MFA programs have generally required a bachelor's degree prior to admission, but many have not required that the undergraduate major be the same as the MFA field of study. The most important admissions requirement has often been a sample portfolio or a performance audition.
The MFA differs from the Master of Arts in that the MFA, while an academic program, centers around practice in the particular field, programs leading to the MA are usually centered on the scholarly, academic, or critical study of the field.
The MFA has traditionally been seen as a terminal degree, meaning that it is considered to be the highest degree in its field. In the interest of further developing the connection between creative production and continued academic research; however, some universities have established competing Ph.D programs in fields such as creative writing, visual arts, and theater. Similar PhD programs were abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s.
The College Art Association developed the following statement regarding the definition of the M.F.A. for visual arts: