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Using summer pre-college programs to deepen artistic interests and determine best fit in a college

– Nicole Mueller, Career Engagement Advisor in the Career Development office at CCA

When we first started working with Jerry as a junior, he had a broad interest in art but struggled to express his ideas and reasons for wanting to create. He came to Blue Stars with diverse interests ranging from graphic design, streetwear, lifestyle and fashion photography, but was unsure of what to do with them. So we worked together to find programs that would match his interests and prepare his applications.

He went to a pre-college program that summer, and loved it! He came back more self-assured, with a stronger, more developed personal voice and portfolio. By working with an art mentor from Blue Stars and attending pre-college, Jerry gained greater self-awareness, and learned how to showcase his varied interests in creative collaboration, graphic design, art direction, and music in a visually cohesive way.

Jerry submitted impressive college applications to a number of highly ranked art colleges, and ended up choosing the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)!

In many ways, Jerry’s search for a summer pre-college program became a preliminary college search. Having already completed several local art programs, Jerry was looking to use the summer before his senior year as a chance to explore potential options for college. Building a school list, assembling a portfolio, and writing a personal statement for pre-college became a practice run for applying to colleges.

Applying to summer art programs is a great investment in your student’s future. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of favorite summer pre-college programs for high schoolers:

  1. RISD – This six-week summer intensive is longer than most, but if you’re looking for a rigorous program that’s fully immersive, then this program is for you. The Rhode Island School of Design’s program is most similar to a college-level experience, and the curriculum includes extensive studio coursework in over twenty artistic disciplines. As with most pre-college programs, the classes count towards college credit, should you apply and be accepted to RISD’s undergraduate program.
  2. MICA – If you’re looking for a full East Coast experience, the Maryland Institute College of Art’s month-long pre-college program includes weekend trips to NYC and Washington DC. So not only do you experience all that Baltimore has to offer, but you’ll gain exposure to cultural centers all along the East Coast on top of that. They also have a summer program in Tuscany, Italy if your teen is daydreaming about a unique summer abroad while plain air painting amongst the rolling landscapes in Europe.
  3. SAIC – With options of two-week or four-week sessions, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Early College Program offers plenty of flexibility. They describe their open-ended studio courses as “laboratories where conceptual thinking, artmaking, and design skills are developed,” offering plenty of space for creative freedom. So if your teen has an independent streak or prefers room to explore, then SAIC could be a great fit.
  4. CCA – If your teen is Bay Area bound, then California College of the Arts has a well-rounded program offering art, architecture, creative writing, and design courses on their historic Oakland campus (they also have a campus in downtown San Francisco). Additional opportunities for high school students include CCA’s Summer Atelier, which focuses on specific areas such as printmaking or photography for young students who have completed their freshman or sophomore year. Middle schoolers can also immerse themselves in the practice of art-making through their Young Artist Studio Program.
  5. Interlochen – Located in northwestern Michigan on a 1200 acre wooded campus, Interlochen’s program could be described more as an artist residency than a pre-college program. They cover visual arts including painting, drawing, and even precious metals, but also include music, dance, theater, and poetry. If your teen is looking to escape the digital pressures of everyday life (use of laptops & cellphones are discouraged) and step away into a nature-infused retreat, then Interlochen is the perfect place to focus fully on artmaking.

There are so many fantastic pre-college programs out there, it can be difficult to narrow the list. One last recommendation if your teen is looking for an energizing summer in New York City: SVA’s Pre-College Summer Program “mimics a fast-paced foundation year experience in the New York art scene” with field trips all around NYC to take full advantage of the city’s cultural life.

And if you’re California-based, CSSSA’s program, located on CalArts’ campus, is a great option for younger students (they take applicants as young as 9th grade), as mentioned in an earlier blog post here, and is an affordable option. Most all pre-college programs have some form of scholarship available, so we encourage you to apply early.

Ready to start exploring summer pre-college programs? Interested in learning more about advising and mentoring services for art students? Contact us or schedule a free meeting with a Blue Stars counselor now!

About the Author: Amy Morgenstern

Dr. Amy Morgenstern, affectionately known as Dr. M, is the founder and CEO of Blue Stars Admissions Consulting. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and an MFA in contemporary art. A former professor of philosophy, honors program associate director, and assistant to the director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Dr. M brings a wealth of academic and multicultural experience to her practice.

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