Choosing The Right Art College For You

I’ll admit, the school I chose was one I had always had my eye on so this wasn’t a long process for me. Let’s be real honest here for a minute though……art school IS NOT cheap. So if you’re spending the hard-earned money your parents saved up for you or you’re taking out government loans….you better make damn sure you try to pick the right one. Here are a few suggestions:

PART 1 – Do Some Soul Searching

Where in the arts do you see yourself? Are you a painter? A sculpture? A graphic designer? What do you envision yourself doing?

Have you researched the career path for that particular career? Do you have an understanding of what the salary expectancy is and whether you will be a freelancer when you graduate by nature of the profession? Will you be required to take additional business classes to help ensure you will be successful afterwards?

Are you ready to live, breathe, and have reoccurring dreams about art? Are you mature enough right now to dedicate the majority of your time to perfecting your skills and craft? (I can assure you if you plan to take something like graphic design, there will be little to no partying or any of the fun things you hear about in college… so if you want to succeed you better be prepared to WORK HARD.)

PART 2 – What Do You Want Out of Your Education?

Do you want to go to a college that is studio based or theory based? Maybe a mix of both? Do they offer internship program courses in your graduating year?

Do you want a degree? A diploma? A high-five and “Good Job!!”?

Do you want an art education? Design education? Illustration? A balance of everything?

I specifically wanted to go to the school I chose because I wanted what I like to call the “2 Birds, One Stone” approach. I wanted an education in graphic design but I also wanted to further my drawing skills. The Communications and Design program was perfect for me because it was very drawing based and allowed you to choose a stream to major in later on.

PART 3 – Testing the Waters

Not quite ready to make the financial commitment? That’s ok. Most colleges will offer continuing education classes on evenings and weekends. This is a great way to check out the campus, facilities and potentially some of the faculty. At bare minimum this gets you in the door to ask questions and have a mini version of the big experience. I took a fine arts “pre-college” certificate course at the college I went to years before I enrolled full-time. It gave me a great understanding of not only what the college itself was like, but also how much higher of a level I would be expected to perform at.

I should also note that if one of the schools you are thinking of is far away from where you currently live, continuing ed might not be an option. If this is the case, travel there if that is something you are able to do. If not, try doing a Google Earth search of the school and area. Some school may even have a virtual tour experience on their websites. You could even try setting up a Skype chat with one of the advisors.

I would highly recommend Open Houses or any public events that school hosts. Twice a year the college I went to hosted a Show & Sale where students could sell their work to the public. They also hosted an Art-Fashion show event annually that showcased student work. These are great opportunities to see what current students are creating. Don’t let any of this intimidate you but instead inspire you. Remember that every artist was first an amateur, as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said.

PART 4 – Narrowing Down the Competition

Assuming you’ve gotten through Parts 1-3, you are now at a point where you might have some potential candidates and are trying to pick a winner. As we all know post secondary education is expensive so I’m basing these questions assuming you don’t have a small lottery’s worth of money for your education. Remember that if you are taking out loans you have to pay them back after you graduate which can be a huge financial burden if you aren’t able to find work right away. Making wise financial decisions BEFORE you spend the money is key.

Is the school local or will you have to move away?

Local: Will you live at home or in residence on campus? Can you afford to live away from campus? If you live at home, how easy is it to get there?  Will you have to drive, and if so what does parking cost? Is public transit available?

Distant: What is the city like? What is the neighbourhood like? Can you live on campus? If not, are there rental housing options near by? Can you afford the extra cost of living away from home? Does the advantage of going to this particular school out-weigh the cost? Will getting home on holidays require a plane ticket or a long car commute? What are the moving costs? Have you ever lived away from home, and if not are you really ready to accept the responsibilities that come with that?

What is the reputation of the school? Are there faculty members there that I admire or have a reputation that could really help enhance my learning experience? What specific programs or classes do they offer that best align with my area of study? Are there any Alumni from that school that have gone on to be successful? In what programs? Are their statistics available on the percentage of employed graduates? Will I need to work part-time? Will I have time to have a part-time job? Do I need a portfolio to be accepted to this school? What are the requirements? Do I have enough good quality work to submit? Is a second portfolio required to enter the program I want to go into later?

Most Importantly: Is this school in my budget?

A lot of these questions can go more in-depth but these give you a good base of starter question to ask yourself. No matter what you do, your choice needs to be based a little on budget, logic and your gut feeling. If you’re going to commit 4 years or more of your life to a full-time program it should be somewhere that makes sense for you in all aspects.

Future Art Student Advice Posts:

College Entry Portfolio Tips
Art Student on a Budget
Art School Survival Tips
The Good Thing About Bad Critiques

Previous Art Student Advice Posts:

Why I Went to Art School

Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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