2021 Best Photography Degrees

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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.

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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.

Top 10 Photography Programs

Rank School Location
1 New York University New York, NY
2 Judson University Elgin, IL
3 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
4 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
5 Marlboro College Marlboro, VT
6 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO
7 Freed-Hardeman University Henderson, TN
8 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
9 Brigham Young University-Provo Provo, UT
10 Appalachian State University Boone, NC


  • 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. New York University

    New York, NY

    New York University's Tisch School of the Arts offers a photography degree that teaches students how to find their creative voice. NYU's photography program blends a broad liberal arts education with an intensive arts focus. The program accepts students working in analog and digital formats. Faculty members help BFA students design individualized curricula that expand technical and conceptual boundaries.

    Program graduates work as graphic designers, documentary photographers, art critics, and freelancers for museums and national publications. NYU evaluates undergraduate applicants through a two-part process: an artistic review and the Common Application. Applicants must submit a portfolio that includes 15-20 images, including 10 on a single theme. The program also welcomes submission of interactive and new media, video, and sound art. The portfolio must include a completed questionnaire and several short essays.

  2. Judson University

    Elgin, IL

    The photography program at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, focuses on design and art fundamentals for digital and darkroom photography. Students can earn a bachelor of fine arts with a concentration in photography in four years. A Christian liberal arts and sciences university, Judson features small class sizes, knowledgeable faculty, and a convenient location near Chicago.

    Judson's 79-credit photography degree includes general education, studio core, art and design history and theory, and studio elective courses. Core courses include studio photography, darkroom photography, and an internship/practicum in art. Graduation requirements include a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA. Students must complete at least 40% of all required credits at Judson. At least 40% of major courses must be upper-division courses.

    Applicants must submit official high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores.

  3. University of Central Florida

    Orlando, FL

    UCF's bachelor of science in photography degree incorporates creative, technical, and critical skills that prepare students to work as professional photographers. The limited access, 2+2 program admits students who earn an associate degree in photographic technology from Daytona State College or complete equivalent coursework. Admitted students complete their third and fourth years at UCF.

    The 127-credit curriculum includes core courses like photographic lighting techniques, advanced editorial photography, and advanced illustrative photography. The program does not require a capstone. Students must also complete general education and elective courses.

    To graduate, students must earn a minimum 2.0 GPA and at least 48 upper-division credits. The program requires at least 30 of the last 39 credits of coursework in residency at UCF. Students can receive up to 45 credits for prior learning experiences, including credit for examinations or military experience.

  4. Purdue University

    West Lafayette, IN

    Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, offers a studio-intensive photography program. Purdue's BFA in integrated studio arts includes a concentration in arts, culture, and technology that covers photography. The program provides a foundation in traditional arts and explores new technologies and ways of thinking about art across disciplines. BFA students get to design their own major to reflect their personal interests. Graduates pursue careers in photography, creative direction, and film production.

    Resources for photography students at Purdue include two computer labs, a darkroom, a digital photography lab, a ceramic decal printer, and a professional photography studio. Students can also check out equipment like video cameras, tripods, lighting kits, and DSLR cameras. The 126-credit, four-year curriculum includes portfolio reviews and BFA exhibition requirements. Students spend most of their time in studio classes working on independent projects.

  5. Marlboro College

    Marlboro, VT

    A liberal arts school founded on a farm in 1946, Marlboro College in Vermont gives students the freedom to design individualized four-year degrees. Students engage in interdisciplinary, self-directed learning while meeting the college's writing requirement and choosing a concentration or major. At Marlboro, juniors and seniors focus on developing, researching, working on, and revising a major project.

    Marlboro offers an undergraduate photography degree that focuses on fine art in nature. The curriculum explores digital and analog photography, visual expression and technique, and alternative photographic procedures. Photography classes include introduction to black and white photography, photography and the body, and the narrative in photography.

    To graduate, students must complete 120 credits and defend their final project before a committee. Marlboro graduates gain writing, communication, teamwork, and interdisciplinary skills applicable to any career.

  6. Washington University in St Louis

    Saint Louis, MO

    The 121-credit photography BFA from the Sam Fox School at Washington University in St. Louis integrates multiple approaches and disciplines. Designed for students who want to pursue careers as artists, designers, and illustrators, the BFA focuses on immersive studio courses.

    The first year of the photography program requires studio coursework in two-dimensional and three-dimensional design, drawing, digital design, and a weekly lecture course. Starting in their second year, students begin material and culture studio classes with the option to choose photography and one other medium. Junior and senior years include seven art practice courses that equip students with conceptual and technical skills. Art practice courses explore subjects like large format photography, public practice, and material as metaphor.

    Photography majors must complete a senior capstone course that culminates in a spring exhibition. The BFA program's curriculum aligns with the standards set by the College Art Association of American and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

  7. Freed-Hardeman University

    Henderson, TN

    Aspiring photographers can pursue a four-year bachelor of arts in photography from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. Affiliated with the Church of Christ, FHU offers the degree in a Christian framework. The university serves nearly 2,000 students from 33 states and 20 countries.

    FHU's 126-credit photography degree requires liberal arts core, major, and elective coursework. All learners at FHU take a biblical course each semester. Photography students take major classes like the history of photography, black and white photography, and alternative processes. The curriculum also explores small business marketing, social media, and studio craft. Photography majors must complete a hands-on internship and a senior photography project or portfolio. Students gain critical thinking and technical skills.

    Photography students may qualify for financial aid, grants, scholarships, and loans through FHU's Office of Financial Services. The university also offers many social clubs, intramural sports, a career center, disability services, and an active spiritual life.

  8. Drexel University

    Philadelphia, PA

    Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers a nationally renowned undergraduate photography program. Program graduates include winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Program alumni also publish in the New York Times Magazine, Italian Vogue, and Architectural Digest.

    Drexel's photography program combines advanced visual literacy with new technology skills to prepare students for photography careers. The curriculum explores all aspects of the medium, including digital techniques, traditional darkroom photography, and video. Students complete a six-month co-op to gain hands-on experience in the field and take three business-focused courses to prepare them for the market.

    The 180-credit, four-year curriculum includes general education, visual studies, photography, and elective courses. All students must pass three writing-intensive courses to graduate. Photography requirements include history of photography, advanced studio photography, and photojournalism. Photography majors get access to a variety of cameras, studio equipment, local equipment, digital labs and equipment, darkroom equipment, and a large studio.

  9. Brigham Young University-Provo

    Provo, UT

    The BFA photography program at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, focuses on professional development and career preparation. The program also explores photographic history, theory, and trends; technical expertise; ideation; and a commitment to the Mormon Church. BYU also offers BFAs in animation, graphic design, and illustration.

    BYU's 72-credit photography curriculum requires classes like introduction to digital veiling, introduction to black and white photography and darkroom techniques, and professional practices for photographers. Students must complete a capstone project and a professional internship. The curriculum also requires three career-focused classes in entrepreneurship, marketing, and career strategies.

    The limited enrollment program only accepts 40 students per year and requires departmental approval. Students must declare photography as a pre-major, complete the introduction to photography and digital workflow class, and submit an online portfolio of photographic work. The program accepts new students each June.

  10. Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC

    Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, is one of the few schools in the country to offer a photography degree that focuses on commercial photography. The curriculum covers technical and visual literacy skills, and photographic theory and practice. The program includes evening lectures from renowned photographers like Dixie Dixon and John Fedelle.

    The curriculum explores topics like commercial digital imaging, studio lighting, lab and studio management, and digital workflow. Students work on assignments that deal with narrative construction, portraiture, advertising, location lighting, and HDSLR video production. Although not required, many photography majors add a minor in business, communications, or entrepreneurial studies.

    Graduates work as photographers, videographers, photo editors, and producers. Appalachian's bachelor of science in commercial photography is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

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.

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?

Professional Organizations for Photography Students

Photography professionals and students often utilize professional organizations for networking, education, and professional development. Organizations such as the Professional Photographers of America and the American Society of Media Photographers provide resources relevant to both the business and the art of photography.

  • Professional Photographers of America Since 1869, PPA has supported photographers' career development. The nonprofit organization advocates for photographers, provides photography business protection, and offers various industry discounts. Members also gain access to online education resources and a database of photography professionals.

  • American Society of Media Photographers This premier photography trade organization offers business guidance and resources, including marketing tools, web design templates, and professional discounts. ASMP also provides networking opportunities and connects photographers to a photography assistant database.

Scholarships for Photography Students

Some qualifying college students reduce their educational expenses through scholarships. Usually awarded competitively based on merit, financial need, field of study, or identity group, scholarships do not require repayment. Several scholarships serve photography students specifically. See below to learn about some photography degree scholarships.

NPPF TV News Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The National Press Photographers Foundation (NPPF) offers the financial award to undergraduate students in journalism, photography, or multimedia. Eligible candidates demonstrate dedication to and talent in television photojournalism or video multimedia. Applicants submit a recommendation letter, portfolio, essays, and transcripts.
Amount: $2,000

Sony’s Photojournalism Scholarship

Who Can Apply: NPFF administers this Sony scholarship that supports undergraduate or graduate photojournalism students enrolled at four-year colleges or universities. Application requirements include a recommendation letter, essays, official transcripts, and a portfolio.
Amount: $500-$1000, plus a Sony camera

Fujifilm Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Qualified candidates demonstrate an interest in historically Black universities and colleges and a focus on visual or multimedia storytelling. Applicants submit essays, transcripts, a portfolio, and a recommendation letter.
Amount: $2,000, plus an X-T4 silver kit with an XF18-55mm lens

Learn More…

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