Top Art Schools in the United States

If Art Is Your Passion, These Schools Are Some of the Best in the Country

When choosing an art school, you should consider three options: attend a specialized arts institute, a large university with a visual arts department, or a university with a strong arts school. The list composed below mostly consists of the best art institutes in the country, but I've also included a few universities and colleges with strong arts programs. Each school below holds impressive studio spaces and arts faculty. Rather then force the schools into an artificial ranking, they are presented here in alphabetical order.

Alumni Hall at Alfred University
Alumni Hall at Alfred University. Denise J Kirschner / Wikimedia Commons

Alfred University is a small comprehensive university located in the town of Alfred, New York. AU has one of the best art schools in the country not located in a major city. At Alfred University, undergraduates in the arts program do not declare a major. Instead, students are all working towards earning their bachelors of fine arts degree. This allows students to mingle easily with other young artists to broaden their skills in various art mediums all four years of studying. Alfred University is known around the world for its ceramic art program, which has helped Alfred’s School of Art and Design earn its high position on many national ranking. AU is not just an arts school; it’s a University with other strong programs in engineering, business, and the liberal arts and sciences. If you’re searching for a strong arts community but also the breadth of a traditional university, Alfred is worth a look.

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California College of the Arts
California College of the Arts. Edward Blake / Flickr

CCA, California College of the Arts, is an art school located in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s a small school of about 2,000 students. The average class size is 13, and academic programs are supported by a faculty to student ratio of 8 to 1. CCA takes pride in its slogan: We Make Art That Matters. A main focus of CCA is to push boundaries in the art world, not only by creating artwork, but also by creating a better world through art. Some of CCA’s most popular majors are Illustration, Graphic Design, Industrial Design and Animation.

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Persons, the New School for Design
Persons, the New School for Design. René Spitz / Flickr

Parsons, the New School for Design, has created programs for its students that emphasizes the importance of working through collaboration. While Parsons offers the tools to master specific art forms and disciplines, its programs also teach students the value of combining multiple skillsets. Parsons is apart of The New Schools program, which means that they hold the legacy of a nontraditional academic community, focusing on keeping up with new advancements in the technical and economical world. Parson also has an amazing study abroad program, and in the fall of 2013, Parsons opened its Paris campus to many undergraduate art degrees, with additional graduate programs on the way.

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Pratt Institute Library
Pratt Institute Library. bormang2 / Flickr

With campuses in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, Students at Pratt are never short of new and exciting ways to explore the cultural and social ways of living as a young artist. Programs at Pratt are consistently ranked top in the country and the school offers multiple degrees in various art forms, including programs in architecture, communications design, and construction management. Pratt also offers over 20 programs for students to study abroad in cities such as London, Florence, and Tokyo. At Pratt Institute, you would be surrounded by other young artists everyday, which is a very unique experience in its own sense, offering a special kind of community for you to make your home in. But, Pratt’s prestigious name in the art world creates a very competitive community as well.

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Otis College of Art and Design
Otis College of Art and Design. Maberry / Wikipedia

Otis College of Art and Design was established in 1918, and is located in Los Angeles. Otis holds a lot of pride for its faulty and alumni, individuals who are Guggenheim grant recipients, Oscar Awardees, and design stars at Apple, Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar. Otis College is a small school, enrolling about 1,100 students and offering only 11 BFA degrees. Otis is distinguished by being among the top 1% of the most diverse schools in the country. Otis student come from 40 different states and 28 countries. 

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RISD, Rhode Island School of Design
RISD, Rhode Island School of Design. Allen Grove

Founded in 1877, RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, is one of the oldest and most well-known art schools in the United States, offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the arts. Don’t let the title of “design” throw you; RISD is in fact a full art school. Some of the most popular majors include Illustration, Painting, Animation/Film/ Video, Graphic Design and Industrial Design. RISD is located in Providence, Rhode Island, which is conveniently located between New York City and Boston. Brown University is just steps away. RISD also does a wonderful job of preparing its students for jobs after graduation, and according to an annual study conducted by its very own Career Center, about 96% of students are employed one year after graduation (with an additional 2% enrolled in a full-time educational programs to pursue an advanced degree).

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Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago. jcarbaugh / Flickr

Located in the heart of Chicago, SAIC, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in strong interdisciplinary programs that give young artists the well-needed freedom needed to thrive creatively. SAIC has been consistently ranked among the top three graduate fine art programs by U.S. News and World Report. The award-winning faculty members are one of the great resources for the students of SAIC, and many famous artists have trained at SAIC over the years including Georgia O’Keefe.

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Yale University
Yale University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Yale University is one of the eight prestigious Ivy League schools. The university has achieved top rankings in the country for not only art, but also its medical, business and law programs. Yale offers both BFA and MFA programs in the arts, with degrees in print-making, theater management, painting and much more. Yale University is one of the most selective colleges in the country, and art students have to meet the same admission requirements as other students at the University. But art students who attend Yale tend to be very successful, finding positions after school with an average starting salary of $40,000 a year and an average mid-career salary of $70,000.

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