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2023 Most Affordable Online MFA Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 10/7/2022
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A start to a solid writing career for many professionals can begin with an online Master of Fine Arts (MFA). An online MFA covers a broad spectrum of different specialties, like music composition, graphic design, journalism, creative writing, drawing, web design, and more. Students with talent in a creative specialty can develop their skills to create a strong portfolio for clients or employers after graduation. In addition to developing creative skills, prospective students can expect to improve their public speaking, leadership, and communication, and other soft skills. Graduates with this online master's may pursue careers ranging from college professor and author to journalist and artist.

View our methodology for details about rankings or learn more about us. You can also check out our overall list of the most affordable online degrees for some inspiration.

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All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Locations Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 Asbury University Wilmore (KY) $7,537
# 2 #2 University of Arkansas at Monticello Monticello (AR) (and 1 other) $8,490
# 3 #3 Minnesota State University at Mankato Mankato (MN) $11,414
# 4 #4 University of New Orleans New Orleans (LA) $12,008
# 5 #5 Lindenwood University Saint Charles (MO) $13,200
# 6 #6 Liberty University Lynchburg (VA) $13,560
# 7 #7 University of Houston - Victoria Victoria (TX) $13,962
# 8 #8 Albertus Magnus College New Haven (CT) $14,562
# 9 #9 Drexel University Philadelphia (PA) $15,098
# 10 #10 Bay Path University Longmeadow (MA) (and 1 other) $15,113
#1
#1

Asbury University

Wilmore (KY)
Annual Tuition: $7,537
Annual Tuition: $7,537
Annual Tuition: $7,537

Asbury University (Asbury) is a small, private, nonprofit institution with a Christian tradition. Asbury offers two online master’s degrees in the fine arts: a Master of Fine Arts in Film/Television Production (42 credit hours) and Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting (42 credit hours). The first program helps students develop the skills necessary to pursue a film and television production career. The second program gives students the knowledge and tools to create strong portfolios in order to help them obtain screenwriting jobs.

At Asbury, online students complete coursework that's delivered in asynchronous and synchronous formats through the online learning management system, Discovery. Remote student support includes a virtual library, tutoring, and a writing center. Each program’s general admission requirements are an application, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and relative work experience.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Average SATs: 1050 -1330
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 473
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 206
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
#2
#2

University of Arkansas at Monticello

Monticello (AR) (and 1 other)
Annual Tuition: $8,490
Annual Tuition: $8,490
Annual Tuition: $8,490

The University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) is a medium-sized, public institution offering two online graduate degrees in the fine arts: (1) a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (48 credit hours) and (2) Master of Fine Arts in Debate and Communication (48 credit hours). The first master's program helps students develop creative writing, critical thinking, and literary analysis skills. In the latter program, students can expect to work closely with professional debate coaches in order to help them improve their communication skills.

UAM facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on Blackboard. Online students can access academic advising, an online library, and tutoring services. Each program’s general admission requirements include an application, college transcripts, and proof of Selective Service registration for male students.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 90%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 219
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 184
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
#3
#3
Annual Tuition: $11,414
Annual Tuition: $11,414
Annual Tuition: $11,414

At Minnesota State University at Mankato (MNSU) — a medium-sized, public institution — prospective students can pursue an online Master of Fine Arts in Forensics and Communication totaling 48 credit hours. With this program, students can learn the skills necessary to pursue careers in coaching, public speaking, or teaching. Sample coursework includes Performance Studies, Forensics Pedagogy, and Qualitative Research Methods.

At MNSU, online students complete coursework on the learning platform, Brightspace, and faculty may choose to deliver the material asynchronously and/or synchronously. Online student resources are advising, an online library, and academic coaching. The program’s admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, a resume, the ability to complete a practicum course, and a writing sample.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 88%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 662
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 561
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
#4
#4

University of New Orleans

New Orleans (LA)
Annual Tuition: $12,008
Annual Tuition: $12,008
Annual Tuition: $12,008

The University of New Orleans (UNO) is a medium-sized, public institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This online graduate program — requiring 45 credit hours — allows students to pursue study abroad opportunities across the globe while completing their studies. Sample coursework includes New Orleans Literature, Craft of Fiction, and Remote Poetry Writing.

UNO facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on the learning management system, Moodle. Online student support includes tutoring, IT help, counseling, and disability services. The program’s admission requirements are an application, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a writing sample.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 95%
  • Average SATs: 1015 -1240
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 336
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 231
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
#5
#5

Lindenwood University

Saint Charles (MO)
Annual Tuition: $13,200
Annual Tuition: $13,200
Annual Tuition: $13,200

Lindenwood University (Lindenwood) is a medium-sized, private, nonprofit institution that offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Writing totaling 48 credit hours. The program requires students to complete a final graduate thesis before graduation. The program’s curriculum includes courses like Elements of Short Fiction, Revision Workshop, and Experimental Writing.

Students studying virtually at Lindenwood complete coursework on Canvas in a hybrid (asynchronous and synchronous) format. Remote students can access technical support, academic advising, and an online library. The program’s admission requirements include official transcripts and standardized test scores.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Average SATs: 980 -1170
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 494
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,042
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
#6
#6

Liberty University

Lynchburg (VA)
Annual Tuition: $13,560
Annual Tuition: $13,560
Annual Tuition: $13,560

Liberty University (LU) is a large, private, nonprofit, and Christian institution offering two online master’s degrees in fine arts: a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (48 credit hours) and a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design (60 credit hours). The first program helps students develop their creative writing skills so they can pursue professional careers in the arts. In the second program, students will explore digital illustration, typography, and digital imaging.

LU Online delivers coursework in asynchronous and synchronous formats on Canvas. Online students can access IT help, academic advising, and a bookstore. Admission requirements include an application and official GRE or MCAT scores.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Average SATs: 1040 -1260
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 34,092
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 36,337
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $13,962
Annual Tuition: $13,962
Annual Tuition: $13,962

The University of Houston - Victoria (UHV) is a public institution with a medium-sized student population that offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing requiring 36 credit hours. Students learn the main principles of creative writing, like poetry, revision, critique, and creation. The program offers the Applied Literary Translation concentration (15 credit hours) as an add-on to the curriculum.

At UHV, students complete online coursework on Blackboard, which is available in both asynchronous and synchronous formats. Distance learners can also access tech support, an online library, and several military services. The program’s admission requirements are an application, a bachelor’s degree, and official transcripts.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 94%
  • Average SATs: 930 -1088
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,605
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 934
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
#8
#8

Albertus Magnus College

New Haven (CT)
Annual Tuition: $14,562
Annual Tuition: $14,562
Annual Tuition: $14,562

At Albertus Magnus College (Albertus), which is a small, private, nonprofit institution, future students can pursue an online Master of Fine Arts in Writing requiring 36 credit hours. Prospective applicants can become full-time online students or participate in a low-residency program, which requires at least two weeks on campus. Sample coursework includes Writing Portfolio, The Creative Process, and Readings in Poetry.

Albertus facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning through the learning platform, eLearning. Online student support includes career services, IT help, and academic services. The program’s admission requirements are an application, official transcripts, a driver’s license, and TOEFL scores (for non-native English speakers).

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Average SATs: 850 -1090
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 219
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 85
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: NECHE
#9
#9

Drexel University

Philadelphia (PA)
Annual Tuition: $15,098
Annual Tuition: $15,098
Annual Tuition: $15,098

Drexel University (Drexel) is a medium-sized, private, nonprofit institution offering an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Requiring 45 credit hours, this online program prepares students for post-graduate careers in the creative writing industry. Students can expect to take the Fiction Writing concentration as part of their program’s curriculum.

Remote students at Drexel complete coursework delivered in asynchronous and synchronous formats on Drexel Learn. Online student resources include a writing center, career development academic advising, and a digital library. The program’s admission requirements are an application, a personal statement, a writing sample, a resume, and official or unofficial transcripts.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Average SATs: 1190 -1390
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,492
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 3,697
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE
#10
#10

Bay Path University

Longmeadow (MA) (and 1 other)
Annual Tuition: $15,113
Annual Tuition: $15,113
Annual Tuition: $15,113

Bay Path University (Bay Path) is a small, nonprofit institution that offers an online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing requiring 39 credit hours. This program helps students transition their personal writing into a more professional career publication. Students can choose from three concentration tracks: (1) Publishing, (2) Narrative Medicine, and (3) Teaching.

Bay Path facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning through the platform, Canvas. Online student resources are tutoring, a virtual library, and academic advising. The program’s admission requirements include an application, transcripts, an essay, a 10-page writing sample, two recommendations, and an interview with the program director.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 95%
  • Average SATs: 960 -1170
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 870
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 523
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: NECHE

Overview of Affordable Online MFA Programs

An MFA is a terminal degree that grants creative writers and artists a credential allowing them to teach or simply improve their employability. Most affordable online MFA programs are for writing, followed by visual art and design. To the best of our knowledge, no accredited schools offer online graduate degree programs in performing arts, such as dance and acting, because these media don't translate into a virtual format.

The focus of coursework differs according to the type of art students produce. For example, creative writers study different genres but put most of their electives toward their chosen format, such as fiction or poetry. Online learners usually attend asynchronous classes featuring recorded lectures and written discussion forums. In this digital format, they can read materials, view lessons, and complete assignments at their convenience as long as they respect the due dates.


How Much Will My Online MFA Program Cost?


The cheapest online options for an MFA program range from $9,750 to $29,969 a year. As a point of reference, we've found that the median annual tuition for a master's degree across all programs is $15,760.


Attending graduate school online is often more affordable than attending on campus. Private schools sometimes charge online students less, while public colleges often charge distance learners the in-state tuition rate regardless of where they live. However, there are instances where attending a physical campus would be more affordable. For example, in-person MFA students can receive full or partial funding if they serve as teaching assistants. Since students can save tens of thousands of dollars by avoiding student debt, it's probably worth attending an on-campus program if they have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant and potentially receive a free MFA.


Funding an Online Master's in Fine Arts

Most financial aid is available to both online and in-person students, but applicants should check with their school's financial aid office regarding program eligibility. Online graduate students in the arts at accredited schools can apply for federal, state, institutional, or private financial aid.

If taking out a loan is the only option, students can usually find the best interest rates through the federal government. Completing the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is a student’s first step to determine their eligibility for federal aid. Most states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their programs, though some states have developed separate forms for undocumented applicants, such as the Oregon Student Aid Application.

It's best to exhaust grants, scholarships, and work-study options before accepting loans because these funds don't need to be repaid. Below are some scholarship opportunities that are geared toward MFA students.

Against the Grain Artistic Scholarship

Asian American MFA applicants in the visual arts may receive $1,000 toward tuition and fees.

Cyndy and Al Baran Fine Arts and Music Scholarship

Visual arts MFA students can receive partial funding if they maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship

Five U.S.-based poetry students between 21-31 years old can receive a grant of $25,800 to help fund their MFA.

For additional information about college affordability, we've compiled resources about college savings plans, financial mistakes to avoid, and more.


Is an Online MFA Worth It?

Since dedicating time to creative endeavors can be difficult, many enroll in an Master of Fine Arts program for the sake of developing their craft in a guided, structured setting. Enrolling in an online program may be the best option for students juggling family and work. However, a graduate program also means a busier schedule. Determining the worth of an MFA degree depends on your interests, career goals, and financial situation.

Further, some MFA programs may be better options for online students, such as creative writing or visual design, as opposed to programs that benefit from the use of a studio, such as interior design and sculpture.

Potential Benefits:

An MFA program may provide you with networking opportunities. For example, poets and fiction writers can attend conferences at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs while studying online, which provides an opportunity for networking with publishers. Screenwriters searching for a job writing television or film scripts could network with people who can help them break into the industry, including peers, program alumni, and even producers.

Potential Drawbacks:

While an MFA can help you hone your craft and make important connections in your field, it doesn’t directly lead to specific career paths. Therefore, it may not translate to either career advancement or salary growth. One of the biggest challenges with MFA programs is that there is no guarantee you'll see a financial payoff from your advanced degree. As a result, MFA graduates may have to take on a second job to support their art careers.


Common Master's in Fine Arts Online Courses

The curricula for MFA degrees differ by artistic discipline, but most programs share common themes and aim to develop students' creative talents. For example, creative writing degrees teach students to build strong characters through dialogue, while painting programs hone their skills by studying and practicing with different materials, styles, and techniques. MFA coursework also exposes students to constructive criticism from instructors and peers.

Some online MFA degrees are classified as low-residency programs, which involve online coursework except for 1-2 weeks per year when students must also attend intensive workshops.

Some online MFA degrees are classified as low-residency programs, which involve online coursework except for 1-2 weeks per year when students must also attend intensive workshops. A college may require internships for students in some disciplines, such as music production, interior design, or animation and visual effects. Most online programs culminate in a creative thesis project or a complete portfolio of work for a review committee to critique.

Below are some common courses you'll find in online MFA programs.

  • Basics of Screenwriting: Professors introduce scriptwriting by discussing various writing skills that include proper format, page counts for successful screenplays, character building, and dialogue. Students learn the conventions of different genres and how they fit into a traditional three-act structure. Some introductory courses include a workshop element allowing students to receive constructive criticism.
  • Creative Nonfiction Workshop: Faculty members discuss the genre’s emergence through its current influence. Students may read prominent examples of memoirs, travel writing, nature writing, and investigative/literary journalism. Assignments are written from prompts and critiqued during workshop sessions.
  • Fiction Workshop: This course briefly surveys fiction writing throughout history, spanning the range of genres as they developed, including literary, detective, and young adult fiction. Each student shares their work during regular class meetings, where classmates offer constructive criticism. Students taking a fiction concentration can use these workshops to refine their culminating project, which is usually a book-length manuscript in the form of a novel or short story collection.
  • Poetry Workshop: As a workshop, this elective emphasizes professional writing and classroom critique. Professors also assign readings from different eras and styles to provide an overview of the form's variety. Discussion topics may include point of view, rhythm, meter, rhyme, and changing tastes.
  • Introduction to Drawing: In this course, the faculty discuss drawing as an art form and as preparation for painting and sculpture. Students learn how to depict perspective and proportion through lines and shading. In addition, live models may be brought into the classroom to introduce the complexities involved with drawing human figures.
  • Introduction to Sculpture: Students begin to learn how to create three-dimensional figures. The faculty discusses the variety of available building materials and the best techniques for shaping them. Most sections contain weekly assignments and culminate in producing a larger body of work for students.

Career Opportunities for MFA graduates

Those who pursue higher education through an MFA program go on to pursue a wide range of careers, depending on their previous experience, education, career goals, and field of study. Below, we utilized BLS salary and job projection data in our descriptions of possible career paths within these groups:

Leadership roles in the arts

Some MFA graduates pursue administrative roles in art galleries, theater departments, or public arts organizations. Others may work as art directors or creative directors for businesses, publications, theater performances, or TV and movie productions.

  • Art directors earn a median salary of $97,270 per year, but these roles can be highly competitive and require previous experience.
  • The need for art directors is expected to grow 11% through 2030.
  • Surveyed art directors described themselves as very satisfied in their careers.

Visual and digital design

Depending on their area of expertise, graduates of visual and digital design programs can become graphic designers, interior designers, UX designers, animators, or special effects artists. Photography or film production graduates can pursue careers in photography, film production, and related areas.

Writing

Graduates of creative writing programs may become published authors or pursue screenwriting opportunities. Alumni may also write for magazines, work as copywriters for advertising or technology firms, or become technical writers for tech or manufacturing companies. Many of these writing professionals choose to pursue creative work in their free time.

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