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BA vs. BFA: Which is Right for You?

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What’s Covered:


Perhaps you’re a painter, a graphic designer, or an illustrator. Maybe you’re a dancer, an actor, or a filmmaker. 


Creative-minded individuals have innate talents, but they can also benefit from fine-tuning their skills and craft through professional training and education. If you’re an artist, you’re probably wondering: is it better to get a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)? 


There’s no quick or easy answer to this question — it depends on your strengths, interests, and career goals.


Differences Between the BA vs. BFA 


A BA program is the more traditional “collegiate” program of the two. Students take courses in other disciplines, such as literature, English, science, math, history, and foreign languages — that is, courses that typically comprise a liberal arts curriculum — along with courses in their artistic discipline. You’ll typically receive a more well-rounded education.


Meanwhile, in a BFA program, you’ll focus more heavily on your craft. While you’ll still have some liberal arts requirements, they will make up a much smaller portion of your curriculum, with more of your time spent in the studio, on the stage, or whatever the forum is for your artistic discipline.


While the distribution of credits and courses varies from school to school, on average, BFA programs are three-quarters creative work and one-quarter liberal arts courses, while BA programs are often 50-50.


Ultimately, those hoping to study their artistic passion with few other requirements will probably gravitate toward a BFA, while those with academic interests along with their art will likely opt for a BA.


Is the BFA harder than a BA?


The difficulty is subjective. Still, BFA programs are often described as more intense and rigorous than BA programs, with higher technical standards. They are meant to prepare serious artists for their careers in competitive fields.


That’s not to say it’s necessarily “harder” than a BA curriculum, but you may find it more competitive and demanding. Still, the academic rigor of a liberal arts curriculum coupled with arts courses can also be challenging. Again, your perspective on the difficulty largely depends on your own strengths, along with the requirements of the specific curriculum.


Do you earn more with a BA or BFA?


Earnings vary considerably by your specific industry, role, skills, and many other factors. According to PayScale, salaries are comparable for BA and BFA graduates in the corresponding focus. For example, on average, the salaries are $54,687 and $58,826 for BFAs and BAs in theater, respectively.


That said, a BA program prepares you for a larger pool of careers. So, if you decide to pursue a career that has higher earning potential than your art field of choice, you’ll probably have more options, while with a BFA, the choices are fairly limited.


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BA vs. BFA Based on Major




As a BFA in the theatre world, you’ll study various techniques and genres. The programs are aimed at preparing you for the competitive world of auditions and performance. BA theatre programs are usually less intensive, although they, too, usually offer ample audition and performance experience. In a BA program, you’ll likely learn more about the context of theatre, along with putting it into practice.




Like theater, dance BFA programs are more so aimed at preparing students for audition and performance opportunities than their BA counterparts. This is true of both in-college and career performances. 


Dancers with BFA might end up in dance companies or similar types of career paths. While this is possible for BAs, too, the latter students are also equipped with experience in academic fields and potentially less auditioning and performance experience.


Art (Studio Art)


In a BFA art program, you’ll spend a lot of time in the studio. You’ll often have the opportunity to focus on a specific medium, such as sculpture, painting, or printmaking, toward the goal of preparing you for a career focusing on that medium.


Meanwhile, in a BA program, you’ll delve further into theory, studying topics like art history and other humanities and liberal arts topics. You may also gain exposure to a wider array of media, although in some cases, you may have the option of focusing on one in particular.


Graphic Design


Graphic design is a broad field blending technology and visual art. Students who pursue a BFA in the field study a range of topics, such as branding, motion design, illustration, web design, and more. 


While a BA program in graphic design also covers these and other topics, students often go into these programs intending to pursue a related field that incorporates graphic design skills, blending them with other competencies. Advertising is one example. While these students may end up in graphic design, they will also be equipped with additional critical-thinking skills and other competencies.




Like the other disciplines on this list, a BFA in film tends to go more in-depth than its BA counterpart. Often, you’ll have a more comprehensive curriculum, covering all aspects of the filmmaking process, from screenwriting to directing, as well as different film formats.


A BA program usually presents an overview of these topics, blending them with a study of the theory behind them and touching on other academic disciplines.


How to Find the Right College for Your BA or BFA


Should you pursue a BA or BFA? That depends on your goals. Remember that a BA will prepare you for a far broader range of careers, while a BFA is meant to prepare you for success in a particular artistic discipline. But there are more factors to consider.


Curious which colleges have the best arts programs for you? Use CollegeVine’s school-search tool to find out. You can filter by major and other factors, like location, selectivity, and more. We’ll also estimate your true odds of getting into your dream school with our free chancing engine and give you tips to increase your chances of admission to the best schools for the arts.


Short Bio
Hi! I'm Shivani. Currently, I'm pursuing a double degree in Public Policy and Economics at NYU. Outside of my academic schedule, I love to read, hike, and play around with a new hobby every week!