About the MFA Program

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The Arts at CIIS
MFA Program Admissions
Other MFA Program Details

MFA Program Overview

“If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning,
it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.”

--  Toni Morrison, The Site of Memory

In the MFA program at CIIS student artists are encouraged to be problem-namers, problem-solvers, and risk-takers. We value the complexity and diversity of human experience and expression, and welcome artists of all disciplines (literary, visual, performing, media, and interdisciplinary).  The inter- and trans-disciplinary nature of our program, together with an emphasis on reflective inquiry and transformation (for the artist and society), make our MFA program a laboratory for innovative, surprising, collaborative, and multi-genre work.  Working in small groups or individually with faculty and mentors, or partnering with organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, students emerge with valuable connections and relationships into a diverse professional arts community. 

Artists in the MFA program can make hundreds of small works during their CIIS education, in constant dialogue with a community of artists working across disciplines. From these works they refine one or two large-scale and culminating projects, developed with artist mentors, advisors, and peers in a workshop setting.  Through courses in historical movements, theory, and cultural identity, they develop frameworks for understanding a broad range of historic and contemporary art, values, techniques, and processes.  In workshops and arts practice courses, they make work–often in collaboration–and engage in critical discourse with their colleagues.  They learn to articulate their own lineage and process, and name the artists and historical moments that have made their own work possible.  

We know that most artists will live a hybrid life, so we offer professional development courses and practica in liberatory teaching, art and activism, portfolio development, and editing and publishing, which takes shape in our interdisciplinary art journal, Mission at 10th.   

For further exploration, check out What is Creative Inquiry? by Kris Brandenburger, interdisciplinary artist

MFA Program Admissions


Applicants must meet the general admissions requirements of the Institute. Information about application procedures, deadlines, and transfer of credit can be found in the CIIS catalog. Individual questions can be addressed in a phone call or in-person visit with the MFA Admissions Counselor in the Admissions Office. Students must complete their bachelor's degree before beginning the programs; there is no requirement as to the field of study of the undergraduate degree. Students can demonstrate appropriate levels of accomplishment and commitment to their art by means of work samples and personal statements.

The program admits students in the fall (beginning in late August) and spring (beginning in late January) semesters.

We welcome students from all backgrounds; however, the Admissions Committee may ask students with limited arts or writing experience to supplement their degrees with some additional CIIS coursework.

Applicants must submit the following:  

• Academic transcripts.
• Autobiographical statement (five to seven pages) incorporating the following questions:  What experiences, interests, goals, and preparation do you bring to the MFA at CIIS? What projects are you currently working on? How would you describe yourself as a writer, artist, performer or community arts activist?  What influences and experiences have been central for you?
• Vision statement (one or two pages): What do you hope to accomplish during your time with us? Where do you see yourself five years after graduation? What do you hope to achieve artistically and professionally?
• Two letters of recommendation, one from an academic advisor or someone familiar with your ability to do academic work, and one from a supervisor in a recent professional or volunteer setting.
• Art sample:  Depending on your practice, please submit a 15-40 page manuscript or collection of writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, mixed-genre) or CDs of performances or artworks.  You can also arrange to submit work samples via Drop Box. 

These items and the personal interview, held either on campus or by phone or Skype, are all considered in the Admission Committee's decision. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is not required.

Please visit the Financial Aid Department's tuition page for updated program costs per unit.  To find out more about scholarships for MFA students, contact Pauline Reif, the program's Admissions Counselor at 415-575-6155 or preif@ciis.edu.  The MFA program also offers a limited number of teaching and research assistantships to students during their second year.  To find our more, contact MFA program coordinator Ahmunet Jordon at 415-575-6264 or ajordon@ciis.edu.

MFA Program Admissions

Intensive Weekend Format and Schedule (See Course of Study)
The MFA program is designed as two-year, 48-unit degree, accomplished almost entirely through six weekend intensives per semester, and supplemental online work and discussion.  (Note that the structure of the planned MFA in Theater Performance Making is slightly different, including several longer intensive periods per year in residence and one six-week residency at the University of Chichester in the UK.) 

Saturday Nights @ CIIS
On cohort weekends we compliment credit courses with Friday evening Do-it-Yourself Workshops in topics ranging from basic video creation, to performance poetry and Integral Yoga for artists.  Saturday nights are devoted to Saturday Night @ CIIS, a visiting artist series open to the entire community. These lively events include readings and performances by invited guests, students, alums, and faculty, panel discussions on sustaining life as an artist, and salon talks on artistic collaboration.   See our faculty page for our Saturday Night Presenters.

Supplemental Online Work
Before the first weekend and between weekend meetings, students participate in Caucus, the online conference used at CIIS, Online activities may include: reading and responding to other students' writings or artwork, preparing critical reflections as a follow up to weekend experience, participating in small group conversations or preparing for group projects, or responding to discussion items posted by instructors.

Working with Mentors and Faculty Advisors
Every semester, students meet with mentors (visiting or CIIS faculty). These meetings will be in person, via phone call, and/or via Caucus. In the first year, Writing and Consciousness students have individual meetings with workshop leaders and Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts faculty oversee the work that students do with outside mentors. These guest artist mentors document their work with students by preparing a narrative assessment at the end of the semester. During the second year, all MFA students have a WCC faculty advisor for their MFA project and an outside mentor/advisor. Students work with the same faculty advisor and mentor/advisor for both terms.