Thinking of Going into Art? Things You Should Know Before Applying to Art School

By Chin-Chieh Wang

Have you always loved sketching, taking photographs, and building things with your hands? Do you constantly find yourself noticing the shape and curve of buildings, studying the visual elements of a poster (when you really should be listening to your teacher), and admiring paintings and sculptures and installations in a gallery? Are you someone who lives, breathes, and eats—hopefully, not literally—art? If so, you should consider applying to an art school.

The prospect of making art all day at school can be exciting. But the application process is not as easy as it looks. Here is a 3-step guide for applying to art schools stress-free!

Step 1: Research Art Schools

Every art school offers something different to its students. Research the school’s studio access hours, course requirements, curriculum, internship opportunities, class sizes, resources, staff, and facilities. Some art programs are located inside major universities, while others are entirely art-focused schools. Some require you to follow a core curriculum, such as a foundation year, while others are more open and let you freely choose your electives. While some schools require you to apply with a major-specific portfolio, others only require a general arts portfolio. Research widely, and don’t limit your options! Look at art schools in other cities, provinces, and even countries! Different schools (and often different countries) operate on a different timeline. Some have an earlier deadline. Some have test or interview dates, and others might have school-specific assignment deadlines.

*Ensure that, if you are applying abroad, you check the entry requirements for international applicants, which might include a TOEFL test, a standardized test, a university entrance exam, interviews, or recommendation letters.

Ask yourself: Can I see myself going here? Do I fit into the school environment? How will I contribute to this school? How will this school allow me to exercise my critical thinking skills and develop my artistic vision? Look at their websites! They might provide online galleries of the work of their current students or alumni. 

Step 2: Plan

After figuring out if this art school is right for you, start researching its entrance and portfolio requirements. Preferably, you do all the research in the summer before grade 12. Plan out your portfolio pieces while adhering to a strict timeline so that you’re not scrambling to complete the rest of your application the week before it’s due. While some art schools might ask students to demonstrate experimentation in a wide variety of mediums, others might prefer a more cohesive portfolio in one or two mediums. Some might require a certain number of observational drawings, landscapes, or self-portraits, while others might want something more conceptual and exploratory. Though it’s important to “curate” your portfolio to suit each program you’re applying to, remember to present works that represent the best, authentic version of YOU. 

Step 3: Do

The most important part of the entire application process is actually doing what you planned. That means working on your portfolio! Producing a bunch of art pieces within a limited time frame can be very stressful. You should treat your portfolio just as you would any academic assignment; that is, never procrastinate by hoping for some moment of inspiration or motivation to come (because they almost never come on time!). 

I highly recommend all art-school-hopefuls—whether you’re in grade 9, 10, 11, or 12—to go to your closest National Portfolio Day. This is a day where high school students get to show their sketchbooks and portfolio pieces (physical or digital) to art school representatives from across the nation and abroad. These professionals are able to provide you with some of the most helpful and insightful commentary on your portfolio. They can tell you what they liked about it and what they didn’t, and what they hope to see you explore for admission into their program.

All in all, if you’re serious about going to art school, dedicate yourself fully. While having some art knowledge and technical skills can be quite beneficial, don’t worry if you feel like you have neither. Just focus on cultivating your interests and demonstrating your ideas, creativity, and openness to learn!

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