The Best Photography Degrees of 2021

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Many aspiring photographers begin their artistic careers with a bachelor’s degree in photography. Suited to creative, patient, and observant students, photography programs cultivate creativity, visual intelligence, and sophisticated technical skills.

To enter college, freshmen applicants usually need official transcripts indicating at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Good schools also typically require above-average grades, test scores, and recommendation letters. Students can eventually apply to the photography program itself by completing associate degree-level coursework satisfactorily and submitting work samples.

A photography degree can support diverse careers in fashion, news media, or forensics. Some graduates work as portrait or wedding photographers, nature photographers, or fine arts photographers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cites a median annual salary of $36,280 for photographers. The BLS also projects a decline in jobs for photographers of 4% during 2019-2029. However, talented, industrious photography graduates may also develop lucrative careers in the arts, graphic design, journalism, or film.


What Are the Goals of a Photography Degree?

Students interested in a photography degree can choose from bachelor of arts, bachelor of fine arts, and bachelor of science photography programs. Bachelor of science degrees and bachelor of fine arts degrees feature more professional and technical courses in photography. A bachelor of arts degree includes considerable liberal arts coursework. As a more academic and interdisciplinary degree, the BA can prepare graduates for diverse career paths or graduate programs.

Many photography bachelor’s programs emphasize technical equipment skills, visual literacy, and professional knowledge of the photography industry. Core photography coursework usually covers photography principles, digital photography, and photography history. Many programs offer curriculum concentrations in areas such as fine arts photography, professional photography, and film.

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Why Get a Photography Degree?

Photography degrees offer many personal and professional advantages, including increased creative expression, technical proficiency, and evaluative skill. Many photography programs also emphasize business knowledge and resources useful to photography entrepreneurs and freelancers.

Creative Expression
Photography programs require enrollees to produce original photographs, projects, and artist’s statements. This work helps students creatively express values, interests, and sensibilities.
Professional Portfolios
Photography majors graduate with at least one professional portfolio that can help the photographer find jobs. The portfolio contains collections of images and project statements that showcase the student’s capabilities.
Visual Intelligence and Skill
Photography bachelor’s programs also cultivate advanced visual intelligence and critical evaluation skills. Enrollees regularly analyze, critique, and thereby improve their own and other students’ work.
Business Acumen
Since many photographers work as freelancers, many photography programs emphasize the business of photography, building knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship and marketing.
Networking Opportunities
Many photography programs admit cohorts of students that move through the program together. Participants build collaborative and supportive connections that also can help graduates find jobs and collaborators later in their career.


What Are the Requirements for a Photography Degree?

Photography bachelor’s programs typically require applicants to submit official transcripts demonstrating possession of a high school diploma or equivalent. High-quality photography programs often look for students with a 3.0 GPA and good test scores, although not all programs require standardized test scores. For admission into the photography major, applicants usually submit a photography portfolio and positive recommendation letters.

A photography bachelor’s degree typically requires about 60 general education credits and 60 major-related credits, including elective or concentration coursework in an area of interest. Photography programs often feature internships, capstone projects, or portfolios that cultivate technical and creative skills.

What is Accreditation and Why Does it Matter?

How Much Will a Photography Degree Cost?

An undergraduate photography degree typically requires 120-180 credits of coursework. With approximate tuition ranging from $190-$850 per credit, the total tuition price for a four-year program falls around $23,000-$150,000.

In-state students at public universities typically pay the lowest tuition. Some public institutions offer in-state prices to all online students regardless of location. Private universities typically charge higher tuition rates, though this figure is not based on state residency.

Students also need to consider school fees, textbooks, supplies, and typical cost of living expenses (food, housing, transportation, etc.).

To help pay for a photography degree , seek out grants and scholarships, which do not require repayment after graduation. Low-interest government and private loans can also reduce immediate out-of-pocket costs, though students must repay them with interest.

Learn more about paying for college:


Choosing the Right Photography College

Choosing the right photography college requires careful evaluation of many factors. After reviewing our rankings list, keep the following in mind:

  • Accreditation: Accreditation ensures your chosen school and program meets certain academic quality standards. Some financial aid opportunities also require students to attend accredited schools.
  • School Size: School size often impacts the student-to-faculty ratio, diversity of academic offerings, and the number of student clubs and organizations available. Consider your priorities to find the right campus for you.
  • Faculty Credentials: Choose a program that employs skilled instructors. Explore the photography faculty’s portfolios to learn about their specializations and skills. Find out whether they participate in local art shows or hold any awards.
  • Career Services: Photography can be a competitive field to break into. Look for a school with career services that meet the needs of photographers and artists, such as portfolio building.

FAQ

  • Is a degree in photography worth it?

    Some photographers do succeed in this skills-based field without earning an expensive, formal degree. However, photography degree programs provide valuable feedback, internships, and networking that can make them worth the investment.

  • What kind of degree do you need for photography?

    Many freelance photographers do not hold a degree in photography. However, non-freelancers often need degrees to qualify for photography work in fields such as journalism.

  • Is photography a good career?

    Studying photography can lead to very diverse career paths and experiences. Many successful photographers enjoy creative, artistic careers.

  • Do photographers get paid well?

    Photographers earn a median annual salary of $36,280 — over $3,000 less than the $39,810 median annual salary for all occupations. However, salary depends heavily on employer, industry, and credentials.


2021 Best Photography Degrees

  1. Brigham Young University
    Location

    Provo, UT

    A Mormon university located in Provo, Utah, BYU offers a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) with a major in photography. Students study both the history and practice of the art form.

    In addition to education core courses, students take photography courses such as introduction to photography and digital workflow, introduction to lighting, and interpretative portraiture. Students also learn different photography and development processes, as well as develop portfolios to showcase their skills. A capstone project and internship allow students to dive into the practice and form of photography, gaining real-world experience for a career.

    Students first apply to the school with ACT or SAT scores. Students then apply to the limited admission photography program using portfolio work. Students enter into pre-BFA courses before full admission. All students must belong to the church or adhere to the campus faith guidelines.

    BYU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

  2. Spelman College
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    A historically Black women's college based in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman College offers a bachelor of arts in photography. Students study the practice of photography as a contemporary medium and explore ethical questions surrounding the creation and alteration of images. The major also offers interdisciplinary opportunities with other art focuses on campus.

    Students take general education courses and photography courses like fictive photography, basic lighting techniques, creative careers, and the history of photography. The major requires a portfolio display and criticism as well as an internship to gain vital skills for careers in the field. Students take part in art exhibitions both on and off campus and enjoy guest speakers and experts.

    Students in the class of 2025 do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores to apply. Students with test scores may still submit them to strengthen an application.

    Spelman College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. State University of New York at New Paltz
    Location

    New Paltz, NY

    Part of the SUNY system of colleges and universities, New Paltz offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography. Students engage in critical discourse and develop both technical skills and entrepreneurial skills for future careers.

    Students begin with general education requirements and must take one basic photography course before beginning the photography major. Course topics include the large format image, contemporary issues in photography, and advanced digital color photography. Students participate in a senior studio in photography series of courses to apply learned skills and showcase work to the public.

    Applicants must submit SAT or ACT scores (waived through spring 2022). The school does not specify a minimum GPA but admitted students possess an average GPA between 3.5 and 4.0. Students must also submit a portfolio for admission into the program.

    New Paltz is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  4. Rhode Island School of Design
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Based in Providence, RISD offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography. The program offers opportunities for undergraduate students to work with graduate student mentors to master studio skills.

    The program introduces the history of photography during the first year of study, giving students a foundation in the medium's past. Junior students move on to practical skills applications, learning a variety of techniques and best practices through courses such as advanced digital imaging and studio electives. During the students' final term, they create a portfolio and complete a thesis.

    Students apply to the school as either test applicants or test-optional applicants. Students must respond to a portfolio assignment as part of their bid to declare a photography major, whether at the time of application or when officially declaring the major.

    RISD is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

  5. Purchase College
    Location

    Purchase, NY

    Part of the SUNY system of colleges and universities and located in Purchase, Purchase Colleges offers a bachelor of fine arts in photography. Students study both traditional film processes as well as newer digital processes.

    Students begin the program with darkroom basics and progress to a wide array of practical and technical electives. Students explore silver and nonsilver, digital, and both printing and editing techniques. Students hone their craft in one of 20 darkrooms, a silver darkroom, and digital facilities that allow students to experiment with many different methods. Students work on a term-length project during their senior year and engage in critiquing seminars for both exposure and feedback.

    Students do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores, but visual arts students need to submit a work portfolio as part of their admissions packet.

    Purchase College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

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