If you are a high school student reading this post, you are probably ignoring your parents’ wishes for you to become a biotech engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc., and instead you are pursuing your passion for creativity. Or perhaps, you are reading this with parents who are supportive of your quest to be artist. Either way, you are taking the first step toward tackling an application process that will challenge you in ways you’ve never been challenged before (and then wait until you actually get to art school; that is where the true challenge awaits!). But once an artist, always an artist, and all great artists love a good challenge.

To get started, your preliminary steps should be:

  • researching art schools to find those that would be a good fit for you
  • finding out what the admissions requirements are for the schools you are interested in
  • getting a copy of the application and studying the guidelines for your portfolio and personal statement

Of course, the earlier you embark on this preliminary research, the better situated you will be for acceptance, since knowing your end goal well in advance will allow you to plan more carefully. In other words, don’t wait until your junior year to start investigating (and even visiting) schools. Now for more details….

Researching Schools

Since you will be spending four years at this place, you want to make sure that it will provide an atmosphere in which you can thrive artistically, intellectually, and socially. Online research is a must! You should first make sure that the art program provides enough instruction in your chosen medium. If you are a painter, for example, look at the painting department or program, paying attention to the way it is described on its website. Is the approach of that particular department a good one for you? Next, find the link to faculty profiles and research the faculty members who teach painting. Survey their work, their accomplishments, and their artist statements and published writings (you will probably have to leave the school site for this and go to good ol’ Google).

To take another example, if you are interested in digital art (video, animation, digital photography, graphic design), then in addition to researching the digital art program and faculty, you will want to see what kind of facilities the school has to support your work. Does it have a digital lab? If so, how many computers are available for students? Does the digital studio have the latest software? Are there technicians (whether professionals or upper-class students) to assist you with technical issues?

You should also get a sense of the overall “personality” of the school. Does the school encourage its students to create conceptual art or is it more geared toward training students for jobs in the commercial marketplace? Which style is right for you?
Beside all of this, the most effective thing you can do is visit the school. Make an appointment with an admissions officer, bring some photos of your best work (not too many), sit in on classes, and talk to students and faculty, In other words, get a detailed, concrete, and personal feel for the school.

Scoping Out Admissions Requirements

Next, you want to make sure that you are a competitive candidate for this school, or that you will be by the time you apply. To do this, look into:

  • the average GPA required
  • what your class rank needs to be
  • the average SAT or ACT score for admitted students
  • the type and amount of extracurricular activities expected
  • the kind of portfolio this school is interested in
  • the acceptance rate (how many students are accepted versus how many apply)

To find this information, it is best to click on the link to the admissions department of each school and look for “admissions requirements” or “incoming class profile.” If you cannot find this information by navigating through the school’s website, then go back to your favorite search engine and plug in “school x incoming class profile.” If that does not work, then simply call the admissions department and ask. When you are applying to schools or thinking about applying, don’t be shy about calling up the admissions office at any time in process. When in doubt, go to the source.

The nice thing about many art schools is that they do not necessarily focus on your GPA or standardized test scores as much as traditional schools or programs do. Some do not care very much about the SAT at all (be careful, however, and make sure this is the case)! Art schools care much more about your portfolio and artist statement. They are interested in a presentation of a well-executed, intriguing body of work that demonstrates future promise as an emerging artist. While working your way through high school and toward applying to art school, creating a dynamite portfolio should be foremost in your mind.

As Ward Allebach, a writer for ArtSchools.com who interviewed art school officials from 14 top art schools, writes:

Indeed, the portfolio was the most-often mentioned criteria for admission to the top art schools, listed as an important consideration in all interviews. So, exactly what are they looking for when they examine your portfolio? The most-often cited factors that make a great portfolio were:

  • Strong technical skills
  • Creativity
  • Drawing from direct observation
  • A variety of media

via ArtSchools.com – How to Get Into America’s Best Art Schools.

Studying the Application

I cannot stress enough how important it is to look carefully at each individual school’s application. While it is fine to get a sense of the general criteria for art school admission, it must be kept in mind that each school will have different requirements for the content and presentation of your portfolio as well as for your artist statement. It is your job to conform (and this is the only time I will use this word when it comes to art school or being an artist!) to the specific requirements of each school’s process. Print out the guidelines and mark them up. Note the amount of images asked for, what format they should be in, and what kind of variety and/or continuity is expected in the presentation of your work. Do not give more or less than is requested.

To get excellent, detailed advice on preparing your portfolio, have a look at the article “How to Prepare your Portfolio for College Admissions,” by Kavin Buck, Director of Recruitment and Outreach for UCLA’s School of the Arts & Architecture.

As for your artist statement–and again, I can’t stress this enough–scrutinize the prompt provided by each school and note what kind of information each prompt is asking you to provide (your personal journey, the artists or art traditions that have influenced you, the concepts or inspirations behind your work, or any combination of these, to take a few examples). Mark up the prompt and make sure that you address every point in one way or another in your artist statement.

More on successful artist statements in a future post, so stay tuned……For now, if you are just beginning to think about art school, you already have your work cut out for you. Be thorough in your research, but also try to enjoy the experience of finding the right school for you. “Get into” your future; don’t be scared of it.