Spring Break Tours – Time To Get Started

Otis College of Art & Design

Otis College of Art & Design

Winter is hanging on, but warmer days will be here soon. Spring break means students can enjoy time away from classes. For moms and dads it offers an opportunity to explore college campuses with your teen.

So how do you start the “tour” process? Which campuses do you visit first? The answer is simpler than you think. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal here is to help your student begin to determine the best place for his or her future. That means your first objective is to help him differentiate one place from another. I like to begin by categorizing the size of each institution: small liberal arts college, large research university, art college.

Does your child like to feel part of a big crowd? Or do you think he needs a more intimate setting to fit in? The good news is there are options available at both ends of this spectrum, and many places in between.

At the suggestion of our high school’s college counselor (thank you Stephanie!), we took a road trip during my oldest son’s sophomore spring break. Our objective was to visit three different colleges, one small, one medium, and one large – kind of like Goldilocks. We also focused on different settings and ended up touring a large research university, a liberal arts college in a suburban setting, and a smaller college in the center of the city.

Ohio State University

Ohio State University

Our tours turned out to be great kick-starters for our college conversations at home, and helped us all begin to envision the best post-secondary environment for our teen. And, once he started narrowing down what he wanted, we then knew where our next campus tours would take place.

There is no substitute for walking around a college to get a true feel for campus life. But visiting numerous colleges can be time consuming and expensive. It’s best to tour when classes are in session, but that often conflicts with high school schedules. And visiting institutions across the country might seem like a waste of money, especially before applications have been submitted. For these reasons I’d make sure to check each campus’s website and take a virtual tour. Most, if not all, colleges offer them. They might even influence your next road trip.

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3 Resources Close To Home

colored pastels 2It starts in high school, or even middle school; that panicky feeling parents get as they consider their teen’s future. What college will my child attend? What will she study? What type of career can it lead to? And – here’s where the panic kicks in – how do I help him find the right place?

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 know where to start, and didn’t know which questions would help move me forward instead of just adding to the panic.

With that in mind, here are three places you can begin your own research. They’re simple, easily accessible, and right under your nose.

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’ll offer specific college suggestions based on your child’s strengths and interests, provide advice on grade point averages and standardized tests, and assist with the quagmire that is today’s application process.

2. High School Art Teacher

Your high school art teachers are tour guides for your child’s artistic exploration. They introduce students to the basic principles of art and design, and expand their comprehension of the subject by engaging students with a diverse variety of artistic styles, artists, and media. As up close observers they’ll assess your child’s artistic skills, guide for strengths, and make suggestions in the form of medium, career, and even school choices.

3. Neighbors

If you have children 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 their own experiences and offer up personal tidbits that you might not have heard of otherwise. Most importantly – for that panicky feeling – they’ve survived the process, and lived to talk about it.

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 the best college fit, start talking. Even asking “where do I begin?” or “how did you begin?” will get you going. After you’ve started these conversations I’d suggest you start checking out some colleges, but we can talk about that next week.

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Faculty

Im in love with an art professor iphone caseLet’s be honest; when it comes to the list of things that will influence your college selection the professors on campus probably won’t be near the top. You’ll consider which programs are taught, cost, location, the prestige of the college, and the comfortable feeling you get on campus. And you should. Maybe, somewhere near the bottom of the list might be – “how good is the faculty?”

I’m here to suggest you move them higher up your list. Why? Your college professors have a lot to do with your future. They’ll probably become the most influential people in your artistic college life. The challenges they put in front of you will guide and shape your creative development. They’ll motivate and mentor you; shaping the direction your art takes. Some will help you find future jobs – and your career path. Others will become friends.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to assess which ones are the best, and which ones you’ll connect with before classes begin. So, what to do? The good people at Design Intelligence (DI) have done some of the work for you. As in previous years, the DI staff, with input from “thousands of design professionals, academic department heads, and students,” has created a list of the 30 Most Admired Educators of 2014. The list includes educators and administrators working in architecture, industrial design, interior design, and landscape architecture. Of note; 80% on the list work at public institutions.

Other online searches should begin with each college’s website. Whether illustration or fashion design is your passion, research the faculty members. Google them. Look at their bios. Do any have experience in an area of interest to you? Check out their work. Other resources to consider include Rate My Professors and College Prowler. The former does just what its name implies, with the ratings and comments coming from current and former students. College Prowler offers even more detailed information.

My favorite suggestion for finding out about a specific college applies here as well; visit campus. In addition to all the other benefits you’ll gain, you can make an appointment to meet with a professor or sit in on a class to see how they really operate.

Sad but true, when it comes to professors, there will always be the good, the bad, and those who should have retired already. But, by spending time researching the faculty members at your choice colleges, you’ll gain a better overall understanding of each institution, and you’ll have a better chance of finding your best college fit.

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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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SAIC: A Clear Mission

fvnma_taping2 from SAIC websiteEvery institution of higher education has its own mission; a singular statement of purpose that speaks to their raison d’être, or reason for existence. How they interpret that mission, and deliver their educational objectives to their students is what intrigues me. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, SAIC, follows their own path. And, as a consistently top-ranked art college they must be doing something right.

Here are some distinct, core characteristics that caught my eye:

  • SAIC believes in exploration. That’s why their students don’t declare majors. They choose to focus their studies in one area or create their own concentration from among 18 intermingled departments. If graphic novels and critical studies are a passion, combine them here. If writing and fashion design is your preference, that’s possible too. Students are encouraged to stretch and experiment across disciplines. The sky’s the limit.
  • Art is subjective. You know that, I know that, and so does SAIC. That’s why their students are graded on a credit/no credit basis. The college utilizes frequent critiques and portfolio development to help build independent, creative thinkers in its studio courses. A strict class attendance policy ensures focus and participation.
  • logo -Right from the start freshmen at SAIC jump in with both feet. The college’s rigorous program is comprised of 16.5 credit hours the first semester and 15 the second. Students gain an “overview of surface, space and time, and how they interplay and connect with each other in year-long Core Studies and Research Studies classes,” explained Andrea Tarry, Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions. A complementary, one semester course, Wired, teaches students how to use their computers as artistic and design tools. Additional requirements are English First Year Seminar, Art History Survey, and a studio elective in a department of their choosing. “We want students to begin exploring their personal interests right away,” offered Alexander Zak, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions.
  • A new perspective is a good thing, and the school wants its students to see the world from different perspectives. So much so, that six credit hours of off-campus study are required for graduation. They could come in the form of a study abroad program, a co-op internship, a three-week study trip, or classes at another university. Inspiration is the goal here. Experiencing the world from varied vantage points will affect how you think, how you act, and how you create. Numerous scholarships are available to help pay for the experience.

 SAIC offers vast resources to its students and alumni, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here. I hope to explore more in the future, but in the meantime I’d suggest you go exploring yourself. Visit the Windy City. Get inspired and see what this creative institution has to offer.

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