A Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) Degree Vs. a Doctorate

by Kate Prudchenko, Demand Media Google

Students who are interested in pursuing graduate studies in the creative industries such as writing, painting, graphic design and photography have many degree options, two of which are Master of Fine Arts and Doctor of Philosophy. Master of Fine Arts used to be the terminal degree for students interested in the creative industries. However, now many universities also offer doctorates in these fields. Graduates of both degree programs pursue a variety of creative careers in art, screenwriting, graphic arts, freelance writing and university teaching.

Master of Fine Arts

Master of Fine Arts programs are typically offered by departments of fine arts, communications and English/creative writing. These programs take approximately two to three years and require students to complete 60 to 72 credits of graduate coursework. All Master of Fine Arts programs require students to have bachelor's degrees prior to enrollment, and most require prospective applicants to submit portfolios of their work. While many prospective Master of Fine Arts students also have undergraduate degrees in their specializations, such as writing, ceramics and photography, specific undergraduate majors are not required, and acceptance decisions are typically made on the quality of a student's portfolio.

Master of Fine Arts Curriculum

Master of Fine Arts curricula vary tremendously across departments and universities. However, many operate on the studio/workshop model. For example, students interested in creative writing may take courses in fiction, nonfiction and poetry writing, where they will produce and present their work, receive feedback and submit revisions to the class. All Master of Fine Arts programs focus on developing the student as an artist and, therefore, emphasize the importance of producing creative works. At the end of the program, students typically submit graduate portfolios of work created in the program.


Traditionally, doctorate degrees were only available in fields such as English, chemistry and anthropology. However, these degrees are also now available in creative fields like writing and the arts. Doctorates in creative industries consist of a combination of studio/workshop courses and creative research, and take approximately four to five years to complete. Many students enter these programs after completing their Master of Fine Arts degree to get additional experience in creating and teaching their chosen art form. All doctorate programs require students to have their bachelor's degree prior to enrollment, and many also require students to have a master's degree.

Doctorate Curriculum

Traditionally, doctoral programs teach students how to conduct independent research in a particular field of study. Doctoral degree programs in creative arts also emphasize the importance of research. After taking one or two years of studio courses similar to those offered by a Master of Fine Arts program, students devote the rest of the time to independent creative research. Most programs require students to complete a large work, such as a novel, a collection of short stories or an art exhibit, as well as a dissertation that explains the inspiration and the creation of the work.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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