Artists: How to Stay Focused on College

Haverford College

It’s that golden time of year again. The ghosts, goblins, and Disney characters have all gone home. Sidewalks are blanketed with autumn leaves and daylight savings time ends this weekend. Thanksgiving and winter break will be here before you know it. Even though the calendar ahead is whispering “r & r,” families of college-bound artists need to stay focused. Yes, the approaching December break is a good time for rest and relaxation, but I’d like to add another “r” into the mix: reassessing the family college plan. Irrespective of the grade your high school creative is in, make sure he is being strategic, planning wisely, and taking action towards his artistic future.

Here are some tips to help your visual artist stay focused:

Studio space, Carnegie Mellon

Seniors
January general application deadlines are looming. Now is the time to stop procrastinating and double-check everything. Finalize essays, confirm that applications and transcripts have been received, and verify that reference letters have been submitted. If discrepancies are found, contact your guidance counselor or the college representative to clear things up. Finalize your portfolio. If you find it doesn’t say all you want it to, then create more art! There is still time. Then upload your selections to each college’s SlideRoom account. Lastly, consider squeezing in an interview. Contact your top choice programs to inquire if they offer them. Interviews show demonstrated interest and might be just the added ticket to place you into the “accept” column when decision time comes around.

Juniors
Keep creating! Winter break is a perfect time to focus on your growing portfolio. The downtime also provides opportunities to get closer to what makes you tick. Attending art fairs, local craft shows, and art exhibits can all provide inspiration. Have honest conversations with family and friends to help you hone in on what’s important to you artistically and otherwise. Is your ideal college location a large urban setting? Or would you prefer to stay close to home? What about cost? College costs are staggering. If financial aid is a necessity, then make sure you include it as part of your college family discussions. All these thoughts and considerations will help you find the right college fit. Being realistic now will help eliminate idealistic expectations and crushing disappointment down the road.

College for Creative Studies

Underclassmen
It’s not too early to begin envisioning your college future. Your best preparation is to keep drawing, creating and making. Follow wherever your art takes you. December is also a great time to see what winter is truly like on the campus of your dreams. Go exploring and get your steps in by visiting a college or two – even if most students have gone home for the break. Those still on campus will most likely be happy to answer questions about the place, the food, the professors… You get the picture. And when the weather dictates indoor time make sure to keep up with your reading. The commitment to it now will help develop your vocabulary and writing skills for those upcoming pesky standardized tests.

Juniors and underclassmen can all benefit from campus visits. Most tours and information sessions are unavailable in late December, but it doesn’t hurt to swing by a college or two if you’re nearby. Strolling across campus and checking out the local neighborhood can still influence future decisions. And, especially if winter isn’t your season, start thinking about summer art programs. Sign-ups for pre-college programs will be on college websites before you know it.

4 Resources To Kick-Start Your College Search

Painting, University of Maryland, College Park

It begins in high school or even middle school for that matter, that panicky feeling in the pit of a parent’s stomach when you envision your teen’s future. What college will my child attend? Where will he get in? What will she study? What type of career can an art major lead to? What will it cost? All of those concerns, circling around in your brain can definitely stir up unwanted anxiety and panic.

When my kids were beginning high school I felt like I needed to know all the answers to these questions and more. Truth-be-told, I didn’t even know where to start and surely didn’t know which questions would help move me forward without generating more anxiety.

With that in mind, here are four smart and accessible resources to get your and your family started. It begins with conversations and asking questions – lots of questions.

  1. High School Counselor  These tireless advisors are true advocates for your children. Given the responsibility of guiding students through high school, they offer the ultimate in academic, personal, and developmental support. Traditionally they work with each student for four years, which gives them the chance to truly know your child and help with the transition to college. They offer specific college suggestions based on your child’s academic strengths, provide advice on grade point averages and standardized tests, and help with transcripts, recommendation letters, and much more.

    Wood shop, Carnegie Mellon University

  1. High School Art Teachers  Your high school art teachers are tour guides for your child’s creative exploration. They introduce teens to the basic principles of art and design and expand each student’s comprehension of the visual arts by familiarizing them with a diverse variety of artists, artistic styles, and media. As up-close observers, they assess your child’s creative skills, guide for strengths, and make suggestions for the future.
  1. Neighbors  If you have teens in high school then I’m guessing you have friends or neighbors with college age children as well. Although they haven’t walked in your exact shoes, they’ve been down this road before and should be a wealth of information. They can make recommendations based on their own experiences and offer up personal tidbits that you might not have heard of otherwise.
  1. Foley sound recording room, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film

    Art College Advisors  Yes, I’m tooting my own horn here, but I hope you’ll hear me out. Visual arts college consultants focus on the visual arts, period. We’re the ones engaging specifically with art colleges and with art and design programs across the country. We make it our business to learn the specifics about which program is top at which institution and the nuances that accompany each. And, because of our focus, we have a better understanding of what programs look for in future students. Gaining guidance in the details of course and portfolio prep, learning about the value each type of art program provides, and obtaining an understanding of future career opportunities won’t completely remove all that pre-college anxiety, but having a guide through the college search process will help you identify which path to traverse and help your teen find her best college fit.

As a parent, you’re the one with the front row seat to your child’s artistic strengths and passions. If you want to know how you can guide them to their best college fit, start talking. Even asking, “where do I begin?” or “how did you begin?” will get you going.

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

Donnel Garden (Morisius Cosmonaut)

I’m fascinated by the evolution of design. Whether it’s a thought or an artistic expression I’m curious to know what influences the next thing, and the next, and the next. And as a textile designer, I’m often asked, “what inspires you?” For me, that’s easy: everything.

Why do influence and inspiration matter? Because that’s how the best design ideas are formed. 99% Invisible’s “The Pool and The Stream” podcast offers a great example of how ideas beget ideas. It describes how unforeseen circumstances can influence thought, and how unrelated entities and events intersect to problem solve and create new opportunities.

It’s also an evolutionary tale of skateboarding, of how international architecture, life in the 70’s, and Southern California helped forge it into the cultural sport it is today.

Design is a BIG part of this story. Listen to it. Read it. Then consider the creative teens in your life. The ideas they have now and the time they dedicate to them may not seem as unusual or out-of-the-ordinary after listening.

There’s always inspiration and a new idea right around the corner.

What’s the Value of a Summer Tour?

The short answer is PLENTY!

Summer has most of us dreaming of “me time.” Of lazy days spent sleeping late and staying up late, with nothing but choice relaxation in between. Hanging out at a beach with toes firmly planted in the sand would be my heaven.

But reality dictates that summer should be put to practical use too. If you’re the parent of a high school teenager that means college tours should be high on your radar. It’s a great way to spend family time together and to generate ideas of where your teen wants to spend four years following high school.

Here’s a post I wrote about Summer Tours that links to other reliable resources. The thoughts and recommendations are still very applicable today.

Denison University: A Liberal Arts Take on the Arts

Goldilocks knew what she wanted; it wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too small. “Just right” for her was in the middle. Many young artists and their families are searching for that same middle ground. Typically they find it at a liberal arts college. Size is important, but mostly what sways them is the one-on-one learning combined with the opportunity to integrate across the arts and sciences.

If that combination is what you and your teen are searching for, make sure Denison University is on your list. It’s one of the top liberal arts colleges in Ohio. 

Combining art and politics

Quality education, diversity, and integration are what define this college. Varied perspectives are alive and well here. The culture and academic structure are built on a dedication to interdisciplinary education and the core value of developing independent thinkers. Students are exposed to new ideas from multiple perspectives across the campus. Examples include the requirement that all students take at least two art classes (no wonder I like it!) and the school’s Queer Studies major. Quantitative understanding, power and privilege, and writing are the lenses through which all subjects are viewed.

There are approximately 80 students working towards a BA or a BFA in Studio Art, with an average class size of 18. The curriculum is purposely planned to build confidence. Students work individually and collaboratively, finding their own voices and communicating their own unique ideas along the way. The liberal arts setting requires they include oral and written expression as well.

(Denison University)

BA students frequently double major. Due to the emphasis placed on integrating ideas across departments, art and design students are encouraged to bring their creative viewpoints into their other classes. Consequently, each course becomes a learning lesson in how art and design affect the world – and vice versa. Common double majors include Studio Art with Communication, with Educational Studies, with Economics, and with Biology.

Those seeking a BFA apply into the program by the beginning of their junior year. Acceptance is dependent upon a presentation of the portfolio they created at Denison, along with an oral defense.

Seniors have their own studio space (Denison University)

Senior year is demanding. Students participate in a yearlong practicum, participate in a group show with juniors, and produce their own solo show with catalog and oral defense. The goal to develop self-reliant and independent artists seems to be working. Alumni are employed as designers, art educators, and architects, and those moving on to grad school have been accepted at top institutions across the country.

It’s clear that the Denison values the arts. At the January groundbreaking of the college’s new performing arts center University President Adam Weinberg affirmed that “more than 40 percent of Denison students participate in the arts in some way.” That includes literary, performing, and visual arts.

Bryant Arts Center, home of the Studio Arts program, was once the campus’s gymnasium, complete with swimming pool. Eight years ago this 45,000 square foot vertical facility was renovated into spacious and light-filled classroom, studio, and exhibition space, with obvious remnants of the building’s past.

(Denison University)

Study abroad opportunities are encouraged, but not before junior year. During sophomore year students begin working with the Off-Campus Study Center to locate the best options for their specific career and study goals.

Denison is located in the charming village of Granville, 35 miles from Columbus. Campus residency is required, which makes sense. It contributes to the tight-knit communal experience and the strong bond between students and faculty. Walking through Bryant Arts Center I felt I was on the set of “Cheers,” where everyone knew your name – well, at least the names of the professors and students passing by.

Last, but far from least to consider is the cost of attendance. Tuition for the Fall 2017 academic year is just under $50,000. But don’t be discouraged, Denison is committed to affordability and is known for the number of quality scholarships it offers. I hope you check it out.