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By: Shiraz Chavan on June 15th, 2017

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Searching For an Arts College? The First Question You Should Ask Yourself

Choosing A College | For Undergraduates

Question: Why do you want to go to an arts college?

You: To be a better artist.

Question: Ok, but what does that mean to you?

You: Uh…

If your search for the perfect art college seems unfocused, it could be because you haven’t given enough thought to who you want to be as an artist — not just during your four or five years of art college, but 10, 15, or even 20 years down the road. And because you don’t know where you want to go in your post-degree career, you have no way of knowing if one art school or another will get you there.

Don’t worry. You’re not the first aspiring artist who has jumped into the art college search without first asking yourself the tough questions about who you are as an artist, who you want to be, and why.

Looking within yourself and projecting out to your future can be scary! But we guarantee it will help you make sense of the dizzying array of options you have for higher education in art and design.

To get you started, we recently published a list of the “Three Simple Questions to Ask Yourself to Choose the Perfect Art College.” Here, we’re going to focus on the very first question, because we think, by asking it, many art college applicants could save themselves a lot of time and wasted effort on exploring the wrong schools:

How do you define success?

That is, as you set out to become a successful artist, art college degree in hand, when will you know your quest is complete? Once you know what success means to you, you can start looking for schools that can equip you to achieve it.

Every artist has a different definition of success — and for many, it means several things at the same time — but there are a few common categories to help focus your discovery process. We’ve listed them here, along with a few tips on finding an art college that will help you achieve the vision of success that resonates most with you.

‘To Me, Success Means...:’

Financial Success

The image of a “starving artist” is, unfortunately, a myth that just won’t seem to die. As we explain in this article, choosing the life of an artist doesn’t mean giving up your chance at making a comfortable living.

There are a number of ways to find financial success as an artist, from selling your work, to landing a position with a top company or hot new startup, to working as a photographer, teacher, or freelance designer or illustrator. The right art college can set you down a professional path with financial and creative rewards.

How to Find an Art College That Will Help

Start with the list of Best Value Art Schools from PayScale. This ranking orders art colleges according to return on investment (ROI): how much money graduates earn compared with how much they spend on tuition.

Also consider the majors offered by different schools. Some — such as architecture or industrial design — tend to be more lucrative than others.

Career Success

You know that creative problem solvers that specialize in “design thinking” are in high demand at some of the country’s most innovative companies. You want to hone your artistic abilities and use them to help create the products that make our lives easier, the iconic imagery that illustrates our existence, and the shows, movies, and video games that keep us entertained.

How to Find an Art College That Will Help

Learn about the internships that schools help their students line up. Look for ones at the top companies you admire.

Take a school’s location into account, as well; different areas of the country are hotbeds for different creative industries, such as animation in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Artistic Growth

For you, it’s all about the art. Sure, you want to make a decent living, but the most important thing is that you’re continually improving your technique, exploring new modes of expression, and contributing your own voice to the ongoing conversation in the art world. You already know that you will never stop pushing yourself creatively.

How to Find an Art College That Will Help

Read about what faculty are up to and check out their work, online and in galleries. These are the people who will be challenging you to grow and push the boundaries at art college and beyond. View student work, as well. Does the art say something to you? Do you have something to say back?

Making a Difference

You don’t want to just make money. You don’t even want to just make art. You want to make art that makes a difference. You believe that artists are uniquely qualified to use their creative viewpoints to bring hidden truths to light and solve some of the world’s toughest challenges with a commitment to justice, community, and sustainability.

How to Find an Art College That Will Help

Start by reading the mission statements of different art colleges — but you’ll want to make sure that their commitment to making a difference is more than a marketing tagline. Learn about how students are encouraged to reach out to their communities through their art and how alumni are making a positive impact with their work.

What Does Success Mean to You?

Where do you want your art college degree to take you 10, 15, or 20 years from now? Share your dreams in the comments section below.

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About Shiraz Chavan

Shiraz Chavan came to the United States from Nigeria to study education and work with international students like herself, and she is currently Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at California College of the Arts. Chavan is passionate about equal access to education, with an undergrad degree in Elementary Education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a graduate degree in Education Administration from University of the Pacific.

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