MFA Degree Requirements

  1. Pre-MFA Preparation Courses (credits vary)
  2. Methods and Theory in Design and Culture (6 cr.)
  3. Seminar Courses (6 cr.)
  4. History and Criticism (6 cr.)
  5. Non-Studio Academic Coursework (2-3 cr.)
  6. General Studio Work (9 cr.)
  7. Focus Area Studio Work (12-13 cr.)
  8. Interim MFA Qualifier (3 cr.)
  9. Preparation of Final Thesis (9 cr. Research and Thesis)
  10. Final Thesis (6 cr.)

MFA students must complete a minimum of 60 credits. Of these, 21 credits will be academic coursework in structured courses that include Studio Based Research Methods and Theory, History and Criticism Courses, and Non-Studio Academic Coursework. The remaining 39 credits will be fulfilled through General Studio Work, Focus Area Studio Work, independent studies (i.e. to prepare for Interim MFA Qualifier), or Research and Thesis credits. At least 50% of credits (30 of 60 total credits) applied toward the MFA degree must be from courses designed for graduate work; courses numbered 700 and above or courses numbered 300- 699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students generally satisfy this requirement. Students must maintain a 3.3-grade point average to remain in good standing.

The Minimum Graduate Residence Requirement for MFA degrees is 32 credits. MFA students may enroll for a maximum of 12 credits per term.

Please review the Progress to MFA Degree and Program Handbook for additional information.

1. Pre-MFA Preparation Courses

Particularly in the Interior Architecture track, students may have graduated from an undergraduate program that did not comprehensively prepare them for the level of studio work in the MFA program. However, promising applicants who do not have sufficient educational background may be admitted, under the condition that he or she take pre-MFA preparation courses; if the student satisfactorily completes a pre-MFA series of courses with a 3.3 GPA or above, the student may subsequently advance to full MFA student status. Students will work closely with their major faculty advisor to determine appropriate pre-MFA preparation courses. Pre-MFA preparation courses vary by area of study and may include, but are not limited to, the following courses:

Textile and Fashion Design

    • Textile and/or Fashion History (1 course)

Interior Architecture

    • DS 241 Visual Communication 1
    • Color Theory (1 course)
    • DS 222 Interior Design I
    • DS 322 Interior Design II

2. Core Courses

(20-22 credits)

The MFA Core Course curriculum offers an opportunity for all Design Studies students to establish a body of knowledge in theories, creative practices, and seminars relevant to studio based inquiry.

The core curriculum also includes specialized training in instruction and pedagogy; this is requisite for graduate teaching assistant duties (often a source of MFA student funding), and useful for students who wish to pursue academic careers. A student who is assigned to a teaching assistantship at the time of admission may take the course(s) during their first semester while fulfilling teaching assistant duties.

As much as possible within their first two years, all MFA students will be expected to enroll in 20-22 credits distributed among the following Core Courses:

  • INTER-HE 801 Human Ecology Theories and Perspectives (1 cr.)

Methods and Theories in Design, Art, and Culture (6 cr.)

  • DS 764 Dimensions of Material Culture (3 Credits, required for all MFA students)

Choose at least one additional course. Suggestions include:

  • DS 642 Taste (recommended)
  • Art 700 Introduction to Graduate Studies
  • Art History 703 Curatorial Studies Colloquium

Seminar Courses (6 cr.)

  • DS920 Seminar in Design Studies – Studio Emphasis (1 credit per year, for 3 credits total)
  • At least one additional seminar course

History and Criticism Courses (6 cr.)

  • Art 508 Colloquium in Art (at least 1 credit required for all students, to a maximum of 3)

Choose from among the following courses

  • Any Art History or Design Studies course focusing on history, 500 level or above
  • Art Hist 801 Historiography, Theory and Methods in Visual Culture
  • Art Hist 802 Visual Cultures: Topics in Visual Culture
  • Non-Studio Academic Coursework-Graduate Student Instructor Course (2-3 credits) Choose from: delta.wisc.edu/Courses_and_Programs/courses_and_programs_overview.html

3. General Studio Work

(9 credits)

The general studio work provides students with an overview of studio practices that will be the foundation for their Focus Area Studio work, the Qualifier and the Thesis. Students are encouraged to take courses that are offered both inside and outside the Design Studies Department to develop an interdisciplinary framework for their MFA work.

The core curriculum also includes an independent study that will facilitate the production of the Interim MFA Qualifier.

MFA students are expected to develop a strong foundation in studio-based inquiry. Students in the Interior Architecture track are strongly encouraged to take both DS 424 Interior Design IV and DS 501 Interior Design V, with the addition of project components tailored to each student’s Focus Area. All students are encouraged to take DS 501 Design and Fashion Event Practicum.

Required Courses (Interior Architecture concentration only. May be waived for students with substantial portfolios.)

  • DS 424 Interior Design IV
  • DS 501 Interior Design V

Recommended courses include:

  • Art 409 Digital Fabrication
  • Art 511 Art Performance
  • Art 521 Installation and Environments
  • Art 570 Adv Artists as Curators – Grad Section
  • Art 660 Art and Technology
  • Art History 506 Curatorial Studies Exhibition Practice
  • Other courses at the 500 level or above in Art or Landscape Architecture

4. Focus Area Studio Work

(15-16 credits)

All MFA students, in consultation with their advisor, define a focus area that will help prepare them for their Interim MFA Qualifier and Thesis Proposal. This focus builds on their General Studio Work. Students often do studio work in their focus area as independent studies with appropriate faculty members.

5. Interim MFA Qualifier

(3 credits, counts as Core Course)

The Interim MFA Qualifier (Qualifier) is part of the Core Course requirements for every MFA student, and must be successfully completed prior to receiving final approval of the Thesis Proposal. The Qualifier provides students with an opportunity to create and present a studio-based project in their area of specialization in preparation for their Final Thesis. While limited in scope, the project should be comparable to the Final Thesis in terms of its creative and intellectual tone and quality. The project could be an exhibition that includes some elements that are integrated into a final thesis exhibition (most common for students in the Textile and Fashion Design track), or it could be a presentation and formal dissemination of a pilot design project that serves as a case study for the final thesis (most common for students in the Interior Architecture track). Students are encouraged to disseminate the project broadly, seeking out visibly prominent public venues, incorporating online versions, or presenting at conferences or in design competitions.

The Interim MFA Qualifier may be based on work completed as part of any UW graduate studio course, as well as from independent studies. Students typically enroll in an independent study with their major advisor to complete the Qualifier. The Qualifier must be reviewed and approved by the student’s major advisor, in consultation with the student’s Thesis Committee. The project must receive a passing grade in order for the student to receive final approval of their Thesis Proposal.

6. Thesis Proposal

Before beginning substantial work on their Thesis, all MFA students must receive approval of their Thesis Proposal from their MFA committee after satisfactorily completing at least three full time semesters of coursework and passing the MFA Interim Qualifier. The Thesis Proposal is intended to describe the creative work or project that will be at the core of the Thesis, to demonstrate the student’s broad knowledge in areas that relate to their Thesis, to explain how their work or project relates to the work of other designers and artists, to demonstrate their awareness of relevant theories and methods as reflected in their literature review, to explain their methods and materials, and to outline a detailed schedule for the completion of the Thesis.

7. Preparation of Thesis

(9 credits)

Upon approval of their Thesis Proposal, students are expected to register for credits that will represent thesis writing and production. These credits are generally research and thesis credits, independent studies, or required seminars; they must be at the 500 level or above.

8. Group Review Sessions

All MFA students are required to present their work at least once per academic year in a Group Review Session attended by faculty and the other MFA students. First year students can present their work that they submitted for their application, or work from a course that they have taken. Second year students should present work from their Focus Area Student Work, or their advanced General Studio Work. Third year students should present their Thesis work in progress.

The Group Review Sessions have several goals.

  • Enable MFA students to see what other MFA students are working on.
  • Enable the MFA faculty as a whole to see what all of the MFA students are working on.
  • Enable MFA students to receive constructive review of their work from all of the
  • Enable MFA students to gain experience critiquing and receiving critique.
  • Enable MFA students to gain experience presenting their work.

9. Thesis

(6 credits)

All MFA students are required to successfully prepare and present a Thesis that includes a studio component, a written component, and an oral defense. These are Research and Thesis credits with the student’s advisor.