Art 101

10 of the Most Influential MFA Programs in the World

By

10 of the Most Influential MFA Programs in the World

With spring break already fading into a distant memory and graduation dates quickly approaching, we thought we would get an extra-long head start on back-to-school season by tallying up the top 10 Masters of Fine Arts programs in the world. While they may not be the cheapest avenues into the art world, these are, without a doubt, the top-ranked MFA programs for art students looking to add a gold star to the top of their CVs—and to build a ladder into the gallery sphere. Of course, there's no "silver bullet" for instant post-graduate success. But there are certain programs that tend to spark the interest of curators, critics, and collectors alike. 

YALE UNIVERSITY 
yale

LOCATION: New Haven, Connecticut
SPECIALTIES: Sculpture, painting and printmaking, graphic design
TUITION: $33,500
TIME TO DEGREE: ≤ 3 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: Rochelle Feinstein (director of painting/printmaking dept.), Gregory Crewdson (director of photography dept.), Martin Kersels (director of sculpture dept.), Trevor Paglen, Shirin Neshat, Huma Bhabha, Carroll Dunham, Barbara London
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Robert Mangold, Eva Hesse, Wangechi Mutu, Matthew Barney, Chuck Close, Brice Marden
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: The potential for connection-building is high here—there are rumors of second-year students in the program being signed with galleries and invited to participate in international exhibitions before they've even graduated. It's reputed to have the best graphic-design and photography departments. Also, check out the Yale School of Art's snazzy, GIF-heavy website, and the fact that its visual arts facilities are housed in a series of recently-built, cutting-edge eco-friendly buildings to get a sense of the progressively-minded nature of the program.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
columbia

LOCATION: New York City
SPECIALTIES: The program is interdisciplinary, but applicants apply to either painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, or "new genres"
TUITION:
 $51,676 
TIME TO DEGREE:
2 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: 
Gregory Amenoff, Sanford Biggers, Nicola Lopez, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Kara Walker
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Jon Kessler, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Georgia Sagri, Guy Ben-Ner, Lisi Raskin
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: As with many of the Ivies, in Columbia's case, self-perpetuating exclusivity plays a major part here: only two percent of applicants to Columbia's MFA in the visual arts are accepted. As of fall 2013, the highly selective program also offers a degree in Sound Art—so if that medium's your thing, this is the place for you. Also, if you're looking to enter the art profession, it doesn't hurt to spend your formative years of training in the artistic capital of the world.

GOLDSMITHS COLLEGE
goldsmiths

LOCATION: New Cross, London
SPECIALTIES: The school offers a tutorial system, allowing students to choose their focus, but its known for teaching conceptually weighted work
TUITION:
£3,330 ($5,600) for Brits; £8,650 ($14,500) for international students
TIME TO DEGREE:
2 years
NOTABLE FACULLTY: 
Suhail Malik, Mark Leckey, Lindsay Seers
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Malcolm McLaren, Lucian Freud, Yinka Shonibare, Bridget Riley, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Liam Gillick 
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: Goldsmiths offers a unique blend of studio practice, theoretical, and art-historical training that has made it the U.K.'s most notable and best-known graduate program. It's this vigorous atmosphere that birthed the artists associated with the Young British Artists in the 1990s, among many other notable alumns.

THE SCHOOL OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
saic

LOCATION: Chicago, Illinois
SPECIALTIES: Fiber and material studies, film/video/new media/animation, art and technology, sound, and performance
TUITION: $44,010
TIME TO DEGREE: 2 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: Michelle Grabner, Gregg Bordowitz, Joseph Grigely, Josiah McElheny, Glenn Ligon
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Tania Bruguera, Sanford Biggers, Claes Oldenburg, Jeff Koons, Leon Golub, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: For the true interdisciplinarian, SAIC has a unique program—its MA in Visual and Critical Studies—which, more than other interdisciplinary programs at comparable schools, embraces the crossover nature of contemporary artistic discourse. Based on the intersection of visual phenomena, critical studies, and creative production, the program combines aspects of a studio-based program and theoretical study, and can include art history, criticism, the general liberal arts, and studio practice.

THE SCHOOL OF THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
smfa

LOCATION: Boston, Massachusetts
SPECIALTY: Interdisciplinary
TUITION:
$39,020
TIME TO DEGREE:
2 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: Jim Dow, Chantal Zakari, Susan Jane Belton, Mark Cooper
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Jim Dine, Joan Jonas, David Lynch, Larry Poons, Nan Goldin, Ellsworth Kelly
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: The major draw for aspiring artists to choose the SMFA, which was itself founded by a group of artists in 1876, is the opportunity to exhibit work at the MFA Boston, one of the city's most important cultural institutions. The school is also partnered with nearby Tufts University, where SMFA students can sit in on classes and take advantage of Tufts's hardy academic resources.

RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN
risd

LOCATION: Providence, Rhode Island
SPECIALTIES: Literally everything from furniture design to landscape architecture to painting, with the most popular majors being illustration, industrial design, architecture, and graphic design
TUITION:
$42,622
TIME TO DEGREE:
1–3 years; most students finish in 2
NOTABLE FACULTY: Dike Blair, Naomi Fry, Dean Snyder, Patricia Treib, Henry Ferreira
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Roni Horn, Andrea Zittel, Janine Antoni, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: While many MFA programs offer a post-studio mix of critical theory and interdisciplinary experimentation, RISD's curriculum is firmly planted in the mastery of technical craft, with a curriculum that emphasizes traditional skill sets over conceptualism—in other words, this program is for those who like to get their hands dirty. RISD also benefits from a close relationship with its equally prestigious neighbor Brown University.

CALARTS
calarts

LOCATION: Valencia, California
SPECIALTIES: Art, graphic design, photography and media, and art and technology.
ANNUAL TUITION:
$41,700
TIME TO DEGREE:
2 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: Sam Durant, Charles Gaines
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Ashley Bickerton, Mark Bradford, Mike Kelley, Jack Goldstein, Elad Lassry
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: CalArts was founded in 1960 by none other than Walt Disney himself. The media mogul merged Los Angeles's Conservatory of Music with its Chouinard Art Institute, with the assistance of the conservatory's chair, Lulu May Von Hagen, to form the new school. (The school was envisioned as a "CalTech for the arts"—hence the name.) As a result, CalArts still retains strong ties to Hollywood and California's media industries. Under the direction of the late artist Michael Asher, the school also became famous for its durational "crits," nothing-is-off-the-table discussions of students' work that could go for 14-hour marathon stretches. 

BARD COLLEGE
bard

LOCATION: Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
SPECIALTIES: Film/video, music/sound, painting, photography, sculpture, and writing
TUITION:
$55,000
TIME TO DEGREE:
a total of 2 years, with three summer sessions and two independent-study sessions
NOTABLE FACULTY: Amy Sillman, Ulrike Muller, Sadie Benning, Huma Babha, Thomas Eggerer, Zoe Leonard, Nick Mauss, R.H. Quaytman
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Amy Sillman, Paul Chan, Carolee Schneeman, David Horvitz, Herb Ritts, Rachel Harrison, R.H. Quaytman, Trisha Baga, Zak Kitnik, Lucy Raven
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: Bard spearheaded the low-residency MFA program, with students gathering for sessions that are clustered in eight-week summer 'residencies' and divide up long periods of independent work lasting from two to three years. This means the focus is on creating art, rather than credits, grades, or classes. The program's unique rhythm means that it has been able to secure a number of influential artists as visiting professors, as well—many of whom are alumni of the program themselves. The widespread influence of Bard's program on the contemporary art scene has led some to speak of the "Bard mafia."

THE SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS
sva

LOCATION: New York, New York
SPECIALTIES: Computer art; visual narrative; photography, video, and related media; fine arts (painting, sculpture, printmaking)
TUITION:
$36,130
TIME TO DEGREE:
2 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: Mark Tribe, Marilyn Minter, Laurel Nakadate, Polly Apfelbaum, Hannah Wilke
NOTABLE ALUMNI: Inka Essenhigh, Barnaby Furnas, Keith Haring, Andrea Fraser, Sarah Sze, Sol LeWitt
BIGGEST SELLING POINT: SVA is more than the snazzy ad campaign you may have seen plastered around New York's subway system. The school's program in 'visual narratives' combines writing and visual art, for those interested in illustration, graphic novels, and other forms of 'visual storytelling.' Lately, however, there has been been substantial turnover among the school's faculty.

UCLA
Image 14

LOCATION: Los Angeles, California
SPECIALTIES: Ceramics, interdisciplinary studio, new genres, painting and drawing, photography, sculpture
TUITION: 
$ 11,220 for California residents; $23,465 for everyone else
TIME TO DEGREE:
2–3 years
NOTABLE FACULTY: James Welling, Greg Lynn, Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Sharon Hayes, Matthew Brandt, Xavier Cha, Shana Lutker
BIGGEST SELLING POINTS: As a public university, UCLA is much cheaper than some of the Ivy league options out there while offering a totally comparable experience in terms of the quality of its programs. It also is renowend for its highly competitive "New Genres" program, which immerses students in installation, video, film, audio, performance, and digital work, plus "hybrid and emerging art forms."

DISCOVER

a treasure trove of fine art from the world's most renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. We offer exclusive works you can't find anywhere else.

LEARN

through exclusive content featuring art news, collecting guides, and interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and influencers.

BUY

authentic artworks from across the globe. Collecting with us means you're helping to sustain creative culture and supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

CONNECT

with our art advisors for buying advice or to help you find the art that's perfect for you. We have the resources to find works that suit your needs.

INSIDER ACCESS TO THE WORLD'S BEST ART

Artspace offers you authentic, exclusive works from world-renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. Collecting with us helps support creative culture while bringing you art news, interviews and access to global art resources.

  • COLLECT FROM 300+ GALLERIES & MUSEUMS