Location, Location, Location

LA palm treesWhere you attend college can have a huge impact on your education.  Are you looking for a small town or urban environment?  Want to be close to mom and dad, or far from them – on the other side of the country.  Wherever you choose to attend school will affect your experience.

But think farther down the road.  Where will you live as a productive artist after graduation?  That’s a tougher question to answer – but one to keep in mind as well.  Whether you find work after receiving a Bachelor’s degree or after completing a Master’s, if art is your world I’d suggest considering schools in the two biggest artistic scenes in the country; namely Los Angeles and New York City.

Connecting with your local art scene is a road to a broader perspective through show opportunities, contacts with other artists and prospective business resources, and just exposure to stuff going on.  You’ll gain from engaging with any city’s art’s community.  However, because of the size and diversity of LA and NYC, you’ll be ahead of the curve if you pursue your BFA or MFA in one of them.

Want to find out more?  Here are a few sources I enjoy to find out what’s going on:

Bill Bush and others post weekly as part of The Huffington Post’s Los Angeles Art Scene coverage.  LA Confidential focuses on the city’s changing art dynamic.  And the Los Angeles Times covers it all – including Hollywood.

For New York, keep up with New York Magazine’s art section, look into the blog NYC Art Scene for interesting exhibits and events taking place in the city, and don’t miss the New York Times Arts Beat blog.

NY taxicabsIn both cities you’ll find large and small programs to suit your needs.  Pratt, UCLA, California Institute of the Arts, and NYU are just the first that come to mind.  Then comes the easy part (ha!).  Do you prefer sunshine and beaches or Broadway and Times Square?

Tools You Can Use

English: The main building of the School of Vi...

School of Visual Arts, New York City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new website exclusively devoted to college graduation rates.  College Completion, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is designed to provide comparative graduation results for institutions across the country.  Since I seldom find national rankings and listings that let me easily compare art schools, I was delighted to stumble across this site.

Organizationally, the site sorts schools as public, private, community colleges or for-profit institutions.  Data for individual institutions breaks out graduation rates by ethnicity and gender, identifies estimated spending per pupil, and also compares graduation rates, median SAT scores and student aid with a list of peer institutions.

The hiccups for those seeking information about art programs are two-fold.  First, if your intent is to include public schools in your comparison, you won’t be able to do it accurately here.  This site compares campuses as a whole.  The University of Michigan School of Art & Design is not broken out from general U of M statistics.  You’ll have to do that comparison manually, on your own.

The second hiccup is the site’s natural list of peer institutions.  It lists Monroe College and DeVry as top peers for The School of Visual Arts (SVA).  All three are private and for-profit institutions, but only SVA is known for its art program.  Also, the site doesn’t recognize all art schools; I couldn’t find Parsons.

Now comes the good news: the site does provide a custom field for comparing schools of your choice.  It took a little work to get my comparisons, but the process was pretty straight-forward.  I created a graph of six art schools in California.   Tools you can use - comparative chart - 6 california schools -lgThe result illustrates graduation rates for a 6-year and a 4-year period, the overall percentage of students who graduate, school spending per student, financial aid per student, and the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants.  A very useful tool if you’re intention is an art school in California.


So why should you care about graduation rates?  The bottom line answer is finances – the college’s and yours.  High graduation rates speak to the support you’ll feel as a student – academically, financially and in your private life.  Plus, they have a direct relation to your economic success.  College graduates are more likely to obtain a higher paying job and have financial security.  That bodes well for the community as a whole and for the future of the institution, since alumni usually support their alma mater in one way or another.   Knowing that art students frequently take longer than the traditional four years to graduate, the four and six year rates provide added information for budgetary planning.

AP Scores: From The Inside Looking Out

In an earlier post I discussed AP Art History and AP Studio Art courses from the student perspective; whether or not you should take them, and what you get out of them.  Since that writing I’ve had the chance to research and talk with several art and design program admissions counselors to get their perspectives on the value of APs.  What I’ve found are parallel yet varied viewpoints.  Each school sets its own value on AP courses and each has a nuanced reason for that applied value.

Those who accept AP course credits equate them to courses taken at another college; they’re categorized as transfer credits.  Each AP course taken translates into 3 – 5 credit hours (depending upon the institution) that you’ve already completed.  Depending upon the type of AP you take – studio or academic – you’ll need fewer credits in that area of study in college.



Each school has a maximum number of transfer credits allowed per student.  Most likely you won’t hit that limit. Take Maryland Institute College of Art for example.  For academic AP courses with a score of four or five, they’ll accept a maximum of nine transfer credits.  That’s equivalent to three academic electives.  AP Studio scores also need to be a four or five, and are only accepted for art electives.  The difference is there isn’t a limit on the quantity of AP Studio credits that are accepted.  From talking with Taryn Wolf, MICA Director of Admission, I learned that applicants often take different AP Studio courses multiple years in a row.  The benefit of taking all those studio courses?  Well, besides fine-tuning your craft, they’ll help you create a portfolio theme.  And as Taryn explained further, “our higher scholarship winners have a cohesive work portfolio, usually with a theme, idea or style running through their work.” AP Studio courses provide the chance to develop your consistent theme or style.  The opportunity to win a scholarship is an added bonus; reducing the cost of your college tuition.

Ringling College of Art + Design

Ringling College of Art + Design

I haven’t found any schools that will accept AP Studio coursework in place of Foundation classes.  At Ringling College of Art & Design students are required to take all their studio courses on campus as well.  Eric Kaster, Assistant Dean of Admissions, likes the focus and discipline students acquire from taking AP Studio courses.  “However,” he adds, “ours is a very structured and stair step curriculum, and students who become exempt from studio classes often are missing critical learning practices necessary to their success at Ringling.”  AP academic courses with a score of four or higher in English Language/Composition and English Literature/Composition are accepted for academic course replacement.  All other academic AP courses are accepted with a score of three or higher.

Columbus College of Art & Design

Columbus College of Art & Design

Columbus College of Art & Design requires an AP Studio test score of five to be considered for elective credit, and a three or higher for academic courses.  Admissions Counselor Mike Bonardi explains how the credits are applied.  “Within studio art AP credit is transferred to required electives and not directly to a particular class.  Academic AP credit is transferred over directly to a required course where applicable. Otherwise [the student] will be awarded three academic elective credits.”  Again, when it comes to AP Studio the emphasis is placed on the value received from taking the course.  “Even if they have not met the score requirement it gives them a leg up with portfolio requirements,” added Freshman Admissions Officer Thom Glick.

Last week I profiled California Institute of the ArtsCalifornia Institute of the Arts.  CalArts is a very different school.  It attracts students who – almost exclusively – want a future built more around the theory, definitions and relationships of art rather than its technical applications.  According to Admissions Counselor Brian Gershey, they are “more interested in the creative content of work done in an AP Studio course” and less interested in final AP scores, giving the student’s portfolio and its accompanying statement the most importance.  That doesn’t preclude students from obtaining credit for top AP Studio scores, but it speaks to the emphasis placed on them in admission decisions.

From my findings, those on the inside looking out believe AP courses are worthwhile.  The many benefits include gained knowledge, skills and focus while still in high school.  To an admissions counselor that translates into a mature student, ready for the challenges and opportunities college will bring.  Add to that the potential financial benefits that accompany AP work and it seems like an easy choice to me.

A Disney Reality

CalArts campus

Walt Disney is well known across the globe for his creativity and vision.  His name conjures up images of characters that have become lifelong friends, of memorable movies and of theme parks that we want to visit again and again and again.  A lesser-known success story of his, one that deserves more attention than it gets, is California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), a small interdisciplinary art school located in Santa Carlita, California, about a half hour north of downtown Los Angeles.

In 1961 Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded the institute as the first innovative, interdisciplinary art school in the country, where visual and performing artists would study side by side and collaborate when they wanted.  To this day the genius behind the CalArts experiment is still thriving; giving artists the laboratory to learn from each other, integrate their art, and push their own study and medium beyond what is commonplace.

The school attracts and enrolls those who are self-motivated and already practicing what they want to do.  According to Admissions Counselor, Brian Gershey, “they’re open and curious-minded.  They’re interested in making personal work, experimentally, and want to be innovative, not just develop technical skills.”  With the exception of some animators, all students are conceptual artists.  That’s what I like to call creating “art, for art’s sake.”

Clearly, CalArts is not your typical art school.  It’s a fairly intellectual and cerebral place with a focus towards innovation.  There are no traditional foundation courses and students are encouraged to take risks.  Undergraduates come to campus already knowing how to create art – here they’re challenged to stretch and re-imagine it.

When I first learned about the school I mistakenly thought it didn’t have much structure.  Not so.  Varying by major, students are required to take a specific number of liberal arts courses, general studies courses (Critical Studies), and electives.  According to Stuart Frolick, CalArts Director of Print & Electronic Communications, “the structure is designed to give students freedom … to explore and develop their own creative voices.”

The campus houses six separate and rigorous schools: Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music and Theater.  Within the School of Art, theory and art history are incorporated into other coursework.  Sophomore year includes independent study, feeling more like a graduate program.

Undergraduate coursework leads to a BFA.  MFAs and doctorate degrees (Doctor of Musical Arts in the Performer–Composer Program in the Herb Alpert School of Music only) are also available.  Application requirements for individual programs include a portfolio of current work along with an artist statement addressing your influences, interests and current artistic direction.  Artistic submissions should be personal work not class assignments.  High school students need to take their academics seriously, however the school has no minimum GPA.  Faculty members are primary decision makers when it comes to accepting applicants into the programs.  They want to see what motivates and inspires you, and how you represent those interests artistically.  Tuition for the 2013-2014 academic year is $39,976.