Applying to Art College

by Judith Aaron, Vice-President for Enrollment at Pratt Institute
Applying to Art College

You can apply on-line to most colleges in the country now, and more and more students are doing it because it's fast, convenient, and you can correct mistakes as you go. To apply on-line, you go to the college's website, complete and application, and send it. Then, you mail any additional documentation required. Some schools accept electronic portfolios, but many do not because of the difficulties opening them. If you intend to send your work electronically or on a CD, clear it with the admissions office first.

Choosing an Art School

1. Develop a list of schools that you are interested in during or before your junior year.

An excellent way to find out about art colleges in the U.S. and Canada is to visit the National Portfolio Day site (, which lists all the art colleges and university art departments accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design with links to their home pages. It also lists all the National Portfolio Days for the year throughout the U.S. and Canada. These are events that give you the chance to have your work reviewed by many experienced college representatives at one time.

Editor's Note: Another great way to develop a list is simply by going on the web and doing a search for art schools and specialties that interest you on one of the major search engines. If location is an issue, then include your city or state in your search keywords. For example, search for "Art Schools in Dallas." Also, don't forget to talk to your high school guidance counselor; they always have an ear to the wall when it comes to helping students find a college education!

2. Investigate the schools that rank the highest on your wish list.

In addition to academic standards, extracurricular activities, housing costs, and financial aid, you should consider the faculty, facilities and equipment, proximity to museums, galleries and other cultural resources. Investigate their accreditation and the transferability of credits. Read carefully about their degree offerings and majors, and make sure you understand their policies about changing majors, requirements for applying to a particular major, specific portfolio requirements.

Visit the websites of the schools in which you're interested, request materials, take virtual campus tours, and look at student work. Once you have narrowed down your choices, it's a good idea to visit the campuses in person, meet with an admissions counselor, and sit in on a class or two. Make sure you talk with students and look at the kind of work on display in the halls or galleries. You may choose to do this before or after you apply. Most schools are happy to review your work and give you suggestions and guidance even before you've applied.

What is Early Admission?

If you know what school you want to attend, early admission may be a good option. Most schools have an admissions application deadline of November 1st for early admission (as opposed to February 1st for regular admission), although you should check to make sure. If you are accepted under early admission, most schools require that you withdraw your application from any other schools you have applied to. The assumption is that if you are accepted, you will definitely attend.

Early admission is not a good option for students who will need to receive financial aid because you won't find out your financial aid award until March or April.

The plus side to early admission is that you'll have your acceptance in hand way before anyone else, and you can relax knowing that you're in. The downside is that if you're not accepted, you then have to scramble to get those admissions applications in to the other colleges you have selected.

Preparing Your Portfolio

Applying to an art college is similar to the admissions process at a liberal arts college or university with one exception-the portfolio. Along with the school's application, your high school transcript, SATs or ACTs if the school requires them, letter(s) of recommendation, and possibly an essay, you'll submit a portfolio. The portfolio can be seen as a transcript of your artistic skills and experience and an indication of your creativity and original thinking.

Preparing a portfolio requires careful consideration of which pieces are going to effectively demonstrate your ideas and skills. Most art and design schools weigh the portfolio heavily in determining acceptance or rejection. They may also use it to determine whether you will receive a scholarship, although other factors like grade-point-average, test scores and class rank are often used as well. You may present individual drawings or paintings, sketchbooks, articles of clothing you've designed, jewelry, sculpture.... You may present works in progress as well as finished pieces. It is not necessary to mount your pieces. Art schools first and foremost are interested in your work.

What Kinds of Work Should You Present?

Most art schools have similar requirements (10-20 pieces), although some limit the size of your portfolio pieces; others require slides only. You should check with the schools you are interested in to make sure your portfolio represents the kind of work they require for admission to a particular major or to their school.

What Are Schools Looking for in a Portfolio?

Your portfolio will be evaluated on technical skill, creative ability, dedication and originality. Include a variety of work and experiment with different media. Be prepared to talk about your work. Discuss with the reviewer your ideas, what you are interested in, and which works you feel are more successful than others and why.

What to Include

Choose only your strongest work. Make sure you include work drawn from observation. Ask someone to model for you; set up a still life. If your school offers life drawing, include those pieces. If you plan to show a video or CD-Rom, make arrangements before hand with the admissions office. Some suggestions for projects include: painting a self-portrait, a pencil drawing of a room or interior from different perspectives, using a new medium, a still life of objects that you blow up beyond recognition; a series of drawings of your feet or hands in pencil.

Things to Avoid:

  • Copying work like cartoons, magazine photographs, other artist's works, etc.
  • Dark or out-of-focus slides
  • Torn or badly cared for work
  • Including only unfinished work.

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