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20 of the Best Art Schools in the U.S.
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We’re confident that these are some of the best visual art schools in the country. However, you will notice that we have not ranked any first, second, third, etc. That is because choosing the best art school for you is a very personal question. Instead of following a school’s fame or prestige, we encourage you to learn about each school one-by-one before deciding on the best option for you.
How to Choose the Right Art School for You
Here are questions you should keep in mind as you read our list of top 20 schools.
Does this school have especially strong resources for my medium?
Most schools wind up specializing in a handful of areas, and students who happen to work in those fields reap the benefits of extra resources. If possible, choose a school that privileges your field so that you have everything you need to succeed.
Will this school give me a strong technical foundation?
You more or less get one shot to learn the basics, and that is during your years of formal schooling. As a professional, you can choose to go in an entirely different direction from yesterday’s artists. But you will have more knowledge of your field and a greater capacity to experiment with confidence if you have learned the basics already. Having to double back is very costly, and your great ideas will be harder to render without this tool in your toolkit.
Is there someone there who likes the kind of work I do?
Get to know the artwork of instructors in your department. Do you see someone there who does something kind of similar to you? That’s really good news! They will take your artistic choices seriously, rather than trying to steer you in a direction you are not wired to follow.
Will I be exposed to inspiration and ideas totally new to me?
Having someone who respects your work is crucial, but so is exposure to new methods and ideas. When you create, you draw inspiration from everything you have ever seen, heard, tasted, etc., so make sure you are exposing yourself to a wide range of experiences.
Will I be able to graduate debt-free, or at least with a plan to pay off my debt quickly?
Being an artist often means saying yes to low/no pay opportunities. This is actually something of a superpower, since it means you aren’t tied down to one job, location, or way of seeing things. But to say yes to low/no pay opportunities, you can’t have crippling student loans. Choose a school or program that allows you to dive into your field debt-free, or at least one that also equips you to have a well-paid day job.
If you already know where you want to apply, check out CollegeVine’s post on How to Create a Portfolio for Art School.
Top 20 Schools for Visual Art
Without further ado, here are 20 schools we think every visual artist should seriously consider when building his or her school list.
1. Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, AZ
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts places its focus on risk-taking, vision, excellence, and affordability—values just about every successful artist can get behind. Each medium has a dedicated course of study, with a BFA in Intermedia Art that allows mixed-media artists to grow in skill as well. For more information, visit ASU’s School of Art website.
2. Brown University, Providence, RI
Providence is a city for artists if ever there was one, and Brown’s relationship with local programs and universities unlocks the city for its undergraduates. Students at Brown benefit from the extensive library system and other academic resources of this Ivy League school while also having the option to take courses at RISD. For more on Brown, check out CollegeVine’s College Spotlight Series: Everything You Need to Know About Brown.
3. California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Valencia, CA
All-inclusive, world-renowned, and fiercely creative, CalArts has built a reputation for excellence across its seven schools. This arts program is very competitive, with only about one in four applicants gaining admission. Explore this West Coast gem by visiting the CalArts website.
4. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
CMU has a strong reputation in the hard sciences, but did you know that it also has a stellar College of Fine Arts? Students at CMU either can focus on their discipline or can pursue an intercollege degree that blends art with science, engineering, humanities, or computer science. For help applying to Carnegie Mellon, see our post, How to Write Carnegie Mellon University’s Essays 2018-2019.
5. Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO
This school offers a more intimate learning experience with just over 2,000 undergraduates and gives all students easy access to nature’s inspiring beauty. The program values both hands-on creativity as well as thoughtful analysis, so students walk away with a firm foundation in the theory and practice of art. You can learn more by visiting the Colorado College Art Department website.
6. Columbia University, New York, NY
This Ivy League school set in the heart of the city draws some of the best talent in the world to itself. From professors to galleries, you will find amazing resources both on campus and off it. Check out our post, A Day in the Life of a Columbia University Student, to see if this school is a good fit for you.
7. Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Baltimore, MD
The art-making facilities at MICA are hard to rival. The curriculum begins with the assumption that students already know the basics and prepares students for high-level conceptual thinking. Learn more about MICA’s distinctive program by checking out the school website.
8. Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), Boston, MA
MassArt prides itself on sending highly skilled scholar-artists onto the global stage, both into fine arts as well as technical industries. Students do not have to demonstrate exceptionally strong academic backgrounds coming in, provided that their art presents a strong and unique voice. However, be prepared to hit the ground running once you arrive. For more on this school, visit the MassArt website.
9. New School: Parsons School of Design, New York, NY
This big apple university gives students the knowledge and exposure to keep pace with the rapidly changing world of design. Parsons’s five schools do not sort along the traditional lines of artistic domains but instead focus on immersive and interdisciplinary approaches to design. You can learn more about Parsons by visiting the official website.
10. Reed College, Portland, OR
Founded in 1908, in the sixties Reed set itself apart as the free-thinking, West Coast response to elite Ivy League institutions. That same iconoclasm still characterizes the school today, creating a very open environment in which new artists can experiment. Learn more about what Reed has to offer by visiting the school’s website.
11. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence, RD
There are plenty of great art schools, but RISD still holds the crown for offering the most prestigious arts education without exception. Programs range from classic fields such as Illustration to more modern departments, including Industrial and Product Design. If you have the time and means, a great way to see if RISD is right for you is to attend the six-week RISD Pre-College Program.
12. Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Savannah, GA
Savannah is one of the most beautiful, historic cities of the U.S. It’s no wonder that art flourishes at SCAD. Since SCAD focuses all of its energy and resources on emerging artists, students have access to a rare diversity of media, methods, and masters of each craft. Learn more by visiting the site of this self-proclaimed University for Creative Careers.
13. School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Chicago, IL
Established as an affiliated program of the renowned museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, this school has some of the best examples of sculpture, print media, fiber arts, painting and more right at its fingertips. Students may choose to study Fine Arts exclusively or with an emphasis in Art Education, Writing, Art History, or Visual and Critical Studies. Want to know how SAIC might fit into your plans? Check out the school website for more information.
14. University of California, Lost Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA
UCLA offers world-class programs across all disciplines, making it a fantastic vantage point for artists looking to understand the wider world. In the School of Art and Architecture, students benefit from a robust curriculum as well as access to the vibrant LA arts scene. For more information, check out CollegeVine’s article, UCLA’s Acceptance Rate: What It Means and How to Get Accepted.
15. University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Here is another public school with the great resources available only at large universities. The Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design may be the right place for you if you are dedicated to inclusion and using your intellect to expand your creative reach. Read The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of Michigan if you think UMich might be a good fit for you.
16. University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA
Roski School of Art and Design is the oldest art school in Southern California. Students specialize either in artistic or design media, combining studio courses with rigorous theoretical instruction. If you are interested in learning more, check out our post, The Ultimate Guide to Applying to USC.
17. University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), Austin, TX
Austin is the arts haven of Texas, and the College of Fine Arts is where some of the best and brightest emerging artists go to start their careers. Students learn about new technologies and underrepresented cultures to bring truth, beauty, and innovation into student work. Think you have what it takes to apply? See How to Write the University of Texas at Austin Application Essays 2018-2019 for tips on how to ace your supplemental essays.
18. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Richmond, VA
VCU is a public research university geared towards fostering discovery and creativity, with a special focus on its arts program. Just one marker of how much VCU prizes its arts program is that students can earn Arts Honors in addition to University Honors. Start exploring all that this university has to offer by visiting the VCUarts site.
19. Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), Saint Louis, MO
The Sam Fox School of WashU prizes students’ independence and gives them coursework and studio time designed to help emerging artists find their voices. Students choose to participate either in the BA or BFA program depending on whether they want to explore multiple academic fields or focus on pre-professional study. Check out CollegeVine’s Ultimate Guide to Applying to Washington University in St. Louis for a full run-down on the application process.
20. Yale College, New Haven, CT
Long touted as the Ivy for the Arts, Yale has tremendous professors and facilities to help new artists thrive. The emphasis on hands-on learning in a variety of media fosters a great learning environment, but beware that not all undergraduates are accepted into the Art Major even after being accepted to the university. Yale recently was featured as part of our College Spotlight Series, so check that out if you would like to apply or simply learn more.
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