So you're seriously considering attending an art college - great! You don’t have to try very hard to find them. There are close to 200 hundred art schools in the U.S., according to one online list—at least one in every state.
But you can’t apply to every single one. Even if you wanted to, those application fees pile up fast! The challenge is narrowing down your choices to a list of the art colleges where you could actually envision yourself succeeding as a student.
How can you tell the difference between the hundreds of art colleges in the country and find the ones that would be the best fit for your artistic vision, your career goals, your personality, and your learning style?
Here are a few tips that will help you carve down the giant list you currently have in your mind to something more manageable.
1. Look at the faculty
Our #1 tip: check out the faculty of an art school. These are the people who will mentor you as you grow as an artist. They will prepare you for the life of a professional artist and help you begin to build your network.
- For fine arts faculty, find out where they have shown their work. What is their current practice? Are they active participants in the art world? Is their work represented by gallerists?
- For faculty in commercial fields like animation or graphic design, are they (or have they been) employed by the leading companies in the field? How do they help students prepare for a career in their field? Do they teach the latest techniques, tools, and technology used by the pros?
2. Ask your art teachers
If you’re like many aspiring art college students, your artistic passion was nurtured and perhaps even inspired by one or two art teachers in high school. Your artistic endeavors have never been a solo pursuit, so don’t go it alone when it comes to finding an art college. Ask your favorite art teachers:
- Where they studied art.
- Where other students like you went to art school and what they reported back.
- What art schools they think fit best with what they know about you as an artist—and the potential they see in you.
Of course, you don’t have to structure your life around the opinions of your teachers, but they can be very insightful and objective sources based on their wisdom and experience.
3. Get geographic
The three most important factors when searching for a new home—location, location, location—are almost as important when searching for a new artistic home. The city and artistic community that surround an art college will be huge influences on your education, as well as on your career prospects after graduation.
Some things to think about:
- Certain communities of artists gravitate toward certain cities.Animators and animation studios congregate in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example. If you’re interested in becoming an animator, you might want to consider an art college where you’ll have access to internships with the top studios and accomplished visiting instructors.
- Wherever you attend art college will be your home for the next four years—at least. You’ll want to explore beyond campus, making sure the greater community shares your values and will offer you the freedom to live the lifestyle you prefer.
4. Check out the “Best Value Art Schools” from PayScale
If you dream of an artistic career but worry about living the life of a starving artist (a tired cliché we debunk here), you’ll want to peruse PayScale’s ranking of the “Best Value Art Schools” as you build your list of schools to apply to.
PayScale ranks schools based on ROI (“return on investment”), a rough measurement that compares how much you can expect to earn over 20 years after attending a school against the cost of earning your degree.
California College of the Arts came out ahead in PayScale’s ranking, with a 20-year net ROI of $361,000.
As a career-minded art school applicant, it quickly becomes clear that the school you choose can have a major impact on your future earnings.