How to Visualize the Perfect Visual Arts School
What to look for when evaluating art colleges and art programs.
Envisioning the right visual arts school for you isn’t so simple, especially with so many programs and areas of art to choose from. For artists and designers who are looking to break into a very competitive industry, college art degrees along with polished portfolios have become essential. In addition to the credentials and the diploma, a visual arts school should inspire your imagination while providing technical experience. Selecting the right school is key. Starting with your priorities, there are a number of things to consider in your college search.
Which art forms and fields match your interests?
Ask yourself this question, “Once I graduate from art school, what would I like to do with the skills I’ve acquired?” Do you see yourself as a painter or sculptor? Would you prefer a career as a digital artist or interactive designer? Maybe you have no idea, and you’d like to explore the possibilities in college. The point here is that different schools focus on different areas and aspects of visual arts, so it’s extremely important to evaluate the programs that are offered in each school.
Some college art programs are more specialized than others. Those looking into web, game design, or animation should make sure the school offers the latest technologies. There are also environments that encourage exploration in a broader spectrum of visual arts. Look for the visual art schools that best support your objectives while offering the flexibility to discover new areas that can expand your horizons and employability when you graduate.
Does the faculty have a balanced mix?
Investigate the faculty. Are they full-time or part-time? There are advantages to having both. Full-time faculty members are usually readily available most days for advisement and support and have a major commitment to the institution. Part-time instructors are often working artists or designers, another excellent advantage. Ideally, there should be an appropriate balance of full-time teachers as well as those employed in various visual arts fields.
Learn as much as you can about the faculty by visiting school websites and researching the teachers in the art department. Examine both teaching and industry experience. As you narrow down your college list, you should visit the schools in person and speak with professors and others in their departments so you can get a feel for their style of teaching. If you time it right, you may be able to sit in and observe a class.
Is a full palate of resources on display?
What kind of support services does the school offer? What is the school’s learning environment? Are the classrooms and studios well maintained? Does the institution put resources into studios, technology, libraries, and student services? Find out if there’s academic support like peer tutoring and if there are opportunities to join clubs or pursue creative interests outside of the visual arts school.
Does the school offer professional support to graduating students? Make sure a solid placement office is in place to help you find internships and help you transition to the work world.
Where is the student art showcased?
Is there a significant number of formal and informal student shows? Does the visual arts school maintain a permanent place where student work is displayed? It is important to have many opportunities to not only show your work but to see the types of art other artists in school are producing.
What size is the school and art-student body?
When looking at the number of students at a particular school, you need to consider both sides of the equation. A university with tens of thousands of students may have a greater variety of extracurricular activities available that appeal to a wide range of interests. A school with a smaller student body may have fewer distractions but potentialy more tightly knit social circles.
What may be a more important factor is the faculty-to-student ratio. While the numbers are often better at smaller schools, the ratio tends to get better in a university setting as your studies become more focused. Your art focus is shared by a much smaller percentage of the student body than your liberal arts studies, so there should be a considerably smaller number of students in your studio class. Numbers vary from school to school, so evaluate each on its own merit.
Who are the alumni artists?
Often, a good barometer of a school’s credentials is the success rate of its graduate art students. Find out what the graduates are doing now. Are they working in the areas of art they studied? Have they gone on to have career success in related fields? Naturally, colleges don’t have all of the career information for all of their graduates, but it has become a lot easier to track the accomplishments of recent grads.
What is the availability of art scholarships and internships?
Does the school have a good record of assisting students in applying for scholarship opportunities and summer internships and programs? Beyond tuition, room & board, and books, art students need to consider other expenses such as art supplies, so financial aid options can make a real difference.
Colleges know the high cost of education better than anyone, and they can help you figure out how to make ends meet while you’re in school. This may come in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study employment such as on-campus student jobs, and/or internships. Just pay close attention to any long-term loans that may be part of the plan. If you’re concerned about tuition, fees, and potential debt, talk with the school’s financial aid counselors. The right schools for you are often the ones that are most helpful.
Are the art programs accredited?
An organization that examines an instructional program at a school to determine its merit is known as an accrediting institution. The accrediting institution approves the school’s right to grant degrees in that subject area provided that the set standards are met.
When considering a particular visual arts school or program, find out who accredits the programs that interest you. Is the accrediting institution known for approving the better programs, or did the school have to resort to this institution because they were unable to get approval from anyone else? This is a detail that is often overlooked, but it could be an important factor in your college-decision process.