Hero Image Top Photography College Degrees In America

Top Photography College Degrees In America

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Top Schools for Photography

The demand for photographers has never been greater. This is because of the popularity of social media platforms, like Instagram, mean that people are looking at photos more than ever before. Initially, you may think that that means there is less demand. After all, who needs a professional photographer when everyone has a high-end camera on their phone? But this is far from the truth. In actuality, companies are looking to make their mark on these social media platforms like never before. They need to stand out from the crowd; the key to this is hiring a photographer with an amazing eye for shots. And this is just one tiny area of the photography industry!

Now that you can see how in demand these skills are, you may be wondering how you can actually get into this market. After all, with so many people trying to make it as a photographer, getting established will always be a challenge. It all starts with the right education.

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Photography degrees have existed for over 100 years, and photography technology has evolved rapidly throughout this time. That means that the best photography colleges have created a strong bedrock of teaching methods but have also adapted to new innovations. This is what you need to identify when looking for the right photography college. Yes, it’s about classical composition techniques, but it’s also about using modern resources in the right way.

With this in mind, before you take your first steps into the photographic world, you need to take some time out to assess which photography college is right for you. This article exists to make this difficult choice easier for you. In the creative industry, there is no one way to teach something. Some people will benefit from a technical education, while others want a free-flowing, abstract approach.

We’ve put in extensive research and identified America’s top photography schools. After careful consideration, we know that the choices below are great for emerging photographers the world over. We’ve also discussed their approach to help you quickly determine if the college suits your learning style. And if none of the below are right for you, then you’ll at least know what things to look for in your own college options.


We’ve consulted many articles to determine our results. Our primary sources come from creative publications that know lots about the photography industry. Additionally, we’ve consulted lists of the best creative degrees in the US and the world to see which American colleges are on par with the best educational practices.

In creating our final list, we’ve used these publications:

The Art Career Project, The Best Photography Schools in the U.S. 2018: https://www.theartcareerproject.com/schools/photography/

QS/Top Universities, Art & Design: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2018/art-design

US News, Best Graduate Photography Programs: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-fine-arts-schools/photography-rankings

Resource, 15 Great College and University Photography Programs in the U.S.: http://resourcemagonline.com/2014/06/college-and-university-photography-programs/40100/

Universities.com, Best Colleges with Photography Degrees in the U.S.: https://www.universities.com/programs/photography-degrees

College Raptor: Top Photography Bachelors Degree Programs – 2018: https://www.collegeraptor.com/Majors/Details/50.0605/Level/Bachelors-degree/Photography

After using these methodology lists as a starting point, we’ve then conducted further research and worked out whether or not the statements in the above articles are true. This includes going onto the college websites, looking at student reviews of the photography degrees and looking for evidence of innovation in the programs.

We’re confident that the following list is the most reliable source on the internet for finding the best photography degree. Our rankings are sorted with the following criteria as a priority: methodology list placements, student satisfaction, evidence of alumni careers, evidence of innovation and experience of the faculty.

Our results, from 30 to one, are here:

  1. Rhode Island School of Design

    Providence, RI

    Rhode Island School of Design has a unique achievement on this list. It's the only college to rank in the top 10 of every methodology source. While no one article places it at one, it places at fifth on The Art Career Project, Third on Top Universities/QS, Seventh on US News, fourth on Resource, ninth on Universities.com and seventh on College Raptor. And the college's approach is meticulous. Initially, students study photographic theory and learn the essentials of printing and processing. After that, the college makes students apply what they've learned, allowing them to build up an impressive portfolio. Training the students throughout this process is a range of successful career photographers, such as Associate Professor Brian Ulrich, whose work has been featured in New York Times, Time Magazine, Harper's and more.

  2. School of Visual Arts

    Seattle, WA

    The NYC based School of Visual Arts manages to place in the top 20 of every methodology list and tops one of these lists. The Art Career Project lists it at eighth. QS places it at 17th. US news places it at joint fifth. Resource places it at sixth. College Raptor places it at eighteenth. Universities.com is the guide that places it at first. The School of Visual Arts offers students a great range of choice in what they want to focus on. For instance, if you want to take a short course, you can study digital photography, photo editing, black and white photography and analog photography. This variety continues with the college's photography and video degree program, where students can choose between 108 courses during their time of study.

  3. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

    Chicago, IL

    This college tops one methodology list, The Art Career Project. Top Universities/QS also considers it to be the eighth best art college in the entire world. US News states that it has the second best graduate photography programs. And Resource places it at third. What is School of the Art Institute Chicago doing to have earned these strong rankings? Well, as the college website states, the faculty's approach is to combine both traditional and conceptual practices of photography. If you're someone who wants to approach photography from a practical and abstract perspective, then this college is right for you! This approach is clearly working, as the college's alumni regularly win awards and grants. One example is Leonard Suryajaya, who graduated in 2015 and was recently given the 2018 Chicago Acadia Award, receiving $10,000 and many industry benefits.

  4. Rochester Institute of Technology

    Rochester, NY

    Rochester Institute of Technology's photography graduates are among the most hired in the country. The college reports a 94.1% job rate upon graduation for bachelor of science students and a 93.4% job rate for Bachelor of Fine Arts students. It's able to start promising careers so swiftly due to a number of incredible things that the college is doing. For instance, it's always bringing in visiting professionals, hosting networking events and giving students access to the most cutting-edge equipment. It features on five out of six methodology lists. Most notably, The Art Career Project and Resource both place it as the second best photography college in America. US News places it at fourth for graduate programs. Universities.com places it at fifth. College Raptor has it at 23rd. Only QS/Top Universities neglects to feature it.

  5. Yale University

    New Haven, CT

    Yale tops one methodology list but isn't featured in several others. US News states that Yale has the best graduate photography program. The Art Career Project places it as the third best photography college in America. QS/Top Universities places it at 29th on a worldwide scale of art colleges. Resource puts it at seventh. Universities.com and College Raptor neglect to feature it. An interview with graduating Yale students in Paper Journal reveals just what is so effective about the college's approach. Graduate Matthew Leifheit discusses how "each student has to show new photographs every five weeks. They bring in a panel of visiting critics (famous artists, writers, and curators)… Often they say things to your face that people would normally only say behind your back." This intense yet highly constructive approach may not be for everyone, but those who can face it certainly excel. Students' photos are shown in an exhibition in New York City, which receives coverage from publications such as Time. However, the degree is one of the most selective on the planet. It only admits 10 students per year.

  6. California Institute of the Arts

    Santa Clarita, CA

    CalArts's photography degrees are very well regarded on almost every single methodology list. It places at the very top of Resource's list. Similarly, it places at fourth on The Art Career Project, 15th on Top Universities/QS, eighth on US News, 37th on College Raptor but doesn't make Universities.com's list. The photography programs at this college come as either a BFA or MFA. One key thing that can be appealing to certain students is that the photography degrees here use still imagery as a starting point and then make students expand into other areas, such as moving imagery, installations, performance and more. Alumni are quick to praise the way that CalArts improves the depth of ideas behind the imagery. For instance, former student Catherine Rockhold states, "When I came to CalArts, I had little or no confidence in my work. My photographs were based only on aesthetics Now every photograph I take has a purpose."

  7. University of New Mexico-Main Campus

    Albuquerque, NM

    This college makes half the methodology lists. However, the ones that do feature it all place it within the top 10. The Art Career Project places it at sixth. US News places it at joint fifth. And Resource places it at fifth. One reason why the University of New Mexico is only ranked on half the lists could be due to its emphasis on student independence. As the college website states, "Successful progress through this undergraduate program requires a firm commitment to work intensively at the highest levels of creative and intellectual capacity. Self-discipline is crucial;"

  8. University of California-Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA

    UCLA ranks at seventh on The Art Career Project, 20th on Top Universities/QS, third on US News and eighth on Resource. The two lead photography professors at UCLA, Catherine Opie, and Rodrigo Valenzuela, have an impressive list of achievements. Both have had their work featured in the US and international exhibitions. Both have works displayed in world-renowned art galleries. However, any student who wants to study photography at UCLA should be prepared to stretch their skills to other creative areas. There is no photography degree at the college. Instead, all photography takes place within its art degrees.

  9. Maryland Institute College of Art

    Baltimore, MD

    This east coast college ranks on five out of six methodology lists. It is 12th on The Art Career Project, between 51st and 100th on Top Universities/QS, joint 11th on US News, 12th on Resource and 16th on College Raptor. And photography has been taught at MICA for over 100 years, making it one of the world's oldest institutions for this discipline. This means that the faculty can draw upon an almost unprecedented level of knowledge in implementing their education. However, MICA is also incredibly modern, with state of the art facilities on offer. Additionally, the college has many recent alumni whose work is being admired and noticed in the photography world. For instance, 2016 graduate Allyson Pinon recently won a competition resulting in her work being included in international exhibitions and photography books.

  10. New York University

    New York, NY

    This prestigious institution gets its strongest ranking on Universities.com, where it is third. College Raptor places it at fourth. Top Universities/QS places it at 33rd on a global scale. Lastly, The Art Career Project places it at 19th. And while some colleges put their photography degrees into a more business light, NYU is all about the arts. As it says on the college's photography homepage, "this program offers students both the intensive focus of an arts curriculum while demanding a broad grounding in the liberal arts." If you want to use your photographic talents for art, then NYU is clearly a great option.

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