What Are the Best Colleges for Photography Programs?

While you don’t always need a college degree to start working as a photographer, most commercial studios and other employers will require at least an associate’s degree, and some require a bachelor’s degree in the field. They want to know that you have taken the classes and learned the necessary skills to succeed as a professional photographer. During your time in college, you’ll learn about setting up a shoot, developing film, using a camera, working with photo manipulation tools, and more. If you’re going to spend the time and money to go through a photography program, don’t you want to attend one of the best schools out there? You want to ensure that you are attending a program that will offer you a great education.

Before choosing any school, the most important thing you want to do is ensure that the school is accredited. What this means for you is that the program and the school have met the necessary standards to be considered a legitimate education provider. This is especially important when looking at online schools, as there have been issues with fraud online universities, or “diploma mills”, that pose as legitimate schools but end up scamming students. There are many sites where you can check a school’s accreditation to be sure.

The following colleges have some of the top-ranked schools in the country. Though these have been ranked according to various resources, do no rely solely on published school rankings. When you are deciding on a program, make sure it’s a good fit for you. Look at the degree programs they offer, find out if the course requirements fit what you’re looking for and offer the flexibility you need. Other things to look for include their graduation rate and retention rate. These numbers will show you how successful the program is and how many students actually return and graduate from that school.

Yale University

According to U.S. News and World Report, the top fine arts program in the world for photography students is found at Yale. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale also has robust painting, sculpting, and graphic design programs, though this is undoubtedly one of the most difficult places to be admitted as a student.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Unlike Yale, this college is specifically for art students, and their photography program is often ranked among the best in the United States. Along with an undergraduate program, you can also specialize in photography as a graduate student at this college, earning a master of fine arts (MFA) in photography.

Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD, has long been considered a top school in the art world. The main draw here is the faculty and staff, which includes famous photographers from around the world, including Henry Horenstein and Deborah Bright.

San Francisco Art Institute

The photography department at the San Francisco School of Art was founded by Ansel Adams and includes some of the country’s most premier photography facilities. At this school, students can expect awesome training in both traditional film photography and development and more modern digital photography and photo manipulation.

Arizona State’s Herberger Institute School of Art

The photography department at Arizona State’s Herberger Institute School of Art is extremely small, accepting fewer than 100 students every year. However, this is regarded as one of the country’s best photography programs, with excellent facilities, renowned staff members, and one of the most rigorous curriculums available.

The Best Online Photography & Art Colleges

While amateur photographers abound, professional photography requires a high degree of knowledge and skill that can be gained through online learning. Currently, only the Art Institute of Pittsburgh offers an online photography degree (more details below). But many other colleges offer related online programs like graphic design.

Full Sail University — The BS in Graphic Design offered by Full Sail University focuses on honing the skills of established artists through classes in photography, design, and other forms of art. Students of this online program will work closely with a mentor. Many graduates pursue the Master of Fine Arts degree upon graduation.

Sanford-Brown College — Sanford-Brown College offers graphic design programs at the associate (AS) and bachelor (BFA) levels. Both programs challenge students to examine complex, multifaceted commercial design and create solutions for today's world. Students will learn from experienced professionals the basic design elements of effective visual media; planning, development, production of print publications; and web design.

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