Photography One of the 10 Worst College Majors for Your Career?

Is a college photography degree worth it? It depends on who you ask. There are plenty of successful photographers out there who have never set foot inside a university photography lecture, while others have done just as well after earning that diploma. According to a recent study by Kiplinger, however, you might want to think twice before checking the “photography” box on your college app. After analyzing the salaries and jobless rates for grads of the 100 most popular majors, they found photography to be one of the 10 worst, and write,

Shutterbugs beware: The new-grad unemployment rate for film and photography majors is only narrowly better than the rate for high school dropouts. Film and photo students face tough competition in a crowded industry, and low starting salaries are the norm even in expensive industry hubs such as New York and Los Angeles. Interestingly, film and photography grads are still the best-paid of the art majors, though they make almost $10,000 less than the typical holder of a bachelor’s degree.

Some interesting figures: there’s a 7.3% unemployment rate for photo degree holders in general, and a 12.9% rate for recent graduates. The median salaries are $45,000 and $30,000, respectively.

Worst College Majors for Your Career [Yahoo via Fstoppers]

Image credit: Class Photo Shoot by A. Blokzyl

  • SpyHI

    I’m not terribly surprised. Most art departments (the department that usually houses photography) don’t teach photographers business skills. A decade or two ago, that might have been fine since most places needed staff photographers, but photo contracts have moved to a freelance culture, so if you don’t know how to sell your services, you won’t survive.

    TL;DR: Cultivate your business skills, and you’ll be okay. Don’t go to college *just* for photography.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    thankfully the majority of photography courses now offered in colleges and universities (here in the UK at least) offer much more when it comes to the business end of things, setting aside specific lectures each week with specialised tutors.

  • SpyHI

    That’s very smart. Hopefully American deans will catch on, but I’ve asked graduates from four American art schools and they said there was no emphasis on business. :-/

  • Josh

    to “Spyhi” I think your analyst of this statement is slightly incorrect. My school offers a lot of business related topics designed for photography. Granted its still young for degrees. I would surmise that it could take off and that this particular story is correct for now.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    yeah, I think a lot of courses have stayed relatively the same for years and years without being updated to the times we’re currently living in, times when business plans and general business knowledge are pretty essential. You can’t just jump on an airplane to some war-torn country and hop borders shooting photographs like McCurry did in the 70’s and build yourself a fantastic career – now it’s as if you have to go through proper channels, more about business smarts and networking. But i’m not complaining, that’s just how it is, there is plenty of work out there, you just have to have your eyes open.

  • Amiee

    As a non-traditional student, I just went back to college & earned my photography degree in May. Many of the professors at my university discouraged commercial photography, and told students to aim for getting their work into art galleries and to not “sell out”. Ridiculous. And I’m very glad I didn’t listen.

  • Nach

    Photography is one of those majors in art schools that a lot of students flock to because it sounds easy. I have a bfa in photography and am currently both employed in a photo related business and am being interviewed for another photo position at another company. I also shoot freelance as well as assist professionals. I went to school with a lot of photo majors that had no idea what they wanted to do when they first got to college and ended up choosing photo because it sort of fit. Those people never had the passion to succeed in the industry because they went for something that just seemed to work. Now they will pursue something completely unrelated to photography because art school gave them the tools, but they don’t want to use them.

    I also went to school with some insanely talented photographers that have assisted the likes of Mark Seliger and Annie Leibovitz. One guy, An Le, is making a massive splash in the fashion photography world, having already been included in Vogue not even a year after graduation. Majoring in photography gave him the experience and knowledge (tools) to combine with his passion and raw talent to excel.

    That being said, everything in the industry is so competitive and so saturated with really talented people that it’s hard to find something good. A lot of students will take unpaid internships to gain real world experience, but that’s another investment.

  • Keith D

    Wooooo! I’m a photographer and I majored in Anthropology and minored in Sociology. Great combo, eh?

  • Aaron Cole

    I liken the photo business to being a musician. 95% are going to fail (they just don’t got it), 4.9% will eek out some sort of living and 0.1% will be the rock stars.

  • Mansgame

    All I know is that every good photographer I know went to college for something else. The two art major friends I know who do photography and supposedly went to school for it have nothing but pretension and no results.

    I think a degree is important in a lot of areas- Engineering, medical professions (not a fan of amateur dentists), pilots, etc. but some professions you can self learn or learn on the job – chefs, photographers, etc.

  • 9inchnail

    Wow, you propably won’t have a problem finding a job at Starbucks then. Good for you.

  • Bruce Horn

    Photography has always been a tremendously competitive field, now more than ever. So I think comparing unemployment rates among photo graduates to graduates from other majors is a trifle specious. I think it would be more relevant, if it were possible to do so, to compare unemployment rates for aspiring photographers with photo degrees to aspiring photographers without photo degrees. However, I also think how employable you are as a photo major depends a lot on what you put into the major while you are in school. If you are really passionate about photography and put 100% into studying it while you are in school, you are far more likely to be employable after school than if you just cruise through. Further, when selecting a photography school it is very important to do careful research to find the school that best matches what you want to do in photography. If you want to be a fine art photographer, find a school that is strong in that area. If you want to be a commercial photographer, find one that has the best classes that relate to that. And be aware that you may need to supplement the photo classes with classes in business, marketing, etc.

  • Mummygirl

    There are no jobs anymore no matter what you decide to study. So you might as well do what makes you happy.

  • Sum_it

    You can always have a second major as a safety net. I have a BFA in photography and a BA in Biology. Currently go to grad school for preventative medicine and work part time as a researcher and educational media content creator. When it comes to entry level jobs, its much more about being aggressive to get yourself through the door. Things become a bit easier after that. I’m not talking about the photography job market, but job markets in general.

  • samantha!

    I really do think it depends on what college you attend. I’m studying photography at college and my school is a very respectable school with brilliant profs, some of whom are world renouned. Many people in my program drop out or fail (we only have a 25% graduation rate) and the employment rate in preferred for graduates of my program is at 98.2%

  • Kenny

    I think it’s a waste of money and your time being that I went to RIT, your learn photo but its a waste because with digital photo you could learn this on your own with out going to college.

  • Marcela

    what school do you go to, if I can ask :)

  • flatmotion

    For me, I figured this could be a good thought. To get any other degree like advertising, visual communication, or even marketing because when you are out at work, you have things to adapt to and turn them into a new sort of job. I’d like to believe that if you have a perspective from the other side, it will always turn into fresh idea since everyone else is going directly at it and you’re standing in a distance, looking in. Many new and innovative photographers these days didn’t make their path into photography from the first day of the university. Although it seems to take double effort in self-studying skill, and patience. Because while you are out there trying to set up the strobes and soft boxes with your instinct, those from the classes are just so much more precise, but that never means your photos are going to look any better.

  • Fred

    Most successful photographers I know were not “trained” most of them learned by trial and error and or apprenticeships. In photography, those that can do. Or learn via online courses while they are doing.

  • Mako Koiwai

    Although I think everyone kid should take a basic photo class … but the problem is that many instructors come from Film … which isn’t relevant to most folks anymore. If anything, Film should be an Advanced class.

  • Kareema

    Adam you have somehow a good point up there but i still can’t totally agree with some part of what u’ve just mentioned. However; If you aim to have the academic certificate ,yeah you can go through proper channels, but if you wanna be professional artist you have two choices ,either you hit college and start taking classes or you can start your own journey to learn the basics and be professional later on at whatever you worked fingers on, yet you can be rewarded for proficiency instead.

  • Ellis

    Taking photography in college was a very underwhelming experience for me, my teacher is an idiot, I shot most of my projects on film and she always says yeah that’s ok but add some contrast and saturation in Photoshop etc. Feel sorry for the others in my class who have to learn from her.

  • kittura

    One of the things discussed at organizations like the international Design Management Institute is how to value the ROI of many “design” focused businesses by learning how to speak to business people.

    Often people LOVE to be photographers so people and companies often take advantage by telling people to “bring your camera” and they offer you “exposure” instead of pay for your work…

    When in reality they then use your work to promote their own businesses… and good photos do sell a business!

    Meanwhile your lens, camera and flash equipment may cost more than a car. You have to learn how to monetize your work.

  • craig cadolowitz


  • outkasted

    Aside from a degree period what needs to be taught to ANY student yet alone photography students is that they must diversify. They must be able to have something to help support. I am an Architect.but I studied photography the hard knock way by reading and teaching myself. My photography has become part of support system and makes me money.