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By: Scott Cline on October 3rd, 2018

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Don't know what to major in? Common myths for undecided art students

For Undergraduates | Choosing A Major | Myths

You like to draw and paint, but you also enjoy working with digital illustration software. You've even tried your hand at designing clothes. While it's wonderful to have an abundance of creativity that you can express through multiple mediums, if you want to attend art school, you'll eventually have to narrow your focus.

If you're not sure what you want to study but friends, parents, and teachers have been telling you to pick a major soon, don't worry. Not every art student comes into school with a laser-focused vision of what they want to study and the kind of career they want to pursue. Here are a few common myths that undecided art students hear often, and the truth behind each one:

You have to know what you want to study on day one

While some students enter school with intent to pursue a particular program or major, others spend weeks or even months deciding what they want to major in. In fact, most colleges (California College of the Arts included) allow you to go undecided until the second semester of your sophomore year, which gives you a full year of school to explore and decide the artistic path that's the best fit for you.

You will be a starving artist

The "starving artist" myth is an unsightly tall tale that won't go away. Yes, it's true that some art students struggle to find work after school, but so do students in every other discipline, from philosophy to communications to business. To debunk this myth, look at the real-world data. In 2013, Indiana University launched a massive survey called the Strategic Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). After collecting data from over 13,000 graduate and undergraduate art degree holders, they found that 92% of arts alumni who wanted to work were able to find employment.

You won't learn anything else

Most people learn much more in college than the principles of their chosen major. Like any other college student, art majors learn to socialize, meet deadlines, and communicate with peers and professors. No matter what type of art you study, colleges require students to take courses in other areas, such as philosophy, math, science, and writing to satisfy degree requirements and ensure they are well-rounded when they graduate. If you choose a school in a diverse, vibrant area like San Francisco, your education and college experience will be even broader.

You can only study one thing

Why put limits on your creative abilities? Lots of art schools offer interdisciplinary programs that blend complementary fields like illustration and creative writing, or graphic design and communication. If you really want to go outside the norm, you can propose an individualized major that bridges multiple kinds of artistic pursuits. It might require more initial work than a traditional field, but choosing a custom program of study gives you the opportunity to have a huge level of control over what you learn and what you ultimately do with your degree.

Once you decide your major, you're stuck with it

It's never too late to pursue what you're truly passionate about. Even if you decide in your junior or senior year that you want to do something different than your chosen major, your academic advisor should be able to work with you to craft a reasonable and acceptable plan to get there.

Just like great art is always sensitive to its context, successful art graduates understand how to use their skills and passions to satisfy the demands of today's dynamic society. If you want to change the world with your art, perseverance, creativity, communication, and passion are much more important than where you graduate from, what your major is, or how long you are in school to study art.  

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About Scott Cline

Dr. Scott Cline is vice president of enrollment at California College of the Arts, where he leads the financial aid and undergraduate admissions offices. He has worked at CCA for over six years, previously as director and associate director of financial aid.

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