The Best Art Schools 2021

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With an art degree, professionals can pursue careers in various creative fields and the fine arts. Curricula in art programs cover in-demand skills like spatial reasoning and formal analysis in a collaborative environment. Practical experience with gallery showcases and critiques also transfers into administrator and director roles.

Students who plan to enter art and design fields face a highly competitive, yet lucrative field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for art and design careers in 2019 was $48,130. Professionals in niche fields, like fashion design and animation, often earn closer to $75,000 a year.

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To earn an art degree, students typically spend four years in studio-intensive programs. Coursework includes design fundamentals and technical instruction within a chosen medium. While the core philosophy varies among institutions, art programs provide degree-holders with a basic understanding of aesthetics and the social value of creative work.

Best Art Schools

Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
3 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
4 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
5 Duke University Durham, NC
6 New York University New York, NY
7 Tufts University Medford, MA
8 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
9 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
10 Georgetown University Washington, DC

What Can I Do With an Art Degree?

An art degree opens doors to various creative career paths. Those wishing to pursue a career in fine arts learn technical skills invaluable to producing professional quality work. All art programs give instruction on formal design principles applicable across mediums.

Niche artistic fields require specialized knowledge acquired through art degree concentrations. Professional illustrators with documented instruction in drawing have a greater chance of landing a job. Careers in 3D animation also involve mastery of complicated software. As such, companies check for an art degree in computer animation to gauge an applicant’s qualifications.

Learners gain visual analytical skills in an art program that they can apply to fields outside of traditional art. Advertising agencies hire art and creative directors and almost always require a degree in marketing or art. Art degree-holders also qualify for positions as gallery curators, interior designers, and graphic designers.

Accreditation for an Art Degree

Most accredited universities offer an arts program. If a student wants to transfer to a different program or start courses in a community college, accreditation determines how many universities accept their current course credits.

Accreditation boards review a college, university, or program according to a set of quality standards. Most nonprofit public and private universities seek regional accreditation. National accreditation boards review career-oriented or faith-based programs. Regional accreditation boards tend to uphold stringent academic standards, making credits from regionally accredited universities widely transferable.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognizes the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) as a programmatic accrediting organization. A program with NASAD accreditation meets the standard competency index for each artistic subdiscipline outlined by the board. Students can visit the ED database to check a school or program’s accreditation before applying.


  • What kinds of jobs can you get with an art degree?

    With an art degree, graduates can work as art and creative directors, commercial artists, gallery managers, and technical designers.

  • How many years is a master's degree in art?

    Typically, a master of fine arts (MFA) program lasts 2-3 years. Programs often require a final exhibition, performance, or manuscript for completion.

  • What are the different types of art degrees?

    The two main types of undergraduate art degrees are a bachelor of arts (BA) and a bachelor of fine arts (BFA). Learners in both programs can typically choose a disciplinary focus. Students can also pursue two-year associate degrees or an MFA in postgraduate studies.

  • What GPA do you need to get into art school?

    In most cases, art school admissions emphasize portfolio strength rather than GPA. However, GPA still matters. If the school is part of a larger university, applicants should gauge required GPA on the institutional average.

What Are the Requirements for an Art Degree?

Admission requirements for art programs vary among institutions. For most first-year entry programs, applicants must submit a portfolio with a statement of purpose. More selective programs may include an interview round. GPA and test scores still play into admission decisions, especially in cases with no portfolio requirement.

The curriculum differs between a BA and a BFA. Both degrees require studio courses and some component of liberal arts instruction. BA curriculum focuses on liberal arts courses while a BFA curriculum emphasizes studio practice. Most programs require a portfolio review or exhibition at the end of a year-long senior seminar.

Courses in an Art Program

Art program curricula cover practice in technical art methods and contemporary concepts. The liberal arts requirement often includes art history and theory courses. Required studio courses develop fundamental observation and composition skills used in future specializations.

Students usually choose a media concentration in their second year, though they can graduate without one. Most schools offer studio courses in drawing, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. In recent years, more programs introduced requirements in film, computer animation, and graphic design software. Most art schools feature the courses below.

Drawing Concepts and Methods
This course is a typical first-year studio course. Instructors cover formal and technical issues through the drawing process. Enrollees study composition, space, proportion, and perspective. These courses increase student awareness of form when approaching art in advanced courses and careers. Most schools require students to complete a drawing methods course before enrolling in other studio courses.
Contemporary Art
Learners survey art movements from 1970 through recent years. Topics include broad artistic movements and influential figures that defined current approaches to art and design. The course familiarizes students with recent issues in art theory and criticism to examine featured artwork through a theoretical perspective. The course covers concepts that allow students to position themselves within current artistic movements and trends.
Critical Disclosures
This course combines elements of theory and studio courses to promote guided discussions. Students develop a critical framework to examine cultural and theoretical production through art. Instructors encourage students to explore new methodologies and examine the discourse that shapes their own practice. The exercises in this course foster self-awareness and flexibility in response to critiques and negative feedback.
Electronic Media Studio
This course introduces students to moving images and interactivity. Enrollees learn software tools for programming and computational media production. Instructors help students develop skills to critically assess their work in relation to digital art traditions. This course provides a foundation for students pursuing 3D animation. Software skills also ease career transitions into UX design and other web media fields.
Senior Studio
Senior studio or an equivalent capstone concludes an art program. Students receive a faculty advisor and reserved studio space to develop topics for their thesis exhibition. At the end of fall semester, learners present their ideas for critique to cohorts and faculty. If successful, enrollees spend the spring semester creating a body of work for the thesis project. Small groups of students plan a combined gallery showing together. Through this experience, students learn to curate artwork, write press releases, and develop event programs.

Certifications and Licensure for Art Majors

For art majors, certifications and licensure allow access to careers in niche professions. Some specialized fields require licensure, such as medical fields applying arts in practice. For graphic artists, certification in industry-standard software provides an advantage in highly competitive job markets. Students should consider what type of specialization they wish to pursue in order to meet certification prerequisites, as seen in the following.

Certified Medical Illustrator

Medical illustrators produce highly detailed images depicting human or animal biology. A certification in medical illustration demonstrates adherence to business, quality, and ethical standards to potential employers. To become a CMI, candidates need a degree in medical illustration with documented hands-on dissection courses and five years of professional experience.

Art Therapy License

Students wishing to combine their art practice with psychiatry can become an art therapist. Art therapy requires a graduate degree and recognition by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) as a registered art therapist (ATR). ATRs in some states require additional certifications from state boards. The ATCB also offers national-level board certification, qualifying ATRs for practice anywhere in the U.S.

Unity Certified Professional: Artist

Unity certifications represent technical mastery in interactive 3D applications built with Unity software. For artists, applicants need two years of demonstrated experience using Unity software and experience working in game development. Artists must take a yearly exam to maintain certification.

Professional Organizations for Art Majors

Professional organizations provide continuing education and networking opportunities specific to an artist’s discipline. In creative professions, networking creates more access to job openings and chances to publicly show one’s work. The following organizations represent the breadth of trade specialization and professional development resources available to artists.

  • American Institute of Graphic Arts AIGA provides professional development opportunities for students and graphic designers. Membership includes access for an AIGA-exclusive job board and entry into the AIGA designer directory. AIGA offers continued education opportunities through webinars, regional workshops, and certification programs. To join, applicants must apply directly to their local chapter and pay annual dues for their desired membership tier.

  • The Society of Illustrators, Artists, & Designers SIAD is an international organization for practitioners in all creative disciplines. The organization connects members to continued education courses and holds a yearly awards competition. Membership qualifications vary between levels. Current students can apply for a diploma membership to include on a CV or job application.

  • Society of Illustrators The nation's oldest nonprofit membership organization for illustrators, this group gives members access to the Society library and discounts on lectures and workshops. Members can also participate in the Society's awards competitions. Membership tiers include options for current students and creative professionals in related fields.

  • International Game Developers Association The world's largest organization for video game creators, IGDA connects members to a network of game developers and professionals. IGDA features an extensive Global Mentorship Program that connects mentees with established professionals to develop disciplinary skills. Members also gain access to the IGDA digital resource library and eligibility for software discounts.

Scholarships for Art Students

Various professional and service organizations offer college scholarships to art students. Scholarship review boards often look for demonstrated ability within a specific medium or discipline and commitment to a career trajectory. Students should also check if their institution awards scholarships or grants through the application process. Aspiring art students can apply for the scholarships below.

AIGA Worldstudio Scholarships

Who Can Apply: AIGA offers scholarships for economically disadvantaged students pursuing degrees in photography, graphic design, or illustration. Students need at least a 2.0 GPA and must demonstrate commitment to a social agenda. Application requirements include a cohesive portfolio featuring 5-10 pieces, a written statement, and two reference letters.
$2,000-$3,000; 1-2 top awards of $5,000

David Barrett Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) grants scholarships to students enrolled in interior design programs. ASID offers this scholarship to one student exhibiting proficiency in applying elements of classical design. Applicants must submit a portfolio featuring 4-12 spreads using classical design with an accompanying statement.
Amount: $12,000

PGSF Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation provides scholarships to students entering careers in publishing, printing, or graphic communications. Applicants need at least a 3.0 GPA and two references. The Foundation automatically reviews current scholarship recipients for renewal each year.
Amount: $1,000-$5,000 per year, renewable up to four years

The Best Art Schools 2021

  1. Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA

    Harvard offers 22 total fine arts and design programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Programs fall under the Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies (AFVS); the Office for the Arts; or the Graduate School of Design. Through Harvard, students can earn a professional art degree without compromising on a liberal arts education.

    Students wishing to major in studio arts declare a concentration in AFVS during their sophomore year. By the end of junior year, AFVS majors establish a media focus to develop a professional-level portfolio. Students choose to complete either a two-semester senior thesis or a project representing their third year body of work.

    The graduate school offers professional and post-professional master's programs in design, architecture, and urban planning. Admission to the design master's program requires two years of professional experience. However, undergraduates may apply to the architecture and urban planning programs with a portfolio demonstrating their aptitude for three-dimensional design.

  2. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA

    The University of Pennsylvania's Weitzman School of Design offers 28 programs in fine arts and design focused on the interdisciplinary study of art as a response to societal challenges. UPenn awards bachelor's-level art degrees in fine arts or design.

    The fine arts program focuses on artmaking technique and requires six studio courses with options such as printmaking, sculpture, and animation. The design program explores the integration of design with science and the humanities. Studio courses under this major offer instruction in the application of contemporary design theory and prototyping and fabrication.

    Both undergraduate degrees include a two-semester capstone senior seminar in the final year. The seminar culminates in a public showcase of the student's portfolio. Prospective students applying directly to the art program may submit a supplemental portfolio. Current students enter the program without a separate application by meeting with an advisor to declare a major.

  3. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

    Ann Arbor, MI

    The Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design (Stamps) at the University of Michigan hosts 14 undergraduate and graduate level programs with options tailored toward either a studio or an academic focus. Undergraduates choose from four art degree options: BA or BFA in art and design, BFA in interarts performance, and dual-degree options.

    In all programs, Stamps requires studio courses in drawing, design, and inquiry methods. Students must pass a sophomore review in which they present a portfolio of college work to a faculty committee. Students must also complete one course outside the United States in an approved international program unless they declare a minor.

    All Stamps applicants need to complete the Common Application or Coalition Application for U-M. Recommendations must include letters from both an academic and an art instructor. Portfolios should include 12-15 pieces representing both conceptual work and direct observation drawings.

  4. Carnegie Mellon University

    Pittsburgh, PA

    A private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University offers 17 programs in art and design through The College of Fine Arts. This includes a BFA and a BXA intercollege degree programs.

    The BFA program contains four media-based concentrations. Students can choose a specific concentration or create an individualized hybrid curriculum.The first year curriculum includes courses from all four concentrations. After sophomore year, students gain more freedom to choose their major coursework. A year-long senior studio course serves as the program capstone. Each school year ends with an exhibition showcasing senior studio work.

    When making a decision, admission officers consider an applicant's portfolio, transcripts, and test scores holistically. Portfolios must include 12-20 pieces with artist statements. Faculty recommend including work done outside of assignments to represent independent ability.

  5. Duke University

    Durham, NC

    A private research university in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University features 11 art and design programs through the Trinity College of Art and Sciences. Undergraduate students can pursue one of three BA tracks: art history, visual arts, and visual and media studies. Art history specializations include architecture and museum studies. The program also offers a combined art history and visual arts major.

    Visual arts majors choose courses from six subdisciplines for introductory and intermediate studios. The program culminates in a required theory course and a studio capstone. Visual and media studies majors must take two gateway courses within their first year. Students choose from a list of preapproved courses to serve as their capstone.

    Art program applicants only need to complete the general Duke application, but students may submit a portfolio and statement as a supplement.

  6. New York University

    New York, NY

    The private research university hosts two schools catering to visual arts. The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers art degrees in studio art, visual arts administration, art therapy, and art education. Tisch School of the Arts provides undergraduate and graduate level tracks in art and design for film.

    The BFA in studio art program begins with a year-long foundation program and ends with a senior studio capstone course. In this course, students develop a portfolio and plan their gallery showcase in small groups. The Tisch film program covers four primary stages: introductory, fundamental, intermediate, and advanced. After completing a bachelor's program, students interested in production design can apply to the MFA program.

    Applicants to the Steinhardt School must submit a 12-15 piece portfolio with a statement of purpose. Tisch portfolio requirements include a one-page resume and the choice of 10-15 images or a five-minute short film. Students must also answer three creative prompts in visual and script format.

  7. Tufts University

    Medford, MA

    Located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Tufts University offers 32 degree and certificate programs in art and design through the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    The first year for BFA students consists of a heavy studio course load and an introductory theory course in visual and material studies. Over four years, students participate in eight review boards, presenting their semester work to a team of faculty and students. The review process helps students recognize the connection between their research projects and studio work while developing their own artistic direction.

    Applicants can choose either a BFA or a combined degree program on the Tufts application. Both programs require a portfolio submission of either 15-20 images or up to 10 minutes of timed material.

  8. Lehigh University

    Bethlehem, PA

    A private research university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Lehigh University offers 13 major and minor programs in art, design, and architecture. The four main BA programs provide students with a foundation for a career in art or a smooth transition to graduate studies.

    The art major centers on the principle disciplines of drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography. Art majors can combine studies with a theatre major to specialize in costume design or pursue a minor in education to receive a teaching certificate. The design major includes studios combining communication through digital media with traditional artmaking. Both majors include five foundation courses in art history, two and three dimensional design, and drawing.

    Applicants need to complete the Common Application or Coalition Application for Lehigh and a writing sample. Students earning a five on the AP Studio Art exam apply eight credits toward the first year foundation courses.

  9. Drexel University

    Philadelphia, PA

    Drexel University, a private research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, awards degrees from 22 art and design programs. These programs include bachelor's and master's level instruction in design, production, and media management.

    All BS majors begin with a foundation in studio art which aims to foster student creativity and solidify design fundamentals. As students continue within their chosen discipline, they will gain professional experience through the university's cooperative education program. Students can choose a four-year study track with one co-op, usually during the third year, or a five-year track, with three co-op placements.

    The Westphal College of Media Arts & Design application includes an essay expressing the student's interest in their intended program. Some majors, such as animation, fashion design, and photography, require an 8-12 piece portfolio.

  10. Georgetown University

    Washington, DC

    Georgetown University's Department of Art and Art History offers BA options in art and art history and an MA in art and museum studies. Students can choose one of eight media specializations in a combined studio and liberal arts curriculum.

    After completing two introductory courses, students take three intermediate studios within a concentration. The four concentration options include drawing and printmaking; painting; sculpture; and photography, graphic design, and new media. Students must complete a senior art seminar to fulfill the university integrated writing requirement. The department hosts a senior art major exhibition in the spring.

    The Office of Undergraduate Admissions bases decisions on a student's general application. Applicants can submit a supplemental portfolio of up to 20 images to convey substantial artistic talent not demonstrated on the general application.

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