Declaring A Major

Untitled by Daniel Well 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Untitled by Daniel Well
MICA 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Back in the day when I was a university student (go dawgs!), we didn’t need to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. That gave us plenty of time to try out different interests. For me, art history preceded textile design.

Expectations are different today; and programs vary. Some colleges require students to declare a major as part of the application process, while others offer a semester or two to decide.

I spoke with representatives from four art colleges and found four different approaches to the “when to declare” question. Foundation courses play an integral part of each methodology, providing students with additional exposure to 2-D, 3-D, 4-D and art history courses. Some colleges also engage freshmen in a choice of studio electives.

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) requires that students select a major with their acceptance into the college. Amy Armand, Director of Recruitment Services, explained that for undecided students “a semester of exploring often puts them a semester behind,” requiring scrambling to catch up. The good news here is that CCS readily provides counseling for the “best fit” for a major, based on each student’s portfolio, goals, and current work. That means you can still change majors once you’re on campus.

Pratt applicants also apply into a specific major. However, the college does accept “undecided” students. According to their website about 15 percent of students apply “undecided” each year. Michael Barry, Admissions Counselor and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, explained that some programs are larger than others, causing those who declare their major after starting classes might “get closed out due to space limitations.” An example: the Graphic Design program is larger than the Industrial Design one. If you want to declare ID after you’ve already enrolled, you can do it, but it may cause timing and class sequencing conflicts down the road.

According to Lucy King, Associate Director of Admissions, at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the first semester of freshmen year is pretty intense. It requires hard work in drawing, design and spacial dynamics, giving students experiences to self-discover “what makes sense and comes naturally, what comes as a struggle, and whether or not they enjoy that struggle.” Following that intense semester – in March of their freshmen year – RISD students declare their majors.

MassArt Foundations Class

MassArt Foundations Class

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) students experience a full year of foundation courses before needing to declare a major. The benefit? “Sometimes students think they know what they want to study, but change their minds,” explained Greg Bartlett, Admissions Assistant and MassArt alum. A year of exposure to multidimensional art and design helps confirm their passions and direction. I didn’t ask Greg, but maybe he knows from his own experience.

There are benefits to each system. By declaring a major at the onset, you’ll be able to jump right in, and immerse yourself at the beginning of your college experience. Conversely, if you’re not 100% sure of your direction, taking a bit of time to decide will expose you to other paths which you might not have previously considered. Also, keep in mind that each institution is unique, and has sound reasons for their curriculum structure. I don’t know that one philosophy is better than another; it’s what works best for you. My suggestion is to add this to your list of decision factors as you research your options.

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Study Abroad

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

I’ll take my inspiration wherever I can find it. And lucky for me, during the past couple of weeks inspiration has come from time spent in Switzerland and Italy. From the jagged Swiss Alps to the rolling Tuscan countryside and the azure waters along the Almafi Coast, nature was at her finest, showing off sweeping landscapes and breathtaking views. Complementing it all was the wonder of art and design depicted in centuries’ old sculpture, fresh off the runway fashions, and everything in between.

It got me thinking about studying abroad, and how just one semester’s exposure to a different cultural experience can positively affect your point of view – forever. I can think of no better way to gain a global perspective than by living and learning in a different county.

Consider fashion design in Paris or Milan, photography in the south of France, animation and illustration in Hong Kong. The benefits of studying abroad are endless. You’ll be challenged by new ways of thinking while you acquire new insights and skills, new inspirations, new connections, lifelong friends, independence and maturity, and possibly even a new language. And with direct exposure to art history, (yes that is Michelangelo’s David), and cutting-edge design that the U.S. hasn’t yet seen, (where do you think Smart Cars came from?), you’ll acquire an appreciation for multicultural differences and influences, and a clearer understanding of your artistic place in the world.

church details, Lucca, Italy

church details, Lucca, Italy

I’m not aware of a college or university that doesn’t offer study abroad options to their students these days. Research the colleges that peak your interest. Some will offer their own specific programs while others collaborate with international institutions. Also, make sure you understand which courses are available each year, and what credits are transferable back to your home campus. Again – costs will vary, but scholarships are available.

Here are just a few of the programs I researched. I hope you’ll examine them and others.

University of the Arts

Cleveland Institute of Art

SCAD

SVA

University of Michigan (where study abroad is a requirement for all art and design students)

The experiences you’ll have abroad will stick with you forever. Paintings, sculpture, hillside vineyards, store windows, tiny designer cars, leather goods, and the presentation of pasta on a plate all influence and are influenced by design and art. And I’m just talking about what I experienced in Switzerland and Italy. There’s a whole world out there to learn from. Go check it out!

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Do You See LA?

As kids growing up in Los Angeles, my brother and I thought we were pretty clever the first time that popped into our heads. Years later, flying home, it still makes me smile.

Broad Arts Center

Broad Arts Center

Last month, after meeting with Laura Young, Director of Enrollment Management at the University of California at Los Angeles’s (UCLA) School of the Arts and Architecture (SAA) the question morphed into “have you seen UCLA?” As one of the top public research universities in the country with a first-rate arts program in a thriving metropolis, a better question might be “why haven’t you?”

UCLA is big city living. Its 27,000 undergraduate students in 125 undergraduate degree programs on a 419-acre campus! And don’t forget about the 109 NCAA titles and 60+ national and local fraternities and sororities. But take a closer look and you’ll see the details inside the big picture. Two SAA departments, Art and Design Media Arts, combine to an intimate 395 underclassmen. That’s an environment ripe with opportunity to cultivate your artistic abilities.

UCLA arts logo w namesThe Art Department offers classes in painting & drawing, photography, ceramics, sculpture, art theory, and new genres, while Design Media Arts takes a multidisciplinary approach to media creation, offering study in Interactivity and Games, Video and Animation, and Visual Communication and Image.

Students in both departments begin with foundation courses where they learn the language of art and the principal traditions of each medium. But the focus isn’t strictly on how to create; equal effort is spent on why. Experimentation is emphasized, and students learn to combine creativity with the intangible, and to balance technique with problem solving. The focus is conceptual, not vocational. Undergraduate coursework in either area will earn you a B.A.

painting and drawing

painting and drawing

SAA students must be self-directed. The benefit of being part of such a large institution is that your resources can seem almost endless from the time you first step onto campus. The tough part is that working through a large system can sometimes seem daunting.

Laura Young shared some of the details of the application process with me:

          As part of your application to the UC system, you’ll need to identify your top two choices for areas of study (i.e. Communication Studies, Art); UCLA will only consider your first choice.

          SAA professors make the first decision as to who is accepted into the program; university admissions staff become involved solely to address academic standards.

          Make sure to read the application requirements – SAA requires a supplemental application that you won’t want to miss.

          UCLA is the only UC campus requiring a portfolio from incoming freshman. Again, read the application requirements; your portfolio can consist of 8-10 works in any medium.

          The school has a preference to see self-directed work as part of your portfolio, (not what your high school art teacher instructed you to create).

Last year the Art Department received about 950 applications and Design Media Arts received approximately 850. Both programs admit about 40-50 students. For a top-notch creative education wrapped in a diverse and engaging liberal arts package, I’d say those are some lucky students.

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Painting and drawing photo courtesy of UCLA.

Consider The End: Art School Graduate

art school grad pillow - lesrubadesign dot comLife is pretty good. You’re working your way through the maze of portfolio days, applications, campus tours and interviews, but in reality you already know where you want to attend college. You even dream about it. All that’s really left is the waiting game and the email stating “we’d like to welcome you into the class of …” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you dream of your happily-ever-after college experience I hope you’ll consider reality for a minute; the reality of graduation.

Colleges and universities work very hard to attract the most talented and brightest students. They invest significant time and resources into recruiting, accepting and enrolling dedicated individuals. But once in the door, how much attention is paid to retention – and its cousin – graduation? Will the school make it easy for you to stay on course and graduate on time? And why should you care?

The answers are wrapped up in a multitude of tangibles and intangibles, often not easily measured. Cost and years to completion play a role. So do learned skills, experience gained, connections made, maturity, and confidence.

Let’s consider graduation rates. Collegereality.com, produced by The Chronicle of Higher Education with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helps navigate some critical issues that should be considered when selecting a college. I used their data on pricing and graduation to compare the most fiscally fit schools, as defined by Forbes.

Average Net Price

Graduation Rate

School

Income Range

$75,001-$110,00

4 years

6 years

 national average for a BA

$18,158

33.0%

48.3%

Cooper Union

$14,052

62.6%

75.7%

Rhode Island School of Design

$38,611

75.3%

86.9%

California  Institute of the Arts

$45,485

50.7%

65.2%

Cleveland Institute of Art

$32,501

31.3%

57.8%

Minneapolis College of Art & Design

$30,863

69.6%

n/a

Reading between the lines, here is what you need to know:

  • Collegereality.com comparisons are based on obtaining a BA, not a BFA.
  •  Most likely you won’t be responsible for the advertised price; you’ll pay the average net price which takes scholarships and grants into consideration.
  • Government graduation rate standards don’t accurately reflect the times we live in. Part-time students, students who take time off in the midst of their college years, and transfer students don’t count in these outdated graduation rates. However, students graduating within 150% of the time it should take to graduate are included, (i.e. students taking up to six years to graduate from a four year institution).

I believe graduation rates also reflect the effort that faculty, staff, and especially career services personnel put into getting students on the right track. That’s where retention plays a role. According to a US News & World Report study, as many as one in three first year students don’t return to the same school sophomore year. Reasons vary from financial to academic to family issues. One way schools fight back is with organized first year experiences that are fun and engaging, and that help freshmen adjust to college life. They teach time management, money management, healthy eating habits, how to live independently from mom and dad, and how to trust yourself as an artist. Professors and career services professionals also help by ensuring students remain focused on their major, understand career opportunities, gain exposure to real-world experiences, and connect to prospective employers.

My advice: keep asking questions. Find out what first year experiences exist at the colleges you’re considering. Ask about their retention and graduation rates. Inquire how they’ll engage you with others on campus and in your chosen career. Even if you’ve got your heart set on a specific school, you’ll be happier in the long run.

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The SAT & ACT Go To Art School

SAT ACT pencilsThis past Sunday, The New York Times Education Life section focused on the college admissions landscape, and the changes occurring in and around standardized tests. According to the Times, ACT test takers are on the rise and, more than ever before, applicants are choosing to submit scores from both the SAT and ACT as part of their college submissions.

Naturally, this piqued my curiosity. I wondered what role the SAT and ACT play in the admissions process at an art college.

As a right-brainer myself, taking standardized tests was never my forte. However, the SAT and ACT analyze how you think. Consequently, they play a critical role in the college admission process. Bottom line: you still need to take them.

Some schools, like the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, don’t require either test, but they are in the minority. David Sigman, Director of Admissions for Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design put it this way: “We strongly encourage students to submit standardized test scores, if they are available, but only so that the student’s application file is as comprehensive as possible.” In other words, the SAT and ACT are an integral part of the process. They help tell the story of the whole student.

According to Dustin Liebenow, Director of Marketing Communications and Enrollment Management at Pratt, the average ACT score for incoming freshmen is 26/27. The average SAT verbal and math score combined is 1200. Dustin summed up what I found at most other top art schools that require standardized scores; there is no minimum score threshold nor a preference for which test is submitted. Schools consider test scores along with the rest of each student’s application.

SAT ACT signageAnalytical thinking skills are a critical component to an artistic education. In order to succeed in any classroom students need to be able to objectively scrutinize what is being taught, whether in a studio setting or a liberal arts environment. “Professors want their students to succeed in the classroom,” explained Densil Porteous, Director of Admissions at Columbus College for Art & Design (CCAD). “Ability, portfolios, academic competencies and how students present themselves are all considered.” CCAD Assistant Director of Outreach and Recruitment Thom Glick explained further that standardized scores are reviewed with GPA and letters of recommendation in the academic section of an application. Portfolios make up the creative component.

Taryn Wolf, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) got into the scoring details for me. At MICA, where the average ACT of enrolled students is up to 28 this year, the school considers individual ACT “sub-scores” and SAT “super-scores” for whichever test is submitted. What are sub- and super-scores? Consider them the parts that make up the whole, (a 580 in Math on the SAT or a 32 in English on the ACT). The benefit is if you take a standardized test multiple times and score higher in different areas each time, you can submit all your tests and the college will use the highest and best component scores. Yes, it means taking the test multiple times, but the end result is a win-win.

None of the schools I contacted could tell me whether they’ve actually seen a rise in ACT over SAT submissions, nor did any of them mention a rise in applicants submitting both tests. However, they all agree the exams are valuable. Even the colleges that don’t use them when considering admissions find them helpful when considering scholarship opportunities.

So what does the future look like in the world of the ACT and SAT? Changes are afoot for both. 12 states now require (and pay for) their public high school juniors to take the ACT. I’m guessing more will follow. And, beginning in 2015, students will be able to take the ACT on-line. The folks at College Board, managers of the SAT, are making changes as well. They say “the heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence.” Stay tuned.

If you’re at all like I was, taking these structured tests can seem daunting. Remember that even though they’re necessary, they are only one part of your application picture. With a strong portfolio and dedication to your academic grades, you’ll end up at a great school and be able to pursue an education in the world of art.

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