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Information for Prospective Students

Thank you for your interest in the graduate programs in the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego!

The Department of Visual Arts offers graduate work leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A). Additional information about each of the programs can be found on the MFA Program or Ph.D. Program page. Information about applying to this or any other UC San Diego graduate program can be at Grad Apply.

About the Admissions Process

The admissions committee within the Department of Visual Arts will review submitted applications and makes recommendations for admission to the Graduate Dean. Admission decisions are based on the quality of the applicant's materials and the fit between the applicant's research interests and those of the program's faculty. We strongly encourage all applicants to read our faculty pages to identify  professors with compatible research and practice orientations with whom they would be interested to work; discussing aspects of a possible mentorship relation in the application.

Application Information:

To Apply:

Application Opens: September 8, 2021

Application Deadlines:

PhD- December 7, 2021
MFA- January 4, 2022

About our M.F.A. Program

The Department of Visual Arts MFA program (VA75) designed to provide intensive professional training for the students who wish to pursue a career within the field of contemporary art—including all aspects of art making, criticism, theory and curating. The scope of the UC San Diego program includes painting, sculpture, performance, installation art, public art, photography, film, video, and digital media. The program is unique in that the course of study provides for and encourages student mobility within this range of traditional and media-based components. It also offers opportunities for collaborative work. It is strongly recommended that applicants be at least one year removed from completing their undergraduate degree prior to submitting an application

About our PH.D. Programs

The Department of Visual Arts encourages experimentation and innovation in scholarly and artistic production. Rather than segregating art practice and history, Visual Arts brings practitioners, theorists and historians together to encourage innovative work at the boundaries of disciplines, discourses, and methodologies. Our art history faculty specializes in modern and contemporary art and media; socially engaged art practice; European and Latin American art and critical theory; Chinese art and visual culture; nineteenth-century French print culture; Mesoamerican and Native American art and archaeology; Medieval art and culture; computational media and speculative design; film and video; material culture; environmental and landscape studies; intermediality; and curating, collection and display.

The PhD Program within the Department of Visual Arts contains two major programs: Art History, Theory, and Criticism (VA76) and Art History with a concentration in Art Practice (VA77).


Ph.D. Major Concentrations

Art History, Theory, and Criticism (VA76) in the Department of Visual Arts centers on a unique curriculum that places art objects and practices at the center of inquiry, even as it encourages examination of the larger historical, cultural, social, intellectual, and theoretical frameworks within which the category "art" has been contextualized in the most recent developments in the discipline. The program encompasses the study of both past and present art across a broad range that includes fine arts and media (film, video, photography, new media). 

The Art History program features a concentration in Art Practice (VA77) which is designed for artists engaged in advanced research who wish to pursue their work in an environment geared to doctoral study, and to produce studio, media, performance or public facing work alongside a written dissertation. UC San Diego's Visual Arts department brings practitioners, theorists and historians together to encourage innovative work at the boundaries of disciplines, discourses, and methodologies. The program is particularly well-suited to established artists with a research-based practice who are seeking the opportunity to reflect on that practice, and to develop new work in conjunction with a community of ambitious artists, historians and theorists. It is strongly recommended that applicants apply for entry into the program at least 3 years after the completion of their undergraduate degree.


Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Specializations

Students within the PhD program who are interested in the opportunity to undertake specialized research may apply to participate in an interdisciplinary specialization. Students accepted into a specialization program would be expected to complete coursework in addition to those required for their PhD program. The department offers interdisciplinary specializations with the following campus programs.

Application Requirements

All applicants must satisfy the UC San Diego Requirements for Admission:

  • completion of a four-year Bachelors degree or equivalent
  • 3.0 GPA minimum or 'B' average
  • English Language Proficiency (for international applicants)

In addition to the general requirements for the university, applicants must submit the following application materials to be considered for admissions to our department:

  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Resume/CV
  • Portfolio

Portfolio Requirement

To be considered for admissions to our department, all applicants must submit a portfolio of work which may include: an artists statement, artwork or a writing sample. Each program has unique portfolio requirements that can be viewed below. All materials are to be uploaded into the PORTFOLIO section of the UC San Diego Campus Application here.

MFA Program (VA75)

PhD Art History, Theory, and Criticism (VA76)

PhD Art History, Theory, and Criticism, Art Practice (VA77)

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers here to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Admission to our MFA and PhD programs.

When is the application deadline?

Application Deadline: 

PhD- December 7, 2021

MFA- January 4, 2022

What is the minimum GPA requirement for admission?

The University of California minimum GPA average to apply is a 3.0 or 'B' average.

Can I talk to someone about the PhD or MFA program?

Should I contact faculty members whose research matches my interest before I apply?

Yes! It is highly recommended that you contact faculty whose research is of interest to you, prior to applying or during the application process, to develop relationships with those faculty and to find out if they are currently accepting students. Please make sure you introduce yourself properly, be specific about what you are interested in, and attach a CV and your portfolio/website. Please also be respectful of their time.

Can I contact any of your current students? I would like to ask them some questions.

The Graduate Advisor for the Department can connect you to a graduate student representative. To initiate this process, please send an email to with the following information:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Program of Interest (MFA-VA75, PhD-VA76, PhD-VA77)
  • Area of Research Interest 
  • Possible Faculty Mentor 
  • Previous Attended Institutions
  • In 1-2 sentences explain how you learned about our program?

This will be forwarded to our graduate student representative(s) to address your questions. Please be respectful of the students' time.

How do I arrange to visit the campus to talk to the Graduate Advisor or a particular professor?

Prospective students who would like to meet with faculty will need to contact them directly to arrange an appointment. Contact information is located here. Please keep in mind that there may be times when faculty members are not available to meet with prospective students. If you would like to talk with the Graduate Advisor, you can email to schedule an appointment. 

Do I need a BA/MA in Art History or BFA in Art to apply to the Graduate Program?

You do not need a BA/MA in Art History but most of our students have a strong background in Art History or adjacent disciplines; and have an MA or MFA prior to applying for the PhD program. You do not need a BFA in Art Practice to apply for the MFA program, but most of our students have a strong background in art-making with humanities and social science research interests.  For either the MFA or Ph.D. program, it would be to your advantage to take classes in Art History before you apply.

A Bachelors degree is required to apply to the graduate programs. For international applicants, a baccalaureate degree with exceptional scholarship is required.

I have questions about the GRE…

Is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or subject GRE required?

No, we do not require either for admission to our programs.

I have questions about the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE…

I obtained a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in the US or an English speaking country, am I required to submit English Proficiency scores?

All International applicants to the Department of Visual Arts are required to submit English Language Proficiency scores if from countries where English is not the official language.

What tests are accepted and the minimum score requirements?

The minnimum speaking score on each exam:

TOEFL speaking scores of 23
IELTS speaking scores of 7
PTE speaking scores of 65

Please see the Graduate Division English Language Proficiency website for more information. 

Do you require the sub-tests for reading, listening, speaking, and writing?

All International applicants from countries where English is not the official language must submit English language proficiency scores which assess all aspects of English comprehension.

If admitted, would I need English Proficiency scores for anything else?

Yes! Graduate students in our department are funded through employment and will work primarily as Teaching Assistants (TAs). International applicants from countries where English is not the official language must meet a speaking subscore minimum requirement for employment. You can learn more about this here.

What are you looking for in the Statement of Purpose?

Focus your Statement of Purpose on the reasons you are interested in attending the Ph.D. or MFA program within the Department of Visual Arts at UC San Diego. This statement should be approximately 750-1000 words (not to exceed 3 pages) and be: well organized, concise, free of grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors and must be submitted via the online application. Before submitting the statement, seek constructive comments and criticism from friends and advisors.

Five primary topics to cover in your statement of purpose:

  1. How did you become interested in this field? Give the committee members a sense of your particular talents and abilities and their relevance to your academic interests.
  2. What experiences have contributed toward your preparation for further study in this field? Demonstrate your interest by providing examples of: research experiences, internships, work experience, community service, publications, or life experiences. Briefly describe what you did in each experience and articulate what you have learned or how those lessons stimulated you to pursue an advanced degree.
  3. What are your future goals? Specifically, state your degree objective (MFA or Ph.D.) and specify what subdisciplines you are interested in pursuing. Specify your career goals, i.e. that you are planning a future career as a university professor, artist, researcher, consultant (or other profession or goal).
  4. What are your research interests? Within your subdiscipline, you should be able to identify one or two topics that are of interest to you. When possible, be specific about your initial research agenda. 
  5. How are you a "match" for the program to which you are applying? Explain what attracts you most to the institution/program to which you are applying. If possible, align your research interests with those of one or more of the affiliated professors. 

Other factors to address (remember these are secondary factors):

  • Give examples of personal attributes or qualities that would help you complete graduate study successfully.
  • Describe your determination to achieve your goals, your initiative and ability to develop ideas, and your ability to work both independently and collaboratively.
  • Describe background characteristics that may have placed you at an educational disadvantage (English language learner, family economic history, lack of educational opportunity, disability, etc.). 
  • Make sure that you communicate effectively how you are prepared for advanced academic work and why you will be successful in graduate school.

I have questions about the writing sample…

What spacing should I use for my writing sample?

Our faculty have a preference for double spacing.

What font and size of font should I use for my writing sample?

Standard fonts (Times New Roman, Cambria, Helvetica) in standard sizes (11-12 point).

Should I include footnotes or works cited pages? 

Yes. You should always include footnotes or works cited pages. This helps us assess you as a researcher.

My writing sample is longer than 5000 words--should I edit it down?

You are welcome to submit a writing sample that is up to 7500 words.

What sort of financial support is available?

What financial support does the department offer graduate students?

Upon the recommendation of the department, several types of financial support are available to admitted graduate students: full or partial remission of fees and tuition, fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and travel grants. Graduate students are eligible for one or a combination of these types of financial support. Offers of support are defined in each applicant's departmental offer letter.


For more student financial support visit the Grad Division website.

What campus fellowships are available?

Applicants may complete the “Additional Educational Experiences” short answer section of the application to be considered for any of these fellowship programs

  • Competitive Edge
  • San Diego Fellowship/Cota Robles
  • SEED
  • Tribal Membership

How do I get a Graduate Application fee waiver?

The fee waiver request is done online within the online graduate application. Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents may request a waiver of the application fee. Waivers are provided to applicants who are:

  1. currently receiving need-based financial assistance from an undergraduate or graduate institution; or
  2. claiming financial hardship based on current federal tax return income data; or
  3. participating in selected federal or state-funded graduate school preparation programs.

You must have the name and email of the program director. All fee waivers are granted provisionally and applicants may be required to provide supporting documentation to finalize the waiver.

Additional Resources

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