Do you need an MFA in Photography to Succeed?

Oct 10, 2013

Is an MFA in photography right for you? A recent article in American Photo Magazine asked that very question. So, how necessary is a postgraduate education in photography? There is no correct answer, of course. But there are a wealth of opinions from smart individuals who have become professional photographers. Some found their MFA program an essential part of their path to success. Others managed to cultivate careers without the help of academia.

Here is a summary of the arguments and a link to the full article. Hopefully it will help you make the decision that is right for you!


Should You Get an MFA in Photography?



  • Have the opportunity to learn the craft alongside others who share you passion.
  • Have the support and guidance of a professional academic program as well as other aspiring photographers.
  • Gain a good theoretical grounding in photography, its history, greatest practitioners, and the major artistic movements that affected it.
  • Gives the photographer a chance outside the work world to explore advanced concepts and ideas without the pressure of sales.
  • Qualify for a teaching job at a college or university. Most higher ed organizations require a masters degree in order to teach.
  • You meet people who may be able to get you a job down the road.


  • The standard two- or three-year programs can cost more than $100,000, leaving it out of reach for many aspiring photographers.
  • Some who have avoided the MFA route have found that nobody ever questioned their qualifications.
  • In commercial photography, where photographers make money outside of academia and art galleries, qualifications matter less than the final product: the pictures themselves.
  • Internships and apprenticeships offer an opportunity to work with a professional and learn the practical aspects of professional photography and at a much smaller cost.

An Alternative Route?


Several universities are offering a middle route: The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in digital photography, which is more career focused. These programs, which are offered at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Northeastern University in Boston, and elsewhere, prepare students to thrive in the commercial world.


Learn Photography from the Pros


Interested in testing the waters of landscape photography with an award-winning photographer? Your first step doesn’t have to be applying for an MFA in photography. Join other aspiring photographers on a photo adventure with Jim and Lori Steinberg of Steinberg Photography. To see where we are headed next, check out our Workshops and Photo Tours!