In the end, you’re the one who chooses your own art school. Regardless of what any number of art school ranking lists and guidebooks floating around out there will tell you, the final decision rests in your own hands. What a certain college does for your best friend’s older brother might not appeal to you, and your boss’s or parent’s advice might not prove a good fit. So how do you judge whether an art college is the right one for you? Here are some criteria to consider while you make your decision.
Big or small? 4,000 or 400 in your graduating year? Or perhaps you’d prefer a class of one, in your own bedroom while taking an online art class? Size is one of the most important factors for a student first beginning their art college search, because the experience at a large, bustling university and a small, cozy one are completely different. It’s up to you to decide which one suits your personality.
The main focus of going to an art school is, of course, the invaluable education you’re looking to receive. The people who teach you will shape your perspectives and your artistic techniques, so get to know a little about them. The best professors will have published articles or had their own artwork exhibited or been asked to speak at a conference, so researching them should yield a general idea of the faculty teaching at your college. However, don’t just take a big name at face value—you also need to weigh in factors such as the faculty-student ratio and how often teaching assistants step in to take over a class. Even if your professor heads the most distinguished oil painting society in America, that won’t be of use to you if she’s always too busy traveling to teach your gigantic class of 500.
Your fellow art students will, in many ways, define your art school experience. It’s inarguable that each school has its own unique atmosphere, an inimitable mix of people from various backgrounds that blend together to form the student body. Reviews and word of mouth can only tell you so much in this case; the best way to get a feel for the other students is to visit schools personally.
The facilities available to you are absolutely crucial to an art student. Every art college will have a general studio, but depending on your intended major, you may need far more. Photographers, for example, might want a student-accessible dark room, film majors would salivate over an on-campus, student-run theater with a working projector, and fashion design students require sewing machines and textile storerooms aplenty. Take an in-depth look into what sorts of studios, auditoriums, and other facilities your art college has to offer you—the supplies, the locations, the sizes, the hours they stay open.
Facilities are more than just the buildings erected on campus. As an art student who is constantly taking creative cues from the environment around you, you also need to consider the broader context of your campus. What’s the weather like for most of the year? If you’re an aspiring plein air painter, you might be drawn in by a college with beautiful balmy weather or one that has a plethora of glass-enclosed balconies to work on. Is your campus smack in the middle of a bustling downtown center or nestled among the hills in a picturesque but lonely countryside? If you’re an urban photographer who likes to walk the streets for subjects, you’ll gravitate towards the first rather than the second. Art students need to be choosy.
Consider the history behind your art school of choice. Older art schools often have the benefit of experience and run a smoother operation, yet conversely, newer ones may lure you in with their more liberal ideas and fresher ways of thinking, always a plus in the art world. Do a bit of research into your own art college’s background and the associations that its name carries.
While not a factor for everyone, some students dream of painting the canals of Venice or snapping shots of street life in Singapore. You might be interested in looking at the study abroad options that your art school has to offer: which countries are available, what partner schools they’re affiliated with, how long the sessions last, whether the cost of your tuition will change. Seeing the world, expanding your horizons, inspiring yourself and giving your creativity a new jolt—studying abroad can be a transforming experience for the still-budding artist.
Connections, connections, connections. Some people will argue that that’s what college is really for: getting to know the right people so that when you leave, you’ll be set. While that cutthroat philosophy is debatable, it’s true that many art students worry about where they’ll end up after graduation and what their degree can do for them. With that thought in mind, you might want to look up a few statistics about your art school, such as how easily graduates find jobs, which professions and companies they move into, and whether there are job fairs and affiliated companies that take an interest in students from your college.
It won’t affect the way you go about your campus life, but a background check on your desired art school’s accreditation is mandatory. It’s helpful to do this first, because without accreditation, your school’s credibility falls, and with it, your own degree’s credibility. Accreditation is a mark of quality that changes the very nature of an art college—whether students are eligible for financial, if credits are accepted by other institutions—and should remain high on the list for any curious student.
These categories are just a few broad areas to keep in mind when narrowing your search focus. No one alone will make or break or decision, and ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which is the most important. Of course all aspiring artists dream of getting their education at the “perfect” college, and indeed there are many who find one that fits them like a glove. You might find that you have to make some compromises, however, sacrificing that sunlit 24-hour dorm studio for this professor that you’ve always admired. The search process can be both exciting and painful, so let us help you get started!