Four tips for finding art colleges that fit your goals

Learn how to choose among the hundreds of art and design colleges in the country to find which ones would best fit your artistic vision, career goals, and your personality.

So you're seriously considering attending an art college—great! You don’t have to try very hard to find them. There are close to 200 art schools in the U.S., according to one online list—at least one in every state.

But you can’t apply to every single one. Application fees pile up fast, and your time is valuable. The challenge is narrowing down your choices to a list of the art colleges where you could actually see yourself succeeding as a student.

How can you look at the differences between the hundreds of art colleges in the country to find the ones that would best fit your artistic vision, your career goals, and your learning style?

Here are a few tips that will help you narrow down the list you currently have in your mind to something more manageable.

1. Look at the faculty

Our #1 tip: check out the faculty of an art school. These are the people who will mentor you as you grow as an artist. They will prepare you for your creative career and help you begin to build your network.

  • For fine arts faculty, find out where they have shown their work. What is their current practice? Are they active participants in the art world? Is their work represented by gallerists?
  • For faculty in commercial fields like animation or graphic design, are they (or have they been) employed by the leading companies in the field? How do they help students prepare for a career in their field? Do they teach the latest techniques, tools, and technology used by the pros?

2. Ask your art teachers

If you’re like many aspiring art college students, your artistic passion was nurtured and perhaps even inspired by one or two art teachers in high school. Your artistic endeavors have never been a solo pursuit, so don’t go it alone when it comes to finding an art college. Ask your favorite art teachers:

  • Where did they study art?
  • Where did other students go to art school and what were their experiences?
  • What art schools do they think fit best with what they know about you as an artist, and the potential they see in you?

Although you might not make your final selections around the opinions of your teachers, they can offer helpful insight and feedback based on their own wisdom and experience.

3. Get geographic

You’ll likely move when you go to college, so the city where an art college is located should be an important factor in deciding which schools to include on your list. The city and artistic community that surround an art college will be huge influences on your education, as well as on your career prospects after graduation.

Some things to think about:

  • Certain communities of artists gravitate toward certain cities. Animators and animation studios congregate in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example. If you’re interested in becoming an animator, you might want to consider an art college where you’ll have access to internships with the top studios and accomplished visiting instructors.
  • Wherever you attend art college will be your home for the next four years—at least. You’ll want to explore beyond campus, making sure the greater community shares your values and will offer you the freedom to live the lifestyle you prefer.

4. Check out the “Best Value Art Schools” from PayScale

If you dream of a creative career but worry about your financial future, you’ll want to peruse PayScale’s ranking of the “Best Value Art Schools” as you build your list of schools to apply to.

PayScale ranks schools based on ROI (return on investment), a rough measurement that compares how much you can expect to earn over 20 years after attending a school against the cost of earning your degree.

California College of the Arts came out on top in PayScale’s ranking, with a 20-year net ROI of $383,000.

As a career-minded art school applicant, you have many choices to add to your list, but you’ll likely want to assess how the school you choose can have a major impact on your future earnings.