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MFA Program

MFA Program

Requirement Overview

Program Requirements

  1. Coursework, 72 units
  2. Annual Drifting Critiques
  3. First Year Review
  4. Second Year Exhibition
  5. Thesis Presentation



VA75- 18 courses, 72 units


CORE REQUIREMENTS (13 courses, 52 units)

  1. VIS 201- Contemporary Critical Issues
  2. VIS 202- Art practice
  3. VIS 203- Working Critique
  4. VIS 203- Working Critique
  5. VIS 205- Intro to Graduate Studies in Art Practice
  6. VIS 208- Thesis Exhibition
  7. VIS 209- Thesis Writing
  8. VIS 210-219 (1 course, 4 units)- Art Theory/Practice
  9. VIS 206, 230-262 (1 course, 4 units)- Art History Seminar
  10. VIS 295- Individual Studies
  11. VIS 500- Apprentice Teaching
  12. VIS 502- Graduate Teaching in Visual Arts
  13. Other Department 200-289 (1 course, 4 units)
ELECTIVE REQUIREMENTS (5 courses, 20 units), choose from any of 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 coursework in Art History, Media Studies or a related topic prior to Admissions to the MFA. If not completed, the remaining coursework will need to be taken here. Course options are: Art History (VIS 112-129) or Media Studies (VIS 150-159). Students who will need to take additional courses will be notified during Fall Quarter of their first year.


Quarter-by-Quarter Planning

This represents a general academic plan for students to appropriately make progress year-to-year within the MFA curriculum. Students are STRONGLY encouraged not to overenroll in courses. Each quarter that students are employed as a TA, they will also enroll in the corresponding VIS 500 course for 4 units with the MFA Faculty Director. Each quarter students must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 units.

Students are required to meet with an academic advisor annually regarding their academic planning.


Fall Quarter: VIS 205, VIS 502, VIS 299, VIS 500
Winter Quarter: VIS 201, VIS 202, one from VIS 210-219, VIS 500
Spring Quarter: VIS 203, grad course from outside of department, VIS 500


Fall Quarter: one from VIS 206 or 230-262, Elective course, VIS 500
Winter Quarter: Elective course, Elective course, VIS 500
Spring Quarter: VIS 208, Elective course, VIS 500


Fall Quarter: VIS 203, VIS 209, VIS 295, VIS 500
Winter Quarter: VIS 299 (8 units), VIS 500
Spring Quarter: VIS 299 (12 units)

Drifting Studio Visits

All graduate students participate in one required Drifting Studio Visit each year which is held on Friday, Week 8 of Winter Quarter, in conjunction with Open Studios.

Graduate students are required to present current work and/or research in-progress in their studio for 20-25 minutes and engage in discussion with an interdisciplinary panel of three Faculty during their visit. 

Drifting Studio Visits for first and second year MFAs serve to introduce students to a diversity of Faculty perspectives, art making practices and facilitate conversation in service of Thesis Committee formation. 

The Third Year Drifting Critique, also known as the Antin Prize Committee Critique, takes survey of third year students' work, discusses progress toward Thesis, and will also assess the originality and creativity of the work and select one winner for the David Antin Prize. This is a $1,000 prize that will be announced during the Winter Quarter Open Studios.

The constituency of the panel will change quarterly, with an attempt to represent the breadth of the art making practice within the department.

First Year Review

During the Spring Quarter of your first year, you will make a formal presentation of your body of work to your Provisional Faculty Advisor. The First Year Review consists of: 

Exhibition-  This shall include work produced during your first year in the MFA program. These presentations are held in the Commons Gallery (VAF 404, or other VAF spaces with approval of Facilities staff and the MFA Faculty Director), and weeks are assigned by lottery. Your presentation must be open to Faculty and Cohort for at least three days. You will be required to meet with your Provisional Faculty Advisor but should plan to invite other Faculty you are interested in learning from to view your exhibition to discuss your work.  

Artist Statement - An artist statement that considers the formal and conceptual aspects of the work in your First Year Review show. Statement should be up to 1500 words. 

Oral Exam- You will need to schedule a two-hour oral examination/review meeting with your Provisional Faculty Advisor in the Commons Gallery. During this time, they will review your work, artist statement and its relationship to the field of art. Feedback will be provided to the student in the form of oral or written notes by the Provisional Faculty Advisor, either at the end of the exam or within one week following the exam date. 

This presentation is considered a required departmental examination. Passing the First Year Review implies that you are doing well and making appropriate progress towards your degree completion. If the work presented at the First Year Review is considered unsatisfactory, you will have to rework the material over the summer in order to finalize the First Year Review at the beginning of the Fall Quarter of your second year. After this extension, continued unsatisfactory completion of the First Year Review will result in your withdrawal from the MFA Program.


Student Process:

  1. Book gallery space (week as randomly selected during orientation) and reserve any equipment necessary.
  2. Cordinate with your Provisional Faculty Advisor the scheduling for your oral exam (approximately 2 hours).
  3. Complete Artist Statement and provide to your Provisional Facutly Advisor two weeks before your exhibition week.
  4. Install exhibition.
  5. If the First Year Review is passed, complete the First Year Review form which will automatically route to your Provisional Faculty Advisor and Student Affairs Manager for processing.
  6. If there are concerns regarding the progress of the work, your Provisional Faculty Advisor notes concerns on form with plan for next steps.

Spring Evaluations

The Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA) requires that all MFA students be evaluated annually. To complete this evaluation:

  1. During the Spring Quarter of your first and second years in the program, department staff initiate the electronic review form with an email to your email address. This email contains a link to the evaluation system and instructions for you to complete your self-assessment. 
  2. Once your self-assessment is complete, your Faculty Advisor will submit an evaluation of your progress for that academic year. 
  3. Once your Faculty Advisor has provided feedback, you will review their response and sign the form.
  4. Lastly, the completed evaluation will be routed to GEPA for formal archiving with your academic records.

These evaluations serve as an important tool for students and advisors in assessing student progress, while also providing suggestions for students’ successful completion of the program. Spring Evaluations are important narrative documentation that illustrates your progress in the MFA Program, other than the official transcript. The Spring Evaluations are also reviewed and relied upon by GEPA if the department submits any requests for any exception to policy on your behalf.

Second Year Exhibition

During the Winter Quarter of your second year, you will make a presentation of your body of work to your Faculty Advisor, other invited Faculty and your cohort. The Second Year Exhibitions are held bi-weekly during Winter Quarter with multiple solo shows held at the same time. Location and weeks are assigned, in consideration of preferences, by the MFA Faculty Director. You should meet with your Faculty Advisor, and  invite other Faculty you are interested in learning from, to view your exhibition to discuss your work. This is especially important as in the Spring Quarter of the second year you will constitute your Thesis Committee. You have an opportunity during your Second Year Exhibition to meet with potential committee members to discuss your work, their availability and interest in supporting you during your third year.

This is an opportunity to evaluate your progress, ask questions of your Advisor, Faculty, and fellow grad students and work through your creative ideas and research to date.

Student Process:

  1. Book gallery space (week and location as assigned by the MFA Faculty Director) and reserve any equipment necessary.
  2. Cordinate with your Faculty Advisor, and other fauclty, a time to complete a Studio visit to view your Second Year Exhibition.
  3. Install exhibition.

Committee Constitution and Management

About the Committee

During the Spring Quarter of your second year, you will need to formally constitute your Thesis Committee. The members of your committee will supervise the preparation of your Thesis and evaluate the Thesis presentation. Your committee is selected in consultation with your Faculty Advisor and with each member's consent. In preparation for Committee formation, you should have met with each proposed member at least once for a studio visit or equivalent meeting. It is greatly advised that you discuss your research and creative plans, your expectations for Committee engagement, and understand the proposed Faculty members' availability and method of advising.


 The membership of your MFA Thesis Committee must include:

  • Three tenured or emeriti faculty from the Visual Arts Department
  • One tenured or emeritus member from outside of the Visual Arts Department


Expectations for Committee Members

You should plan to meet with your Committee members on a regular basis for studio visits, advising, or equivalent, as needed. Individual Faculty work with MFA students in different ways according to their pedagogy and availability, so please consider what your expectations for Committee participation means for you. This could be one studio visit per quarter, for example, but must be discussed and agreed upon in advance of your formal committee formation so that expectations for Committee participation are clearly understood. The MFA Program Director is available to help discuss these questions and advise in the case of Thesis Committee questions, concerns or other issues.


Submitting Your Committee

The completed committee form must be electronically submitted to the Graduate Division by the Student Affairs Manager. Please complete the Committee Constitution form which will automatically route to the Student Affairs Manager for processing. This request must be made during Spring Quarter of the Second Year.


Changing Your Committee

If for any reason you need to make changes to your Committee Chair or Committee membership, you need to first check-in with your Advisor/Committee Chair and/or the MFA Faculty Director. In consultation with them, it will be determined whether a formal change in membership is necessary. In this situation, the Committee Reconstitution Request needs to be submitted to the Student Affairs Manager for processing. This request must be made and fully processed prior to the Thesis presentation.

Advancement to Candidacy

The Advancement to Candidacy is an important step towards degree completion. Advancement indicates that you have completed or are in progress to completing the required coursework, evaluations and critiques for the MFA Program and have only the Thesis and defense to complete. To Advance to Candidacy, you must:

  1. Enroll in the last of your required coursework. For most students this is Fall Quarter of the third year.
  2. Once enrolled in the last of your required coursework, send a message to
  3. Staff will complete the GEPA forms necessary to process your Advancement to Candidacy. 
  4. GEPA will formally record your Advancement quarter as a part of your student record.

Once Advanced to Candidacy, you will still need to enroll in 12 units minimum for each of your remaining quarters to ensure that you are meeting the UCSD enrollment criteria for funding. To reach 12 units each quarter during the remainder of your third year,  you will enroll in 8-12 units of VIS 299 and 0-4 units of VIS 500. Departmental staff will properly advise you regarding the course enrollment that you need during this time. 

Students who have Advanced to Candidacy are eligible for Associate-In positions.

Thesis Presentation

Thesis Structure

Presentation of Work— During the last quarter in residence, you are required to present to the public a coherent exhibition, screening, or performance of your work. The exhibition,  screenings, or performance must run for a minimum of three consecutive week days. We require that the Thesis exhibition is documented in a considered manner that can be used to archive the presentation of your work. MFA Thesis Exhibitions are organized into four blocks according to the Department Calendar, and must be scheduled within these timeframes. Any request for special accommodations otherwise must be submitted to the MFA Faculty Director.

Oral Examination— Your Thesis Committee will administer an oral examination covering your work and its relationship to the field of art. You should plan to have the oral exam scheduled during the presentation of work. If needed, the oral exam could occur after the formal presentation of work, with approval of all Committee members. Since scheduling of these exams is very complex, you are asked to plan as early as possible with your Committee. 

Written Thesis— A Thesis is a research paper that demonstrates and investigates the context, process and purpose of your work.  The written Thesis should be produced out of discussion with your Committee Chair and in dialogue with the VIS 209 Thesis writing seminar.  It should be 7,000 words minimum with illustrations, footnotes and addendum as appropriate. All written material must comply with the GEPA formatting guidelines. The formatting manual and information regarding the submission of the Thesis can be found here. GEPA has Thesis formatting workshops at the beginning of each quarter. You will receive an email when those dates are announced.


Typical Timeline for Spring Thesis

     Fall Quarter

  • Enroll in remaining MFA required coursework, refer to individual academic plan. After fully enrolled for Fall Quarter, send notification to the Student Affairs Manager via so they can process the Advancement to Candidacy paperwork.
  • Attend Thesis Planning Meeting with MFA Faculty Director and Facilities staff. 
  • Submit week and location preference to MFA Faculty Director for Thesis Exhibition scheduling.
  • Reconnect with all Committee Members and confirm participation.
  • Thesis Paper Draft submitted to Advisor/Committee Chair.
  • Once Thesis week and location has been assigned, book the gallery space, reserve necessary equipment and notify Faculty Advisor and Committee Members.

     Winter Quarter

  • Enroll in VIS 299 (8 units) with Committee Chair and VIS 500 with MFA Faculty Director.
  • Confirm with Committee their Spring availability and select date for Thesis Oral Exam with Committee Members. 
  • You will continue finalizing your Thesis creative and research work. It may be helpful to check in with your Committee members or other Faculty for brief studio visits and feedback on written Thesis-in-progress. 
  • Attend Graduate Division Thesis Formatting meeting.
  • Confirm reservation of necessary Media equipment for Thesis show.
  • Send Department Promotions Manager a promotional image for your Thesis, for the purpose of Thesis Exhibition email blasts.

     Spring Quarter

  • Enroll in VIS 299 (12 units) with Committee Chair
  • Review Preparing to Graduate
  • Schedule the Thesis formatting meeting with the GEPA. This formatting meeting should be scheduled with at least 90% of your writing complete and an idea of how you will document your Thesis show. 
  • Confirm Thesis Oral Exam date and time with Committee Members.
  • Notify Student Affairs Manager of the Thesis defense meeting date and Thesis Title via
  • Format Thesis according to UC San Diego campus guidelines
  • At least 2 weeks prior to Thesis defense, distribute final Thesis Paper to committee.
  • Final Thesis paperwork will be distributed via DocuSign to the committee emails the day prior or day of the defense. 



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. 




All graduate students must complete:

  •  A minimum of 12.0 units of upper-division (numbered 100 and above) and graduate level courses (numbered 200 and above) per quarter. Lower-division undergraduate courses (numbered 1-99) may be taken by graduate students for interest or skills building but those units do not apply towards the minimum needed per quarter.
  • Successfully complete 36.0 units per year.  Failure to pass a total of 36.0 units in a year will result in the student being placed on academic probation by the university.  
  • 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.  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 expected that MFA students will take most courses for letter grades.  Those courses taken for Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grading rather than a letter grade will not have an impact on the GPA however they can still impact academic standing. 

All students are expected to complete the assigned coursework within the 10 weeks allocated for the course. During extenuating circumstances and with the written permission of the instructor, the grade “I” may be assigned to a student's work. An incomplete is intended when the work is of non-failing quality, but is incomplete due to problems beyond the student’s control, such as illness, family emergency, etc. The deadline for filing a request for an Incomplete shall be no later than the first working day after final examination week. An instructor may not grant a request for an Incomplete for other than such good cause. The instructor shall make arrangements with the student for completion of the work required at the earliest possible date, but no later than the last day of the finals week in the following quarter. If not replaced by this date, the “I” grade will lapse into an “F” and will be computed into the GPA.


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.



US citizens who are not California residents must establish CA residency by August prior to the start of the second year. This allows for the NonResident Supplemental Tuition (NRST) to be dropped for your second and third years in the program. This is required as the Department is only able to pay this additional tuition on behalf of the student during their first year in the program. To establish residency for tuition purposes is an easy process with the Residency Deputy on campus: If you do not establish California residency but are eligible, then you will be required to pay your NRST for each quarter until you establish residency or graduate. 

International Students are generally not able to establish CA Residency due to visa restrictions. The Department will fund 3 years/9 quarters of NRST for these students. Any International Students who need to enroll in coursework or graduate later than that will be required to pay their NRST.


Leave of Absence (LOA) 

Students needing to take a leave from the University with plans to return should notify the MFA Faculty Director, their Faculty Advisor and of their intention to do so at least one month in advance of the leave. Graduate Students who have completed a minimum of one quarter and maintain a 3.0GPA are eligible for up to 3 quarters of leave. Any student bearing a child or responsible for the caregiving of a child 5 years or younger is eligible for an additional 3 quarters of leave. During this time, students may pay to maintain their health insurance but will not be permitted to utilize any campus resources, maintain a department Studio and will not be able to hold any employment or receive financial support. Students need to check-in with each quarter to confirm their continued LOA plans or to process their return to campus. 

Some students may decide to withdraw from the University or no longer enroll in courses. Anytime you are taking a leave, you should discuss this with your Faculty Advisor. Once you are interested in returning to campus, must reapply for admission and pay a readmission fee to the Cashier’s Office. You also will need to meet with the MFA Faculty Director, your Faculty Advisor and administrative staff to learn what requirements need to be met based on the current catalog requirements for the MFA Program.


Time Limits

Students would usually finish the majority of their required coursework in 2 years, but must be Advanced to Candidacy no later than Week 10 of the Winter Quarter of their 3rd Year. Ideally students will be Advanced to Candidacy by Fall Quarter of the 3rd Year in order to allow the most time and best preparation for the Thesis presentation, paper and exam. Students must be in residence for at least 2 years or 6 quarters before graduating.


For international students, there is an additional tuition (NRST) charged to the Department each quarter enrolled. The Department of Visual Arts agrees to pay this supplemental tuition for normative time (3 years, 9 quarters). For International students who extend into the 4th Year, you are responsible for the NRST until you graduate.


Trainings/Systems Access

UCSD requires that all employees complete required trainings every 1-2 years in order to maintain access to campus systems. It is necessary that you stay up-to-date on these trainings as an expectation of your employment and funding guarantee. These required training reminders will be sent to you via email from the UC Learning Center.

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.
GRAD Exhibitions


This site includes documentation of solo thesis shows from graduating MFA students as well as First Year Reviews. Past exhibitions include the 2022 & 2021 Open Studios and the 2021 & 2020 graduating MFA exhibitions.

Open Studios