7 Considerations When Applying to College as a Visual Art or Design Major



For more than 20 years, Hans Evers, International College Counselors’ Director of College Counseling, has worked with students applying to the most prestigious Art and Design programs. His students have been accepted for Art and Architecture at The Cooper Union, for Product Design at Art Center College of Design, Fashion Design at Parsons/The New School, Transportation Design at CCS, Animation at CalArts, and many others. As Director of Admissions at four top art colleges, he has evaluated applications and portfolios for thousands of students. Taking into account his vast experience in the arts, Hans shares with us seven things to consider when applying to college as a visual art or design major: 
1. Love what you do
Whether it is photography, sculpture, graphic design, animation, fashion, or multi-media installation, you should LOVE spending time making your work. If anyone asks you what you do when you have free time, the answer should unequivocally be, “Get creative and make my [fill the blank] work.” You should have a sketchbook (aka artist’s diary) that you carry everywhere you go and constantly use for notes, ideas, and sketches. 

2. Make work all the time
You should be making works, large and small, simple and complex, all the time. When your teacher assigns a self-portrait, you make three and submit the best one–or all three! More importantly, you should make work outside of class on projects that are of your own choosing. Similar to the way recruited athletes train, you should be spending hours every week working on your art/design projects. Contrary to popular belief, art is much more about practice and commitment than about talent. 

3. Get passionate about your field
Don’t be afraid to become an “art nerd.” Visit museums and gallery shows, study art history, and read art magazines. Look at lots and lots of art. But don’t just Google everything; flip pages and walk up to/around art works in real time and space. Develop a list of favorite artists, and not just ‘dead’ ones! What is it about their work that resonates with you and how can this inspire your own art praxis? Perhaps they are addressing topics in their work such as identity, race, religion, or the environment, which are close to your heart. Challenge yourself by deep diving into the oeuvre of an artist/designer you don’t like. Discover ‘outsider artists’ such as Henry Darger that your friends and teacher have never heard of before. If you aspire to be a real art nerd, look up all the yellow words.

4. Develop & edit your portfolio
For most visual artists and designers, a portfolio is an edited collection of real works AND the photographic documentation of those works. Some art works are ephemeral or in situ and can only be documented in photographs. A portfolio is a collection of works that grows and is edited over an entire career. It is important to get in the habit of documenting your works soon after they are created, since not all works are archival. In the end, when you apply to college, you will submit a highly edited digital portfolio of 15-20 pieces.

5. Attend summer pre-college programs
One of the best ways to grow as an aspiring artist/designer is to surround yourself with other like-minded creatives. There are many great summer art programs, from short (2 weeks) to long (8 weeks), local to international, and from general to highly focused. If at all possible, plan to attend two summer programs before your senior year. It is a great way to get to know a favorite college, to demonstrate interest, and to improve your portfolio. There are too many programs to list, but if you’re interested in getting suggestions, contact us at ICC. 

6. Get critical feedback
Getting critical feedback on your work is an essential way to grow as an artist. And although it can be nice to get feedback from your loving friends and family, it is essential to get feedback from experts – your teachers, professional artists, critics, and writers, as well as from art college recruiters. Taking AP, AICE, IB and Dual Enrollment courses in art, and attending summer art programs are a great way to get rigorous feedback on your work. Art college recruiters are happy to review and critique your work when they visit your school or when you are on their campus for a visit/tour, visiting them at a portfolio day, or a summer program.

7. Research art and design college programs
It is never too early to start researching art and design programs. A good place to start is with types of degrees. Not all colleges offer majors in art, fewer in design, and even fewer offer professional degrees such as the BFA, BDes and BArch. If you are serious about a career in art or design, you should favor colleges offering professional degrees. Ideally they offer Masters programs in your chosen field as well. Two excellent places to start your research are the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) and the National Portfolio Day Association (NPDA). Member colleges of both associations are NASAD accredited and the NPDA hosts the National Portfolio Days, which you should plan to attend starting your sophomore year. 

Don’t forget that when you are applying as an art or design major, colleges are still looking at all your other application materials, including your transcript and test scores, as well as resume, essay, and recommendation letters. Some are more selective than others, but you can’t slack off on your academics just because you are developing your portfolio.

For more information on art colleges, join us for a free webinar on April 15th at 7pm EST or contact us at 1-954-414-9986. 

About International College Counselors
International College Counselors works with students from all over the world to help them reach their college and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, the expert college advisors create an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and passions. The holistic process helps families of middle school, high school, and college-aged students alleviate stress, avoid confusion, and get results.
FREE WEBINAR: How to Get Accepted to Top Visual Arts/Design Colleges   
April 15, 2020 at 7:00 PM EST 
This detailed discussion of the unique art/design application requirements will help demystify the application portfolio, and will review how to prepare a strong body of work. Join Hans Evers, Director of College Advising, for this free, engaging webinar.  

FREE WEBINAR: College Admissions in Times of Uncertainty
April 16, 2020 at 2:00 PM EST
Have questions on what the coronavirus means for colleges and student admissions? Join Andy Greenspan, Director of College Advising at International College Counselors for this free, interactive webinar.
REGISTER:  https://bit.ly/3bTXqVv

FREE WEBINAR: Applying to Ivy League and Highly Selective Colleges 
April 29, 2020 at 7:00 PM EST 
Getting accepted to Ivy League schools has become more difficult due to a rapidly growing applicant pool. Aside from getting top grades and testing well, discover ways students can set themselves apart from the pack and how to improve their odds of admission.   

All webinars are recommended for parents and students in grades 8-11.

Apply for the International College Counselors Scholarship
All students in grades 9-11 are encouraged to apply for the ICC scholarship. Write an essay that answers the question: “You have been invited to talk to the future U.S. Secretary of Education. What would you say?” Additional contest rules and submission information can be found here The scholarship deadline is April 15, 2020.