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Articles / Applying to College / Arts Programs: More Selective than Liberal Arts?

Feb. 14, 2008

Arts Programs: More Selective than Liberal Arts?

Question: Are art programs/colleges easier to get into than liberal arts? Any advice about applying to top tier art programs?

I assume that you're talking about fine arts programs as opposed to performing arts, which is a different story altogether. But, actually, in both cases, the answer to your question is an unsatisfying, "It depends."


Since most fine arts schools require a portfolio for admission, even students who have Ivy-caliber grades and test scores will be turned away if their arts submissions aren't up to snuff. On the other hand, the admitted-student rate at the nation's top art schools is somewhat higher than at the most selective liberal arts colleges and universities. For instance, Rhode Island School of Design, one of the nation's most renowned art colleges, accepts about a third of its applicants, while the Ivies and most "elite" small schools admit anywhere from about 10% to 20%.

Admission to an arts program within a larger university is typically portfolio-based as well. Sometimes these programs may have lower standards when it comes to grades and test scores, but, even so, the portfolio evaluation may make them more selective than the university itself.

When my own advisees ask me to assess their chances of admission to art programs or art colleges, I cannot provide the answers they seek because I'm in no position to evaluate their creative work, even if everything else in their "profile" meets--or exceeds--the institution's standards. If you want to get an assessment of your own work, you can begin with your teacher(s). Ask how your portfolio compares to those of past students who have aimed for the same or similar colleges. You can also attend a National Portfolio Day event. (See http://www.portfolioday.net/ ). This is a free and (fairly) stress-free way to have your work critiqued by experts. National Portfolio Days are held throughout the country and attract representatives from many arts programs. Think of this as a college fair, which provides a chance to learn about a lot of colleges at once, but the twist here is that you can lug your portfolio or slides along and get some feedback that can help you strengthen your application (or spur you to pursue an entirely different career!).

Although performing arts programs require a different approach (auditions, head shots, etc.), you will also usually find that admission chances depend greatly on a subjective evaluation of your talent, and grades and test scores may take a back seat if you are very gifted.

However, if you wish to study any type of art in college .. fine arts or performing arts ... you can also look to the liberal arts. Many colleges have excellent programs in these areas that do not require a portfolio, an audition, or even a commitment to a major until the end of your sophomore year. Although your course load may not be as focused on your specific interest as it would be in an art college or school of art within a university, this can still be a great way to pursue a passion without locking yourself in to just one field.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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