Undergraduate Admissions

Visiting SFAI

The SFAI—Chestnut Street Campus is located at 800 Chestnut Street in the heart of Russian Hill.

The SFAI—Fort Mason Campus is located at 2 Marina Blvd, Pier 2 in Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture—a hub for graduate studios and public engagement.

Tours are scheduled Monday through Friday by appointment and can include a portfolio review. Please schedule a tour by filling out this form. You may also contact the Office of Admissions at 415.749.4500 or by email admissions@sfai.edu to schedule your personalized visit to SFAI.

Applying to SFAI

Our priority application deadline for undergraduate freshman students is February 15 and our priority deadline for undergraduate transfer students is April 15.

After that, SFAI processes applications on a rolling admission basis meaning we will continue to receive and review applications as they are completed for the upcoming term. Students are typically notified of their decision within 3 weeks after the application is completed.

You may submit your application materials individually; however, we encourage you to submit one package of materials whenever possible. Please be sure to label your portfolio with your name and contact information.

We will send you email updates regarding your application status. If you are missing one of your application materials we will email you with time to submit it. You will hear from your Admissions Counselor by phone or email when your decision letter has been sent.

Typically the process takes about three weeks from when an application is complete to a student receiving their decision letter. You will receive a decision letter by mail notifying you of your application outcome.

Since we recognize that there is no single approach to developing a portfolio, we carefully review each one we receive on its own terms. Your portfolio should consist of 10 to 20 examples of your best and most recent work. It may include examples of painting, drawing, digital media, mixed media, photography, film or video (no scripts), printmaking, sculpture, or documentations of performances or installations. Please review our Portfolio requirements.

You can also schedule an in-person portfolio review with your Admissions Counselor before submitting your final portfolio. These appointments can be arranged by contacting our admissions department at 415.749.4500 or admissions@sfai.edu.

SFAI strongly recommends that undergraduates submit one letter of recommendation. Your letters of recommendation can be from an art teacher, guidance counselor, any academic teacher, a boss, or a teacher from a PreCollege program. Your reference should be able to speak to your artistic and educational achievements as well as your college potential. It is not appropriate to have family members or peers write your letters of recommendation.

An artist statement is a brief essay that explains the artist’s working practice. It often illuminates specific details in the artwork and explains why certain materials were chosen to construct the artwork. It is also an opportunity to situate your working practice in the larger spectrum of art history or to reveal other artists who inspire your work. While some biographical information may be included in the artist statement, the writing should focus mainly the motivation for specific artwork or projects.

Upon admission to SFAI students are reviewed for the Merit Based Scholarships, which are awarded based on GPA and the Portfolio submission. The awards range from $4,000 to $12,000 and are renewable each year.

We also encourage students seeking need-based grants, scholarships, and loans to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The priority deadline is March 1, but institutional and federal aid may be available after that date. See Financial Aid for more information.

We require a high school transcript for all undergraduate applicants. Second degree students are exempted from this requirement.

We accept up to 60 units of transfer credit. When you apply, submit any transcript from a previous institution where you were earning credit for college-level coursework. We will evaluate your transcripts and provide you with an update of the remaining credits you will need to complete at SFAI. Learn more about transfer credit guidelines.

Yes, we accept test scores 3 and above for liberal arts AP courses and 4 and above for studio art AP courses. Please submit your test scores for review.

SFAI will accept application fee waiver forms from the College Board and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). We strongly encourage you to speak with your guidance counselor to begin this process.

Yes. All prospective students are assigned an Admissions Counselor who will help you through the enrollment process. Meet our Admissions Counselors.

Financial Questions

Students can begin that process immediately following application to the program.

The FAFSA form can now be filled out on-line at https://fafsa.ed.gov. SFAI’s FAFSA code is 003948. See Financial Aid for details.

Our Career Resources Center has more information about student employment.


SFAI is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

SFAI was first accredited on April 30, 1954. The first BFA degrees were awarded in 1955; the first MFA degrees were awarded in 1958.

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Post-Baccalaureate Certificate (PB)
  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees

Our undergraduate majors are Art & Technology, Film, New Genres, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture, as well as Exhibition and Museum Studies, and History and Theory of Contemporary Art.

SFAI requires students take a variety of liberal arts courses in fields such as art history, critical theory, English, humanities, mathematics, and natural and social science. See the complete liberal arts requirements.

SFAI partners with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) Mobility program, offers International Partner Exchange programs, and maintains affiliation agreements with study abroad program providers to allow eligible undergraduate students to study at another partner institution for an academic semester.

More information is available here or contact the Global Programs Office.

SFAI students may also participate in short travel courses offered through Faculty Led Programs.

Alumni from SFAI pursue a variety of careers after graduating. Students have gone on to continue their studio practice at artist residencies, exhibit internationally, teach art education, establish new galleries or join larger museums and cultural institutions, write for art publications, work for non-profits, produce feature-length films, launch design studios, and much more. Read our Alumni Profiles to learn about some of our graduates.

Campus Life

SFAI has approximately 450 Undergraduate students and 250 Graduate and Post-Baccalaureate students.

SFAI offers two excellent residence hall options for students. Sutter Hall and Abby Hall are conveniently situated near San Francisco’s downtown district in Lower Nob Hill at 717 Sutter Street and 630 Geary Street, respectively. Our buildings are staffed by students and professionals who strive to ensure that the halls are a safe, secure, inclusive, artistically inspiring, and engaging place for students to live. We require that all first year and incoming students under 20 live in the residence hall. See Housing and Residential Life Housing and Residential Life for more information.

We have 24-hour security.

Given the urban environment of San Francisco and easy access to public transportation we strongly recommend that students not bring their car to San Francisco. Parking downtown near the residence hall can be challenging.

You may bring a laptop or computer from home if you wish to. We do not encourage students to purchase a new computer until they have been enrolled in their first semester at SFAI. SFAI students are eligible for student discounts at the Apple Store.

Graduate Admissions

Graduate Admissions

Applying to SFAI

No. Completion of an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution is required for all domestic applicants and the basis for admission is a full review of the materials presented. Admission to the MFA and MA programs is highly selective, so please pay careful attention to the SFAI Graduate application requirements when preparing your application.

We do not require the GRE, but it will be considered with your application if you choose to submit it.

Portfolios for the MFA programs should include a cohesive body of work that, while demonstrating your interests and ideas, also communicates substantial conceptual risk-taking, rigorous thought, and familiarity with the historical and contemporary contexts for artistic production. For full details, see Graduate Application Process.

If you would like to request a fee waiver please contact the Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions.

A personal interview may be requested for those candidates who have been recommended by the Graduate Faculty Review Committee.

Admissions Operations sends emails in January and February notifying students of the completion of their file or of any missing documents. You are also welcome to call the Admissions Office at 415.749.4500 to confirm that your application is complete.

If you submit your application by the priority deadline, the notification period for admission decisions is typically between late March and early April. There may be cases where the decision will take longer.

Should you choose to submit your materials by mail, please note that SFAI will not be able to return portfolios. Also, SFAI will not be able to store portfolios past the term in which you originally applied. If you would like your portfolio materials returned to you, please include a self-addressed, prepaid envelope or mailer. Should you wish to insure your portfolio, you should make the necessary arrangements for such coverage through the shipping company of your choice. SFAI assumes no responsibility for any damage to portfolios either in transit or during the review process.

Financial Questions

MFA and MA Fellowships are the highest and most prestigious scholarships awarded at the San Francisco Art Institute and a limited number are awarded.

The Fellowships are awarded for partial tuition for selected students whose portfolio of artwork or writing samples and application to the Graduate program are deemed to be of the highest caliber by the Graduate Faculty Review Committee.

International students and Low-Residency MFA students may qualify for MFA Fellowships.

All applicants are automatically considered for this award. A separate application is not required.

Fellowships for full time MFA students are renewable for one additional year conditional upon good standing, progress toward the degree, and satisfactory intermediate review.

Fellowships for Summer Low-Residency MFA students are renewable for up to 3 years, depending upon completion of graduation requirements. Fellowship awards are conditional upon good standing, progress toward the degree, and satisfactory intermediate review.

Usually these opportunities are reserved for second, third, and fourth semester students and include both paid and unpaid positions. Students may apply for TA positions in any department. Paid TAs can expect to receive a stipend which is paid out over the course of the semester. Stipends for the 2015-2016 academic year were set at $1,375 per semester.

Students can begin that process immediately following application to the program.

The FAFSA form can now be filled out on-line at https://fafsa.ed.gov. SFAI’s FAFSA code is 003948. See Financial Aid for details.

Our Career Resources Center has more information about student employment.


San Francisco Art Institute is accredited by the Accrediting Commissions for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). SFAI is also an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). Information concerning these organizations and their decisions is available through Academic Affairs.

The MFA is a 60 credit hour program, which is typically completed in four semesters.

The Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Studio Art program is a one-year, full-time course of study that offers an intensive studio and critique driven environment for mid-career professionals wanting to develop their focus, those seeking to develop a body of work in preparation for application to a graduate MFA program, or practicing artists wishing to expand their ongoing studio work. You can find more information on the Post Baccalaureate Certificate program here.

SFAI is unable to accept transfer credits at the graduate level.

Yes. The Graduate Center houses over 150 individual, shared, and group studios for graduate students and visiting artists, as well as classrooms, seminar rooms, a computer lab, film and photography studios, a woodshop, a student lounge, wall space for the display of student work, and installation rooms for the display of installation artwork. Studio spaces are assigned based on program of study, space availability, and the specifics of artistic practice.

Yes. SFAI offers extensive opportunities for exhibition. In addition to opportunities to install work in spaces on both campuses by proposal, the Swell Gallery at the Graduate Center features bi-weekly exhibits with openings on Thursday evenings. The Diego Rivera Gallery shows a combination of undergraduate and graduate work, and hosts an artist talk and opening each Tuesday.

Yes. Participation in the annual MFA Graduate Exhibition is the final requirement for the MFA degree. The largest of its kind in the San Francisco Bay Area, the exhibition draws curators, gallery directors, and collectors from the West Coast and beyond.

Graduate students may be eligible to participate in short travel courses offered through SFAI Faculty Led Programs.

Campus Life

Although many graduate students elect to live off-campus, there are some who choose to live in the residence halls. Learn more about graduate student housing options.

Yes. SFAI was the first art school West of the Mississippi and it is one of the earliest cultural organizations in San Francisco still in existence today. This, along with the History of SFAI and outstanding alumni, connects the college to the many outstanding cultural institutions in the Bay Area.

We have a wide range of student organizations Clubs and Organizations on campus, including the Legion of Graduate Students (LOGS), which acts as a communicative bridge between the graduate student population and other important members of the SFAI community.

Campus safety patrols the main SFAI campus 24 hours a day and can be contacted via cell phone as well. The Graduate Center has designated student safety monitors until 1 am seven days a week and is a secure facility that is locked to the public after 6 pm.

You are welcome to contact the Assistant Director of Graduate Admission for assistance in connecting with current students.

Most students will commute to and from the Chestnut Street campus and the Third Street Graduate Center at various times during their enrollment at SFAI. Students commute between campuses in a variety of ways including car, bike, and public transportation.

Yes. The public transportation system in the city is very good, and many of the city’s residents do not own vehicles. 511.org is an excellent resource for transit trip planning.

Other Graduate Questions

The Graduate Center is located at SFAI—Fort Mason Campus in Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture. 

Visit SFAI—Fort Mason Campus: 

2 Marina Boulevard, Pier 2

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture

San Francisco, CA 94123

SFAI—Fort Mason Campus has 160 private art studios for students, faculty, and visiting artists. Graduate students have 24-hour access to studios at Fort Mason Campus throughout the academic year. Some facilities have slightly more limited, clearly posted hours. 

This is difficult to determine because the range and interests of our students tend to defy precise placement rates. The history and reputation of the San Francisco Art Institute are a valuable contribution to the exhibition and employment opportunities our alumni enjoy.

Read our Alumni Profiles to learn about some of our graduates.

International Student Questions

For more informaton about SFAI's English language proficiency requirements for admission, please review the English Language Proficiency section on the International Supplementary Materials page. Students may submit score reports from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Test System (IELTS Academic) or the Pearson Test of English (PTE Academic).

The English language proficiency requirement may be waived at the discretion of SFAI based on specific waiver eligibilty requirements. If you feel you may be eligible for a waiver, please contact your Admissions Counselor or admissions@sfai.edu for more information. Please also review the English Language Proficiency section on the International Supplementary Materials page.

The SFAI school code for TOEFL score reports is 4036.

We recommend you begin the F1 student visa application process as soon as possible. Please review the step-by-step information for students wishing to study in the United States on the Study in the States official Department of Homeland Security website. Another excellent resource for any questions about visa applications and funding your education is the EducationUSA advising center in your home country.

Please contact the Global Programs Office with any questions or for more information about this process.

International students may qualify for SFAI institutional Scholarships and Fellowships. For more information about if you are eligible, please contact your Admissions Counselor.

Yes, please submit international payments by wire or credit card through SFAI's Flywire International Payment System.

SFAI welcomes approximately 150 international students from over 33 countries. International students currently make up 25% of our student community.