Are College Graduates Unprepared As Photographers?

Are College Graduates Unprepared As Photographers?

One question most aspiring photographers ask is "should I get a degree in photography before starting my business?" Maybe a better question is does going to college actually prepare you for a career in photography? A recent article published by Kiplinger suggests that Film and Photography students (as well as graphic designers) are ill prepared in finding paying jobs upon graduation.

According to the study, the unemployment rate for accredited photographers is 7.3% with recent graduates reaching as high as 12.9%! The median salary for those majoring in photography is a mere $30,000 (only about twice that of jobs paying minimum wage). According to the article, those who graduate with a Bachelor's degree in the arts are likely to make $10,000 less than a student graduating with a BS in any other major.

Here is what Kiplinger has found for Film and Photography students:

Unemployment rate: 7.3%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 12.9%
Median salary: $45,000
Median salary for recent grads: $30,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010-2020: 13%
Likelihood of working retail: 2.6 times average

I'm not sure exactly what to think of these stats. On one hand, I feel like the market has grown for professional photographers. Whether it be headshots, weddings, real estate, commercial work, or small business marketing, the need for professional photography has never been greater. One the other hand, since photographers do not need to be accredited or licensed, the number of people working in the photography field has grown exponentially since the introduction of the digital camera. All that usually separates the successful professionals from the amateur photographers is the work itself and most importantly the marketing behind the business.

My own bachelor's degree was in Biology, and never in a million years would I have expected to become a photographer. In fact, the only photography class I ever signed up for was during the last semester of my senior year (it was either photography or another language). As any graduate knows, paying back college loans can be a tremendous burden. It is pretty scary to think that after you graduate, not only are you going to have a hard time building a sustainable career but you are likely going to start the whole process in tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Furthermore, in my experience at least, I've seen many professionals who have studied in fields other than photography (like business, marketing, or even science) build a successful photography business sooner and more profitable than those who have graduated from a 2 or 4 year art program.

The overall value of a college degree cannot be under valued, but I do find this topic interesting especially after reading such startling data. What do you guys think: on average, does pursing a degree in photography ultimately help or hinder the aspiring professional?

-via Yahoo Finance

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101 Comments

Andrew Griswold's picture

Great article, I don't think pursuing a degree in photography or any fine arts degree for that hinders the aspiring profession. It just helps it grow and evolve into the future. Yes you will get some people that will get into it from strange paths and others that go through 9 years of schooling just to get to where they want to be. Overall its up to the person, their personality and their drive to become what they want to be, a professional at something. In this case a photographer, over time the ones with the passion and the drive to do better and greater things with each shot will shine over the ones that get into it for the wrong reason or dont have the same motivation. 

Douglas Sonders's picture

i 100% agree

Andrew Griswold's picture

Thanks for that man! You are a huge inspiration to me and appreciate the reply. 

I think that can be said about any profession, Andrew.

TWO's picture

can comments be deleted?

My degree in photography has done nothing for me. So yes this article is very true.

I agree

I also agree. I have just finished studying in Scotland and I don't feel like I've learned anything I hadn't already learned from youtube prior to my enrollment in the course. The only things I got advantage from was the use of their equipment and studio space / equipment. 

I am going to school right now for business, am a sophomore in the program, but have an intense passion for film. To my knowledge, I have been fortunate enough to have more real-world experiences shooting for clients than my peers that are seniors in my college's film program. Sure doing this in my free-time takes a little toll on my social life (I'm in editing a recap video for a DJ while all my friends went out!) but I love what I do! I feel like what I'm studying in business compliments perfectly what I'm wanting to do in film, and that though some seniors in the film program may forget more about proper film technique then I currently know, that's all that a lot of them have; technique, not experience. I value experience. 

What DJ?

Literally just saw this sorry for the 4 month late response!, it was Vanilla Ice http://vimeo.com/48663069

Regan Shorter's picture

This how I feel about the photography students at my school. I'm also a business student and I shoot in my free time, along with 4-5 other "photographer" students on campus. The thing is... it's us, the students who aren't studying photography, that are out there making money and have much better photos.

ristin D's picture

I think getting the degree in Photography does nothing but give you the knowledge of how to take better photos. I studied wtih the NY Institute of Photography course for professional photographers. That was a teach yourself program. It helped me understand the basics of how to use my camera and how to compose a photo. I would still love to go to school and learn ALL the stuff about photography.. Getting a degree in photography may not be worth it economically, but personally I would love to spend the money if I had it..

My guess would be that knowing how to run and market a business far, far outweighs book-learning photography. 

Understanding how to run a business and assisting are far more important than a photography degree. 

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