Artists and students pursuing arts-related careers such as graphic design and architecture face two distinct choices when they are choosing their college routes, whether as undergraduate or graduate students: a dedicated art school or a traditional university with strong programs and/or departments in the arts. It’s a critical decision students must make, and many factors and variables will inform that decision.

Choosing a Traditional University

Of course, many universities have well-reputed departments in a broad range of programs, including those with very successful art departments. These schools offer a bit more of the social, practical and curricular college experience than art schools do, and they expose students to more people and experiences away from the arts, which can be valuable. These universities, however, often place the same emphasis on general academic work as they do on the arts, and they will also place less emphasis on studio work and classes than an art school will. Because the balance of studio work and emphasis on the arts varies from school to school, a student’s research will go a long way toward finding a good mix of general education coursework and studio work. 

Research these comprehensive universities with strong art departments::

University of California – Los Angeles

Yale University

University of Michigan

Virginia Commonwealth University

Choosing an Art School

Art schools are dedicated to the visual arts and design, exclusively. A student’s workload will lean heavily toward studio classes, and opportunities to meet, learn from and be influenced by other artists will abound both in the course of academic life and in the community. As a result, these schools are also very competitive for applicants! And a different college experience is provided by art schools: Many art schools have limited or no on-campus living; and opportunities to learn from and be inspired by teachers and others away from the arts can be severely limited as well. A student considering an art school or art institute should look at the big picture of his or her needs and expectations. 

Research these art schools and art institutes:

Rhode Island School of Design

Savannah College of Art and Design

California College of the Arts

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Parsons New School for Design

Choosing a Traditional University with an Art School Attached

There is a third category that can bridge the two: a traditional university with an art school attached. The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, is an example. These institutions provide students with the focus and opportunities of an art school as well as more of the social aspects of a traditional university. These types of programs are best for students prepared to balance a rigorous studio program with greater academic responsibilities than they would encounter in an art school.

Research these art schools attached to traditional universities:

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University

Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University

The College of Art and Design at Lesley University

No Right or Wrong Answer

For some students, the total immersion in the arts that they will find at an art institute is exactly what they need and what will serve them best. For others, an education that is varied and well-rounded socially, academically, or both is the best fit. It’s just as important to consider what is offered by particular schools as it is to know exactly what will work for you. It’s an important decision: knowing what you need and where you can get it is vital.

About the author

Grace received a BFA from Tufts University and specializes in working with students interested in fine arts, visual arts, architecture and landscape architecture. Grace worked in admissions at Maine College of Art as well as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts, and is the director of an art gallery in Massachusetts, in addition to working with AcceptU students.

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