Whether you're a hobby photographer looking to go pro or a professional considering a teaching career in higher education, a master's degree in art & design in photography can be a valuable asset. Earn a master's degree online or on campus and enhance your portfolio as you learn more about the tools and techniques of the trade.
How to Earn a Master's Degree in Photography
Upgrade your skills in the trade you love with a graduate training in photography. This focused master's degree has real relevance to your life and career, and is often preferred or required by hiring managers and clients. Even if you've been away from school for years, a degree can help focus your talent, update your skills, and broaden your net of potential clients.
A master's degree in photography is typically earned in 1 to 3 years of full-time study. Both campus and online photography master's degrees are available in a range of specializations. Follow the steps below and you can be on your way to earning a photography master's degree.
Step 1: Learn Photography Master's Degree Distinctions
The first step toward securing a master's degree in photography is to learn the difference between the different types of degrees you can earn. Choosing one degree over the other could mean more years of school and an entirely different career path. Consider the distinctions between the two master's degree programs in photography:
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA): Setting the standard for academic credential, the MFA is the more popular degree for photography master's degree students. Graduates of MFA photography programs are able to teach photography at the university level. The MFA is a terminal degree, meaning that no higher educational standard can be met. Coursework is generally completed in 2 to 3 years of full-time study.
- Master of Arts (MA): Typically known as a professional degree, the MA requires a lower coursework commitment and is more commonly completed in 1 to 2 years of study. Many of the same MFA requirements stand, often including a thesis exhibition of your work. A photography MA may be appropriate for those continuing their theory education into a doctoral degree, or those wishing to teach at the secondary school level. Some MA graduates may teach in higher education, but the MFA is a more common qualification.
In general, an MFA in photography means more coursework requirements and a longer time commitment, but more credential upon graduation. An MA in photography offers professional training in less time, but doesn't allow for teaching possibilities in higher education. The degree path you choose should be based in part on your future career goals.
Step 2: Pick a Photography Specialty
All photography master's degree programs come with certain coursework requirements. Specialization and coursework elective options allow you to focus your major to your specific needs. Check out a few popular specializations for photography master's degree students:
- Fine Art
- Digital Media
- Studio Art
- Art Education
- Biomedical and Forensic
While most photography master's degrees offer a general MFA or MA, the coursework you complete allows you to enrich your portfolio, making it more attractive to hiring managers in the field. Whether you aspire to be a portrait photographer, wedding photographer, photojournalist, or educator, it's simple to find coursework with relevance to you.
Typical Photography Master's Degree Coursework
The specific courses you take help guide your career and shape your future. Coursework varies greatly from school to school and even from semester to semester in one school. Here is a list of sample coursework you might take in a master's degree in photography program:
- History of Photography Seminar
- Photographing History
- Digital Imaging
- Introduction to Critical Thinking: Photography
- Body, Space, and Image
Individual schools often post coursework requirements online, allowing you to easily review potential courses across each of your potential master's degree programs. Some courses offer a more studio-based, artistic level of training, while others focus on theory and history, and still others give students the choice of a mix of the two.
Step 3: Choose a Campus or Online Photography MFA/MA Degree
Before you can begin to create a list of potential schools, it's important to think about the method of education with which you are most comfortable. Campus degrees offer a traditional option, while online degrees present more options for flexibility. The type of degree you choose depends on your learning style, career, family obligations, and location.
- Online Photography Master's: Students of online photography MFA and MA degrees enjoy the convenience of logging onto class from anywhere in the world. The ideal online student should be self-motivated and prefer independent study.
- Campus Photography Master's: Students in campus photography programs appreciate hands-on access to labs, darkrooms, and software. Classroom meeting requirements could mean reducing your hours at work or shifting your schedule.
Hybrid courses may also be available. A hybrid program includes both campus and online courses, allowing you to add a little more flexibility to your schedule. Additionally, online courses may offer campus opportunities, like local gallery shows and advisor meetings.
No matter which type of degree you choose, it is crucial that you confirm that your educational program holds current accreditation from a third-party accrediting agency. Accreditation of photography programs is discussed later in this guide.
Step 4: Explore Photography Master's Degree Resources Online
After you've chosen the way you'd like to pursue your degree, it's time to compile a list of photography programs. Online guides and tools like the ones you can find on WorldWideLearn.com make it simple to start your degree search. Use the tools below to make the initial list of photography master's degree programs across the country.
- U.S. News and World Report ranks top photography graduate degree programs. The list is updated yearly and includes additional information on each school.
- The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of programs accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Schools can be sorted by location.
- WorldWideLearn.com maintains a list of online and campus photography MA and MFA programs. Make first contact with potential programs, request more information, and more.
- If you'd like to become a photography professor, browse the job search results at the Chronicle of Higher Education and learn more about the credentials required.
With these resources, you should be able to create a list of potential photography schools that meet your basic requirements. From there, you must make sure that each school on your potential list is backed by a valid accrediting agency.
Step 5: Confirm Each Degree Program's Accreditation
Accreditation is the process of school review that makes it possible for your photography degree to have the same high standard as any other. Third-party accrediting boards review schools for financial management, teaching quality, and other standards. Then, they make their findings public to help you make an informed decision as a potential student.
Keep these tips and tools in mind when determining the accreditation status of a particular school:
- The U.S. Department of Education maintains their accreditation search list. Schools can be searched by school name, location, or accrediting agency.
- Be wary of schools accredited by the Better Business Bureau or other entities that are not recognized by the Department of Education. While the credentials sound legitimate, the school is not legally accredited.
- Seeking an accredited education is crucial to your success. Accreditation affects credit transfers and training as well as how employers view your credentials.
Accreditation should be a requirement in your photography master's degree search. Your education is too important to be placed in the hands of a school without proper standards. Once you determine a school's accreditation, you can move forward with the confidence that you're enjoying a quality level of education.
Step 6: Focus Your Photography MFA & MA List
Once you've established a list of programs and determined the accreditation status of each, it's time to truly customize your photography degree search to your needs. Researching individual schools gives you a better understanding of what different schools have to offer. Use these categories to help refine your list:
- Perks: Consider the unique perks offered by each potential school. Schools may offer access to private photography studios, state of the art facilities, darkrooms, digital equipment, student galleries, and more.
- Funding: Photography graduate schools compete for your attention by offering scholarships and pay in return for teaching. Graduate schools in high demand are usually well-funded.
- Environment: Some MFA and MA programs in photography are likely to be more competitive than others, particularly if perks like scholarships and teaching stipends are on the line. If you're looking for less competition, an online photography MFA is one option.
- Faculty: A strong faculty list should have varied interests. Consider schools that employ professors with an aesthetic you appreciate; modern, for example. Because faculty often move among photography programs, don't choose a school based on the portfolio of one professor.
- Location: If you're choosing a campus photography MFA or MA, think about the city or town in which the school is located. Internships, photography jobs, and networking opportunities are more common in larger cities, although cost of living ios generally higher.
- Placement: Schools with internship programs and career placement services can help you put your portfolio into the workforce. If you're committed to finding a career in photography after graduation, consider placement statistics offered by the department.
Once you've applied the categories above to each school, you should be able to narrow down your list of potential programs to a select few that reflect you as a student. The process can be time consuming, but the rewards of your research mean less money spent on application fees and more control of the application process. Educate yourself on photography programs before you return to school.
Begin Your Application for a MA or MFA in Photography
By the time you're ready to apply, you should have a strong list with a handful of potential programs. Applying to a range of schools helps improves your odds and takes away the stress of resting your future education on the admissions board at one school. Keep the following in mind as you start the photography master's degree application process:
- Portfolio: Your admissions portfolio should include a strong range of creative and professional work. Of course, make sure the portfolio includes your original work.
- Requirements: Entrance exams, essays, and application fees vary from school to school. Stay organized with the program requirements of each potential master's degree program.
- Recommendations: Letters of recommendation are an essential part of many photography MFA and MA applications. Solicit recommendations from former instructors, employers, and other professional or academic connections. Make sure to afford them plenty of time to prepare your letters of recommendation.
- Deadlines: Keep track of the different application deadlines for different schools. Additionally, make sure you're on-track to apply for financial aid and scholarships.
Maintaining an organized application process means being in control of all of the variable factors above. As a photography master's degree student, you can broaden your knowledge with confidence in the fact that you chose a school that exceeded your requirements and offered an enriching degree experience.
- Barry University, Photography MFA, MA
- Columbia College Chicago, Graduate Studies
- Rhode Island School of Design, Graduate Photography
- The Chronicle of Higher Education, Job Search Results
- U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation
- U.S. News and World Report, Best Photography Schools