Becoming a successful photographer is easier said than done. While there are always a select few who seem to have mastered the medium effortlessly, for most of us it takes dedication, work and education. But with so many photography programs in the US, it can be a chore to choose the right one for you. And with tuition fees this high — not to mention soaring student loan rates — it’s probably best to get it right the first time. So we’ve narrowed it down to t15 college and university photography programs in USA that we think are outstanding, to help you make better choices.
15. Virginia Commonwealth University
Students in this program are taught technical and artistic skills to begin their careers as professional artists, multimedia specialists, and editorial or commercial photographers. With a relatively broad range of emphases, this program places great emphasis on individual artistic expression. The university offers BFA and MFA degrees, while the graduate program ranked 4th among public programs in photography and film US News & World Report.
14. Massachusetts College of Art and Design
In this BFA program, students explore the medium of photography as a fine art with an emphasis on personal vision, technical excellence, and experimentation. Beginning with black and white films – similar to most other schools – the focus later shifts to extended projects and portfolio development. There are also electives for specific subjects such as landscape, documentary, portrait and more.
13. University of Arizona
The UVA bachelor’s program allows students to earn a K-12 teacher certification along with their photography degree and offers courses in traditional black and white saferoom techniques, digital and other imaging technologies, color processes, large format photography, video and performance.
12. Maryland Institute College of Art
MICA’s BFA photography program explores a variety of disciplines, from black and white digital printing to non-traditional processes and studio lighting techniques. But it’s highly competitive, as each spring seniors compete for the Meyer Photography Traveling Scholarship, which gives a senior photography major the opportunity to travel to the United States or abroad for a photographic project.
11. Arizona State University
Despite its reputation as a frat-bro, ASU’s BFA photography program is considered one of the top institutions in the country, and its graduate photography program has been ranked by in the top 20 in the country US News and World Report since 2002.
10. Columbia College (IL)
Columbia College’s undergraduate photography program is one of the largest and most competitive in the United States. But with facilities that include a 200+ workstation digital imaging lab, darkrooms along with 150+ magnification stations, sophisticated scanning equipment and more, it’s easy to see why.
9. California College of the Arts
For students, this program is divided into three parts: shaping the student’s artistic worldview, mentoring and critique from real-world visionaries, and developing a photography career. Students are encouraged to participate in internships at Bay Area photo studios, art galleries, and magazines.
8. University of California (Los Angeles)
Photographic history and narrative studies are heavily emphasized in UCLA’s undergraduate photography program, along with an emphasis on installation and video art coupled with photography.
7. Yale School of Fine Art
This highly selective MFA program admits only nine students per year, while students are submitted to a critics’ panel for a final review each semester. This program also focuses on a broad definition of photography as a lens-based medium.
6. School of Fine Arts
With state-of-the-art facilities open until 4am, SVA is known as the best choice for students wishing to earn a BFA in Photography in New York City. Not to mention, seniors are paired with mentors invited from NYC’s rich arts scene, while some of their recent graduates are currently represented by Julie Saul, Yossi Milo, Yancey Richardson, and Daniel Cooney.
5. University of New Mexico
This program offers an interdisciplinary approach to photography, including video, film, sound, performance and installation. While “self-discipline is key and performance standards are high,” according to the college’s website, facilities include digital classrooms, computer labs and state-of-the-art darkrooms for film development and silver-based printing. Advanced students also have access to lighting equipment, medium format and view cameras, and DSLRs. In both BFA and MFA programs, emphasis is placed on the student’s personal growth through aesthetic and intellectual development.
4. Rhode Island School of Design
The RISD BFA program explores the social, cultural, and historical aspects related to the cultural continuum of photography. A large part of the program is learning how to ‘read a picture’ and in junior year students learn digital printing, web projects and video and finish the program with exhibitions at campus galleries. “As part of this exploration, photography will be examined both as a language and as a craft,” states the college’s website.
3rd School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The SAIC program offers both graduate and undergraduate programs and a faculty of distinguished and practicing artists. In the undergraduate senior seminar class, students focus on professional development — an area many other schools lack — and are paired with graduate students for collaboration.
2. Rochester Institute of Technology
Unlike most undergraduate photography programs that offer a more general photography education, RIT offers a variety of different photography majors in specific areas of study. This includes commercial photography, fine art photography, photojournalism and even biomedical photographic communication.
1. California Institute of the Arts
This highly progressive program trains students to become independent artists, in which courses are designed to challenge conventional notions of artistic practice and challenge the position of representation in contemporary culture. As nothing in photography’s relationship to the rest of the art world is ever stable, the program encourages debate and experimentation. The college offers both BFA and MFA programs.
Interested in studying abroad? Check out our recommendations for the 15 best international schools for photography!