Top-Ranked MFA Programs

Photo Credit: Rhode Island School of Design 

By Taylor Smith 

Want to develop your creative craft or pen that novel that’s been living inside you? Do you have a passion for painting, drawing, sculpture, or film? Are you considering a teaching career in the arts? We’ve rounded up top Master of Fine Arts programs in the Northeast that can add an extra spark to your resume and potentially help you to make that career change or land the job you’ve been dreaming about. 

Columbia University 

Location: New York City 

Program: Applicants apply to either painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, or “new genres.”

Length: 2 years 

Famous Faculty: Nicola Lopez, Sanford Biggers, Gregory Amenoff, and Kara Walker. 

Selling Points: If location is a determining factor, it doesn’t hurt to spend two formative years training and studying in Manhattan, arguably one of the largest art capitals in the world. Being an Ivy, Columbia also ranks high for exclusivity, accepting only two percent of applicants to Columbia’s MFA in visual arts. As of 2013, the program also offers a concentration in sound art, so if experimenting with audio is your forte, this is the place for you. 

Yale University 

Location: New Haven, Connecticut 

Program: Concentrations in painting, sculpture, graphic design, and printmaking. 

Length: 2-3 years

Famous Faculty: Carroll Dunham, Rochelle Feinstein, Gregory Crewdson, Huma Bhabha, and Shirin Neshat. 

Selling Points: Reputed to have one of the best graduate graphic design and photography departments, Yale also has an incredible alumni network and it’s rumored that second-year MFA students are sometimes signed with galleries and/or participate in international exhibitions before they’ve even graduated. 

School of Visual Arts

Location: New York City

Program: Photography, video, computer art, visual narrative, painting, sculpture, and printmaking.

Length: 2 years 

Famous Faculty: Laurel Nakadate, Mark Tribe, and Marilyn Minter. 

Selling Points: Located in Manhattan, SVA is well known throughout the country for its top-ranked visual narrative concentration which combines visual art and writing, perfect for those interested in illustration and graphic novels. Notable alumni include Keith Harring and Sol LeWitt, both of whom have permanent installations at the MoMA. 

Bard 

Location: Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Program: Writing, painting, photography, music/sound, and film/video.

Length: 2-3 years (including three summer sessions)

Famous Faculty: Thomas Eggerer, Zoe Leonard, Nick Mauss, Amy Sillman, Ulrike Muller, and Sadie Benning. 

Selling Points: Bard pioneered the low-residency MFA program with students gathering in on-campus sessions for three eight-week summer residencies. Independent work is then divided up among two to three years. The emphasis here is on creating a high volume of significant art, rather than just grades and examinations alone. Bard also has a number of rotating visiting professors, many of whom are successful alumni. The Bard name also goes very far in the art world, particularly the contemporary visual arts scene where Bard graduates have made a large contribution. 

Rhode Island School of Design 

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Program: Everything from landscape architecture and furniture design to illustration.

Length: 1-3 years 

Famous Faculty: Naomi Fry, Dean Snyder, Henry Ferreira, DIke Blair, and Patricia Tribe. 

Selling Points: RISD benefits from a cooperative relationship with the Ivy League’s Brown University. Its MFA program is designed with a particular emphasis on craft and traditional skills over conceptual work. In other words, this is where you will learn how to draw as an architect, not just philosophize a vision of a building.