Art Degrees

Knowing the differences between the following four art school degrees will help you choose the right course of study for you. All four are recognized by employers as academic achievements and proof of artistic skills and training.

Certificate Program

Certificate programs normally focus on one particular area of study as opposed to bachelor’s degrees, which offer a wide range of humanities and general studies classes to surround the core curriculum. Studying to earn a certificate plunges you directly into the fundamentals of the area you want to learn. A certificate program takes a shorter period of time to complete than a four-year program (from one semester to two years) and directly prepares you for the workplace or a promotion, showing an employer that you have been trained in a specific area.

Advantages of an Art School Certificate

  • Learn new, cutting-edge skills to keep you up to date in your profession
  • Increased knowledge helps with promotion
  • Meet and network with professionals in your field
  • Less expensive than a four-year program
  • Can be completed in a shorter amount of time than an associate’s, a four-year, or a master’s program

Disadvantages of a Certificate

  • Does not help you transfer into a four-year program
  • Is not recognized as a full degree
  • Is not as well-rounded or farsighted as a liberal arts education

Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is earned after a two-year course of study equivalent to the first two years of a four-year college program. Associate’s art school degree programs offer fundamental classes in the arts to ready students for transfer into accredited four-year programs. They are offered by many junior, technical, and community colleges, as well as some four-year colleges. Generally, associate’s degrees can be divided into transfer degrees and career or professional degrees. The requirements usually include general education courses such as English composition, algebra, and humanities, along with art and design courses.

Advantages of an Associate’s Degree

  • Prepares you for four-year study
  • Helps you transfer from a junior, technical, or community college into an accredited four-year program
  • Introduces core curriculum of chosen field along with other classes
  • Economical way to explore first two years of higher education

Disadvantages of an Associate’s Degree

  • Not as focused on art courses as a certificate program
  • Takes longer to earn than certificate
  • If you stop at an associate’s degree, you have only half the educational experiences of a four-year program graduate

Bachelor’s Programs

Bachelor’s, or undergraduate art school degrees are earned through four years of study if you enter after high school. If you transfer into a bachelor’s program with an associate’s degree, it should only take you two years to complete. Two types of bachelor programs are offered for art and design students: a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). The difference between a BA and BFA is the percentage of liberal arts classes required.

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

A BA requires that two-thirds of the course work includes liberal arts classes and one-third includes art and design. Students have a more comprehensive knowledge of the liberal arts, but less studio time than that available in a BFA program.

Advantages of a BA

  • Broader range of study
  • Broader range of employment opportunities

Disadvantages of a BA

  • Less studio time to practice skills and technique
  • Less time studying art and design

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

The BFA is, according to the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD), the standard degree for students going for a professional education in art and design. A BFA requires that two-thirds of the course work focuses on art and one-third focuses on liberal arts.

Advantages of a BFA

  • More studio time to develop technique and aesthetics
  • Better chance of getting professional work as an artist

Disadvantage of a BFA

  • Fewer humanities classes, so narrower field of study

Art and Design Master’s Program

Throughout the United States, a master’s degree is considered the highest degree offered in a particular field of study and can only be earned by those who’ve already gotten a four-year undergraduate art school degree.

Master of Arts (MA)

MA programs usually require 50% liberal arts courses and 50% classes in art and design. An MA is a one-year or 30-credits program.

Advantages of an MA

  • Earned in shorter time than MFA
  • Wider field of study, including more humanities classes

Disadvantage of an MA

  • Less studio time

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

  • An MFA is considered advanced training before entering the professional world. Students are offered intensive hands-on learning in art and design. The MFA is a two-year or 60-credit program and requires between 65 and 85% art and/or design classes.

Advantages of an MFA

  • Focus on developing artistic techniques and skills
    Intensive preparation for professional work as an artist

Disadvantage of an MFA

  • Narrower field of study, fewer humanities courses