Diversifying a Degree with the PAFA-Penn Program

Ellie Robley (BFA '17) was a high school junior when she took a personality test that paired her with the colleges that would be a good fit for her and the results led her to check out PAFA.

“I visited again and again, and then I came to a bunch of events,” said Robley, now an admissions counselor at the academy. “PAFA helped me so much to get my portfolio ready, even for the other schools I was applying to, but I already felt a part of PAFA.”


Robley’s parents were reluctant about their daughter enrolling in a fine-arts school but felt more at ease when they learned about the PAFA-Penn BFA program.

For more than 85 years, PAFA has coordinated a BFA degree program with the University of Pennsylvania, combining the academy’s fine arts studio training with an Ivy League liberal arts education at Penn. Artists have three years of studio training at PAFA and complete 12 classes at Penn.

Students spend their first year, the Foundation year, studying at PAFA and are then eligible to being taking classes at Penn.

“It gives you a little bit more balance if you do have interests outside of art. I was a fine artist yes, but I was also a writer,” Robley said. “While I could have nurtured my writing here at PAFA, there were more resources for a writer at Penn. And if you want to minor in something like biology that’s not something that PAFA can do for you but it’s something that Penn can do for you.”

While Robley minored in creative writing, a popular minor for PAFA-Penn students is biology and students can then go on to become medical illustrators. Another PAFA-Penn alumna minored in child psychology and now works with the Peace Corps building schools around the world.

The program allows students the flexibility of taking courses at both schools and the usually five-year program can be structured in a variety of ways. Some students spend three years at PAFA and then take classes full-time at Penn for two years while others take time off from PAFA to complete their Penn requirements.

“I always tell people it's like you get to have this close knit community at PAFA and all of this support,” Robley said. “Then you can also be a small fish in a big pond over at Penn, so you can get a different college experience there.”

Learn more about the PAFA-Penn BFA program

Dean of Students Anne Stassen with new PAFA-Penn graduates
Dean of Students Anne Stassen with new PAFA-Penn graduates

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.