Don’t feel like you can afford to get an MFA… What if it was free?!

With the cost of an getting MFA higher now than any other time in history, I decided it would be a real service to the Smartly community to scour the internet to find all the fully (or mostly) funded programs across the U.S. for any of you considering going that route. To my surprise and delight, there are quite a few programs out there that wave tuition for accepted students, while also training and paying you for teaching assistant work. This means that you could potentially earn a masters degree without debt, and you could graduate with a leg-up on the competition for those few, highly-coveted academic positions, by gaining university-level teaching experience. Yow! You can’t ask for more than that.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about the high cost of getting an MFA. Having After receiving my MFA from a school ranked 7th in tuition cost by the Design Degree Central, located in one of the US cities ranked highest for cost of living (I love you CCA and San Francisco!), I’m no stranger to the sticker shock of following your dreams towards a masters degree. But the sharp increase in tuition for higher education in the last 5-6 years has turned something that was once a stretch into a potential financial disaster.

The experience I had in graduate school was one of the best in my life, and the skills, framework, and community that I came away with have shaped my career path every day since I graduated. However, faced with today’s prices, I don’t think I would have been able to take the leap. Reading the opinions of giants like Jerry Saltz and Coco Fusco on the matter give little hope that many who earn newly minted MFAs from the country’s top schools will ever be able to recoup the financial investment that is now required.

My own conversations with recent MFA graduates focus on how their student loans payments feel like the primary barrier to gaining traction in their art careers. The added burden of the typical $500-$800 (and often more) of monthly loan payments can eliminate the possibility of studio space, and chew up time away from a steady gig to make meaningful strides in their practice.

Here’s the list I compiled from a variety of sources (in alphabetic order). You’ll have to do your own due diligence to find which one will work best for you, and what exactly they offer, but this list will get you started towards your free (or low-cost) MFA!

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 Smartly reader has written in to let us  know that Alfred also funds sculpture, glass, electronic art, and they’re starting an MFA in Painting that will be a collaboration with Düsseldorf — thanks for the extra info!)

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

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.

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.

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.

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

Rutgers UniversityNew 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.

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.

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.

UC 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.

UC IrvineIrvine, 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).”

UCLA – 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.

University of Illinois at 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.

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 benefits

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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 some 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@sm-artly.com.

Want more? Join my Free online community, Artists Making Dollars and Sense, where we discuss all this stuff in real time. Hope to see you there!

24 Responses to “Don’t feel like you can afford to get an MFA… What if it was free?!”

  1. J October 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

    Illinois State University (in Normal, USA) 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. It’s a cool program that is a short Amtrak ride away from Chicago 🙂

    • cempedocles October 18, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

      Thanks so much for the heads-up, I’ll add it to the list!

  2. Luke October 5, 2017 at 1:47 am #

    The University of Notre Dame is fully funded for all their MFA programs. Only one applicant is admitted per program each year though.

    • cempedocles October 5, 2017 at 4:06 am #

      Thanks so much for letting me know Luke — I’ll add it to the list!

  3. tareq October 2, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    Hi, I’m not an american, I’m Jordanian and looking to start the MFA program, can I still get use of this fun opportunities?

    • cempedocles October 3, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

      It would be entirely dependent on the program. I don’t doubt that some of them are open to all applicants regardless of location, but I do know that some are State specific. Best of luck!

  4. lauren July 29, 2017 at 11:09 pm #

    Hello! Great list and extremely helpful! I was just wondering how comprehensive it is? I’ve done some (very surface level) research and found a lot of the same schools popping up. I know University of Georgia offers a teaching assistantship but it’s not on here. What do you know that I don’t know :)!

    • cempedocles July 30, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

      Thanks for letting me know about University of Georgia — It’s only not on the list because I didn’t know about it! I’m growing it as I find out about more programs. If you find out about any others please let me know!

  5. Tony May 4, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

    This is a great list. I have a question and a comment, though, regarding my own current situation. I’m in an MFA program, but regretfully, I’m getting ready to leave the program. I am doing fine in the work, but participation in the program is so demanding that I am unable to fulfill other responsibilities in life. It is really frustrating that MFA program designers and directors seem to think it is required that students suffer so much in order to gain their degree. The current program I’m involved in has a time limit of 4.5 years, a 67 semester hour requirement, and a minimum of two classes per semester in order to receive financial aid. One class demands between 12 and 16 hours of work per week. This has become untenable for me, since I work full time as a systems engineer and have a family. I’ve been looking for a program to be developed for years that will allow me to work on my MFA without neglecting my wife, children, and home, but it isn’t looking good, especially when I can’t do less than two classes per semester in order to afford the courses. MFA programs could really produce more graduates if they developed a program for people that wanted to work on their degree while working a full-time job…..and also getting more than four hours of sleep a night occasionally, which would be really nice. 🙂

  6. Diane Gallo April 26, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    How about funding a low res MFA?

    • cempedocles April 26, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

      Great question Diane, I haven’t seen any low res MFA fully funded programs as of yet, but if you find about about any, please forward them on, and I’ll get them on the list!

  7. Ron February 2, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

    This List has Alfred listed as only for ceramics. They have funded grad programs in sculpture, glass, electronic art, and they are starting an MFA in Painting that will be a collaboration with Düsseldorf.

  8. Cristina Echezarreta November 18, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    I am currently a BFA student at FSU, I am applying to Fully Funded MFA programs and another I found is University of Tennessee # 2 in the nation for Printmaking

    • Marie October 1, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

      BFA FSU Alumni! What, what! Loved it.

    • Diana Augustine November 1, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

      Hey Christina!!!!!!

      I hope you remember me, I was in some of your BFA courses. I am getting ready to graduate this spring and was wondering, “Where did you end up going?”

  9. Keith Murphy November 15, 2016 at 3:21 am #

    University of Minnesota Twin Cities is Fully funded for the 8 students they accept a year.

    • cempedocles November 15, 2016 at 4:08 am #

      Thanks Keith! I appreciate your help, is it the MFA in Design and Technology, or is there another program your referring to? So glad to add to the list!

  10. Lucca October 6, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

    This is amazing. Thank you for this.

  11. Diana October 6, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    I’m currently a BFA Student at FSU. According to FSU’s MFA website:

    -Graduate students are eligible to receive full tuition waivers based on merit

    -Graduate students are eligible to receive Graduate Teaching or Technical Assistantships based on merit.

    -Graduate students are eligible to receive a subsidy toward the university health insurance plan

    You might want to add it to the list. It could be helpful to someone.

    • cempedocles October 6, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      I will! Thank you so much for letting me know — I’m glad to grow the list, and am grateful for all the help I can get!

    • Marie October 1, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

      Hey, look another BFA FSU student. How cool!

      • Diana Augustine November 1, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

        Hahaha! Hi Marie!

  12. Nikki September 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    Thank you for this list! I am in a position where I just got a job at a university in New York that will pay tuition remission for any class at any accredited NYC school, except many of the MFA programs I’m seeing don’t allow for part-time students. So frustrating!

  13. Jessie June 15, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

    Thank you for creating this list — it is extremely helpful and heartening!

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