Understanding Art Schools

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Understanding Art Schools

  • Amy Mitchell
  • Senior Admissions Counselor
  • Columbia College Chicago
  • 323-469-0914
  • amitchell@colum.edu

Some Well Known Art Schools

  • Art and Design Schools
    • Otis College of Art and Design
    • Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
    • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    • California College of the Arts
    • The University of the Arts
    • _Columbia College Chicago
    • _Cornish College of the Arts

Some Well Known Art Schools

  • Art Schools Within Larger Universities
    • New York University (NYU)-Tisch School of the Arts
    • Temple University-Tyler School of Art
    • UCLA- UCLA School of Arts and Architecture
    • Syracuse University-College of Visual and Performing Arts

Some Well Known Art Schools

  • Conservatories
    • The Julliard School
    • Berkelee College of Music
    • Oberlin Conservatory
    • The Boston Conservatory
    • American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA)
    • The University of the Arts

Majors Offered at Art Schools

  • Animation
  • Crafts
  • Film
  • Painting/Drawing
  • Graphic Design
  • Industrial Design
  • Photography
  • Interior Design
  • Dance
  • Music Performance
  • Theatre Arts
  • Fashion Design
  • Illustration
  • Sculpture
  • Printmaking
  • Jewelry, Metalsmithing

Difference Between Bachelor Degrees

  • BA Degrees are usually found in traditional colleges and universities
    • The focus within a BA Degree Program leans more toward studies in theory and the liberal arts.
      • 2/3 of overall curriculum is devoted to courses in the liberal arts.
      • 1/3 of overall curriculum is devoted to courses in the studio arts.

Differences Between Bachelor Degrees

  • BFA and BM Degrees are specialized and found mostly at art and design schools, and conservatories, though they may also be offered at more traditional schools.
    • The focus within a BFA or BM Degree Program leans more toward studies in studio course work.

Art School Philosophies

  • Students should choose an art school based on its curriculum, environment, and if the mission and philosophy fits in alignment with the individual’s career goals and objectives.
    • Some schools have a more conceptual approach to its academic offering. Not much emphasis is placed on technical training, but more on the concept behind what the student is conveying.
    • Other schools may emphasize a more technical approach, in order to achieve a common look that defines that school’s style.

Art School Philosophies

  • Concept Based Schools
    • California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts)
    • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    • San Francisco Art Institute
    • School of the Museum of Fine Arts

Art School Philosophies

  • Technical Based Schools
    • Art Center College of Design
    • Rhode Island School of Design
    • Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
    • College of Creative Studies
    • Cleveland Institute of Art

Art School Philosophies

  • Schools with Emphasis in both Technique and Concepts
    • The University of the Arts
    • Otis College of Art and Design
    • California College of the Arts
    • The New School of Parson’s College of Design
    • Columbia College Chicago
    • Cornish College of the Arts
    • Syracuse University College of VPA

School Curriculum

  • Many art schools offering a visual arts program like The University of the Arts, Otis College of Art and Design, and RISD will require their first year students to go through a “Foundation Year of Study.” This year is geared towards teaching students the true meaning of what it means to be an artist and designer by taking traditional courses in drawing, 2-D, 3-D design, and art history regardless of what their intended major will be.
  • Because conservatories and schools offering programs in the performing arts require students to go through an audition process, one can start directly in their major as a first year student.
    • Some schools may institute a cut system which requires its’ students to audition each year to remain in the program.

Types of Art Schools

  • Conservatories: The nature of the training means that all students will be professionally oriented, that the atmosphere is usually intense, and that academic education is minimal. Although conservatories tend to be expensive, most offer generous scholarships to talented students. Cut system. No academics.
  • 4-Year Art-Focused Schools: These are what most people associate with art school. Art-focused schools are very competitive, but the focus of that school will be on you, the arts and an art focused career.

Types of Art Schools

  • Art Schools offering liberal arts degrees and general education.
  • Vocational Schools, Technical Schools and Proprietary Schools --Vo-Tech schools generally offer very specialized courses and education paths, and run from 1 to 2 years. Again, the range of quality between schools can be dramatic, so be sure to do lots of research into both the curriculum and instructor staff. Depending on the course, Vocational Schools and Technical Schools can also be very expensive. They should make it clear that they are not accredited, but to be safe you should always ask. The credits from these schools are not transferrable and though you may earn a paper degree, it will not count as a college degree.


  • Be aware of a school’s accreditation status
    • Schools should be accredited by one of the six regional sectors of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation
    • Specific Accrediting bodies for art schools
      • National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
      • National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)


  • The application process is different for each school; take time to contact the schools you are interested in.
  • Generally, art schools want to see letters of recommendation from people who know you as a creative person.
  • Think of your essay as an artist statement.
  • Do an interview if possible.
  • If you had a rough spot with your grades make sure to address that in a separate written statement.

Common Application

  • More and more art schools are starting to take the common app.
  • The art supplement is your portfolio, take care with it.
  • Guidelines: Enclose a 10-minute CD or DVD with this form that demonstrates contrasting examples of expression and technique. Many schools are now using the website www.slideroom.com.

Common Application

  • Send copies only as most schools will not return the materials.
  • Take care in the written portion. Include your resume.
  • Explain what you are doing in the portfolio.
  • Make certain to highlight all relevant experience.

Portfolio Requirements

  • Most art schools require students to submit a portfolio in addition to transcripts, SAT/ACT scores and the college essay.
  • Portfolios are a way for admission counselors and faculty members to view a student’s thought process when interpreting ideas and visually presenting them on a 2-D or 3-D level.
  • Portfolios should also demonstrate knowledge of color theory, composition and should be cohesive in nature.
  • Typical requirements for a portfolio may include the following:
    • Observational drawings (i.e.. still life, figure drawings)
    • 2-D design work
    • 3-D design work
    • Work from a student’s area of interest (i.e.. animation demo reel, illustrations.)
    • :Note-Drawings from a photograph is a common practice among students, but should be avoided for the college portfolio.


  • Portfolios should show diversity in techniques and variety in subject matter.
  • You may also show work in any medium (oils, photography, pastels, etc.) and in either black-and-white or color, or both. Feel free to use classroom assignments as well as independent projects.
  • Most schools will ask students to submit between 10 and 20 pieces in DVD or CD or through websites allowing students to upload their work.

Portfolio Tips

  • Tips for In Person Portfolio Review
    • Try to make your portfolio clean and organized.
    • Protect your work, but make sure the package you select is easy to handle and does not interfere with the viewing of the artwork.
    • If you choose to mount or mat your work (not required), use only neutral gray tones, black or white
    • Spray fixative over charcoal drawings.
    • Label each piece with your name, address and HS.
    • Your portfolio should be cohesive, giving the viewer a story of who you are as an artist.

Portfolio Tips

  • At some schools you may present your portfolio on campus or at a portfolio day.
  • Some schools may allow students to provide a URL or a DVD Rom.
  • Current Websites
    • Highschoolportfolios
    • Slideroom for specific schools
    • Carbonmade

Audition Requirements

  • The performing arts requires of its practitioners - whether they’re actors, singers, musicians or dancers – a certain amount of physical activity.
  • The audition measures not only the student’s creative and expressive facility, but also the level of skill acquired.
  • Typical requirements for an audition may include the following:
    • Dance
      • A class in ballet, modern or jazz
      • A solo presentation
    • Theatre
      • Two contrasting monologues for acting
      • Resume and portfolio of design work
    • Music
      • Performance ability
      • Understanding of major and minor scales and ear training
      • Ability to sight read.

Audition Tips

  • Music Auditions
    • Ideally for vocal majors, one should prepare at least two pieces in contrasting styles (operatic, show music or art song repertoires).
    • Memorize each piece.
    • Instrumentalist should be prepared to play scales and arpeggios, at least one etude or technical study, and a solo work.
      • Not necessary to memorize as sight-reading is req.

Audition Tips

  • If you are performing music that is sight-read, look the piece over entirely to acquaint yourself with keys and time signatures. Singers should bring appropriate accompanist unless noted otherwise.
  • Practice in front of as many folks as possible.
  • Apply to at least three schools, as music programs vary in degree of competitiveness.

Audition Tips

  • Dance Auditions
    • Like other auditions, dance auditions will vary from institution to institution.
      • Some schools may hold a full class (i.e.. Ballet, modern, jazz) followed by students performing a personal solo piece. Other schools may require a performance piece and evaluate the students execution.
        • Faculty look for rhythm, coordination, body structure, and potential to learn and complete the curriculum.

Audition Tips

  • Theatre Auditions
    • Only schools offering a BFA degree in Theatre will require students to audition for entry into their program.
    • Two contrasting monologues taken from plays of your choice is the general norm for Acting majors (Musical Theatre will require in addition to the above two musical selections, one up-tempo and one ballad, as well as a dance movement sequence).

Audition Tips

  • Theatre Audition
    • Choose material suitable for your age
    • Memorize and be familiar with the entire play and context of your selection if choosing a monologue from a book of monologues.
    • Select monologues that allow you to speak directly to another person; you should play only one character
    • Avoid using characterization or style, as they tend to trap you rather than tapping deeper into inner resources.
    • Memorize your selection.

Important Dates

  • National Portfolio Day
    • www.portfolioday.net
  • Unified Auditions
  • www.unifiedauditions.com

I’m Done, Now What?? Careers in the Arts

  • A starving artist is only a myth.
  • Having an education that combines honing one’s craft, promoting the ability to solve problems and analyze situations will lead to a rewarding career in the arts community.

Careers in the Arts

  • Consider replacing this question:
  • "What job can I do with an art major?"
  • With this:
  • "What am I capable of as an art major?

Five Ways to Market Your Arts Degree

  • Five ways to Market your Arts Degree:
  • 1. Say It Loud: You're Arts Educated and Proud.
  • Sell Your Passion: The neat thing about many arts grads is that they chose their major because they truly loved the subject matter. They were not motivated by what they could do occupationally with the major or how much money they could make after graduating with that major. They were motivated by the pure joy of wanting to learn the field in which they majored.

Market Your Degree

  • Sharpen Your Focus: The world is truly your oyster as a arts grad. Employers want to know what you want to do, and the more focused you are, the easier it will be to land a job.
  • Your Skills: Know Them, Embrace Them, Market Them: Time and again, research shows that communication skills are by far the skills most sought after by employers. As an arts major, you have learned to communicate orally and in writing.
  • 5. Let Your Resume Sing the Praises of an Arts Education: Highlight your arts skills.

Examples of Careers Achieved by an Art School Education

  • Producer on “Good Morning America”
  • Creative Director of Louis Vuitton
  • Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
  • Senior Level Artist At Sony Entertainment
  • Lead Game Animator at Sony Computer Entertainment America
  • Associate Professor of Digital Animation, Philadelphia University
  • President, HBO Films
  • President, Music, Warner Brothers Pictures
  • Academy Award-winning cinematographer
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, the New York Times

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