Performing and Visual Arts Colleges: How to Choose

Aspiring performing and visual artists may choose from a wide variety of schools: some offer liberal arts degrees, while others offer specialized training without general education requirements. Students can expect to take courses such as dance, figurative drawing, movement, and art history.

Students may earn bachelor's and master's degrees in performance and visual arts through the fine arts departments of many 4-year universities, colleges and art institutes. These programs are offered as either Bachelor's/Master's of Arts or Bachelor's/Master's of Fine Arts.

Top 10 Schools with Degrees in Performing and Visual Arts

Some of the most well-known and respected performing and visual arts programs in the United States are offered at the institutions listed here.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition & Fees (2015-2016)*
Yale University New Haven, CN private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate $47,600; Graduate $38,700
Rhode Island School of Design Providence, RI private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate $45,840; Graduate $45,840
School of the Art Institute of Chicago Chicago, IL private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate $43,960; Graduate $46,630
University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA public, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate In-state $12,763; Undergraduate Out-of-state $37,471; Graduate In-state $12,629; Graduate Out-of-state $27,731
Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA public, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate In-state $12,772; Undergraduate Out-of-state $31,464; Graduate In-state $12,779; Graduate Out-of-state $24,002
California Institute of the Arts Valencia, CA private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate $43,986; Graduate $43,986
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate $50,665; Graduate $41,371
Cranbrook Academy of Art Bloomfield Hills, MI private, not-for-profit, 4 year Master's Graduate $35,886
Maryland Institute College of Art Baltimore, MD private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Graduate Certificates Undergraduate $43,870; Graduate $43,870
Columbia University-New York New York, NY private, not-for-profit, 4 year Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate $53,000; Graduate $44,176

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

School Selection Criteria

Consider the following when looking for a performing and visual arts school:

  • Undergraduate students may choose a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts program, while graduate students may choose a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts program. Fine Arts programs are typically more studio based, while Arts programs include coursework in art history and other liberal arts.
  • Schools that are located close to major cities often hire faculty directly from the artistic community, allowing students to learn from experienced artists.
  • Internships, externships, and summer jobs are an important part of the training for this field, so students might want to consider schools that have required internships or schools that offer class credit for them.
  • Not all schools offer undergraduate or graduate studies in the same performing arts specializations; students should consider if they can complete all of the required coursework in their area of focus.

Bachelor of Arts in Performing or Visual Arts

These 4-year degree programs offer students a liberal arts foundation. Students may go on to enroll in graduate programs in a variety of fields, or they may enter the job market upon graduation. In addition to a series of major courses, students take a required set of general education courses, such as English, history, philosophy, religion and science.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performing or Visual Arts

These 4-year programs are studio based. Students must submit a portfolio or audition for acceptance to most BFA degree programs. Classes may contain some general education requirements, but are mainly comprised of sequential technical courses and humanities courses directly related to the major.

Master of Arts in Theater Performance

These programs usually take 1-2 years to complete. They include courses on the history and cultural context of the art form, as well as advanced courses on the craft. Programs may be anywhere from 30-60 credits. Some Master of Arts programs require a critical thesis paper.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Visual or Performing Arts

These studio-based degree programs usually take 2-3 years to complete. They culminate in a creative thesis. The MFA is considered a terminal degree, so graduates are qualified to teach at the university level.

There are a number of 4- year colleges and universities that offer performing arts programs where students can opt to pursue a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in performing and visual arts. Program are offered by both public and private institutions and costs vary widely from school to school.

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