The first question most high school art students ask when thinking about college is, “What school should I go to?” Oftentimes, the decision is between a public or state university and an art school. Both have different cultures and environments, and students have to consider those factors to help make a decision. However, what really determines the best college fit for students is not just the culture and environment but the degree program they want to pursue. 

There are three types of degrees that art students typically consider: a Bachelor of Arts Degree (BA), a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA), and a Bachelor of Science Degree (BS). Each one is a great option, but you may not find all three at every college (or internationally, but we’ll get to that later). To put this into perspective, here’s the reality: 

  • Every U.S. university offers a BA program, but not all universities offer a BFA program. 
  • Every art school offers a BFA program, but not all art schools offer a BA program. 
  • Some art schools and some universities offer a BS program, but it’s not available everywhere. 

With there being so much variance in the degree programs that colleges offer, knowing what you’d like to pursue can lead to developing a list of the best colleges for your creative gifts and career goals. That’s why we’re using this article to explain the differences between a BA, BFA, and BS — so keep reading to get the insight you need to pave the way for a fulfilling college experience. 

BA vs. BFA vs. BS

The purpose, portfolio requirements, curriculum, area of emphasis, and career paths associated with a BA, BFA, and BS differ. The differences don’t mean that one arts program is better than another. All three options are enriching and can lead to invigorating experiences and creative careers. However, knowing the differences helps determine which degree program will lead to the experiences and creative career you want. So, without further ado, here are the main things that differentiate a BA, BFA, and BS. 

Purpose of Degree Programs

  • Bachelor of Arts Degree: A BA is a liberal arts degree that allows prospective students to explore various academic subjects like art, philosophy, literature, humanities, physical sciences, and more. It’s designed to give students a flexible, well-rounded education that spurs creative growth.
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree: A BFA is a professional degree that gives students the ability to intensely study a specific art form with the goal of mastering it. Examples of art forms include sculpture, fashion design, illustration, digital design, and more. Because of the rigorous study required, a BFA program is more rigid than a BA program and is designed for students who want to dive deep into one art discipline.
  • Bachelor of Science Degree: A BS is a degree program that’s primarily intended for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, it’s also available for students who want to learn about art, art history, and design as they relate to the general study of STEM. This art-centered focus has inspired a new acronym: STEAM.  The “A” stands for “art” and is designed to show that creativity has officially been integrated into STEM. Typically, a BS degree is associated with film or photography art majors.

Portfolio for College Admissions

  • Bachelor of Arts Degree: Students rarely need a portfolio when applying for a BA program. Most colleges just leave space on their applications for a portfolio supplement so that students can showcase a specific talent. That talent can be anything from drawing to playing an instrument to writing poetry. The main goal is for students to showcase a strength to create a more competitive application. 
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree: BFA programs almost always require high school students to submit an art portfolio with their college application. The portfolio typically needs 10-20 art pieces that demonstrate the student’s creative process, individuality, unique perspective, and more. Making a high-quality art portfolio is imperative to stand out to admissions teams (and we can help you do that to ensure your work is top-notch). 
  • Bachelor of Science Degree: Some BS programs require prospective students to provide an art portfolio with their college application, while others don’t ask for it. Students interested in getting a BS degree at a particular school should check whether a portfolio is required for admission. If an art portfolio is necessary, students should follow whatever requirements the college lists for art portfolios. 

Curriculum Across Degree Programs

  • Bachelor of Arts Degree: BA students must complete their general education requirements, such as math, biology, social science, English, and a foreign language. They must also finish the coursework associated with their major in the program. 
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree: BFA students need to complete their general education courses in math, biology, social science, English, and a foreign language. They also have to take a specialized curriculum to dive deeper into their art discipline.  
  • Bachelor of Science Degree: BS students have to complete their general education classes in math, biology, social science, English, and a foreign language. They must also finish the courses associated with their major in the program.

Areas of Emphasis 

  • Bachelor of Arts Degree: For BA programs, students aren’t required to pick an emphasis within their field of study. All they have to do is choose their major within the program. Those interested in art can become a BA art major, which is usually called “studio art” or “visual art” to illustrate its generalized nature. This major consists of 30-40 credit hours, so it’s great for those who want to pursue a double major. 
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree: For BFA programs, art students have to choose an area of emphasis within their specific art major. For example, a BFA student studying animation will need to select 2D, 3D, character design, or storyboarding as their area of emphasis. The training throughout all areas of emphasis in BFA programs is intensive, with most encompassing two-thirds of credit hours. That means there are not enough credit hours for double-majoring, but getting a minor is possible!
  • Bachelor of Science Degree: An area of emphasis may or may not be needed in a BS program. Schools that offer it will give students multiple concentrations as options. For example, a BS student majoring in photography could focus on commercial photography, fine art photography, photojournalism, or another type of photography. Half of a student’s credit hours will be defined by their major, leaving enough room to pursue a double major.

Career Paths 

  • Bachelor of Arts Degree: BA programs open the door to many occupations involving students’ artistic skills outside of professionally practicing their talents. Becoming a high school art teacher, for example, is a gratifying option for college graduates who received a BA in art and a degree in secondary education. Entering the job market isn’t the only immediate option for BA graduates, though. It’s possible to pursue a Master of Fine Arts Degree (MFA), regardless of the BA major a student chooses. 
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree: With a BFA degree, students can jumpstart an art career in their chosen specialty. Graduates who concentrated on printmaking, for example, can apply for an enriching job in that particular creative field. Students with a BFA can also pursue an MFA if they want more training before starting their careers.
  • Bachelor of Science Degree: Graduates with a BS degree can enjoy many job opportunities. Some career paths are in film, photography, and television. A BS program even opens the door for jobs that combine art and engineering, like web design and web development. 

6 Considerations When Choosing Your Art Degree

Now that you know the differences between a BA, BFA, and BS, it’s time to discuss how to select a degree to determine the best colleges to pursue. In all honesty, there are many things you can consider to help make a decision that best suits your preferences. Most of what goes into choosing a degree and school depends on multiple factors. However, below is a list of some primary elements to assess to get closer to a decision that excites you. 

1. Your commitment to a particular art field

Do you want to create as much art as possible? Are you enthusiastic about specializing in one particular art form, like industrial art, fashion design, film, illustration, or graphic design? 

If you answered “yes” to those questions, you may be a great candidate for a BFA program that has the major you want to pursue. This type of program is designed for students who are confident that they want to master a particular art form and are excited to turn their specialized skills into a thriving, fulfilling art career. 

Where to apply: Every art school has a BFA degree program, and some universities offer one as well. To narrow your search, apply to colleges that have the major you’re interested in pursuing in a BFA program. 

2. Your desire to study various subjects

Maybe you’re someone who loves art and the thrill of learning many different subjects! In that case, pursuing a BA degree and then double majoring or minoring to expand your academic interests may be a great path for you. 

This route will give you the room to explore, discover your strengths, and cast a wide net when looking for job opportunities. So, if you’re someone who’s curious about many topics, a BA degree — and more — could be right for you. 

Where to apply: You can apply to any university to get a BA degree, or you can apply to art schools that offer a BA degree. 

3. Your openness to different art forms 

Do you like the idea of focusing on art but can’t choose which art discipline to prioritize? That’s totally normal and okay! There are colleges that offer a foundation year, which is available to every freshman who wants a BFA but is unsure about the art form they want to focus on. 

With a foundation year, you’ll get hands-on experience with various art forms like painting, animation, drawing, and more. This discovery year will empower you to explore new disciplines, reveal your interests, and help determine the art discipline you should study during your BFA program.

Where to apply: Not all universities and art schools provide foundation years for BFA students, so only apply to those that do. 

4. The curriculum for your potential major

Researching the curriculum associated with a BA, BFA, and BS program is an amazing way to determine the degree you want to earn. This research process will give you visibility into what you can expect from a particular program, including the mandatory courses you must take, opportunities for electives, and whether internships are necessary. With this insight, you can choose the degree that best fits your interests. 

You can also research a degree program’s curriculum to determine the best colleges for your interests. Not all BA programs are the same. Not all BFA programs are the same, and not all BS programs are the same. To get the academic experience you want, it’s helpful to check a program’s curriculum at the colleges you’re considering. It’ll ensure you apply for the most suitable degree and the schools with the coursework you want to take to earn your degree.

Where to apply: Submit applications to colleges with the degree program you’re most excited to pursue and the coursework you’re enthusiastic about tackling. 

5. Your enthusiasm about all the possible options 

It’s very likely to become excited about the prospect of getting a BA, BFA, or BS degree. After all, each one leads to intriguing coursework, great friendships, creative growth, and job stability! So, if you can’t decide which degree to pursue, there’s a solution: apply to different colleges to narrow your options and then make a decision. 

This route means applying to a few art schools with BFA programs, a couple of universities with BA programs, and a few colleges with BS programs. After casting a wide net, you’ll see which colleges have accepted you. Then, you can use your list of options to choose the degree program and school you’d like to attend. 

Where to apply: Apply to various colleges with a BA, BFA, and/or BS program to narrow your options and make an exciting choice.

6. Your excitement to study abroad 

Remember when we said we’d discuss the art degrees available internationally? Well, it’s time to dive in. For the most part, colleges in the UK and Europe don’t offer BFA programs, and their BS programs may not have the art-related majors common in the US. 

That means if you have a vision of becoming a college art student in the UK or Europe, you’ll most likely pursue a BA degree since that’s the primary option available. You’ll need to submit an art portfolio with your college application since BA programs in the UK and Europe are for all types of art students. Keep in mind that some colleges in the UK require BA programs to begin with a foundation year followed by a three-year BA degree. So, you can apply to colleges that provide this experience if you’d like to explore different art forms before focusing on one. 

Where to apply: You can apply to colleges in the UK and Europe that align with your preferences, as long as you’re open to getting a BA degree. 

Take a Leap, Then Enjoy the Journey

Understanding the differences between a BA, BFA, and BS can help you select a suitable degree and apply to colleges that have the program you’re eager to explore. However, knowing the differences and still being uncertain is also perfectly normal! You may even get to college and find out the degree program you thought you wanted to pursue doesn’t actually align with your goals — and that’s okay. 

There are always options to help you get on a path that fits your vision, so don’t worry if you’re still figuring things out. The most important thing to do today is to get the information you need to take a leap in the direction you think is best. Afterward, you can enjoy the journey and trust that your college experience will guide you toward the right path. 

Need help selecting a degree program and the best colleges to pursue? Contact our CEO, Lorraine Serra, at for a consultation!