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A Guide to the RISD Pre-College Program

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Pre-college programs are a terrific way to spend the summers in your final years of high school. Usually hosted on college campuses, they can give you a taste of what it is like to be a student at a particular school, as well as a feel for what college might be like in general. Attending a program at a college to which you plan on applying also shows that admissions committee that you are very interested in the school, as well as committed to learning. For more information on pre-college programs, check out CollegeVine’s blog post on effective summer activities.

If you are an artist hoping to attend an art or design school, look no further than the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Located on College Hill in historic Providence, Rhode Island, the world-famous art and design school offers both undergraduate and graduate programs. RISD is located blocks away from Brown University; in fact, the colleges share some resources, and together offer a five-year dual degree program in which graduates receive degrees from both colleges. (For more information on the dual degree program, read our Ultimate Guide to Applying to Brown University.) In this blog post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about RISD’s pre-college program.

RISD’s Pre-College Program Eligibility

The pre-college program at RISD is a six-week summer program for high school students who have finished 10th or 11th grade in the school year before the program date. You must be between the ages of 16 and 18, meaning you were born between August 5, 1998 and June 23, 2001.

Applying to the Program

The application for the pre-college program is available here. In addition to the application form, you must also submit 250-word statement expressing your personal reasons for wanting to participate in the program, one letter of recommendation from a high school art teacher or guidance counselor, and a non-refundable program deposit of $500 for boarding students or $350 for commuter students. You must pay all of the program fees by April 7, 2017.

Unless you are applying for a scholarship, you are not required to submit an art portfolio, transcript, or any test scores (unless English is not your first language, in which case you must provide TOEFL or IELTS scores). This allows students to participate who do not have a well-developed artistic portfolio, but also means there may be some variance in experience and interest levels in art among applicants.

Be sure to apply early; you will list three potential majors in order of preference on your application, and you may have to take your second or third choices if your first choice fills up quickly.

Scholarship Application

If you would like to apply for a scholarship to attend the program, fill out this application instead of the standard application above. This application requires you to provide your custodial parent’s or guardian’s financial information, and you must also submit additional materials, including a copy of your most recent high school transcript, your custodial parent’s or guardian’s 2016 income tax return and recent pay vouchers or other documents substantiating current income, and a non-returnable computer disc (CD or DVD) or USB flash drive containing 5 artwork samples that best represent your artistic abilities. Your application should also include a 250-word statement explaining the ways in which you will contribute to the cultural, intellectual, artistic and other diversity of the program, a recommendation from a high school art teacher or guidance counselor, and a nonrefundable application fee only if you will attend the program even if you do not receive a scholarship.

The Program

The pre-college program follows a curriculum similar to RISD’s Foundation Studies program. You will take the following classes

  1. Drawing Foundations (meets 1 full day a week)
  2. Design Foundations (meets 1 full day a week)
  3. Critical Studies in Art (meets 1 half day a week)

In additional for the Foundations classes, you will also pick a major that allows you to explore a field of fine art or design in depth. These major courses meet two full days per week. On your application, you will list three majors in order of preference.

There are 21 majors available, including:




Comic Book Art


Fashion Design


Furniture Design

Game Design


Graphic Design


Industrial Design

Interior Design



Photography: Digital

Photography: Traditional (film cameras)



Textile Design

These classes include critiques (or “crits”) in which your teacher and peers evaluate your work, something you will experience if you attend art school and is considered an essential part of learning about and discussing art. When you turn in art projects, your teacher will lead your classmates in critiques of each piece.

Costs to Keep in Mind

If you are planning on boarding at RISD during the program, the full fee is $8,175. The program costs $5,475 for commuter students. As mentioned above, scholarships are available, and you should fill out a different application if you are applying for a scholarship. All students must pay a $155 health services fee.

Some majors have additional lab fees:

-Film/Video: $200, includes an A/V-rated external FireWire hard drive (that becomes the property of the student).

-Glass: $175, includes the use of specialized glass and casting materials.

-Traditional Photography: $180, includes a $100 deposit for the rental of a darkroom kit, which is refundable upon return of undamaged supplies.

Supply costs and lists vary by the class and major and are not available until the first day. You can bring your own supplies or by them from the RISD art supply store when you arrive on campus. You may want to get a RISD card (call RISDbucks) that may be redeemed anywhere on campus, including the art store, library printers, RISD cafes, and so on. Be sure to budget for supplies you will need for classes and those you might need for specific projects. In total, supplies can add up to over $800.

You should also keep in mind that you will need to pay for travel to attend the program, as well as shipping your artwork home (which can be very expensive). It is a good idea to think about how you will get your art home beforehand.

Boarding at RISD

Providence’s College Hill is home to numerous cultural and historic landmarks. Destinations include the Riverwalk, the site of summer Waterfires, and Thayer Street, a shopping strip, both walkable from the RISD campus.

The RISD dorms are near Brown’s campus, so you may see Brown pre-college students during the program. However, your dorm will only include RISD pre-college students, and your RA will be a regular RISD student. If you sign a waiver, you will also have access to the RISD fitness center.

Weekend Activities

You won’t just be attending classes. The program also includes optional trips around Rhode Island and other parts of New England, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In your down time, you can also explore Providence. The RISD Museum itself is an essential tourist attraction.


The RISD Pre-College program is a great choice for artists and prospective art majors. Not only does it give you an opportunity to study and practice your skill, but it also gives you a taste of college life. If it sounds like something you might want to do, check out RISD’s pre-college website for more information and application materials.

Looking for other productive ways to spend your summers in high school? Check out our guides to summer activities:

Effective Summer Activities

5 Things You Can Do This Summer Instead of an Internship

The 6 Things You Should Do the Summer Before Your Senior Year

What You Should Be Thinking About as a Junior—Extracurriculars and Summer Activities

Should I Get a Job or Do an Unpaid Internship?


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.