art school or liberal arts college
by Soliana Habte

Deciding between an art school or a liberal arts program can be tough! Art schools, or conservatories, require students to spend most of their time in their artistic disciplines, while liberal arts schools offer plenty of options to try new things, and also give students flexibility to change course. Luckily, many universities have their own conservatories or art majors, so it’s also possible to find the best of both worlds!

The first question to ask is what do you want your college experience to look like? Do you want to go to basketball games on the weekends or do you want to take an intensive breathing workshop? Do you want to study a foreign language or take a business class in addition to your degree requirements? Art schools offer BFA degrees, and colleges and universities offer BAs, BFAs, or both. BFA programs typically offer 75% to 90% of the coursework within the major, and give ample opportunities to exhibit, direct, or choreograph. Conservatories are a great place to build a professional network and gain access to unique experiences. BA programs offer about 50% of the coursework within the major, allowing students to pursue multiple interests and have a comprehensive college experience. Many BA programs allow students to design their own major, so for self-starting students who want to explore several interests, this can be a great option. Prioritizing your desires for college will help you decide what kind of school is right for you.

It’s important to keep in mind that at a college or university, you can usually just change your major by filling out a few forms. If you decide to attend an art school, you might need to transfer schools if you want to study something different. Many art programs also offer dual degree programs where students can earn two degrees, one in art and one in another field. For example, New England Conservatory has five-year dual degree programs with both Harvard and Tufts. Brown and RISD also co-offer a five-year dual degree program, where students earn degrees from both of these schools.

Art schools give students opportunities to learn about their discipline from many perspectives. NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts requires all of their dance students, whether graduate or undergraduate, to participate each semester in the production crew. Savannah College of Art and Design has the only on-site, professionally run casting office in higher education, giving students unparalleled professional opportunities to perform. There are also conservatory style programs at state schools and large colleges. The Acting BFA at SUNY Purchase College is one of five in the nation that meets the standards of the Consortium of Conservatory Theatre Training Programs. Graduating seniors have the opportunity to perform in front of agents, producers, and casting directors in New York City and Los Angeles. At Oklahoma City University, dance students take classes from rotating teachers in tap, jazz, theatre dance and ballet to learn multiple styles of instruction and choreography.

Some traditional universities also offer excellent opportunities for their creative students. Every year at Butler University, students put on three fully produced, full-scale dance performances each year, including two full-length classical ballets performed to live orchestra and one mixed repertory evening of contemporary works. At Muhlenberg College, acting students have the opportunity to participate in their Mainstage production season in addition to their courses. Vanderbilt, USC, Northwestern, Rice and Johns Hopkins all have top quality music programs.

Hopefully seeing the depth and breadth of the schools mentioned here inspires you to continue researching different BFA and BA programs. There isn’t a right or a wrong answer when deciding between the two! The key is to determine what you want your college experience to look like and how much flexibility you desire. Whether you decide to apply to art schools or arts majors at liberal arts colleges, a strong portfolio will help your application stand out! For tips, check out What to Include in your Visual Arts Portfolio.