When you begin thinking about college, one of the first things you need to think about is – do you want to attend an art college or a college with a high-quality art program?

Many people have very strongly held opinions about what you should do. We have a very strongly held opinion that you should do what makes sense for you and your specific needs. Life is not one size fits all. The pros and cons of the decision vary depending on each student’s goal for her/his education.We’d like to help you start to envision what kind of college experience may suit you best. Explore Art School vs. College There are two primary paths for high school students pursuing visual and/or performing arts – and one hybrid path.

  1. An art college/art school/art institute.
  2. A college with a good visual arts department.
  3. A large university with a separate arts college/program.

To start your college search, here is a quick overview of some of the differences/benefits of each.

Art Colleges:

An art college is focused almost exclusively on art. Roughly two-thirds of your coursework will focus on art studies. About one-third of your coursework will be electives, general education requirements, and related non-studio courses (art history, criticism, etc.). Some of those courses may overlap a bit or include art as part of the curriculum. If you want to immerse yourself in art, an art college is probably going to be your best choice. Your coursework will offer depth and challenge you artistically in methods you may want to explore. An immersive art college experience includes some unique benefits:

  • Every school is different, of course, but at art colleges, most of your time will be spent creating art.
  • Your coursework will follow a precise curriculum designed to prepare you to be a working artist. The depth and variety of your available coursework is vast.
  • You will be surrounded by other artists and immersed in the art world. Your social life will consist of a community of creative energy.
  • All school resources go to art. For example, the entire budget for guest lecturers, visiting professors, exhibits, etc. goes to art related opportunities.
  • At an art college, you will make strong connections in the art world, which may prove to be helpful in the future.

Colleges with a Strong Visual Arts Department:Art College

The benefits of majoring in art at a liberal arts college include:

  • Your campus experience will include a wide range of possibilities outside the arts, from playing intramural sports, or joining clubs,  to participating in Greek life, and more.
  • Your social life may be vastly different from a social life at an art school. You will most likely be rooming with someone who is not an artist. You will be regularly connecting with people outside your major while participating in a tight knit (albeit smaller) community of artists.
  • In a non-arts college, you’ll make connections beyond the arts world. Your peers majoring in economics, journalism, etc. may prove to be strong connections for your career.

Universities with a Stand-Alone Art College:

Many large universities have a School of Art & Design within the larger university system – providing you access to the best of both worlds. You will receive a top-notch arts education and still have access to resources outside the art world. It still isn’t for everyone but it offers some benefits. A stand alone program in a big school has its benefits:

  • You’ll have access to resources such as libraries, lectures, funding, clubs, sports, etc. from the university at large.
  • You will likely stick with your cohort at the art college (make friends with them, live on campus together, socialize, etc.), but if you want the broader experience, it’s there for the taking!
  • You have an opportunity to make connections beyond the art world while knowing you will make connections with your fellow artists.
  • If you change your mind about art or the degree program you’re in, you’re already at an institution with additional options.

Next Up: Stay tuned for our next article on the types of degree programs offered.


Each of the three paths has different requirements and application strategies for gaining acceptance. If you would like to discuss the pros and cons in more depth and get specific support for your goals, we can offer you sound advice. Contact us to learn more.