15 Most Affordable Online MFA Programs for 2023

15 Most Affordable Online MFA Programs for 2023
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

A master’s degree can help an individual make the most of their creative talents and increase their chances for success. With the proper knowledge, dedication, and focus, artists can open themselves to the possibilities of obtaining this educational milestone.

One might think that artists and other creative types only need inspiration to push their careers further. While that may be true for some, pursuing an advanced degree within a structured learning environment can help them challenge their creative boundaries in order to produce their best work. A graduate-level credential like a master’s degree in fine arts (MFA) allows students to deepen their artistic philosophy and master creative techniques for their professional growth.

This guide will give you more information about this credential, particularly the most affordable online programs, how much they cost, and what one can expect from the program. Students can compare MFA programs in various schools in terms of cost and coursework content. In this way, they can make an informed judgment when deciding where to pursue an online MFA program.

Most Affordable Online MFA Programs Table of Contents

  1. Cost of MFA Programs
  2. List of Most Affordable Online MFA Programs
  3. Paying for MFA Programs

Cost of MFA Programs

If you are wondering how much do MFA programs cost, the answer is that it varies widely per school. There are some schools that provide per-credit tuition only, while others quote a per-credit-hour rate and either a total program cost or average tuition cost per semester. For the most affordable online MFA programs on this list, the highest estimated total program cost is around $73,000 while the lowest is at around $24,000.

The trade-off of attending an on-site versus an online program is a topic that is of interest to researchers, especially with the shift to remote learning in view of the pandemic. In a paper published in the Journal of Labor Economics, Hemelt et al (2021) sought to investigate the factors behind cost differences in higher education. They found that there is “a negligible association between online credits and instructional costs; coefficients are close to zero, insignificant, and inconsistent in sign. The estimates from column 3 imply that adoption of any online coursework is associated with a 0.4% cost increase and that a 10 percentage point increase in online intensity is associated with a 1.4% cost decrease, though neither of these is significant. We view these estimates as small, especially given the attention paid to the cost-saving potential of online instruction.” However, students must keep in mind that traditional face-to-face MFA programs would need students to spend on housing fees, meals, and transportation. With this, online options offer a viable alternative to students who are on a budget, live out of state, or who have work or family commitments to fulfill.

List of Most Affordable Online MFA Programs

Creative types who wish to further hone their craft can pursue MFA degrees in various fields, such as painting, writing, visual arts, graphic design, and interior design. Below is a list of the most affordable online MFA programs.

1. Savannah College of Art and Design: MFA in Painting

Total course of study: 90 hours
Quarterly tuition (full-time student, three courses per quarter): $13,080

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) MFA in Painting program is designed to help students explore their creativity for them to develop a portfolio and exhibit their work in a gallery. Students can choose to incorporate related major and minor programs like photography, sculpture, art history, and more to make their artistic pursuits interdisciplinary. Aside from online delivery, the degree is also offered onsite at the Atlanta and Savannah campuses. The onsite option gives students access to facilities, such as a world-class museum, individual studios, model rooms, computer labs, printmaking facilities, and ceramics facilities (Savannah College of Art and Design, n.d.).

2. Lindenwood University: Online Master of Fine Arts in Writing (MFA)

Credit hours: 48
Cost per credit: $520
Total cost (Two years): $24,960

Lindenwood University’s Online Master of Fine Arts in Writing (MFA) is a two-year graduate degree that can be taken fully online. Through this award-winning program, students are expected to produce works of creative writing through small group settings. Students can choose from three foundational options: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. They can also pick from different core courses according to their interests. Aspiring student writers can participate in workshops, literature classes, and craft classes online. Fully online students do not have residency requirements. However, students can take some of the degree coursework on-campus if they prefer (Lindenwood University, n.d.). Recent data indicate that 72% of fiction writers have bachelor’s degrees while only 12% have master’s degrees. Thus, an MFA in writing will help one stand out from other writers (Zippia, n.d.).

3. Regent University: MFA in Film-Television

Total credit hours: 44
Average Tuition per Semester (full-time students): $5,850

The MFA in Film-Television degree from Regent University allows students to take a faith-based approach in learning all aspects of the film and TV business. They can learn to research and conceptualize all phases of a project, market their project for global distribution, and manage the financial aspect of production. Upon completion of the degree, they are expected to have a portfolio to exhibit professional competence. Students can choose from three concentrations: directing, producing, and screenwriting (Regent University, n.d.).

4. Bay Path University: Creative Nonfiction Writing (MFA)

Total credit hours: 39
Tuition (per credit hour): $775
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $30,225

Bay Path’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing is designed for aspiring writers who want to gain an understanding of and publish work in creative nonfiction. Students can choose from three tracks: publishing, narrative medicine, and teaching. The program incorporates writing workshops where students submit a written piece and receive feedback from the entire class through a discussion led by the facilitator. This fully online program has no residency requirement. Students also have the option to participate in an optional week-long immersion in Dingle, Ireland (Bay Path University, n.d.).

5. Vermont College of Fine Arts: MFA in Visual Arts

Semester tuition (six months): $12,538.00
Total (per six-month semester): $13,906.00
Estimated two-year program cost: $57,434.00

The MFA in Visual Arts degree at the Vermont College of Fine Arts allows students to explore art and articulate their ideas through various media. The program boasts more than 1,500 artist-mentors who guide students as they complete a semester-long studio project. It also features 10 visiting artists every residency, which the school has adapted to the pandemic through remote residencies. During a student’s nine-day residency, they can join various activities, such as student exhibitions, thematic symposia, individual and group critiques, and faculty and guest lectures (Vermont College of Fine Arts, n.d.). After program completion, one can pursue other fields in design, which pay an average of $74,651 as of 2019 (Data USA, 2019).

Source: Data USA (2019)

6. Southern New Hampshire University: Online MFA in Creative Writing

Total credit hours: 48
Tuition (per credit hour): $627
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $30,096

The Online MFA in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University enables students to learn the various aspects of creative writing, with a focus on the fiction genre. The program offers a comprehensive overview of the business and technical side of professional writing, including book promotion, the publishing ecosystem, building an audience through social media. Students will also learn to work with agents, editors, and other industry professionals and be able to teach writing in a class (Southern New Hampshire University, n.d.).

7. Albert Magnus College: MFA in Writing

Total credit hours: 36
Tuition (per credit): $793
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $28,548

The Albert Magnus College MFA in Writing is a two-year, no-residency creative writing program that caters to students with busy professional and family lives. Students can study the writing genre of their choice in an online or in-person format with interactive workshops. They can expect guidance from faculty members who are published poets, short story writers, authors of academic monographs, and creative non-fiction writers. The school’s writing courses train students in writing an effective outline and project synopsis and in executing a writing project for a certain genre (Albert Magnus College, n.d.).

8. University of Houston-Victoria: Creative Writing MFA

Total credit hours: 36
Graduate program cost (tuition and fees): $16,281

The Creative Writing MFA of the University of Houston-Victoria is a nationally ranked program due to its quality and affordability. It aims to help students create, critique, and revise literary works in fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or poetry. The program includes creative writing workshops, literature or publishing electives, and a master’s thesis. By the end of the program, students are expected to submit a book-length work of either poetry, short stories, creative fiction, or a novel (University of Houston-Victoria, n.d.).

9. Arcadia University: Creative Writing M.F.A

Total credit hours: 39
Part-time graduate program tuition: $795/credit
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $31,005

Arcadia University’s low-residency program in creative writing prepares students for a career in the writing industry and at the academe. The program features weekly online workshops and peer review sessions. By the end of the program, students are expected to come up with a thesis, which can either be a novel or a collection of short fiction for fiction students or pages of verse for poetry students. Students can also have a study-abroad residency in Edinburgh, Scotland. Moreover, under the school’s 4+2 program, junior students in B.A. Creative Writing can apply for the Creative M.F.A during their junior year (Arcadia University, n.d.).

10. Liberty Online University: Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design

Total credit hours: 60
Cost per credit hour: $565
Total Estimated Cost: $37,573

The MFA in Fine Arts in Graphics Design at Liberty Online University lets students explore various aspects of digital art such as 3D art, publication, game design, vector illustration, and digital photography. Classes are taught online from a Christian perspective. Students are expected to complete an internship and a 90-hour practicum, plus a portfolio project (Liberty Online University, n.d.). It is interesting to note that Asian graphic designers earn more than other ethnicities, posting an average annual salary of $55,094 (Zippia, 2022).

Most Affordable Online MFA

11. Brenau University: Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design

Total credit hours: 36
Cost per credit hour: $755
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $27,180

Brenau University’s MFA in Interior Design is designed to equip students to have the needed evidence-based design skills for both practice and research. During the course of the program, they will tackle current challenges in interior design and learn the communication skills to share these issues with other students. Students are required to develop and teach an interior design course, formulate a research topic, then write a thesis based on their evidence-based research. They will showcase their final design and teaching portfolio at a student exhibit (Brenau University, n.d.). In the U.S., having a master’s degree in interior design means more earnings, with master’s degree holders earning $66,000 in median annual income and bachelor’s degree holders earning $53,907 median annual income (PayScale, 2023).

Source: Zippia, PayScale

12. Academy of Art University: Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree

Total units: 63 units
Cost per credit hour: $1,171 per unit
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $73,773

The Academy of Art University’s MFA Degree allows students to master the visual communication skills needed in drawing or painting in their chosen media. Under the program, they will learn how to develop projects, from conducting research and exploring ideas to choosing materials and evaluating their work. It will also equip them with the communication skills needed to give presentations or to put their ideas into writing. At the culmination of the program, students are required to pass a thesis project and display their work in a professional gallery exhibit (Academy of Art University, n.d.).

13. Seton Hill University: Writing Popular Fiction (M.F.A)

Total units: 63 units
Cost per credit: $835
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $52,605

The Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. at Seton Hill University is geared towards new or experienced writers who would like to create works in various fiction genres. These include horror, fantasy, mystery, romance, young adult, and science fiction. Students can enjoy an active writing community where workshops, one-on-one mentoring, and an on-campus writer’s residency are conducted. By the end of the program, students are expected to submit novel-length writing projects. The course opens the doors for students to various career options. These include freelance writers, genre authors, postsecondary teachers, and industry professionals in publishing, editing, bookselling, and marketing (Seton Hill University, n.d.).

14. Radford University: MFA in Design Thinking

Total In-State Graduate Tuition and Fees: $6,267.50
Academic Year Total: $12,535
Estimated total program cost based on per-credit figures: $25,070

Radford University’s MFA in Design Thinking provides students with a framework for solving a wide range of international and domestic issues. Under this program, students can learn about design thinking, history, research, and management. As it is fully online, students can gain experimental opportunities by working with teams in virtual studios. Upon completion of the degree, students can expand their careers not only in design-related jobs but also in business and higher education. They are also well-equipped for leadership positions as the degree is comparable to an executive MBA (Radford University, n.d.).

15. National University: MFA in Creative Writing

Cost per quarter unit: $442
4.5 Quarter Unit Course: $1,989

National University’s MFA in Creative Writing is for aspiring authors who want to publish their script, novel, poetry, or creative nonfiction work despite having busy professional lives. Coursework for the program includes core classes in poetry, fiction, screenwriting, or creative nonfiction as well as elective classes in film theory, multicultural literature, historical literary periods, or a critical study of a famous author. The program also features accelerated courses that students can finish in one to two months. By the end of the program, students must complete a thesis consisting of a completed manuscript or feature-length script (National University, n.d.).

Paying for MFA Programs

To further lower the cost of affordable MFA programs, students who wish to enroll can look into the following tuition aid options:

  • Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Every year, the U.S. Department of Education gives over $120 billion in financial aid to students. Types of student aid from FAFSA include Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study Program, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).
  • Scholarships. Most schools offer scholarships based on academic merit, leadership skills, athletic prowess, financial need, or lineage to a school alumnus. For example, the Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) has a SCAD Honors program that awards a limited number of scholarships to those who demonstrate outstanding academic or artistic achievement. There is also the Legacy Scholarship for dependents of SCAD alumni, Multicultural Student Scholarship, and SCAD Endowed Scholarship for Black Students. There are also schools that have scholarship programs that specifically cater to online students, such as the Online and Continuing Education Scholarship and the Online and Continuing Education Scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University.
  • Military Benefits. Some schools allow students to claim military education benefits under the GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance, and more. For example, as a designated military school, Lindenwood University offers students military tuition assistance for active, eligible military students to cover expenses with a maximum of $250 per credit hour.

Moving Forward with an MFA

One misconception that comes to mind when one mentions artists is that of a starving professional. Yet, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that craft and fine artists earn median annual wages slightly above that of the total occupations in the U.S. Moreover, employment prospects for artists from 2020 to 2030 are bright, considering it has a growth rate of 14%, which is faster than the average for all occupations (U.S. BLS, 2021). Professionals can move their art and design careers forward with affordable MFA programs. With the various affordable programs that are available online, one need not sacrifice one’s budget to achieve his or her desired career progression.



  1. Academy of Art University. (n.d.). Fine Art. Academy of Art University. https://www.academyart.edu/degree/fine-art/?degree=mfa
  2. Albert Magnus College. (n.d.). Master of Fine Arts in Writing. https://www.albertus.edu/fine-arts/mfa/
  3. Arcadia University. (n.d.). Creative Writing B.A./M.F.A. 4+2. https://www.arcadia.edu/academics/programs/creative-writing-ba-mfa
  4. Bay Path University. (n.d.). MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing. Bay Path University. https://www.baypath.edu/academics/graduate-programs/creative-nonfiction-mfa/
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 8). U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Craft and Fine Artists. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  6. Data USA. (n.d.). Visual & Performing Arts. Data USA. https://datausa.io/profile/cip/visual-performing-arts
  7. Hemelt, S.W., Stange, K.M., & Sawyer, J.E. (2020, February). Why is Math Cheaper than English? Understanding Cost Differences in Higher Education. Journal of Labor Economics. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/709535
  8. Liberty University. (n.d.). Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design (MFA). https://www.liberty.edu/online/communication-and-the-arts/masters/graphic-design/
  9. Lindenwood University. (n.d.). Online Master of Fine Arts in Writing (MFA). https://online.lindenwood.edu/programs/mfa-masters-writing/
  10. National University. (n.d.). The Online MFA: Creative Writing. National University. https://www.nu.edu/resources/online-mfa-creative-writing/
  11. Radford University. (n.d.). About the MFA in Design Thinking. Radford University. https://www.radford.edu/content/grad/home/academics/graduate-programs/design-thinking/about.html
  12. Regent University. (n.d.). MFA in Film-Television. Regent University. https://www.regent.edu/program/mfa-in-film-television/
  13. Savannah College of Art and Design. (n.d.). Paint outside the lines. Savannah College of Art and Design. https://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/painting
  14. Seton Hill University. (n.d.). Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. Seton Hill University. https://www.setonhill.edu/academics/graduate-programs/writing-popular-fiction-mfa/
  15. Southern New Hampshire University. (n.d.). Online MFA in Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts. Southern New Hampshire University. https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/mfa-in-creative-writing
  16. University of Houston-Victoria. (n.d.). Creative Writing MFA. University of Houston-Victoria. https://www.uhv.edu/majors-degrees/creative-writing-mfa/
  17. Vermont College of Fine Arts. (n.d.). MFA in Visual Art. Vermont College of Fine Arts. https://vcfa.edu/programs/mfa-in-visual-art/
  18. Zippia. (2021, September 9) Fiction Writer Demographics and Statistics in the U.S. Zippia. https://www.zippia.com/fiction-writer-jobs/demographics/
  19. Zippa. (2021, September 9). Graphic Designer Demographics and Statistics In The US. Zippia. https://www.zippia.com/graphic-designer-jobs/demographics/
  20. Zippia. (2021, September 9). Interior Designer Demographics and Statistics in the U.S.  Zippia. https://www.zippia.com/interior-designer-jobs/demographics/

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