There are hundreds of art colleges, universities, and trade schools throughout the United States, each with their own mission and set of criteria for accepting students. Finding the right art school will take some discrimination and legwork on your part, since you want to attend classes and be among a student body that helps you to express yourself as an artist.
Here are a few pointers to help you discover what art schools are right for you:
Find Out What Schools Are Out There
- Research the different types of art schools that are out there. Common types include technical art schools (which are not four-year colleges but can provide excellent training for certain art careers), universities with art departments, and arts-only colleges. These days, there are even online degrees in art.
- Attend events like the National Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs (http://www.nacacnet.org/college-fairs/pva-college-fairs/pages/default.aspx). These provide great opportunities to meet representatives of and gain more in-depth knowledge about a variety of art schools.
Visit Art Schools
Sit in on classes; talk to students; talk to the admissions counselor; visit the website. The atmosphere of an art school is very important to you as an artist. You should choose an art school that has a mission you believe in and creates a setting in which you can thrive.
Find Out if an Art School Is Accredited
It’s very important to know if the art schools you’re applying to are accredited. Accreditation can be a sign of excellence in an institution, indicating that an art school voluntarily submitted itself to a group of peers to be judged against the highest level of educational standards established today. Accreditation can also mean that the art school offers specific government grants and loans.
Learn About Tuition and Financial Aid
Can you afford to go to the art school? Find out what kinds of loans and grants are offered through the school and what kinds of financial aid packages are available. What an art school costs on paper is not what it will cost after you’ve received financial aid.
Know What Classes Are Offered in Your Field of Study
You might want to study graphic design or animation while certain schools place most of their emphasis on fine arts. Find out what art schools have the highest reputations in the field you want to go into.
Curriculum and Instructors
When choosing an art school, you should especially consider these three important factors that affect the quality of your education: the curriculum taught, the quality of professors, and the student – instructor ratio.
Find out what classes and paths of study the art schools of your choice offer. Is the school geared more toward fine arts such as painting, sculpture, and architecture, or does it focus more on commercial arts such as advertising and computer graphics? The school may base most of its curriculum on liberal arts and art history, which allows to you have a broad range of classes in the humanities in addition to your art and design classes, but also decreases your practical studio time. You should also find out what degrees your art schools of choice offer. You may need a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) rather than just a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in order to get professional work in your field of study. Finally, don’t go for a school just because of its name. Make sure the art school you choose will train you in the kind of technical skills and artistry that you will need to make your professional living.
Quality of Professors
It is most useful to have instructors who are connected in some way to the “real life” art world. Such instructors understand the practical workings of the art world and can give you down-to-earth advice, as well as being an excellent help in networking. It is also important that your instructors are in touch with new developments in the art world and not stuck in a past era that will keep you stuck there, too. That’s not to dismiss the power of a professor who is passionate about a certain artistic time period and can share that passion through teaching. It’s important, though, to make sure that you continue to evolve as an artist and that you don’t get caught up in the limitations an instructor might bring into the teaching environment. Read professor bios on each art school’s website, and ask other students whose classes they think are the best. And, while not always 100% reliable, you can find some honest reviews on RateMyProfessors.com.
Student – Instructor Ratio
Find out for yourself how big an art school’s classes are by asking an admissions officer or other students who attend the art school, and by visiting and sitting in on a few classes. It’s acceptable in lecture classes to have hundreds of students listening to one professor, but when it comes to practicing art techniques in the classroom, you want to be able to have your instructor’s eyes on your work as often as possible. You also want to have the intimacy of a small class when getting feedback from other students. A smaller class creates a more personal environment in which others can see the particulars of your artwork.
Setting and Reputation
You can get a very real idea of a school’s reputation and what it’s like on campus by visiting and taking the time to chat with current students and instructors. Reading student blogs and the school’s website, and asking alumni what they think about the education they received at the art school, can also be very informative.
Keep in mind that where your school campus is located will influence your levels of relaxation and inspiration; your living environment and landscape have a great effect on the art you create. School environments differ in many ways, from urban or small-town, to woodsy or beachside. You should also consider campus size and how well the buildings, classrooms, and dorms are maintained. Check to see if the supplies are kept in order and stored with care. See how many students are sitting in the classrooms. And check out the dorm rooms. Setting includes both the larger environment and the details within it, and all factors will affect how you feel while learning.
No matter how clean the dorms are and how well the supplies are kept, you should always consider a school’s academic reputation. Does the school of your choice
- satisfy the creative expectations of its students?
- graduate artists who are able to make it in the worlds of commercial and/or fine arts?
- deliver on what it advertises?
- give you your money’s and time’s worth in skills and knowledge?
You can find out important basics from a school’s website and admissions packet, but you should also seek out those who have attended the school to get the “real life” scoop on the school’s reputation.
Find out if any success stories in the commercial or fine arts worlds graduated from the art schools you’re looking into attending. Ask the school about notable alumni and contact them with questions. Not only is this a great way to hear what the school is like from previous students’ points of view, but it also opens up networking possibilities.
Read blog entries about the schools you’re choosing. You may find out that classes are great, but the food is terrible. Or you may get the names of professors students have enjoyed learning from and of those whose classes you are advised to avoid. You don’t have to listen to every opinion you read, but it’s helpful to get an idea of what students around campus are saying before you decide on a school.
Check out the art that students at the schools of your choice are creating. There are often online galleries, but also try to actually visit the galleries on campus. Are the pieces technically adept and original in some way?
The U.S. News & World Report writes excellent articles about high-ranking colleges in the U.S., and The Princeton Review and Barron’s publish books each year with college rankings included. Read about your art schools of choice in these or other publications in order to get a realistic overview of what the schools have to offer.
Opinions of Alumni
Ask friends, or friends of friends, who have attended the school what they think of the classes, instructors, professional networking possibilities, and the general environment in classes and on campus.
The cost of college tuition is one of the most intimidating factors in applying to art schools. No one wants to have their heart set on the school of their dreams only to find out that they just can’t afford tuition even with loans, grants, and awards, or that they’ll be in debt for the rest of their lives after attending. The key to not getting intimidated by price is knowing, first, that there are other options besides attending pricey four-year schools and, second, that an art school’s tuition on paper is not what it really costs after getting a financial aid package. Here are a few tips concerning the ins and outs of college costs:
You can save a great amount of money by going to a community school for your first two years of college, getting excellent grades, and then transferring to a good four-year program. If you apply yourself and excel in your studies, you may also qualify for more financial aid, grants, and awards after transferring.
Associate programs are two-year courses of study meant to either teach the fundamentals of a vocation or prepare a student to transfer to a four-year program. Associate programs are worth exploring because their tuition is cheaper than that of a four-year program, and they teach art and design essentials along with some liberal arts classes. Schools that offer associate degrees very often pair up with transfer programs so that you can set your goals from the very beginning. Again, apply yourself and get excellent grades, and once you’re ready to transfer, you can explore more financial aid options.
The majority of U.S. colleges and universities offer various types of financial aid. Check on your options with the financial aid offices of the art schools you chose. They know all about the loans and grants that you can get through the school itself, and they’re also familiar with local, state, federal, and private sources that offer assistance. Your art schools of choice will list all of the possible aid available. With a little help, the world of financial aid options is not so hard to navigate.
Reliable Websites for Financial Aid Information
According to the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) (http://www.aicad.org/financial.htm), the following are websites with reliable, unbiased information on financing your college education:
- studentaid.ed.gov (guidance in governmental financial aid)
- fafsa.ed.gov (details on financial aid applications)
Visiting the art schools you want to attend is not only necessary but can also be a fun adventure. Sit in on classes to make sure the atmosphere, classroom set-up, and studios are a good fit for you. It’s also useful to walk around campus, envisioning yourself as a student and seeing if the environment feels right.
Here are a few things to look for when you visit an art school:
- Personality/Mission of the School
Are you able to relax in the school environment so that you can explore what you want to express? Do the campus and classroom environments reflect the school’s underlying mission statement and teaching goals?
Ask to see the faculty work of those whom you will study under. Sit in on classes and see the teachers in action. Do the instructors reflect the way you’d like to learn? Are they in-the-know as far as the kind of studies you’d like to pursue? Are they approachable and available to speak to during and outside of class?
- Studio Time and Space
Take a good look at the art studios. See how well they’re kept and what supplies are on hand for students. Find out from teachers and students how much studio time is given to students to get technical hands-on experience.
Is the general atmosphere laid back and relaxed, or is it pumping with adrenaline and enthusiasm? Laid back may get you nowhere. Too intense may shut you down. Make sure the environment on campus, in the classrooms, and in the dorms is one in which you can both strive and relax.
- Student Body
Can you relate to the students you meet? Are they looking for the same kinds of things you’re looking for, or are their goals a far cry from what you want to achieve?
- Classes and Instructors
Sit in on a few classes. Make sure that they are not too big and that the teachers are in touch with their students. Also make sure that the available equipment meets your needs. If you’re interested in computer graphics, for example, check out the computer labs and make sure that the art school you’re choosing offers various graphic design and illustration software and has ample computer laboratories for a computer artist to work in.