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A Master of Fine Arts (MFA or M.F.A.) is a graduate degree typically requiring 2–3 years of postgraduate study beyond the bachelor's degree (BFA), although the term of study will vary by country or by university. The MFA is a creative degree usually awarded as a terminal degree in visual arts, creative writing, graphic design, photography, filmmaking, dance, theatre, other performing arts, as well as some theatre management  and arts administration degrees. Coursework is primarily of an applied or performing nature with the program often culminating in a major work or performance.
Master of Fine Arts programs have generally required a bachelor's degree prior to admission, but many do not require 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 Master of Fine Arts differs from the Master of Arts in that the MFA, while an academic program, centers around practice in the particular field, whereas programs leading to the MA usually center on the scholarly, academic, or critical study of the field. Additionally, in the United States, an MFA is recognized as a terminal degree for practitioners of Visual Art, Design, Dance, Photography, Theatre, Film/Video, New Media, and Creative Writing - meaning that it is considered to be the highest degree in its field, and is used as a minimum qualification to be able to apply to become a Full-Time Professor teaching at the University level in these disciplines. There are exceptions to this standard in the Arts, notably in the case of music performance, where the MFA is not seen as a terminal degree in the context of the more standardized DMA degree.
In the interest of extending the connection between creative production and continued academic research, some universities have established practice-based[clarification needed] Ph.D programs in fields such as creative writing, visual arts, new media, design and theater. While this has had an effect in Creative Writing, and to a lesser extent in design and new media, the influx of graduates from practice-based PhD programs has not appreciably changed the standard for the MFA as the terminal degree in most Arts disciplines yet. This is an ongoing contentious topic, and is the frequent subject of academic panels, especially at the annual College Art Association conference. The CAA 2008 guidelines regarding the MFA strongly re-affirms that the PhD is not required as a terminal degree in the visual arts.