You can take all the virtual tours you want, cruise campus neighborhoods with Google Street View, browse student work on Instagram, and chat with admissions reps on Facebook and still, there is no substitute for visiting an art college in person. For many applicants, the choice between two or more schools—all things being equal in theory—comes down to their gut feelings on a campus tour.
Faced with an “impasse” between two schools, one college applicant recounted to the New York Times, “What swayed my choice was the vibe I felt visiting each campus and the opportunities provided.”
Feeling the “vibe” of an art school, imagining yourself living, studying, and working there, is a crucial part of the campus visit. But there are a few more tangible things you should keep your eye out for, as well.
Here are seven of the most important ones. You might want to bookmark this article on your phone or print it out and take it with you on your next art college visit.
- The quality of the residence halls. This campus could be your home for the next four years. If clean, well-maintained, dorms are important to you, you’ll want to take a look around.
- Clubs and extracurricular activities. In college, not all learning takes place in the classroom. Student organizations will give you the chance to meet and network with students who have similar interests, gain leadership experience, and practice new skills. Be sure to ask questions during your campus visits, and maybe even speak to a student leader or two. The great thing about art schools specifically is that many of their clubs and extracurricular activities are focused around the various types of art, giving you ample opportunity to put your learning into practice.
- Ample studio space, cutting-edge tools, and well-equipped art-making facilities. Serious artists need serious space. During your campus visits, check for well-lit, comfortable studios with enough space to stretch out even your largest canvas. Or if you’re into film and animation, check for cutting-edge editing suites with the computing power to bring your cinematic visions to life.
- Faculty availability. If you have already started thinking about an art school major, give yourself time during your visit to swing by that department and arrange to speak with a professor. This is your chance to learn more specifics about the educational experience — as well as introduce yourself to a faculty member who might be willing to put in a good word for you. You might even find yourself your future mentor. (This is a tip from the New York Times’ The Choice blog.)
- A vibrant surrounding city and artistic community. Many art college students end up sticking around the area well after they graduate, connecting with local artists and finding work with local employers. As you visit a college, think about living there for the rest of your twenties. Do you feel like you belong?
- Politeness. Do people hold doors open for you? Do they say “thank you” and help you when you need it? Good manners and a helpful attitude are signs of a supportive college community. An admissions rep at George Washington University even recommends standing at the center of campus and pretending you’re lost.
- The desire to make a difference in the world. If making art that matters matters to you, check the posters and flyers up around campus. Are there events and activities for students who want to reach out into their communities and make an impact with their art? Does the school make an effort to integrate creative problem-solving and community collaboration into every class? This is a good topic to discuss with professors and students, as well as admissions reps.