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What's the difference between BA and BFA degrees?

Learn the meaning of BA and BFA degrees and how to choose between the two.

college student works on painting for capstone project for bfa

The distinction between a BA and a BFA lies in their emphasis and curriculum. A BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) degree focuses on intensive study and practice in the visual arts, complemented by a program of general studies. On the other hand, a BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree places art and design within the broader context of a comprehensive program of general studies, offering a liberal arts perspective.

Choosing between a BA and BFA

If you're considering a creative career path, you'll want to enroll in a program that will bring out the best in you and open the most doors. But how can you tell which art degree can help you realize your full potential? And which ones do employers prefer their job candidates to have?

Your choice between a Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) degree and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree really comes down to two things: your educational goals and your career goals.

A Bachelor of Arts degree is a great option for students who have an idea what they'd like to do but aren't sure about the specific career or niche. This degree is going to provide an overview of several disciplines and allows students to dabble in a variety of different mediums.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is a specialized degree. It places emphasis on practical experience and a particular discipline, such as painting or writing. For students who know exactly what they want to pursue, this degree offers an opportunity to build a strong, high-quality portfolio.

What is a BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree?

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree is an undergraduate degree. It's awarded to students who have completed a four-year program of study at a college or university. BA degrees are typically offered in a wide variety of fields.

While the word "arts" has a creative connotation, it's important to note that the "arts" in a Bachelor of Arts degree refers to liberal arts. Liberal arts cover a wide range of academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics and social and physical sciences.

BA degrees are designed to provide students with a broad and well-rounded education. This breadth of learning gives students a foundation in a variety of subjects and prepares them for a much broader range of careers.

What courses will I take in a BA program?

BAs and BFAs both require students to complete prerequisite courses. These include courses in English, communications, mathematics, science and beyond. Specific programs, such as a Bachelor of Arts in User Design, for instance, require courses specific to that subject like Principles of Visual Communication. Electives allow you to explore topics of interest and take classes that are not required for your major but provide related information and skills that may be practically applied when working in your focus area later on. For example, if you become self-employed, the skills you may have learned in an accounting class could help you run the financial side of your business.

In many cases, the courses you'll take in an arts program are very similar to the courses you'd take in a fine arts program. However, this degree places additional focus on transferable skills that develop students' critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. These skills may prepare students for success in a variety of careers, including business, government, education and healthcare.

The Bachelor of Arts degree is a valuable asset for students who are open to pursuing more than one role in a variety of fields. Graduates will have a strong foundation in a variety of subjects. Once you graduate, you'll be ready to further refine your skills with more education or start your career.

What can I do with a BA degree?

This degree's broad focus qualifies undergraduates for a wide variety of roles in many different markets. For instance, a BA in English would meet the education requirements for positions such as:

  • Communications specialist
  • Educator
  • Human resources manager
  • Marketing manager
  • Nonprofit manager
  • Policy analyst
  • Public relations specialist
  • Social worker
  • Writer

Liberal arts courses in a BA program cater to students who want a greater degree of career flexibility. A good example might be someone interested in journalism or magazine writing but would like the ability to flex into a corporate/business writing role. This degree prepares you to be successful, even if you aren't 100% sure what career is right for you yet.

How can I advance my career with a BA degree?

Once you've earned your BA, you can advance your career a few different ways.

The simplest way to advance your career is through work experience. The more experience you have, the more marketable you may be to employers. You can gain work experience by getting a job, volunteering and through internships.

With a BA you can advance your career through work experience, more school...or pursue professional certification.

Networking with fellow students and professionals in your field is also an important part of professional advancement. Networking can help you learn about new job opportunities, get advice and build relationships that may help you advance your career. You can network by attending industry events, joining professional organizations or connecting with people on LinkedIn.

You can also continue your education. Earning a master's degree is a great choice if you've narrowed down your career trajectory. In an MA program, you'll gain more specialized knowledge and skills, and will likely increase your earning potential as a result. An MA is a relatively big time commitment, however. It usually takes between 18 months and two years of full-time study to earn this degree.

Another option is to pursue professional certification. Like a master's degree, certification can show employers that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to do a particular job. Many certification programs can be completed on a part-time basis and are often available in a flexible online, hybrid, bootcamp or weekend format. Earning professional certification can take anywhere from a few days to two years.

What is a BFA degree (Bachelor of Fine Arts)?

BAs and BFAs share many of the same required classes. They each require 60 general education prerequisites. It isn't uncommon for the degree-specific course offerings to overlap for the two degrees. The major difference between the two is that a BFA places more emphasis on a specific kind of career path and requires students to create portfolio-building work to satisfy degree requirements. In addition, there can be up to 10 more additional credit hours required to complete a BFA than a BA requires.

A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree has a reputation for being more prestigious than its counterpart, but employers may not understand or appreciate the distinction. The truth is, one degree is not better than the other in general. However, if you are able to build a strong portfolio with your BFA degree, then a BFA is a better choice for you.

What courses will I take in a BFA program?

Like a BA program, there are prerequisite courses in English, mathematics, social science and so on that you must take before you can enroll in degree-specific classes. However, in a BFA program, you'll enroll in classes that place a greater focus on your discipline of choice. Here are some examples of courses you might take in a BFA program:

Foundation courses:
These courses are considered "foundational" because they will give you a foundation in the basics of your chosen field, such as drawing, painting, sculpture or filmmaking.
Studio courses:
These courses will allow you to practice your skills and develop your own unique artistic voice.
History and theory courses:
These courses will help you understand the history of your field and the theories that underpin it.
Critical studies courses:
These courses will help you develop your critical thinking skills and learn how to evaluate art in its many facets.
Capstone course:
This course will allow you to showcase your skills and knowledge in a final project. A Capstone may be required for graduation.

In addition to these classes, you may also have the opportunity to take electives in other areas, such as business, marketing or technology. These electives can help you prepare for a career in the arts, such as gallery management, artist representation, or in a related field.

What can I do with a BFA degree?

Just as there is overlap between the courses you take in a BA and a BFA program, there are also careers that students with either a BA and a BFA can go on to pursue. Some of these careers might include:

BFA degrees typically require students to complete a rigorous program of study. Coursework in art history, theory and practice are typical. Students may also be expected to participate in internships and other professional development opportunities.

How can I advance my career with a BFA?

Career advancement with a BFA follows a very similar trajectory as BA graduates.

Work experience is the best way to advance. Especially with creative professions or trades, there is a great potential to learn on the job. Experience makes for great leverage on your resume, so the more you have, the more attractive you will be to employers. Internships and volunteer roles are great ways to get work experience if you don't yet have any working experience. Freelance or contract work may also be an option for you, depending on your area of study.

Work experience, building a network, earning a master's and professional certification are potential next steps to advancement after you earn your BFA.

Building a professional network is also key. Through your network, you may learn about new job opportunities, get great career advice, and build relationships that can help you boost your career. Connecting with people on LinkedIn is a great start, but also consider joining guilds or associations and attending conferences or workshops.

You can continue your education, also. A Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts program will contribute to your specialized knowledge and skill set. Completing a program like this can take anywhere from 18 months and two years of full-time study, however, and most often a strong portfolio is preferred to advanced degrees in creative fields.

Professional certification is another option. Certification programs show employers you have in-demand skills, but don't require the time commitment of a full-time degree program. A great way to determine what certifications you might want is to ask other professionals in your network how they've upskilled or what courses they recommend.

How fine arts degrees stack up

Here is the breakdown of visual arts to liberal arts credits that you will encounter in a BFA or BA program:

Bachelor of Fine Arts: A BFA requires approximately two-thirds of the course work focus on the creation and study of visual arts and one-third on liberal arts.

Bachelor of Arts: For a BA, the course work ratios are flipped, with a two-thirds focus on liberal arts and one-third of the course work focus on visual arts.

These ratios hold true across all establishments of higher learning. The type of degree, not the institution, determines the amount of visual arts to liberal arts you will study.

Here's a summary of the key differences between the BA and BFA:

Bachelor of Arts degreeBachelor of Fine Arts degree
FocusGeneral educationArt and design
Required coursesHumanities, social sciences, natural sciencesDrawing, painting, sculpture, photography, etc.
Internships/Hands-on learningMay be availableTypically required
Career optionsVariedArts-related fields

BA vs BFA salary: Which has a higher earning potential?

Ultimately, the earning potential of a BA or BFA degree will depend on a variety of factors, including the field of study, the individual's skills and experience and the job market. If you are considering a career in the arts, it is important to do your research and carefully consider your options.

There are a few reasons why BA graduates might be poised to earn more than BFA graduates. First, BA graduates are more likely to work in fields that are in high demand, such as business, healthcare and technology. Second, BA graduates typically have a broader range of skills, which makes them more marketable to employers. BA graduates may also have a stronger foundation in critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are key soft skills that are highly valued by employers.

However, a case could be made for BFA grads to outearn BAs. For example, BFA graduates in certain fields, such as animation and graphic design, can earn high salaries. Additionally, some BFA graduates may choose to pursue careers in the arts, where earning potential can vary depending on factors such as experience, talent and connections.

Ready to earn a BA or BFA degree?

While raw talent can provide the drive to become an artist, nothing beats having the right education and skills to back up that talent. Whether you're eyeing a career in arts management or business, or planning to tread the boards in the theatre, show your paintings in a gallery or photograph the Tibetan Himalayas for a national magazine, a BA or BFA can provide a foundation that gives you coveted hard skills. If you're ready to get started, just click the Find Schools button to begin researching education programs that may help you foster your talent and fulfill the unique demands of a field as competitive as the arts.

Updated: June 2, 2023

mariah beckman

Written and reported by:

Mariah Beckman

Contributing Writer


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