Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts

The Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts (Low-Res MFA) program is designed for the 21st-century artist whose work and life demands both a rigorous engagement with an artistic community as well as flexibility, fluidity, and a self-directed approach.

Low-Residency MFA Online Info Session

Join us to learn more about the program curriculum and admissions requirements.

Tuesday, August 6, 6:30 p.m. (CT)


Graduate Programs Summer Meet and Greet
Wednesday, August 7, 6:00 - 8:00 pm.
Join us at the historic Roger Brown Study Collection in Chicago to meet with SAIC Graduate Admissions and learn more about our graduate programs.

Accepting Applications for Summer 2019

SAIC's Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts program is open to artists, writers, educators, curators, and historians. The admissions requirements differ depending on your current professional direction. Please see the requirements below.

If you are ready to apply to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) Low Residency Master of Fine Arts (LRMFA) program, you will need to first submit SAIC's Graduate Application form and then a corresponding ePortfolio for the Low Residency department. ePortfolios are required for each additional program to which you wish to apply. All submissions happen via the software SlideRoom.

Completed Online Application

SAIC requires applicants to apply online. Filing an online application requires a valid credit card and a current email address. You may apply to up to three programs with one application and fee. If you are applying to either the MFA in Studio or the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Studio you may select up to three departments of entry. Applications must be submitted prior to 11:00 p.m. (CST) on the appropriate deadline.

Start your SAIC Graduate Application

Questions? Contact the Office of Admissions at gradmiss@saic.edu or 800.232.7242

Nonrefundable Application Fee

When you click the "submit" button on your the Graduate Application form, you will be prompted to enter credit card information to pay the application fee. Your application form is not fully submitted until you have entered your credit card information. Under no circumstances will an application fee be waived or refunded. After you submit the application form you will be directed to a dashboard where you can begin working on your ePortfolio(s).

Application fee: $90
Application fees will be discounted by 50% through December 1.

Official College Transcripts

During the application process an unofficial transcript is acceptable for review pending an Admissions decision. Official transcripts are required upon admission. Include transcripts both official and unofficial from all universities/colleges from which a degree was obtained or prerequisites were fulfilled. You can attach unofficial transcripts as .pdf or .jpg files in the Educational History section of the application form. If you are in the process of completing a bachelor's degree when you apply, a transcript showing your first three years of study is acceptable.

Transcripts are considered official if sent directly from the degree- or credit-granting institution to the SAIC Graduate Admissions Office. Hard copy transcripts are considered official if the documents remain in the registrar's original signed and sealed envelopes.

Official transcripts can be sent both in digital and hard-copy format. Digital transcripts can be sent from the degree- or credit-granting institution to gradmiss@saic.edu. Hard copy transcripts can be mailed to:

SAIC Graduate Admissions
36 S. Wabash Ave., Suite 1201
Chicago, IL 60603

Statement of Purpose

Write an 800- to 1,000-word statement that describes your work or research. Discuss how you came to focus on the medium, body of work, or academic area you wish to pursue at the graduate level. Also discuss future directions or goals for your work, and describe how SAIC's Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Studio is particularly suited to your professional goals. Upload your statement of purpose to the Attachments section of your ePortfolio.

Letters of Recommendation

You are responsible for securing two letters of recommendation from persons who are qualified to write about your potential for success at SAIC. If you are currently a student or are a recent graduate, we recommend you request letters of recommendation from current or former instructors.

Letters of recommendation should be submitted electronically via the References section of the application form. In this section you will be asked to provide an email address for each of your references. Once you click "send request," an email will be sent from SlideRoom to your references with instructions on how to submit their recommendations online.

If your references are unable to provide an online recommendation please contact the Graduate Admissions office at gradmiss@saic.edu.


Applicants are required to submit an ePortfolio. You must submit a separate ePortfolio for each program or studio department to which you apply. After you pay the application fee and submit the application form, an ePortfolio for each of the programs you selected in the application form will automatically appear in your SlideRoom dashboard.

If you are applying to the Low-Residency MFA in Studio as a studio artist, your portfolio should include samples of your recent work documented in 15–20 still images, or up to 15 minutes of time-based work, or a combination of 10 images and 10 minutes of time-based work. Support materials may include notes and scores and other similar items.

If you are applying to the Low-Residency MFA as a writer, your portfolio should include the following samples of your recent writing from at least one of the following genres:

  • 8 to 10 poems with or without critical commentary OR
  • 2 short stories or 2 short excerpts from a novel OR
  • 2 short works of nonfiction or 2 short excerpts from longer non-fiction essays OR
  • 2 recently published or delivered critical essays or scholarly papers


If you are applying to the Low-Residency MFA as a curator, your portfolio should include the following samples of your recent work:

  • 3 recent or pending curatorial project proposals accompanied by relevant text and images outlining each proposed project


If you are applying to the Low-Residency MFA as an educator, your portfolio should include the following samples of your recent work:

  • 3 sample syllabi along with support material describing your pedagogical philosophy or your personal artistic practice OR
  • 2 samples of written work in the education field—essays, conference papers, directed creative writing OR
  • 10–15 still images of your current studio work with annotated labels


Image specifications:

  • Images: .jpg, .gif, .pdf (up to 5 MB each)
  • Videos: .flv, .wv, .mov (up to 60 MB each)
  • Audio: .mp3 (up to 10 MB each)
  • Text documents: MUST be in .pdf format (up to 10 MB each)



Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Studio candidate interviews are not required.


A current résumé is optional. You may upload your résumé to the Attachments section in your ePortfolio.

International Applicants

International applicants are required to submit evidence of English language proficiency. You are waived from this requirement if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • Your native language is English
  • You have an undergraduate degree conferred by a U.S. accredited university
  • You have an undergraduate degree conferred by a university whose primary language of instruction is English


If you do not meet one of these conditions, you must submit official English language proficiency test scores. You are strongly encouraged to schedule a language proficiency test appointment as early as possible in order to receive official test scores prior to the application deadline. SAIC accepts official scores from both Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The TOEFL Institution Code for SAIC is 1713. Please upload an unofficial copy of your test score results to the International Requirements section of the application form.

Minimum Required Scores

IELTS: 6.5

More information about the TOEFL.

More information about the IELTS.

Official test scores that meet the minimum requirement must be received by the application deadline.

Academic Records

Transcripts are records of your studies that list the courses you completed, the grades received, and provide evidence of degree conferral. They may include grade sheets, exam results, final diplomas, degrees, or graduation certificates. Official copies are issued in the original language directly by your university. Copies must bear the official stamp or seal of the institution, as well as the signature of the appropriate official such as the dean, rector, registrar, controller of examinations, or office of teaching affairs. Photos, notarized copies, facsimiles, or email transmissions are not acceptable.

Official translations are expected for all educational documents issued in a language other than English. A translation agency or university language department should issue official translations typed on official stationary and the translator must attest proficiency in the original language and indicate their translations are accurate word-for-word.


A conferred four-year baccalaureate degree or its equivalent is required for admission to all graduate programs at SAIC.


Studio 36
Art History/Theory 18
Flex Credits 6
Participation in all Graduate Studio Seminars  
Participation in Graduate Exhibition or equivalent  
Total Credit Hours 60


  Summer Fall Spring Any semester
Year 1
  • Graduate Studio Seminar (4.5)
  • Art History/Theory: Attention (3)
  • Professional Practice: Digital Interfaces (1.5)
  • Graduate Projects: Ind. Studio (Program Mentor) (3)
  • Art History/Theory: Art Ideas (3)
  • Graduate Projects: Ind. Studies (Alumni Advisor) (3)
  • Art History/Theory: Writing Art (3)
  • Completion of Flex Credits 
Year 2
  • Graduate Studio Seminar (4.5)
  • Art History/Theory: Sensation (3)
  • Professional Practice: Cultural Liaisons (1.5)
  • Graduate Projects: Ind. Studio (Program Mentor) (3)
  • Art History/Theory: Special Topics (3)
  • Graduate Projects: Ind. Studies (Program Mentor) (3)
  • Thesis Composition (4.5)
  • Completion of Flex Credits
Year 3
  • Graduate Studio Seminar (4.5)
  • Art History/Theory: Perception (3)
  • Thesis: Public Presentation (1.5)
  • Professional Practices: Expanded Networks (1.5)


Flex Credits

As part of their 60 credit MFA degree, students will choose 6 Flex Credits. Flex Credits can be taken in all semesters, time permitting, and with consent of Director.

The Low-Residency curriculum includes 6 "Flex Credits" that can be customized based on the student's needs. These credits can be satisfied in a number of ways:

  • SAIC study trips (during either First Year Winter or Second Year Winter sessions)
  • OxBow (over the summer, time permitting)
  • Guided study courses with SAIC faculty
  • On-campus graduate courses offered during the winter interim or summer terms (time permitting)
  • Increasing the credit load of Graduate Projects

All Low-Residency MFA students may elect to earn 3 or 6 hours of credit with each Graduate Project advisor. This option is designed to allow for the maximum flexibility in designing one's program. Students can earn as few as 3 and as many as 6 credits with each advisor each semester. The number of credits earned by the student has no correlation with the length or frequency of the advising sessions or to faculty assessment of student work.

All LRMFA students must take the required Art History credits within the low residency program. However, students may elect to take additional Art History courses as part of the Flex Credits.


Low-Res MFA Degree Requirements and Specifications


  1. Completion schedule: Students have a maximum of five years to complete the coursework and submit a final, approved thesis. This includes time off for leaves-of-absence.
  2. Transfer credits: A minimum of 45 credit hours must be completed in residence at SAIC. Up to 15 transfer credits may be requested at the time of application for admission and are subject to approval at that time. Transfer credits are possible at the discretion of the Program Director. No transfer credit will be permitted after a student is admitted.


Full-time status minimum requirement: 9 credit hours during summer semesters, 6 credit hours during the fall and spring semesters, and, if enrolled, 3 credit hours during the winter semester.

The Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts (Low-Res MFA) program, acknowledges that contemporary artists and writers have a fluidity of practice that often adopts strategies that are not specific to any one medium, method, or environment. The seven semester program is shaped around the evolving needs of arts practitioners, and is designed for 21st-century artists and writers to meet new challenges through a deepened engagement with contemporary issues, theories, and skills.

Students participate in three, six-week consecutive summer residencies at SAIC; fall and spring off-campus sessions, including regular consultation with SAIC alumni advisors in students' geographic locations; remote instruction made possible through online delivery systems; a choice of various "flex credit" options; and a final exhibition in which significant thesis projects and their written accompaniments will be presented to the public.

Thesis Abstracts

Each year, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago celebrates the culmination and closure of students' studies at the masters level. In studio areas, the celebration takes place in the form of the thesis exhibitions. The academic areas complement this with the publication of students' theses.

The SAIC Thesis Repository contains theses submitted since Spring 2016.

Summer 2019 Residency Dates

June 16th, 2019 - Orientation
June 17th, 2019 - First Day of Classes
July 11th, 2019 - MFA Exhibition Opening
July 26th, 2019 - Open Studio Night
July 27th, 2019 - Last Day of Classes
July 28th, 2019 - Commencement