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09 FEB 2022
Let’s start with the basics:
MA stands for Master of Arts and typically consists of 120 course credits, which can be completed over the course of 1 year (full time) or 2 years (part time).
MFA stands for Master of Fine Art and typically requires around 150 credits; for this reason, an MFA usually takes longer to complete than an MA.
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As a current MA student, I would describe the main difference between the two degrees as broad v narrow focus. MA degrees can be interdisciplinary and cover a wide range of humanities subjects and/or artistic disciplines. For example, my program at Plymouth College of Art is an MA in Creative Education and allows me to collaborate with students and staff from all over campus: ceramics, painting, education, glass etc. For this reason, MAs are also more broadly applied in terms of career options post-graduation. With an MA, I can work in education, arts administration, curation, or craft.
MFAs on the other hand usually require students to focus on a specific discipline, such as dance, performance, creative writing, metal work etc. MFA students are asked to deep dive into their chosen craft and spend their MFA creating as much self-directed work as possible.
MA programs also tend to be more research-oriented and ask students to base their practice in theory. This requires MA students to spend a significant amount of time reading and writing, rather than only working on their making practice.
MFA programs, however, lean more toward the making. These programs are designed to develop students’ individual artistic skills and practices, allowing them to focus solely on their craft over the course of their program; this culminates in an exhibit and/or final show that demonstrates the MFA graduates’ skills to the wider community.
Broadly speaking, it is also worth keeping in mind that MFAs tend to carry more weight in the professional world. The U.S. News & World Report reported in 2018 that artists with MFAs are more likely to have their work shown in LA galleries than their MA counterparts.
That being said, I would argue that a program’s alumni network and partner programs are just as important as the acclaim attached to the degree title itself. A big part of any post-graduate program is the connections you make with fellow professionals in your field; these are the people that will hire you, connect you with opportunities, and have your back as you move into the industry. Whether you are in an MA or MFA (or another grad program altogether) be sure to prioritize these professional connections.
No! Most MA/MFA programs, though it varies depending on the country, accept students with any relevant bachelor’s degree - they just require that you have a bachelor’s. The most important part of your application to an MA or MFA program is
The sky's the limit! Just make sure you include the work you are most proud of!
Yes and no. It depends on the school. Especially if you are considering MA/MFA programs all over the world, admissions rates are hugely varied. Some programs, like Yale or NYU, are notoriously competitive. For example, NYU graduate programs accept about 2.5% of applications; this is true for their MA and MFA programs.
In general, MFAs are probably slightly more competitive. But keep in mind that there are also dual-degree programs: programs that allow you to complete your MA and MFA in 2-3 years. Additionally, there are schools that allow MA students to jump straight into their MFA after completing their MA. Both options are clever ways to avoid the full MFA application process.
Lastly, there are many MA/MFA programs that accept applications on a first come first serve basis. Most schools are invested in accepting interesting, hard-working applicants, rather than people with exceptional technical skills.
No! Speaking from experience, neither are required to be accepted into a program. You do, however, need pieces for your portfolio. This means that while you may not have worked in the industry or exhibited, you do need to show evidence of your work - whether that be writing samples or illustrations. In my case, all my pieces were compositions I had worked on at home during quarantine.
I hope this was helpful in giving you more insight into MA/MFA programs! Look out for our next post: “Day in the life of a Master of Arts student.”
Tressa is a current student pursuing an MA in Creative Education at Plymouth College of Art