Pursuing a College Degree in the Arts – BFA vs. BA

Colleges have widely expanded offerings of theatre-related degrees. Whether you’re interested in performance, arts management, or technical design, you can find a school that offers a specialized program to fit your academic needs. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a choice between types of degrees, specifically a Bachelors of Fine Arts or a Bachelors of Arts. Neither degree is superior. There are pros and cons to both academic structures, and the choice ultimately comes down to the preferred learning style of each student. 

B.A.

A Bachelors of Arts (BA) degree is one of the most widely pursued diplomas, regardless of subject focus. A BA track means pursuing a degree with general education requirements. In this program style, you’ll be encouraged, or sometimes mandated, to explore outside of your core specialization. Theatre specific BA degrees are a great option for students who want to perform but have interests offstage as well, like direction or development.

BA programs can be especially beautiful experiences because they are malleable. Students can pursue multiple focuses over the course of 4 years (or 5 or 6 or however many years you choose to study – there’s no “right” answer)! I also recommend considering a BA degree if you’re a student who likes academic work but doesn’t want to leave the arts entirely. If you want to study algebra, dance in the musicals, and manage a box office staff, a BA might be the perfect fit. Make sure you communicate to your advisor exactly what you want to accomplish at the end of your time in school so you can choose classes that support each other and still meet your goals.

B.F.A.

The Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) is for the uber-focused, hands-on student. Sometimes, these can be called “Conservatory Style” training programs, because many BFA curriculums are based on specialized schools or conservatories. These programs also tend to be highly competitive with limited enrollment numbers. BFAs are most commonly associated with performance degrees, but this isn’t always the case. Aspiring technical directors and theatre designers can also pursue BFA style programs, depending on the school.

In a BFA program, students are likely to experience stricter course requirements and departmental structure than in a more generalized degree plan (I can attest to this as a BFA alum myself – my school’s theatre department chose our courses every semester for the first two years). Another identifying piece of the BFA style is practical application. If you’re a performer, this will likely translate to studio work. Technical students may see more labs, or design courses with hands-on requirements. I recommend a BFA program to students who are already confident in their intended career path after graduation.

It should be noted that students enter both kinds of degree programs and later decide that the other is more suited to their needs – just like non-theatre students, people change their minds! Tastes change, interests shift, and many college kids change their major multiple times throughout an academic career. There’s no harm in growth, that’s what school for!