Art College Search Tips: Back to Basics

Glassblowing: University of Washington

Glassblowing: University of Washington

Starting the college search process for the aspiring artist in your family takes a leap of faith. There are so many details to consider that it’s often confusing to know when, where, and how to begin your teen’s search.

Let’s keep it simple. At the beginning, your main purpose is to expose your teen to a variety of choices. Open her eyes and let her see, feel, and imagine herself in different scenarios. Then, as decisions are made she’ll be able to narrow the field to what fits her – and your – needs and wants.

Begin your search by focusing on a limited number of factors. I’ve chosen three to get you going. They’ll provide focus when researching from home and when touring campuses. And the answers your teen and family come up with will guide and influence other decisions down the road. There is no sequence to these three. I recommend exploring them together to see what you come up with.

Ceramics: California College of the Arts

Ceramics: California College of the Arts

Major Decisions
Is illustration your daughter’s passion? Can she draw non-stop from her imagination? Perhaps she’d like to apply her talents to the world of animation. Most art campuses have cinematic majors these days, but many liberal arts colleges and universities may not. Translation: pay attention, because not all colleges offer every major. However, make sure you keep in mind this staggering statistic: according to the National Center for Education Statistics about 80% of students in the US end up changing their major at least once.

BA or BFA?   We know that different institutions offer different majors. They also provide different degree programs. The general rule of thumb is that 60% of study and class time will be spent on arts programming on the way to a Bachelor of Fine Arts. The other 40% will be spent on support courses and general studies. The reverse is true for a Bachelor of Arts. Those seeking a Bachelor of Design typically follow a ratio similar to a BFA.

Big Fish In A Little Pond    Is an art and design school what your teen is looking for, or would she prefer to integrate her studies within a broader liberal arts education? The former will have her learning and living with artists 24/7. That’s invigorating but may also feel limiting. At the latter, she’ll get to mix it up with STEM, English, philosophy majors and more. That can speak to artistic inspiration, cross-pollination, and a soft place to land if she decides art isn’t her field after all.

Just remember, there is no “right” answer to any of these questions.  There is only what’s right for your teen and your family. And, once your high schooler begins to discover her preferences other questions will develop, but she’ll be on her way to finding her best college fit.

Learn more about the college search for artists & designers on facebook and twitter.

Lessons I Learned In Art School

OTIS sophomore photography color project

OTIS sophomore photography color project

High school students face countless questions when choosing a college and career.  They often seem unanswerable, but they’re not.  The right answer is out there – you just might need to dig a while to find it.

Many questions circle around the idea of how an art degree will translate into a career.  Should you attend an art school? Or how about a more comprehensive education at a liberal arts school or a state university?  If you choose one of the latter two, can you still focus on your art?  Conversely, are you creating a problem for yourself if you choose an art school and later on decide not to pursue a career as an artist?

The short answer is that you can get an excellent art education at any of these institutions.  So here’s my take-away:  The skills you gain by studying art will help you in whatever career path you choose.

Have you heard of the saying “everything I learned, I learned in kindergarten?”  I might amend that to art school.  As an art major you’ll gain numerous invaluable skills (besides the artistic ones!) that are transferable into any field or career.

Here are my top four:

1 – Problem solving:  It’s plain and simple; as an art student most of your time will be spent solving problems.  They might not seem like it at the time, but you’ll constantly be making choices and decisions affecting the outcome of your art.  Through practice you’ll figure out the best way to break down a problem to its bare elements, and then piece it back together again.

2 – Working with others:  For group assignments, collaboration is key.  You’ll understand the true value of it as you learn from your classmates and depend on their strengths and timeliness, as they depend on yours.

3 – Time management:  Start with the large number of studio assignments you’ll have each week.  Then add in reading requirements and expectations for other classes.  Let’s just say you’ll gain a new appreciation for jugglers.

4 – Work ethic:  This encompasses a lot: your integrity and initiative, communication, a sense of responsibility toward others (and deadlines), and the quality you produce.  Are you putting your best efforts into it? Holding others up?  And yes, you will discard a completely acceptable creation because it’s not “right” for a whole slew of reasons, or you just know you can do better.

Once you’ve made the plunge enjoy your school choice.  You’ll find campus resources to help you sort out your career path.  At an art college you’ll have more dedicated faculty and staff focused towards your particular artistic journey.  Professors and those in the Career Services department make industry resources available, stay on top of industry needs, guide you towards internship placements, and will help you network with alumni.

Art majors go on to lead creative and culturally influential lives – in whatever fields they eventually pursue.  Artists end up working in the arts, sales, management, education, and healthcare – to name just a few.

Liberal Arts

View of the Art Building from the Quad, University of Washington

View of the Art Building from the Quad, University of Washington

One of the many choices facing high school art students is whether to pursue an art education at an art and design school or at a comprehensive liberal arts institution.  There are pros and cons to both.

Differences begin with time.  Typically art courses at an art and design school take up about 65% of your class time.  Liberal arts courses take up the balance, about 35%.  The reverse is typically true at a liberal arts college or research university.

I’m a bit biased.  I received a degree from the University of Washington, a wonderful and large state institution in Seattle.  (2012 enrollment is over 42,000.) I lived alongside math majors, musicians, social scientists and pre-med students.  Fraternities, sororities, “the game” and yucky dorm food were part of my everyday lexicon.  OK, you can get the yucky dorm food anywhere – but you get my point.  My exposure to the world was diverse and expansive, and I thrived.  I was fortunate to have a fellow art major living down the hall from me, but that was just luck.

As I’ve stated before, at an art and design college you’ll have the advantage of living with other artists 24/7.  That means all the students you interact with see the world creatively – like you do.  And, they’re all there to focus the balance of their efforts on their artistic endeavors – like you are.

Art and design schools typically align their liberal arts courses around an artistic focus.  Examples might include a science course focusing on anatomy, giving students a scientific understanding of the human body to help with figure drawing and sculpture courses.  At Cleveland Institute of Art College of Art and Design an English course focusing on ancient and medieval philosophy and culture complements a simultaneous course in ancient and medieval art history, tying art to thought in the Middle Ages.  Their philosophy in connecting their courses is simple; “in order to create, you need not only art and design skills, but also the ideas behind them.”

One last element to consider is cost.  The expense of four years at college has gone up for everyone – and no institution is immune.  Keeping that in mind, many state schools are still less expensive than private colleges.  If a private institution is your choice, pay close attention to scholarship opportunities and deadlines.  Applying for and winning them could bring down the cost of your education into the “doable” category.

Choosing An Art School: 3 Things To Consider

How do you know which art and design program is best for you?  The search for the right college or university can seem confusing and overwhelming.  There are so many schools to choose from and a wide variety of issues to consider.  Some will require a bit of research, others will be more instinctual for you.  Here is a list of the top three I think you should consider.

  1. Major Decisions    Is Digital Media your thing? Or perhaps Art History or Interior Design?  Not all colleges offer every major.  You’ll want to consider schools that offer the areas of study that peak your interest.
  2. BA or BFA    Again, this choice will narrow your list of schools.  Different institutions provide different programs.   A BFA will require more studio time.
  3. Big Fish In A Little Pond    Is an art and design school what you’re looking for or would you prefer to integrate your studies within a broader liberal arts education?  The former will have you learning and living with artists 24/7.  At the latter you’ll attend classes alongside math and English majors while you follow your artistic passions.

There is no “right” answer to any of these questions.  However, once you begin to answer them you’ll be on your way to finding the right college for you.