Your journey to the best art school probably began with crayons.
Every young artist has a story about how they realized that they had talent. Maybe you were the best artist in your class or were creating your own coloring books before the rest of your peers figured out how to stay in the lines. Maybe you were a playground sculptor, working in sand or clay at the beach or lake, and never wanted to stop creating.
We all start somewhere, and for many of us, the next logical step is to study art in high school. If your school is supportive, you’ve probably spent the last four years curating and building a high-quality portfolio full of your best representative work. You’re as ready as you can be for the future, only the wider art world is a lot bigger than your high school art studio – where do you go next?
With your friends and peers applying to colleges and celebrating acceptances, chances are you’ve considered art schools. These institutions run the gamut from dedicated arts institutions to universities with high-quality art departments. Depending on your personal future career choices, one might be a better fit for you as you pursue an art career.
Do you need a little bit of extra help understanding your option as you forge ahead and begin to make your art school dreams a reality? This guide will provide an overview of the most important things to think about when you begin the application process.
Read on to learn the ins and outs of choosing the best art school, whatever your discipline may be.
So You Want to Go to Art School?
The first thing that anyone beginning the application process needs to decide is whether art school is the right choice for their goals. There are many career options out there that incorporate the arts. In some cases, a dedicated fine arts degree from an art school will be your ticket, while some employers might want someone with a stronger liberal arts background.
To begin, it’s important to understand the difference between attending an art school and attending a traditional university and majoring in art.
If you attend a traditional college or university and major in arts, you can expect to receive a broader education, with a focus on core subjects in the arts and sciences. There may be fewer opportunities to specifically concentrate on one medium or discipline, as your graduation requirements will call for a variety of coursework intended to make you well-rounded. A traditional college or university might also make their acceptance decision with more weight on your grades, with your portfolio as a secondary factor.
When you attend an art school, on the other hand, you will take coursework in the arts and little else. You probably won’t find yourself in a freshman English class or philosophy seminar! You will most likely have access to a wider variety of majors and concentrations within the arts that will allow you to focus on a medium, discipline, or concentration throughout your time at the school.
In both cases, you will probably be attempting to earn a BFA degree or Bachelor of Fine Arts. At some colleges, you may only be able to earn a Bachelor of Arts. If you plan to attend a graduate-level program, a BFA is more impressive, so you will want to think ahead when making that decision.
Know Your Career Options
For now, your goal might simply be to receive an acceptance from a school or university program. But why? Do you have a specific career goal in mind that can help you choose a program?
There are a few questions that you might want to consider as you look toward the future. Foremost, do you already have a medium or discipline that you want to pursue, and how proficient are you? Art school will allow you to grow as an overall arts practitioner and is a great option for those on the fence, or who are seeking overall growth.
If you’re already a fairly proficient artist and have significant skills in a given area, you should ask yourself if a degree will help you reach your career goals or slow you down. Art school is school, and it is more worth the investment of both time and money if you’re looking to grow and find your place in the art world. If you know that art is in your future but don’t have a goal in mind, slowing down and attending art school might be your best option.
Remember that the school setting – in either art school or a university – is a social experience where you will learn to work and collaborate with others. That’s a professional skill that will come in handy in many fields. Is this an area where you need to grow?
If you’re already a proficient artist or have decided that school is not worth the investment, other options might be a better fit. If you want to pursue the arts in a non-traditional way, consider the following possibilities as pathways toward your dream art career.
- Online, self-paced art programs
- Working with a working artist
- Attending a classical atelier
- Attending workshops in specific skills
You can learn and grow in many different settings, and peer pressure shouldn’t be the factor that determines where you spend the next two to four years. Carefully consider all of your options as you look toward the future, and consider spending a year developing your portfolio through alternative pathways before you decide.
Getting the Interview
If you’ve decided that art school is the best way to go, congratulations! Now you can focus on sending off your applications and portfolio. If your materials stand out, the school will likely offer you an interview and portfolio review so you can discuss your work.
But how do you get into the room? A solid portfolio is a start, but affiliations with organizations such as the National Art Honor Society will help, too.
Do you have extracurricular activities such as mural painting, theatrical scenic design, or graphic design for school publications? Do you have any work experience in the arts, even if you were an arts and crafts counselor at a summer camp? Make sure your written application shows off your dedication to the arts and a range of skills and experiences.
How to Choose the Best Art School
You’ll probably have a lot of exciting and encouraging conversations to look forward to with a variety of different professionals and institutions. Often, you’ll leave a portfolio review feeling like a real artist. It can be tempting to send off an emphatic “YES!” to the first school that appreciates your brilliance.
Slow down! Art schools can offer very different things, and you want to be sure that the school that is courting you is an ideal fit. Just as they have to choose you, you also have to choose them, and once you have an acceptance letter, the ball is entirely in your court.
Here are the most important questions to ask yourself before you order your art school sweatshirt online and declare your affiliation loudly and proudly!
The School Facilities
You wouldn’t study science at a college that didn’t have a chemistry lab. Likewise, you want to make sure that the school where you will be working during the next few years has all of the facilities you need to explore the mediums that excite you most. You will want to see them in person because the photos on websites and in viewbooks are staged and might be old and inaccurate.
If you’re looking to study photography, you are going to want to see the photo lab and darkroom. Do they have a computer lab and access to the right software and technology that can teach you modern digital photography skills?
You will be spending a lot of time in the art studio. Unlike college courses, a studio class might be several hours long. You’ll also be returning to complete your work, meaning you will be spending most of your waking hours in the studio – so make sure you like it!
Some schools offer dedicated private studio spaces for students. You will want to ask about these and tour them, if possible. You will spend most of your time creating, so facilities are important!
Are There Financial Aid Programs?
You don’t want to go broke to become a starving artist. Luckily, nearly every school offers some form of financial aid. This will probably be a major part of your decision, so you will want to investigate every avenue for funding.
You will want to ask about the following before you decide:
- Entrance scholarships
- Ongoing funding
- Discipline-specific awards
- Work-study options
- Grants for artistic achievement
These are all ways that can make art school more practical and affordable. The goal of school should be to set you up for a sustainable future, not to drain you with student loans.
Who Teaches There?
When you attend art school, you will more than likely be studying with professional working artists. That means that a quick internet search will bring up lots of information about the faculty at your new school. Artists have websites and online portfolios that you can browse to get an idea of the styles and accomplishments of your potential future instructors.
Is there someone at your potential school whose style or practice is of particular interest to you? Do they have skills that you are interested in learning and developing? Do they have connections that might be able to help you as you finish the program and enter the field?
College professors and art school teachers are often more accessible than your high school teachers after hours. Feel free to send an email introducing yourself and asking any questions you may have. It will give you a feel regarding how responsive the teachers are, and how you might expect to communicate once you’re on campus.
Where Are the Grads?
A school is only as good as the working artists that it turns out. Does your school have any notable alumni who have gone on to do great things? Do the graduates of the program end up in the positions or graduate schools that you have your eye on?
This is an important moment to think back on your own professional goals. If you want to be a self-managed artist or arts entrepreneur, you will want to see how graduates of your potential school are faring in that area.
Many people go to art school with their eye on graduate programs in an arts-related field, however. Do students from your program go on to earn MFA degrees in arts education, art therapy, or other helping professions? Do they leave with strong enough portfolios to get accepted into these programs with ease?
Likewise, you may want to take the time to chat with current students regarding how they feel about the future. Are they earning internships and winning awards? Are they confident about their prospects after graduation?
Your Future in the Arts
Your decision to attend art school is going to mark a major transition in your life, so it’s okay if you still have questions or concerns. It’s better to take your time and choose the best art school than to jump in and graduate with regrets. Keep your thoughts on the future as you tour facilities, ask questions, and explore every option.
Still on the fence about a future in the arts? The blog has more posts like this one that can help you make the right decision about work and careers. Keep on reading to find the information you need to land where you belong.