Trending: Are the SAT & ACT Really Necessary?

Transitions come in all shapes and sizes, and they happen for a variety of reasons. First-grade morphs into high school, Uber has upturned the taxi business, and landlines have lost out to cell phones. Transportation and communication will never be the same. Perhaps moms and dads won’t either.

SAT-scantronThe major shift affecting colleges these days is the diminishing requirement of standardized tests as part of the application process. According to WAMU 88.5 more than 850 colleges and universities across the country don’t require SAT/ACT test scores to gain admission. And that number is growing.

That’s the sign of a definite trend. What the end result will be, no one knows. In the meantime, the beneficiaries are college applicants who excel in other areas but not necessarily in taking standardized tests.

If your creative teen falls into this category you might want to take a second look at colleges that are test-optional or test-blind. The former schools will consider an SAT/ACT test score if submitted, the latter won’t even look at them.

colored pencilsThe National Center for Fair and Open Testing has compiled a comprehensive list of colleges that don’t require a standardized test. The schools on it come in all shapes and sizes from small to large, art-centered programs to general institutions, and private colleges to state universities.

What does this mean for your teen? Options abound – all across the country.


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A Passionate Future or a Practical One: Do Students Need to Differentiate?

Parents are frequently tested. It just comes with the territory.

Naturally, we want our college-bound teens to have fulfilling majors and careers. If their passion is in science, math, or engineering (STEM) then they – and we – are lucky. Those are the fields of the future we’re advised. That’s where the lucrative careers are and will be.

rightbrain-leftbrainBut what about our creative offspring, those wanting to study and build careers based in the visual arts? Can’t they also have fulfilling and lucrative careers? Should we advise them to follow their passions, or towards what’s deemed a more practical future?

The answers don’t come easily. Doubts and questions arise about the long-term consequences of following one’s artistic passion. Job opportunities seem fewer and the chance of making a living often seems questionable.

Young visual artists, designers, and their parents should know about a great opportunity that’s smack in the middle of the STEM world. It’s the junction where technology meets creative. An article in last month’s LATimes spells it out from the perspective of CalArt’s president Steven D. Lavine. “Arts educators and technology chief executive officers are acknowledging once again that the two fields not only work hand-in-hand but that technological advances are often nourished by arts-inspired creative methods and critical thinking,” the article reads. Bottom line: engineers, entrepreneurs, and those in the tech world need our creative kids.

I’ve waxed before about the need to merge right-brain and left-brain thinkers. Analytical and linear thinkers need creative designers who process information holistically, and vice versa. There is great value in combining these diverse perspectives. Visual artists naturally think outside the proverbial box. And, the skills they learn in college – beyond the artistic ones – of persistence, incorporating criticism into newfound solutions, and teambuilding are beneficial to solving the technical problems of today and tomorrow.

CalArts has promoted this cross-pollination for decades. Other colleges are recognizing the value as well. When searching for college options for your teen, make sure to inquire about each one’s approach to the collaboration of these two fields. You’ll find more opportunities for your teen’s future, and more peace of mind for yourself.


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College Tour: Art Center College of Design

In early April, I toured the Art Center College of Design in California. Set in a single modernist Ellwood-designed building that spans a ravine in the hills of Pasadena, the aptly named Hillside Campus is a visual study in contrasts. Harsh steel and glass are surrounded by eucalyptus trees and fragrant sweet jasmine.

Art Center walkway 2

Ellwood Building Walkway

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into this selective school, often ranked at the top of many college search lists. The reward for getting in is hard work and readiness for the real world.

As one admissions representative said, “you’ll never work as hard in industry as you do here.” Kit Baron, Senior Vice President of Admissions explained the reasoning behind the schools demanding curriculum and structure, tying it to the college’s core mission. Art Center “was founded not as an atelier but for industry, to listen to what client’s want,” she said. Translation: the school educates and helps students transition into the job world.

An example of the school’s strength is their Transportation Design program, which is constantly ranked #1 internationally. That stellar rating is reflected in the fact that every major automotive manufacturer has had an Art Center alum as a design chief or leader. Think about that; every major automotive manufacturer.

Class time

Beyond transportation, Art Center has 10 other undergraduate programs leading to BFA or BS degrees. Students are guided and challenged by approximately 400 faculty members, most of whom are also working artists. Classes are taught on the semester – or term – system, with three terms per year. A completed degree is based on eight terms, which means that students can graduate in fewer than three years. Most don’t though, typically taking 4–6 years to complete their education. There is no foundation year here, meaning students must be focused when they begin, but they’ll get to spend more time dedicated to their majors.

The smartly and strategically structured Illustration Department is the largest on campus. Five tracks exist within the department, directing students towards entertainment arts, motion, design, fine arts, or surface design. Each has a unique focus, requiring a different set of skills to work in their respective industries.

One of the hottest new majors trending across the country right now is Interaction Design, and Art Center has it. New due to our tech-focused world, it’s the study of apps and interfaces.

model shop projects 2

End-of-year model shop projects

Beyond the Ellwood building and adjacent Sinclair Pavilion for relaxation, there isn’t much else to this campus, reinforcing the focus on creating art. Students live down the hill, in off-campus apartments. A short drive away is South Campus, where Fine Art and Illustration students study, alongside graduate and community programs. The school’s long-range plan includes building dorms there in three years.

Art Center is not for the indecisive or inexperienced. Applicants already have a defined proficiency and a sense of direction. Prospective students apply directly into a major. The college accepts students on a rolling basis with just a few admissions deadlines.

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How Can A Dorm Influence Fit?

SVA dorm room

SVA dorm room

I often write and talk about fit; encouraging families to find colleges that have the right blend of academics, environment, and community to meet their needs. Cost, distance from home, and comfort need to be included as well. The key is to weigh all of these – mostly tangible – elements until you come up with the place that just feels right. That’s logic transitioning into a gut instinct.

Just as fit is important to you, it’s also important to college administrators and professors. They want students who fit what they’re teaching, in the way they’re teaching it. They want contented, energetic and engaged students to walk their hallways.

So how do you find your fit and how do colleges find theirs? As I stated, numerous factors combine to create the best fit. We’ve discussed many of them at Art.College.Life., and will continue to do so. But today I’m gravitating towards comfort and what creates that “feels like home” sensation. Blame it on “back-to-school” season, and the catalogs from Target, The Container Store, and Bed, Bath & Beyond that have stuffed my mailbox…

SAIC dormitory studio space

SAIC dormitory studio space

Comfort comes in many forms. One way to experience it on campus is in dorm living. You may scoff at the idea that a college dormitory can influence college choice, but the reality is we’re all comfort-seeking creatures. Institutions work hard to create environments so students can envision themselves on campus. If the design, proximity, or offerings of a residence hall can help, that college is one step closer to creating a good fit. Naturally, spruced-up dorms are coveted. Most that exist still have cinder block walls, bunk beds, and showers down the hall, but that doesn’t mean they’re unhappy places. Plenty of great friendships continue to be built and great careers continue to be launched in new and old dorms alike.

I wrote about Cleveland Institute of Art’s new freshmen-only dormitory last month. Also new this year is Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design’s (MIAD) apartment-style residence hall, directly across the street from the college’s main academic building. This multi-use facility houses 75 fully furnished, two-bedroom suites and has 5,780 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. The new apartments offer the latest in amenities; a wide-screen TV, a fully equipped kitchen and living room, and a bathroom attached to each bedroom. Best of all, students will be able to display their work inside and outside the building.

For art students, design and display space inside their dorm is a coveted feature. So is close proximity to on-campus studio space, especially in environments with inclement winter weather. It’s not like when I attended college, lugging portfolios across campus, then on the bus, in the rain; but that’s another story for another day.

From personal experience I can say that creature comforts can be found in any style dorm or living environment. Of course, it’s the people and friendships that make it memorable. But it doesn’t hurt to have accessibility and the latest offerings either. Whether your student is moving into a new residence hall or an old and well-loved dormitory, make sure you take the time to see what each campus offers. Even those that have been well-loved can check the box to ensure a good fit.

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Cleveland Institute of Art: Small and Mighty

If you’re a basketball fan or looking forward to the next Republican National Convention, you already know that Cleveland has been headlining the news lately. For those unaware, LeBron James and the Republicans have each chosen the city to play an important role in their futures. Art students should consider it as well. I toured the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) early this spring, and can tell you that even on a rainy day the sparkle of this small art college was obvious. The institution is perfectly located among some of the city’s greatest cultural icons and uses them to its advantage. Neighbors like the Cleveland Art Museum, Severance Hall, and the Museum of Contemporary Art act as natural extensions of the CIA campus, offering its 570 undergraduates a lot more than what first meets the eye.

CIA student work

CIA student work

The college’s tag line is “Creativity Matters.” Clearly they take this principle seriously, for it’s at the core of the integrated opportunities available here. Students begin with a typical foundations year. During spring semester they prepare a portfolio and apply to a major. Then the fun really begins! Offerings include a full spectrum of fine art and design majors, each with its own creative possibilities. Consider Industrial Design (ID): CIA ID students have the opportunity to explore real world opportunities with Engineering and Computer Science majors of neighboring Case Western Reserve University (Case). Through Case’s think[box], students from diverse backgrounds come together to design, develop, and potentially commercialize their ideas. This is cross fertilization and creativity at its finest! Not interested in ID, but want to reach beyond your art courses? No problem; all CIA students can take Case classes – up to two per year at no additional cost.

Another blended opportunity is Biomedical Art (Biomed). One of only two undergraduate programs in the country, CIA’s Biomed major combines illustration and digital media with biology, anatomy, and histology. As preparation for future careers in botanical or medical fields Biomed students get up close and personal at the nearby Museum of Natural History and Cleveland Botanical Garden, and observe procedures at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Biomedical Art senior project: Melissa Logies

Biomedical Art senior project: Melissa Logies

Classes and studio space are pretty equally divided between the Gund and McCullough buildings, about a 10-minute walk from each other. Come fall of 2015 that will change, as a “new Gund” is currently under construction next door to McCullough. Students will benefit from new, roomier studio space and easier access to classes.

Another capital improvement is the Uptown Residence Hall, opening this fall. It’s a freshmen only dorm, of two-bedroom, two-bath suites. The good news: each suite is equipped with full drawing tables. The bad news: having your own bathroom means you get to clean it yourself. Upperclassmen have the benefit of their own studios on campus, so their living quarters don’t have a separate drawing area. The college’s dining plan is hosted at Case, and offers options to include purchases at restaurants and grocery stores in the University Circle neighborhood.

CIA is situated in a thriving, energetic neighborhood, and offers a creative environment for students to study and explore. I’d suggest heading to northern Ohio to explore it for yourself.

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