Deciding to be BA/BFA

Books / Computer — Illustration by Charis Poon

BA/BFA, pronounced bah-fuh, is the word used to describe a tiny portion of students at The New School who are working towards two degrees. The word literally describes what such a student will achieve at the end of their five years at The New School—a BA (Bachelor of Arts) from Eugene Lang and a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from Parsons.

When I came into The New School as a freshman I was only studying at Parsons. In fact, I didn’t decide to transfer until Fall 2009 about half way through my third semester. I didn’t come in as a BA/BFA student not because I wasn’t aware of the option. I had actually given it some thought and chose not to do the program because I figured I really ought to make up my mind what I was interested in. I’d had a bit of a decision crisis when applying for schools because I thought I wanted to do English and I thought I wanted to do design, but I really wanted to make up my mind one way or the other and give one of the two areas everything I had.

It took me a while to realize I didn’t have to pick one over the other. And that I’d be happier if I let myself be interested and passionate about two things rather than just one. I think often students think they must pick just one field to excel in. For me, exploring two different majors and doing my best in more than one way was even more rewarding.

Editing papers / Editing posters — Illustration by Charis Poon

I wasn’t discontent as just a Parsons student. I enjoyed foundation year and I loved Communication Design. My teachers were great, I was creating good work and I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I felt completely satisfied, but I was also oddly discontent. The part of me that loved reading and writing was starting to itch.

I went to a information meeting regarding internal transfer to the BA/BFA program around October 2009 and made up my mind. The application to Lang was straightforward and though I knew I’d be pressured to finish my BA in time since I was starting late, my advisor assured me it was possible. I was accepted in Spring 2010 and became a full time BA/BFA student in Literary Studies with a concentration in writing starting Fall 2010.

BA/BFA can be confusing. Being at The New School is already different from most universities and any student who studies here can safely say that their experience is unique. So being BA/BFA in a school that’s already different pushes the boundaries of typical tertiary education. Of course, most New School students aren’t in BA/BFA, but it’s worth considering. Deciding to apply to BA/BFA is an individual decision and has to do not only with a student’s interests but also with their personality.

Please let me know if you have further questions about being BA/BFA.

10 comments

  1. Julia Liao

    Hey,
    Thanks so much for the post. I applied to the BAFA Parsons/Lang program as well and was desperately finding information and insight from an insider but did not find much. One of the main reasons why I’m attracted to attending Parsons is because I can do a dual degree program. The dual degree kind of gives me the feeling of an “honor college” in other schools. I wanted to ask you about the coursework. Is it to you considered exhausting? I read the course lists on the BAFA handbook and it sounded like alot and I’m not entirely sure if I could handle it, or if I could, I might not have a social life at all. Secondly, Does the dual degree tuition cost more than the Lang/Parsons tuition (about 40k) ? Lastly, Do you get the feeling that you’re focused on one degree more than the other? or would you say it’s a pretty good balance? Thanks again for your help 🙂

    • Charis

      Hey Julia,
      You’re welcome! I’m happy to have been of help and to hear that you applied to the BA/BFA program. The coursework is manageable. It is definitely more difficult than being a student at just Parsons or Lang, but it’s not impossibly much. You’re required to take a total of 180 credits in 5 years, 102 at Parsons and 78 at Lang. From the start, your schedule and semesters will be a mix of both classes. With good time management and determination you can get all your work done and have a social life too! The dual degree tuition is the same as the only Lang tuition and is less than the sole Parsons tuition. (see more here) I would say that I think of my Parsons degree as more of my focus, but it could be different for you. I have taken a pretty balanced schedule throughout my time here and expend energy and time for both majors. For me, I’m a little more passionate about Communication Design than Writing. Feel free to ask any more questions!
      Best of luck, Charis

  2. Julia Liao

    Hey Charis,
    Thank you for the reply, you answered alot of my questions but I have a few more (sorry to bother you some more lol) First, I’m interested in communications design as well, but not really sure what is the difference between that and graphic design. Secondly, Do you feel that because you have 2 majors you miss out on some of the things that a full time parsons student would have learned? Thirdly, I heard that Eugene Lang can offer exchange classes to other schools like Sarah Lawrence and the Cooper Union, but I’m not sure if it could/how that could be applied to BAFA kids. Fourthly, Does Parsons encourage their students to take interdisciplinary classes? Like allow students to take classes outside their major for fun/experimental purposes? and is it possible for BAFA students to minor in something at Parsons? Or would that just be too much to handle? Lastly, What kind of career path do BAFA students usually go towards? I know there is alot of questions and I’m sorry, and I really do appreciate it. Thanks so much!

    • Charis

      Hi Julia,
      You’re welcome for the response and you don’t have to worry about asking questions. Communication Design is a more all encompassing term compared to graphic design. Studying Communication Design means that you could be designing posters, websites, packaging, animations, mobile apps, infographics, advertising, or branding and more things besides that. I do not feel like because of being BA/BFA I’ve missed out on being a full time Parsons student because I am required to take the same amount of studio classes and studio electives. What I don’t have to take as a Parsons student are the liberal arts electives, but that’s because I’m taking all my liberal arts classes as a Lang student in my interests there.
      As for exchanging classes with Sarah Lawrence or CU, there are no separate limitations on BA/BFA students. Of course, you’ll probably have to iron out your schedule a lot more to make sure you’re keeping up with your credits at both Lang and Parsons if you do choose to do an exchange or study abroad even.
      Parsons definitely encourages students to try electives in other majors. For example, Communication Design is part of the Art Media and Technology School which includes Design & Technology and Illustration so it’s strongly suggested you try some of those electives and it’s easy to do so—you don’t even need express permission because a number of electives are open to all Parsons students. Sometimes you may need express permission, but yes, you are allowed and encouraged to take classes outside of your major. At Parsons there are no minors.
      In terms of career paths for BA/BFA students, it really varies depending on what you study and who you are; there isn’t much of a usually this or that. For me, I’m hoping to find work in publications that have strong print and web departments because I hope to both design and write in whatever position I find. Some BA/BFA students may feel like they really just want to go into design, or just go into writing and the other side was for interest. Others may say they’d like to jump around and try jobs in both fields but separately.
      Please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification about anything! — Charis

      • Julia Liao

        Hey Charis, Thanks for all the advice. It has been so helpful. I just wanted to ask a few more questions before I absolutely have to make a decision. 1. Every time I want to find reviews or comments/personal statements from current/graduated students about schools,most of the time they just rave about how amazing the fashion program is. Kind of makes me feel like the other majors are getting ignored. So for someone who is pretty sure they will not pursue a fashion career, why should they decide on coming to Parsons? 2. I heard that the dorms and facilities are not-so-great. What is the freshman dorm kind of like? (in terms of workspace, kitchens, doubles or triples, distance from school, security etc) 3. By coming to Parsons, do you feel as if you’re missing out on a real college experience? 4. How do you think Parsons stands out from other art schools or universities? 5. What is your least favorite thing about Parsons? 6. I have mentioned taking classes outside of the major your in and you replied saying that I was able to if it related to my major. But what if lets say I just wanted to take an intro fashion class for fun, would I be able to do that? 7. During freshmen year, do you think that the curriculum allows students to have a better understanding in terms of declaring a major? and lastly, 8. (you might laugh because its relatively insignificant) Where do Parsons girls usually go to look for guys?
        I’m really drawn to Parsons because of its location, job employment connections and school reputation. But Parsons, like alot of other urban schools, makes me feel like I’m going to work instead of going to school, and I’m not really sure if I am ready for that. I’m also a little concerned about the amount of pressure in a top art school like Parsons. So thanks so much for answering all my questions. I know I have basically given you an entire interview, but your response can really help me pick the right school. So thanks again, I greatly appreciate it and good luck on finals!
        – Julia

      • Charis

        Hi Julia, First, my sincere apologies for how long it has taken me to respond to your questions.
        1. Regarding other majors, you’ve definitely asked one of the right people since I’m not in the fashion program and wouldn’t even be able to honestly personally testify to what it’s like. Parsons across the board of all it’s majors is a wonderful school for a number of reasons. Faculty are dedicated to their students, make time to invest in their student’s work and the majority are working professionals who often do for a living what they teach. I have developed relationships with professors that have propelled me towards working harder and I have definitely benefitted from their expertise and care. Parsons is known not just for fashion, but for being an art school with high standards, ambitious students and a place that excellent artists and designers in all fields come from, not just fashion designers.
        2. There is no requirement for you to be in a specific dorm your freshman year, as in all freshman must be in the one dorm. Have you explore which one or two dorms you’re most interested in? I will be able to speak more directly to your concerns about dorms if you have a general idea of what kind of living situation is important to you. Stuy is the biggest dorm and is the dorm most of the incoming freshmen choose to live in, but you can also pick 13th st, Loeb, 20th st or Williams St if you wanted. Take a look at the options and let me know if you have questions about specific places, or if you know what you would consider necessary in your housing.
        3. It is true, Parsons is not your typical college experience. We do not have a traditional closed campus, we dont have many school sports and we don’t have greek life — a couple ways in which attending Parsons is different from attending a normal university the movies usually portray and that a lot of people across the States attend. For me, I personally knew when I was graduating high school that I would not miss these things. I have an older sister who went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and while I think there are great things about the “normal university” experience, I knew that that was not something I would feel like I missed out on. I think it’s an individual choice, if the things you associate with a “normal university” experience are more important to you than the atypical experience of an art school in the city, than that is your decision.
        4. I think my answer to this questions is very similar to my answer to number 1. Parsons has outstanding faculty. It attracts talented and ambitious people who go on to become fantastic artists and designers. It is a school focused not must on technical and conceptual excellence, but actual practical application of what you know and can do to real life in real world working situations. It is a school that situates its students in the amazing city of NYC and allows them to take advantage of many opportunities that come with being in the city and having connections to working professionals.
        5. My least favorite thing about Parsons is probably the lack of connection between different years and different majors. I wish I had more friends that were older and younger than me as opposed to just my grade and I also wish I was friends with people in all the majors as opposed to all of them being from my major of communication design. I know Parsons is working on it’s interdisciplinary integration, but I do think it’s important to encourage students to have a wide range of acquaintances and experiences.
        6. I’m sorry if I was misleading, yes, you can take classes completely unrelated to your major for fun!
        7. I think the curriculum is open ended in that you can feel if you have an affinity for one field or another, but I think what helps you more during your first year while you decide what to go into is talking to your professors, classmates and hopefully some upperclassmen about what the different majors are like and whether you would be suited to go into them. You get exposure to what being in a specific major might be like and you are given the time to think about it more int eh context of Parsons as opposed to thinking about it fresh out of high school.
        8. I understand your concern since Parsons does have an unbalanced ratio of girls to guys. Some Parsons girls do find guys from Parsons. Others find guys in the city that go to other schools or maybe friends of friends. To be honest, finding a guy while at Parsons can take a little extra effort.
        I totally get your feeling that you’d be going to work. It is a school that is inclined towards considering how to help you graduate and find a job and it doesn’t have all of the campusy things a regular university does. However, I think Parsons has been a lot of fun for me and I enjoy the work that I do. I still hang out with friends and we do regular college student things like eat and shop and walk around the city as opposed to just working hard all the time. At Parsons, the amount of pressure you feel is really what you put upon yourself. Faculty are understanding and do challenge their students, but they don’t push you with the intention of making you feel overwhelmed. Students are kind towards each other because we’re all in the same boat, we all want to do well in school and pressuring each other doesn’t help us.
        Hope these answers were helpful! Let me know if you have more questions or would like more details on one particular question.
        Take care,
        Charis

  3. Julia Liao

    Hey Charis, Thanks for all the advice. It has been so helpful. I just wanted to ask a few more questions before I absolutely have to make a decision. 1. Every time I want to find reviews or comments/personal statements from current/graduated students about schools,most of the time they just rave about how amazing the fashion program is. Kind of makes me feel like the other majors are getting ignored. So for someone who is pretty sure they will not pursue a fashion career, why should they decide on coming to Parsons? 2. I heard that the dorms and facilities are not-so-great. What is the freshman dorm kind of like? (in terms of workspace, kitchens, doubles or triples, distance from school, security etc) 3. By coming to Parsons, do you feel as if you’re missing out on a real college experience? 4. How do you think Parsons stands out from other art schools or universities? 5. What is your least favorite thing about Parsons? 6. I have mentioned taking classes outside of the major your in and you replied saying that I was able to if it related to my major. But what if lets say I just wanted to take an intro fashion class for fun, would I be able to do that? 7. During freshmen year, do you think that the curriculum allows students to have a better understanding in terms of declaring a major? and lastly, 8. (you might laugh because its relatively insignificant) Where do Parsons girls usually go to look for guys?
    I’m really drawn to Parsons because of its location, job employment connections and school reputation. But Parsons, like alot of other urban schools, makes me feel like I’m going to work instead of going to school, and I’m not really sure if I am ready for that. I’m also a little concerned about the amount of pressure in a top art school like Parsons. So thanks so much for answering all my questions. I know I have basically given you an entire interview, but your response can really help me pick the right school. So thanks again, I greatly appreciate it and good luck on finals!
    – Julia

  4. I hope to apply to the dual degree and I just had a few questions.
    What should you bring to Parsons, for your dorm etc…?
    Are you always put in a dorm with someone doing the same degree as you, and also can you be put with graduates?

    Thanks, A

    • Morgan Ersery

      Hi Aisha,

      These are great questions! Students do often dorm with other students at The New School who may not be in the same program. That said, our dorms are specific to year level, so freshman will room with other freshmen and so on. More info on dorm life can be found by checking out one of Lauren’s blogs from last year, Do’s and Don’ts of Dorming: http://iheartparsons.com/2013/06/21/dos-and-donts-of-dorming/ or by going to the New School Housing webpage.

      Best,

  5. Hi, I was just reading on the website and they mentioned that you may get accepted into one program and not the other. If so, are you allowed to attend the one program you got accepted to?

    -Aisha

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