When I applied to graduate school, I painstakingly researched every school with an MFA program, using the two following links:

U.S. News Top Photography Programs

U.S. News Top Fine Arts Programs

My criteria for selecting schools hinged on: faculty, location, type of program, and work being produced. I applied to 8 schools and could have easily picked 12: Duke University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Syracuse University, UT Austin, UNC Chapel Hill, Indiana University, U of I Urbana-Champaign, and Columbia College Chicago.

  • Faculty
    • At most institutions, they have 2-5 faculty members, Columbia photography faculty has 10+, plus staff that have MFA’s in photography.
  • Location:
    • Location can help narrow, but not in my case. My main stipulation was a school in the United States and not located in California. I went to one of the best California State Universities for photography and I wanted a break from California. After being in Chicago, I would have more schools in or near major cities, because of the art opportunities outside of school (galleries, museums, etc.)
  • Type of program/duration
    • I looked for photography based programs. A decent amount of photo grad programs I have found are a mix of photography and video and/or digital media based. Or Studio Art with a concentration in Photography. I wanted to work traditionally and I still have the option to c-print. There is the 2 vs. 3-year option. Columbia’s program is now 2-years.
  • Work being produced

Two things that helped A LOT when I applied were my undergraduate faculty and this book. It covers everything from how narrow down schools to how to write the statements.  This is the older version but there is a newer one.


The best advice I received was to concentrate on the work sample. Submit either one project or up to, but no more than three cohesive project(s). It’s not meant to be a sampling of your 20 best images of different photographic forms. What I applied with: half made during undergrad and half made after graduating.


Other examples:

Scott Vahan Tavitian 

Stephanie Marie Besse

Lena Vieira

Good luck with your applications!

Shoot me an email, if you have any questions :D