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.
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:
30. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
BFA in Art and Design
The Art Career Project names the University of Michigan as the 20th best photography college in the USA. The other methodology lists are not as generous, with only Top Universities/QS featuring it, at between 151st to 200th. However, the University of Michigan is undoubtedly worthy of inclusion in this list, as it’s one of several colleges that treat its photography education in a broad manner. The college has no photography degree in itself. Instead, photography is a major part of its art programs. Prospective students can choose between a BFA in Art & Design, a BA in Art & Design, a BFA in Interarts Performance or a dual degree with a different school of study entirely, such as nursing or business. If you want to learn photography and develop a range of other skills, in either the arts or elsewhere, then the University of Michigan could be your number one choice!
29. Drexel University
This Philadelphia based college is 22nd on The Art Career Project’s list and 32nd on College Raptor’s list. And through analyzing this college’s photography homepage, it’s clear that Drexel’s focus is on creating photographers with a range of business skills. The curriculum at this college is entirely based around giving students the skills, “required to succeed in today’s marketplace.” Additionally, the jobs that alumni go into include owning photography studios, teaching, magazine editing and owning illustration firms. If you want to turn your photographic talents into a business specialism, then studying at Drexel is perfect.
28. College for Creative Studies
This college makes two methodology lists, with The Art Career Project considering it to be the 13th best college for photography. College Raptor is the other methodology list that features this college. Despite being only represented on two lists, further research upon the college’s alumni proves that College for Creative Studies deserves inclusion here. Alumni work in all areas of the photographic arts. This includes Michelle Andonian, who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Emily Berger, who photographs for The New York Times and Patrick Daly, who photographs for Converse and Reebok.
27. University of Oregon
University of Oregon places at 17th on College Raptor and 27th on The Art Career Project. Like most other colleges on this list, University of Oregon offers a BFA in photography. Like some other colleges on this list, it also offers a more practical BA degree. However, like few other colleges on this list, it also offers a BS in photography, for people who are really interested in photography as a technical program. But the unique aspects of the University of Oregon go further than just the BS. The BFA requires a fifth year of studio intensive work, allowing students to build up their portfolios. Also, the college has set up an amazing study abroad program where students can travel to China or Italy.
26. Brigham Young University
Photography BFA Program
Placing at 18th on The Art Career Project and 19th on College Raptor is Brigham Young University. While it only makes those two methodology lists, one other thing that makes it appealing is its incredibly affordable tuition. In 2015/2016, Brigham Young was 80% cheaper than an average American college. However, getting such an affordable education will be a challenge. Of the two bachelor level photography programs on offer, one is capped at 40 students per year and the other at 30 students per year. Another important distinction when it comes to photography at Brigham Young University is the department that it is taught within. The two photography degrees are part of its design department, not its art department. This is a subtle distinction, but it’s important. The course isn’t training you to be an artist, but a visual communicator.
25. University of Washington
BA in Art: Photomedia concentration Program
Placing at 10th on Universities.com, fifth on College Raptor and between 151st to 200th on Top Universities/QS is the University of Washington. This Seattle based college teaches photography in a different way to the norm. Its photography based degrees refer to its concentration as “photomedia.” This means that the college uses photography as the leading point for an education in a range of media in an artistic setting. And the college’s professors are perfectly in tune with this approach. For example, Professor Ellen Garvens works with sculpture, drawing, and video, but her most acclaimed work has been in photography.
24. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
This college features on three lists. College Raptor puts it at third place in the country; The Art Career Project puts it at 24th place nationally, and Top Universities/QS places it at between 101st to 150th. And the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is definitely more geared to the artistic side of photography. Its faculty members are the recipients of numerous arts grants, and their work hangs in galleries across the world. Also, this college’s photography curriculum combines photography courses with the art and design and art history courses, meaning that this is a great college for artistic collaboration!
23. Pratt Institute
The Pratt Institute is one of several entries that Top Universities/QS and College Raptor rank among the finest in the world but which aren’t represented on other lists. It places at seventh on Top Universities and 36th on the College Raptor. Pratt Institute is a surprising omission from the other lists because the college has plenty of unique claims. For instance, at the end of the undergraduate degree, students get the opportunity to have their work exhibited at the Pratt Photography Gallery and the Pratt Manhattan Gallery. And like similar prestigious photography degrees, it has a range of highly successful alumni.
22. University of Miami
University of Miami scores at eighth place on Universities.com and eighth place on College Raptor. And the University of Miami is definitely one of the colleges where photography and photography alone will be the focus of its degrees. The BFA program focuses on integrating traditional photography, digital imaging, camera usage, darkroom processing and studio capturing. Additionally, the faculty members for this degree are nothing short of outstanding. On Rate My Professors, the photography degree’s professor and area head, J. Thomas Lopez, has a 4.9 out of 5 rating after 67 student reviews.
21. George Washington University
This colleges makes two top 10 placements on the methodology lists but isn’t featured on any others. It’s seventh on Universities.com and sixth on College Raptor. And while it has a traditional fine arts photography degree, what really makes George Washington University stand out is its photojournalism degree. This degree’s entire focus is on documentary and news photography. And it will make students who undertake it stand out from the crowd and be fine-tuned to this industry niche. The college professors really know the field. Professors are currently working for and have worked for The Washington Post, National Geographic and similar publications. Additionally, alumni of this degree go on to work for United Press International, US News & World Report, Politico, The Wall Street Journal and more.
20. The New School
When it comes to art & design degrees in general, Top Universities/QS considers The New School to be at the very top, placing it at second in the world. It is only beaten by the UK’s Royal College of Art, meaning that The New School is that list’s top art college in America. Surprisingly though, most of the other methodology lists do not feature it at all. Only College Raptor ranks its photography education, placing it at 27th in America. The omissions are strange, as research into The New School’s photography program proves that it is indeed a world-leading degree. It gives students all of the practical skills they need and teaches the history and theory of photography in an incredible manner. It gets students into internships at the top companies in its local NYC network and across the world. And most importantly, its alumni are hugely successful. For instance, alumnus Jose Picayo has enjoyed a 35-year career and a retrospective of his work is currently on view in the Erie Art Museum.
19. Savannah College of Art and Design
BFA in Photography
Savannah College of Art and Design places highly on three methodology lists. Universities.com puts it at fourth place in America. Top Universities/QS has it at joint 36th globally. Lastly, College Raptor places it at 33rd nationally. While Savannah College of Art and Design has four whole degrees dedicated to photography, its education also teaches photography majors other creative techniques, such as graphic design and advertising. To date, this college has launched over 20,000 photographic careers, and it’s doing this through amazing career prep work. It helps students with resume development, portfolio building, mock interviews, self-promotion and internship and job placement.
18. Virginia Commonwealth University
Photography and Film Program
VCU’s top placement is on The Art Career Project, where it ranks at 14th. Top Universities/QS places it at between 101st to 150th. Resource puts it at 15th. Lastly, College Raptor places it at 25th. Virginia Commonwealth University’s photography degrees are combined with filmmaking, however, students must choose to concentrate on either discipline. And the program is quick to highlight its many achievements. For instance, in the last five years, $150,000 in professional awards have been granted to students and alumni.
17. Syracuse University
Photography BA Program
This college secures two top 10 placements on the methodology lists. Universities.com names it the sixth best photography college in America. College Raptor places it at ninth. Additionally, The Art Career Project places it at 23rd. One great thing about Syracuse’s photography degree offerings is that it offers both an arts-based photography degree and a more business-oriented photography degree. And you can study these as either a bachelor’s or a master’s. The photography degrees are even taught in different schools within Syracuse. The more business-oriented degrees are taught in the school of communications, and the art based degrees are in the college of visual and performing arts.
16. Massachusetts College of Art & Design
Photography BFA Program
This college makes three methodology lists. However, its ranking is very consistent on all three. The Art Career Project, Resource, and College Raptor all place Massachusetts College of Art & Design at 14th place. And one potential benefit of this course is that the degree is highly structured. The college’s website states that the second year of the college’s photography BFA consists around large format cameras with black and white film. In the junior year, digital photography and printing take precedence. In the senior year, the college makes students undertake extended projects and develop their portfolios. If you’re a student who wants to be part of a class of people undergoing a similar experience, then this college could be right for you.
15. California College of the Arts
With a ranking of 15th on The Art Career Project, 21st on QS/Top Universities, ninth on Resource and 67th on College Raptor, California College of the Arts has a range of unique opportunities. Many famous artists visit the college on a frequent basis, and it offers exciting internships in photography studios, art galleries and more in the San Francisco Bay Area. Additionally, the faculty members of the photography department have been New York Times photo editors and photographers for The Smithsonian.
14. Washington University in St Louis
The range of polarization on the methodology lists is the most extreme with Washington University in St Louis. It tops College Raptor’s list and comes in at second on Universities.com. The Art Career Project is less generous, placing it at 17th. However, it isn’t to be found on Top Universities/QS, US News or Resource. This strong difference of opinion may be due to the way that photography is taught at the college. Washington University in St Louis does not have a BFA or BA in photography itself, but rather it can be studied as a concentration in its art BFA degree. Or you can use photography in its communication design BFA or art BA degrees, which have no formal concentrations. This approach will appeal to people who want to keep their options open to study in a range of other artistic mediums.
13. Columbia College Chicago
Photography BA Program
Columbia College Chicago places at 10th of The Art Career Project, joint 11th on US News, 10th on Resource and 93rd on College Raptor. It doesn’t feature on Top Universities/QS or Universities.com. When it comes to the college’s faculty, everyone is an expert in the medium of photography, but all have their own specialisms. For instance, Dawoud Bay is a legendary photographer who has had exhibitions of his work held in the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Barbican in London, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Dawoud’s photography concerns racial issues in America, and he has won numerous accolades for his work. And this is just one example of the quality of teachers at this college!
12. Arizona State University
Art (Digital Photography) (BFA)
This is the first of two Arizona based entries to make the list. Both The Art Career Project and US News consider Arizona State University to be in the top 10 of photography colleges in America, placing it at ninth. Resource has a similar opinion of it and places it at 11th. However, Top Universities/QS places it between 151st to 200th on an international art college scale. Universities.com and College Raptor don’t feature it. One great feature of this college’s photography department is that its equipment lending policy is nonhierarchical. A first-year student can access as many items as a final year student. This really allows students to get to grips with anything they might want to experiment with throughout their college years!
11. University of Arizona
BFA Studio Art Photography
The Art Career Project considers the University of Arizona to be the 11th best photography college in America, while US News places it at joint 9th (joint with the other Arizona based entry.) Lastly, Resource places it at 13th. One major advantage of studying photography at the University of Arizona is that students get to enjoy the benefits of the Center for Creative Photography. It’s one of the world’s finest photography museums and is run by the college. Students participate in semester-long internships and can enjoy lectures from world famous photographers at the center. And of course, the museum’s extensive photograph and photography book collections are there for students to take advantage of throughout their study!
10. New York University
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.
9. Maryland Institute College of Art
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.
8. University of California, Los Angeles
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.
7. University of New Mexico
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;”
6. California Institute of the Arts
Photography BFA Program
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.”
5. Yale University
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.
4. Rochester Institute of Technology
Advertising Photography Program
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.
3. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
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.
2. School of Visual Arts
Photograph and Video Program
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.
1. Rhode Island School of Design
Photography BFA Program
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.