Three simple questions can help you find the perfect art school

Before you tour campuses and meet with professors, before you compile your application portfolio, before you start thinking about a major, before you even Google the phrase “art college” and start jotting down a list of your favorites, you’ve got some serious thinking to do — about yourself.

That’s because there is no single art college out there that is perfect for everyone. If there was, your art college search would be a lot simpler and this article would be a lot shorter.

Finding the perfect art college — for you — has more to do with finding the perfect fit between who you are as an artist, a student, and a person, as well as the teaching philosophy, community makeup, and overall objectives of an art college.

In other words, before you can find the perfect art college, you must, as the Greeks said, “know thyself.”

Here are three questions you must ask yourself, about yourself, at the beginning of your art college search:

1. How do you define success?

For most applicants, art college isn’t an end in itself; it’s a means to an end. Art college is your first step on your path to a successful life as an artist. The question is, what does “success” mean to you? It could mean:

  • Financial success, earning a comfortable living — maybe even much more than comfortable
  • Career success, using your artistic skills, “design thinking”, and creative muscles to secure a position with one of America’s most innovative companies.
  • Artistic success, making your mark on the art world.
  • Impactful success, making a difference in your community and the world, helping illuminate and combat the 21st century's most pressing social problems with your art.

When you think about it, it’s likely your definition of success won’t fit completely into any of these categories. It will probably be a combination of some or all of them. But wherever you envision yourself in the next 10 or 15 years, you want to make sure you choose an art college that’s going to help get you there.

2. Where do you want to live (and work) after you graduate?

You may think that your art college’s location won’t matter much to your post-graduation plans, because you can always move if you don’t like it there or if the local job market is a bust. But the truth is, most art college students start setting down roots with the local art community and networking with local employers while they’re still in school.

This can happen through:

  • Internship and externship opportunities.
  • Networking events coordinated by alumni and faculty.
  • Working with top art professionals who are guest instructors.
  • Displaying your work in exhibitions open to the public.

If you choose to change residence after art college, you’ll have to start all over again from scratch. So before you start looking for an art college, start thinking about the kind of city and community where you would like to spend the first few years of your professional life.

3. What kind of artist are you?

We’re not just talking about choosing a major. That’s important, but you may not have enough experience with different artistic disciplines to narrow your choice down to one.

Keeping in mind there are as many approaches to making art as there are artists, ask yourself:

  • Are you a traditionalist or do you want to push limits?
  • Do you want to collaborate with others or go it alone?
  • Are you eager to get your hands on the latest cutting-edge 3D design technology or would you rather work with pencils and paint?
  • Do you want to make a statement with your art, help people, improve a product, change the world, or a little of everything?

These are hardly “yes” or “no” questions. But if start exploring them now, you’ll start to get a clearer picture of who you are as an artist. And you’ll have much more meaningful standards to help you determine if an art college is a good fit for you.

What questions are you asking yourself as you search for the perfect art college?

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