4 Resources To Kick-Start Your College Search

Painting, University of Maryland, College Park

It begins in high school or even middle school for that matter, that panicky feeling in the pit of a parent’s stomach when you envision your teen’s future. What college will my child attend? Where will he get in? What will she study? What type of career can an art major lead to? What will it cost? All of those concerns, circling around in your brain can definitely stir up unwanted anxiety and panic.

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 even know where to start and surely didn’t know which questions would help move me forward without generating more anxiety.

With that in mind, here are four smart and accessible resources to get your and your family started. It begins with conversations and asking questions – lots of questions.

  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 offer specific college suggestions based on your child’s academic strengths, provide advice on grade point averages and standardized tests, and help with transcripts, recommendation letters, and much more.

    Wood shop, Carnegie Mellon University

  1. High School Art Teachers  Your high school art teachers are tour guides for your child’s creative exploration. They introduce teens to the basic principles of art and design and expand each student’s comprehension of the visual arts by familiarizing them with a diverse variety of artists, artistic styles, and media. As up-close observers, they assess your child’s creative skills, guide for strengths, and make suggestions for the future.
  1. Neighbors  If you have teens 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 on their own experiences and offer up personal tidbits that you might not have heard of otherwise.
  1. Foley sound recording room, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film

    Art College Advisors  Yes, I’m tooting my own horn here, but I hope you’ll hear me out. Visual arts college consultants focus on the visual arts, period. We’re the ones engaging specifically with art colleges and with art and design programs across the country. We make it our business to learn the specifics about which program is top at which institution and the nuances that accompany each. And, because of our focus, we have a better understanding of what programs look for in future students. Gaining guidance in the details of course and portfolio prep, learning about the value each type of art program provides, and obtaining an understanding of future career opportunities won’t completely remove all that pre-college anxiety, but having a guide through the college search process will help you identify which path to traverse and help your teen find her best college fit.

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 their best college fit, start talking. Even asking, “where do I begin?” or “how did you begin?” will get you going.

What’s the Value of a Summer Tour?

The short answer is PLENTY!

Summer has most of us dreaming of “me time.” Of lazy days spent sleeping late and staying up late, with nothing but choice relaxation in between. Hanging out at a beach with toes firmly planted in the sand would be my heaven.

But reality dictates that summer should be put to practical use too. If you’re the parent of a high school teenager that means college tours should be high on your radar. It’s a great way to spend family time together and to generate ideas of where your teen wants to spend four years following high school.

Here’s a post I wrote about Summer Tours that links to other reliable resources. The thoughts and recommendations are still very applicable today.

Denison University: A Liberal Arts Take on the Arts

Goldilocks knew what she wanted; it wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too small. “Just right” for her was in the middle. Many young artists and their families are searching for that same middle ground. Typically they find it at a liberal arts college. Size is important, but mostly what sways them is the one-on-one learning combined with the opportunity to integrate across the arts and sciences.

If that combination is what you and your teen are searching for, make sure Denison University is on your list. It’s one of the top liberal arts colleges in Ohio. 

Combining art and politics

Quality education, diversity, and integration are what define this college. Varied perspectives are alive and well here. The culture and academic structure are built on a dedication to interdisciplinary education and the core value of developing independent thinkers. Students are exposed to new ideas from multiple perspectives across the campus. Examples include the requirement that all students take at least two art classes (no wonder I like it!) and the school’s Queer Studies major. Quantitative understanding, power and privilege, and writing are the lenses through which all subjects are viewed.

There are approximately 80 students working towards a BA or a BFA in Studio Art, with an average class size of 18. The curriculum is purposely planned to build confidence. Students work individually and collaboratively, finding their own voices and communicating their own unique ideas along the way. The liberal arts setting requires they include oral and written expression as well.

(Denison University)

BA students frequently double major. Due to the emphasis placed on integrating ideas across departments, art and design students are encouraged to bring their creative viewpoints into their other classes. Consequently, each course becomes a learning lesson in how art and design affect the world – and vice versa. Common double majors include Studio Art with Communication, with Educational Studies, with Economics, and with Biology.

Those seeking a BFA apply into the program by the beginning of their junior year. Acceptance is dependent upon a presentation of the portfolio they created at Denison, along with an oral defense.

Seniors have their own studio space (Denison University)

Senior year is demanding. Students participate in a yearlong practicum, participate in a group show with juniors, and produce their own solo show with catalog and oral defense. The goal to develop self-reliant and independent artists seems to be working. Alumni are employed as designers, art educators, and architects, and those moving on to grad school have been accepted at top institutions across the country.

It’s clear that the Denison values the arts. At the January groundbreaking of the college’s new performing arts center University President Adam Weinberg affirmed that “more than 40 percent of Denison students participate in the arts in some way.” That includes literary, performing, and visual arts.

Bryant Arts Center, home of the Studio Arts program, was once the campus’s gymnasium, complete with swimming pool. Eight years ago this 45,000 square foot vertical facility was renovated into spacious and light-filled classroom, studio, and exhibition space, with obvious remnants of the building’s past.

(Denison University)

Study abroad opportunities are encouraged, but not before junior year. During sophomore year students begin working with the Off-Campus Study Center to locate the best options for their specific career and study goals.

Denison is located in the charming village of Granville, 35 miles from Columbus. Campus residency is required, which makes sense. It contributes to the tight-knit communal experience and the strong bond between students and faculty. Walking through Bryant Arts Center I felt I was on the set of “Cheers,” where everyone knew your name – well, at least the names of the professors and students passing by.

Last, but far from least to consider is the cost of attendance. Tuition for the Fall 2017 academic year is just under $50,000. But don’t be discouraged, Denison is committed to affordability and is known for the number of quality scholarships it offers. I hope you check it out.

How Artists Can Find a Meaningful Summer Experience

art-splattered-resumeBuilding a resume for college can seem overwhelming. Many parents become confused with the vast expectations put upon them and their college-bound teens. What should my teen focus on? Should she prioritize grades and test scores above all else? Should he allocate extra time to his art? What about extra-curricular activities, volunteering or work?

The seemingly endless questions could make you hyperventilate with anxiety but don’t. Taken one step at a time; there is value is each of these activities but it isn’t necessary for your teen to have them all. Admissions representatives repeatedly will tell you that grades, test scores, and a portfolio top the list. Yes, they want well-rounded teens who have been exposed to a variety of experiences, but they also favor students who are focused and purposeful in their endeavors and accomplishments.

With those confusing requirements in mind consider summer as an opportunity, a great time for your teen to further explore his passion for the visual arts while building his resume. Numerous summer opportunities exist for high school artists who want to explore their creative passions and expand their skill set while working, volunteering, or attending a pre-college program. Any of those experiences will positively impact a resume.

Pre-college Summer Programs

School of Visual Arts dorm room

School of Visual Arts dorm room

I’m a big fan of pre-college summer programs. They provide a wealth of opportunities. Teens typically live on campus, giving them a true taste of college life while they experiment with artistic approaches that are different from those they’ve practiced in high school classes. Instructors, who are working artists, can become mentors. More importantly, they provide a window into the real world of creative careers.

The downside to pre-college programs is that they fill up quickly. And, they can be expensive, at roughly $2,000-$6,000 for a two-to-eight week experience. Other options are available but will vary; mostly depending on which art form your teen is interested in pursuing.

Off-campus 

Disney's Fish Hooks

Disney’s Fish Hooks

So how does your teen prepare otherwise? For many majors the recommendation is the same, “draw, draw, draw.” Diana Lafyatis, children’s comedy director and writer for Nickelodeon’s Harvey Beaks and Disney’s Fish Hooks, and animation alum of the Art Center College of Design echoes that sentiment. “In animation, there is a heavy emphasis on drawing from life.” Her recommendation? “Bring along a sketchbook with you everywhere you go and continually draw the people and places you see.” It’s an excellent way to gain confidence in a skill set. The additional benefits are that many colleges encourage submitting sketchbooks as part of the portfolio application, and they want to see drawings specifically from observation not just what’s in your head.

Jaclyn Didas, RIT grad student

Jaclyn Didas, RIT grad student

Anne Holman, jeweler, and owner of The Smithery is a former college teacher herself. She’s experienced first hand how “translating a 2D drawing into a 3D piece of jewelry can be a challenge.” She suggests tapping into the programming at a local community center or even a local organization’s workshops in jewelry, sculpture, or 3D design to get over that hurdle.

Jane Lewis is a textile designer who began her craft drawing prints by hand but then quickly moved into digital design. Her recommendation for those serious about designing anything in print is two-fold. “Focus on your design and color skills in whatever medium you love – digital, watercolor, pastel, drawing, etc.” Then, if you don’t have the skill set already, make sure to learn graphic software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. “Even a base understanding of the tools in these programs will give you a huge leg up,” she added.

STACKED CUPS - WELLIE'S [Converted]Separate from making art, students can maximize their summer experiences learning about a specific field of interest. Examples include shadowing, interning, or volunteering. Students can reach out to intern at a local advertising agency, shadow a team at a fashion magazine, or approach an art gallery or photographer about volunteer work.

In-depth learning, experience, and exploration can be found via numerous avenues. Whether on campus or not, the idea is to focus on increased knowledge and skill development. At summer’s end, your teen will have a better understanding of future college and career goals, and she’ll have added one more thing to include in her resume.

An Artistic Success Story

I’m often fascinated by life’s journeys. The twists, turns, and road bumps that direct and redirect us often lead us exactly where we need to go. I’m especially drawn to the journeys of artists. Unfortunately, many people today still question whether artists have viable paths to career success.

The SmitheryAnne Holman and Jen Townsend are two artistic success stories merged into one. Their individual winding paths are full of life’s hiccups and misdirection, but those paths led them to CCAD and each other. The serendipity of it all has built a friendship, a business partnership, and The Smithery a unique and welcoming retail store, artist’s studio, and workshop in Columbus, Ohio. Clearly, they’ve landed in the right place at the right time.

I was fortunate to meet Anne and Jen earlier this summer, and learn their story of how they got to here and now. Each had a passion for making art growing up. And they each pursued a creative college education, but neither in the medium of metalsmithing that they’ve come to love. Anne combined studies of printmaking and sculpture into her own jewelry major before CCAD had one. Jen’s path included transferring from a regional state university where she wasn’t being artistically challenged.

The two met when Anne was a guest lecturer in Jen’s Studio Professions course. Anne’s suggestions for the different ways artists could make a living after college – including working in industry or selling at art and craft fairs – were spoken from personal experience. And they struck a chord with Jen.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Their paths crisscrossed a number of times again before they recognized a similar work ethic and began sharing studio space and a passion for creating a place where they could sell art, make art, and teach making. “We wanted it all in one space,” Jen explained. “To make stuff, teach, have our studio, sell, and support other people making things – all in one building.”

Timing is everything in life, and when Anne was trying to sell her handmade jewelry at an East Coast trade show in January of 2014 she turned her downtime into recruitment time, researching and networking with other artisans who could someday sell their handmade art at her dream store. With little personal business experience, the two found an out-of-town entrepreneurial business course for creatives, requiring weekly late night drives to Cincinnati. They wrote a savvy business plan and secured funding, then obtained a prime location for their creative endeavor, beating out other companies with solid reputations in competing for the same storefront.

The Smithery opened in October of 2014. “The idea all along was to open a place where we could showcase our own work and that of other artists,” Anne affirmed. And that’s just what they’ve done. Thanks to the relationships they’d built over time the store is filled with curated artwork representing artists at all different stages of their creative careers. The majority is jewelry, but it also includes textiles, ceramics, and hand-made prints. “A lot of these artists don’t sell in Ohio, many don’t sell in the Midwest, and some international artists don’t sell in the United States at all,” added Jen.

make artAnne explained that the part of making she enjoys most is having her “hands in the material.” Unfortunately, running a new business allows less time for that, although she and Jen do make time to design custom jewelry. Workshops seem to be the most fun because that’s when they can teach their craft to other burgeoning artists and get the next generation of designers excited about making.

Which brings things full circle. Art school taught them “the practicality of being in the studio every day and just making, making, making constantly; and realizing how much time goes into figuring things out,” explained Jen with excitement in her voice. That is where it came together for these two artists. I wonder where their paths will lead them next.

More information about The Smithery can be found on their website.