You are here

Visual and Critical Studies: Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies

SAIC's Master of Arts (MA) in Visual and Critical Studies program integrates scholarly, studio, and hybrid research practices. It is designed for students who wish to pursue a scholarly and creative investigation of practices of looking and the production, circulation, and impact of visual images. 

Chicago Graduate SAIC Day

Sunday, October 1
10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Discuss your work one-on-one with key faculty members from our graduate departments.


The Department of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) requires an online application for its Master of Arts (MA) in Visual and Critical Studies program. You will need a valid credit card and current email address in order to complete the form. Please review the following requirements carefully before submitting your application:

  • There is an $90 nonrefundable application fee. The application fee is discounted by 50 percent through December 1.
  • You must upload a 500- to 750-word statement of purpose that describes your body of work, and discusses how you came to focus on visual and critical studies at the graduate level. Also discuss future directions or goals for your work, and finally, describe how the Visual and Critical Studies program is suited to your professional goals. Upload your statements of purpose via your ePortfolio
  • In addition to your application, you must submit an ePortfolio. Your portfolio should include a 10–20 page critical writing sample that addresses a particular topic in visual and critical studies. Applicants are welcome to submit a portfolio consisting of found images excerpted from newspapers, magazines, film, or TV, accompanied by a written statement contextualizing the selections. Though not required, it is recommended that applicants with backgrounds in studio art or design submit a visual, audio, or related arts portfolio in addition to the required writing sample. Please note: SlideRoom accepts a maximum of 20 media items, including the critical writing sample. 
  • A current résumé is required to be uploaded in the online application.

You also must submit an official college transcript and two letters of reference for admission into the program. You can ask your references to upload their letter to your online application or mail them directly to the school. 

The Department of Visual and Critical Studies may contact some candidates for an interview after all applications have been reviewed. For more information on the application and admissions process, visit the graduate admissions website.


VCS 5003 History and Theory of Visual Studies  3  
VCS 5004 Research and Production  3  
VCS 5010 Topics in VCS  9  
VCS 5999 Thesis I  3  
VCS 6999 Thesis II  3  
External criticism, theory, or methodology courses relevant to individual research—these courses are selected in consultation with the graduate director. 6  
Electives—Advanced academic courses (liberal arts, art history, etc.), studio advising, co-op internships, or otherwise relevant engagement including directed and independent studies. 9  
Completion of thesis   
Total Credit Hours 36 

Degree requirements and specifications

  1. Completion schedule: Students have a maximum of four years from entry into the program to complete course work and submit a final thesis. This includes time off for leaves-of-absences. Thesis in Progress: Students who have not submitted a finished thesis for review and approval by the end of the final semester of enrollment are given a Thesis in Progress grade (IP). All students with a Thesis in Progress grade (IP) will be charged the Thesis in Progress Fee in each subsequent full semester until the thesis is completed and approved and the grade is changed to Credit (CR). If the statute of limitations is reached without an approved thesis, the grade will be changed to No Credit (NCR).
  2. Transfer credits: A minimum of 30 credit hours must be completed in residence at SAIC. Up to 6 transfer credits may be requested at the time of application for admission and are subject to approval at that time. No transfer credit will be permitted after a student is admitted.
  3. Graduate Projects: Master of Arts students who are working on studio projects as a part of their degree requirement may enroll in MFA 6009 Graduate Projects. Students are limited to a total of 6 credits of graduate projects over a four semester period. Any MA student wishing to take a graduate project must obtain permission from both the advisor with whom they wish to study and the Dean of Graduate Studies. Students will receive a permission number from the faculty to register for the advisor's section of MFA 6009 Graduate Projects. MA students should meet with their department head to confirm that graduate advising is the type of class they need to fulfill graduation requirements.
  4. Full-Time Status Minimum Requirement: 9 credit hours

The Master of Arts (MA) in Visual and Critical Studies program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is designed for students interested in the scholarly and creative investigation of the production, dissemination, and impact of visual images, objects, experiences, and practices. With the visual as a starting point, students use multiple methods of critical investigation to study the interactions between visual phenomena and their historical, disciplinary, and social contexts.