Your Guide to the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Degree

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A BFA is an undergraduate degree you can earn in the creative arts. Learn more about common majors and what you can do with the degree after graduation.

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Students interested in majoring in the creative arts—theater, visual arts, film, and related subjects—often pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in college. A BFA is a bachelor’s degree that typically introduces students to the history and prominent theories about their chosen major while helping them develop their talents and strengthen their craft through hands-on learning. 

In this article, we’ll go over the BFA degree, the majors most often associated with it, and the jobs you can pursue after graduation. 

What is a BFA degree?

A Bachelor of Fine Arts is one of the three most common bachelor’s degrees available, along with the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and the Bachelor of Science (BS). It most differs from those two degrees in terms of the college majors available to choose from. When you enroll in an undergraduate degree program, you typically have to declare your major by the end of your second year, and the degree you earn will depend on what you choose. 

Each bachelor’s degree typically corresponds with certain categories of majors. Let’s break that down by subject: 

  • BFA degree: Creative and visual arts subjects 

  • BA degree: Arts, humanities, and social science subjects 

  • BS degree: Science, math, and technology subjects 

Learn more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate 

BFA majors 

You have several options to consider within the creative and visual arts when choosing your major. BFA majors may be heavily creative, such as painting or poetry, or require more technical development, such as film editing or game design. 

BFA students tend to have a talent or passion in a subject area that drives them to pursue the degree. Typical BFA majors include: 

  • Art education 

  • Creative writing

  • Dance

  • Dance education

  • Design 

  • Film 

  • Music education

  • Performing arts administration

  • Studio art 

  • Theater

Within each major, you may have additional options to narrow your focus. For example, a theater major may study acting, production, or direction, while an art major may study studio art, digital design, or art education. Some BFA students know what type of work they’d like to do after graduating, such as performing in musicals or painting, so they choose their major accordingly. Even if you’re not sure what you’d like to do after graduation, you can expect to develop numerous transferable skills, such as attention to detail and time management, as a result of the rigor and requirements of your BFA degree. 

BFA vs. BA majors

It is possible to earn a BFA or a BA in some majors, such as art, but the distinction is important. While a BFA tends to require practical coursework focused on your craft, a BA focuses on your knowledge of a subject and your ability to think critically about it. 

For example, if you want to earn a BFA in art, you can expect to make art, such as paintings, sculptures, and prints. However, if you want to earn a BA in art, you can expect to learn about art and art history. The same applies to film. A BFA in film will likely focus on film production, whereas a BA in film will focus on film studies and film history.

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Types of courses 

The coursework you take for your BFA will largely depend on your major. You can expect a combination of classes that cover the history or major theories of that subject, as well as more practical courses where you learn to hone your craft. 

Here’s what coursework can look like for three prominent BFA majors: 

Studio art:

  • Ceramics

  • Painting

  • Digital photography

  • Sculpture

  • Printmaking

Dance:  

  • Dance technique 

  • Ballet

  • Modern dance

  • History of dance 

  • Music theory 

  • Dance composition 

Film: 

  • Production

  • Production safety 

  • Screenwriting

  • Motion picture editing

  • Motion picture sound 

  • Directing

  • Film styles

BFA degree: Time and cost 

As a bachelor’s degree, a BFA typically takes between four and five years of full-time study to earn. That will likely include completing a minimum of 120 college credits and possibly a final project that showcases your talents, though requirements vary by school. 

A bachelor’s degree costs, on average, $10,740 per year at public four-year institutions for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students. That cost can be much higher at private nonprofit institutions, which cost $38,070 per year on average [1]. Because of the hands-on nature of the BFA, you may be responsible for additional materials that may add to the cost of your degree. 

Learn more: Is a Bachelor’s Degree Worth It? 

What can you do with a BFA? 

Many students pursue their BFA knowing they want to enter a particular industry or perform a specific type of work, such as building theater sets or teaching art. In that case, what they study is often meant to prepare them to pursue those goals after graduation. 

However, a BFA can also prepare you for several entry-level roles in areas related to the creative arts. Let’s go over a few: 

  • Graphic designers apply their creativity and fine arts knowledge to designing and developing visual assets for companies and brands.   

  • UX designers make digital products, such as apps or websites, easy and enjoyable to use. This work includes designing wireframes, site maps, and prototypes. 

  • Video producers create original videos that garner attention. They may work on a company’s marketing team, in journalism, or in entertainment. 

  • Photographers capture and refine original imagery for websites, publications, and marketing materials. 

  • Web designers create distinctive websites that help attract new customers and engage current ones. 

  • Teachers may work in a subject close to their majors, such as music or art, or a related field, sharing their knowledge and helping educate young students. 

  • Culture writers interpret aspects of culture, such as music, film, and books, analyzing a work and offering a way to understand it.  

Learn more: 11 High-Paying Liberal Arts Jobs

Is a BFA degree right for you? 

Whether or not you should pursue a BFA degree depends on your interests, goals, and resources. Many students pursue an undergraduate degree because of the career pathways it opens up. While that is certainly an important factor, it’s not the only one. It can help to choose a major based on your interests, values, or long-term personal goals. If you have a passion or enjoy being creative, you can hone those talents through a BFA program. 

Take time to research the curriculum various BFA programs require, so you understand what you’ll learn. Will that coursework help you achieve your larger goals? Would another major in the humanities or social sciences be more suitable? These are questions that can help guide your thought process. Additionally, if you have multiple interests, it may help to consider a double major  or a minor to get the most out of your time in school. 

It’s also worth noting that BFA degrees can often include more in-person or synchronous learning instead of hybrid or asynchronous learning because of the hands-on nature of the education. If you prefer learning from home or on your schedule, it may be worthwhile to verify which BFA programs are available to you—or explore other majors that will be more conducive to your needs. 

Next steps 

Explore creative classes from leading universities and institutions on Coursera. Learn Modern and Contemporary Art and Design from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Graphic Design from CalArts, or Photography Basics from Michigan State University. Begin a 7-day, full access free trial to see which subjects you enjoy most.  

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Article sources

1. CollegeBoard. "Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021, https://research.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf." Accessed May 18, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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