When Dr. M and I first met Jacob as a junior in high school, we recognized his strong artistic talent in experimental animation. We also realized that he had no idea how to create a best-fit school list or package his impressive work. Not a problem! A year later, when admissions announcements came out, Jacob was accepted to and received scholarship offers from Pratt, SAIC, SVA, SCAD, and Ringling!

How did Jacob’s vague but promising application material transform into a scholarship magnet? As a former admissions counselor at one of the top ranked art colleges in the country, and a current independent art admissions counselor, I’ve worked with hundreds of students in Jacob’s position and seen them succeed.

The process of applying to art college can be especially overwhelming, but we’ve helped students like Jacob who have started from square one find their unique artistic voice and become competitive candidates for the nation’s top art programs. And we can help you, too!

Let us help you in a step-by-step way, starting with finding the right art school. First, how do you know which art programs are qualified?*

In Jacob’s case, we helped him organize his preliminary research into art schools by starting with three key strategies that you can use too:

  1. Checking accreditations
  2. Determining whether the school is non-profit or for-profit
  3. Conducting quantitative data research using Student Consumer Info.

Let me tell you why these three strategies are important, and show you how to get started:

1. Accreditation ensures that a college is held accountable for the quality of its programs.

Accreditation is a stamp of approval on an institution, and means that all member schools are held accountable to the same standards. It ensures quality and consistency amongst schools. A reputable art college should be accredited at both the national and regional level.

First, check with NASAD and AICAD’s list of member schools on their website. Then, check the college’s website for a list of regional accreditations (such as ASC WASC and NEASC).

2. Non-profit colleges must be fully transparent about budget and operations.

There has been controversy in the news about for-profit colleges lately, and you should be aware of which art colleges are involved.

Non-profit means full transparency around business operations and where your tuition dollars are going. For-profit colleges don’t have this same obligation (and in some cases have been accused of being predatory) — all colleges are businesses, but these operate even more so like them.

It’s important to do your own research on each school, and simply know what to look out for before diving in:

3. Student Consumer Info. gives you a side-by-side look at comparing quantitative data from each college.

Consumer report information, also known as Student Consumer Information, includes data gathered by the college itself on things like: student retention and graduation rates, class demographics, percentage of students that receive financial aid, etc. It might not always be easy to find on the website (trust me, it’s there), but a quick Google search for “‘Your school name’s consumer report info” should pull up what you need.

Starting with these three means of comparison, you can easily create a list of art colleges worth further exploring. In Part II, we’ll guide you through this deeper dive and look at other key factors like campus location, faculty connections, and career development.

*This process involves more than just program rankings. Maybe you’ve seen U.S. News & World Report’s list of best fine arts programs. But keep in mind this applies only to graduate schools, and shouldn’t be your only means of comparison.

Ready to start exploring art colleges? Contact Blue Stars to learn about advising and mentoring services for art students!

Go to the profile of Nicole Mueller

Nicole Mueller

Artist and art college counselor with Blue Stars Admissions Consulting, formerly with Maryland Institute College of Art. Co-host of “Beyond the Studio” podcast.