Admission to Art School

Getting accepted to the art school of your choice is a great feeling, but it requires more than just a casual desire to do art. Art schools grow more selective each year in their admissions criteria. Though each art school has its own set of standards and schools can vary greatly in the kinds of students they look for, some of the general criteria often overlap.

What Art Schools Look For

  • Self-motivated learners with a strong work ethic
  • Students who are passionate about art and able to articulate their passion
  • Good academic grades and high standardized test scores
  • Portfolios with high-level work assembled in a thoughtful, professional-looking way
  • Recommendations from people in positions of authority who have seen your art and know your drive to learn

Some art schools put most of their emphasis on a good portfolio. Some demand excellent grades and high standardized test scores. Others prize a well-written application essay. Find out the highest priorities of each art school you’re applying to and provide excellent materials in those areas. The best way to do this is to read about each school on its website and order the admissions packet early. Before applying, make sure the art school is a good fit for you in terms of curriculum, standards, mission, and reputation. There’s no point in trying your best to fit into a place that isn’t right for you. However, don’t be too quick to decide you’re not a good match, as art schools attract people from all walks of life, from 60 year old lawyers to recent homeschooling grads.

What Can Hurt Admission Chances

As you’re applying, make sure to steer away from the following factors that can hurt your chances of getting accepted into art school:

  • Underdeveloped portfolio with weak execution
  • Artwork copied from photographs rather than original pieces
  • An overstuffed portfolio as opposed to one filled with carefully chosen pieces that best represent you
  • Poor high school grades and low scores on standardized tests
    Inability to articulate your passion about art, or simply a lack of enthusiasm
  • Having no knowledge of the professional field for which you plan to study
  • Having no goals

Thoughtfulness and careful attention paid to these areas will ensure that your art schools of choice take a very good look at you and your artwork.
Admissions Applications, Diploma, and College Transcript

Admissions Applications

It’s always a good idea to send away early for admissions packets from your art schools of choice. Taking a look at them well in advance will tell you what each school is looking for. Doing so also gives you time to carefully prepare the materials for each section.

Here’s what’s normally required of you in an art school admissions packet:

  • General application form
  • Application fee
  • Recommendation letters
  • Transcripts/academic record/diploma
  • College essay
  • Letter of intent
  • SAT/ACT or other standardized test scores
  • Portfolio of original artwork

You might also be asked to come to an interview.

Many colleges invite prospective students to informational sessions to talk about what they expect and to possibly go over your work. If, after reading about your art school of choice, talking to other attending students, and doing other research, you are still unsure of what the art school wants from you, schedule one of these sessions for yourself. And never hesitate to call the art school’s admissions office with any questions you may have.

Diploma (High School or Equivalent)

You’ll have to provide your art schools of choice with either a high school diploma or proof that you passed a General Educational Development (GED) test, which indicates that you have acquired high school level academic skills. In some states, there are specific proficiency examinations for students who have been home-schooled or who have taken a high school equivalency program. Find out what your art schools of choice require from students in order to apply.

The GED test allows students who have not earned a high school diploma to prove they have high school level skills in Language Arts (Reading and Writing), Social Studies, Science, and Mathematics. The math section has two parts and includes questions on basic geometry, algebra, decimals, fractions, and percentages. You are allowed to use a calculator on Part One of the math exam, but not on Part Two. There are many GED online preparation classes that can coach prospective art school applicants on passing the test.

College Transcript/Course Descriptions

If you decided to enter an associate program or attend a junior, community, or technical college, the time might come when you want to transfer to a four-year program. The art schools you are applying to will ask for your college transcript, which includes your academic grades, the dates you attended classes, your concentration of study, and your cumulative grade point average (GPA). Descriptions of your past courses will also be required. These can be easily obtained from the registrar’s office at your current school.

To protect your privacy, when you request your transcript, your school will ask you for:

  • Your full legal name
  • Your current address and phone number
  • Your Social Security or student ID number
  • Your class or year of graduation
  • Dates you attended the school
  • What degree you earned
  • Name and address of recipients
  • Your signature

You can have the transcript sent directly to the art schools you are applying to for transfer or have it given to you in a sealed envelope that ensures that the document isn’t tampered with.

SAT, ACT, COMPASS, and ASSET Test Scores

Standardized test scores play an important role in getting accepted into most art schools. The SAT and ACT are the two main standardized tests that colleges and universities use to assess their applicants’ academic skills.

  • The Scholastic Aptitude, or SAT Reasoning, Test (SAT) includes three sections: math, critical reading, and writing. Each section, worth 800 points, tests for skills needed in college-level classes. The lowest you can score on the entire test is 600; the highest you can score is 2400. Different art schools require different SAT scores. If you do not achieve the required score, you can retake the test, which is given seven times per year.
  • All four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept ACT test scores. The test includes five sections: English, math, reading, science reasoning, and an optional writing section. Each correct answer is worth 1 raw point, and there is no penalty for wrong answers on the multiple-choice section. (On the SAT, wrong answers are penalized.) The test scores in each subject area range from 1 to 36, and the final score is an average of the four mandatory sections. (The writing section is scored differently and does not affect the score from the other four sections.) If you don’t achieve a high enough score to get into your art school of choice, you can retake the ACT.
  • The COMPASS and ASSET tests determine reading, writing, and math skill levels and are used by community and trade schools to assess their applicants’ skills. These tests are also used to determine what classes you can enter after you’ve been accepted to an art school.
  • The COMPASS Test ( is taken on a computer that adjusts the questions throughout the test according to the skill level of the test taker. If a question is answered correctly, the computer will make the next question harder. If an incorrect answer is given, the next question will be easier. Subjects included on the test are reading, grammar and punctuation, essay writing, math, and English as a Second Language (ESL).
  • The ASSET Test is taken with paper and pencil and includes two parts with multiple-choice questions. The first part includes reading, writing, and numerical reasoning skills. The second part tests advanced mathematics and includes basic algebra, intermediate algebra, college algebra, and geometry.

English Proficiency, Essay, and Statement of Intent

Almost every art school in the United States requires the following in the admissions process:

English Proficiency

Since you’ll be studying at an art school in the United States, you will be taking most, if not all, of your classes and writing the majority of your assignments in English. Therefore, it only makes sense that you prove to your art schools of choice that you are fluent in English. One way to show proficiency is through your college essay, which should demonstrate that you can express concepts, organize thoughts, and prove/support your ideas.


Typical college essay questions are designed to let you share something more personal about yourself than grades. When you read your art school application packets, you’ll see that college essay topics most often ask about a strong belief, a philosophy you live by, or an event in your life that has had a profound effect on you. As you demonstrate your proficiency in the English language, you will also allow each art school’s admissions board to get to know you on a more personal level and in a way that your grades and tests scores don’t reveal. You will also display the maturity of your thoughts and your level of mastery of grammar, spelling, and organization of concepts.

Since length isn’t usually specified on the instructions for the college essay, some students tend to ramble on to make sure they’ve covered a word minimum. Don’t make your essay too long just for the sake of using a lot of words. However, don’t make your essay too short, either. Just answer the essay question fully and concisely.

Statement of Intent

The purpose of a letter or statement of intent is not only to demonstrate your proficiency in English, but also to crystallize for an art school who you are and why you want to study art/design in the particular school you are applying to. The tone of the letter should be polite, but not cold. In it, you should do the following:

  • Introduce yourself and tell a little bit about your upbringing and your background.
  • Offer your academic credentials and achievements.
  • Describe extracurricular activities such as sports, volunteering, and clubs and societies you are a part of.
  • Share awards you’ve won.
  • Explain why you want to pursue the course of study you’re applying for and what your plans are after graduating.

Your letter should be both enthusiastic and articulate, with language that is concise, active, and honestly, uniquely yours. In closing the letter, make sure to thank each art school for the opportunity to be considered, and then sign your name in pen.

Letters, Resume, and Portfolio

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation offer something unique and important to art schools: an honest description of you from an outside, trustworthy party. When a letter of recommendation is written articulately and in a personal, honest tone, your talents and the unique gifts you have to offer can jump off the page and help you to get accepted to the art school of your choice.

The best people to ask to write your recommendation letters are teachers who know your work well and can write about you easily and in a personal tone. Don’t limit yourself to asking art teachers; also go to teachers of other subjects that you’ve excelled in. It’s best to ask recent teachers who have knowledge of your motivation and class work fresh in their minds.

Make sure to check each school’s admissions packet carefully for how many letters of recommendation are required.


Put together a resume of extracurricular activities you’ve taken part in. Include volunteer work, sports, art workshops and classes you’ve taken outside of school, tutoring work you’ve done, awards you’ve received, and, of course, your artistic achievements. Perhaps your work has been shown in a gallery or chosen for a special purpose, such as for a school poster or calendar. Perhaps you did artwork for your school newspaper, a local paper, or local shops. Remember to keep your resume concise (not too much longer than one page), and organize it in chronological order, starting with your most recent achievements.


Your art school portfolio is a thoughtfully chosen collection of your recent work meant to showcase your technical skills, interests, originality, and commitment to art. Art schools want to see how you’ve developed as an artist and what direction you’re headed in. Drawing pieces (modeled by life, not a photograph) make a good impression, as do pieces done in a variety of mediums, techniques, and perspectives.

If you’d like to have your portfolio reviewed before sending it to art schools, you can sometimes send slides of your work to the schools you want to apply to and get feedback. (Call first to make sure the art school provides this service and to find out whom to send the slides to.)

If the art schools you’re applying to are members of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD), you can take part in National Portfolio Days, ( when students can go to specific art schools to discuss their portfolios. National Portfolio Days occur 37 times a year for undergraduate programs and 3 times a year for graduate programs.

Guidelines for Preparing Your Art School Portfolio :

  • Do not submit reproductions of work by other artists.
  • Do not submit drawings that you made from photographs or illustrations. The portfolio you send should present only your original works.
  • Make sure the pieces are neatly organized and presentable.
  • Don’t include pieces that are more than three years old.
  • Be prepared to talk about your work.
  • Be prepared to receive critiques of your work. (You might want to take notes.)
  • If sending your portfolio, use 35mm slides, digital images, or prints.

Admissions Interview

An interview at the art school of your choice is a special opportunity to show who you are in person. It is not about grades, test scores, or recommendation letters, even though these stand behind you and add to the impression you give the art school. Rather, your college interview is a time to share your thoughts, goals, and ambitions and to articulate your enthusiasm and passion for art.

Here are a few guidelines that will help you make the most of your college interview:

  • Show Up on Time.
    Better yet, show up at least 10 minutes early, the way you would for a job interview. This is the first impression you’re giving your art school interviewer, and arriving early shows respect. You don’t want to keep your interviewer waiting.
  • Dress Respectfully
    You don’t need to dress in paint-splattered clothes or look like a starving artist to prove you live for your art. Dress to appear approachable and neat. Art is not in the clothing unless you’re a fashion designer, and even then there’s no need to prove yourself by dressing outlandishly. Let your portfolio demonstrate your artistry.
  • Don’t Hide Your Personality
    Enthusiastically share with your art school interviewer why you want to study at this art school and why you’re a perfect fit. This shows that you know something about the school’s history, curriculum, reputation, and underlying mission. It also shows that you possess important self-knowledge and are articulate and passionate enough to express yourself.
  • Know About Art Careers
    Be prepared to talk about the career choices you’re considering. Let your interviewer know that you plan to make the most of your art school education after you graduate. Demonstrate that you’ve researched a few different careers you might be interested in pursuing and that you plan to apply your hard-earned skills and knowledge to your work when you leave school.
  • Be Able to Handle Criticism
    You might receive a few comments about your portfolio pieces. Accepting and being able to discuss the critiques shows that you are open to growing as an artist and that you’re interested in other perspectives. It also shows that receiving critiques won’t stop you from wanting to study art.