An original art piece by PNCA student Mia Barnes. Barnes plans to major in illustration, and is currently a freshman at Pacific Northwest College of Art.
Illustration by Mia Barnes

Many students at Franklin and from schools all across the country are considering what their next steps will be after high school. With the help of counselors, students are well prepared for their pursuits in four-year colleges, universities, community colleges, gap years, and even paths in the military. But what about art school? Although art schools can be categorized under the “four-year university” experience, there are some key differences that set them apart. For starters, pursuing art as a career is frequently labeled as risky or a guaranteed low-income career, which makes it unappealing to many and often causes students to choose other paths. Additionally, art schools often lead to the development of  an entirely different skill set than other paths. Overall, it seems that there is a lack of information surrounding the pursuit and general knowledge of attending an art school.

To begin, many students feel unsure if they should consider applying for art school in the first place. To this, freshman at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), Mia Barnes, “recommend[s] art school, but not to everyone,” explaining that “you should only attend art school if you’re sure that art is what you want to do and you feel confident in that.” In addition to a passion for art, Barnes simply notes that “It’s a lot of money, and so you have to be willing to pay that.” For a rough idea, the yearly tuition at PNCA is around $34,500, and at the Art Institute of Chicago, yearly tuition is around $45,750. When it comes to deciding on a future path, money and passion are the most significant factors for consideration. On top of that, Barnes explains that “you have to be ready to accept criticism on your work” and that “a lot of art school is people dissecting your work and telling you you need to improve and do better.” If you feel comfortable with these aspects of art school, and consider yourself especially passionate about doing art in the future, then art school could be for you.

Barnes notes that “it was strange, because I was going from eight classes a day to one to two very intensive classes a day, almost all of them focused on art in some form.” This experience is similar to the traditional four-year university experience, but with much more art, of course. The significant difference actually comes in the community of peers that “are all passionate about the same exact subject,” says Barnes. This type of community is unique in that it does not exist in any other alternative paths available straight out of high school. In this way, art school is catered toward the serious and passionate artist, and doesn’t leave any room for as large a variety of lifestyles as other paths might provide. If this commitment for art seems too intense, many traditional universities offer excellent art programs in addition to other interests.

When it comes down to the technical aspects of art school, some skills are generally required beforehand. Most art schools require a portfolio and general application for admittance. This means that students often have to prepare a collection of artwork created within a certain time span (the most recent year, for example) to showcase artistic abilities. Art school, unlike many other paths, often requires art skill as a prerequisite for admittance. Art schools often look at the mastery of specific skills often mentioned in portfolio requirement description by each school, and a unique sense of artistic style unique to the student. If you love art and feel you may possess the knowledge and skills to pursue art school, it doesn’t hurt to try.

In the end, Barnes shares that the best part of attending art school is probably “being able to get so much feedback and support from faculty and other students,” in addition to having “access to facilities and tools that you don’t usually get to have, like the printmaking studio.” Barnes also admits that the worst part of attending an art school is how much money it costs. In her own words: “I’m spending a lot of money to go here, and it’s training me for a career that doesn’t provide a very reliable income. A lot of classes also require extra materials that you have to purchase yourself, and it all can add up really fast. Art school is a serious investment that doesn’t always pay out.” With these things in mind, Barnes says “art school isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for all artists even,” but hopefully now it’s a little easier to discern if art school is the right path for you.

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