The following is a guest post exclusive to pixelogist.me by Linda Forshaw. Thanks, Linda!
The Parisian born fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier didn’t go to college. His impressive career creating iconic portraits and photographing covers for glossies around the world was launched on the back of an Eastman Kodak gifted by his father on his seventeenth birthday. There is also the case of Ansel Adams; the high school dropout who became a renowned photographer and environmentalist famous for his black and white photographs of the Yosemite National Park. Although it is likely that there are plenty of other tales of success achieved without the benefit of a college degree, the majority of people hoping to enjoy a professional career in photography will choose to attend college. A typical route is a four year undergraduate degree (arts major), followed by a two or three year Masters in Fine Art (MFA) or similar at graduate school.
Like most subject areas, graduate courses in photography are often ranked in order of various metrics. One of the better known national organizations that rank colleges is U.S. News. By combining the rankings offered by U.S. News with other official rankings that aim to identify the best overall colleges, we can identify five universities that appear simultaneously in the U.S. News Top 20 Photography Programs as well as in the Forbes list of Best American Colleges and The Times list of Top North American Universities. In doing so, we stand to identify those colleges that can offer photography students not only a comprehensive understanding of the subject and development of their artistic direction but also offer an all round exceptional college experience.
Pursuing a Professional Career in Photography: The Best Colleges for the Job
Ranks: U.S. News 1 – Forbes 5 – The Times 11
Students opting to attend grad school at Yale University in Connecticut will study a two year program in photography. To encourage a wide variety of expressive means, both analog and digital facilities are available. The program admits just nine students each year. Facilities include shared darkrooms (2 students per room), a variety of scanners, printers and color processors, as well as several spaces for viewing of work. Equipment is available for hire.
Arizona State University
Ranks: U.S. News 11 – Forbes 305 – The Times 148
Grad students at Arizona State University attend the Herberger Institute School of Art for the duration of their two year program. Aside from the attraction of studying in one of the most dynamic urban areas in the U.S., students will also benefit from the teachings of one of the finest art institutions in the world. The photographic possibilities are varied with media such as silver gelatin and chromogenic color readily available. The Northlight Gallery exhibits the work of students alongside that of established photographers.
Ranks: U.S. News 13 – Forbes 8 – Times 14
The Columbia University School of the Arts in Broadway, New York offers a two degree graduate program. Students graduate with an MFA in Visual Arts. Each student benefits from the use of a 24-hour studio, a digital media centre, and traditional dark rooms. Students are encouraged to take electives that lie outside of the core Visual Arts Program. Options include writing, film programs, art history, and theatre arts. The idea of this is to assist students to develop a broad base of art theory upon which a solid studio practice can be built.
University of Arizona
Ranks: U.S. News 16 – Forbes 272 – Times 98
The University of Arizona offer a two year MFA in Studio Art. Students may also wish to pursue the graduate certificate in Museum Studies and the K-12 Teacher Certification. There is a varied curriculum that incorporates such facilities as color and black and white darkrooms, large-scale photography, and color processes. At any one time, there will be an elite number of between six and ten students enrolled on the MFA program. Students enjoys lectures from distinguished photographers and have the chance to undertake semester-long internships.
Carnegie Mellon University
Ranks: U.S. News 19 – Forbes 69 – Times 22
The MFA at the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh is delivered over three years. The first year is devoted to structured course work of core subjects and the second to a mix of structured and independent coursework. The final year is devoted almost entirely to independent work and culminates in a thesis paper and exhibition. Facilities include 24-hour access to state-of-the-art digital labs and traditional silver-based darkrooms. The Equipment office lends a full range of equipment to photography students.
Decisions for Student Photographers
The decision of whether to attend graduate school is one of the most important professional decisions to face a student photographer. An MFA will likely cost upwards of $20,000 in annual tuition and fees, so the student must be confident that they will gain from university what they could not by perhaps attending carefully chosen workshops (such as in the case of aspiring photography teachers). For many self-motivated photographers an MFA is desirable but by no means essential, although the opportunity to display creative work in some of the best university’s galleries should not be underestimated.
The various rankings of the best photography schools are a good place to get a high level view of the strength of the available programs, but research should by no means end there. Potential grad students should take the chance to solicit personal recommendations from trusted teachers who will often be best placed to understand where a particular individual might thrive. Some schools will place a greater importance on academia, making them good choices for students with an aptitude and interest in photographic history. Others will encourage students to enroll on a wide variety of courses, while still more will place significant emphasis on one particular style. Above all that, it is only a personal visit to an art school that will truly allow the student to meet the faculty, breathe in the atmosphere, and see if they can feel at home there as an artist.
By Linda Forshaw
Linda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. A contributor to Degree Jungle, Linda is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay
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