As back to school approaches, Art Versed explores the most prestigious and popular MFA programs in the U.S. Whether you’re thinking about returning to school or graduating this year and planning for the future, these programs will certainly guarantee artistic success. A mixture of Ivy League classics and schools specializing in art and design make the list, allowing for artists to choose the school environment best for them.

© 2011 Sandra Burns

Yale MFA Installation at Green Hall © 2011 Sandra Burns

Yale University— The classic dream school, Yale’s MFA program is incredibly impressive and popular, with notable alumni such as Eva Hesse and Chuck Close. This three year program is especially known for their graphic design and photography programs, proclaimed as the best in the country. The program is also very strong for sculpture, painting and printmaking. Like all Ivy League schools, the prestige that accompanies the Yale name comes at a cost, specifically $33,500 a year. However, with its distinguished faculty and alumni, the connections built within the Yale artistic community, as well as addition of the powerful name Yale to your CV, are worth every penny.

Columbia University of the City of New York— Another Ivy dream school, Columbia provides the beautiful traditional campus of an ivy league school in the heart of NYC, allowing students to explore the diverse cultural scene. Columbia’s MFA is incredibly selective, claiming an admissions rate of only 2%. Columbia also offers a speciality in “new genres” such as Sound Art, setting it apart from other MFA programs. Like Yale, this 2 year ivy program boasts an impressive list of faculty and alumni such as Jon Kessler, Georgia Sagri, Guy Ben-Ner, Lisi Raskin, but also comes with the hefty price tag of $51,676.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Maclean Center

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Maclean Center

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago— Focusing mainly on new media and the intersection of art and technology, SAIC offers a special program in film/video/new media and Sound art, as well as an MA in Visual and Critical Studies, which combines visual art and art theory. The SAIC alumni could not possibly get more impressive, so if you want to wander the same halls once populated by Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons this is the school for you. Part of the Art Institute of Chicago, and located in the heart of the city, SAIC also provides an opportunity for students to explore the museum’s collection and the city’s art scene. The powerful alumni and great location tip the scales against the school’s big sticker price of $44,010. However, SAIC is known to give a substantial amount of grants and student funding.

The SMFA atrium

The SMFA atrium

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston— This artist founded institution was established in 1876 and is run through Tufts University in partnership with the MFA Boston. Students here have the unique and incredible opportunity of exhibiting their work at the MFA Boston during their 2 years at SMFA. This tiny, (less than 200 students per year) interdisciplinary program, attended by the likes of Jim Dine, Nan Goldin, and Ellsworth Kelly, prominent reputation can perhaps justify the price of $39,020.

Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design— Compared to some of the previous programs discussed, which combine technique with academic study, RISD stresses technical elements of artistic craft. Offering specialties in a huge variety of areas, RISD is the school for the artist’s artist, looking to work hard. Unlike many of the programs on this list at large universities, RISD has less than 400 graduate students in total, and the average class size is only 11 students. The program can be completed in anywhere between 1-3 years, which could make the price of $42,622 more manageable if you’re able to finish in just one year. Incredible alumni such as Andrea Zittel, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker certainly bolster the school’s prestige.

Bard College Fischer Center

Bard College Fischer Center

Bard College— This tiny school located in Annandale-on-Hudson in upstate New York, offers a unique system allowing students to complete their MFA in three summer sessions and two independent-study sessions, allowing students to also work on building their portfolios while completing their degree. Many of Bard’s alumni return to teach classes, so students may have the chance to study with Amy Sillman, Paul Chan, Carolee Schneeman, David Horvitz, Herb Ritts, or Rachel Harrison at some point during their time at Bard. The chance to study with any of these greats, as well as work in an untraditional setting balances out the sticker shock the accompanies the $55,000 price tag.

admissions

Pratt School of Design

Pratt School of Design— Pratt offers its students some of the best and most extensive resources of the schools on this list. With wood, metal, and print shops, as well as ceramics studios and darkrooms, students students have access to a wide variety resources as well as exhibition space in Pratt’s own gallery spaces. If these resources don’t speak for themselves, the extensive list of successful Pratt alumni will, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mickalene Thomas, and Roxy Paine. All of these resources and prestige come at the lowest price of any of the schools on our list, $28,308 annually.

School of Visual Arts, MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Thesis Exhibition

School of Visual Arts, MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Thesis Exhibition

School of Visual Arts (SVA)— Excelling in the specialities of media arts, such as Computer and video art, as well as the more “traditional” media of painting and sculpture, SVA provides students with all the wonderful opportunities of going to school in NYC at a slightly lower price than Columbia– a refreshing $36,130. Despite its smaller price tag, SVA still boasts an incredible list of alumni such as Keith Haring, Sarah Sze, and Sol LeWitt. Also worth noting, SVA also offers a program called “visual narratives” which combines visual arts and creative writing.

SCAD, Savannah Poetter Hall

SCAD, Savannah Poetter Hall

Savannah College of Arts and Design— Heading South, the Savannah College of Arts & Design offers the largest variety of programs of any school specializing in art and design. Interestingly, many of SCAD’s programs are also available for completion online. With renowned faculty and alumni, many of which focused in photography and graphic design, SCAD provides great opportunities and resources in the charming city of Savannah for their students, at the slightly lower price of $34,250 annually.

CalArts; image courtesy of LA Times

CalArts; image courtesy of LA Times

CalArts— Transitioning to the West, CalArts is known to be “the best” visual arts program on the west coast. It’s location in sunny Valencia, California means that it has connections to the film and media industries of Hollywood, which are good for post-grad professional opportunities and connections. If alumni such as Mike Kelley and Jack Goldstein aren’t enough to sell you, maybe the fact that the school was “founded” by none other than Walt Disney will be enough to convince you CalArts is the place for you. However, all that sunshine and prestige comes at the expensive price of $41,700 a year.

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