or apply your skills in an area such as art therapy. Depending on the type of institution you wish to teach at, you may need to obtain an additional recognized teaching qualification.


Key Skills

Common skills gained from a Master of Fine Arts degree include:

  • The ability to develop and implement new artistic ideas
  • Strong observational, research and analytical skills
  • The ability to solve problems creatively and use your initiative
  • The ability to be objective about your work and accept criticism
  • Being open to new inspirations and concepts
  • Team-working and collaborative skills
  • Independent working and self-motivation
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Understanding of relevant media and materials
  • Understanding of relevant cultural, social and economic frameworks
  • Excellent interpersonal and networking skills