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BFA | 4-year program

Photography majors are taught to explore and examine the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are making new work as a means of underscoring the cultural continuum of the medium. Through close observation and guided discussions, students learn to "read" images in order to develop the visual literacy needed to articulate ideas and make meaningful work.

Learning outcomes

The program enables students to engage with, interpret and represent the world in meaningful ways. Graduates are prepared to:

  • state and achieve individual goals for their work
  • deliver technically proficient work
  • develop a cohesive body of work
  • speak and write about their work with a high degree of clarity
  • contextualize their work in contemporary practice

Inspiring community

Just over 30 undergraduates work in close proximity with roughly 15 graduate students, who share certain darkrooms and workspaces but have dedicated studios in a separate building. Between crits, informal discussions and rotating exhibitions at the department's Red Eye Gallery, students find abundant opportunities to share ideas and talk with each other about their work. A wide range of photographers with totally different approaches and styles come to campus each semester through the popular T.C. Colley Lecture Series, whileProfessional Practice electives offer exposure to photographers working for commercial studios and photo agencies.

Learning environment

While many of the technical and conceptual skills taught at RISD are applicable to fields such as advertising, fashion and editorial photography, professors emphasize a fine arts approach in order to educate students for a rich, lifelong engagement with the medium. In addition, Photography majors benefit from a popular internship program that provides contacts with potential employers and grants elective credits for on-the-job experience.

Curriculum

In the first year of the program, students explore the history of photography – from its 19th-century beginning through contemporary manifestations – and learn the fundamentals, focusing on film-based media, camera formats, darkroom techniques, exposure and development controls, lighting basics, image and film scanning, and more. Juniors move on to more advanced techniques in digital printing, lighting, web projects, video and other production methods, while pursuing self-directed projects and strengthening the ability to articulate ideas verbally. In addition to completing a final Degree Project, seniors exhibit in on-campus galleries and hone professional practices and portfolio presentation skills.

Foundation year

Fall
Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory and History of Art and Design I: Global Modernisms
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory and History of Art and Design II: Premodern Worlds

Sophomore

Fall
Sophomore Lab
Histories of Photography I
Digital Imaging
Liberal Arts elective
Non-major studio elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Sophomore Studio
Histories of Photography II
Seminar: the Genius of Photography
Liberal Arts elective

Junior

Fall
Junior Studio
Advanced Digital Imaging
Photography electives
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Junior Studio
Photography elective
Liberal Arts electives

Senior

Fall
Senior Studio
Photography electives
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Degree Project
Photography elective

Degree project

Seniors create a definitive body of work and write a final thesis that addresses the aesthetic, theoretical and technical aspects of the work.

Application requirements

  1. Common Application

    You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a non-refundable application fee of $60 to use this service, plus a nonrefundable $10 fee to submit a required online portfolio via SlideRoom.

    Don’t let the admission application fee prevent you from applying! If the fee presents a hardship for you or your family, we’ll waive it for you. You can request a waiver two ways: 1. Navigate to the "Fee Waiver" portion on the Common App and check off the answer which most fits your family circumstances and you'll be able to submit your application without entering your credit card information. 2: If your situation does not match any of the waiver criteria on the Common App fee waiver section, email admissions@risd.edu and we’ll process the waiver manually. To receive a SlideRoom fee waiver, please email admissions@risd.edu.

  2. Academic transcripts

    Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

  3. Tests and Test-Optional

    Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    Beginning with students applying for entrance in 2021, RISD is offering all applicants the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students may opt into this process by selecting this option within the RISD section of the Common Application. For students who choose to submit test scores, RISD will superscore your results, looking at your highest outcome across multiple test dates.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    Transfer credits

    Some A-Level classes and IB credits can be used toward RISD liberal arts requirements. First-year students can transfer a maximum of nine credits from A-Level classes with an earned grade of C or higher or Higher Level IB grades of 5, 6, or 7. RISD will not accept IB credit from art or studio classes. View RISD's full transfer credit policy

    English language proficiency tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on their chosen test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS.

    Duolingo is changing its scoring system beginning with tests completed on July 15, 2019 and beyond. If you took this test prior to the change, we require a minimum result of 63. Applicants who completed the Duolingo test on or after July 15, 2019 must achieve a minimum score of 115, which is the equivalent of 63 in their prior scoring system.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

  4. Portfolio

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application, where you will begin the application process.

    Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination or a photograph). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.

    While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

    Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed file limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can either be submitted as an individual image or video upload, or you can upload a composite including up to three images. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.

    Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive or zipped files are not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

  5. The Assignment

    Part I: Visual Response

    Identify something that is in need of repair. Use any material or approach to fix it.

    What you choose to fix can be anything: from a tangible object to an intangible system. You can choose something objectively broken, or something you personally believe is in need of repair. This could be a past art piece, a social or ecological issue, a historical era, technology, etc.

    Your process is entirely up to you, but your fix should involve intentional modifications that change the original state for the better. It can exist in the realm of aesthetics, function, structure, or in any other capacity.

    Visual responses will vary by applicant so how you document your assignment will depend on your repair. This could be photo documentation of your response, a digital outcome, or a short video. Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive, zipped files, and multiple page PDFs are not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

    Part 2: Written Statement (250 word limit)

    Submit a written statement in a single page PDF that provides insight into the creative process you used in your visual response. Your written statement could speak to any of the following:

    • How you identified something in need of repair
      For applicants choosing a tangible object to repair, we recommend including a single image/recording of the original object in your written statement file. It’s helpful for reviewers to have a point of reference when viewing your ‘fix.’
    • Your considerations toward problem solving
    • Material choices

    For more info, check out our info session about the new Assignment.

  6. College Essay

    Submit your college essay, up to 650 words. You will find the writing prompts in the Personal Essay section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in the essay you submit.

  7. Letter(s) of recommendation

    Letters of recommendation can be very helpful to your application. One letter is required, although as many as three may be submitted. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential as a student.

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to admissions@risd.edu