How to Choose the Right Art School

Choosing a future in art is often an easy decision; most creative folks simply couldn’t imagine doing anything else with their lives. What is tricky is choosing the right art school. You’ll want a school that develops your inner creative vision, while also positioning you for a real-world design job. You’ll want a school that delivers excellent academics and world-class facilities, without costing an arm and a leg. And you’ll want a school that offers exactly the degree you’re after in the particular field that interests you.

Now is the time to be very choosy, and very thorough. Choosing an art school is a huge commitment and a tremendous investment. You’ll need to take the time to methodically research each prospective choice to decide on the right art school. Choosing the right art school is also a highly personal decision. Keep in mind that you’re not just selecting the best art school, but the right art school for you, based on your values and goals. Fortunately, there are a few essential questions to ask the school, and a few questions to ask yourself, that will make your decision process much more clear. Read on to learn what to research, what to consider, and what to explore, in order to choose the right art school for your artistic future.

Art School Specializations

Featured Programs

If you have a clear vision of the type of art or design you want to study, your mission is to find an art school that teaches that area, and teaches it well. Locate the department that administers your area of interest, and find out how well-equipped they are. Is this division of the school well-staffed and well-supported? Are the faculty and students active and producing influential work? Does the curriculum represent the latest practices and theories in the field? Explore the art school’s reputation in your field of interest. Here, rankings from school review sources like U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review may be helpful, as is simply asking around in the field. If the school is known for providing solid training, and turning out prominent graduates, you can feel confident in your choice.

Degrees and Certifications

While a school may teach the subject you want to pursue, that doesn’t necessarily mean they offer the credential you need. Decide what degree level you want to pursue in your field of interest. Are you looking for a master’s in interactive design? A bachelor’s in animation? Certification to teach art? Licensure to conduct art therapy? Be certain your chosen school will confer the credential you need. Check your prospective school’s accreditation as well. This external measure ensures that a college meets designated quality standards, and ensures that your degree will be recognized.

Special Programs

It goes without saying that landing a job in the arts can be tough. In addition to a great education and strong portfolio, special experience can have a big impact on your odds of getting hired. Are you interested in studying abroad? Taking on a research project? Presenting at a professional conference? Many art schools offer professional design internships, externships, and other experiential learning opportunities that can broaden your education outside the classroom and help you get your feet wet before you even graduate.

Career Services and Alumni Network

Another way to get ahead in a competitive design job market is with a little help from your friends: school career services and alumni networks. Find out in advance how much an art school gets involved in job placement for its graduates. Do they offer career counseling, maintain a job board, or host networking events? Don’t be afraid to ask a prospective school about their gainful employment rates within your field of design interest. When it comes to placing graduates in design jobs, some institutes have a fairly local focus, which may not be helpful if you don’t live in the same city where the school is located. This is less true in the case of online art and design schools, which tend to have students from across the country, and so establish connections with nationwide employers. Look for an active alumni network as well. Are former students employed in influential positions and open to contact with current students? Does the school offer an alumni mentoring program? Host alumni events? Find out how hard a school’s career center and alumni center will work for you.

Faculty

Reading through the course catalog of a prospective school, it’s easy to get excited about the art and design classes available. Take a look further, though, at the faculty who will be teaching these courses. Are classes taught by graduate students, part-time or full-time faculty? Are they accomplished in their respective fields? Do they hold MFAs? Especially in the case of digital design degrees, you’ll want to learn from professors who are not only experienced, but up-to-date on the latest techniques and technology. Check out faculty profiles to find out just who you’ll be learning from.

Students

Look at the featured artwork of current students. Does it demonstrate a high level of accomplishment, professionalism, and creativity? Look at the student body. Do students come from diverse backgrounds? You will be not only sharing a classroom with your peers, but exchanging ideas and collaborating on assignments. This holds true for an online design program just as much as an on-campus one. You can expect to learn from your classmates as well as your teachers, so look for a student body that will challenge you and help you grow.

Facilities

Whether you’re interested in ceramics, fashion design, or 3D animation, you’ll want an art school with advanced facilities to explore the limits of your craft. In this area, a school visit is essential. Tour the facilities and see for yourself where you will be working and learning. If you’re pursuing a degree in any sort of digital arena, such as video game design, UX or web design, it’s especially important to find out if the technology available on campus is up-to-date. Pursuing an online art degree? Find out what amenities will be available to you as an online student. Is there a virtual library, online writing clinic, or design lab? Many online art schools provide free access to the latest design software, and a few even provide tablets and other technology.

Art School Size and Location

Are you looking for an intimate art school experience, with close relationships to classmates and personal attention from professors? Or are you looking for the opportunity to exchange ideas with a large and diverse student body? At a large art school, you risk getting lost in the shuffle, while a small art school can feel limiting. Weigh the benefits and drawbacks to find the right size for you. Similarly, you’ll need to consider where you want to go to school. An urban art school can be a great place to land an internship, while a remote art school can really immerse you in your craft. A commuter school, too, is worth considering if you need to save money. Still another popular option is online art school, which tends to be significantly more flexible and affordable than a traditional, on-campus art school.

Cost

While there are certainly a number of highly affordable design schools, there are just as many costly art schools, with tuition as high as $39,000. When looking at a school’s price tag, consider your bottom line, and find out what savings you may be eligible for. Do you qualify for a scholarship? Financial aid? Military benefits? Contact the department of financial aid to find out what you options are.

The Right Art School for You

Choosing the right art school is a major decision, so don’t rush it. Talk to the admissions office at schools you like. Contact alumni and professionals on networking sites like LinkedIn. Explore your options, research, and reflect. The right art school, when you find it, will prepare you for- and support you in- your creative and professional future.

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