Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

Top Schools for Arts and Design in the US

5 minute read

Art and design in our modern world attract students with a passion for creativity and visual expression. Think beyond just painting on a canvas. Nowadays, studio art and design extend into the digital realm. Ever wondered about those eye-catching Instagram posts, TikTok videos, or awesome graphics on your favorite website? Yep, that's all part of the modern art scene! 

Effectively choosing the right school among the many art and design colleges available is essential in cultivating your artistic talents and shaping a career in the vibrant and dynamic world of visual arts.

Why Study Arts and Design?

If you possess a love for visual expression, innovative thinking, and the desire to communicate through creative mediums, pursuing arts and design offers an enriching academic and professional journey. The field encompasses a diverse range of disciplines, from fine arts and graphic design to digital media and architecture. Attending art school not only hones your technical skills but also fosters a deep understanding of cultural, historical, and societal contexts that shape artistic expression.

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Polygence alumni had a 92% admissions rate to R1 universities in 2023. Polygence provides high schoolers a personalized, flexible research experience proven to boost your admission odds. Get matched to a mentor now!"

Top Schools for Arts and Design in the US

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Location: Providence, Rhode Island
Tuition: $54,890

Why it’s a top art school: RISD is renowned for its commitment to fostering creativity and innovation. With a comprehensive range of programs in fine arts, graphic design, and more, RISD provides students with a dynamic and collaborative environment to explore their artistic potential.

Polygence research program mentors:

Matthew: I am a multidisciplinary designer, data scientist, and researcher working in the area of environment and sustainability. My research focuses on participatory approaches to sensing, mapping, communicating, and understanding complex environmental systems for sustainable development and decision-making, making use of both quantitative data and "warm data" (stories, experiences, etc.). I am especially interested in working with students who want to cross the boundary between design, science, and art to create impact-driven projects that support the local needs of communities and the environment. I am an active member of ETH Zurich’s Designing Resilient Regenerative Systems group, TB21–Academy’s Ocean/UNI, and the Yale Forest Forum. On the side, I make music, visual art, and photographs. I love movement and the outdoors and you will most likely find me playing tennis, running, doing yoga, hiking, or sailing.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Tuition: $54,320

Why it’s a top art school: SAIC is a global leader in arts education, offering a diverse array of programs in fine arts, design, and art history. The school's location in Chicago provides students with exposure to a rich cultural scene and artistic community.

Notable faculty:

  • Nick Cave: Renowned sculptor and performance artist.

Parsons School of Design (The New School)

Location: New York, New York
Tuition: $51,760

Why it’s a top art school: Parsons is at the forefront of design education, with programs covering fashion, communication, interior design, and more. Located in the heart of New York City, Parsons connects students with industry professionals and provides unparalleled opportunities for internships and collaborations.

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

Location: Valencia, California
Tuition: $51,466

Why it’s a top art school: CalArts is known for its emphasis on experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to the arts. With programs in animation, film, and fine art, CalArts encourages students to push the boundaries of traditional artistic practices.

Notable faculty:

Carnegie Mellon University - School of Art

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Tuition: $57,119

Why it’s a top art school: CMU's School of Art offers a unique blend of technology and artistic expression. With a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, students have access to cutting-edge facilities and the opportunity to explore the intersection of art and technology.

Notable faculty:

Yale School of Art

Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Tuition: $41,000

Why it’s a top art school: Yale School of Art is renowned for its MFA program, providing a rigorous and intellectually engaging environment for student artists to refine their craft. The school emphasizes individual artistic exploration and critical thinking.

Notable faculty:

Pratt Institute

Location: Brooklyn, New York
Tuition: $52,898

Why it’s a top art school: Pratt Institute's School of Art offers a diverse range of programs, including fine arts, communication design, and industrial design. The institute's commitment to hands-on learning and collaboration prepares students for success in the creative industries.

Top Public Schools for Arts and Design in the US

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of the Arts and Architecture

Location: Los Angeles, California
Tuition: $13,254 in-state, $43,326 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture offers a vibrant community for artists and designers. The school's commitment to diversity and inclusion fosters a dynamic and collaborative environment.

Notable faculty:

University of Michigan - Stamps School of Art & Design

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tuition: $17,275 in-state, $51,144 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: U-M's Stamps School of Art & Design provides students with a comprehensive arts education. The school's integration of art and design with a liberal arts education allows for a well-rounded creative experience.

Notable faculty:

University of Texas at Austin - College of Fine Arts

Location: Austin, Texas
Tuition: $11,448 in-state, $40,032 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UT Austin's College of Fine Arts offers a wide range of programs in visual arts, design, and performing arts. The school's location in Austin, known for its vibrant arts scene, provides students with inspiration and opportunities.

Notable faculty:

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) - School of the Arts

Location: Richmond, Virginia
Tuition: $14,493 in-state, $35,904 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: VCU's School of the Arts is recognized for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to arts education. The school's commitment to diversity and community engagement enriches the artistic experience for students.

Notable faculty:

Ohio State University - Department of Design

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Tuition: $11,560 in-state, $33,104 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: OSU's Department of Design offers programs in industrial design, visual communication design, and interior design. The department's emphasis on design thinking and collaboration prepares students for diverse careers in the field.

Notable faculty:

University of Florida - School of Art and Art History

Location: Gainesville, Florida
Tuition: $6,380 in-state, $28,658 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UF's School of Art and Art History provides a supportive environment for artists and designers. The school's focus on research and creative exploration allows students to push the boundaries of their artistic practice.

Notable faculty:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - School of Art + Design

Location: Urbana, Illinois
Tuition: $16,862 in-state, $33,352 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UIUC's School of Art + Design offers programs in studio arts, graphic design, and new media. The school's commitment to fostering creativity and critical thinking prepares students for success in the evolving field of visual arts.

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Lesser-Known Top Schools for Arts and Design in the US

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Tuition: $51,960

Why it’s a hidden gem: MICA is dedicated to the education of artists and designers, offering programs in illustration, painting, and graphic design. The college's emphasis on individualized attention and mentorship sets it apart.

Notable faculty:

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

Location: Savannah, Georgia
Tuition: $39,780

Why it’s a hidden gem: SCAD is known for its global reputation in arts and design education. The university's emphasis on collaboration and industry connections provides students with unique opportunities to showcase their work.

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Location: New York, New York
Tuition: $41,850

Why it’s a hidden gem: SVA is a dynamic hub for creative minds, offering programs in fine arts, animation, and visual storytelling. The school's location in NYC allows students to immerse themselves in the city's vibrant arts scene.

Notable faculty:

ArtCenter College of Design

Location: Pasadena, California
Tuition: $47,160

Why it’s a hidden gem: ArtCenter is recognized for its rigorous programs in industrial design, transportation design, and illustration. The college's commitment to innovation and collaboration prepares students for success in the competitive design industry.

Notable faculty:

Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Tuition: $45,050

Why it’s a hidden gem: The CIA offers a range of programs in visual art, design, and craft. The institute's focus on hands-on learning and a close-knit artistic community fosters a supportive environment for creative exploration.

Notable faculty:

Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD)

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Tuition: $39,080

Why it’s a hidden gem: MIAD provides a personalized and immersive arts education, with programs in communication design, illustration, and fine arts. The institute's emphasis on creative thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration sets it apart.

Notable faculty:

  • Mark Lawson: Director of Galleries. Painter and installation artist.

Ringling College of Art and Design

Location: Sarasota, Florida
Tuition: $49,780

Why it’s a hidden gem: Ringling College is recognized for its programs in animation, game art, and illustration. The college's focus on industry connections and professional development equips students for success in the evolving field of visual arts.

These lesser-known schools may not always be in the spotlight, but they offer exceptional programs in arts and design, providing students with unique opportunities for creative exploration and professional growth. As you explore options, consider the specific programs, faculty expertise, and artistic community each school provides to find the best fit for your artistic aspirations.

What can I expect to study in an Arts + Design program? 

Each area of study within Arts and Design allows you to carve a unique path, shaping your education based on your specific interests. Let's explore a few concrete examples to illustrate the diverse subject matters within the realm of Arts + Design:

  • Fine Arts generally includes traditional mediums such as painting, sculpture, and drawing, exploring the timeless craft of artistic expression.

  • Digital Art and Media generally includes graphic design, animation, and multimedia storytelling for the contemporary age.

  • Web Design and User Experience (UX) – learn to craft visually appealing and user-friendly websites that enhance the digital experience.

  • Art History – study the evolution of art through different eras and understand the cultural context that shaped artistic movements.

  • Visual Communication – Conveys powerful messages through visual elements, exploring applications in advertising, branding, and social media.

  • Interactive Design – Creating engaging user interfaces for applications, virtual environments, and installations.

  • Photography – self-explanatory. You’ll explore the art and technique of capturing moments through the lens, mastering the nuances of composition, lighting, and post-production.

  • Fashion Design – Immerse yourself in the world of style, learning the art of creating clothing and accessories, and understanding the cultural impact of fashion trends.

  • Illustration and Comics – Hone your skills in visual storytelling, whether it's through creating compelling illustrations that convey narratives or crafting your comic book worlds.

  • Cinematography – The art of motion pictures, studying the craft of cinematography, film editing, and storytelling through the lens of a camera.

  • Game Design – Combine creativity with technology, delving into the world of game development, from conceptualizing game narratives to designing immersive virtual environments.

  • Interior Design – Explore the aesthetics of interior spaces, understanding how design influences the functionality and atmosphere of various environments.

  • Public Art and Murals – Engage with the community through large-scale visual expressions, transforming public spaces with murals and installations that tell stories and provoke thought.

Remember, these examples represent just a fraction of the possibilities awaiting exploration. Each one offers a unique avenue for creative expression, allowing you to tailor your academic journey to align with your passions and artistic vision. Whether you're drawn to the timeless strokes of a paintbrush or the dynamic pixels of a digital canvas, the subject matter within Arts + Design is as diverse as the artists who bring it to life.

Polygence Scholars Are Also Passionate About

Polygence mentors with deep expertise in Arts and Design

  • Kelly M: I hold a PhD in Theatre Historiography and a Masters degree in Performance Studies. My doctoral dissertation focused on political and social activism through performance in contemporary Chile, and my MA thesis analyzed the politics of representation, collection, and curation in museum spaces in NYC. All of my research foregrounds the body and looks at pressing issues of the moment through a choreographic lens. Currently, I manage academic programs at a contemporary art museum, where I get to combine my love of teaching and my passion for the arts. I'm deeply invested in facilitating access to arts experiences for diverse audiences young and old! I also perform as an actor and musician and have directed both devised and scripted work in the past.

  • Chloe Z: I am an artist, filmmaker, writer, and educator currently based in Providence, RI. I have an MFA from Brown University and teach at Brown University, MassArt and RISD. My creative work spans analog and documentary film, installation, drawing, sound, performance, and writing (particularly poetry). My process is research-based and often engages with ecologies, documentary poetics, and collaborative learning and making across disciplines. I have taught various creative practices in spaces including the Brooklyn Public Library, Genspace (a community biology lab), Swale House, Wendy’s Subway, Mono No Aware, MoMA, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Queens Museum’s New New Yorkers Program. I also founded and facilitated the Mycological Research Playgroup, a research and production group for artistic and environmentally-minded humans to learn about fungi.

  • Sarah R: I'm an art historian broadly interested in the relationship between art and politics, ethics, and ecology. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I studied Modern and Contemporary art and wrote my thesis on a work of art about the pollution and politics of the Rhine River. But after college, I discovered an interest in 16th-century European art, with all its complicated power relations and moralization. Having returned to Harvard for a Ph.D., I'm now starting my dissertation on an early-16th-century Swiss artist who was also a mercenary soldier! Part of the reason I love Art History is that it requires that I practice critical analysis which helps me grow as a person. I am passionate about animal rights, as well as social and environmental justice, and I try to bring this into all that I do. One aspect of this is the belief that all people should have access to a quality education so they can gain the skills and knowledge needed to be an engaged, caring, and critical thinker. Plus, learning is super fun!