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. 

Application Deadline: January 10 - $90 Application Fee

Priority Deadline: December 1 - $45 Application Fee

Apply online via Slideroom

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. When you click the "submit" button on 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).

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

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
36 S. Wabash Ave., Suite 1201
Chicago, IL 60603

Write a 500 to 700 word statement of purpose that describes the history of your interests and experience in your program of choice. Include your personal and professional motivations and goals, and your reasons for pursuing graduate study at SAIC, as well as any potential goals for the future.

A statement of intent is required for all graduate programs though the content varies by department. You will upload your statement of purpose to the Attachments section of your E-Portfolio.

2 Letters of Reference are required.

You are responsible for securing 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.

A current résumé is required.

A resume is required for all graduate programs. Upload your résumé to the Attachments section in your E-Portfolio.

Submit a 10-20 page critical writing sample that addresses a particular topic in visual and critical studies. The sample can also be in the form of writings that interpret and/or contextualize an accompanying selection of found images (excerpted from newspapers, magazines, film or TV).

Applicants are required to submit an E-Portfolio, though the content varies by department. Please visit your individual program of interest to find details. You must submit a separate E-Portfolio for each program or studio department to which you apply. After you pay the application fee and submit the application form, an E-Portfolio for each of the programs you selected in the application form will automatically appear in your SlideRoom dashboard.

Submission 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)

TOEFL: 100 

IELTS: 7 

DUOLINGO: 75

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 the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and Duolingo. 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.

Although no interview is required, applicants are welcome to contact the Department of Visual and Critical Studies to request an informational interview with the graduate program coordinator at 312.345.3707 or vcs@saic.edu.

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.