What is a BFA Degree? Understanding the BFA Vs. BA

When pursuing a college diploma, there are many types of Bachelor’s degrees a student can choose to pursue. 

Many bachelor’s degrees are named after their specific specialization, such as “Bachelor’s of Music,” “Bachelor’s of Mathematics,” and “Bachelor’s of Science.” As you can infer, the name of each degree briefly summarizes what the degree itself is.

One notable degree is the BFA, which stands for a “Bachelors of Fine Arts.” As you can guess from the name, BFA degrees are awarded in more creative fields related to art, music, literature, and more. We will discuss later in this article which exact majors typically confer BFA degrees.

Often confused with the BFA is the BA degree. Whereas the BFA is a “Bachelors in Fine Arts,” the BA is a “Bachelor of Arts” degree. Both the BA and the BFA are prevalent in degree-granting institutions, yet the scope of each degree is significantly different.

Today, we will discuss the BFA degree in-depth, the typical college majors associated with the BFA, and help you decide if the BFA or the BA is best for you.

Without further ado, let’s dive into both BFA and a BA degrees.


What is a BFA Degree?

What is a BFA Degree
photo via Wikimedia Commons

BFA, or “Bachelor’s in Fine Arts,” degrees are conferred in creative programs such as dance, musical theatre, visual arts, drama, and more. BFA degrees are awarded for students who want most of their undergraduate experience to be in the fine arts.

Students graduating from performing arts or creative majors need a higher ratio of “creative” credits compared to liberal arts credits on their transcripts to graduate.

Every school’s breakdown of liberal arts credits – e.g. math, history, science, etc. – to creative credits is different for a BFA. However, a good rule of thumb for a BFA program is 75% creative credits to 25% academic liberal arts credits.

Most four-year colleges require 120 total credits, or about 30 credits a year for a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Throughout a four-year degree, a student needs to take approimately 90 creative credits and 30 liberal arts credits to graduate with a BFA.

This translates roughly to 1-2 traditional academic classes a semester, with the rest being more directly related to the creative major.


The Differences Between a BFA vs. a BA Degree

BA, or “Bachelors of Arts,” Degrees are distinct from BFAs in that they require more liberal arts coursework, such as English, math, and science, to graduate.

BA degrees may be awarded for completing the curriculum of a more traditional major, such as communications, education, comparative literature, and English. However, BA degrees can also exist in creative fields such as music, dance, and drama. As mentioned, the big difference from the BFA is that more liberal arts credits are needed to complete the BA.

The typical breakdown of a BA degree is 50% liberal arts credits and 50% creative credits. This can also vary widely, with some schools offering only ⅓ creative credits and ⅔ traditional liberal arts credits in the BA programs.


List of Majors Awarding a BFA Degree

An extensive list of majors, typically associated with the creative and performing arts, award BFA degrees. Here are some of the most popular majors ultimately conferring a BFA degree.

Musical Theatre BFA: The musical theatre BFA trains students to become a “triple-threat” in singing, acting, and dancing. To succeed on Broadway, the West End, and in theatres worldwide, students need training in these three disciplines to make themselves as competitive as possible for a professional job.

Drama/Acting BFA: BFAs are the typically preferred degree for students graduating from college as acting majors. Students take classes in various acting techniques, including the Meisner Technique, Classical Acting Technique, and the Method Acting Technique. Students’ goal for pursuing a Drama or Acting BFA is to find work as an actor whether in television, film, or stage.

Visual Arts BFA: Almost every art school awards BFA degrees to its students. Examples of popular BFA degrees in the visual arts include Graphic Design, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, and Printmaking. Some go to art school intending to become an independent artist, such as a painter or sculptor. Others intend to be hired for their art skills as graphic designers, architects, product designers, and more. 

Dance BFA: The BFA in Dance is awarded to students who study classical and modern dance styles at colleges and conservatories. Classes in a Dance BFA emphasize movement, technique, choreography, history, and individual creativity. Students who graduate with a BFA in Dance typically find themselves performing in professional dance companies, starting their own dance companies, or teaching at colleges and conservatories alike.

Creative Writing BFA: Creative writers, or people who write poems, short stories, and novels, are typically awarded BFA degrees. A student who attends school for creative writing learns not only the basics of writing, such as sentence structure, syntax, and grammar, but also the world’s greatest classical and contemporary authors.

Other BFA majors include animation, metalworking, ceramics, television production, stage management, and more.


Which One Is Better, the BA or the BFA?

Although this question is subjective, some indications ultimately can point you towards either a BA or a BFA degree.

The BA degree is best for students who want a more well-rounded, traditional academic curriculum infused with a creative passion in college. This is an excellent option for students who wish to have a BA in their preferred creative field, but want to have backup career options and a broader collegiate experience.

Additionally, the BA degree is also the best choice for a student who wishes to pursue a dual major in the arts and an outside field of study. This is because many academic credits that would count towards one major in a BA, such as English, would also count towards a second major, such as Mathematics. 

On the other hand, a BFA is ideal for someone who knows exactly what they are passionate about and is ready to pursue their dream. This explains why most BFA programs are comprised mostly of classes in creative disciplines, and why the ratio strongly favors creative classes to liberal arts classes.

To summarize:

Choose a BA if you are interested in a well-rounded education or a double major.

Choose a BFA if you want to go all-in on a field of study you are incredibly passionate about.


Examples of Famous and Prestigious BFA Degree Programs

There are countless examples of BFA degree programs. The following are some examples of the most famous and prestigious programs conferring BFA degrees.

The University of Michigan awards numerous BFA degrees. They include majors in musical theatre, drama, art & design, and dance. Michigan also awards some unusually creative BFA degrees, such as the BFA in Interarts Performance, a degree for students interested in the interdisciplinary cross-section of visual arts and original performance pieces.

Many independent art schools, such as RISD, short for the Rhode Island School of Design, award BFA degrees. At RISD, some examples of BFA-awarded degrees include glassmaking, apparel design, industrial design, photography, film, and more.

Another independent arts school, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, awards a wide-range of BFAs. At U Arts, students can pursue a BFA in Creative Writing, Game Arts, Illustration, Screenwriting, and even Wood/Furniture design.


List of Jobs You Can Get With a BFA Degree

One common misconception about a BFA degree is that it is impossible to find jobs and paying careers with a BFA degree. 

While there may be some truth in that more job openings are available for more traditional majors like engineering and medicine, there are many jobs you can get with a BFA degree.

Here are some typical jobs students with BFA degrees get.

Actor: Students can find themselves employed in Broadway shows, acting companies, and performing arts organizations that regularly attract live audiences. Additionally, with the expansion of new content programming on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, there has never been a greater need for actors than right now.

Copywriter & Content Writer: While you may not be hired to write original novels right after graduation with a creative writing BFA degree, one job requiring finely honed technical skills is copywriting. Copywriting is essentially writing sales copy for corporate and non-profit websites, brochures, and sales pages. There is a significant need for content writers, as hundreds of thousands of websites publish new articles daily.

Journalist: In a world where more and more media companies are hiring talent, journalists and communications specialists are necessary. Many journalism programs are BFAs and can help students prepare for a career writing for newspapers, magazines, and online publications.

Designer: Every logo, billboard, product, piece of furniture, and piece of clothing was designed by somebody, and major companies don’t want to hire just anybody to do their design work. A BFA in Art can lead to a lucrative career in design; in fact, many designers eventually open up their own firms to attract high-paying clients. Typically, professionals in this field will need to have an outstanding knowledge of photoshop, illustrator, and art history.

Musician & Composer: In addition to creating original music, companies are in constant need of composers for film, television, and games. Instrumentalists can additionally get work in studios, orchestras, and professorships in major universities.

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