Program Description


The two-year MA in Critical Studies program combines the study of critical theory with the practice of creative research, so students learn not only to critique but also to intervene, reimagine, and remake. The program is designed to help students develop modes of thinking, writing, and making that cross disciplinary boundaries.

Critical theory emerged with the Frankfurt School, and due to those thinkers’ commitment to knowledge that emancipates, critical theory now includes all theories that expose, critique, and transform oppressive ideologies. The Critical Studies program adopts this broader view. Coursework includes seminars in Feminist, Queer Theory, and Gender and Sexuality Studies as well as Critical Race Theory. Critical Studies also offers a seminar in Research for a Creative Practice that claims research as a form of intervention and making. The program culminates in a thesis project so students can make a contribution to the field based on their own interests and commitments.

Situated in the context of a 21st-century art school, Critical Studies examines overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigates the role critical theory and art can play in transforming institutions and ideologies.

The two-year required course sequence builds from identifying key questions and issues in critical theory and cultural studies to providing students with the methodological, research, writing, and professional skills they need to ask good questions and to investigate those areas of inquiry in a thesis project of their own design. The thesis writing occurs during the second year, resulting in both an academic research paper and opportunities for public scholarship based on the student’s professional interest.

Allotting two years to complete the 45-credit MA program provides time for students to take electives that support their research interests, to work at jobs that sustain their professional and financial needs, and to complete thesis projects in a timely manner. In addition, should students wish to apply to doctoral programs, the two-year timeframe will allow them to apply in the third semester of the program rather than at the start of the first year, making them stronger candidates with better letters of recommendation and more focused research interests. The two-year program also allows students to have the summer off for independent research, work, fellowships, travel, or internships.

Graduates of the Critical Studies program have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees, Fulbright fellowships, nonprofit work, arts administration, curatorial careers, education, entrepreneurship, and public humanities.

See All Program News


MA/MFA Option

MA/MFA option through which MA students can add a third year in any of PNCA’s MFA programs to graduate with a dual MA/MFA degree. Learn more about the Dual Degree MA/MFA.

More Information



Many forms of financial assistance are available to our students.

Merit scholarships are assessed based on the student’s personal history of scholastic achievement, as well as their contributions to culture and community. Consideration will also be given to traditionally underrepresented students and those who demonstrate financial need. No separate application is required for merit scholarships.

MA students can apply for Teaching Assistantships which afford students the opportunity to work in the classroom and gain pedagogical experience pending completion of a Critical Pedagogy class. TAs are compensated per semester once they are placed in a class.

Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships. These can be found by searching online databases including the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool, and sites such as Fastweb,, and Scholarshipsportal.


Travel Awards support students presenting at academic conferences.

Other Opportunities

BridgeLab Career Services can connect students with opportunities for paid work including on-campus positions and off-campus internships. Some of these opportunities are available to international students.

Program Highlights

Visiting Scholars

Conversations are enlivened by visiting writers and scholars throughout the year. These visiting scholars and writers include Maggie Nelson, Sarah Schulman, Walidah Imarisha, C. Riley Snorton, Z. Nicolazzo, Allan de Souza, and Cheryl Strayed.


Art Discourse

Art Discourse is a platform for writing that explores the aesthetic, political, and social dimensions of art and design. It is published by the MA in Critical Studies program in collaboration with the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA.

Art Discourse


Schedule a visit

Get in touch with MA in Critical Studies Chair, Shawna Lipton: to schedule a campus visit or to learn about the program today.

Email Request Info