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MFA Program

MFA Program

Program Overview

The Department of Visual Arts MFA program (VA75) is 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 program includes painting, sculpture, performance, installation art, public art, photography, film, video, and digital media. This MFA program is unique in that the course of study provides for and encourages student mobility within this range of traditional and media-based components.


Program Requirements

  1. Coursework, 72 units
  2. Yearly Critiques
  3. First Year Review
  4. Thesis Presentation

Full Time Enrollment

In order to remain eligible for financial support all graduate students must be enrolled in 12 units of upper-division (100-199) or graduate level (200 and above) courses each quarter during the regular academic year. Graduate students must also maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 to maintain good academic standing. Most students will choose to complete the majority of their academic coursework for a letter grade.


Course Requirements

VA75- 18 courses, 72 units

Full program requirements can be viewed in the Visual Arts Catalog


CORE REQUIREMENTS (13 courses, 52 units)

  • VIS 201- Contemporary Critical Issues
  • VIS 202- Art practice
  • VIS 203 (must be taken 2 times for total of 8 units)- Working Critique
  • VIS 205- Intro to Graduate Studies in Art Practice
  • VIS 208- Thesis Exhibition
  • VIS 209- Thesis Writing
  • VIS 210-219 (1 course, 4 units)- Art Theory/Practice
  • VIS 206, 230-262 (1 course, 4 units)- Art History Seminar
  • VIS 295- Individual Studies
  • VIS 500- Apprentice Teaching
  • VIS 502- Graduate Teaching in Visual Arts
  • Other Department 200-289* (1 course, 4 units)
ELECTIVE REQUIREMENTS (5 courses, 20 units), choose from the following options:
  • Graduate Course (VIS 200+), any graduate course in VIS
  • Graduate Research (VIS 299), a maximum of 3 may be taken
  • Undergraduate Courses (upper-division), a maximum of 4 may be taken 
  • Directed Group Study (VIS 298), a maximum of 1 may be taken
PRE-ADMISSION ART HISTORY REQUIREMENT* (4 semester or 6 quarter courses), students needed to complete undergraduate Art History coursework prior to Admissions to the MFA. If not completed, the remaining coursework will need to be taken here:
  • Reading Courses (approved undergraduate courses)- Art History or Media Studies


*=indicates that a petition may be necessary. Check in with your Faculty Advisor and the Graduate Coordinator prior to enrolling in course(s) to ensure the course will meet necessary requirements

Yearly Critiques

All graduate students participate in one required Faculty Group Critique each year:  


  • Fall Quarter- Third year students
  • Winter Quarter- First year students
  • Spring Quarter- Second year students


All graduate students are required to publicly display their work in their studio and engage in discussion with a panel of 3 faculty during their Group Critique. The constituency of the panel will change quarterly, with an attempt to represent the breadth of the art making practice within the department. Critiques will usually take place during the eighth week of the quarter.

The body of work that will be presented at each Critique should consist of completed and properly exhibited new work and work in progress. The work in progress should represent the intent of the First Year Review for first year students. If the work is in progress for second and third year students, the public discussion will focus on where the work could go rather than where the work currently is. It is our hope that this important, early feedback will give the student an opportunity to make changes, if necessary, while the work is still in progress. Any written materials must be given to the committee at least one week prior to the Critiques. Completed and appropriately exhibited work is preferred.

Committee Constitution and Management

About the Committee

Graduate Student work will be reviewed by Faculty Committee at multiple intervals as each student progresses through their program. This committee conducts the first year review, supervises the preparation of the thesis, and evaluates the thesis presentation. Committee membership must meet specific guidelines outlined by Graduate Division and is approved by the students Committee Chair and Department Chair to ensure compliance.


Committee Constitution

The membership of a committee must be approved by at least Week 5, Winter Quarter of the first year.  Each student must submit the Appointment of Committee (MFA or PHD) form for review and approval. The Graduate Division website has additional information about committees and a Committee Membership Table which may be helpful in determining what role a faculty member may serve on a committee. The committee must consist of 4 members:

  • 3 Visual Arts Faculty (including the Chair/Co-Chair)
  • 1 tenured or emeritus faculty from outside the department


Submitting Your Committee

The completed committee form must be electronically submitted to the Graduate Division by the Graduate Coordinator. Please send the completed Appointment of Committee (MFA or PHD) form to the Graduate Coordinator via email at This request should be made at least Week 5 of Winter Quarter during your first year.


Changing Your Committee

It may be required to change the membership of your committee after approved. This can occur for a variety of reasons and needs to be discussed with your Committee Chair or Faculty Director. Any changes to your committee need to be formally approved by the Committee Chair and Department Chair, then forwarded for review by the Graduate Division. In this situation, the Committee Reconstitution Request form needs to be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator via email at This request should be made at least Week 5 of Winter Quarter during your first year.


Committee Management

It is the responsibility of the student, in consultation with their advisor/committee chair, to engage with and individually check-in with all committee members prior to their First Year Review and Thesis Presentation. 

First Year Review

This review takes place in the third quarter in residence. Students make a formal presentation of their work in a campus gallery to a faculty committee; this includes a position paper of 5000 words and an oral examination. This presentation is considered a departmental examination, and if at its conclusion the student’s work is judged to be inadequate, the student may be dismissed regardless of GPA, or may be reviewed again in the fourth quarter.


Student Process:

  1. Book gallery space (week as randomly selected during orientation)
  2. Work with the provisional advisor to form committee in accordance with campus policy.
  3. Cordinate with committee to book a time for oral exam (approximately 2 hours) and once confirmed, notify the Graduate Coordinator via the Virtual Advising Center ( with date/time.
  4. Winter quarter Monday of Week 5, Submit committee constitution form to 
  5. At least 2 weeks prior to show opening, position paper is shared with Committee Chair
  6. Position paper is circulated to the committee members at least 7 days prior to the meeting date.
  7. If the First Year Review is passed, complete the First Year Review form with the Committee Chair and email the form to the Graduate Coordinator at 
  8. If there are concerns regarding the progress of the work, the Committee Chair notes concerns on form with plan for next steps and turns into the Graduate Coordinator and MFA Faculty Coordinator.

MFA Thesis Presentation

Thesis Paper

A thesis is a work of research that demonstrates and investigates the context and process of the production of the work.  It should be produced out of discussion with the student's advisor and in dialogue with VIS 209 Seminar. It should be 7000 words minimum.


Thesis Show/Presentation of Work

During the last quarter in residence, each student is required to present to the public a coherent exhibition or screening of their work in one of the UC San Diego gallery spaces. 

We require that the thesis show is documented in a considered manner that can be used to archive the presentation of the work. 

A catalog is optional and a way to combine the thesis and the thesis show documentation images.


Typical Timeline for Spring Thesis

     Fall Quarter

  • Enroll in VIS 209
  • Reconnect with all Committee Members and confirm participation
  • Thesis Paper Draft submitted to Advisor/Committee Chair
  • With Advisor approval book appropriate on campus gallery space for Thesis Show
  • After fully enrolled for Winter Quarter, send notification to the Graduate Coordintor via the Virtual Advising Center to process the Advancement to Candidacy.

     Winter Quarter

     Spring Quarter

  • Review Preparing to Graduate 
  • Confirm Oral presentation/Thesis defense meeting with Committee
  • Book  Graduate Division Thesis meetings 
  • Format Thesis according to UC San Diego campus guidelines
  • Share with Promotions Manager your Thesis Show details
  • At least 2 weeks prior to Thesis defense, distribute final Thesis Paper to committee.
  • Confirm Thesis defense meeting date and Thesis Title with Graduate Coordinator via the Virtual Advising Center 1 week prior to defense.
  • Final Thesis paperwork will be distributed via DocuSign to the committee emails the day prior or day of the defense.

Grades and Evaluations


Only courses in which a student received grades of A, B, or S are allowed toward satisfaction of the requirements for the degree. Note that a “C” is generally regarded as unsatisfactory within this department. In satisfaction of all program requirements and electives, A, A-, and B+ are regarded as acceptable grades for seminars and courses. Grades of B, B- indicate weaknesses and are cause for concern. Grades of C+ or below are regarded as unsatisfactory and may lead to academic probation. University policy states that any student with more than 8 units of “U” and/or “F” grades is barred from future registration including the next available quarter. It is not recommended that students complete VIS 295/298/299 for a letter grade.


Grade Point Average

A graduate student must maintain a minimum grade point average of at least 3.0 (B average) to continue in good standing. A student is subject to dismissal if the overall grade point average falls below 3.0 at any time.


Spring Evaluation

Every Spring quarter, Advisors (in the first year Provisional Advisors) will submit an evaluation of their advisee’s progress to Graduate Division. Students are expected to submit a summary of the past academic year to their advisor. These evaluations serve as an important tool for students and advisors in assessing student progress, while also providing suggestions and goals for students’ successful completion of their projects.   

The Graduate Division will review the evaluations when student/departments are making specific requests for exceptions

Time Limits

Students would usually finish the majority of their coursework in 2 years, and must be advanced to candidacy by week 10 of the Winter quarter of their 3rd year. Students must be in residence for at least 2 years or 6 quarters before graduating.

MFA Current Students

You may view student profiles here

MFA Handbook

The department website and catalog are great resources for students to learn generally about the MFA program and progress towards their degree. There are detailed instructions and robust program information available in the full MFA Handbook. Each student should refer to this resource throughout their academic career.
MFA Exhibition


This site includes documentation of solo thesis shows from graduating MFA students as well as First Year Reviews. Past exhibitions include the 2021 Open Studios and the 2020 graduating MFA exhibition.

Open Studios