Can't afford to earn an MFA… What if it was free?

With the cost of earning a Master’s degree in Fine Arts higher now than ever before, I decided it would be a real service to the arts community to scour the internet and list all the fully (or mostly) funded MFA programs across the U.S. for any of you considering going that route. 

To my surprise, I found a ton of programs that wave tuition while training and paying you for teaching assistant work. This means that you could earn a Master’s Degree without debt, while gaining university-level teaching experience. Yow, that’s hot!

Having received my MFA from the 7th highest-ranked school for tuition, located in the 2nd the most expensive US city, I’m no stranger to the sticker shock of following your dreams towards a Master’s Degree. But the sharp increase in tuition for higher education in the last 10 years has turned something that was once a stretch into a potential financial disaster

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And I’m not the only one who’s worried — art world giants Jerry Saltz and Coco Fusco offer little hope that those who are earning MFAs today from the country’s top schools will ever be able to recoup the financial investment that is now required.

In my work as an advisor, I often see the burden of $500-$1,000 monthly student loan payments eliminating the possibility of studio space, and chewing-up time away from the ‘day job’ to make meaningful strides in a dedicated practice.

To offer a glimmer of hope, I’ve compiled the following list of tuition-FREE (or low-cost) MFAs! You’ll have to do your own due diligence to find which program will work best for you, but this list will get you started!

FREE (or low-cost) Visual Arts MFA programs in the United States

Alfred University – Alfred, NY
Specifically for ceramic art. Accepted students get grants for full tuition waiver for the full program as well as a guaranteed assistantship with a stipend. (An informed reader has written in to let me know that Alfred also funds sculpture, glass, electronic art, and they’re starting an MFA in Painting that will be a collaboration with Düsseldorf with limited funding — thanks for the extra info!)

University of Arkansas — Fayetteville, AR
This is a three-year, 60 credit, in-residence studio program that combines contemporary critical engagement with technical proficiency. All students in the M.F.A. Studio Art program are fully supported. Students are provided full assistantships which include a full tuition waiver and a stipend of $15,000 annually, plus a Graduate Fellowship in the amount of $4,000 per year, for a total package of $19,000 of support per year.

Arizona State University –Tempe, AZ
Teaching assistants are given a tuition waiver, health insurance, and a stipend. 

University of California, Davis 
— Davis, CA
All accepted grads are funded through TA-ships and fellowships, providing a stipend and health insurance, which varies year by year depending on how many students are out of state.

University of California, Irvine – Irvine, CA
Successful U.S. applicants typically receive full academic financial support. Each graduate student is appointed to 6 Teaching Assistant and/or Teaching Associate positions during their three years in the program (two each year).”

University of California, Los Angeles
 – Los Angeles, CA
This school will award year-long graduate fellowships, which offer tuition waiver and a stipend.

University of Connecticut – Storrs, CT
Full tuition waiver for full-time students with teaching/research stipend ($11,000) plus health benefits for three years.

University of Delaware – Newark, DE
All students receive tuition waivers, and graduate scholar (full stipend) awards are available, as well as the teaching stipends.

DoVA University of Chicago – Chicago, IL
All students receive half-tuition fellowship for their 1st year, and full tuition fellowship their 2nd year. There are also paid teaching assistantships.

Florida State University
 — Tallahassee, FL
Graduate students are eligible to receive full tuition waivers, teaching or technical assistantships based on merit, and are additionally eligible to receive a subsidy toward the university health insurance plan.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign – Champaign, IL
Graduate students in good standing in the School of Art + Design typically receive support packages that include waivers of full tuition and most fees.

Illinois State University
 — Normal, IL
Offers a full tuition waiver and a $850 monthly stipend to all MFA students through a teaching assistantship (20 hours a week). It is also a three-year program and generally accepts between 5 and 7 students across all disciplines a year, depending on departmental need. And it’s a short Amtrak ride away from Chicago!

Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge, LA
Students pay for their own cost of living; however modest stipends of $6,300 per year come with an assistantship, which includes a tuition waiver.

University of Maryland – Baltimore, MD
The majority of accepted students get Graduate Assistantship positions with tuition remission and stipend. Other fellowships and awards are available as well.

University of Massachusetts Amherst – Amherst, MA
This is a 3-year program that accepts six students per year, and awards teaching assistantships completely defraying the cost of tuition to most of our graduate students.

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI
Awards range from stipends and discretionary funds that offset studio expenses to teaching/research assistantships and full tuition waivers.

Mills College – Oakland, CA
Accepts 12 students a year, all of whom receive 25% tuition scholarship for their 1st year and 75% tuition scholarship teaching assistantship their 2nd year. Review their financial aid opportunities.

University of Minnesota Twin Cities
 — Minneapolis, MN
This program is 100% tuition remission and 95% medical benefits for three consecutive years — wow! The number accepted varies, depending on the available stipends, but it seems to be about 8 per year.  All MFA students are fully funded through fellowships or assistantships, and the program is 3 years long. Their website indicates it’s ranked 55th among other MFAs.

University of Norte Dame — Notre Dame, IN
Students accepted into the M.F.A. program typically receive financial aid in the form of a full tuition waiver. In addition, the department has a number of stipends to award to students of exceptional talent. Students in good standing will continue to receive financial support for up to three years.

University of North Texas
 – Denton, TX
Half-time teaching assistant appointment are offered $5,500 a semester in compensation, plus waiver of out-of-state tuition, and reduced rate on state health benefit.

Northwestern University – Chicago, IL
MFA in Art Theory and Practice program only accepts 5 graduate students each year, but they fully support all these students with tuition waivers, healthcare coverage, and stipends.

Ohio State University – Columbus, OH
Most students accepted into the MFA Program are funded with a 50% stipend (20 hours work a week) and tuition waiver. These appointments may include teaching introductory courses, assisting in department labs and working for The Arts Initiative

Ohio University
 – Athens, OH
The new MFA in Communication Media Arts is a fully funded program specifically designed for mid-career professionals. They emphasize teaching and provide funding every semester for those interested in teaching undergraduate courses.  You can graduate with a terminal degree, no dept, and three years of teaching experience!

Rutgers University
 – New Brunswick, NJ
All 1st-year students get a tuition waiver for out-of-state tuition equivalent, and 2nd-year students get a tuition waiver for in-state tuition equivalent.

University of South Florida
 — Tampa, FL
The generous financial assistance packages from USF includes Graduate Assistantships with stipends, tuition waivers and the opportunity to teach courses, assist professors, or work at USF’s Institute for Research in Art. They also provide fellowships, full scholarships and annual research and travel awards specifically for the Graduate Students. Wow.

University of Southern California, Roski School of Fine Arts – Los Angeles, California.
If you’re awarded a teaching assistant you’ll be given full tuition credit and a stipend.

Stanford University – Stanford, CA
Through a combination of fellowship funds and teaching assistantships, each Art Practice graduate student normally receives an aid package that includes tuition and stipend as well as small materials grants.

University of Tennessee — Knoxville, TN
This 3-year program offers 100% tuition coverage! Twenty-six students attend at a time so the number of accepted applicants can vary. There are extra fees for out of state can be up to $1,000, in-state fees are less. According to their website, their print-making program is ranked 2nd of print-making programs, and the MFA as a whole is ranked 17th among public schools, 33 among all universities.

Texas Christian University (TCU)
 — Fort Worth, TX
TCU has a fully funded, 3-year MFA studio art program. Each accepted student receives a full tuition waiver and a $9,000 stipend (in exchange for 10 hours of work a week for the School of Art). Students typically work in the TCU galleries their first year, TA in their area of interest in their second year, and teach one class (instructor of record) a semester in their third year.  TCU has an active visiting artist program and is developing a new (fully funded) residency for students in Italy.

Tulane University – New Orleans, LA
All admitted graduate students receive a full tuition waiver and a generous assistantship stipend. Teaching and teaching-assistantship opportunities are available to all admitted students each semester.

Washington State University – Pullman, WA
Most teaching assistantships include a full tuition waiver (once in-state status is granted), about $13,000 in an annual stipend, and health insurance.

Know of other programs that should be on this list? 

Please leave it in the comments below and I’ll add it!

Does this list open up some new options for you? I’d love to hear about it. You can always send me an email directly at christina@insightpersonalfinance.com