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Photography Schools

Discover what photography schools have to offer.

Photography programs tend to revolve around some combination of classroom learning and applied studio work. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Photography programs tend to revolve around some combination of classroom learning and applied studio work.

Photography schools provide students with the necessary education and skills to work as a fine artist or launch a photography career. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, portrait photographer, news photographer, commercial photographer and scientific photographer are some of the careers available to someone with a photography degree.

While digital cameras and photo imaging software have in many ways become the standard tools of amateur and professional photographers alike, many schools continue to teach traditional dark room development techniques to their students in an effort to give them a well-rounded technical education.

Basic Coursework

Photography programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level tend to revolve around some combination of classroom learning and applied studio work. Their main focus is to educate students about the technical and conceptual complexities of photography. Students often first learn the basic techniques for capturing and developing images on film, and then are encouraged to explore digital imaging and newer techniques. They are also often required to supplement their studio lessons and seminars with traditional coursework in theory, literature, philosophy and art history, giving them a broad understanding of photography and an appreciation for its place among the arts. Schools also frequently invite visiting scholars and working professionals to conduct master classes and give lectures to their students, which exposes them to a range of different aesthetic and intellectual perspectives, as well as helping them network with potential mentors and employers.

The Top Photography Schools

Students can apply to photography programs in many different kinds of schools. Some programs are offered by art colleges like the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the Art Institute of Chicago, the California Institute of the Arts and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, located in Michigan. In addition to undergraduate and graduate programs in photography, these schools also have programs in many of the other fine arts, including sculpture, architecture, painting, glasswork and graphic design. Because of the sheer variety of disciplines at these schools, photography students have unique opportunities to interact, collaborate and learn from other artists. For many students and their families, though, these schools are cost-prohibitive. For example, tuition, living expenses and fees for the 2008-2009 school year at RISD total more than $45,000. The schools do, however, try to make their programs accessible to a wide a range of students by offering financial aid in the form of grants, loans, scholarships and work-study employment to those who qualify.

Some private universities also have art schools that offer strong photography programs. One benefit of attending a university or college instead of a fine arts college is the opportunity to study disciplines other than photography; although art schools do provide a basic liberal arts education to their students, they cannot match the variety of departments and majors at a large research university. On the other hand, an art department at a large research university may not have the same breadth of majors and specialties as a dedicated art school, limiting photography students' chances to collaborate and interact with artists working in other mediums.

Public Universities and Community Colleges

Public universities represent a more affordable and more accessible alternative to private universities and art colleges. They are also competitive with private schools in terms of program quality. Seven of the top 20 fine arts schools as ranked by U.S. News are part of public universities. Like private universities, public research universities offer prospective photography students a more diverse college experience than art colleges. Students at these schools can participate in the same kind of seminars and studio lessons as students at private schools, but they can also play varsity sports, study abroad and double major in subjects other than photography.

Applying to Photography Schools

Applying to a photography school is much like applying to any other college or university. Prospective students need to send their transcripts, letters of recommendation, application packet and test scores before the admissions deadline, which for most schools falls sometime in the January or February preceding the start of the fall term. One important part of the application to photography school that sets it apart from applications to other schools is the portfolio. In order to help admissions committees gauge students' technical and conceptual skills with a camera, prospective students are almost always required to submit a collection of their best photographs along with their applications. Each school has specific requirements for the portfolio, which are usually outlined on the application page of the school's Web site. When compiling their portfolios, students should choose photos that they feel represent their most creative, unique and compelling work.

PhotographySchools.com is a resource for identifying photography schools by state and finding general information on schools that offer master's, bachelor's and associate degrees.

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