The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is a postgraduate level master’s degree that requires about 2 to 3 years of full-time study following the completion of a bachelor’s degree. The time required to complete a Master of Fine Arts program is determined by the institution offering the degree as well as the country where the degree is earned. In most countries, including the United States, the MFA is a terminal degree (highest academic degree awarded) in visual arts, performing arts (dance, theatre and music), filmmaking and creative writing. While Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees typically culminate with the preparation and presentation of an original thesis, the Master of Fine Arts typically requires students to develop and present a major work of art or performance before they can graduate. Most of the curriculum and courswork in a MFA program is of a performing or an applied nature, as opposed to other master’s programs which require extensive reading, writing and research.
While most MFA programs require candidates to possess a bachelor’s degree, many programs do not require that the undergraduate degree be in the same field of study as the MFA they plan on pursuing. For example, as student with a bachelor’s degree in music can still apply for a MFA in drama or theatre. A few Master of Fine Arts programs do not even require a bachelor’s degree. Typically, the most important admissions requirement is a performance audition or a portfolio of work–which demonstrates a student’s ability and skill set in their chosen field of study.
Sometimes people confuse the Master of Arts (MA) and Masters of Fine Arts (MFA), but the two are very different–even though they are both academic degrees. The biggest difference is that the MFA centers around the practice and application within a particular fields of study, where the MA focuses on on the academic, scholarly, or critical study of the field. For example, a MA in Music might focus on the history and theory of music where an MFA in Music focuses on composition and performance. Another noteworthy distinction is that that the MFA (at least in the U.S.) is considered a terminal degree, where the MA is not. As a terminal degree, the MFA will often qualify students to teach at the university level within their particular discipline.
Some universities have begun to offer practice-based Ph.D. degree programs in discipline specific fine arts fields such as visual arts, design, creative writing and theatre. These doctoral programs have been developed in an attempt to establish more of connection between fine arts production and academic research. Notwithstanding, the MFA is still considered by most in academia as the terminal degree within most Fine Arts disciplines. In fact, in the College of Art Assocation’s 2008 guidelines they re-affirm that the MFA is a terminal degree.