Is a Low Residency MFA Worth the Financial Investment?

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Low residency MFA programs are the reality TV of higher education: they require no special location, they’re cheap to produce, and it’s easy for colleges to find willing participants.

Determining if a low residency program is worth your financial investment is complicated. Different people want different things. If you’re looking to learn new skills that get taught to you by a teacher, explore traditional education. If you want to get an MFA while living the life you already have, or by creating an amazing new life, a low residency program might be worth your financial investment.

Below are some things to think about that will help you determine if the low residency education model is worth your hard-earned moolah.

Worth It

Things to make you want to invest:

Have It Your Way

Many low residency art MFA programs are self-designed, meaning that you get to create your own learning experience. This is a positive thing if you’re self sufficient, self driven, and already have a plan for the art you wish to investigate and create over the next few years.

Be Part of the Working Class

If you’ve got a great job that you don’t want to leave, the low residency MFA program allows you the flexibility to stay working while also completing your degree. In some cases, your job can be part of your education. This is especially great if a degree gets you a job promotion.

Save Book Money

If you’re not being given a bunch of assigned reading, you might be able to save money since you don’t have to buy a bunch of text books that you’ll look at once, and then never touch again.


If you do something credit-worthy, you can lump your real life into your education and kill two birds with one stone.


When you create your own learning plan and follow through on it with gusto, the lessons you experience end up being more memorable and applicable than if you just did an exercise from a book or assignment.

Not Worth It

Things to make you think twice:

Small Faculty Pool

In a low residency art program, you’re likely assigned to work with one advisor at a time. If you get along, that’s great. If not, you’re stuck.


Some low residency programs have a good network in place, but all too often you end up only meeting a small group (5-50 people) while the rest of the students body (if there is more) are only available through social media. At a college or university you tend to meet more folks and expand your circle beyond the small group in your major or immediate cohort.

Questionable Reputation

The low residency model is gaining in popularity, but distance and self-directed learning still has a bad reputation for being a way to buy an MFA without doing any work. That’s not true, but the stigma remains.

No Class

If you want to take classes, it’s up to you to locate them. You also have to foot the bill on top of the tuition from your degree granting institution.

Potentially More Expensive

When you’re done, the cost of a low residency degree can be equal to or more expensive than if you lived on campus and went through a traditional program, because you have to pay tuition on top of whatever extra lessons or learning arrangement you make on your own.