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Best Photography Bachelor's Degree Programs

Apr 29, 2021

Photography Degrees

From photographing a wedding to selling artistic prints or taking scientific photos for documentation, photography is essential in many facets. The education you need to become a photographer can be as varied as the field itself. However, a starting point is usually an arts or fine arts degree with photo courses that teach you how to operate a camera and its equipment and also find your visual style.

The Top Bachelor's Degree Programs in Photography

1. Appalachian State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7409 77% 73% 70% Yes Yes AP Credits

2. Fitchburg State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10505 88% 58% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

3. Salem State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11284 86% 57% 92% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

4. Fashion Institute of Technology

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7990 54% 80% 73% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

5. Virginia Commonwealth University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14596 87% 67% 81% Yes Yes AP Credits

6. Arizona State University-Tempe

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11338 86% 63% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

7. University of South Carolina-Columbia

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12688 69% 77% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

8. Brigham Young University-Provo

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5790 67% 78% 71% Yes Yes AP Credits

9. California State University-Sacramento

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7368 82% 55% 85% Yes Yes AP Credits

10. University of Oregon

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12720 82% 74% 77% Yes Yes AP Credits

11. Sam Houston State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8536 83% 54% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits

12. Columbia College Chicago

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$27756 90% 50% 93% Yes Yes AP Credits

13. Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11962 75% 68% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

14. Purdue University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9992 60% 82% 65% Yes Yes AP Credits

15. Grand Valley State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13180 83% 67% 87% Yes Yes AP Credits

16. University of Rhode Island

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14566 75% 69% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

17. Kent State University at Kent

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10602 86% 62% 96% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

18. University of Central Florida

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$6368 44% 72% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

19. Oakland University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14520 83% 57% 94% Yes Yes AP Credits

20. Texas State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10581 81% 54% 76% Yes Yes AP Credits

21. State University of New York at New Paltz

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8502 45% 77% 82% Yes Yes AP Credits

22. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$17274 59% 85% 64% Yes Yes AP Credits

23. Ferris State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12376 87% 47% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

24. Northern Arizona University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11142 85% 57% 95% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

25. Western Michigan University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13017 80% 57% 82% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

26. University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14358 75% 59% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits

27. University of Central Missouri

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8043 65% 51% 94% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

28. Lindenwood University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$18100 88% 50% 100% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

29. University of Houston

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9221 65% 61% 87% Yes Yes AP Credits

30. Temple University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$16970 60% 74% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

31. University of Akron

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11636 73% 46% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

32. SUNY Buffalo State

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8472 67% 46% 94% No Yes AP Credits

33. Lesley University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$28875 75% 60% 99% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

34. Webster University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$28700 57% 58% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

35. Texas A & M University-Commerce

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8958 43% 43% 91% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

36. Barry University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$30014 51% 35% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits

37. Weber State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5986 No Available Data (2019-2020) 34% 91% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

What Kinds of Photography Degrees Are There?

You may read about different types of photographers, such as a sports photographer, a food photographer, or even a wildlife photographer. These careers don't require a special degree in sports photography, food photography, or wildlife photography, though students who want to take on these roles might be able to take electives and/or choose a concentration that helps give them experience in the area. Depending on the school, students may be able to participate in internships and capstone projects. Read on to learn more about the different levels of photography degrees.

Associate Degrees in Photography

A degree title you might commonly find at this level is the Associate of Arts (AA) in Photography. This degree is often used as a transfer degree, a foundation for further study at a 4-year institution, although it may prepare one for entry-level positions in the field, or to start working as a freelancer. Students have a chance to learn the basic concepts of photography, such as design theory, lighting, color, and how to operate cameras and equipment. They typically also take general education and liberal arts courses. Associate degrees are typically 60 credits and can take around 2 years to complete when studying full time.

Bachelor's Degrees in Photography

Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) are the most common photography programs available at this level. Here, students still learn the fundamentals of the craft, but they have more options to specialize their education by choosing electives or a concentration. This can prepare students to enter a specific area in the photography field, such as editorial, portrait, or documentary photography (more on photography concentrations below). Bachelor's programs also allow students to complete an internship; some even require it. At this level, students are typically required to complete a culminating project or develop a portfolio by the end of the program.

Master's Degrees in Photography

A Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) are the most common photography master's programs. They are designed for intensive study in specialized areas, and they allow students to develop their skills to an advanced level. Courses can be more tailored to the student's interests; courses at this level dive into things like the history of photography, advanced lighting techniques and visual storytelling. Many also include a practicum or internship for real-world experience. The degree usually culminates in a thesis or capstone project, or the development of a portfolio. Master's degrees typically require around 60 credits and can take around 2 years to complete if studying full time.

Doctoral Degrees in Photography

A Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., is a terminal degree that is usually centered around research and prepares students to work as college professors and positions in research. A Ph.D. in photography is uncommon, but students may still be able to study photography through a doctoral program in fine arts or visual studies. Since doctoral degrees are typically highly individualized, students can choose topics related to photography to study and research, although they may still take other classes such as art history or theory. The length of a Ph.D. depends on how long a student takes to complete their research and dissertation but students might expect to spend anywhere from 4 to 7 years completing a Ph.D.

Certificates in Photography

A certificate in photography usually offers a curriculum that's intensely focused on one area of photography, or on the basics of the discipline. Most do not include general education courses. The structure of a certificate can depend on the school it is offered at. Some schools have a photography certificate that is designed to be taken alongside a bachelor's degree, so it may last 4 years. Other schools offer a stand-alone certificate that can be completed in as few as 4 months or up to a year. A certificate in photography does not hold the same weight as a degree but may help amateurs and professionals alike develop their skills and demonstrate expertise to clients and employers.

Photography Bachelor's Degree Concentrations

Some bachelor's programs give students the option to choose a concentration to focus their studies on a particular area in photography. This lets students prepare for a more specific area within the field. There are many areas of photography one can pursue, but degree programs usually give 2-3 concentration options. Common concentrations at the bachelor's level include:

  • Professional photography
  • Fine Art
  • Documentary
  • Film production
  • Commercial photography

Curriculum for a Bachelor's Degree in Photography

Undergraduate photography degree programs typically include general, liberal arts, major, concentration, and elective courses. Students usually spend the first year or two in the program taking general and liberal arts courses, as well as some introductory major courses, before moving on to the core courses of their major. Concentration courses typically come later in the program as well, if they're available. One or more courses may also be devoted to developing a portfolio and/or final project. A few common courses in photography bachelor's programs include:

  • History of Photography
  • Photography Business
  • Principles of Photography
  • Lighting
  • Color Photography
  • Printing
  • Art History

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor's in Photography?

Bachelor's programs are typically designed to be completed in 4 years when studying full time. However, a student may complete the degree sooner by taking more classes, transferring credits from an associate degree, or taking summer classes when most of the school is on break. Some programs are designed to be completed in as few as 3 years, with the course load being more intensive or the classes being offered in shorter terms (such as 8 weeks).

Accreditation for Bachelor's in Photography Degrees

A school may be nationally or regionally accredited depending on the type of school it is (art school or traditional) and what agency they are accredited by. National accreditation is typically reserved for trade and for-profit schools, while regional accreditation is typically found at non-profit schools. Accrediting bodies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). A few of these accrediting bodies include:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Students who would like to receive federal financial aid must attend an accredited school.

Accreditation is sometimes offered for individual programs, as well. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits some photography programs. NASAD accreditation can be an indication that the program offers quality instructions and helps prepares students for a career in the field.

Photography Licensure & Certification

Most photographers do not need any professional licenses or certifications to work or advance their careers. However, some photographers may choose to operate drones to capture aerial footage. When done commercially, operating a drone device requires certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in operating an unmanned aircraft system. Recipients must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be able to speak, read, and write English
  • Be physically and mentally able enough to operate a drone
  • Pass an entry-level aeronautical knowledge exam by the FAA

Other niche certifications include Forensic Photography & Imaging Certification for forensic photographers and the Total Body Photography Certification, which is designed for photographers who photograph the human body.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Photography?

There are many directions a photography career can go in, and not all of them involve working directly with the camera. Some careers in photography include:

  • Photojournalist
  • Fine Art Photographer
  • Studio/Portrait Photographer
  • Wedding Photographer
  • Fashion Photographer
  • Sports photographer

Below are two career options for those who hold a bachelor's degree in photography.

How to Become a Photographer

Postsecondary education isn't a strict requirement for photographers, but it is a good way to learn the profession and develop skills. The education requirements for photographers varies by industry. Fashion, advertising, and fine art photographers may just need strong creative skills and developed portfolios. Photojournalists, industrial, and scientific photographers usually need a bachelor's degree and may require training that's specific to that field.

The type of photography an individual does usually determines what their workday will be like. All photographers perform tasks such as taking and editing photos, recruiting clients/advertising their work, and archiving any photos they take. But some tasks are specific to the area a photographer works in. For example, a portrait photographer may spend the majority of their time in a studio or on-location shooting posed photos for clients, while a photojournalist may spend the majority of their time capturing candid photos of an event or everyday life for a newspaper or other media outlet.

Many photographers freelance or run their own businesses. Some also teach courses. According to the BLS, the hourly median wage for photographers as of 2019 is $17.44. From 2019-2029, employment in the profession is expected to decline by 4 percent.

How to Become an Art Director

Art directors don't take photographs, but they do work directly with images to decide the layout and visual style of magazines, movies and television, product packaging, and newspapers. Art directors need at least a bachelor's degree in an art and design field, as well as relevant previous work experience; sometimes a master's degree in a similar field is beneficial.

Art directors exist in many industries, but one with a background in photography would most likely work for a magazine or newspaper. They direct other artists to create or capture images that fit their vision for the magazine/newspaper's layout and have the final say before it goes to print. They typically have a more managerial position and may work on the administrative side of the industry, such as maintaining a budget and project timeline, working with other departments, and keeping clients happy.

The BLS states that the annual median wage for art directors as of 2019 is $94,220. From 2019-2029, available jobs in the profession are expected to decline by 2 percent.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Information for Bachelor's in Photography Degrees

Financial aid plays a large role in one's ability to attend college. The first step to applying for financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is open to students who are planning to attend an accredited post-secondary institution. A few requirements include:

  • Student must be a citizen or eligible non-citizen of the U.S.
  • Be enrolled in an accredited degree or certificate-granting program
  • Have a valid social security number

FAFSA helps students with federal loans and grants, but there are many private scholarships and contests available as well, some of which are specific to photography students. A few include:

  • The Milotte Scholarship, for students accepted at a trade school, art school, or university who are fascinated by capturing nature in artistic ways, including photography
  • The James Alan Cox Foundation for Student Photojournalists provides financial support and equipment purchases for student photographers in high school and college
  • The Smithsonian Photo Contest, which can help students pay for college or equipment by awarding a grand prize and several category prizes

Difference Between BA and BFA Photography Programs

When choosing the right photography program for you, you may come across several programs that are designated as Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). It can be confusing to distinguish the two, especially when deciding which one will benefit you the most. The key difference between the two programs is the number of courses you take that are directly related to photography.

Both programs typically have general, liberal arts, and core major courses. BFA programs typically have more courses related to photography that focus on advancing creative skills. BA programs still have these types of courses, just less of them, and may be more beneficial for those who want to apply to a wider range of graduate schools or focus on other careers.

Professional Organizations in Photography

There are several professional organizations photographers can join, some of which are tailored to a particular area in the field, such as photojournalism. Professional organizations can help members network, advance their careers, and receive legal education and resources to protect their business. A few organizations include:

  • Professional Photographers of America, an association for professional photographers to help them develop and succeed in their business. They provide members with insurance for equipment, copyright protection, resources for contracts and marketing tools, and the chance to connect with other members online and at in-person events.
  • The American Society of Media Photographers works to connect photographers with clients, educate photographers on industry news, and promote photographers' rights. Members receive benefits such as legal and business advice and the opportunity to participate in Find a Photographer, where they can be directly referred to clients.
  • The National Press Photographer's Association is for students, educators, employees, and freelancers who work for media organizations. Members can receive benefits such as discounts on equipment and insurance, participation in the site's Find a Journalist service, guidance in their Mentoring and Critique program, and exclusive access to their network of jobs and internships.
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