SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The 17 Best Fine Arts Colleges in the US

Posted by Francesca Fulciniti | Apr 5, 2020 4:00:00 PM

College Info

 

feature_artsupplies.jpg

If you're interested in attending a fine arts college, your college search may be trickier than the average student's. It's relatively simple to compare standard undergraduate degree programs, but fine arts schools can be so different: they have different specialties, different facilities, and different curricula. How do you know which fine arts colleges are the best, and how do you know which ones would be good fits for you?

I've taken the first step for you by compiling a list of the top fine arts colleges and bachelor's programs in the country. Each one offers something a little different, making this ranking list a bit more unique (and a bit more interesting) than your average college ranking list.

Because it's difficult and perhaps unhelpful to give these schools a definite ranking on this list, I've separated them into school type. I've also prepared some strategies for figuring out which schools best meet your own personal needs.

But before all that, I'll answer a more basic question: what is a fine arts college exactly?

 

What's a Fine Arts College?

Simply put, a fine arts college is a school that educates students in the visual or performing arts. These schools offer a couple of different degree options:

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): If you get a BFA, or a Bachelor of Fine Arts, the majority of your undergraduate education will consist of practical studio work instead of more traditional lecture or discussion classes. For example, a typical BFA program might have students in fine arts courses two thirds of the time and general education courses one third of the time.
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA): A BA, or Bachelor of Arts, is the most common type of undergraduate degree. Most people with BAs didn't study the fine arts specifically. If you choose this type of degree program, it just means you'll take more general education courses than if you picked a BFA. For example, you might spend one third of your time taking fine arts courses and two thirds of your time on general liberal arts studies.

Once you choose your degree type, you'll most likely have to choose an arts specialty. This is similar to a major that helps you home in on and excel within a particular field or area. Many fine arts colleges have a wide variety of specialties to choose from, such as acting, musical theater, ceramics, computer animation, creative writing, dance, sculpture, painting, and drawing.

The standard fine arts school only offers degree programs that focus on, well, the fine arts. But you can also get a BA in fine arts or even a BFA at some liberal arts colleges or universities.

I'll present the top degree programs at both fine arts colleges and other colleges and universities in the following ranking list.

 

How Are These Best Fine Arts Schools Ranked?

Fine arts colleges are generally either specialized stand-alone institutions or programs embedded within a larger university.

Because fine arts programs can come in so many forms and aren't necessarily standardized, they can be tricky to compare. As a result, I used a combination of aggregated ranking lists and industry opinions to compile a list of the top fine arts colleges in the country. Colleges that specialize solely in fine arts are pretty different from larger liberal arts universities, so I separated the schools into lists based on this distinction.

Once I separated them into these two groups, I arranged them in alphabetical order. Although there are a few stellar, stand-out institutions (which I make note of at the beginning of each section), fine arts schools rankings are difficult to standardize because they can offer such different resources for students; therefore, I encourage you to look for schools that best fit your own artistic goals and preferences when considering these lists.>

As for the factors I looked at when deciding to include a school on this list, I primarily considered things such as quality of facilities, program faculty, alumni network, industry opinions, aggregated ranking lists, and program offerings.

If you're interested in any of the fine arts schools listed below and want admission stats for them, just click the school name. Now then, let's get to the rankings!

 

body_paint-1.jpg

I imagine you'll be moving way beyond primary colors at any of these fine arts schools.

 

The Best Fine Arts Schools in the United States

The following schools are primarily dedicated to art and design education.

The real standouts here—the fine arts schools that tend to be ranked at the top of lists year after year—are the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

You may notice when you review the list that these schools tend to be relatively larger than some others, with a wider variety of program offerings.

 

California College of the Arts — San Francisco, CA

California College of the Arts is primarily dedicated to educating students in the arts. It offers an array of 15 majors and minors in the fine arts, including an individualized major option for students who may have extremely niche interests.

The college has a highly accomplished faculty and regularly welcomes visiting artists, designers, and writers. Its student-faculty ratio is an impressively low 8:1.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,468
  • Acceptance Rate: 88%

 

Maryland Institute College of Art — Baltimore, MD

Maryland Institute College of Art offers 19 different art majors, including several interdisciplinary options such as interactive arts and interdisciplinary sculpture. In addition, students get to choose from a wide range of studio concentrations.

The institute's faculty includes 291 professional artists, designers, art historians, poets, and writers. It also has an impressive 9:1 student-faculty ratio.

MICA is particularly strong in graphic design, painting, and drawing, so it's an excellent option for students who wish to pursue any of those artistic concentrations.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,714
  • Acceptance Rate: 64%

 

Pratt Institute — Brooklyn, NY

At the Pratt Institute, students can choose from degrees in Art & Design Education, Digital Arts, Film, Fine Arts, and Photography. The school also offers several associate degrees in fine arts if you're not sure whether you want to commit to a bachelor's program.

Overall, this institution is ranked consistently well for its fine arts, design, and studio programs.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,435
  • Acceptance Rate: 39%

 

Rhode Island School of Design — Providence, RI

The Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD, is one of the most well-known and highly celebrated fine arts schools in the country. It offers 16 fine arts majors along with state-of-the-art facilities and tools.

RISD prides itself on providing students with numerous opportunities to work collaboratively with faculty mentors. And the faculty is very impressive, too: many are renowned artists, such as Chris Van Allsburg, a famous children's book illustrator.

One of RISD's biggest appeals, however, is its location: Providence is said to be one of the most artistically cultured cities in the United States.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,994
  • Acceptance Rate: 24%

 

body_RI.jpg

RISD also comes with free natural inspiration.

 

Savannah College of Art and Design — Savannah, GA

The Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD, is, one of the most prestigious art and design institutions in the United States and is home to an impressive variety of fine arts specializations for undergraduates. Students can earn a degree in almost anything you can think of, from animation and visual effects to fibers and furniture design.

The school also has an impressive faculty and alumni network—a big plus when it comes time for applying to grad school or jobs.

  • Degrees Offered: BA, BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 12,217
  • Acceptance Rate: 72%

 

School of the Art Institute of Chicago — Chicago, IL

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, or SAIC, is one of the largest art schools in the US. Because of its size, it can offer some more unique specializations, including things like art therapy and visual communication.

SAIC has over 550 faculty members, which might make it easier to find a professor or mentor who shares your specific interests and passions. The institute is also affiliated with one of the best art museums in the country.

  • Degrees Offered: BA, BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,893
  • Acceptance Rate: 58%

 

The New School — New York, NY

Based in bustling New York City, The New School is primarily dedicated to the arts. It offers many flexible degree programs to artistically inclined students and a BFA program in fine arts through its highly regarded Parsons School of Design.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,444
  • Acceptance Rate: 57%

 

body_paintbrushed.jpg

What could be more fun than a studio course?

 

Top Fine Arts Programs at Other Colleges and Universities

Some strong fine arts programs aren't offered at art-specific institutions but rather through art departments at colleges or universities. The real standout on this list is Yale, which hosts one of the best art programs in the country, as well as a top-notch general education.

These options are likely better for students who are seeking more of a balance between a fine arts education and a general or liberal arts education.

Note that acceptance rates and undergrad enrollment numbers are for the university as a whole—not the specific fine arts program or department.

 

Alfred University — Alfred, NY

Alfred's School of Art and Design provides an education that combines visual fine arts, design, and the science of ceramics, glass, and materials. It's more specialized than many of the other fine arts schools on this list but still a great choice if you're interested in working with any of the above materials.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA, BS (Art History)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,671
  • Acceptance Rate: 63%

 

Columbia University — New York, NY

Columbia's School of the Arts offers a prestigious fine arts program that's located in the heart of the art world: New York City. This program boasts a long list of notable alumni and faculty members, making it easier for students to make and develop both professional and personal connections in the field.

Students who major in visual arts at Columbia can declare a concentration on drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, or video.

  • Degrees Offered: BA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,202
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%

 

Cornell University — Ithaca, NY

Cornell University offers a BFA program through its College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. This program emphasizes artistic training, contextual preparedness, critical thinking, expression, practical understanding of the contemporary art world, and sustainable practice.

Because of this BFA program's broad aims, you may get more of a liberal arts spin. Students are required to take courses in digital media, drawing, painting, photography, and more.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 15,182
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%

 

CUNY Hunter College — New York, NY

Hunter College offers an art program geared toward students who want to work professionally as artists and who might also want to go on to grad school. This is a fifth-year program that gives students a prolonged, intense focus on studio practice, contemporary art, and theoretical issues.

This extra year could ultimately give you an extra boost in the professional world.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 16,249
  • Acceptance Rate: 36%

 

Princeton University — Princeton, NJ

Princeton's Program in Visual Arts combines a liberal arts education with a fine arts education. Students can take courses in a range of subjects, such as painting, drawing, graphic design, media, sculpture, photography, and filmmaking.

  • Degrees Offered: BA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,428
  • Acceptance Rate: 5%

 

body_potterywheel.jpg

Alfred University: A great place for potters.

 

Tufts University — Medford, MA

A joint School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts BFA program means you get the benefits of a top liberal arts education in combination with studio art training. Students are fully enrolled at both schools, with access to resources offered by the two institutions.

This art program is a good option for students who prioritize flexibility: the studio curriculum is entirely elective, so you can pick and choose the courses that most interest you.

  • Degrees Offered: BFA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,643
  • Acceptance Rate: 15%

 

University of California, Los Angeles — Los Angeles, CA

One of the best public institutions in the United States, UCLA is also home to a premier art department. Students are encouraged to explore different mediums so they can discover their preferred way of expressing themselves, making this program a fairly flexible option.

Courses are offered in painting and drawing, photography, sculpture, ceramics, art theory, and new genres.

  • Degrees Offered: BA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 3 1,577
  • Acceptance Rate: 14%

 

University of Pennsylvania — Philadelphia, PA

Penn offers a top undergraduate fine arts program through its Weitzman School of Design. Its fine arts education blends studio practice, seminar courses, and interactions with visiting artists and professionals. Students take courses in areas such as drawing, sculpting practices, and art history.

  • Degrees Offered: BA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 10,183
  • Acceptance Rate: 8%

 

Williams College — Williamstown, MA

The art department at Williams is one of the largest at the prestigious liberal arts college and even shares space with the Williams Museum of Art. Because the school as a whole is fairly small, though, the majors offered are broader and limited in number; they include art history, studio art, and art history and practice.

  • Degrees Offered: BA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,073
  • Acceptance Rate: 13%

 

Yale University — New Haven, CT

Last but not least, the Yale School of Art offers a variety of art and media courses. It's also one of the highest-ranked MFA programs in the country, adding to the strength of the school. The faculty is highly lauded, with most having been published and/or awarded for their work.

Finally, the facilities themselves are sure to impress, as students have access to art galleries, a silk screening print shop, photo labs, several theaters, and a digital media center.

  • Degrees Offered: BA
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,964
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%

 

body_noyesmaybe.jpg

These tips will help you think about which fine arts schools might be best for you.

 

How to Choose a Fine Arts Program: 4 Essential Factors

In order to be successful in a fine arts program, you should make sure the school closely matches your needs.

Fine arts programs are often pretty small. In these programs, you'll be doing a lot of studio work and collaborating closely with peers and faculty. Because of the collaborative nature of the work you'll be doing, it's important that you feel comfortable with the program, students, and faculty.

Before you settle on target schools, here are four important factors to consider when thinking about what fine arts schools might be right for you.

 

#1: Program Specialties and Curriculum

If you work almost exclusively with a specific medium, you'll want to attend a fine arts school that has extensive resources available so you can work with your chosen medium.

For example, if you work with ceramics, you might not want to focus all your attention on getting into Columbia, as Alfred would likely be a better fit for you and your interests.

Alternatively, if you're open to exploring different art mediums, you might seek out a more flexible program, such as the one at Williams College.

 

#2: Faculty

You'll want to find a school with qualified faculty who can serve as knowledgeable mentors. Look into whether fine arts schools retain faculty members whose work you're interested in. You might also consider whether a school brings in fresh and exciting faces via visiting artist programs.

Finally, check the student-faculty ratio on US News. Is it low enough that you're confident you'd get individual attention?

 

#3: Location

A big part of a degree in fine arts is often working in the art world via internships Is the school you're considering located somewhere that will facilitate these internships? Or does it have any programs that will help you secure internships at art and cultural centers?

 

#4: Notable Alumni

If you're impressed with a fine arts school's alumni network and number of successful grads, that's a good sign. This indicates that it'll be much easier for you to make and later utilize professional connections through the school.

 

What's Next?

Artistically inclined but not dead-set on a fine arts program? Then check out our list of the top art schools in the US. These might offer a bit of a broader scope than the schools listed above.

Want to end up on the West Coast? Then you'd probably be interested in seeing a list of all art schools in California.

To prepare the best fine arts application you can, you'll need to read all about how to prepare a stellar art portfolio.

You want to be able to pay for all this, right? See the top art scholarships in the country.

 

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:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

 

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Francesca Fulciniti
About the Author

Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.



Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!