25 Best MFA Programs 2020

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The 25 schools on this list offer the top MFAs in fine arts, based on median salary one year after graduation. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania tops the list with a starting salary of $44,200 for MFA graduates. University of Oregon students in this program graduate with $29,274 of student debt, the lowest median debt of the schools ranked below. The schools on the list boast median starting salaries in the $25,000-$44,200 range.

Tuition, median salaries, and median debt were reported by the U.S. Department of Education. View our methodology for more details about these rankings or read more about the top-ranked schools.

Salary and debt data reported by the U.S. Department of Education
Salary and debt data reported by the U.S. Department of Education
Rank School Annual Tuition Median Debt Median Salary
#1 #1 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania $23,780 Not Reported $44,200
#2 #2 The New School $46,065 $61,500 $40,100
#3 #3 Duke University $54,712 $90,295 $39,300
#4 #4 The George Washington University $30,834 Not Reported $33,500
#5 #5 School of Visual Arts $44,700 $71,494 $33,400
#6 #6 $45,426 $79,678 $33,200
#7 #7 $23,400 $43,608 $32,400
#8 #8 $35,724 $53,081 $32,100
#9 #9 $33,984 $131,464 $32,100
#10 #10 $51,700 $75,550 $31,700
#11 #11 $18,150 $41,000 $31,500
#12 #12 $52,192 $57,490 $31,100
#13 #13 $25,336 $40,000 $29,200
#14 #14 $48,720 $101,950 $28,700
#15 #15 $21,126 Not Reported $28,300
#16 #16 $28,161 $29,274 $27,800
#17 #17 $30,130 $36,365 $27,500
#18 #18 $31,446 $41,000 $27,500
#19 #19 $53,572 $41,000 $27,400
#20 #20 $38,030 $75,851 $27,000
#21 #21 $20,228 Not Reported $26,700
#22 #22 $34,279 $89,730 $26,400
#23 #23 $26,970 $31,500 $25,400
#24 #24 $50,960 $49,636 $25,400
#25 #25 $39,120 $41,000 $25,000

2020 Best Master's Program Highlights

Median Debt
Not Reported
Median Salary
$44,200

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania features several Master of Fine Arts programs. These 60 credit hour degrees take three years to complete. The programs are focused on the studio arts, and are designed to produce professional artists rather than teachers or art historians. A portfolio is required for admission, which is competitive.

The school’s MFA degrees are in Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Ceramics, and Metals/ Jewelry. All are heavy on studio practice. The academic components include art history and theory. The emphasis is on developing students’ conceptual, aesthetic and technical competencies. Students will learn about the arts in general, but will focus largely on developing their skills and artistic voice in their preferred form of art. They will also learn about the presentation and installation of their art, as well as publicity and marketing.

The courses offered include Kiln Construction, Ceramic Materials and Glaze Calculation, Studio Problems in Painting, and Jewelry/Metalsmithing. Students have 24-hour access to their studios.

The school is located near Erie, Pennsylvania, in the northwest part of the state.

Visit Edinboro University of Pennsylvania’s website

Median Debt
$61,500
Median Salary
$40,100

Through its Parsons School of Design, the New School features a number of Master of Fine Arts degrees. They are heavily oriented to professional practice in the context of interdisciplinary study. The programs are 60 credits and generally take two years to complete.

The MFA degrees are in Design and Technology, Fashion Design and Society, Lighting Design, Photography, Interior Design, Industrial Design, Fine Arts, Textiles, and Transdisciplinary Design. The MFA Textiles focuses on fashion, decoration, product design, and textile history. The Lighting Design MFA is concerned with the effects of natural and artificial light, including the design of interiors, energy conservation and the social impact of light systems. Industrial Design focuses on the design process and product design. Transdisciplinary Design looks at the future of design and social thought.

Courses vary with the program. Sample courses are Professional Practices and Portfolio, Survey of Silver: Renaissance to Modern, Interactive/ Web Design, and Color Theory. Students learn about all aspects of art and develop their own professional competencies.

The New School is located in Manhattan, in New York City. It has a long tradition of academic innovation and social action.

Visit The New School’s website.

Median Debt
$90,295
Median Salary
$39,300

Duke University features a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts. This is a new and unique program at the cutting edge of contemporary art theory and experimentation. The 30 credit program takes two years to complete and requires an original and substantial thesis. Duke’s programs are highly respected, and admission is competitive.

Offered through Duke’s Division of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, the program’s intent is to bring together the classic documentary approach and “experimental production” that involves analog, digital and computational media.

The program stresses creative engagement with the arts and the role of the artist in society. Students will be thoroughly grounded in art theory, be exposed to classic forms of art history, and explore how these interact with new technologies. Students will be involved in new forms of recording, cataloging and curating art.

Among the courses in the degree program are Computational Media, Continuity and Change in Experimental and Documentary Arts, and Experiments with the Moving Image.

Duke is located in Durham, North Carolina.

Visit Duke University's website.

Median Debt
Not Reported
Median Salary
$33,500

Through its Corcoran School of Arts and Design, The George Washington University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Fine Arts, as well as an MA in Art History. The degrees differ substantially. The MFA is a 60 credit program that takes two years to complete and is primarily designed for studio artists. The Art History MA degree is 36 credits and is designed for teaching, writing, and related careers.

The MFA covers a wide range of media, including digital labs, photography and video facilities, and a sculpture shop. Students have individual studio space. A portfolio is required for admission, which is competitive. The program focus is the development of professional skills and technique, including exhibition and publicity. The primary orientation is education and practice in the studio arts. Courses include Professional Practices, and Contemporary Art and Theory for Artists. There is no thesis, but substantial work and a critical statement about it is required.

The Art History MA concentrates on art history, theory, and interpretation. It is a much more academically-oriented program. Students will learn the genres and eras of art, themes and the relationship of art to society. Classes include Islamic Art and Architecture, Seminar in South Asian Art, and American art in the Age of Revolution. This program has a Museum Training Track, which emphasizes museum internships.

GWU is located in Washington, D.C.

Visit The George Washington University's website

Median Debt
$71,494
Median Salary
$33,400

The School of Visual Arts in New York City offers an MFA degree in Fine Arts. The program has an interdisciplinary focus and classes are taught by internationally-known professional artists. The curriculum is a mix of seminars in art theory and history, professional development workshops, fieldwork in artist studios or galleries, and talks given by professional artists and curators. Students in the program have 24-hour access to private artist studios and will complete an MFA thesis featuring a body of work or a significant art project. 

The program prepares students for careers as professional artists, offering professional exposure in the form of student gallery collections, group critiques, one-on-one meetings with a mentor within the program, artist talks, and visits to professional artist studios and galleries. Students generally complete this full-time degree in two years. 

Visit the School of Visual Arts' website.

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