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Through the intersection of creativity, art theory, and technology, professional photography contributes engaging and culturally impactful artwork across many industries and applications.

A photography degree program can equip students with the technical skills and conceptual knowledge necessary for many careers. Graduates from photography degree programs earn a median hourly wage of $25.89 and use their degree for work in commercial, industrial, news and journalism, portrait, scientific, and other fields.

Depending on the curriculum, students can complete an undergraduate photography degree, averaging $14,688 per year, and enter the workforce in about four years. Graduate photography programs usually require two years of study and cost $20,513 annually.

How to Choose a Photography Program

Choose your area of study

A photography degree program offers students an advanced and comprehensive education in photography. Although not required for photography careers, these programs provide students with an in-depth exploration of complex photography concepts, such as lighting techniques, photography technology, darkroom techniques, and other skills and knowledge necessary to advance their photography skills.

Most photography programs are offered as undergraduate degrees through the fine arts department, with students earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Some institutions offer Bachelor of Science photography degrees, which typically emphasize technology and digital techniques.

A Master of Fine Arts in photography generally targets students who are already practicing photographers. These programs allow students to expand and deepen their artistic skills, preparing them for academic, specialized, technical, or advanced roles.

Consider your strengths, interests, and career aspirations throughout your research, and look for programs with curriculums and specializations that align with your goals. Photography degree programs sometimes offer specialization options, such as lighting and production, fashion photography, video production, art and cultural history, and more. Some fine arts programs may offer photography as a minor or concentration.

Research schools and programs

Accreditation is one of the most crucial factors in selecting a school and program. Regional accreditation, held by most institutions, ensures that degree programs meet the curriculum standards of the Department of Education and provide a high-quality educational experience. Students typically must attend an accredited institution to access federal financial aid. Accreditation can also improve academic and professional opportunities, as many institutions and employers recognize credentials from accredited institutions.

Verify accreditation status with the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs and Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Visit school websites for information about accredited programs, and contact an admissions counselor who can provide further guidance. Sign up for in-person or virtual information sessions, campus tours, and other events to learn more about the institution and program.

Prepare for tests and applications

Most photography degree programs adhere to standard university admissions requirements. Institutions may require undergraduate students to complete prerequisites in their first year before they may declare a major. Graduate programs may accept a combination of related educational and professional experience, and applicants sometimes must provide a portfolio of photography work or detail their personal essay with their intentions for their photography degree.

Standard admissions generally require the following materials and information:

  • Application form and fees
  • Transcripts
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Personal essay or statement
  • Resume or CV
  • SAT or ACT scores for undergraduates
  • GRE or GMAT scores for graduates
  • TOEFL (for students educated in a non-English language)

Speak to an admissions counselor or program representative to clarify admissions requirements, eligibility, deadlines, or other details.

Select your program

With a shortlist of potential programs, revisit your career goals and education preferences. Many factors can provide varying advantages to students depending on their circumstances. For example, employed students may need flexibility to attend school and prefer programs that offer remote, hybrid, part-time, or accelerated delivery options. In contrast, students who thrive in immersive education and don’t have logistics limitations may opt for programs with in-person instructors and peer interaction.

Consider various factors as you select your program, such as:

  • Tuition cost
  • Location
  • Curriculum
  • Faculty
  • Co-op or professional opportunities
  • Course delivery options
  • Campus amenities

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Federal financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, loans, and other funding can help students pay for their education. Apply through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to learn how much aid you can receive based on assessed need. Alternative loan programs, such as Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, or private loans, can also assist students with funding.

Some businesses, non-profit foundations, and other organizations may offer need or merit-based funding. Employed students should inquire with their employer about tuition assistance benefits. Financial aid offices and counselors can provide students with additional information about tuition and financial assistance and offer guidance for obtaining paid work studies, co-op positions, assistantships, fellowships, or other opportunities.

Best 50 Accredited Photography Degree Programs

Best Photography Degree Programs_2024 badge
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Rhode Island School of Design
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Arizona State University
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School of the Art Institute of Chicago
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Rochester Institute of Technology
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University of Arizona
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Virginia Commonwealth University
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Columbia College Chicago
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NYU Tisch School of the Arts
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Appalachian State University
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Fitchburg State University
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Massachusetts College of Art and Design
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Salem State University
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Fashion Institute of Technology
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State University of New York at New Paltz
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California State University - Sacramento
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University of South Carolina-Columbia
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California Institute of the Arts
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Spelman College
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Temple University
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Sam Houston State University
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Purchase College
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University of Central Florida
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Grand Valley State University
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Kent State University at Kent
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Ohio University
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Oakland University
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Savannah College of Art and Design
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Texas State University
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American University
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Maryland Institute College of Arts
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Drexel University
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Seattle University
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Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University
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Northern Arizona University
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Lesley University
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Western Michigan University
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University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
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The New School
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University of Central Missouri
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Lindenwood University
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Judson University
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University of Houston
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University of Washington
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University of Akron
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The New England College
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Pratt Institute
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University of Hartford
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DePaul University
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Webster University

Discover More Options

How we rank schools

This list focuses on the top college-level programs for photographers. It includes associate degree programs as well as bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. We looked for educational opportunities that combined the best training in the technical aspects of using photographic equipment and software combined with courses in creative expression, marketing and communication, video production, and even web design.

All of the schools on this list are approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the Higher Learning Commission, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Accreditation ensures that students will receive a high-quality education that prepares them for their future careers.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Photography Program?

Photography degree programs are an interdisciplinary educational experience that blends creativity, knowledge, and technical skills for analog and digital production. Students develop understanding and critical perspectives about photography and art theories in the context of society, history, technology, and other topics and apply their skills to creative projects across various mediums.

In addition to theoretical coursework and hands-on projects, undergraduate photography students often gain practical experience through internships. Undergraduate programs typically require about 120 credits and span about four years. Some programs may require a final project or portfolio of work for graduation.

Graduate photography programs offer a rigorous curriculum that helps students refine their ability to engage with and speak about art. Over about two years, students typically participate in graduate seminars, may work with an assigned mentor, and may also complete independent research presentations, a thesis, a photography exhibit, or other culminating projects.

Potential courses you’ll take in a photography program

  • Digital Photography. In digital photography, students explore composition, lighting, framing, editing, and printing. Advanced courses may also explore darkroom technology and studio techniques.
  • History of Photography. From the early 19th century to contemporary photography, this course provides an in-depth examination of artistic, technological, and cultural shifts related to photography. Topics may include notable photographers, major artistic and cultural movements, and the influences of visual arts and society.
  • Color Concepts. This course delves into the complex applications of color in photography, focusing on conceptual, cultural, and theoretical understanding. Students develop their critical perspectives and perceptions of colors in photography and on screen by studying historical color concepts, such as black and white photography and analog-three color photograph processes. They may also expand on technical topics such as image captures, light qualities, and color correction.
  • Studio Lighting. This course explores how lighting can affect the aesthetic, narrative, and creative elements of photos. Students learn contemporary and historical techniques through lectures, workshops, and independent projects and experiment with studio lighting and flash.

Photography Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a photography degree program?

Prospective students can find information about admissions requirements on program and school websites. Most school websites feature a web-based admissions portal that guides applicants through submitting the appropriate materials, fees, and information — an admissions counselor can also provide assistance to help streamline the process. Most photography programs require school transcripts, personal essays or portfolios, admissions fees, and letters of recommendation, but they may also require additional test scores or GPA information.

How much does a photography degree cost?

Without room and board, undergraduate photography degree programs total about $14,688 annually. On-campus accommodation increases costs to $27,673. Graduate programs average $20,513 per year.

These figures don’t necessarily reflect upfront student costs — scholarships, grants, loans, and other aid can help offset financial obligations. Tuition may vary depending on whether the school is a private or public institution, whether students are in or out of state, the local cost of living, and other factors. Photography students typically must also provide their film and digital cameras, lenses, and other equipment.

How long does it take to earn a photography degree?

Undergraduate photography degree programs require between 60 and 126 credits and typically take four years to complete. Graduate programs require 30 to 60 credits and usually span about two years. Part-time, accelerated, self-paced, or other study options can affect the time needed to satisfy graduation requirements.

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