A guide to applying to US art and design schools

How to find the best school for you and what to do before and during your application.

The USA is home to a vast array of institutions offering world-class courses in the creative fields. However, with so much choice, students can find applying to art and design schools in the USA daunting. This article, compiled from excerpts from the website of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), provides guidance and tips for prospective art students considering studying at American schools.

How do I discover which schools are best for me?The easiest way to discover which school is best for you is to have a general idea of what characteristics you are looking for in an institution and what you are interested in studying. Once these issues have been decided, the remainder of the task should be focused on research, study and the process of elimination.

Each institution of higher education typically publishes catalogues and other documents of valuable and informative material ranging from campus size to student life, from curricular offerings to course descriptions. Usually, these publications are readily available from an institution’s admissions office.

A fashion student sketches at a US art school

“Talk with art and design professionals you know and respect, with recent graduates and with those who work professionally in your area of career interest”

It’s important to develop an in-depth knowledge of ranking systems, the parameters used by those rankings, and the reasons for the actual ranking. Make sure those areas ranked are those that are important and apply to you. A school at the top of a particular chart may not, by this indicator alone, be a perfect match for you.

Learn about an institution. Study what it has to offer and how effectively it delivers education in your particular area of interest. Talk with art and design professionals you know and respect, with recent graduates and with those who work professionally in your area of career interest. Look for whether the institution’s environment, approaches to learning, artistic agenda and corporate culture matches your personality and goals.

Try to visit campuses. Typically, institutions will provide informative tours for prospective students and their parents. These tours provide a flavour of the institution, as well as an opportunity to pose questions and have them answered face-to-face by administrators, faculty and/or students.

How do I apply for admission to an art and design school?Applications for admission to art and design schools can only be made directly with the institution. Typically, a potential student will need to fill out an application form providing information such as high school coursework taken, grades achieved, extracurricular activity involvement and so on. In addition, art and design institutions normally wish to see a prospective student’s portfolio.

Students are encouraged to speak directly with admission counsellors and art and design unit representatives in order to ascertain all information needed to complete an institution’s application process.

NASAD’s suggestions for making applications to art and design schools:

  • Sharpen your focus; decide what you would like to study. List specifics regarding conditions and environments you seek, and prioritise your requirements
  • Start your enquiry process with enough time to collect the information you will need to make informed choices based on your decisions and priorities
  • Think of questions that will help you to find out if an institution offers what you seek
  • Acquire and study the information available from institutions that interest you
  • Ask questions of people at institutions and in your community
  • Prepare to meet portfolio and entrance requirements
  • Visit institutions. Meet potential major teachers. Consider all factors
  • Include your possibilities for artistic and intellectual growth
  • Understand your commitments and responsibilities if you enrol
  • Enjoy the process. Consider it a voyage of discovery

Answers to more key questions about applying to study at art and design schools in the USA are available on the FAQ section of NASAD’s website.

Excerpted from a set of FAQs published by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) (2011)