Photography is a unique career. The most sought-after photographers often to travel to exotic locations and shoot images for leading news organizations or beautiful models for swimsuit magazines. Most jobs in the profession fall below those lofty heights, however.
The career is unique because if offers such a wide range of job possibilities. Some photographers excel at studio photography, while others shoot weddings and corporate events. Some provide professional images of buildings for real estate for brokers, while others freelance for a wide range of clients. Career possibilities are limited only by the photographer's depth of talent and ability to market his or her services and secure clients.
We created this list of the 10 best photography degree programs to help students learn more about college photography degrees. Educational offerings range from certificates and diplomas to Master of Fine Arts degrees in photography. Most programs featured below culminate in a bachelor's degree, a common educational obtainment for aspiring photographers. Students who complete photography degree programs are well-trained in the use of professional photography and lighting equipment and image editing software, as well as advanced photography techniques that can elevate their work above that of talented amateurs.
Keep reading to learn more about program offerings from these 10 featured institutions, as well as scholarship information, career possibilities and career outlooks for professional photographers.
Best Colleges for Photography Degree Programs 2018-19
The 10 institutions featured below represent our best colleges for photography degree programs from U.S. colleges and universities. We used data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics and a unique methodology to rank each institution. Keep reading for details on these 10 featured schools for photography degree programs, or click on the button below for additional information on how this list was generated.
The top school in our rankings of the 10 best colleges for photography degree programs is a small private four-year institution in Hamden, Conn. that focuses on preparing students for careers in art. Paier College has the second-lowest cost of in-state tuition of any school in our top 10 at $15,450, and it also had a favorable 77 percent graduation rate, an open admissions policy, and the lowest student to faculty ratio at 4:1.
Paier's Associate of Fine Arts in photography and Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and digital imaging programs include study in both commercial and fine arts photography. The associate degree requires 64 total semester hours to complete, while the bachelor's program requires 130. Students follow a pre-planned curriculum that includes a wide range of photography and general education coursework.
Our next school is a private art college with a flagship campus at Tucson and a second location at Albuquerque. SUVA-Tucson places second in our rankings based primarily on its 85 percent graduation rate, second-best among these featured institutions. The university also has an open admissions policy and extremely low 7:1 student to faculty ratio.
SUVA's Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography program requires 132 credits to complete. Coursework begins with foundations in photography, such as composition and design and progresses to digital imaging, alternative processes and computer editing software.
Southwest University of Visual Arts also offers a Master of Fine Arts in photography. The two-year program requires 63 credits to complete. Graduate students are assigned their own studio on campus, complete with computers, drawing tables, image editing software and printers.
This private, non-profit institution located in downtown Manchester is the oldest and largest art college in the state of New Hampshire. It places third in these rankings based on its open admissions policy and low 10:1 student to faculty ratio, as well as for the high number of photography degrees conferred to students - nearly a quarter of the college's total student population is studying photography.
Students who enroll in the bachelor's program in photography receive a Macbook laptop computer loaded software used by professional photographers. In addition to study of photography, NHIA students also complete professional coursework such as business marketing and finance and entrepreneurship for the arts. The institute also has a partnership with the University of New Hampshire so students can complete some of their coursework at that institution if they wish. The B.F.A. degree requires 1230 total credits to complete. NHIA also offers a M.F.A. in photography.
The fourth institution in our rankings is the second campus location for Southwest University of Visual Arts. SUVA-Albuquerque had the highest graduate rate among our featured institutions at 88 percent. It also has an open admissions policy, and students can expect a high level of interaction with their professors based on the university's low 6:1 student to faculty ratio.
SUVA-Albuquerque offers both Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in photography. The B.F.A. program requires a four-year commitment and 132 credits to complete, including 60 credits in the photography major and 27 credits of general education coursework. The M.F.A. program requires 63 credits and requires an additional two years of study.
Maine College of Art in Portland's Art District is the oldest art school in the state of Maine. Undergraduate students at MECA spend their first two years gaining a solid educational foundation before declaring their major. The next two years of study are spent working intensively in their chosen major.
The college offers a bachelor's in photography. Students have access to a wide range of professional photography tools, include DSLR cameras, darkrooms, lighting kits and studio lighting and a dedicated Macintosh laboratory. MECA makes our list in the fifth spot based on its favorable graduate rate and high 98 percent admissions rate. The college also features a low 10:1 student to faculty ratio, and students can take advantage of the college's alternative tuition payment plans to help fund their education.
This public independent art college was founded in 1873 in Boston's Fenway neighborhood and is one of the oldest art schools in the U.S. The college makes our rankings at No. 6 because it has the lowest cost of in-state tuition of any institution in these rankings, and it also has a positive 72 percent graduation rate and 71 percent admissions rate. Student to faculty ratio at the college is a low 9:1.
MassArt's photography degree program requires 120 total credits to complete, including 36 credit hours of study in photography classes and 18 credits in studio coursework. Students also take another 24 credits of studio electives. The program culminates with a senior project and thesis the student's final year of study.
This privately owned for-profit university has its flagship campus on New Montgomery Street in San Francisco and additional academic, administrative and student locations throughout the city.
Photography students can choose from concentrations in commercial/editorial, documentary or fine art photography. Students also can choose from the following degree pathways in photography:
- Associate degree (66 total units to complete)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (132 units)
- Master of Arts (36 units)
- Master of Fine Arts (63 units)
- Four-year certificate plan (120 units)
The bachelor's program requires 36 core photography credits, 42 credits in the student's photography major, 45 credits of liberal arts coursework and nine credits of electives. Academy of Art University is the only institution in our top 10 that offers degree programs online.
SVA is a for-profit institution located in Manhattan. The school was founded in 1947 and offers a B.F.A. in photography and video, as well as master's degrees in digital or fashion photography.
The school's undergraduate degree program requires 120 credits to complete. Students take 72 credits in studio art, 15 credits in art history, and 33 credits in humanities, sciences and electives. Undergraduate students also must pass an evaluation of their accumulated portfolio work at the end of their senior year.
The master's in digital photography is a 30-credit program. The Master of Professional Studies in fashion photography is an intensive one-year program that requires 21 credits to complete. SVA lands in the eighth spot in these rankings based on its 67 percent graduation rate and 75 percent admissions rate. Average class size is a low 9:1 student to faculty ratio.
Our ninth institution is a private college located in Raleigh, N.C. The college offers a four-quarter diploma in photography, a professional intensive diploma, or a three-year studio track Bachelor of Arts degree in photography.
The B.A. degree is a 180-credit program delivered over a dozen 10-week quarters. Students have access to professional studio and locational lighting accessories and instruments, as well as the latest digital image control software. Living Arts College's diploma program requires 76 credits to complete, and students must own their own DSLR camera.
Living Arts College makes our rankings in the ninth position based on favorable cost of in-state tuition compared to the other institutions in this list, as well as for its open admissions policy and low 10:1 student to faculty ratio.
Rounding out our rankings of the 10 best colleges for photography degree programs is this small private co-educational Catholic institution located in Buffalo, NY. Villa Maria College has the second highest admissions rate (85 percent) of any institution in our rankings without an open admissions policy. It also has a low 10:1 student to faculty ratio and offers academic and career counseling for photography students.
Villa Maria College's two-plus-two program in photography allows students who pursue an associate's degree to seamlessly enter the college's B.F.A. in photography program. The bachelor's program is focused on developing students' studio and artistic skills. Coursework includes a wide range of photography courses, as well as study in art history. The associate degree requires 60 credits to complete, with the bachelor's programs requires a total of 121 credits.
Photography Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Earning a bachelor's degree in photography can help students make the leap from being talented shutterbugs to working professionals. A B.A. or B.F.A. degree in photography is a common educational obtainment for students interested in photography careers -- and it also may be the minimum educational requirement for many employers. Here's a look at some common career paths for students who complete photography degree programs.
Career Outlook for Photography Majors
Advances in digital photography equipment and declining costs for good cameras is helping turn amateur photographers and hobbyists into competent photographers, which is expected to reduce demand for professional photographers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6 percent decline in employment for photographers through 2026. However, newer digital technologies, such as drone photography, could create increased demand for photographers skilled in use of this technology. More photographers are expected to be self-employed in coming years, the BLS notes.
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Photography
Federal financial aid is just one option to fund a college education. Students enrolled in photography degree programs should consider pursuing one of the many scholarships dedicated to photography majors. The North American Nature Photography Association funds several scholarships for photography students, and the National Press Photographers Foundation offers a variety of scholarships for students. The $10,000 Nikon Storytellers Scholarship is open to both graduate and undergraduate photography students.
End of June
Recipients may apply for one additional year. Minimum 2.75 GPA required.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Photography Program, Paier College of Art, https://www.paiercollegeofart.edu/programs/photography/
- Photography B.F.A., Southwest University of Visual Arts Tucson, http://www.suva.edu/programs/photography
- Photography, New Hampshire Institute of Art, http://www.nhia.edu/undergraduate-studies/undergraduate-programs/photography
- Fast Facts, New Hampshire Institute of Art, https://www.nhia.edu/~/media/files/undergrad/nhia_fast-facts.pdf
- Photography B.F.A., Southwest University of Visual Arts Albuquerque, http://www.suva.edu/programs/photography
- Photography, Maine College of Art, https://www.meca.edu/academics/undergraduate/bfa-majors/photography/
- Photography, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, http://academic-catalog.massart.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=6&poid=182
- School of Photography, Academy of Art University, https://www.academyart.edu/academics/photography
- Photography and Video, School of Visual Arts, http://www.sva.edu/undergraduate/photography-and-video
- Photography, Living Arts College, http://www.living-arts-college.edu/photography/
- Photography, Villa Maria College, https://www.villa.edu/academics/academic-programs/photography/
- Photographer, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm