5 things you must do when applying to art colleges

Cut through the muddle with these great tips and tricks for prospective students at art colleges.

art colleges

So you've taken extensive art classes during high school, read the designer's guide to the golden ratio, maybe experimented with paper craft and perhaps even started to think about creating your design portfolio. Now that you feel ready to apply for art college, how do you start?

Remember, applying to art college is similar to applying to any other education institution. Here are five tips to help make applying for art colleges a little less daunting.

01. Do the research

Get into art colleges - research
Hit the web and research, research, research!

It's time to do some research – and lots of it. Deciding what art college is best for you is a big decision. Fortunately, you have all the tools you need for making this important choice right at your fingertips. Surf the internet to find school directories, school reviews, ranking information, and more.

Before applying to any school, be sure to consider your budget and your educational goals. Keep in mind to choose from schools that are accredited, offer financial aid, scholarship opportunities, and can offer you the art school education that you desire. Consult the school's degree offerings, course catalogues, and financial aid information.

You may find that searching the web for art college directories can help you narrow down your choices. Be sure to check out what types of artists the school typically accepts.  For a good overview on the types of artists thriving at the school, check out the school's galleries or affiliated exhibition spaces. Finding the school that is the right fit for you can be the key to success.

02. Apply to multiple art colleges

Get into art colleges - applying
You may not get your first pick so ensure you've a list of suitable schools

Let's face it, we will not all get that coveted acceptance letter from our number one pick. This is just a fact of life when it comes to applying for art college. Narrow down your choices, create a list, and be prepared to apply to multiple schools.

Start with about 15 potential schools that you would be interested in attending. From this list, choose three 'first pick' schools. These schools may have a notoriously rigorous admissions process, or be highly selective. Do not discourage yourself from applying. You have a chance of making it, but it can be a bit of a long shot. Be sure to review the admissions requirements, and send out those applications.

Give yourself options

Next, choose three more art colleges that better match your student profile. It's good to dream big, but applying to 'match' schools only increases your chances of acceptance into an excellent fine arts program. These  schools are typically less selective, and more readily accept students with your academic standing and technical skill.

Round out your application list with three more 'safety' schools. These schools not only match your educational goals, but also accept students below your academic standing. In other words, a student like yourself would stand out among the crowd in terms of academic standing and technical skill.

Even though safety schools are not your first or second pick, be sure that all of the safety schools on your list offer the education you desire. No matter what schools send acceptance letters, you want to be sure that you will be happy, fulfilled, and satisfied as a student.

03. Prepare a portfolio

Get into art colleges - portfolio
Your portfolio is worth spending a lot of time on - it could be make or break

You know that a strong portfolio is essential when applying for art college. The perfect portfolio will not only communicate your technical skills, but also inspire its audience. Include your best representative works. Be bold and choose the work that best speaks to you, or best communicates your goals and aspirations as an artist.

As you apply to various institutions, you may want to tweak your portfolio from school to school to best match the admissions requirements for each institution. Another part of building a strong portfolio is highlighting your skills and goals to align with those of college admissions committees.

Again, do your research! Visit admissions pages on art school websites to ensure that your portfolio meets all the necessary requirements for application. Not all schools require the same application information.  Fine-tuning portfolios and other application materials to each prospective college is a great way to catch the eye of admissions staff. 

04. Prepare for interviews

Get into art colleges - interview
You need to stand out during your interview, so prepare thoroughly

It's true, not all art colleges require an interview as part of the admissions process, but if you apply to a school that does, there's no need to sweat. As important as it is for you to find the school that is the best fit for you, institutions also strive to admit only those students that are the best fit for their programs.

Not all colleges give prospective students the chance to explain their goals, achievements, or present their portfolios in person. This can be your chance to turn the heads of the admissions committee.  First, you need to be prepared to talk about yourself and your work.

Be honest about your processes and your achievements. Do not be afraid to highlight your successes as an artist and a student. Have you contributed artwork for local galleries or events? Did you receive any honors for your work? Let the interviewers know that you are proud of your achievements and are interested in strengthening your skills.

Be sure you understand what the admissions committee is looking for, so that you may prepare to explain how you match their goals as an institution, or how you agree with the school's mission statements. Confidence in your work can go a long way.

Practice interviewing with guidance counselors and mentors. Interviewers typically look for candidates that can clearly articulate their reasons for application, their educational goals, and their own unique creative process.

05. Consider off-campus opportunities

Get into art colleges - do extra
Look out for off-campus opportunities, or make your own ideas happen!

Sure, art college is a great way to learn, make lasting connections with peers and mentors, and develop and strengthen your talents and skills. However, attending art school does not equal instant success. Ask any art college graduate. In order to succeed in the world post-graduation, you have to be your own advocate.

When considering art schools, take a moment to research what types of opportunities are available for artists outside of the campus bubble. An essential skill for any artist is learning how to join a community, as well as self-promotion and valuable networking skills.

Are you applying to schools in areas that are excellent cultural hubs? Are there plenty of independent galleries that accept or highlight student artwork? Consider joining social clubs or other organizations outside of school that support the artistic community – successful side projects can really propell your art career.

Words: Emily Thompson

Emily Thompson is a senior content editor for Find Your Art School and a freelance writer. When not writing or editing content on everything from photography schools to interior design colleges, Emily enjoys writing poetry and attending music festivals.

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