Memphis College of Art has a plan to turn you from a wide-eyed freshman full of potential into a seasoned senior ready to take on the world. Along the way you’ll have a lot of fun. After all, isn’t that what college is all about? Getting a great education, making lifelong friends, gaining invaluable life experience, shaping your worldview, growing up and landing a job that you love.

Before you start your journey, you’ll need to understand a little more about what we expect and what being a student at MCA is all about. This page is a great first step. Let’s start with our latest video below where we show you how We Make Art Work! 


Part of the application process is to present a portfolio. Here are some helpful hints to put one together.

What should you include?

It may be easier to start with what not to include . . . old work should not be considered since your most recent work will usually be your best. Try to choose from work done in the past year. At Memphis College of Art, we ask to see 10-20 examples. Think about quality over quantity! In other words, don't include more work for the sake of having a lot to show, but be sure you are showing your best work. We recommend not including any of the following: anime or cartoons, viking warrior men or women, tattoos, unicorns or other mythological creatures or any other overused imagery whether copied or original, copies from magazines or portraits of celebrities. This might be what you prefer to draw, but colleges look for a different type of original work. (Keep in mind, however, that nothing is absolute. If you are interested in illustration and want to submit one or two representations of work from reference material, limit this to one or two. The bulk of your portfolio should be drawing from direct observation.)

What is the admissions committee looking for?

We are looking for drawing from direct observation. This means looking at three-dimensional objects and translating that to the two-dimensional surface of your paper or canvas. Draw still lifes, portraits, self-portraits, landscapes or cityscapes from life. When you draw from a photograph, half of the work has already been done for you. The composition has been laid out and your values captured by the camera. It is important that you learn to visualize these things on your own.

That's why we encourage drawing from life. You may also like to draw from your imagination, but again, we want to see the direct observational drawing to look at your ability to see and make the translation of image from life to your two- dimensional surface. It is more difficult to draw from life and may be frustrating at first, but as you strengthen your visual skills you will see a remarkable improvement. Self-portraits are a wonderful addition to your portfolio. You can be your best model. You are always available when you are ready to draw. Variety is important. Varied subject matter, media, scale, techniques, even working methods will show that you are not afraid to experiment with new ideas, techniques and materials. You should not be locked into a particular style yet. You will want to show some flexibility and diversity in your work. Add some work done in color. These along with your black and white drawings will really add strength to your portfolio. Although you do want to show variety, you do not want to do that at the sake of adding something in an unfamiliar medium. Do not show the first watercolor that you ever attempted. Practice will make you comfortable and more proficient in your media and techniques. Some of your pieces can be carefully rendered while others may be quick studies, contour line, or gesture drawings that take less time. Both are appropriate to include.

If you are considering a career in graphics, illustration, photography or another specific discipline, you may submit a few pieces from those areas. In graphics, where craftsmanship is so important, pay careful attention to your lettering, your layout and your design. The concept is just as important as the final pieces: both should be carefully executed. Illustrations often require working from reference material and not direct observation. Illustrators do work from photos to create images that a camera can't capture. This is one of those exceptions to the rule where your work may not be solely from life, but don't forget that the bulk of your portfolio should be.

Other important considerations:

Interesting subject matter with varying textures or focusing on and enlarging an area of a still life can lend interest as can cropping an object off at an unusual angle. Concentrating on a series can be interesting as well. It also shows an admissions committee that you can take a problem through several alternative solutions. You might explore the use of one subject with varied media or a series of one technique with varied subject matter.

Composition is important. Try to avoid the typical composition of an object stuck in the middle of the paper. Consider placement before you start your piece – don't leave it to chance. Do preliminary sketches or thumbnail sketches. From these sketches, choose the composition that you find most interesting. Letting your image run off the edges of the picture plane can break up the negative or background space. Be sure to show a full range of values in your drawings, whether you are drawing in black and white or color. It is important to show value contrast which is achieved by making shaded areas very dark and your lighted areas light. Consider your background as important as the imagery in your drawings as well. Don't just concentrate on the image and quickly throw something on the background to get it done.

What should I draw?

You should never lack for ideas about your art (what to draw or what to try next). Explore other artists' work by looking through current art publications such as Art in America, Graphis and by visiting galleries to see what contemporary artists are doing or by going to art museums and reading art history books to see what artists before you have done. This can be inspirational and you can apply some of these ideas to your own work.


Presentation of your work will speak of your craftsmanship and professionalism. It's like going on a job interview. You want to make the best impression possible. Take pride in your work and in how you present it. Keep it stored in a safe, clean place – not under your bed or in the attic collecting dust. A portfolio case can be purchased at any art store or you can make a case with two large pieces of cardboard taped together. Once you have made decisions about which pieces you plan to include in your portfolio, clean them up as much as possible. It is not necessary to mount, matt or frame your work.

Can I submit my work digitally?

Never give your work away or sell it without documenting it first. You can take digital images of your work and email them to us at portfolio@mca.edu. Be sure to put your first and last name in the subject box. You can burn them to a disc or even save them to a flash drive. You may also include a description sheet detailing assignments and other information you feel the committee should know about each piece. Images of your work should focus on the work, not the background. Crop in as close to the work as possible. The best way to photograph your work is on a black cloth that covers a large space like a wall or chair. Place work out of direct sunlight, but in a light area. Be sure to take off any reflective covering of your work such as acetate or glass.

Three-dimensional work, sculpture, ceramics or any work that is not flat should also be submitted in digital format. You should include no more than two views of the same piece.

If you are attending a portfolio day, you will be required to provide the equipment necessary for viewing your digital work such as your laptop computer.

Applications can be submitted on a rolling-basis through August 1 for fall admission and December 1 for the spring (January) admission. Applications can be accepted after these deadlines if space is available. Applications are still being accepted for the Fall 2016 semester.


Memphis College of Art provides budget estimates for the cost of attending MCA for one academic year. The budget for living in the student residences includes tuition and fees, the cost of student housing (in the most expensive of MCA housing options), living expenses including food, transportation, books and art supplies, and personal expenses such as clothing. All budget costs outside of tuition and fees are estimated and therefore can vary according to preference and lifestyle. The cost of a private school education is an investment in your future. To make your education affordable we encourage all students to apply for federal, state, and institutional financial aid along with outside scholarships for which you may be eligible. See our information on outside scholarship search tips under Scholarship Resources. Estimate college cost using our Net Price Calculator. As a private college, MCA does not have an in-state or out-of-state tuition cost. The price is the same for all applicants.

2016-17 Undergraduate Annual Cost of Attendance

Tuition and fees for one year $31,700
Housing (estimated based on Fogelman and Metz Hall) $6,750
Food (estimated) $2,000
Art supplies and books (estimated) $1,650
Transportation (estimated) $1,500
Personal expenses (estimated) $1,500
TOTAL $45,100

2016-17 Housing Annual Costs

Fogelman or Metz Halls $6,750
At the Park $5,200
Overton House $5,200
Parkside $5,700
Parkside efficiency $6,200

2016-17 Undergraduate Part-Time Costs

Undergraduate tuition and cost of attendance amounts will be prorated for part-time attendance. Cost of attendance is prorated at ¾ time, ½ time, and ¼ time. Tuition is charged per course (see below). Undergraduate fees are not prorated.
Tuition per 3 credit hour class $3,785
Semester fees (not prorated) $350

2016-17 Graduate (MFA/Art Education Traditional MAT Students’) Annual Cost of Attendance

Tuition and fees for one year $32,400
Housing (estimated based on Fogelman and Metz Hall) $6,750
Food (estimated) $2,000
Art supplies and books (estimated) $2,450
Transportation (estimated) $1,950
Personal expenses (estimated) $1,950
TOTAL $47,500

2016-17 Graduate Part-Time Costs

Graduate tuition and cost of attendance amounts will be prorated for part-time attendance. Cost of attendance is prorated at ¾ time, ½ time, and ¼ time. Tuition is charged per course (see below). Graduate MFA and MAT Traditional fees are not prorated.
Tuition per 3 credit hour class $4,050
Semester fees (not prorated) $350

2016-17 Graduate Art Education Teaching Professionals (MAArtEd, MAT, Transitional Licensure students) Per Course Cost of Attendance

Tuition for K-12 teaching professionals $665 per credit hour $1,995 per 3-hour class
Semester Fees 9 hours to full-time $350
6 hours $250
3 hours $125
Federal student loans can be available for graduate art education teaching professionals who take six or more credit hours in a term.

2017 Summer Costs

Undergraduate/Graduate Tuition per course $2,305
Tuition for K-12 teaching professionals $665 per credit hour $1,995 per 3-hour class
Semester Fees 9 hours to full-time $350
6 hours $250
3 hours $125

2017 Summer Housing Costs

Per 3 week session $540
Whole summer $2,150


Types of Financial Aid and How to Apply

Memphis College of Art Institutional Awards

To apply for Memphis College of Art scholarships, a student need only submit all required application materials to be considered for scholarships and grants. Students will be notified of portfolio scholarship awards along with their acceptance replies. MCA institutional awards are determined by admissions review rankings. Students can also qualify for Memphis College of Art work-study awards, transfer grants, and/or Governor’s Honors Grants. Students should contact their admissions counselor for more information regarding eligibility and the application process.

Federal Financial Aid

Eligibility for federal and state government aid is determined by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Memphis College of Art’s required federal code is 003507. Click here to complete the FAFSA online. MCA Admissions is offering a FAFSA workshop session with a short College Affordability presentation. Click here to register! Student and parent information is required on this form if the student is dependent (usually younger than 24 years of age). Only student information is needed if the student is considered independent (usually 24 years of age or older). Student loans, Tennessee state grants and scholarships, and MCA need-based grants are based on FAFSA information as well. Additional information about federal aid programs is available at studentaid.ed.gov. Graduate students working on a master’s level degree will only be eligible for student loans from the government. They cannot receive federal or state grants. They can receive veteran’s benefits and work-study as described below. International students are not eligible to receive federal or state aid. The FAFSA form information provides the financial aid office with an Expected Family Contribution number (EFC). This is the number used to calculate the student’s aid eligibility for need-based grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study awards.

Federal Financial Aid

Pell Grants

The federal government offers Federal Pell Grants of up to $5,775 (for the 2015-16 school year) per year. Pell grant eligibility is based on FAFSA information and added to the student award letter if qualified.

SEOG Grants

The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) are federal grants awarded to students who demonstrate exceptional need as based on FAFSA information, and at Memphis College of Art are awarded at $400 annually.


Students who qualify can be awarded a federal work-study allotment to be earned by working a part-time job for the college. The average work-study award at MCA is $800 per academic year averaging five hours per week each semester. Student workers are paid $8 per hour ($9 per hour for graduate students) bi-weekly during the semesters.

Federal Direct Student Loans

All students who complete the FAFSA form can borrow student loans from the federal government through the direct loan program. These loans do not require a credit check and are offered as the need-based Subsidized Loan or the non-need-based Unsubsidized Loan. Loan amounts for students to borrow are limited according to credits earned each year. Freshmen (0-29 earned hours): $5,500 annually Sophomores (30-59 earned hours): $6,500 annually Juniors and Seniors (60+ earned hours): $7,500 annually Graduate Students: $20,500 unsubsidized annually (or up to the student’s cost of attendance budget) Repayment of student loans begins six months after graduation, leaving college for any reason, or dropping below half-time enrollment. Interest rates and repayment options for student loans can be discussed with the Financial Aid Office and are available through the Department of Education at studentaid.gov and studentloan.gov.

Parent PLUS Loans/Graduate Student PLUS Loans

A parent (biological or custodial parent whose information was provided on the student’s FAFSA) can borrow to help their dependent undergraduate student pay for college. Graduate students may also apply for additional loan funds through the credit-based PLUS loan program. An approved credit check, which can be run by the college, parent or graduate student, is required for eligibility. If the parent loan is denied, the student will have increased unsubsidized loan eligibility in the amount of $4,000 per year for a freshman/sophomore level student or $5,000 per year for a junior/senior level student. Credit approval for PLUS loans must be renewed annually. Repayment of the Direct PLUS loan begins 60 days after the loan is disbursed. Interest rates and repayment options for student loans can be discussed with the Financial Aid office and are available through the Department of Education at studentaid.gov

How to apply for Student loans:

Applying for student loans will require completing a series of forms/applications. These only need to be completed the first time borrowing from the Department of Education. Student borrowers will need to complete the following three steps:
  1. Determine the amount to borrow—maximum eligibility is indicated on the financial aid award letter, but can be reduced to any lesser amount
  2. Complete the Master Promissory Note for Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans at studentloans.gov (you will need your FSA ID)
  3. Complete the Loan Entrance Counseling at studentloans.gov
Parents or Graduate Student Borrowers of the PLUS loan will need to complete the following steps:
  1. Determine the amount to borrow—maximum eligibility is indicated on the student’s financial aid award letter, but can be reduced to any lesser amount
  2. The parent or graduate student must complete the Master Promissory Note for Federal Direct PLUS Loans at studentloans.gov (you will need your FSA ID)
  3. ***NEED LINK Complete a credit check for the PLUS loan (a link is available under “Financial Aid>Forms”) at studentloans.gov


The Department of Education randomly selects FAFSA applications that the Financial Aid Office is required to “verify” specific information. Verification is a process that requires the student and/or parents to submit household and tax information to verify the information provided on the FAFSA application in order to receive federal and state aid. There are four different verification forms (each focuses in on different tax information provided). The forms are also divided for dependent students (which require parent information) and independent students (which do not require parent information). These forms are available under “Financial Aid>Forms>Verification.” Verification must be completed to receive federal and state aid.

Alternative Student Loans

Private loans are available to students who have additional need for funding. More information on these loans can be found by contacting the Financial Aid Office.

Veterans Benefits

Students who are eligible for veteran’s benefits should submit their application (form 22-1990) through the Veterans Administration’s (VA) website at www.gibill.va.gov. The VA will produce a Certificate of Eligibility. Students can submit this document to the Financial Aid Office. Students with questions about benefit eligibility and coverage can call the VA Educational Benefits information line at 888-442-4451.

Tennessee State Financial Aid for Tennessee Residents

The state of Tennessee has grant/scholarship money available to eligible residents. Completion of the FAFSA is required to determine eligibility.

TSAA Award

The state of Tennessee offers a state Tennessee State Assistance Award (TSAA), a $4,000 annual need-based grant to qualifying residents. There is a February 1 FAFSA priority deadline for first-time recipients of this grant.

TELS Lottery Scholarship

The Tennessee Educational Lottery Scholarship (TELS)— also known as the Hope Lottery award—is based on merit with a need-based award Aspire Award available to eligible students as determined by the FAFSA form. An additional merit award (GAMS) is available to eligible students based on high school credentials. The TELS awards require a FAFSA completion deadline of September 1.

Special Circumstances

If you have a unique financial situation, please contact the financial aid office at 901-272-5136 or at 800-727-1088.

Financial Aid Policies

Memphis College of Art’s financial aid policies and regulations can be found in the annual Student Handbook.

Undergraduate Scholarship Resources

Institutional Awards

Students applying to Memphis College of Art will be considered for a portfolio scholarship based on the credentials submitted during the application process. These awards are based on full-time attendance and will be prorated for part-time enrollment and renewable through the completion of degree requirements. Students must maintain the following cumulative grade point averages (CGPA) to renew their awards each year: 2.0 for freshmen (0-29 credits); 2.25 for sophomores (30-59 credits); 2.50 for juniors (60-99 credits); and 2.75 for seniors (90+ credits).

Special Merit Scholarships

Students who are continuing enrollment will be considered for Special Merit Scholarship awards in the spring semester for the following academic year. Approximately 30 scholarships of varying value are given, ranging from $500 to $6,000.

Merit scholarships recognize merit and/or excellence in a particular discipline or division or other criteria as determined by the donor. Scholarships are based on full-time enrollment and are awarded over the academic year, half in the fall and half in the spring. They will be prorated for part-time attendance and students attending just one semester of the following academic year will only receive half the annual award.

Special merit scholarship recipients are required to participated in MCA’s Give Back community service program by working up to 30 hours over the course of the academic award year.

Outside Scholarships

Scholarships or “free money” are the best way to help pay for college because they don’t have to be paid back. All scholarships will have specific criteria as to who qualifies for the award, what the guidelines are for applying, and what amount will be paid. Scholarships may be offered by an organization, government, or by private sources. The best place to begin your search is by exploring organizations that you or your family may be part of: employers, schools, churches, professional associations, unions, and foundations.

MCA recommends free scholarship searches on the Internet. Here is a list of resources that may be a good starting point:

Outside Scholarship Search Tips

Scholarships or “free money” are the best way to help pay for college because they don’t need to be paid back. Awards can range from small amounts up to covering the cost of tuition. Any scholarship amount can help create a financial aid package that makes college costs more affordable.

Scholarships are offered by many organizations including federal and state governments and private organizations. You may want to begin your search in your own backyard, exploring opportunities at organizations to which you or your family may belong:

  • Employers
  • Schools
  • Churches
  • Professional Associations
  • Unions
  • Civic Groups
  • Foundations

Applying for Scholarships

Different scholarships will have different requirements and use their own criteria to select recipients. You will want to gather as much information about the award and the criteria during your search.

Consider the following when you begin your scholarship investigation:

  • You may be required to write an essay, pass an exam, send transcripts, or complete a project demonstrating your potential
  • Programs may specify how the scholarship funds may be used, set time restrictions for the award, or set a ceiling on the qualifying family income
  • Scholarship funds may be paid directly to the college
  • Failure to meet requirements could jeopardize your ability to keep the scholarship

Scholarship Tips

Here are some very basic guidelines that may help give you the best potential for a successful search:

  • Be organized. Stay on top of deadlines, gather pertinent documents, and make copies of everything you submit. Send your application materials by certified mail to ensure receipt or send in plenty of time prior to the deadline.
  • Be honest. Don’t exaggerate grades, skills, or qualifications. Focus on scholarships for which you are eligible.
  • Follow instructions carefully. Some scholarships require you to write an essay, while others may want a letter of recommendation. Send what is requested, within the time designated and proofread absolutely everything!

Writing Essays

Many applications will require an essay. The personal essay is critical to winning a scholarship because it lets the selection committee get to know you beyond your grades, test scores, and activities that may be asked on the application. It is your best opportunity to make a strong and lasting impression.

A good essay is:

  • Original
  • States clearly why you deserve to win (or answers whatever question the application asks)
  • Has a main point
  • Avoids meaningless information
  • Honest

Get others to review your essay when you have finished. Get feedback from others to see if it answers the application question asked, is clear, free from mistakes and convinces them that you should win the award.

Beware of Scholarship Scams

Be alert for unsolicited scholarships applications by email, or services that solicit money in exchange for guaranteed scholarship or even help in doing a scholarship search for you.

Be aware of pitches that boast:

  • “You’re a finalist!” or “You’ve Won!” especially for a competition you never entered. Never give out your personal information for these offers.
  • “First-come, first-served.” While you do need to get your application in before the deadline, the first-come, first-served” rule does not apply to scholarships.
  • “Millions of dollars go unclaimed.” Legitimate scholarship awards are predetermined. Sponsors work hard to find the most qualified applicant.
  • “It’s guaranteed!” Scholarship searches can guarantee search results. They can’t guarantee you the scholarship money.
  • “We’ll do the work for you… for a fee.” The fee may be nominal and the offer may look official, but searches should be free. Don’t pay anyone to do this for you.

Remember, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

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901-272-5151 and

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Memphis College of Art does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or other status protected by law. Additional Information