Master of Arts degree guide (Program types & requirements)
Choosing the right master's degree program is an important decision.
What is an MA?
An MA degree, also known as a Master of Arts degree, is a postgraduate academic degree typically awarded in the humanities, social sciences, or fine arts disciplines. It is generally pursued after completing a bachelor of fine arts degree and signifies a higher level of specialization and expertise in a particular field of study.
The MA degree involves advanced coursework, research, and often a thesis or a comprehensive examination. It is designed to provide students with a deeper understanding of their chosen subject area and to develop critical thinking, analytical, and research skills. Graduates with an MA degree are well-equipped for careers in academia, research, policy analysis, cultural institutions, and various professional fields.
Is an MA or MFA for You?
Selecting the best master's degree fit can give you a serious advantage in your career—and picking carelessly could set you back or derail your long-term goals. That's why the best thing you can do when considering art schools and different Master of Arts programs is to carefully consider your needs, career trajectory and financial situation against different curriculums and program outcomes.
Overview of Master of Arts degree programs
There are many different types of master's degrees in art, each with its own focus. Some of the most common types of master's degrees in art include:
Arts specific: Compare the MA and MFA
Master of Fine Arts (MFA): This degree is designed for students who want to pursue a career in the arts. MFA programs typically offer a broad range of courses in art history, theory and practice.
Master of Arts (MA): This degree is for students who want to pursue a career in teaching or research in the arts. MA programs typically offer more specialized courses in art history, theory and practice.
|Focus||Creative arts||Liberal arts|
|Coursework||Art history, theory, criticism and studio practice||Literature, history, philosophy, social sciences, research methods and writing|
|Requirements||Capstone project, such as a thesis, exhibition or performance||Research project or thesis|
|Career focus||Career in the arts||Career in academia or other fields|
Education focus: Compare the MAT and MEd
Master of Teaching (MAT): This degree is designed for students who want to become art teachers. MT programs typically offer courses in pedagogy, curriculum development and assessment.
Master of Education (MEd): This degree is designed to cover a wide range of topics related specifically to education, such as educational psychology, research methods and educational policy.
|Focus||Teaching specific subjects||Education in general|
|Coursework||Pedagogy, curriculum development and classroom management||Educational psychology, research methods and educational policy|
|Requirements||Teaching internship||Research project or thesis|
|Career focus||Specific teaching career||Education in general|
How to choose the right Master of Arts program
When it comes to choosing a master's degree program in art, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Most programs have a similar length (18 to 24 months, on average) and may even have share similar courses, but some of the factors that could make one degree a better fit than another include:
- Your career goals: What do you want to do with your degree? Do you want to pursue a career in the arts, teaching, or research?
- Your interests: What subjects are you passionate about? What kind of art do you want to study?
- Your financial situation: How much can you afford to spend on tuition and fees? Is the program flexible enough for you to work part- or full-time, if that's necessary? If so, how will that impact your ability to complete internships or studio hours?
- Your location: Do you want to stay close to home or move to a new city?
- The outcomes of the program: What is the program's national ranking? What is the job placement rate?
- The accreditation of the program: Accreditation ensures that the program meets certain standards of quality.
Once you have considered these factors, you can start to narrow down your choices. You can research different programs online, talk to current students and alumni and visit campuses in person or virtually.
Different types of master's degrees in art
Factors to consider when choosing a master's degree program in art
When deciding on a specific degree program, the most important factors to consider are the focus of your degree, the specific area of arts curriculum, the location of the college or university, the expertise of the faculty and the cost of attendance.
For students who aren't 100% sure what they want to do with their master's degree, a generalist degree may be the best fit. An MA in a discipline such as business (an MBA) offers graduates plenty of flexibility, especially if their plan is to go into self-employment or arts administration, while putting them on the right track to higher earnings.
Students who have experience working in their arts field and are looking to move into a higher position may be better suited to a program with a specific focus, such as industrial arts or arts management. Choosing a program with a specific focus positions graduates as an expert in that particular area, potentially giving them an advantage over those with a generalist degree.
However, it's important to note that experience can often substitute for education. Those who have a strong portfolio may opt for a generalist degree to save on tuition costs or take advantage of the elective flexibility a less specialized degree allows for.
Selecting the right location for your needs is important for a number of reasons. For one, some states have a higher cost of living than others. This could prove to be a challenge if you're paying out-of-state tuition rates. Online programs offer the flexibility of attending an accredited program from the comfort of your home, but in- and out-of-state tuition rates still apply in most cases—and some arts programs are hands-on in focus, so you may want to consider a hybrid program where you are in class for parts of the curriculum and study the rest online.
For another, some states have greater opportunities for graduates than others. Seattle, for instance, offers plenty of opportunity for students with tech savvy or user design experience. Los Angeles and New York, on the other hand, have a vibrant dance and theatre community and L.A. is in close proximity to well-known movie studios. Research your college's art and business opportunities before making a decision, and be sure to ask advisors about job placement statistics.
The faculty at a school can be a major draw for students, especially when it comes to arts graduate studies. Advanced degree programs often seek out accomplished professionals in a field of study to teach. An MFA earned from the college where a renowned author lectures can be a very enticing factor for students一especially if that artist-in-residence educator's name is widely known among their peers.
A program's curriculum is not typically standardized. This can lead to frustration for students who don't research the courses ahead of time. For those who do take the time to explore a program's curriculum, you'll find that some colleges offer art classes that are more exciting, more practical or more unique than others. Only you know what, exactly, you're looking for, but many colleges cater to a specific student demographic. Understanding who that demographic is ultimately falls to you, the prospective student.
Tuition at a college or university can vary greatly. Generally speaking, private colleges and universities cost more than public ones. In addition, some programs require more credit hours than others and cost is usually calculated by credit hour. This is the case with the MA (typically 120 hours) and the MFA (up to 150 hours), for instance.
Factoring the cost of college can be complicated depending on your unique needs. Some things to consider that go beyond the cost of the program itself include:
- Supplies (canvases, computers, sculpting, filmmaking and photography equipment can be expensive)
- Transportation and campus parking
- Studio fees
- Licensing or background check fees
Take the first step to an MA degree
Choosing a master's program that suits your needs is important for long-term success. A master's degree may open up new job opportunities that might not be available with only an undergraduate degree, especially in a field as competitive as the arts. A master's may set you apart because of your additional skillset—or if you want to teach the arts, may be a requirement just to get a foot in the door.
Earning your degree positions you for success, and is a well-recognized way to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and skills in your field. It's also a very rewarding experience and a major accomplishment. Why not take the first step toward that unique success today?
Updated: June 12, 2023
Explore Art Degrees & Resources
- 5 Reasons a Journalism Degree Still Matters
- All About Art School Accreditation
- Art Careers: Why Earning Your Degree is Worthwhile
- Art Therapy Degree and Career Snapshot
- Bachelor of Fine Arts Degrees: BA vs. BFA
- Choose Your Master's Degree in Art
- Financial Aid Puts Art School Within Reach
- Guide to Art and Design School Degree Programs
- Take Advantage of Art School Opportunities