A Master of Fine Arts ( MFA or M.F.A. ) is a graduate degree that typically requires two to three years of postgraduate study after a bachelor's degree ( BFA —though the term of study varies by country or university. The MFA is a creative degree usually awarded as a terminal degree in visual arts , creative writing , graphic design , photography , filmmaking , dance , theatre , other performing arts —or in some cases, theatre management or arts administration . Coursework is primarily of an applied or performing nature with the program often culminating in a major work or performance .

A master of fine arts program generally requires a bachelor's degree prior to admission, but many institutions don't require that an undergraduate major be the same as the MFA field of study. The most important admissions requirement has often been a sample portfolio or a performance audition .

The Master of Fine Arts differs from the Master of Arts in that the MFA, while an academic program, centers around practice in the particular field, whereas programs leading to the MA usually center on the scholarly, academic, or critical study of the field. Additionally, in the United States, an MFA is recognized as a terminal degree for practitioners of Visual Art, Design, Dance, Photography, Theatre, Film/Video, New Media, and Creative Writing—meaning that it is considered the highest degree in its field, and is a minimum qualification to become a full-time professor at the University level in these disciplines. There are exceptions to this standard in the Arts, notably in the case of music performance, where the MFA is not seen as a terminal degree in the context of the more standardized DMA degree.

In the interest of extending the connection between creative production and continued academic research , some universities have established practice-based PhD programs in fields such as creative writing , visual arts , new media , design and theater . While this has had an effect in Creative Writing, and to a lesser extent in design and new media, the influx of graduates from practice-based PhD programs has not appreciably changed the standard for the MFA as the terminal degree in most Arts disciplines. This is an ongoing contentious topic and is the frequent subject of academic panels, especially at the annual College Art Association conference. The CAA 2008 guidelines regarding the MFA strongly re-affirms that the PhD is not required as a terminal degree in the visual arts.