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Visual and Performing Arts Degrees

If you enjoy drawing or dancing in your spare time and like to attend theatrical performances or watch movies, a program and career in the visual and performing arts may be right for you. Read on to learn more about degree programs and salaries for aspiring actors, artists, dancers and filmmakers.

Types of Degrees in Visual and Performing Arts

Degrees in visual and performing arts are available at all levels of higher education, from associate to doctoral degrees. You'll also find certificate programs in visual and performing arts, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The visual and performing arts includes a wide range of disciplines like music, acting, fine arts, game design, photography, and more. Below we'll discuss each degree level in detail, help you decide which art degree is right for you, offer advice about online visual arts degree programs, and give examples of some of the career options you might expect to find in these fields.

Associate Degree in Visual & Performing Arts

An associate degree in visual and performing arts is a nice fit for someone who wants to get a good foundational education without shelling out a lot of money or spending four more years in school. They're also typically easy to get into -- most only ask for a high school diploma or the equivalent (like a GED), though some may also require a minimum GPA.

If you pursue an associate degree in visual and preforming arts, you can expect to engage in a curriculum of around 60 credits, which takes most students about two years to complete. The coursework you take might depend on the type of degree you choose. For instance, an associate in graphic design may be designed to transfer to a four-year school, offering coursework in math, English, science, and graphic design skills that will serve as a foundation for a bachelor's degree.

Degrees designed for careers that require more than an associate degree, such as teaching, may be even more focused on credits that transfer. For example, an associate degree in music education might consist of a majority of courses in general education with a sprinkling of foundations in theory and musicianship, piano and concert choir, and include electives like music appreciation, rock and roll or the music business.

Other associate degrees in art are built to develop skills that can land you a job upon graduation. A degree like an associate degree in fashion design may go lighter on the general education, instead jumping right into courses like pattern design, the history of fashion and tailoring. They may even include coursework in career development to help you understand how to transition from an associate degree in fashion design to a career in the field.

Bachelor's Degree in Visual & Performing Arts

Bachelor's degrees in visual and performing arts are 4-year degrees that typically take a deeper dive into both general education and the artistic discipline, offering courses that expand upon (and may be more rigorous than) the coursework in an associate degree program. At this level, you'll see options to choose between a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and a Bachelor of Arts (BA). The difference between the two comes down to intensity.

For instance -- out of the 120 credits these programs require, a Bachelor of Arts in Photography may offer around 40 credits that center on photography and have the remaining 80 in electives and general education. This might allow a student to get a more well-rounded education and even add a minor. A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography, on the other hand, might have 60 credits in electives and general ed, with the remaining 60 credits dedicated to the intensive study of the art form. This would allow for greater specialization and specific subject knowledge, which might be ideal for someone who knows what they want to do and wants to pour all of their efforts into it.

Some examples of the visual arts degrees and majors available as a bachelor's include:

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music
  • Bachelor of Arts in Illustration
  • Bachelor of Arts in Film
  • Bachelor of Graphic Design
  • Bachelor of Industrial Design
  • Bachelor of Fashion Design
  • Bachelor of Design

Admission requirements for bachelor's degree programs in the arts are more selective. You may need some or all the following to get in:

  • a high school diploma
  • a minimum GPA
  • qualifying scores on the SAT and ACT
  • letters of recommendation from teachers

In addition, many art-focused degree programs ask for a portfolio of your work, an audition, a list of your artistic accomplishments/awards, and even a one-on-one interview with an admissions officer.

Master's Degree in Visual & Performing Arts

Unlike some fields, where a master's is the de facto entry-level degree, building a career in art is generally more fluid. Some can take the foundational theories and applications that a bachelor's offers and run with it, building their skill set further with professional practice. However, a master's degree in visual and preforming arts can open doors to jobs like art directors, museum curators, and people who want to teach an artistic pursuit.

A master's can be rewarding in other ways, too. Master's degree programs in visual and performing arts are much less structured than those at the undergraduate level. They often let artists practice their craft in a safe space, surrounded by other artists who nurture and spur them on to greater heights. It's during this time that an artist can truly find their voice and build a skill set that will either be highly coveted by employers or enable them to do great work.

The credits required for a master's in an art-related field can range anywhere from 35 to close to 70 units, depending on the subject and the program. Accelerated programs in art may let students finish these credits in a year or so but most programs take two years to complete.

Admissions for master's programs in visual arts or performance can be quite competitive. You'll probably be asked to provide some of the traditional materials like transcripts from undergraduate programs, letters of recommendation and an extensive application. Particular to programs like these are well-developed portfolios, writing samples, statements of purpose, and other mediums that show off your proficiency in the art.

Some of the master's degrees you might find at this level include:

  • Master of Fine Arts in Photography
  • Master of Fine Arts in Music Performance
  • Master of Arts in Graphic Design
  • Master of Design
  • Master of Arts in Game Design

Doctorate in Visual & Performing Arts

Some of the same pros and cons we discussed with master's degrees hold true at the doctoral level. A PhD in visual and performing arts can help an artist hone their craft to its highest level. Once you get to this stratosphere, however, these programs start to take on a different focus. Rather than create art (though this is certainly still a possibility), students and graduates begin to look at the ideas behind the art, researching its higher purposes, understanding its impact on culture, and pushing the medium forward with research.

The other reason many students choose to pursue a PhD in fine arts or a related field is that it's the prerequisite for most jobs teaching in these fields at the university level.

PhD in fine arts programs are also less about credits and more about research. Most will require a dissertation or major project that will be reviewed by a board of professors. PhDs in visual arts and performance can take anywhere from four to five years to complete.

Admissions requirements can be incredibly strict. Some programs only admit a handful of students each year and may ask applicants to submit professional portfolios, sit for interviews, provide a large writing sample, and offer proof of proficiency in a foreign language.

Some of the doctoral degrees in the arts you might find include:

  • PhD in Music Theory
  • PhD in Film
  • PhD in Performance Studies
  • PhD in Dance
  • PhD in Graphic Design

Certificates in Visual & Performing Arts

Certificates in visual and performing arts work a little differently than degree programs. They usually don't include any general education courses; they instead focus all of their coursework on one artform or a specialized topic within a single art form. There are two types of people who might benefit from a certificate in the arts: students who want to prepare to work in the field as quickly as possible and professionals who want to add some new tools to their skill set to advance their careers.

Certificate programs typically include about four or five classes, which can range from as few as 12 credits to as many as 30, depending on the program. Most can be completed in as little as a year, with some only taking one semester.

Some certificates you might find include:

  • Certificate in Graphic Design
  • Certificate of Performance in Audio Production
  • Video Game Animation Certificate of Achievement
  • Fashion Design Certificate
  • Certificate of Completion in Pattern Design

Types of Visual & Performing Arts Majors

There is a massive variety of art majors out there. Within each one is the opportunity to specialize as well, especially at the bachelor's degree level and above. To give you a bit of perspective on your options, we've divided the field of visual arts and performance into categories including design and applied arts, studio and fine arts, drama and theatre arts, music and dance and film, video and photographic arts.

Studio & Fine Arts

Studio and fine arts majors include what we might traditionally think of as art -- painting, drawing, sculpture, and design works you'd appreciate in a museum or gallery. Students can earn these degrees at all levels, but they may be most common at the undergraduate level. These art majors tend to be highly specialized, giving students plenty of studio time where they develop skills that would serve them in careers as ceramic artists, painters, jewelry makers, and sculptors.

Degrees in studio and fine arts are typically offered at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. Bachelor's degrees are the most common, representing 81.1% of the awarded degrees in the field. Master's degrees represent around 11%, while associate degrees are a little rarer at 7.3%. Programs in this discipline are typically focused around one artform, so you might find degrees and majors like a Bachelor of Arts in Drawing and Painting, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture, and a Bachelor of Arts in Ceramics.

Admissions for hands-on programs like these may lean more heavily on a portfolio. If you're in high school and are interested in such a program, it may be a good idea to start documenting and compiling your works.

Drama & Theatre Arts

Drama and theatre arts majors fall more under the performing arts category, encompassing drama majors like acting, production design and directing. Students in these programs learn to communicate with their bodies, project their voices, get in touch with emotional truths and use a variety of techniques to tell meaningful stories. Equipped with these skills, graduates might take on roles as actors, build dynamic sets, write plays, or direct actors professionally.

Drama and theatre arts degrees are available at every level, from certificates all the way up to doctorates, which are the highest degrees in the field. However, a bachelor's degree is by far the most common level of education for professionals in the theater industry -- they represent 82.5% of all degrees awarded in drama and theater arts majors. Associate and master's degrees in drama and theater arts come in at around 8%, while doctorates made up less than 1% of the degrees awarded in the discipline. Some common degrees in this area include a Bachelor of Arts in Theater, a Bachelor of Theater Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting.

Getting into a drama and theater arts major might require aspiring students to list their credits, get letters of recommendation from previous drama teachers, and even audition for admissions officers.

Film, Video, & Photographic Arts

Film, video, and photographic arts majors might include media studies majors, video editing majors and photographic arts majors. Students in film majors have the chance to learn lighting techniques, visual storytelling theories, sound editing, production design and more. Some students might choose to specialize in one of these areas in preparation for a career as a director, producer, gaffer, editor, or set designer.

Photography majors might delve into coursework that covers composition, lighting, camera technology, and photo editing. With the skills they learn in photography degree programs, students might move into professional careers as freelance photographers, nature photographers, or commercial photographers.

Degrees in film, video, and photographic arts are available as associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificates. Bachelor's degrees are again the most common, but less so than in our other visual and performing arts categories. They represent 66.2% of the degrees awarded, with master's degrees at 12.6% and associate at around 9%. Certificates are much more common in film and photography, making up just over 12% of the awarded degrees. Common degrees include a Certificate in Digital Photography, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Filmmaking, and a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video Production.

Admissions officers for degree programs in film, video, and photographic arts want portfolios, too. For film students, that might mean a reel of video productions they've been involved in, while aspiring photography students might be asked to provide photographs they've taken.

Music & Dance

Music majors focus on practicing instruments, music composition, and music theory. Students who focus on an instrument like the cello might find work in a city orchestra as a cellist (or violinist, pianist, guitarist), while students who study music composition might end up as a composer or bandleader. Music majors might also choose to strike out on their own, booking gigs at venues, or recording an album.

Dance majors study how to move their bodies in ways that tell a story or express emotion. They may study theories of dance, spend significant time in the dance studio, and look at different styles such as modern, ballet, hip hop, or lyrical dance. Dance majors might practice their profession on the stage in dance troupes or city ballets.

Degrees in dance are overwhelmingly popular at the bachelor's level (83.6%), with master's and associate representing 6.8% and 5.2%, respectively. Certificates are slightly more common in dance than other fields, at 4.5%. In music, bachelor's degrees make up 62.5% of the awarded degrees but master's degrees and doctorates are much more popular than in other visual and performing arts fields. Master's make up 23.8% of the degrees awarded in music and doctoral degrees represent nearly 5% of the share.

In disciplines like music and dance, schools might place a greater emphasis on the audition process, asking candidates to play an instrument or demonstrate their skills through dance.

Design & Applied Arts

Majors in design and applied arts cover the design and decoration of the objects we use every day. Essentially, they deal with the art behind things with practical applications, like commercial products. This field might include degrees and majors in game design, industrial design, fashion design, graphic design, and product design. Majors like these might lead to positions like designers, graphic designers, video game developers, product designers, and multimedia artists and animators.

Coursework might cover the history of product design, theories of visual communication, illustration, and the foundational aspects of design.

In graphic design, bachelor's degrees make up 55.3% of the degrees awarded, with associate degrees at 29.6% and certificates at around 13%. In fashion design, associate degrees are much more common, representing 34.9% of awarded degrees, though bachelor's degrees are still the most common at 52%.

For industrial and product design, associate degrees are nearly non-existent (around 1.5%) and master's degrees are somewhat rare (10.1%). Bachelor's degrees are the most common entry-level degree for positions in the industry, and they represent 87.6% of the degrees awarded. A master's degree is typically the top award for these fields.

Some popular degrees you might find in design and applied arts include:

  • Associate of Arts in Fashion Design
  • Bachelor of Industrial Design
  • Certificate in Digital Imaging and Graphic Design
  • Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design and Media Arts

Depending on the degree level, admissions officers for majors like these might be looking for a portfolio of previous work, letters of recommendation, a minimum GPA, and a statement of purpose.

Online Degrees in Visual & Performing Arts

Options for online degrees in visual and performing arts are out there, but many disciplines that fall under this umbrella require more hands-on learning. As a result, you may find varying degrees of availability when it comes to distance learning in fine arts. For instance, theatre and performing arts programs might allow you to take some courses on theory online but much of the work will need to be done on-site with other actors, directors, and set designers. The same may be true for film and music degree programs; much of the theoretical content can be learned online but a large part of the learning process is done by doing, and that means showing up to a set or a concert hall with fellow students.

Online graphic design degrees and online web design degrees may be more readily available, as their content can be completed and graded without being on campus. The same can typically be said for programs that focus on the more academic side of the arts, such as art education.

You might also find online art degree options vary by degree level. For instance, an associate degree that's designed to be transferred to a 4-year school might focus more on general education and foundational, textbook-based learning in the art, which can be done online.

Therefore, while some fully online art degrees exist, for most degrees, you should still expect to spend some time on campus.

Accreditation for Online Schools in Visual & Performing Arts

If you're checking out schools, you want to make sure you choose one that's accredited by an agency that's recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Accredited online art schools can be accredited regionally or nationally. There are six regional accrediting agencies. They typically accredit not-for-profit, public universities, and they're more widely recognized and considered more prestigious. However, these schools tend to be a little pricier and harder to get into than nationally accredited schools. Credits from regionally accredited schools can be transferred to both regionally accredited and nationally accredited schools.

National accreditation is often reserved for career, vocational and for-profit schools. Admissions standards are typically a little more relaxed and the tuition may be cheaper in some cases. Credits from these schools can usually only be transferred to other nationally accredited schools.

Programs within schools can also get special accreditation from industry-specific bodies. For example, many online art schools may boast programs that are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Or, an online music program might be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. Accreditation shows that these programs have met quality standards and that their curricula do a good job of preparing graduates for careers in the arts.

The 50 Best Visual and Performing Arts Degrees (2020-2021 School Year)

To help you further your creative education, we've put together our list of the very best visual and performing arts schools in the country. We considered a number of different factors, including the types of degrees offered, performance opportunities, and studio and creation spaces open to students. We also looked at data from the US Department of Education, tuition rates, and student retention numbers. Below, you can find our list of the top schools that offer degrees in music, art, dance, theater, acting, and more.

1. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Dancing to the top of our list is the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, which was founded in 1965 as the nation's first public arts conservatory and boasts incredible Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in such areas as:

  • Drama
  • Music performance
  • Technical theatre
  • Cinematography/film

Also offered here are Master of Fine Arts degrees in Filmmaking and Design and Production and an outstanding Master of Music degree that has concentrations in everything from flute to voice. This Winston-Salem-based school houses a number of innovative, modern facilities where students can hone their craft, including the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute, which offers training and puts on fully-staged shows, and the Media and Emerging Technology Lab (METL), which allows future filmmakers to create projects with the use of editing suites, makerspaces for props, a Foley stage, and more.

2. Berklee College of Music

Berklee College of Music offers 12 notable Bachelor of Music degree majors, including programs in music education, film scoring, music therapy, and more, and has over 30 superb master's degrees in such areas as music business, opera performance, and musical theatre. Along with studying music on its Boston, Massachusetts campus where undergraduates enjoy a 4:1 student:faculty ratio, students can also choose to study on the Valencia, Spain campus, which has a Music Technology Complex complete with a scoring stage and recording studios. Graduate students on all campuses even have the opportunity to gain real-world musical experience through an internship and hands-on learning experiences.

3. Pacific Northwest College of Art

Students at the Pacific Northwest College of Art are offered a wealth of resources that help them develop their art skills and knowledge. Among the many facilities available to them, students get access to the Animated Arts Lab that features a stop motion/3D animation suite, light tables, steady cams, and more as well as labs that can be used for screenprinting, bookmaking, 3-D printing, and developing photographs. This Portland, Oregon school boasts a dozen wonderful Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in such areas as painting, animated arts, printmaking, and more, as well as great graduate degrees in the fields of print media, critical studies, and applied craft/design, among others. In addition to being provided with a stellar education, freshman and transfer students can be immersed in the art world by living at ArtHouse, student housing that features modern apartments and hallways that act as gallery walls.

4. Columbia College Hollywood

In Los Angeles, California, Columbia College Hollywood offers several Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, including those in cinema, graphic design/interactive media, and visual effects, all of which are built around the concepts of innovation, creativity, and collaboration. The amazing BFA in Cinema degree program allows students to choose an emphasis in acting, producing, or editing, with classes directed by faculty who are current filmmakers and creative professionals. The excellent BFA in Graphic Design + Interactive Media and the BFA in Visual Effects degrees can also be earned in a flexible online format and are perfect for working professionals who still want to have hands-on learning experience in their degree program.

5. Cornish College of the Arts

With beginnings dating back to 1914, Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington has been educating students through a holistic approach that includes discovery, creativity, and experimentation. This school offers Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees in such fields as music, art, design, and more. Students get unique educational experiences here, and in their first-year they participate in the Foundations visual arts project-based program, which allows art students to work within multiple departments and disciplines in order to build an broad artistic base of skills and knowledge. Performing arts students also have the great opportunity to learn and perform at the Cornish Playhouse, which puts on student productions and other public events.

6. Kansas City Art Institute

The lucky students at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri benefit from an excellent 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, a 16-acre campus that is only yards away from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and faculty who all are practicing designers, artists, and scholars. This school has 13 phenomenal Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in specialities like Animation, Product Design, and Printmaking. The Kansas City Art Institute believes that art has no bounds, and that's why the school offers students opportunities to participate in faculty-led study abroad summer trips to places like Hungary and Cambodia as well as semester-long consortium partnership programs where students can study art in Paris, Italy, or Ireland.

7. California Institute of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, was founded by none other than the legendary Walt Disney himself to fulfill his dream of a school that is an inclusive community of artists who collaborate across artistic boundaries. Now, this Valencia-based art school boasts a diverse and unique set of degree programs, including incredible Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in experimental animation, voice arts, dance, and music technology and magical Master of Fine Arts degrees in art and technology, film and video, and film directing, among others. Every art student at this school, no matter their chosen genre, gets access to resources and facilities that enhance their artistic education. For instance, students in film, video, or animation can use sound equipment, digital editing and post facilities, a permanent commercial set, and animation computer labs, while dance students get access to the Sharon Disney Lund Dance Theater, a Pilates studio, and even a costume shop.

8. Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design boasts 11 exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in majors including digital media, fine arts, toy design, and more and superb Master of Fine Arts degrees in public practice, fine arts, and graphic design. Students at this school can take full advantage of its Los Angeles, California campus by completing one of the many creative internship opportunities. This school has an extensive travel study program where students have studied things like Japanese puppeteering in Tokyo, art in Paris, and have worked with children on art projects in Malawi, Africa. However, right on campus, first-year students all participate in the immersive Foundation program where they take studio courses in different art disciplines.

9. Cleveland Institute of Art

Cleveland Institute of Art's campus sits right in the middle of University Circle, the city's renowned cultural district, and students benefit from its proximity to such places as the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Students at this Ohio school have even collaborated on local real-world projects, including urban beautification improvements and have exhibited work at the Museum of Contemporary Art. This school has 15 brilliant Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in such fields as:

  • Animation
  • Illustration
  • Painting
  • Transportation design
  • Jewelry + metals

Students get to hone their artistic skills through the use of several state-of-the-art facilities, including professional photography studios, the Cleveland Institute of Arts Fabrication Studios, and computer labs.

10. The Juilliard School

Founded in 1905 with the belief that students shouldn't have to travel to other countries to study music professionally, New York City's The Juilliard School has since become one of the premier art and performance schools in the country. This school offers exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in dance and drama and Bachelor of Music degrees in the areas of piano, cello, voice, and more. Students can also earn incredible master's degrees in drama, composition, conducting, voice, and various different musical instruments. The Juilliard School has a prime location where students are mere steps away from the famed Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic, and annually, students get the chance to participate in over 700 Juilliard-sponsored performance opportunities. Students benefit from the school's amazing location and resources, but on a daily basis they benefit from study under world-renowned faculty who have won Grammy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes.

11. Manhattan School of Music

The students at Manhattan School of Music in New York City get plenty of chances to perform on major stages, such as the Lincoln Center, during one of the over 700 student performances each year. To help students get all the practice they need, this school also offers 130 practice rooms and 8 performance spaces. Manhattan School of Music's brilliant Bachelor of Music degree offers great concentrations in musical theatre, jazz, voice, composition, and instrumental performance. Students looking to develop their skills beyond their undergraduate education can pursue an excellent Master of Music degree that has concentration areas in jazz arts, classical studies, and more or pursue a wonderful Doctor of Musical Arts in classical or jazz arts.

12. Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design

At the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in Wisconsin, students can earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in:

  • Illustration
  • Communication design
  • New studio practice

All first-year students get to take part in the FYE: First-Year Experience, which consists of several studio courses that allow students to explore different art forms and technologies, including 3D printing, book making, and audio editing. Students can use the school's state-of-the-art MIAD Innovation Center that provides them opportunities to create technology-driven art projects. Additionally, the Two50Two residence hall hosts students throughout their educational career and features modern apartments that are close to the design and visual art community of Milwaukee.

13. The New England Conservatory of Music

This New England Conservatory of Music offers a Bachelor of Music degree program with majors in everything from woodwinds to jazz composition, an excellent Master of Music program with similar majors as the BM program, and a rigorous Doctor of Musical Arts program. All students at this conservatory learn from faculty who are practicing musicians, some of whom play at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This Boston, Massachusetts conservatory provides all its students with almost unlimited performance and extracurricular opportunities that take the form of recreating historical performances, volunteering within the community, and joining a musical ensemble of their choice. Students can even participate in field experiences and internships where they may work on projects like planning chamber music performances or creating a community concerts series.

14. Massachusetts College of Art and Design

The Boston-based Massachusetts College of Art and Design boasts a number of world-class, innovative Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs, including in the fields of fashion design, ceramic, art education, illustration, animation, and more. Graduate students have a ton of great degree options, as well, such as a Master of Fine Arts in fields like design, photography, or 2D fine arts- just to name a few. Students have tons of unique learning, creating, and living opportunities here, including the Artists' Residence, which is a living/working environment and the Design and Media Center that houses a sound studio, wood shop, gallery space, and more. Beyond the classroom, students can give back by working at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships, which embarks on building and design projects for the community.

15. The University of the Arts

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the University of the Arts offers a comprehensive and diverse set of bachelor's degree programs that span the creative fields of sculpture, screenwriting, music business, vocal performance, and painting, among others. Also offered here are outstanding master's degrees in everything from museum exhibition planning and design to studio art as well as an interdisciplinary, first-of-its-kind PhD in Creativity program. Students at this university can join one or more student organizations where they can interact and create with peers, including the TinyCloset Collective that puts on poetry slams or the Metal Forging and Casting Club. The University of the Arts also has several galleries and performance spaces for students, such as Gallery 1201, which showcases visual and digital arts, and the Arts Bank that hosts recitals and animation shows.

16. New York School of Interior Design

For more than 100 years, New York School of Interior Design has been dedicated to educating students in the field of decorative arts. This New York City-based school now boasts an outstanding Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design degree. In addition to earning an incredible degree, students can also study abroad, exploring the historical designs of Rome, Paris, or London. Students are well-prepared for their future careers with internship opportunities and career services, and within 6 months of graduation, 100% of undergraduate students found jobs or were furthering their education.

17. Maryland Institute College of Art

Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore has the distinction of being the oldest art and design school in the county, and as such, it has had time to build itself into a powerhouse institution. Here, students get access to a number of modern facilities, including the Art Tech Center that houses a print lab, computer labs, and a textile printing system, and the Fox Building that contains gallery space, a wood shop, and studios. Students can choose from a variety of top-notch Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in such areas as:

  • Interactive arts
  • Fiber
  • Product design
  • Animation
  • Printmaking

At the graduate level, students can earn a master's degree in graphic design, art education, studio art, and much more. Each year, all students can take part in Art Market, which lets them interact with and sell art to the community.

18. Laguna College of Art and Design

Laguna College of Art and Design offers 7 Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Animation, Game Art, Illustration, and more as well as superb Master of Fine Arts degrees in Drawing, Game Design, or Painting. Fine arts majors at this Laguna Beach, California school can participate in the Professional Mentoring Program where they get to see the inner business working of galleries and exhibit their work. All students benefit from the school's many educational affiliations with partner schools, and there are even opportunities to study at the Florence Academy of Art or at the NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

19. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

In Illinois, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has a long history dating back to 1866, and notable artists who have studied at the school include Georgia O'Keeffe, H.C. Westermann, and Sarah Vowell. This school is joined with the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, making it the biggest school-museum campus in the country. As such, students here can be sure to earn a fantastic Bachelor of Fine Arts degree whether they choose to pursue printmedia, performance, ceramics, or another one of the amazing majors. Students can even opt to work toward amazing master's degrees in:

  • Ceramics
  • Performance
  • Visual communication design

Community plays a large part of this school's educational makeup, and the LeRoy Neiman Center is the centerpiece of campus life where students exhibit work, hold events like film viewings or critiques, and hangout at the second-floor café. Beyond the amazing campus, students can study art and design abroad through trips that could take them to Germany, Ireland, Paris, and beyond.

20. Columbus College of Art and Design

The prestigious Columbus College of Art and Design has the honor of being one of the oldest nonprofit art and design institutions in the nation and has been educating students since 1879. This Ohio-based school boasts 12 notable Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in fields like Animation, Illustration, Comics and Narrative Practice, and 2 first-class master's degrees: a Master of Design in Innovation Design Strategies and a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts: New Projects. This college has a vibrant student life with student-run organizations like the Game Creator's Guild and the Illustration Student Collective. Off-campus, students can participate in short or long study abroad opportunities at places including the Studio Art College International (SACI) in Florence, Italy or the UAL: London College of Fashion in London.

21. College for Creative Studies

Located in Detroit, Michigan, the College for Creative Studies has a campus that is close to the

Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Film Theatre, and many different galleries and music venues that enhance students' art education. This school offers a number of excellent Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in majors including Advertising Design, Concept Design, and Photography, and the following noteworthy Master of Fine Arts degrees:

  • Color/Material design
  • Integrated design
  • Interaction design
  • Transportation design

College for Creative Studies students are granted the great opportunity to work on real-world projects with big name corporations, with former design projects collaborating with Nike and GM. Students can also explore the international art world through study abroad trips to places like Spain and Italy.

22. Ringling College of Art and Design

Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida, offers 11 incredible Bachelor of Fine Arts and 2 excellent Bachelor of Arts degrees with students able to choose a major in film, game art, or visual studies, among others. This art and design school strives to produce students fully prepared for artistic careers. Students can work with real clients on design projects at The Collaboratory, work with famous actors such as Sam Rockwell and Andy MacDowell at the filmmaking venture Ringling College Studio Labs, or work at the fully functioning ART Network television network. They also get chances to study internationally to places like Ireland, France, and Italy.

23. Rhode Island School of Design

The Rhode Island School of Design was founded in Providence all the way back in 1877, which makes it one of the oldest art and design schools in the entire country. Now, this historic school boasts exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Industrial Design, Textiles, Graphic Design and more as well as master's degrees in such areas as:

  • Painting
  • Global arts + cultures
  • Sculpture
  • Digital + media

Rhode Island School of Design has established a wealth of local and global partnerships that benefit students, including a cooperative relationship with the neighboring Brown University that includes a dual degree program and 43 global exchange programs. Students can also take advantage of opportunities for community art engagement with the RISD Museum where they can create art installations or with Project Open Door where they provide after-school classes that focus on teaching art to low-income local kids and teenagers.

24. Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Founded in 1886, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minnesota is the premier art and design school in the area, offering 13 amazing Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in illustration, graphic design, animation, and more. Also offered here is a terrific Master of Fine Arts in Visual Studies and a 100% online Master of Arts degree in Sustainable Design and in graphic and web design. All art students at this school can hone their skills through the use of several high-tech facilities, such as a 3D shop, computer labs, and a papermaking studio. Students also have unique opportunities to exhibit their work in a number of galleries, to work on real client design projects, or sell their artwork at the nation's biggest annual student-based art sale.

25. Art Center College of Design

Along with its Pasadena, California campus, the Art Center College of Design has a large campus footprint that stretches all the way to its satellite studio in Berlin and to Los Angeles where it has gallery space and owns the Petersen Automotive Museum, which offers art studio spaces to students. This school boasts 11 exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in entertainment design, advertising, and product design, among other majors, and master's degrees in industrial design and graphic design. Students at this college have access to incredible internship opportunities, with opportunities at such companies as Apple, Hasbro, and Blizzard Entertainment. They can also participate in a mentorship program that pairs them with alumni or industry partners.

26. Marymount Manhattan College

The students at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City benefit from small classes that feature an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and can choose from 32 majors that include Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in:

  • Art with graphic design, photography, and illustration concentrations
  • Dance with ballet, jazz, or choreography concentrations
  • Theater arts with directing, writing, or producing/management concentrations
  • Digital media/video productions
  • Cinema, television, and emerging media

To help students succeed in college and in their future careers, this college offers the CityEdge experience where students attend seminars about living in New York City, pursue internships with television and stage productions, and take courses where they learn from working professionals in their artistic field. There are also numerous study abroad opportunities that take students such places as Italy, Australia, and London.

27. Columbia College Chicago

In Illinois, Columbia College Chicago boasts over 60 academic programs, including terrific Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts in such areas as:

  • Photojournalism
  • Television
  • Musical theatre
  • Music technology
  • Comedy writing and performance

Also offered here are noteworthy master's degrees in everything from creative producing to interaction design. This school makes full use of its Chicago location, and acting students have interned with historic Chicago theatres like Victory Gardens, while music students routinely perform at the Music Center, which is located right on Michigan Avenue. Arts students have all they need right on campus, including a fashion lab where design students bring garments to life and a fabrication facility with power tools and equipment.

28. California College of the Arts

California College of the Arts in Oakland strives to create a diverse community of makers and designers so it presents several opportunities for students to showcase their work in numerous galleries, such as PLAySPACE and Project Space Takeover, where students share their in-development writing, performances, and art projects. This college boasts a range of amazing Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in fashion design, film, and more in addition to incredible master's degrees in comics, fashion design, and fine arts. Throughout their programs, students receive expert guidance as they build their artistic skill sets and benefit from access to a print studio, animation labs, a metal shop, and much more.

29. Pratt Institute - Main

The legendary Pratt Institute - Main in Brooklyn, New York offers stunning Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in fine arts, fashion, film/video, and more, as well as phenomenal master's degrees in such areas as:

  • Photography
  • Creative arts therapy
  • Interior design
  • Design management

No matter their chosen area of artistic expression, students at the Pratt Institute - Main have plenty of chances to grow and gain real-world experience. For instance, art students can design and build their own art exhibits, and film students can intern at places like Saturday Night Live and the Museum of Modern Art. Students even access to facilities that help them create, such as a prototyping lab, wood shops, and 3D printers.

30. Savannah College of Art and Design

The Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia boasts over 40 incredible degree programs, including Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in visual effects, and painting, and master's degrees in furniture design, fibers, and urban design- just to name a few. Students at this art college are encouraged to put their artistic skills to good use by helping the community, and students often volunteer to do art projects with local school children. The Savannah College of Art and Design is home to several incredible facilities that students can work and learn in, such as The Shed where they can utilize robotic equipment and a user-testing lab and Number Nine, a building where fashion students can sketch, sew, and design their clothing and textile creations.

31. The New School

The New School in New York City prides itself on what it calls a multidimensional approach to academics and the arts, and as such, this storied school boasts phenomenal Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Music degrees in such areas as:

  • Journalism + design
  • Theater
  • Fashion design
  • Classical music

On the graduate level, students can earn an impressive master's degree in fashion management, acting, directing, and much more. The New School has a long history of public engagement and hosts over 1,000 public events annually where students and the community can attend readings, screenings, and performances. On the Greenwich Village campus, students benefit from modern facilities, labs, and workspaces that also include galleries that showcase student work, rehearsal spaces, and computer labs. Students can also study globally, and fashion students can study at Parsons Paris.

32. SUNY at Purchase College

SUNY at Purchase College is home to several modern art and performing institutes, such as the Neuberger Museum of Art and the Performing Arts Center, which offers students master classes and internship opportunities. This school in Harrison, New York boasts a diverse set of degree options that emphasize experimentation and cross-boundary study, through exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts programs in:

  • Visual arts
  • Playwriting
  • Studio production
  • Jazz studies
  • Dance performance

This school also has outstanding master's degrees in visual arts, composition, and voice/opera studies. Students benefit from how close the school is to New York City, and students routinely make the trip there to visit major museums and galleries and even complete internships. Right on campus, however, students are fully supported in their artistic endeavors through 160,000 square feet of modern workspaces and studios.

33. Bennington College

Bennington College boasts several superb Bachelor of Arts degrees in the arts field, including programs in digital arts, dance, printmaking, photography, and more. A testament to the devotion to developing students' expertise, this school in Bennington, Vermont was one of the first in the nation to require all students to complete an annual field experience that could take the form of an internship, study away trips, or professional apprenticeships. Art students often get to work in creative organizations, such as production studios, galleries, and artist studios. Also offered here are outstanding Master of Fine Art degrees in dance and music. MFA in Dance students get access to a range of great facilities, including a dance theatre and dance studios.

34. Emerson College

Emerson College has been at the forefront of arts education since 1880, and it's the first college to have a children's theatre program, offer a journalism course, and have an educational radio station. Now this school offers over 24 excellent undergraduate majors, such as Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in acting, comedic arts, theatre, film art, and more. Students wishing to pursue graduate studies can earn notable master's degrees in such areas as writing for film/television, media design, and theatre education/applied theatre. Along with a vibrant Boston, Massachusetts location that boasts over 100 student groups and organizations, this college also has a Los Angeles facility where students can spend a semester studying film, screenwriting, and more as well as completing an internship in the entertainment industry.

35. Fashion Institute of Technology

Although the Fashion Institute of Technology has the word 'fashion' in its name, this New York City-based school boasts exceptional degree programs that touch on multiple art forms. Students can earn amazing Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in such fields as toy design, illustration, and technical design along with fashion-focused bachelor's degrees in fashion design, footwear/accessories design, fabric styling, and more. On the graduate level, students can earn incredible master's degrees in specialties including fashion design, art market studies, and global fashion management. The Fashion Institute of Technology grants students plenty of opportunities to gain real fashion and art experiences through yearly student competitions and internships. Students can also study at FIT Italy for an academic year or spend a semester in Rome, Paris, or Hong Kong.

36. Bard College

Located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Bard College offers students a fantastic 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the opportunity to learn from esteemed faculty that have won Nobel Prizes and have been MacArthur Fellows. This school boasts noteworthy Bachelor of Arts degrees in fields like dance, music, photography, and theater/performance, as well as a range of terrific master's degrees in the areas of vocal arts, music criticism, fine arts, and photographic studies. This school offers a unique educational format for undergraduate students where they complete foundational classes, a moderation section where they assess their academic and creative progress, and a final senior project in their chosen artistic area. Bard College provides all students with chances to grow beyond the classroom through independent study and the Bard Away program that takes students to such places as Germany, Jerusalem, and Austria.

37. Villa Maria College

At Villa Maria College in Buffalo, New York, students can earn incredible Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in a range of creative fields, such as graphic design, music, and game design-just to name a few possibilities. This school makes sure all art students have what they need to develop their skills and knowledge through the use of a stop motion studio, a recording studio, photography dark rooms, and modern computer labs. Every student in every program is sure to find the perfect internship that matches their area of interest; interior design students have worked in galleries and private design business, while music students have interned with radios stations and theatres.

38. American Musical and Dramatic Academy

The American Musical and Dramatic Academy has produced many notable and successful alumni, including the Broadway star Anthony Ramos, the sitcom and Broadway actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and the musical artist Jason Derulo. The success of the alumni here is partly due to the fact that students have over 150 chances annually to perform, including end-of-term presentations, film projects, dance workshops, and showcase events. This school boasts exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in acting, musical theatre, dance theatre, and performing arts as well as an amazing Bachelor of Arts in Theatre degree. With a main campus in New York City, this school also has a Los Angeles-based campus that features impressive performance theatres, rehearsal spaces, and film/TV editing spaces.

39. Hampshire College

In Amherst, Massachusetts, Hampshire College takes an innovative approach to education where students receive narrative reports from professors instead of grades, and this model has clearly paid off, as this school boasts alumni who are Oscar, Peabody, and Emmy winners and MacArthur grant recipients. Instead of choosing a major, students can customize their own course of study with options in animation, digital art, dance, theatre, visual arts, and even game design. All students have great access to facilities and studios that aid them in their artistic journey, including the Center for Design, which has fabrication tools and computers and the Jerome Liebling Center, which has galleries and digital media labs.

40. Belmont University

Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee proudly offers more than 130 programs of study, including creative bachelor's degrees in the fields of church music, songwriting, studio art, motion pictures, and more. Also offered here are outstanding Master of Music degrees in composition, music education, and performance, among others. This Christian university provides students with plenty of room to grow beyond academics, and there are over 500 student performances every year, including student showcases, theatre productions, and the annual Christmas at Belmont music show. Students in the visual art, fashion, and interior design programs can also showcase their talent through art exhibitions and the O'More Fashion Show.

41. Oberlin College

Oberlin College is home to the world-class Oberlin Conservatory of Music, which has 42 areas of study that include composition, jazz performance, piano, strings, and much more. Students in the conservatory benefit from over 150 practice rooms, 9 concert halls, numerous ensembles, and musical studios. This Oberlin, Ohio-based school also offers wonderful Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and studio art, among others. Students here are required to complete winter term projects, which are 4-week immersive experiences consisting of projects created by the students that could take place on- or off-campus. Throughout the year, students have amazing opportunities to participate in recitals, exhibits, and numerous students' groups.

42. Dean College

Located in Franklin, Massachusetts, Dean College boasts several terrific bachelor degree programs in the arts, including in the areas of dance, theatre, and arts and entertainment management. Within the theatre degree, students can choose concentrations in acting, musical theatre, technical theatre, or theatre studies, and they also get opportunities to participate in theatre productions to perform at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Dancers in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance program can choose choreography or performance as a concentration, and they also get cool chances to dance beyond the classroom through internships with dance companies and through the DanceAbroad Argentina program.

43. Lawrence University

At Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, students can earn fantastic Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre arts and studio art. Art students can hone their artistic skills in painting, new media, and more through the use of the Wriston Art Center, which offers kilns, photography studios, and sculpture tools. Further, the Run the Rabbit Gallery space allows them to exhibit their work and gain important gallery experience. The school's Lawrence University Conservatory houses a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree, a Bachelor of Musical Arts degree, and an amazing Bachelor of Music degree that allows students to choose concentrations in composition, performance, music education, or theory. Most music students participate in the Music for All program where they give back to the community by helping with hunger relief and offering free concerts.

44. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Located in New York City, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is home to several historic and modern facilities, including the Great Hall that opened in 1858 and has hosted everyone from Barack Obama to Billy Joel and the Foundation Building, a National Historic Landmark that contains classroom and studio spaces. This institution boasts a phenomenal Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fine Arts degree that allows its students to choose to center their studies in one or more of the following areas:

  • Drawing
  • Film
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Printmaking
  • Sculpture
  • Film/video
  • Graphic design

Art students can also opt to broaden their understanding of art on a global scale through one of the many exclusive foreign exchange programs where they can study art in Sweden, Spain, Japan, France, and other cool places in the world.

45. Hollins University

Hollins University boasts 29 undergraduate majors, which include excellent art-focused bachelor's degrees in such fields as studio art, dance, film, and music. Students can also earn amazing Master of Fine Arts degrees in dance and playwriting. Understanding that art students need real-world experience, this Roanoke, Virginia school helps students land internships at major museums, video production studios, art galleries, and magazines. Other great opportunities include chances for art studio majors to display their work at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University and study abroad trips to London or Paris.

46. Stephens College

Stephens College, located in Columbia, Missouri, offers numerous creative arts-centered bachelor's degrees in such fields as:

  • Digital filmmaking
  • Fashion design + product development
  • Musical theatre
  • Technical theatre + stage management
  • Acting

Art students in every field are offered great opportunities to grow their craft outside of the classroom. Students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting and musical theatre programs hone their acting chops through the 6-week Summer Performing Arts Intensive where they take classes from industry experts, and digital filmmaking students can participate in the Stephens Film Institute, which is a week-long film production. There are also student groups centering on the arts, including D-Co (Dance Collaborations) and Creative Stars.

47. Cazenovia College

Students at Cazenovia College benefit from a small 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, average class sizes of just 13 students, and a range of art-focused bachelor's degree programs in the areas of fashion design, interior design, and studio art with concentrations in arts management, commercial photography, and fine art photography. Also offered is an exceptional Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication with concentrations in Graphic Design, Advertising Design, Illustration/Animation, and Web/Interactive Design. This Cazenovia, New York-located school makes sure all students get chances to explore their art form to the fullest. As evidence of this commitment, fashion students have access to professional sewing/design studios and a CAD Lab, and advertising design students can join the VC Club, which takes field trips to New York City to visit professional advertising firms.

48. Muhlenberg College

The creative theatre and dance students at Muhlenberg College are educated within the framework that these fields must include both academic and practical training, which is why there are a ton of performance opportunities. Students can act, direct, or manage one or more of the 6 annual productions, design and direct a Muhlenberg Theatre Association (MTA) production, or choreograph their own dance performance. Along with the amazing Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Theatre degree programs, this Allentown, Pennsylvania-based school also boasts incredible Bachelor of Arts degrees in fields like music and studio art. The music students get plenty of chances to develop their musical skills through performance and ensembles, while art students can create with the use of a digital media, printmaking, and painting studios.

49. Millikin University

With a campus Decatur, Illinois, Millikin University boasts several incredible bachelor degree programs in the creative fields of:

  • Acting
  • Theatre design, performance, or administration
  • Studio art
  • Music business, education, or performance
  • Arts administration, therapy, or education
  • Commercial music

This institution has a dedication to the arts and is home to the Kirkland Fine Arts Center, which hosts performances, plays, and concerts from dance, theatre, and music students. Performance learning is an emphasis at this school, so music students can work at the school's First Step Records, a student-led record label that produces an annual CD. Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and theatre students can gain hands-on experience by performing in cabarets, mainstage shows, and plays, while studio art students have a wealth of resources that include galleries and work spaces.

50. Point Park University

Point Park University is dedicated to making sure every student is fully ready for their future creative career, and that's why every student can pursue internships where they could practice their photography, video production, or theatre skills. This Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-located school boasts more than 70 undergraduate majors with terrific bachelor's degrees in such creative and art fields as:

  • Acting
  • Theatre
  • Photography
  • Musical theatre
  • Dance

Students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting program have great opportunities for performing with the school's Conservatory Theatre Company, Playhouse Jr., and The REP theatre company. Dance students are also supported in their artistic journey through access to 8 rehearsal studios and the George Rowland White Performance Studio where they can perform. Those who wish to pursue a graduate degree can opt for the excellent Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting and Playwriting, which is a low-residency program that prepares students for writing for the screen and stage.

Jobs in Visual & Performing Arts

Unlike some other fields, art major jobs can be specialized. In other words, the type of fine arts career you pursue might depend largely on your degree. For instance, you may find it difficult to build a web design career with a degree in music or a career in the film industry with a degree in sculpture. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does offer some big picture statistics for salaries and job growth for careers for people with degrees in art and design.

The BLS reported in 2019 that the median salary for all jobs in the arts was $48,130, which is more than the median salary for all occupations, which was $39,810 at the time. These fields are expected to cumulatively add 96,800 jobs between 2018 and 2028, which represents a job growth rate of 3%. That's somewhat lower than the national average, which is currently at 5%.

Visual & Performing Arts Salary

Pinning down reliable numbers for art major salaries is difficult because they can vary so widely from career to career and even within a single career. For instance, a musician who plays weekly gigs at a bar might make just enough to make ends meet, while one who creates a hit record might bring down millions of dollars a year.

In other fields, the salary can depend on whether you work for a company or you must hustle for work. A visual artist who's in charge of creating designs within a large company might make a regular salary with benefits while an artist who creates individual works to sell to the public might do as well as her latest sale.

Salaries can vary by experience as well, with wages typically rising the more years you have under your belt. The table below tackles some of the most common occupations in the visual and performing arts, along with salaries by experience.

Occupation Average Salary: Entry-level Average Salary: Mid-level Average Salary: Late-career
Fine Artists (Painters, Sculptors)$40,000$49,162$50,677
Creative Directors$51,071$79,323$105,183

Source: Payscale.com

High Paying Careers in Arts

A degree in art doesn't have to mean you won't make a good salary. Challenge the starving artist myth with these higher-paying jobs for people with degrees in visual and performing arts.

Occupation Median Salary Job Growth
Art Directors$94,2201%
Fashion Designers$73,7901%
Multimedia Artists and Animators$75,2704%
Interior Designers$56,0404%
Graphic Designers$52,1103%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics