Art Colleges

Many people think of college as a place to learn more about highly technical subjects such as engineering and computer science. While it’s true that people interested in these professions require extensive post-secondary education, the college experience also benefits students interested in art. Art colleges give students a chance to develop their natural gifts, whether focused on drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, or multimedia design. Art colleges also offer assistance in creating a portfolio, finding internships, and getting a job after graduation.

Art school graduates go on to become:

  • Craft artists who create art to be sold to private buyers or exhibited in galleries
  • Art directors and graphic designers who oversee the creation of art and layouts for magazines, newspapers, websites, books, and other publications
  • Multimedia animators and illustrators who create artwork for movies, television shows, and video games
  • Museum curators, art historians, and painting restorers who work to preserve fine art so it can be enjoyed by the public for many years to come
  • Teachers who help students develop their own artistic abilities
  • Art therapists who use their knowledge of the creative process to help people with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities overcome their unique challenges

Applying to Art Colleges

Art colleges can either be a department within a traditional college or independent schools of art and design. Majoring in art at a traditional college lets a student complete a wide array of general education classes to receive a broad liberal arts education. Attending an independent school of art and design results in a greater focus on time spent creating in the studio. Financial aid is available for students at both types of schools, as long as the college has the proper accreditation.

To be admitted to art school, students must possess the following qualities:

  • Talent – Art colleges can teach the fundamentals of how to create art, but students must still have a great deal of natural ability. Talent is typically measured by submitting a portfolio of work when applying for admission to the program. Portfolios usually include 10 to 20 samples of artwork covering a wide range of styles and media.
  • Creativity – Artists must be creative thinkers who are capable of coming up with original ways to express their feelings and thoughts. An artist must be able to interpret what he sees in order to convey a specific message to his audience. Your instincts can be refined in art school, but general creativity is often thought of as a natural gift.
  • Motivation – Becoming a great artist takes years of practice. Art colleges want to admit students who understand that they must work hard to develop their gifts. If you expect to only work when you feel inspired and not willing to listen to constructive criticism, you are unlikely to fully benefit from the experience of attending art school.
  • Passion – Artists must be passionate about their work. Many artistic careers do not pay very well, and artists who exhibit work in a studio environment often encounter critics who can be very harsh. Without passion for their work, it’s easy for artists to become discouraged.

Degree Types


Students interested in attending art colleges can earn an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. Associate degrees provide training for a very specific profession, such as becoming a portrait photographer. Bachelor’s degrees tend to offer a more extensive education that enables a student to seek positions in a wide array of artistic fields. Master’s and doctorate degrees are primarily intended for people interested in careers in academia that involve either teaching art at the post-secondary level or conducting scholarly research into various art history topics.

Credits earned for an associate degree will often transfer towards a bachelor’s degree. You must have a bachelor’s degree to apply to a master’s degree program. Art colleges will accept either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree as preparation for a doctoral degree program, but students who only have a bachelor’s degree will need to earn their master’s degree before they are awarded a PhD.

The Value of a Campus Visit

Attending art school requires a significant investment of both time and money, so this decision should not be made lightly. The Internet can be a great resource when searching for art colleges, but nothing compares to the value of a campus visit. Getting a chance to tour a campus, observe professors teaching classes, and speaking to current students will tell you much more about a program than you’ll ever be able to learn online. There is no “one size fits all” art college; only you can decide which program best fits your personal needs.

Art Curriculum

When investigating your post-secondary education options, don’t assume that all art colleges offer the same basic curriculum. If you major in art at a traditional college or university, you’ll have to complete your school’s general education requirements in English, history, science, and mathematics in addition to your studio art courses. If you attend an independent school of art and design, you’ll focus more on studio art classes and have little or no general education requirements.

Some colleges provide a general plan of study that is intended to give the student a broad background in all areas of studio art. Others allow students to choose one area of specialization, such as graphic design or illustration. At independent schools of art and design, students might even be allowed to declare one specific major within the art field.

Is it better to receive a general education in the fundamentals of art or to specialize in one particular area? This is a question with no easy answer. Since the competition for art jobs can be intense, declaring a specialization or a major in an area like animation or website design might give you a leg up on your fellow job hunters. However, there is still something to be said for flexibility. Art college graduates often end up in careers that are not exactly what they had originally planned. For this reason, many professionals will argue that developing transferable skills such as creative thinking and problem- solving ability is the best approach. If you are concerned about developing a strong portfolio for your post-graduation job search, you can gain work samples by completing internships or seeking freelance assignments.


Art colleges with a major in illustration hope to teach students how to create original artwork that conveys a predetermined set of facts, ideas, emotions, or feelings. Illustrators are artists who create designs for children’s books, greeting cards, comic books, calendars, and other specialty products. Some illustrators, especially those who also have a background in science or engineering, create technical illustrations for textbooks, academic journals, or software documentation.

Most art college classes that focus on illustration will provide the opportunity for hands-on exercises demonstrating specific concepts. In addition to being a teaching tool, this approach will help you build the portfolio you’ll need for your post-graduation job search. Some of the courses you might take as an illustration major include:

  • Illustration Concepts
  • Photography for Illustrators
  • Typography for Illustrators
  • Cinematic Storytelling
  • Comic Book Storytelling
  • Editorial Illustration

Since illustrators need to be able to create art in a variety of media, illustration courses will focus on traditional drawing and painting as well as creating computer-generated art. Proficiency in digital painting, image editing, and creating vector graphics is important for anyone interested in entering the illustration field.

Most art colleges offer the chance for students to gain internship experience in the illustration field during their junior or senior year. At the Academy of Art University, for example, students may be able to intern with companies such as DreamWorks, Lucas Arts, Marvel Comics, American Greetings, or Simon and Schuster.

Graphic Design

Graphic design is one of the most common majors for students attending art colleges in the United States. Graphic designers are professionals who use their artistic skills to create visual solutions for specific problems. Designers may design logos, magazine advertisements, brochures, invitations, or product packaging for major companies such as Apple, Nike, Williams Sonoma, or Martha Stewart Living.

In some colleges, graphic design is considered a division of the department of applied arts to distinguish it from other majors in the fine arts. A graphic design major may also be known as design and visual communications.

The instructors for graphic design courses are typically professionals who have already spent many years working in the industry. Having the opportunity to learn from people who understand the business aspect of graphic design can give you a head start on your post-graduation job search.

Some of the courses you might take as a graphic design major include:

  • Typography
  • Branding
  • Print and Editorial Design
  • Information Design
  • Packaging Design

Majoring in graphic design can be enjoyable, but you should be aware that your classes won’t be all about arranging photos and blocks of type so they look “pretty” on the page. Graphic design courses provide plenty of opportunity to create work samples for your portfolio, but you will also be expected to devote time to studying issues such as communications theory, design history, and systems thinking. Understanding both theory and technique is necessary if you wish to be successful in the graphic design profession.

Website Design

The Internet is now a key source of information, entertainment, and commerce, so it’s not surprising that website design is a rapidly growing field of study at art colleges across the United States. Website designers are needed to design blogs, forums, social networking sites, information portals, and online retail stores.

Some of the classes you might take as a website design major include:

  • Visual Design and T
  • Photography and Imaging
  • Motion Graphics
  • Interactive Design and Development
  • Digital Audio
  • Digital Video
  • Hand-Coding HTML

One interesting aspect of website design is that the artist can’t simply create something that looks lovely. The Internet is interactive, which means a design needs to be easily understood by the people who visit the website. For example, a website designer who creates a breathtakingly beautiful site for a company selling shoes isn’t going to have a happy client if he discovers that customers can’t figure out how to get items into their shopping cart and complete the checkout process. Attractive graphics and eye- catching animation add visual appeal to a website, but they must be used wisely so as not to detract from the overall visitor experience.

Some art colleges offer a Media Arts major that includes courses in web design. However, this major may also incorporate coursework in film, radio, and television, as well as journalism and desktop publishing. Students who declare a major in media arts can expect to also receive a broader training in visual communication.

Fine Arts

A fine arts major is what most people think of when they picture students attending art college. Fine arts courses focus on developing a student’s skills in a particular art medium. Some of the classes you might take as a fine arts major include:

  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Ceramics
  • Drawing
  • Printmaking
  • Jewelry Design
  • Photography

In some schools, a fine arts major includes a strong art history component. If a school does not have a fine arts major, it may offer majors in specific media such as painting, ceramics, or printmaking.

It is common for art colleges offering a fine arts major to require students to complete a special senior thesis project before earning their degree. This is often a curated exhibition of work that is completed under the supervision of an experienced faculty member. The artwork is usually accompanied by a written thesis outlining the artist’s creative process and vision for the exhibition.

Fine Arts majors can seek employment as commissioned artists, art critics, or gallery owners. Some students who earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree may go on to graduate school to earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Having an MFA degree allows you to teach art courses at the college level.

Fashion Design

Fashion design is often seen as an attractive major for students at art colleges because it provides a real-world application for creative skills. A painting can be displayed in a gallery, but fashion designs can be seen wherever people gather together.

Fashion design majors can become fashion designers, pattern makers, or product managers for companies like Marc Jacobs, Adidas, or Abercrombie & Fitch. Some may use their training to become stylists or wardrobe consultants.

Fashion design coursework can include areas such as:

  • Design and Drawing
  • Tailoring
  • Cutting and Sewing
  • Knitwear Design
  • Textile Design
  • Fashion Merchandising and Marketing
  • Fashion Journalism
  • The History of Fashion Design

When studying fashion design, you can expect to be asked to create designs for a wide range of tastes. Although many students who are attracted to fashion design imagine themselves creating clothing showcased in magazines like Vogue or Elle, most fashion design graduates will end up creating work for the general public. Knowing how to make designs that appeal to average men, women, and children is an important skill for anyone interested in this competitive career field.

In many programs, fashion design majors must complete a senior showcase of their work before earning their degree. This often involves taking part in a school-sponsored fashion show with a collection of your original designs. At some art colleges, the senior show is attended by recruiters from top fashion companies.