Best Online Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Programs

By OnlineU Staff | Updated 2/15/2022
2020 Best Online Master's in MFA Badge

From writing to design to animation, an online Master of Fine Arts degree helps students develop practical, advanced skills that prepare them for a wide range of careers in the arts. Our rankings list of the best online MFA programs supports prospective students in making the right choice for themselves by showing annual tuition rates and mid-career salaries. This allows students to easily compare the initial cost of earning the degree against the future return on investment. Afterward, we provide general program information, answer frequently asked questions about MFAs, and explore career possibilities.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 Albertus Magnus College $13,500 $103,167
# 2 #2 Drexel University $29,969 $102,934
# 3 #3 Arcadia University $15,300 $84,100
# 4 #4 National University $13,260 $79,986
# 5 #5 Brenau University $19,251 $81,000
# 6 #6 University of Houston-Victoria $13,934 $73,500
# 7 #7 Southern New Hampshire University Online $11,286 $70,413
# 8 #8 Liberty University $16,350 $71,865
# 9 #9 Regent University Online $9,750 $68,014
# 10 #10 Bay Path University $14,800 $66,900
# 11 #11 Goucher College $20,400 $69,100
# 12 #12 Radford University $22,320 $68,020
# 13 #13 University of Nebraska at Omaha $15,000 $58,700
# 14 #14 Savannah College of Art and Design $38,475 $67,391
# 15 #15 Seton Hill University $21,249 $54,800
# 16 #16 Lindenwood University $11,880 $48,127
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering MFA Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 Albertus Magnus College

  • Annual Tuition: $13,500
  • Median Salary: $103,167
  • Locations: New Haven (CT)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

A private liberal arts institution in New Haven, Connecticut, Albertus Magnus College hosts a fully online Master of Fine Arts in Writing. The two-year program provides a flexible curriculum for working professionals or busy parents. Students complete their coursework at their own pace, either part-time or full-time. They meet, virtually or on campus, three times per semester for intensive workshops. The program requires 36 credits to graduate and includes courses in the creative process and the literary marketplace, and seminars in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Students build a portfolio of their work under the guidance of accomplished faculty mentors. Students with a bachelor’s degree and minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited institution can submit an online application, along with their academic transcripts, a copy of a valid driver’s license or photo ID, two letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. Applicants must also submit a sample of their work that is either fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Support services available to distance learners include 24/7 online tutoring, career resources, and academic advising.

#2 Drexel University

  • Annual Tuition: $29,969
  • Median Salary: $102,934
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Drexel University's main campus is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but students across the country have access to many of the schools' programs through their online campus. A Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is one of the degrees available through Drexel Online. Students in the program select a concentration in either Screenwriting or Fiction Writing, though courses may be taken in both disciplines. Classes take place on Blackboard, a virtual learning platform that streamlines students’ lesson materials, assignments, and grades. Students can expect to engage with their coursework through formats such as Powerpoint, video lectures, video chat meetings, and audio technologies. Most classes are formatted for asynchronous learning, giving students the flexibility to complete their coursework at times that fit their schedules. Online students have access to the same resources and alumni network as traditional Drexel University students. These resources include 24/7 access to remote library services, academic advising, career services, and mental health counseling. MFA students may participate in optional study abroad experiences and community outreach opportunities. Students must complete three five-day face-to-face residencies for degree completion. Students with a bachelor’s degree can apply by submitting an application, all academic transcripts, a personal statement, a writing sample between 20 and 25 pages in length, and a professional resume.

#3 Arcadia University

  • Annual Tuition: $15,300
  • Median Salary: $84,100
  • Locations: Glenside (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Students in Arcadia University's Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program can participate in unique experiences, including online workshops and a study abroad experience, with a week-long residency in Scotland. Master's candidates prepare a book-length piece and create a publishing plan. The degree takes two years to complete and offers concentrations in Fiction and Poetry. Students take between six and nine credits per semester, so it's possible to work full-time while enrolled in the program. Workshops are primarily delivered through the Canvas online system, which allows students to participate in discussion forums, chats, video conferences, and watch presentations. Students communicate regularly with their instructors and classmates using instant messaging, Skype, and email. Online students receive individualized attention from accomplished Arcadia University faculty. Beyond a dedicated faculty, distance learners have access to resources such as online tutoring services, career education, library resources, and accommodations. Prospective students should have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Admission requirements include an online graduate school application, official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. An interview with faculty is also required and may be completed over the phone.

#4 National University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,260
  • Median Salary: $79,986
  • Locations: La Jolla (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

National University, a private institution in La Jolla, California, hosts a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing that is designed for individuals interested in becoming published authors. The curriculum combines a mix of major core requirements with elective courses that allow students to tailor the program to their interests. The school also offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Professional Screenwriting Program. Students pursuing the screenwriting degree will complete at least two feature-length screenplays, teleplays, or transmedia projects during their program. To apply to one of the creative writing graduate programs, students with a bachelor’s degree and a minimum 2.5 GPA can submit an online application with their academic transcripts for consideration. An interview is also required as part of the admissions process. National University accepts applications year-round and admitted students can begin classes any month of the year. Resources for online students include the student bookstore, career services, technology help desk, tutoring, and health services.

#5 Brenau University

  • Annual Tuition: $19,251
  • Median Salary: $81,000
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design at Brenau University is an ideal fit for individuals with a strong design background seeking to advance their careers. The two-year program is taught entirely online by experienced professionals. Students will engage with diverse design styles and new technologies, as well as learn more sustainable design options. They will also be required to research and write a thesis on a topic of their choosing. The online classroom is delivered through the Canvas learning management system, and classes run on a 7-week schedule. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree in a design-related field. An admissions advisor can assist interested students through the application process. While attending Brenau University, online students have access to the career center, support through the online writing center, and dedicated academic advisors. Graduates may pursue careers in interior design, teaching design at the college level, consulting, and design research.

#6 University of Houston-Victoria

  • Annual Tuition: $13,934
  • Median Salary: $73,500
  • Locations: Victoria (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Houston-Victoria (UHV) provides aspiring professional writers with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This program is available on-campus and online through the School of Arts & Sciences. The entirely online option focuses on creating works in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with the goal of publication. Students will engage in the critique and revision of their creative works. The MFA in Creative Writing has two concentrations: Creative Writing and Applied Literary Translation. Both the Creative Writing track and the Applied Literary Translation track require 36-credit hours, which incorporates creative writing workshop classes, a class in poetics, 15 hours of elective courses, and a six-credit thesis project. The main difference between the concentrations is in the elective options. All courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system, which includes an online student orientation. Online courses match the academic standards of the on-campus versions and can be taken from any location with an internet connection. Distance learners have access to a live chat feature (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.) for technical assistance. Students also have access to the Student Success Center (tutoring), academic advisement, library resources, career services, and disability accommodations. Interested candidates must meet general admission requirements for graduate studies, which includes submitting an application and transcripts, and a GRE score of at least 980. Furthermore, students applying for the MFA degree are required to submit a letter of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and a creative writing sample.

#7 Southern New Hampshire University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $11,286
  • Median Salary: $70,413
  • Locations: Manchester (NH)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

The online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Online can be completed without any residential requirement. The online MFA program is appropriate for prospective authors from any fiction genre; the total program requires 48 credit hours. Students are encouraged to pursue their personal genre of interest while also engaging in coursework that emphasizes the business and marketing of creative fiction. The online MFA creative writing program requires students to complete and revise a novel in their chosen subject, which serves as the thesis requirement. Students will also choose from two certificate options within the program: Online Teaching of Writing or Professional Writing. Classes are asynchronous, allowing students to access materials and complete work on their own schedules. Students may access online courses 24/7. Online students are encouraged to engage in SNHU's eLearning community. Students can submit pieces to the online literary journal, the Penmen Review. They can join Word for Word, a live-stream that features discussions with published authors. And, they can enter an annual SNHU writing competition. Online resources include access to the Online Writing Center, tutoring services, career services, academic advising, 24/7 tech support, and an online library. Applicants can transfer up to 12 graduate credit hours and do not need to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Furthermore, there is no application fee. SNHU offers rolling admissions so that candidates may apply anytime. Applicants must send in an eight- to 12-page writing sample along with a personal statement. There are four consecutive terms throughout the year.

#8 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $16,350
  • Median Salary: $71,865
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Prospective students interested in the visual arts can pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Graphic Design at Liberty University. MFA courses span eight weeks and emphasize digital illustration, imaging, and design techniques. The fully online degree is comprised of 60 credit hours, which typically takes students two years to finish. The flexible format allows students to remain employed full-time while enrolled. Individuals accepted into the MFA are required to engage in a 180-hour internship component under the supervision of a graphic arts professional. Graduates must also complete a 90-hour practicum, which involves a creative project. Online learning is facilitated through Blackboard learning management software. It follows an asynchronous format, allowing students to complete work at their own pace without meeting specific login times for class. Students may transfer up to 30 graduate credit hours towards the MFA. Applicants must submit a completed application and official transcripts showing successful completion of a bachelor's degree. Online learners have access to Adobe products, an IT Helpdesk (with hours Sunday through Saturday), an online writing center, resources from the Jerry Falwell Library, and free tutoring.

#9 Regent University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $9,750
  • Median Salary: $68,014
  • Locations: Virginia Beach (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Regent University Online provides online learners with a Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television, founded in the Christian tradition. The MFA is offered through the School of Communication & the Arts and teaches students the entire creation process, from conceptualization and research to story and character development. Additionally, the business side of film and television and film theory and aesthetics are covered. There are three concentrations available: Script and Screenwriting, Directing, and Producing. The Script and Screenwriting program is designed for aspiring professional writers. Classes run for eight-week terms, and the program includes a combination of orientation courses, core courses, a critical studies elective, and a three-credit capstone course. Most students successfully graduate in two years after completing a minimum of 44 credit hours. Graduates must meet a 3.0 GPA requirement to receive their MFA. Online learners will access materials through Blackboard learning management software. Most classes are asynchronous, though Blackboard Collaborative is available should a real-time lecture or discussion be required. Applicants can enroll in eight different sessions throughout the year. A completed application, an application fee, and transcripts are required for admission. Additionally, candidates must send in a personal goal statement. Distance education students may access resources in academic advisement, career and talent management, disability services, and mental health counseling.

#10 Bay Path University

  • Annual Tuition: $14,800
  • Median Salary: $66,900
  • Locations: Longmeadow (MA) (and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Bay Path University offers a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction for prospective students seeking a fully online program. This program is designed for writers with any level of experience. Faculty members are accomplished writers from diverse specialty backgrounds, including journalists and editors. Two concentrations are available: Publishing and Teaching. Both concentrations require a practical internship component. Online MFA terms begin in January, May, and August and can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis. The full degree requires 39 credit hours, which on average, takes two years to complete. The curriculum is a combination of core courses, electives, and concentration-specific classes. Successful graduates will create a 150-page manuscript, which serves as the master's thesis component. Online classes use Canvas learning management software and are delivered asynchronously. Students post their work and receive feedback from their peers. MFA students can submit pieces for the online literary journal, Multiplicity Magazine, hosted by the creative nonfiction degree program. A creative writing-specific study abroad trip to Ireland is available for online MFA students; participants engage in workshops, lectures, and full-day excursions. Interested applicants do not need to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Online students can access a range of student services, including tutoring, advising, career planning, and virtual resources from Hatch Library.

#11 Goucher College

  • Annual Tuition: $20,400
  • Median Salary: $69,100
  • Locations: Baltimore (MD)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Goucher College's Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction is designed to be flexible without compromising mentorship and academic quality. It is a low-residency program, requiring a minimum of two on-campus residencies. The program focuses on creative nonfiction and requires 49 credit hours, which can be completed over four semesters (two years). Residencies are comprised of workshops, lectures, and other campus-based elements. When off-campus, MFA students engage in projects with the supervision of faculty members. The curriculum requires students to develop a critical paper and a final manuscript before graduation. An online elective course is also required. Distance learning is facilitated with Canvas learning management and Zoom software. Classes are delivered in both synchronous and asynchronous formats. The program offers five start dates throughout the year: spring, summer, winter, and two terms in the fall). Candidates must complete an online application and submit official transcripts. Additionally, the application process requires a letter of recommendation, an essay, and a writing sample. Goucher College's distance learning resources include an information technology help desk, access to the Goucher College Library, and disability services.

#12 Radford University

  • Annual Tuition: $22,320
  • Median Salary: $68,020
  • Locations: Radford (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The College of Graduate Studies and Research at Radford University hosts an entirely online Master of Fine Arts in Design Thinking. The program focuses on applying design principles to solve complex issues. The curriculum requires 60 credit hours and covers subjects such as design thinking, design history, research, and management, as well as experiential opportunities. Students can complete the program in two years of full-time study or four years of part-time study. The flexible format allows students to balance their coursework with a full-time job. Radford's online courses rely on D2L course management software. The majority of the MFA online degree is asynchronous, but as this program encourages team-based projects, students will have to coordinate meetings and work with one another virtually. The culminating component requires either a project or a research thesis. Online learners can benefit from eTutoring, 24/7 D2L tech support, disability services, and access to the Radford University McConnell Library. Interested individuals do not need a background in design to apply, though bachelor's degree transcripts and a completed application with a fee are required. The MFA program also requires three letters of recommendation, a minimum 3.0 GPA, a resume, and a personal statement. Radford College admissions run on a rolling basis.

#13 University of Nebraska at Omaha

  • Annual Tuition: $15,000
  • Median Salary: $58,700
  • Locations: Omaha (NE)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is a low-residency, online program. Offered through the College of Communication, Fine Arts, and Media, the MFA program requires students to complete ten-day residencies, two times each year. Residencies provide online students the opportunity to engage with program mentors and visiting authors at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center in Nebraska City. They are comprised of lectures, small-team workshops, and professional readings, and occur in the summer and winter terms. The MFA curriculum emphasizes individualized study, with possible specializations in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, and young adult writing. Classes run on 16-week semesters, with assignments ranging from readings to critical essays in the first year to the completion of a final thesis manuscript in the last year. Students in the UNO MFA program are paired with a faculty mentor for individualized guidance and academic planning. As such, some students may complete a practicum experience in lieu of written assignments, depending on the curricular plan and student focus. Because each student develops an individual study plan with his or her mentor, there are no formal online classes; instead, every four weeks, students are expected to submit their progress electronically. Online learners have access to the UNO library databases, academic advising, and real-time appointments via the UNO Writing Center. Interested applicants can apply for either the fall or spring semesters. All candidates must have a completed bachelor's degree and submit official transcripts. Additionally, an application, a statement of purpose, a creative sample, and two letters of recommendation are required. GRE scores are not mandatory.

#14 Savannah College of Art and Design

  • Annual Tuition: $38,475
  • Median Salary: $67,391
  • Locations: Savannah (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has extensive online options for its Master of Fine Arts program. MFA degrees are available in animation, fashion, graphic design, illustration, interactive design and game development, motion media design, painting, photography, and writing. These programs include courses in contemporary art and technique, and require a minimum of 90 credit hours to complete. Students must engage in at least one graduate internship, which involves a teaching or field experience under the guidance of a faculty supervisor. A thesis project is also required. Online learning at SCAD is asynchronous, allowing students to work on their own schedules while adhering to deadlines. Resources include an online learning orientation, access to the SCAD Libraries, peer tutors, career success advisors, and professional development sessions. Candidates for the online MFA degrees must hold a completed bachelor's degree. Along with a completed application form, students should submit unofficial transcripts, a statement of purpose, at least two letters of recommendation, a resume, and a portfolio of achievements. There are no deadlines for applications.

#15 Seton Hill University

  • Annual Tuition: $21,249
  • Median Salary: $54,800
  • Locations: Greensburg (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University is an online program with an on-campus writing residency component. The curriculum emphasizes the creative and business sides of fiction as a career. Students can engage in learning for a range of genres, including science-fiction, horror, romance, fantasy, mystery, and young adult. The online courses provide flexible scheduling; many students continue to work full-time throughout the program. During the residency components, students engage in daily workshops, attend presentations, and participate in afternoon courses. In between residencies, students work on individualized writing projects under the guidance of a faculty member. MFA peers engage online and offer feedback and support. Graduates will complete a novel-length project in their preferred genre as their final requirement. The total degree is 54 credits. Online learners have access to the Reeves Memorial Library online resources, as well as academic support and personal career advising. Admission to a graduate program at Seton Hill requires official transcripts from a completed bachelor's program, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. Applicants to the online MFA degree must submit a ten-page writing sample, a personal statement, and a free application form. GRE or GMAT scores are not required.

#16 Lindenwood University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,880
  • Median Salary: $48,127
  • Locations: Saint Charles (MO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The Master of Fine Arts in Writing at Lindenwood University is a 48-credit-hour degree that includes a final thesis project. Classes are offered online and include workshops and lectures that encourage feedback and creative opportunity in a range of writing genres. Classes run in five, eight-week terms throughout the year. Students can take the program on a part-time or full-time basis. The curriculum focuses on developing students' research and writing skills while advancing their knowledge of literary concepts. Students may select an emphasis in either Fiction, Poetry, or Creative Nonfiction. Online students receive assignments and deadlines through Canvas learning management software; however, there are no structured class meetings. Most students take two classes each term. MFA students can participate in the Lindenwood Review, a literary journal produced by the MFA program. Lindenwood University offers rolling admissions and does not require GRE scores or letters of recommendation. Applicants must submit a creative writing sample and a statement of purpose. Additionally, a completed application form, a resume, and official transcripts are required. Online learners may access Lindenwood University's online databases, disability services, and career services.

Online MFA Overview

Program Requirements

Online master's degrees in art and design are much more variable in coursework and graduation requirements than undergraduate degrees. These graduate degree programs may include anywhere from 36-72 semester credits, as well as a significant amount of hands-on studio work.


Students in an online MFA program typically devote two to three years taking studio and theory courses while also working on a thesis project. The structure of the thesis will depend on the degree's focus. For example, students working toward a creative writing degree may be required to write a complete novel, while a graphic design student might develop a series of advertisements for a particular product.

Students in an online MFA program typically devote two to three years taking studio and theory courses while also working on a thesis project.

Online art and design programs in areas such as illustration, painting, or fashion design may require students to scan and upload their work for critique by peers and instructors. Some online art and design degrees, such as those in architecture or interior design, have residency requirements, meaning that students must travel to campus to participate in seminars and design labs often lasting about a week.

While most graduates use the master's degree to further develop their artistic mission in order to create works of art for sale or display, some who enter more commercial areas of art and design use the MFA to qualify for supervisory or leadership positions. Some MFA graduates also pursue careers in teaching.

Are you unsure about pursuing an online MFA? Explore other options on our list of popular online master's programs.

Frequently Asked Questions About an Online MFA

Is an MA or MFA Better?

Deciding between an MA or an MFA depends on your future goals. An MA in the arts has an academic focus and is often a precursor to earning a PhD. The programs typically involve a great deal of research and writing. An MFA, on the other hand, is considered a terminal degree, and coursework is designed to develop advanced skills in a particular art form.

Which MFA is Best?

The best online MFA programs are those that prepare you for the career you have in mind. If your dream is to write an award-winning novel, an MFA in creative writing may be the best way to obtain the necessary literary skills. If you aspire to create the next hot video game, an MFA in animation may be a good choice for you. However, if you're open to different possibilities, you might want to consider a program that involves digital media as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests an increasing demand for professionals with both creative and technical skills.

How Much Does an Online MFA Cost?

The annual tuition rate for the 16 online MFA programs on our list ranges from $9,750 to $38,475. Most fall below the average annual tuition rate of $19,792 for all graduate programs in the 2019-20 school year. Choosing an online program can be an effective way to reduce the cost of your degree as many colleges offer lower tuition rates for online students, especially out-of-state residents. However, online MFA students often have additional expenses beyond the typical books and fees. Depending on your course of study, you may need a high-end computer, subscriptions to programs like Adobe Creative Cloud, and basic art supplies for illustrating design concepts.

Is an Online MFA Worth It?

Whether a master's degree in the arts is worth the investment of time and money depends on your personal goals and circumstances, such as finances and other commitments. While earning an MFA will most likely help you hone your creative and technical skills, most critics agree that the degree may not yield more job opportunities or higher pay. There are also pros and cons to earning this degree online. Opting for distance education gives you a wider range of programs to choose from without having to relocate, but the online learning environment may not give you the level of peer interaction you want.

Career Opportunities for MFA Graduates

Earning an MFA gives you two to three years of hands-on work with feedback from professors, which is likely to enhance your skills. This degree may open the door to more opportunities and advanced positions that involve creative expression. The following are some possible career paths for MFA holders:

Special Effects Artists and Animators
Median Annual Salary: $77,700
Job Outlook: 16%

An MFA in Animation, Illustration, or Motion Media Design may lead to a career as a special effects artist or animator. Often employed by media production companies, these highly skilled artists use computer programs to create images, animations, and special effects for various types of digital media.

Writers and Authors
Median Annual Salary: $67,120
Job Outlook: 9%

One of the most popular online MFAs focuses on writing and is designed to prepare graduates for writing careers in fiction, nonfiction, technical writing, poetry, and screenwriting. Depending on the type of work they do, writers may be self-employed or they may create written content for one or more clients or employers.

Graphic Designers
Median Annual Salary: $53,380
Job Outlook: 3%

Graphic designers can enhance their skills by earning an MFA in graphic design. Advanced designers use various computer programs to develop and produce concepts for different types of media, such as ads, magazines, and books. They often work for design services firms or large organizations, or they can be self-employed

Interior Designers
Median Annual Salary: $57,060
Job Outlook: 0%

An MFA in interior design may help interior designers improve their design skills and color sense so they can create beautiful, functional interiors. Some graduates become self-employed, while others work for interior design or architectural firms.

This website offers school details to prospective students as an informational resource. The appearance of a school listing on this website should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the school by this site.

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