Curriculum Overview and Courses

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)
  • Ox-Bow (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.


Graduate Studio Seminar

Students are expected to arrive with completed and semi-completed works and be prepared to make and re-make new works throughout the summer sessions. Summer sessions in the Low-Res MFA program consist of weekly studio visits and weekly colloquia. You will meet individually and in small groups with core faculty and visiting artists in your studios. Visiting artists will give public presentations and lead weekly colloquia in all-day Saturday gatherings including all students, core faculty and visitors. A wide variety of readings chosen by faculty will guide discussions that concentrate on problems concerning methods of artmaking, distribution, and interpretation. Readings will include examples drawn from the emerging category of conceptual writing as well as crucial art historical texts, literature and poetry. Graduating students will use summer critique sessions to gain constructive feedback on the final stages of studio and written productions for defense.

Art History, Theory, and Criticism (on campus and online)

Throughout the program, you will engage in interdisciplinary, faculty-driven, student-responsive seminar courses designed for both face-to-face and online delivery that will introduce you to critical texts and theoretical positions in contemporary praxis. For Low-Res MFA students, the required Graduate Survey of Modern and Contemporary Art (ARTHI 5002) will be delivered in the second summer primarily using the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection and temporary exhibitions. All other Art History on-campus and online courses will be thematically focused.

Professional Practices

For the Low-Res MFA, a series of specialized professional practice courses will be offered throughout the three years. During the first summer, you will be introduced to online library resources and to all digital research, communication, and dissemination tools necessary for your use during off-campus semesters. In the second summer, student-initiated interviews, site visits, conversations, and tours of cultural partner organizations in Chicago will increase your exposure to other arts-related professional contexts. In your final year, you will be supported in developing the networks, tools, resources, and contacts needed to continue transitioning from a graduate program to your desired professional contexts.

MFA Thesis Studio

In your final semester, you will enroll in advisor-led, intensive graduate thesis studios focused on the production of advanced work and writing to be exhibited, published, and defended in the final thesis presentation. You must publicly exhibit/perform your final thesis project and submit for review a self-published written accompaniment to a community of faculty and peers at SAIC. Off-campus development of individualized research plans will help focus your explorations of historical, theoretical, and material studies. Within thesis studios, you will be introduced to research methods, self-publishing platforms, general graphic design skills, and print-on-demand specifications.

Graduate Projects (SAIC Alumni Advisors)

During your off-campus semesters you will be expected to engage in independent work and research from your home studio or mobile platforms. The continued development of ideas and approaches initiated during summer Graduate Studio Seminars will be supported through online conversation with SAIC faculty and (whenever possible) up to four home studio visits per year with SAIC alumni advisors. No matter where you live during your degree, the Low-Res MFA program will attempt to connect you with two different alumni advisors who reside within your geographic area. These liaisons are intended to support you in the off-campus development of your work while also providing personal connections to SAIC's vast global network of distinguished alumni.