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2023 Best Online Master of Fine Arts Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 1/17/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in MFA Badge

Whether you’re interested in painting, photography, writing, or design, there is an online Master of Fine Arts that fits your career needs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that occupations in arts and design will grow just 2% in the next decade. Although this is below the U.S. average across all occupations, it will mean 20,500 new job openings in the field. If you want to pursue a career in this highly competitive arena, consider an online master’s program that can develop your skills and give you the experience you need to be successful. In general, it's important to know that an MFA takes longer than a Master of Arts, as it requires about 30 additional credit hours. 

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2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in MFA Badge
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Online MFA Master's Degrees You May Be Interested In

List Of Accredited Online MFA Schools

Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,700
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University (LU) is a private, nonprofit, Evangelical Christian faith-based institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design for students interested in pursuing jobs in the arts and visual communication industry. They must complete 60 credit hours to graduate, which may take two years of full-time attendance. For those interested in writing, LU also offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

LU delivers online coursework and instruction via Canvas. Distance learners in the online MFA in Graphic Design enroll in a range of classes, such as Interactive Design, Publication Design, Visualization Illustration, and History of Graphic Design. A 180-hour internship and a 90-hour practicum— where students compile creative work — are also required to graduate. Graduates often pursue careers in fields such as education, advertising, public relations, and animation.

Southern New Hampshire University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $9,600
  • Locations: Manchester (NH)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Southern New Hampshire University Online (SNHU) is a private, nonprofit institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for writers of all fiction genres who are seeking new career opportunities. Graduating requires completing 48 credit hours, which may take full-time students around two years. Students who transfer up to 12 graduate credits may find that it takes less time.

SNHU uses Brightspace to deliver its online curriculum. Online MFA creative writing students take courses such as Copy and Content Writing, Editing and Coaching, Storytelling, and The Publishing Ecosystem. Instruction and assignments help build writing skills and business savvy, and students can even submit work to SNHU’s online literary journal for publishing. Students must also complete a 15,000-word thesis before they can graduate.

Regent University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $18,620
  • Locations: Virginia Beach (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Regent University Online is a private, nonprofit institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting for professional writers who want to hone their craft for careers writing for television, film, and stage. This 54-credit program generally takes full-time students two years to complete. Similarly, Regent offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Television and Video Production.

Regent delivers online course content and instruction via Canvas. Classes in the online MFA in Screenwriting curriculum include Elements of Visual Storytelling, Feature Film Screenwriting, Writing Dramatic Dialogue, and Character and Psychology. As students progress through the program, they must also complete a minimum of three full-length scripts to add to their portfolios when they graduate.

Drexel University

  • Annual Tuition: $54,516
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Drexel University is a private, nonprofit institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing designed for aspiring writers who want to deepen their understanding of their craft. This online MFA program is low-residency — requiring three in-person residencies — each for an additional $650 fee. Graduating requires completing 45 quarter credit hours, which generally takes full-time students two to three years.

Drexel’s remote students access assignments and participate in class via the university’s proprietary Drexel Learn learning management system. Courses within the creative writing curriculum include Writing Pedagogy, Reading as a Writer, Writing for Television, and Prepared to Publish. In addition to the required residencies, students must also complete a thesis to graduate. They can also complete an optional in-person teaching assistantship to gain experience and a salary.

Radford University

  • Annual Tuition: $23,432
  • Locations: Radford (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Radford University is a public institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Design Thinking that can help students prepare for professional careers and teaching at the collegiate level. The MFA in Design Thinking is a 60-credit program that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. Students do not need a degree in design in order to enroll in this online MFA program, and they can enroll anytime.

Radford’s distance learners access asynchronous online coursework and instruction through the Brightspace learning management system. Students can enroll in classes such as International Art History, Design Thinking for Educators, Readings in Design Thinking, and Design Theory and Research. Graduating also requires completing a research project/thesis. Potential carers include policymaking, teaching, consulting, and training.

Academy of Art University

  • Annual Tuition: $23,412
  • Locations: San Francisco (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The Academy of Art University (AAU) is a medium-sized, private institution that offers an online Master of Arts in Fine Arts requiring 36 credit hours. AAU also offers a Master of Fine Arts as well as specific master’s degrees in fine arts — such as photography, illustration, and fashion. Some core courses in this fine arts major include Chiaroscuro, Landscape Painting, and Composition for Abstract Art. The program also includes Thesis Preparation and Portfolio Review as a final assessment. Graduates of the program go on to work as museum curators, master printers, professors, and commission artists. It can take two years to complete the program with a full-time schedule.

At AAU, students use Brightspace to access their coursework, which is fully online. At AAU, online students have access to all university resources.

University of Georgia

  • Annual Tuition: $31,120
  • Locations: Athens (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Georgia (UGA) is a large, public institution. UGA offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Narrative Media Writing, which has two concentration options: (1) Narrative Nonfiction and (2) Screenwriting. Each program requires 36 credit hours and can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule. Students spend four semesters building a portfolio that can be published after graduation or used to find continuous work. UGA requires an 8-day in-person residency at the beginning of each 15-week semester. Graduates of this program go on to work as authors, screenwriters, literary agents, and other industry professionals.

At UGA, students use eLearning Commons to access their coursework, which is fully online and synchronous. Online students have access to all university resources.

Savannah College of Art and Design

  • Annual Tuition: $38,075
  • Locations: Savannah (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is a medium-sized, private institution. SCAD offers several online Master of Fine Arts, each requiring about 90 credit hours. Some of these programs include Animation, Illustration, Motion Media Design, and Photography — as well as many others. These programs teach the concepts and skills of each discipline to help students discover new perspectives and explore their creativity. SCAD offers career advising in order to prepare students to enter their industries right out of graduation.

At SCAD, students use SCADnow to access their coursework, which is entirely online and synchronous. Online students have access to all university resources.

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Online MFA Programs: An Overview

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) offers the opportunity to study a variety of artistic professions. Many artists choose to pursue a master's program because these fields are highly competitive and take significant effort to become successful. Students in an online MFA program typically devote two to three years taking studio and theory courses while 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.

While most graduates use a master's degree to further develop their artistic mission and create works of art for sale or display, some enter more commercial areas of art and design, utilizing their MFA to qualify for supervisory or leadership positions.

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

Program Requirements

Online master's degrees in art and design are much more variable in coursework and graduation requirements than undergraduate degrees. Some graduate degree programs may require just 36 semester credits, as well as a significant amount of hands-on studio work. However, many top MFA programs may require upwards of 72 credits plus hands-on studio work, thesis projects, and/or portfolio development.

MFA Online Courses

Onlines courses for an MFA can vary depending on which concentration, major, or emphasis you choose. For example, the best MFA art programs in screenwriting and directing may require students to explore courses covering the fundamentals of directing during their first year before advancing to the practicalities of production.

Overall, the curriculum of an online MFA is tailored toward your degree focus. Most coursework includes critique, studio time, and theory classes, where you'll explore the different facets of your field. Critique involves contextualizing, understanding, and assessing works of art, while studio courses allow students to practice hands-on work in a professional environment. Finally, theory classes take a look at the historical, societal, and psychological aspects of artwork.

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

Career Opportunities for MFA Graduates

Earning an MFA gives you 2-3 years to produce hands-on work and receive feedback from professors — a process that's 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

Annual Median Salary:  $78,790
Job Outlook: 5%

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

Annual Median Salary:  $69,510
Job Outlook: 4%

One of the most popular online MFAs focuses on writing, and this type of master's program is designed to prepare graduates for writing careers in fiction, nonfiction, technical writing, poetry, and/or 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

Annual Median Salary:  $50,710
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

Annual Median Salary:  $60,340
Job Outlook: 1%

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.


Annual Median Salary:  $79,640
Job Outlook: 12%

Prospective graduate students may wonder, "Do I need an MFA to be a professor?" The short answer is yes, at minimum. College professors design the curricula that shape the art courses they're teaching. Therefore, it's crucial that they first acquire a high level of education to not only understand the nuances of their given artistic subject but stay up-to-date on the latest trends and research. However, most higher education institutions require professors to have a PhD.

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.

So, is it worth it to get an MFA? Alongside the financial, time commitment and personal considerations, let's take a look at the potential benefits and disadvantages of taking a masters of fine arts program online:

Potential Benefits

You can earn your degree on your own time from the comfort of your home while maintaining a healthy study-life balance.

Online learning still allows you to hone your creative and technical skills through innovative computer programs without the need to work in a studio environment.

You can follow your passion with a lower financial commitment than an on-campus learning environment that may require relocation and then daily transportation costs.

Potential Disadvantages

MFA programs take an additional two to three year commitment after you complete your bachelor's degree.

In most cases, an MFA alone is not a sufficient credential to become an art professor at a university.

Some students may find that physically being in a studio with other students is more beneficial to their craft than studying remotely from home. This comes down to your personal learning preference.

Frequently Asked Questions About an Online MFA

Can I Do an MFA Online?

Yes, online MFA programs are widely offered from many respectable institutions around the country. Students attending these art schools can study everything from film directing to creative writing. Some of the best MFA programs will feature mostly online learning, with the option for students to participate in studios and workshops on campus.

Is an MA Better Than an MFA?

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.

How Many Years Is an MFA?

Master of fine arts online programs generally take two to three years to complete. In some cases, students can accelerate some coursework and finish the degree in just two years. Meanwhile, students who choose to study at their own pace can be allotted up to three years to complete their MFA degree.

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.

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