As an art instructor, the first question parents ask me about any school or program is, “Will my child be able to get a job in the arts?” There isn’t clear-cut answer to this question – the arts are a broad field that requires more skills than just being able to draw well. Many artists have to invent their jobs, which requires a creative, innovative, and disciplined mindset. A colleague of mine has described an arts career as “hacking” into the world.
More than anything, an arts career requires being able to work harder than imaginable, and the study of art requires being curious and critical about everything and anything, not just visual art.
Outside of teaching, a career in the arts does not necessarily require an arts degree. However, it can be a huge stepping-stone and open doors faster than for someone without one. While thinking about this, I pooled my collective friends about what they wished they would have known in high school.
This list came from that discussion. It is a set of questions for students and parents in evaluating the value of an art school or university art program. I encourage students and parents to push for specific answers to these questions rather than vague assurances. In addition, many stressed that it is almost impossible for an eighteen-year-old to conceive of the weight and duration of time that college debt carries to someone in the arts, and stressed that avoiding debt is essential for individuals in the arts.
1) Does the school or program require a portfolio? What types of artwork(s) are required for admission? How do they evaluate this portfolio in determining admission? Is it possible to see examples of portfolios of students who have been accepted?
2) What sort of financial aid is available? Are there need-based or merit based scholarships? Does the financial aid office assist in finding financial aid from outside of the institution?
3) How much should a student budget for supplies each semester? Students can borrow and share books for regular academic classes, but paint, clay, or computer programs can be more difficult to share, and this can be a surprise added expense for some students.
4) What sort of technology does the school provide for students? What technology are students required to purchase? Does the school have any programs that provide discounts on technology purchases to students?
5) What are the differences between applied arts (graphic design, fashion design, video game design, illustration, animation, etc.) and fine arts? What are the differences in career options between the two fields?
6) What sort of skills will a student learn that are applicable and marketable to possible non-art making jobs, such as carpentry, welding, web design, marketing, installation/art handling?
7) What sort of business management or professional practices classes does the school or program offer? How are these introduced?
8) What sort of interdisciplinary opportunities or combination degrees does the school or department offer? Are there opportunities to minor or study in other (non-art) areas?
9) Does your school or program have regular guest artist lectures or Visiting Artist critiques from active professionals in the field? How often?
10) How does the school or program develop writing and critical thinking skills?
11) What is the ratio of fulltime professors to adjuncts? (Believe it or not, this will greatly affect the quality of education at a given program).
12) Are the adjuncts unionized? (Again, this matters).
13) What sort of tracking of alumni does the school do? How good is the alumni network? Does the school ever offer opportunities for career advancement to alumni?
14) What sort of specific networking opportunities outside of the campus community does the program offer?
15) Is an internship required for graduation? If the only offerings are unpaid internships, what networking opportunities will they include for possible career building during or after school? Does the school have any funding (such as work study) so that students in internship programs can earn wages or financial assistance?
16) Does the school have a Career Services program? If applying to an art program at a large university, how much assistance can art students and alumni count on Career Services for actual help? At art schools, a Career Center is targeted towards art careers, whereas a Career Center at a large university may be spread too thin to offer any support of value. And even at art schools, a Career Center may be limited to helping those in the applied arts - ask if they have workshops or advice on such grant writing, using Kickstarter, financial planning, etc.
Some other helpful articles:
5 Things You Must Do When Applying to Art Colleges
Art and Music Schools: Should you go to one?
The Reality of Going to Art School and the Basic FAQ For Those Considering It
Thanks to Katie Baldwin, Amanda D'Amico, Gerard Brown, Zoe Cohen, Reed Davaz McGowan, Kristi Holohan, Kara Petraglia, Michelle Ramin, Jessica Ramsay Liberatore, Elisabeth Nickles, Nova Printmakers, Kathryn Sclavi, Kathrine Worel, and Imin Yeh for help assembling this list of questions.