Top Dedicated Undergraduate Art Schools in the United States

Below is a list of the top dedicated undergraduate fine art schools in the US. This is NOT a definitive list of all undergraduate fine arts programs. There are many strong undergraduate art programs, including at schools such as Carnegie Mellon, Yale, and Temple University (Tyler), that do not appear on this list… This list, derived from USNWR, consists of “colleges that offer most or all of their degrees in fine arts…” USNWR goes on to note that these schools are NOT ranked because the category is too small.

What I find most interesting about this list, absent of rankings, is the choice of a so-called “dedicated” art school such as those below, with little or no ‘distraction’ from more mainstream academics, versus somewhat larger institutions which offer undergraduate fine arts adjacent to offerings of mainstream academics. The choice is ultimately up to the individual and his/her family. Factors may include prospective major, geography, economics, the need for mainstream academic resources (e.g., for a double major or where art is not the main focus), a broader spectrum social life, or simply the desire to hedge one’s bet on a career in fine arts with avenues to other career choices.

Personally, our daughter chose to co-mingle these undergraduate concepts by choosing a true dedicated art school with access (not part of) to an elite private university. This has so far worked out very well for her as she likes the intensity of a truly dedicated art school, with only minor non-art academic requirements, but also likes having access to the academics, students and social life of a classic liberal arts colleges.

Am curious as to other people’s experience either with children who made this choice already or who are in the process of researching and making such a choice.

School Academy of Art University
San Francisco, CA

American Academy of Art
Chicago, IL

Art Academy of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH

Art Center College of Design
Pasadena, CA

Art Institute of Atlanta
Atlanta, GA

Art Institute of Colorado
Denver, CO

Art Institute of Houston
Houston, TX

The Art Institute of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA

Art Institute of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA

Art Institute of Portland
Portland, OR

Art Institute of Seattle
Seattle, WA

Boston Architectural College
Boston, MA

California College of the Arts
San Francisco, CA

California Institute of the Arts
Valencia, CA

Cleveland Institute of Art
Cleveland, OH

College for Creative Studies
Detroit, MI

Columbus College of Art and Design
Columbus, OH

Cornish College of the Arts
Seattle, WA

Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
Los Angeles, CA

Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture
Scottsdale, AZ

Illinois Institute of Art–Chicago
Chicago, IL

Kansas City Art Institute
Kansas City, MO

Laguna College of Art and Design
Laguna Beach, CA

Maine College of Art
Portland, ME

Maryland Institute College of Art
Baltimore, MD

Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Boston, MA

Memphis College of Art
Memphis, TN

Miami International University of Art & Design
Miami, FL

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
Milwaukee, WI

Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Minneapolis, MN

Montserrat College of Art
Beverly, MA

Moore College of Art & Design
Philadelphia, PA

New England Institute of Art
Brookline, MA

New Hampshire Institute of Art
Manchester, NH

NewSchool of Architecture and Design
San Diego, CA

Oregon College of Art and Craft
Portland, OR

Otis College of Art and Design
Los Angeles, CA

Pacific Northwest College of Art
Portland, OR

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Philadelphia, PA

Pennsylvania College of Art and Design
Lancaster, PA

Pratt Institute
Brooklyn, NY

Rhode Island School of Design
Providence, RI

Ringling College of Art and Design
Sarasota, FL

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
Lakewood, CO

San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco, CA

Santa Fe University of Art and Design
Santa Fe, NM

Savannah College of Art and Design
Savannah, GA

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, IL

School of Visual Arts
New York, NY

Southern California Institute of Architecture
Los Angeles, CA

Southwest University of Visual Arts
Tucson, AZ

University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Winston-Salem, NC

University of the Arts
Philadelphia, PA

Watkins College of Art, Design & Film
Nashville, TN

Take a look at the average debt taken on by kids who go to these schools. It’s unacceptable, given the average salary of UG degrees from these schools.

As someone who majored in (and is currently majoring in again as a returning student) studio art, I would NEVER recommend that my kid go to a dedicated art school, and I would never attend one given the paucity of solid core requirements.

Being a successful, working artist requires more than just the ability to draw pretty pictures.

You are your own business.

You need to understand the business and marketing side of art or you will continually be taken to the cleaners. UG degrees that have no academic requirements do not prepare you for this side of the art world, in my opinion.

Additionally, no exposure to non-art academics creates an adult with a reduced grasp of the world around them, and (again, in my opinion), this shallow education is reflected in the type of art they create and how they relate to the world around them.

@MotherOfDragons - So to the extent your child is interested in a career in the fine arts, other than dissuading them or at least warning them of the pitfalls of such a course, you would lean toward study at a school that provides a more well-balanced education, including liberal arts and sciences as well as fine arts. You certainly make a good point that those of us with children in this position should be much more proactive in our understanding of the challenges.

Two questions:

  1. Can you afford it? Don’t go into debt for art school. It’s a wonderful experience but not worth crushing debt.
    There are other avenues.

If you can afford it…truly afford it…
2) Does the school give you training that you wouldn’t be able to attain otherwise (at cheaper, alternative source, on your own)? Is there some special training that the student is pursuing as a career goal?

Always keep in mind the ultimate career goal. Own a business? Work for a company?
Not sure?
I’m a fan of “keep your options open”. The art school route to me is for those who KNOW that is where they want to be and can afford to do it.

@gouf78 - I think you highlight several critical points. A college admissions counselor I once spoke with told me, “No astronomical debt you may incur for an undergraduate education is worth it.” While this is a bit absolutist, I think the point is well taken. Affordability aside, dedicated art school presents the challenge of early and intense focus. This is why your second point, obtaining solid training with an eye toward postgraduate employment is so important. This is also why in our personal search we targeted schools with resources geared toward long term employment as well as opportunities to get there. We know many undergraduate fine art majors who are totally lost upon graduation. Some of the truly elite schools among the above list boast a host of internship, gallery and other opportunities, together with incredibly high postgraduate employment rates.