How to Apply as an Art Major
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By Calla Buttke

Calla Buttke is a college admissions strategist and college preparation expert. She earned a master’s degree from Stanford University in East Asian Studies, where she was offered a full-tuition fellowship and stipend to attend. [Read More About Author]

How to Apply as an Art Major

For students who are passionate about art and want to pursue further studies and a career in this field, applying to college as an art major can be a daunting task. Not only do students usually have to write application essays and submit their standardized test scores and transcripts, an artist’s statement and art portfolio is usually required as well. Art schools and programs seek students who have experience and talent in the field and will create meaningful, inspired works of art. At ThinkTank Learning, we advise aspiring artists on how to develop their skills as well as collaborate with them on each part of their art school applications so that they can stand out in the applicant pool.

How to Prepare: 11th Grade and Earlier

Developing artistic skills takes time. Students who have an interest in art should begin actively pursuing this interest in early high school, if not earlier. This includes taking art courses at school (reaching and taking AP Studio Art, if offered at the student’s high school), joining art clubs and other art-related endeavors, perhaps working with a private art instructor or taking extracurricular lessons, volunteering, working, or interning at a local art museum, and simply creating works of art during the student’s spare time. Strong applicants will have experience with a variety of art mediums, have had their works exhibited, and have won awards for their art. At ThinkTank Learning, consultants help students prepare to be highly competitive applicants by:

  • Recommending which art courses to take at their high school
  • Advising students on which school- and community-based art clubs and organizations they should join, based on their interests and area of specialization
  • Helping find a suitable private art instructor or art lessons
  • Assisting students with finding and applying for volunteer, work, or intern positions at local art museums or similar organizations
  • Working on art-related summer program applications with students

The Application Process: 11th Grade and 12th Grade

Step One: School Selection

11th grade is the ideal time for students to begin considering which art schools they would like to apply to. For art, there are two tracks: 1) applying to art colleges, and 2) applying to national universities with art programs. While students often apply to a mixture of these two types of schools, the application processes differ. Art schools generally place the most emphasis on a student’s portfolio and artist statement, and focus less on a student’s test scores and grades. Art programs at national universities will require that students complete the general application that all applicants, regardless of major, fill out. The portfolio and, if applicable, artist statement will be supplemental materials to the main university application.

In California, some universities with top art programs are:

Some of the top arts colleges around the country are:

Overall, many of the top art schools are in Los Angeles and New York City, as well as in other major metro areas. When considering which school is right for a student, the student should consider the reputation of the school overall, the strength of the particular major the student would like to pursue, the location and its available art resources and opportunities, among other factors. For students who are serious about pursuing a career in art, art schools are often a better choice, as they have more specialized programs and opportunities catered towards art students. Major options at art schools (and also in some art programs at national universities) include: advertising, animation, architecture, ceramics, graphic design, photography, design and tech, game design, fashion design, illustration, industrial design, and fashion design. At ThinkTank Learning, we help students find the best schools for them as well as assist students in selecting a major that best suits their interests and career aspirations.

Step Two: The Art Application

In addition to sending in transcripts, test scores, and a general application (for national universities), the two parts that differentiate art applications from other college applications are the portfolio and the artist’s statement.

The Portfolio

An art applicant’s portfolio is a selection of their best work that they share with admissions officers. There are usually ten to twenty pieces in the portfolio, depending on the application’s requirements. Many universities use the website Slideroom for the applicants to upload their portfolio. A student’s portfolio usually consists of work that is related to their major; for example, a student applying for an animation program should have a portfolio that contains more animated figure drawings than other works. However, it is also good to include a few works of art in other mediums and styles too. Accompanying each work in the portfolio is a description explaining the medium used, what it is, and the inspiration and meaning behind it. Each of these descriptions is usually less than 100 words in length. At ThinkTank Learning, we help art students revise and edit the art descriptions in their portfolios so that the meanings behind their beautiful works of art are effectively and concisely conveyed.

The Artist’s Statement

At national universities, the artist’s statement is often a supplemental essay, and at art schools, it is usually the main essay. While each college has a different artist’s statement prompt and requirements for it, an artist’s statement tends to be 300 to 700 words in length and discusses the art applicant’s background in art, creative inspiration, and career objectives. At ThinkTank Learning, we help students brainstorm for, revise, and edit their artist’s statements, helping them effectively paint a picture of who they are as an artist.

Although applying to art programs often requires more time and effort than regular college applications, ThinkTank Learning consultants are here to help guide students through the process and get into the art program of their dreams!