What do professors look for in a potential student?

Grit - Running up stairsWhile researching the variety of art colleges and programs across the country I get the opportunity to talk with a lot of admissions professionals and professors. From size to location and focus, they all share the same goal of guiding their students as they become productive and successful artists and designers. While each program is unique, they employ similar methodologies to reach their goals and objectives. One objective they share is to begin each school year with a class of motivated students.

Why? Research has shown that those who are motivated – driven and passionate about their path of study – will be the most successful in the long run. In today’s vernacular, “grit” is the term you hear most often.

Whether you call it motivation, passion, drive, or something else entirely, it turns out that grit greatly matters. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth has researched the subject extensively, and she shared her observations about the connection between grit and success at a TedTalks Education forum in April of last year.

Are you passionate about your art? If so, then make sure those at the colleges you apply to can see it. We all know that the things we’re motivated about are those we spend more time on. Put time and dedication into your work now. Search beyond your classroom projects to find opportunities to expand and challenge yourself. Your portfolio will be richer for it, and your investment will pay off when it’s time to apply to college.passion-wordle-1

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5 Tips For Choosing The Right College

courtesy of College For Creative Studies

courtesy of College For Creative Studies

At the risk of being redundant, I’m going to revisit a post I wrote last year. The reason? Its decision time for seniors and their parents, and the words I wrote a year ago are true and applicable again today.

April is a critical time of year. Birds know it, flowers know it, and so do high school seniors. For the latter group it’s time to make your final choice of which college to attend in the fall. If you’re lucky enough to have been accepted to more than one college, read on. There are many factors that can – and should – influence you as you aim to find the best fit. I’ve listed a few tips that were helpful when my kids were going through the process.

1 – Get down to the details. Try to identify what entices you about each school. Is it the location? Cost? Studio space? The feel of campus, or something else? I place all of these factors into two basic categories: fit and finances. Make sure the programs available fit your wants and needs. Re-visit each school’s website and contact the school with any unanswered questions you still have. And DO let the financial package impact your decision. If the weight of paying back future loans feels oppressive now, it could feel even heavier later on. Are you eligible for merit aid? Is the financial aid package what you expected it to be? It’s not too late to ask about either.

MICA dorm

MICA dorm

2 – Go back to “walking the walk.” I know that deadlines are approaching quickly, but if you can, visit campus, especially if you haven’t done so already. I’ve said it before; there is nothing like a stroll around campus to see if it’s the right place for you. Take the tour, check out the studios and dorms, eat in the cafeteria, and talk to students and professors. My oldest son thought Tufts was a funny name for a university. Then he visited campus and exclaimed “wow, I love it here.” End of story.

3 – Trust your gut. This is easier than it sounds. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you but there are too many distractions for you to see clearly. If you can, narrow your choices down to two colleges, then flip a coin and mentally accept the results. You’ll probably feel joy, relief, or perhaps a bit of anguish. Those feelings will tell you the real right choice.

4 – If you get wait-listed don’t get too discouraged. You still have a chance to get in, even though it may be a small one. My first recommendation is to accept an offer from one of the institutions that admitted you. Pick a place you’d honestly like to attend. Then congratulate yourself; you’re going to college!

Believe it or not, that does remove a lot of the pressure. If you’re still focused on a wait-listed school let the school know as soon as possible; they like to know that they’re your top choice. Reach out to the school’s admissions counselor for your region, and express your interest. Tell him or her why you prefer their school. I’d also suggest sending additional information that can tip the scale in your favor. Examples might include recent additions to your portfolio, and an achievement or acknowledgement you’ve received since you applied.

5 – Breathe. Don’t forget to take time to sit back and congratulate yourself. You’ve worked hard to get to this point and you’re about to begin your life’s next great adventure. Enjoy the day dreams of what college will be like and look forward to the exciting opportunities ahead.
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In A Buckeye State of Mind

Student work - Department of Art 3-D Foundation course

Student work – Department of Art 3-D Foundation course

For many, searching for the right college begins with the question “art college or university?” The two choices lead to very different college experiences. And, true confessions here: I attended a state school and came away with an exceptional education. (Thank you, U Dub!) Unfortunately, I don’t live in Washington anymore, but Ohio offers some outstanding opportunities as well.

The Ohio State University (OSU) is one of the largest land-grant, research universities in the country. I thought they only did “big” in Texas, but OSU proves that theory wrong. Think 49,000+ undergraduate students, ½ million alumni, and 175 majors. Those numbers translate into significant opportunities and support for the Departments of Art, Arts Administration, Design, and Art History.

I’ve had the chance to tour both the Art and Design Departments, and I came away impressed. You won’t need a portfolio to gain acceptance into the university. However, you’ll need one for acceptance into one of the 10 majors these two departments provide. With guidance from professors and your foundation classes you’ll create one during freshman year (Design) and your sophomore year (Art) to compete for acceptance into your major of choice.

Industrial Design class

Industrial Design class

The two departments reside in buildings adjacent to each other, providing plenty of opportunity for cross-pollination. Both are competitive to gain entry. Only 80 students are accepted into the Department of Design’s Pre-Design program, which is narrowed down to 54 after freshman year. That equates to 18 new students each year joining one of three majors; Industrial Design, Interior Design, or Visual Communications. The end result is small classes with highly motivated students who graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Design, and excellent career opportunities.

The Department of Art is slightly larger but no less competitive. Students complete five foundation courses before gaining acceptance into the rigorous and challenging program. Those admitted earn a BFA in Art and Technology, Ceramics, Glass, Painting and Drawing, Photography, Printmaking, or Sculpture in a traditional studio environment. Also available is a Bachelor of Arts in Art, a more general degree for students wanting a career related to the arts.

Internships are highly encouraged, especially following sophomore year when students have more confidence in their skills. Study abroad opportunities are also encouraged, providing the chance to learn from other cultures and gain an international perspective.

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More Tools You Can Use

Cooper-Union

Cooper-Union

Finding the best art college fit requires research. That’s obvious. But often times it’s difficult to know what information you’re searching for. And then there’s the challenge of knowing where to find the answers. That’s where Art.College.Life. comes in. I love exploring and examining what each college has to offer, and then sharing it with you.

In my searching I’ve found that more and more colleges are beginning to list their complete course catalogs online. The benefits to parents and prospective students are simultaneously simple and significant. They provide the opportunity to explore an area of study before you actually explore an area of study – if you know what I mean.

Each college has a different set-up and some provide more extensive information than others, but the basic material is the same: an overview of what is actively taught in each class, the number of credits earned, and any required prerequisites.

University of the Arts

University of the Arts

The chance to peek across the threshold before you actually step there is often tempting, and in this case it’s informative. Students can gain a better understanding of what they’ll accomplish in each major and each course. If a subject matter isn’t enticing for you, here’s a way to know what to expect ahead of time. Or maybe it’s a subject to steer clear of, meaning you might need to consider a different major. Providing a more detailed view of what’s to come creates opportunity for clearer understanding and better planning. A great tool when you’re trying to find the best fit in a college art program.

Here’s an example of some of the course curricula available online:

Cleveland Institute of Art

Maryland Institute College of Art

Massachusetts College of Art & Design

School of Visual Arts (ex: Film & Video)

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4 Tour Tips Help You Choose The Right College

Campus tours are valuable during any part of your college search. For rising juniors or seniors they can help narrow down the type of institution you’re searching for, as well as where you want to be geographically. For graduating seniors they can become a window into your future.

Within the next few weeks high school seniors will know all of their college options. That means final decisions need to be made in a little over a month. The pressure is on. To break a tie between two favorites, or just for personal assurance, I’d suggest making one more quick campus visit. Whether you’ve toured before or not, aim to get the most out of the experience by personalizing your trip.

Campus visits typically include an information session and a campus tour. I’d suggest you spice it up a bit. Add some exploration time into your schedule and make sure you see the places you want to see. The benefit will be a more accurate feel for life on campus. Here are the best options:

1. Wander around campus. Get lost. Walk into buildings just to see what’s inside. Find areas that entice you. If Ceramics is your passion, then make sure you locate the clay studio. Don’t be shy to stop and engage a student or professor along the way. Asking for directions can lead to a tour of spaces you didn’t know existed and new insights.

MassArt cafeteria

MassArt cafeteria

2. Engage with students. Go to the cafeteria or student union and strike up a conversation. This is your chance to obtain impromptu and honest opinions of what people really like or dislike about the college.

3. Sit in on a class. Your admissions representative will be happy to set this up for you. It will give you a view into your life for the next four years.

4. Spend the night. Your admissions representative can set this up for you as well. Better yet, if you know someone on campus ask if they can put you up for a night. The idea here is to give you the opportunity to see what campus life is like beyond classes. You’ll experience dorm life, gain a better feel for time spent in the studio after hours, and get a first-hand take on the morning rush at the Cheerios counter.

SAIC dorm studio

SAIC dorm studio

If you come to campus with unanswered questions, now is the time to get them resolved. Need to meet with a financial aid rep? Do it now; face to face is always better. Want to get a clear picture of the surrounding community? Here’s your chance. Find out where the closest art supply store is located and check out the neighborhood.

By the time you’ve finished your visit, whether it was for three or twenty-four hours, you’ll have a much better grasp of this college experience, and the road that lies ahead for you.

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