How to Get Into an Art School

Art and Design comprise a wide range of legitimate and even lucrative professions, including Graphic design, (art) education, architecture, industrial design, Game Art/Design, film making, and so forth. Pursuing an arts education, combined with the appropriate skills and aptitude, you can make a living out of doing what you love to do. For those who are willing to proceed to a more sophisticated level and make a living with your skills, an art degree is very helpful. There is no upper limit to the success you can achieve in the arts; many have achieved fame and millionaire or billionaire status through the arts, including Walt Disney, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Steven Spielberg, John Lasseter, Yves Saint Laurent, and Frank Gehry.


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    What kind of education are you seeking? Do you want a degree or just to take few courses. Local art centers offer a variety of inexpensive workshops where you can test your creativity. However if you want to make a living with your skills you may want to enroll in a degree program. They allow you to develop your technical and critical skills, as well as provide professional connections in your chosen field.
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    Decide which Art Schools you may want to attend. You will need to research schools to find out what majors they offer. The internet is one of the first places turn for information. It may be hard to sort through all the information available. However events like the National Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs and National Portfolio Days [1] are great places to meet representatives and gain more in depth knowledge about a variety of institutions. You may also want to start by asking your art teachers for suggestions.
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    Assemble a portfolio of your artwork. Reputable art schools will require one. The purpose of the portfolio is to help each school understand an applicant’s artistic potential. Therefore, portfolios are not always evaluated merely on the basis of demonstrated skill. Students who have had significant access to studio art instruction are expected to show greater skill than those whose exposure to art training has been relatively modest. Some schools require students to submit work in specific mediums or draw specific items (Like the famous RISD bicycle requirement[2]). Other schools only require that students submit 20 pieces and leave the rest to them. Be sure you are aware of the requirements for each school you apply to. Do not submit reproductions of work by or based on work by other artists, nor drawings that you made from photographs or illustrations, they want to see your original ideas and execution that is not based upon other works.
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    Schedule and an interview, portfolio review and tour with your perspective schools. High School Seniors typically do this between October and January. Plan on what you are going to tell and show them. Familiarize yourself with each school and prepare to ask informed questions.
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    Prepare your portfolio by selecting 15-25 of your strongest pieces for presentation. You may also want to bring a sketchbook with you. You don't need to purchase an expensive portfolio to display your work. Just make sure your work is organized and presentable. Avoid showing work that more than three years old. Art Schools are not interested in work you did when you were in Middle School.
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    Show up on time. Be thoughtful and polite when touring the school. Art Schools provide an environment where students are free to explore self-expression to it's limit. Be prepared to encounter art in the hallways or studios that challenges conventional values.
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    At your portfolio review be prepared to receive creative feedback about your work. Show them your portfolio, and explain the details to them. Talk about your process, ideas, and things that inspire you. You may want to bring a pen and paper to write down suggestions or artists the reviewer thinks you should research. Thank them for the interview, ask the reviewer for their contact information.
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    Make sure you have met all other requirements such as submitting SAT/ACT/TOFEL scores, writing a personal essay, and submitting your transcripts.
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    You may not be required to present your portfolio in person. In that case you will need to submit 35mm slides, digital images, or prints of your work.


  • If a person in your high school applies to the same school as you, be aware that work based on an assignment may be similar to your classmate's work and the schools will notice. Try to avoiding too many school assignments in your portfolio.
  • If you are mailing your images of your portfolio make sure those images accurately reflect the quality of your portfolio. Poorly made slides of your work may affect your chances of getting into the school of your choice.
  • If by chance you are not accepted into the school of your choice, look for another institution that may better suite your needs and level of experience. Some students also decide to attend Community College first to build up their portfolio, then reapply as a transfer student.
  • Don't forget about your grades. Most reputable Art Schools want you to be a good writer and a good artist. Don't disregard things like test scores either. The academic component of your application will often be used by schools to determine merit-based scholarships.
  • Visit contemporary art galleries to learn from living artists. High schools don't teach students about contemporary art, so are going to have to do the research yourself. Check out ArtForum[3] and ArtNews[4] Magazines at your local bookstore. These magazines are jam packed with images from influential living artists. If you see an image you like write down the artist's name and look them up at home.
  • Attend National Portfolio Day[5]. It promotes schools that offer four-year degrees in art and design. These events allow you to get feedback on your portfolio from professors, alumni and admissions counselors from many respected institutions in one day.
  • Research the schools you apply to. Are they accredited[6]? If you decided to transfer who will accept the credits you earned? Are there any famous alumni? What is the school's national reputation?


  • Not all Art Schools are the same. Some Art Schools are for-profit technical ventures. These schools are often not regionally accredited, so if you decide to transfer you may not receive any credit for the courses you've completed. They may also not qualify for Federal Financial Aid Programs. If a school doesn't require a portfolio, take a serious look at the quality of students and faculty at that school.
  • Sometimes what schools are looking for and what you have to present are different. Harsh criticism, discouraging advice, and rejection are not unheard of in the art world. Do not give up just because of a disappointing experience. As long as you put forth your best effort and are polite yet persistent, odds are on your side that you will find a reputable school which matches your needs and talent.

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education