Should you go to art school?

For many students passionate about the visual arts, the question of whether to pursue that passion can be complicated

Students painting at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University

Photo courtesy of

Students painting at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University

Leila Hewitt, Arts & Culture Writer

If you’re interested in pursuing the arts, chances are you have considered going to art school.

However, I don’t know a single student who has looked at their tuition costs and hasn’t dropped their jaw to rock bottom. Art school is one of the most expensive ways to pursue a degree in the arts and is not reasonable for every aspiring professional artist. If you need help deciding whether or not an art school is for you, keep reading. This article is aimed toward visual artists, excluding theater and music.

Most art schools offer three degrees: a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The BFA is the standard degree for pursuing a profession in art and is more studio-intensive, meaning you’ll spend more time working on your art than not. A BA is more flexible with a stronger focus on liberal arts than studio work. The MFA is a graduate degree and the highest in its field for visual artists. It’s considered a prestigious degree that is typically required for work such as art gallery managing and director positions. 

Before choosing a degree, ask yourself these questions:

  • What career am I interested in as an artist?
  • Will my career require a degree in the arts?
  • Do I need to attend art school to improve my skills and understanding of my work?
  • How much experience in art do I already have?
  • What kind of learning environment do I work best in?

An important point to consider when looking at art jobs and careers is that most of them do not require a degree to work. If you’re primarily a visual artist interested in illustration, animation and game arts, and the fine arts, it’s likely job recruiters won’t think twice about whether or not a BFA is in your resume. The most important aspect of an artist’s assets is their art, not necessarily their education in art. When considering your job outlook as an artist, a strong portfolio will be your most important advantage. 

The majority of artists are self-taught, typically beginning their creative journey at home in flurries of sketchbooks and scrap paper. If you’re a self-taught artist seeking to better your skills, you may not need the structure of art school at all. With the emergence of online learning, sites like YouTube and Skillshare offer an incredible range of classes concerning topics such as fundamentals, character design, and sculpture. There are also organizers online that can help you structure a learning curriculum at home and at your own pace. 

Like myself, there are many people who can’t benefit from online learning. I need a rigid, structured environment to learn at best. Without structure, I find myself struggling to stay on task and be consistent, so an in-person environment would benefit me the most.

While it would be the dream to go to art school, many community colleges and universities offer degrees in art. Though the school may not have the arts as a major focus, it is worth viewing all your options and researching the quality of programs that aren’t from an art school.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to go to college but you can’t benefit from online learning, you should take a look at community art classes in your area. There are typically art centers near most towns and cities, such as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and plenty of colleges offer lessons. This is the perfect route to take for someone who wants to improve the quality of their portfolio in person and not be in debt for a lifetime. 

As in all learning environments, the benefits a person receives from going to art school will vary greatly. The most objective benefit actually has nothing to do with learning from the school at all. It has to do with connections. The social aspect of art school can offer a world of opportunities depending on who you meet. Connecting with working professionals gives students the chance to acquire jobs, internships and mentorships as part of their learning experience. It’s difficult to break into the world of working artists; that much has been said dozens of times. Making connections in art school is considered imperative to making the most out of your time and money spent there.

RV senior Rebecca Kaserkie, who recently chose to go to Moore College in Philadelphia, spoke openly about the choices she made.

“Art has always been my passion. I thought that maybe going to an art school specifically rather than a school with a program in art would be much more specific to what I want to do,” she said. “The college that I chose is a really small school. There’s only 400 students total so there’s a lot more personal relationships with the teachers and just so much room to grow [and] much more time to really focus on your art rather than having to also do the classic classes.”

Her explanation offers an idea of the other potential benefits of attending a school catering to learners of the visual arts. Personal teaching and dedicated time to work on art every day can absolutely lead to positive growth and development.

Despite the romanticization of art school, many alumni suggest that it’s not all its chalked up to be. When touring a college or university focused on the arts, it can seem like a magical place to live and learn. The colorful and inspiring decorations are alluring, and it’s easy to be intrigued by the photos of students making the most of their artistic abilities in creative shoots. Behind the scenes, however, many alumni have explained that the actual education you receive in art is outdated. New techniques, modern technology and the actual end goal of making a career in the arts are often left out of the curriculum or taught only briefly.

This isn’t to say all art schools have outdated curriculums, but it would be wise to contact alumni or look up forums about the schools you’re interested in.

In my opinion, going to art school is not necessary for pursuing a career in art. No matter where you learn, be it in your own home or an expensive private school, there is a future for you as an artist. Only you can limit yourself when it comes to art. Don’t give up if you don’t think you can afford to go to art school. The opportunities for artists of all ages and experiences are endless. Whatever your medium and wherever you are, you can incorporate art into your future.