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The 10 Best Art Schools in the United States

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Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Aug 19, 2022 4:30:00 PM

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If you have a passion for art, you should go to a college that will nurture your creativity. An art school will help you to develop your skills and learn more about what it takes to succeed in the professional world of art and design. In this article, I'll give you the details on what defines a great art school and provide a list of the best art colleges in the country for undergraduate students.


How Is an Art School Defined for This List?

On this list of the best art schools in the United States, I only included schools that exclusively cater to art and design students.

Keep in mind that there are many other colleges that have excellent art programs but are less specialized. Colleges like Yale, UCLA, Tufts, and Columbia also have fantastic art programs. I didn't include those schools because this list is geared toward students who are absolutely certain that they want to study art at the college level (and would like to be in an environment with similarly-minded people).

There are huge advantages to going to a specialized art college if you fall into this category of students. You will make friends with other people who share your interests and who may inspire you to expand your creative horizons. You also will have the benefit of being in a place where art is never a secondary concern. Career services will be devoted to helping students in artistic fields break into the job world, and you can usually make even better connections with working artists at these schools. If you know that you plan on studying in an artistic field, the schools on this list are great college options.


At a school full of art students, everyone has paint on their hands at all times, and you can be as pretentious as you want without facing judgment!


What Makes These Art Schools the Best?

There are several factors to consider in determining what makes an art school great. First of all, it should have a diverse and modern curriculum. A great art school equips students with the skills they need to enter a rapidly changing, highly competitive job market. It should offer a wide variety of programs that are in step with current artistic trends and movements. The best art schools are invested in providing students with instruction in design practices that are shaping the world's creative landscape today.

A great art school should have excellent facilities for students, with access to the latest technology and artistic tools. Many of the schools on this list have extensive digital labs, on-campus art museums, and workshops that provide students with the ability to practice metalworking, laser cutting, woodworking, and other less accessible artistic disciplines.

The quality of the faculty is important as well. The best art schools employ professors who are also successful working artists and leaders in their fields. Reputation is another factor that ties into this. If the alumni of a school have been successful in their careers, the school will have better name recognition and provide you with more future opportunities.

The schools on this list have strong combinations of these qualities (and more!). They encourage students to think critically about art-making in the context of modern society and provide students with great opportunities to find their niche within the exciting world of art and design.


The art world is always in flux. Is this "graffiti" or "street art"? Or is it both? As methods and standards change, so do the curricula at art schools!


The Best Art Schools in the US

For each of the schools on this list, I will provide admissions statistics and information about application requirements. I've also listed a few facts that will give you a sense of what these institutions offer to undergraduate art students.


#1: Rhode Island School of Design: Providence, RI


Undergraduate enrollment: 1,736
Acceptance rate: 27%
Average GPA: 3.6
Average SAT score: 1360
Average ACT score: 29


Special Requirements

Prospective applicants are urged to follow a college preparatory program in secondary school, taking courses in studio art and art history where possible. A portfolio submission is required for admissions consideration.

Your portfolio should show a selection of 12–20 examples of your best recent artwork. This work may be presented in any medium (including film or video) in either finished or sketch form. It can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed artistic exploration. You'll also need to send in two drawing samples. For more details, see the admissions website.


Notable Facts

The campus museum displays over 80,000 works of art, so inspiration abounds! RISD offers advanced tools and resources to its students, including laser cutters and a kiln room. RISD also employs many famous faculty members like Chris Van Allsburg (who illustrated The Polar Express!).


body_RISD.jpgRhode Island School of Design


#2: School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Chicago, IL


Undergraduate enrollment: 2,982
Acceptance rate: 57%
Average GPA: 3.6
Average SAT score: 1230
Average ACT score: 25


Special Requirements

In order to be considered for admission, you will need to submit an artist's statement that represents you and your work. You are also required to submit a portfolio that showcases 10-15 examples of your best and most recent work. There are no limitations on the artistic medium! For more details, see the admissions website.


Notable Facts

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago has a facility called the Computer Resources and Information Technologies Center, which ensures that students get access to and training on the latest digital equipment. There are also unique program offerings like art therapy and visual communication. SAIC has many distinguished alumni, including Walt Disney.


body_SAIC.jpgSchool of the Art Institute of Chicago


#3: California Institute of the Arts: Valencia, CA


Undergraduate enrollment: 1,027
Acceptance rate: 25%
Average GPA: Not reported
Average SAT score: Not required
Average ACT score: Not required


Special Requirements

You are required to submit 15-20 examples of your most recent and highest quality independent artwork for your portfolio. You'll also need to include an artist's statement. For more information, see the school's admission website.


Notable Facts

All faculty members at the California Institute of the Arts are working artists with lots of real world artistic experience. Every student is assigned a mentor who guides them through the program and assists them in independent study. CalArts has eight galleries dedicated to showing student work and helping students get accustomed to hanging and presenting art in various forms.

The school provides extensive facilities for student use including various media labs and a "Super Shop" for processes such as woodworking, metalworking, and moldmaking. I'm not sure why they chose to go with "CalArts" as the shortened version of the school's name when CIA was an option.


California Institute of the Arts


#4: Pratt Institute: New York, NY


Undergraduate enrollment: 2,927
Acceptance rate: 60%
Average GPA: 3.85
Average SAT score: 1265
Average ACT score: 28


Special Requirements

You are required to submit a portfolio that includes 12-20 examples of your best work. You must also submit three to five observational drawings to demonstrate your drafting skills. For more information, see the school's admissions website. For more information, see the school's admissions website.


Notable Facts

Pratt is located in New York City, so you'll have access to all kinds of great internship opportunities and connections to the art world. Faculty members are working artists with international reputations as well as dedicated teachers. Students get free access to the Frick Collection, the MOMA, the Whitney Museum, and more.


Pratt Institute


#5: Maryland Institute College of Art: Baltimore, MD


Undergraduate enrollment: 1,309
Acceptance rate: 90%
Average GPA: 3.47
Average SAT score: 1160
Average ACT score: 22


Special Requirements

You must submit a portfolio of 12 to 20 pieces of artwork for consideration. For more information, please see the school's admission website.


Notable Facts

The Maryland Institute incorporates internships and other professional development activities into its curriculum to give students a strong foundation for careers in the arts. There are over 150 exhibitions per year by Maryland Institute students, faculty, and visitors. A strong advising system guides students through all four years at MICA.


Maryland Institute College of Art


#6: ArtCenter College of Design: Pasadena, CA


Undergraduate enrollment: 2,062
Acceptance rate: 71%
Average GPA: 3.42
Average SAT score: 1254
Average ACT score: Not reported


Special Requirements

There are different portfolio requirements for different majors, but for fine arts applicants, you are required to submit 15 to 20 pieces of artwork. See the admissions site for more details.


Notable Facts

This school is for students who know exactly what they want to do: Art Center gives students a comprehensive education in their chosen discipline starting on day one and there is no first-year general education program. However, the Transdisciplinary Studios program also allows students to collaborate with each other across different majors. Art Center College of Design partners up with companies and organizations in their Designmatters program to sponsor student projects that will make a real impact on the world.


ArtCenter College of Design


#7: California College of the Arts: Oakland, CA


Undergraduate enrollment: 1,239
Acceptance rate: 85%
Average GPA: Not reported
Average SAT score: Not reported
Average ACT score: Not reported


Special Requirements

First-year applicants are asked to submit 10 to 15 images of their best work as a portfolio sample. For more information, check out the school's admission website.


Notable Facts

The faculty is comprised of leaders in various artistic fields, and one-on-one attention is common (average student-teacher ratio is 8:1). It's also known as one of the most diverse colleges in the United States. Academically, CCA includes a First Year Program that introduces students to studio practice and incorporates a portfolio review at the end of the year to assess students' readiness for the majors. There is also a First Year Student Exhibition every year. CCA offers numerous resources for professional development and networking in the arts that will help students to start fulfilling careers.


#8: School of Visual Arts: New York, NY


Undergraduate enrollment: 3,872
Acceptance rate: 71%
Average GPA: 3.34
Average SAT score: N/A
Average ACT score: N/A


Special Requirements

You will need to submit a statement of intent describing why you're pursuing undergraduate study in the visual arts. You must also submit images of 15-20 pieces of your best work for your portfolio. You can decide to submit a film reel instead if you're interested in studying film. Be sure to check out the school's admissions website for more info.


Notable Facts

There are three galleries at SVA that present over 50 exhibitions every year, so students have frequent opportunities to show their work. SVA has an Internship for Credit program that allows students to work with top creative agencies in New York City. The Digital Imaging Center and Print Lab offers extensive technological resources to students studying graphic design and advertising or enrolled in classes at the Center.


School of Visual Arts


#9: Parsons the New School for Design: New York, NY


Undergraduate enrollment: 6,430
Acceptance rate: 68%
Average GPA: 3.42
Average SAT score: 1250
Average ACT score: 28


Special Requirements

Prospective applicants must complete the "Parsons Challenge," an artistic project exploring something that is usually overlooked in their environment. See the admissions site for more details on this. (I kind of want to do it just for kicks!) Applicants must also submit a portfolio of 8-12 pieces of recent artwork and an artist's statement.


Notable Facts

Parsons incorporates digital arts strongly into its undergraduate curriculum, particularly in first-year coursework. Parsons also has a special first-year study program that teaches students to think creatively across different disciplines. With its location at the center of the New York art scene, this is a great place for students to explore different methods of art-making and learn how to turn their creative passion into a career.


Parsons The New School for Design


#10: Massachusetts College of Art and Design: Boston, MA


Undergraduate enrollment: 1,770
Acceptance rate: 70%
Average GPA: 3.45
Average SAT score: N/A
Average ACT score: N/A


Special Requirements

You must submit a portfolio with 15-20 examples of your strongest and most recent artwork. You will also need to include a statement of purpose that describes you as an artist. See their admissions website for more info.


Notable Facts

MassArt is the nation's first independent public college of art and design. The college has seven on-campus gallery spaces, routinely featuring work from students, faculty, and visiting artists. Degrees are offered in a wide variety of disciplines, from Industrial Design to Animation to Art Education.


Massachusetts College of Art and Design


Which Art School Is the Best Choice for You?

All of the schools on this list will give you a great education in the arts, but some of them might be better fits than others for you and your interests. Location is a big factor to consider in deciding on the right art school for you. A few of these schools are located in the heart of New York City, which might be an awesome place for some students but an overwhelming place for others. Learn more about the differences between colleges in urban and rural environments.

You should also consider the program offerings of each school. The School of Visual Arts, for example, is a great place for film majors. Parsons is a great place for students who are interested in fashion and digital arts.

If you're still not sure exactly what you want to study in the arts, you should choose a school that has a first-year general education program and a strong advising system like California College of the Arts. If you are sure of what you want to study, you might choose a school like Art Center College of Design, which allows students to begin working in their chosen major from day one without any general education requirements.

Admissions statistics are important as well. If your grades aren't spectacular, you should look for a school where admission is granted mainly based on artistic talent and a lower GPA and test scores won't ruin your chances. Some of these schools can be very competitive, but if you present an impressive portfolio, you can expect to have a shot at admission.


What's Next?

If you're planning on going to art school, you'll need to create a portfolio of your best work. Learn more about how to make a great portfolio that will impress your dream school.

Interested in studying film? Read our article on how to get into film school.

Are you worried about how your test scores might affect your chances of attending college? This article will tell you when SAT and ACT scores don't matter in the admissions process.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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