2020 Most Affordable Online MFA Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 10/28/2021
2020 Most Affordable MFA Masters Degrees Badge
By the OnlineU team | Updated 10/28/2021

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree gives students tools to practice and refine a specific mode of creative expression. Several schools offer affordable online MFA programs, which we've ranked by tuition rate below. These programs include specializations in creative writing or visual arts, which are intended for future academics, writers, artists, or designers. Under the rankings list, we provide additional information about online MFAs, including common courses and the cost of a degree.

You can read more about our ranked schools below or browse our rankings of the most affordable online master's programs. View our methodology or learn more about OnlineU.

Find an Online Degree:

ADVERTISEMENT
All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 Regent University Online $9,750
# 2 #2 Southern New Hampshire University Online $11,286
# 3 #3 Lindenwood University $11,880
# 4 #4 University of Arkansas at Monticello $12,511
# 6 #6 Albertus Magnus College $13,500
# 7 #7 University of Houston - Victoria $13,934
# 8 #8 Bay Path University $14,800
# 10 #10 Arcadia University $15,300
# 11 #11 Liberty University $16,350
# 12 #12 Brenau University $19,251
# 13 #13 Academy of Art University $19,494
# 14 #14 Goucher College $20,400
# 15 #15 Seton Hill University $21,249
# 16 #16 Radford University $22,320
# 17 #17 Drexel University $29,969
#1
#1

Regent University Online

Virginia Beach (VA)
Annual Tuition: $9,750
Annual Tuition: $9,750
Annual Tuition: $9,750
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 57%
  • Acceptance Rate: 78%
  • Average SATs: 990 -1220
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 3,146
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 5,092
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC

Online Master's Degrees

  • M.F.A. in Screenwriting (online)
#2
#2
Annual Tuition: $11,286
Annual Tuition: $11,286
Annual Tuition: $11,286
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 77%
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Acceptance Rate: 78%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 86,849
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 19,526
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: NECHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • MFA in Creative Writing
#3
#3

Lindenwood University

Saint Charles (MO)
Annual Tuition: $11,880
Annual Tuition: $11,880
Annual Tuition: $11,880
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 50%
  • Acceptance Rate: 74%
  • Average SATs: 980 -1170
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 494
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,042
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC

Online Master's Degrees

  • MFA in Writing
#4
#4

University of Arkansas at Monticello

Monticello (AR) (and 1 other)
Annual Tuition: $12,511
Annual Tuition: $12,511
Annual Tuition: $12,511
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 90%
  • Graduation Rate: 29%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 219
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 184
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Debate and Communication
#6
#6

Albertus Magnus College

New Haven (CT)
Annual Tuition: $13,500
Annual Tuition: $13,500
Annual Tuition: $13,500
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Acceptance Rate: 64%
  • Average SATs: 850 -1090
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 219
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 85
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: NECHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Writing
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $13,934
Annual Tuition: $13,934
Annual Tuition: $13,934
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 19%
  • Acceptance Rate: 49%
  • Average SATs: 930 -1088
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,605
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 934
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing - Applied Literary Translation
#8
#8

Bay Path University

Longmeadow (MA) (and 1 other)
Annual Tuition: $14,800
Annual Tuition: $14,800
Annual Tuition: $14,800
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 95%
  • Graduation Rate: 54%
  • Acceptance Rate: 63%
  • Average SATs: 960 -1170
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 870
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 523
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: NECHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing - Track in Publishing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing - Track in Teaching
#10
#10

Arcadia University

Glenside (PA)
Annual Tuition: $15,300
Annual Tuition: $15,300
Annual Tuition: $15,300
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 66%
  • Acceptance Rate: 62%
  • Average SATs: 1030 -1260
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 13
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 565
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
#11
#11

Liberty University

Lynchburg (VA)
Annual Tuition: $16,350
Annual Tuition: $16,350
Annual Tuition: $16,350
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Acceptance Rate: 30%
  • Average SATs: 1040 -1260
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 34,092
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 36,337
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design
  • Master of Fine Arts in Studio & Digital Arts
  • MFA: Creative Writing
#12
#12

Brenau University

Multiple Locations
Annual Tuition: $19,251
Annual Tuition: $19,251
Annual Tuition: $19,251
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 97%
  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Acceptance Rate: 66%
  • Average SATs: 920 -1140
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 746
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 545
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts - Interior Design
#13
#13

Academy of Art University

San Francisco (CA)
Annual Tuition: $19,494
Annual Tuition: $19,494
Annual Tuition: $19,494
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 59%
  • Graduation Rate: 45%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 2,911
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,298
  • School Type: For-Profit
  • School Accreditation: WSCUC

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Arts in Fine Art - Emphasis in Drawing and Painting
  • Master of Arts in Fine Art - Emphasis in Printmaking
  • Master of Arts in Fine Art - Emphasis in Sculpture
  • Master of Fine Arts in Advertising
  • Master of Fine Arts in Animation & Visual Effects
  • Master of Fine Arts in Animation & Visual Effects - Emphasis in 2D Animation & Stop Motion
#14
#14

Goucher College

Baltimore (MD)
Annual Tuition: $20,400
Annual Tuition: $20,400
Annual Tuition: $20,400
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 66%
  • Acceptance Rate: 79%
  • Average SATs: 1030 -1260
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 2
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 346
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction
#15
#15

Seton Hill University

Greensburg (PA)
Annual Tuition: $21,249
Annual Tuition: $21,249
Annual Tuition: $21,249
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 65%
  • Acceptance Rate: 75%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 48
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 97
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction
#16
#16

Radford University

Radford (VA)
Annual Tuition: $22,320
Annual Tuition: $22,320
Annual Tuition: $22,320
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 55%
  • Acceptance Rate: 74%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 148
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 2,903
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Design Thinking
#17
#17

Drexel University

Philadelphia (PA)
Annual Tuition: $29,969
Annual Tuition: $29,969
Annual Tuition: $29,969
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 69%
  • Acceptance Rate: 79%
  • Average SATs: 1190 -1390
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,492
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 3,697
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: MSCHE

Online Master's Degrees

  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing - Concentration in Fiction Writing

Overview of Affordable Online MFA Programs

An MFA is a terminal degree that grants creative writers and artists a credential allowing them to teach or simply improve their employability. Most affordable online MFA programs are for writing, followed by visual art and design. To the best of our knowledge, no accredited schools offer online graduate degree programs in performing arts, such as dance and acting, because these media don't translate into a virtual format.

The focus of coursework differs according to the type of art students produce. For example, creative writers study different genres but put most of their electives toward their chosen format, such as fiction or poetry. Online learners usually attend asynchronous classes featuring recorded lectures and written discussion forums. In this digital format, they can read materials, view lessons, and complete assignments at their convenience as long as they respect the due dates.


How Much Will My Online MFA Program Cost?


The cheapest online options for an MFA program range from $9,750 to $29,969 a year. As a point of reference, we've found that the median annual tuition for a master's degree across all programs is $15,760.


Attending graduate school online is often more affordable than attending on campus. Private schools sometimes charge online students less, while public colleges often charge distance learners the in-state tuition rate regardless of where they live. However, there are instances where attending a physical campus would be more affordable. For example, in-person MFA students can receive full or partial funding if they serve as teaching assistants. Since students can save tens of thousands of dollars by avoiding student debt, it's probably worth attending an on-campus program if they have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant and potentially receive a free MFA.


Funding an Online Master's in Fine Arts

Most financial aid is available to both online and in-person students, but applicants should check with their school's financial aid office regarding program eligibility. Online graduate students in the arts at accredited schools can apply for federal, state, institutional, or private financial aid.

If taking out a loan is the only option, students can usually find the best interest rates through the federal government. Completing the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is a student’s first step to determine their eligibility for federal aid. Most states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their programs, though some states have developed separate forms for undocumented applicants, such as the Oregon Student Aid Application.

It's best to exhaust grants, scholarships, and work-study options before accepting loans because these funds don't need to be repaid. Below are some scholarship opportunities that are geared toward MFA students.

Against the Grain Artistic Scholarship

Asian American MFA applicants in the visual arts may receive $1,000 toward tuition and fees.

Cyndy and Al Baran Fine Arts and Music Scholarship

Visual arts MFA students can receive partial funding if they maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship

Five U.S.-based poetry students between 21-31 years old can receive a grant of $25,800 to help fund their MFA.

For additional information about college affordability, we've compiled resources about college savings plans, financial mistakes to avoid, and more.


Is an Online MFA Worth It?

Since dedicating time to creative endeavors can be difficult, many enroll in an Master of Fine Arts program for the sake of developing their craft in a guided, structured setting. Enrolling in an online program may be the best option for students juggling family and work. However, a graduate program also means a busier schedule. Determining the worth of an MFA degree depends on your interests, career goals, and financial situation.

Further, some MFA programs may be better options for online students, such as creative writing or visual design, as opposed to programs that benefit from the use of a studio, such as interior design and sculpture.

Potential Benefits:

An MFA program may provide you with networking opportunities. For example, poets and fiction writers can attend conferences at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs while studying online, which provides an opportunity for networking with publishers. Screenwriters searching for a job writing television or film scripts could network with people who can help them break into the industry, including peers, program alumni, and even producers.

Potential Drawbacks:

While an MFA can help you hone your craft and make important connections in your field, it doesn’t directly lead to specific career paths. Therefore, it may not translate to either career advancement or salary growth. One of the biggest challenges with MFA programs is that there is no guarantee you'll see a financial payoff from your advanced degree. As a result, MFA graduates may have to take on a second job to support their art careers.


Common Master's in Fine Arts Online Courses

The curricula for MFA degrees differ by artistic discipline, but most programs share common themes and aim to develop students' creative talents. For example, creative writing degrees teach students to build strong characters through dialogue, while painting programs hone their skills by studying and practicing with different materials, styles, and techniques. MFA coursework also exposes students to constructive criticism from instructors and peers.

Some online MFA degrees are classified as low-residency programs, which involve online coursework except for 1-2 weeks per year when students must also attend intensive workshops.

Some online MFA degrees are classified as low-residency programs, which involve online coursework except for 1-2 weeks per year when students must also attend intensive workshops. A college may require internships for students in some disciplines, such as music production, interior design, or animation and visual effects. Most online programs culminate in a creative thesis project or a complete portfolio of work for a review committee to critique.

Below are some common courses you'll find in online MFA programs.

  • Basics of Screenwriting: Professors introduce scriptwriting by discussing various writing skills that include proper format, page counts for successful screenplays, character building, and dialogue. Students learn the conventions of different genres and how they fit into a traditional three-act structure. Some introductory courses include a workshop element allowing students to receive constructive criticism.
  • Creative Nonfiction Workshop: Faculty members discuss the genre’s emergence through its current influence. Students may read prominent examples of memoirs, travel writing, nature writing, and investigative/literary journalism. Assignments are written from prompts and critiqued during workshop sessions.
  • Fiction Workshop: This course briefly surveys fiction writing throughout history, spanning the range of genres as they developed, including literary, detective, and young adult fiction. Each student shares their work during regular class meetings, where classmates offer constructive criticism. Students taking a fiction concentration can use these workshops to refine their culminating project, which is usually a book-length manuscript in the form of a novel or short story collection.
  • Poetry Workshop: As a workshop, this elective emphasizes professional writing and classroom critique. Professors also assign readings from different eras and styles to provide an overview of the form's variety. Discussion topics may include point of view, rhythm, meter, rhyme, and changing tastes.
  • Introduction to Drawing: In this course, the faculty discuss drawing as an art form and as preparation for painting and sculpture. Students learn how to depict perspective and proportion through lines and shading. In addition, live models may be brought into the classroom to introduce the complexities involved with drawing human figures.
  • Introduction to Sculpture: Students begin to learn how to create three-dimensional figures. The faculty discusses the variety of available building materials and the best techniques for shaping them. Most sections contain weekly assignments and culminate in producing a larger body of work for students.

Career Opportunities for MFA graduates

Those who pursue higher education through an MFA program go on to pursue a wide range of careers, depending on their previous experience, education, career goals, and field of study. Below, we utilized BLS salary and job projection data in our descriptions of possible career paths within these groups:

Leadership roles in the arts

Some MFA graduates pursue administrative roles in art galleries, theater departments, or public arts organizations. Others may work as art directors or creative directors for businesses, publications, theater performances, or TV and movie productions.

  • Art directors earn a median salary of $97,270 per year, but these roles can be highly competitive and require previous experience.
  • The need for art directors is expected to grow 11% through 2030.
  • Surveyed art directors described themselves as very satisfied in their careers.

Visual and digital design

Depending on their area of expertise, graduates of visual and digital design programs can become graphic designers, interior designers, UX designers, animators, or special effects artists. Photography or film production graduates can pursue careers in photography, film production, and related areas.

Writing

Graduates of creative writing programs may become published authors or pursue screenwriting opportunities. Alumni may also write for magazines, work as copywriters for advertising or technology firms, or become technical writers for tech or manufacturing companies. Many of these writing professionals choose to pursue creative work in their free time.

ADVERTISEMENT

Start Your Online College Search:

Review schools that align with your career aspirations.