Paying for Photography School

One of the biggest factors in choosing any school, including photography school, is the cost. You need to consider tuition, fees, equipment needed, housing, and food in your estimated school costs. None of these is easy to estimate, but do the best you can. Usually it is wise to settle on a higher cost than your original number to take into account unexpected expenses.


When applying for photography school, you should determine whether you qualify for grants. Receiving grant money is desirable because the money does not have to be paid back. If you still need financial help, it’s time to look for financial aid.

The biggest factor in receiving financial aid is a form called the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You need to fill out the FAFSA in January of the year you plan to begin school. The availability of grant money is limited, so the earlier the FAFSA is in, the better your chance of receiving money for school. To fill out the FAFSA, you will need your current tax forms, some financial records, a calculator, and some time. If you are under 23 and still living with your parents, you will fill out the form using their tax returns and information. The form can be filled out and submitted online.

The FAFSA is used by the federal government to determine whether you qualify for Pell Grants and how much you could receive. Pell Grants are excellent financial aid; they are based on financial need, not grades. Also, the money is a grant, not a loan, so it does not have to be paid back. The amount a student may receive ranges from $200 to $4,000, but the money available is limited. Once the money is awarded, there is no more, even for qualified students. So get that FAFSA in early. You also should check to see whether your chosen school is eligible for students who receive Pell Grants.

You will need to reapply for Pell Grant money each year. So, at the beginning of the calendar year, gather your information and fill out the FAFSA information again. Be sure to do it early enough for money to be available.

Other organizations also offer grants. For example, the Aaron Siskind Foundation provides grants to individuals working in still photography and photo-based art. The North American Nature Photography Association has money available through the endowment of a patron. The National Press Photographers Foundation, Inc. awards grants and scholarships each year. Some of these contests for grants are based on photograph portfolios, so you already need some experience and talent in the field. The criteria for these grants vary, as some are for undergraduate students while others are for working professionals.

Paying for Photography School

Search online sources for other grants. You might qualify for money that is not attached to the photography field. Companies, associations, and organizations have grants available to college students and often these can be used for photography school.


You need to begin filling out applications for scholarships well before you expect to enter photography school. The first step is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You can find it online at the FAFSA website. You need your current tax forms, financial records, and a calculator, and it will take a few hours to complete. If you are under 23 and still living with your parents, you will fill out the form using their tax returns and information. The form can be submitted online.

The money from scholarships, like grant money, does not have to be paid back.

Scholarship money can be awarded based on a large array of factors. Your high school GPA, community service, and photography contests can all win you scholarship money. This money comes from colleges, businesses, nonprofit groups, and others, and it is usually not based on financial need, though that can be a factor. Even if you don’t have the highest grades, there are scholarships available. The school that you plan to attend will have lists and you can also search online for possibilities.

Some scholarships are available from photography associations. For example, the National Press Photographers Foundation, Inc. has scholarships for up to $2,000 for undergraduate and continuing education students. Professional Photographers of America also awards scholarships. Do an online search and you will find photography scholarships that are attached to a particular school. The school of your choice may have information on its website about possible scholarships. You may need to provide a portfolio of photographs that you have taken, and some scholarships are awarded in specific categories, such as scenic, digital, news photos, or portraits.

There are other scholarships not based on photography. You will find scholarships for older students, minority students, scholarships for high school seniors, or those planning to stay in a certain location.

Apply for any scholarships for college students of any major. Many businesses and organizations have scholarships available for their employees or children of their employees. Religious, service, and nonprofit organizations offer scholarships.

Apply for as many scholarships as possible that fit your circumstances. Every little bit helps so you can get through photography school without a heavy load of student loans.

Financial Aid Advice

The best advice when searching for financial aid is to start early. Don’t wait until a month or two before starting school. If you plan to enter a college for a degree in photography, start looking for financial aid at least by January of your senior year. Even earlier would be better. This gives you time to know what is available and what is required for the application. As soon as you have tax information assembled, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This federally managed form will determine your qualifications for federal grants and loans, and it gives you and the college an idea of the additional financial aid that you may need.

If you are not attending a college but are planning to attend an intensive, shorter-term course for photography school, also start early. These schools may have information about financial aid on their websites. Most sources of money will be used up by the earliest students, so apply early.

The second thing you need to do is make a plan for finding financial aid. Some grants or scholarships will require written essays, photography portfolios, and letters of recommendation. It takes time to prepare these items, so make a plan to get it done.

Once you know the total financial aid offered, you will likely find that it is not enough to cover all your photography school costs. You may need to work to fill the gap or continue to search for sources of funds.

Don’t rely completely on federal money, scholarships from the school or college, or those based on photography. You may qualify for scholarships through your parents’ workplace or because of ethnic, family, or regional characteristics, or associations that you or your parents belong to. You might find scholarship sources that you never expected. Do an online search to see what’s out there.

Your financial aid for school will usually be a combination of grants, scholarships, loans, and your own money. The more you can find in grants and scholarships, the less you have to pay back on student loans later. It is up to you to find the best mixture possible, so start early on the plan and work hard.

Student Loans

You will most likely take out student loans to attend photography school, especially for a degree program at a college. Your qualifications for a federal loan will be determined by the information you put on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Fill this out in January of the year you plan to start photography school. It can be done online and you will need information from your current tax forms, financial institutions, and work pay stubs. The earlier you can fill out the form, the better. You will receive a readout that tells you what grants and federal loans you are qualified for. It will also tell you what your family’s financial costs will be.

There are two types of loans available to students: federal loans and private loans. Federal loans have lower interest rates and better terms, so it makes sense to use them first. These loans are divided into two main types: the Perkins Loan and the Stafford Loan.

Perkins student loans are based on financial need of the student. It currently has a 5 percent interest rate and the government pays the interest while you are in school and for nine months after you leave school.

Stafford student loans comes as both subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based on financial need and the government pays the interest during school and for six months after leaving. The current interest rate is 6.8 percent. Loan amounts are set at $3,500 for college freshmen, $4,500 for sophomores, and $5,500 for juniors and seniors, with a total not to exceed $23,000.

The unsubsidized Stafford Loan is available even for wealthy students. You must pay the interest during school or you can roll it into the total loan costs. Loan amounts vary depending on the student’s situation. An independent student can borrow up to $9,500 as a freshman, $10,500 as a sophomore, and $12,500 both junior and senior years. The total cannot be more than $57,500. Dependent students can borrow $5,500 as a freshman, $6,500 as a sophomore, and $7,500 for both junior and senior years. The maximum total is $31,000. These numbers are for the 2010-11 school year.

Other loans from the federal government are available for parents of students, at lower rates than would be found from private sources, such as banks. When you receive the package of financial aid from FAFSA, it will list any grants you qualify for, an amount for subsidized loans if you meet the requirements, and the rest listed as unsubsidized loans. You decide what amounts to accept, based on what you or your family can pay. It is a complicated process, so ask questions if you don’t understand. Your school’s financial aid office is available for any questions or clarifications.

Student Finances

Financing the cost of photography schools will take attention to details—how much you received in financial aid, how much tuition, fees, books, equipment, and living expenses cost, and how much you are spending on other things. A big challenge in handling the money is that it is usually awarded to you in one lump sum. The grant, scholarship, or loan amount will be applied to your tuition, fees, and on-campus housing. But if there is more money intended for your living expenses, you must manage that very carefully. If you receive a check, you can’t spend it all the first month of school. Make a budget to make it last for the entire semester or school term.

Another important tip is that you should plan to live frugally during your school years. If you borrow $100, it easily turns into $200 by the time you repay the loan. It’s better to borrow as little as possible. Then, when you are out of school and starting a new job or business, your money can go primarily toward your living expenses and not toward loan payments.

If you have a federal loan, you will begin to pay it back at either six or nine months after finishing school. Plan for that in your budget once you are out of school. If you are spending every dollar you make, it will be difficult to make the loan payments once they start.

If you are taking out an unsubsidized loan, the interest will not be paid by the federal government during your school time. If you can possibly afford to pay that interest during school, it will decrease the amount you owe after you finish school.

When considering school costs, you should carefully consider all the costs. The amount for on-campus housing may sound excessive, but it often is cheaper than renting an off-campus apartment when all costs are considered. You should try to eat cheaper meals on campus, rather than eating out or ordering pizza, as much as possible. Many businesses have student discounts for food, entertainment, and other supplies, so use those when you can. For photography school, you will have high costs for equipment, film, and processing. Use discounts or facilities at school where possible.

You are in control of your finances, so the choices you make as a student will directly affect the loan payment amounts you will make after finishing school. Make your choices wisely.

The type of school and the degree you work toward make a huge difference in the costs. If you attend an art institute, expect higher costs than for your local community college. Online classes can cost quite a bit less than an on-campus course. Of course, an eight-week course or a two-year program will be substantially less expensive than a four-year degree or the Master of Fine Arts degree.

Costs at a top-rated art school can run from $35,000 to $40,000 a year for four-year programs. Other schools offer intensive training sessions for shorter durations; for example, a thirty-six-week course at an approximate cost of $10,000 or weeklong classes costing about $1,500. For these options, the costs of room and board are included, but may be more or less than what you pay, depending on your housing situation. If you can stay where you are currently living, or live with parents or a spouse, your costs may be lower. An off-campus house may be more expensive than dorm living. So look at all the possibilities.

You can find online classes at a cost of about $200 per class, but it will take several of them to gain a basic knowledge and foundation of photography. Before taking this route, sketch out which classes you need to find your total cost.

The equipment needed for a photography school or online course is a big consideration. You will need professional-grade cameras, lots of film and processing, and computer software to perform digital editing. Other equipment, such as lenses, tripods, lighting sources and meters, etc., adds up quickly. Don’t forget to add these costs to your total school expenses.

Financial aid is available for photography school. You need to start investigating possible sources of aid months before you start school. Like other college students, you should fill out the federal aid forms, search for scholarships, grants, and loans, and look for work-study programs. Check with the admissions offices of the schools you are considering to see what resources they have available.

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