need to know before applying to art school

3 Things You Need to Know Before Applying to Art School


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 instead of paying attention in class, or admiring paintings, sculptures and installations in a gallery? Are you someone who lives, breathes, and (figuratively, not literally) eats art? If so, you should consider applying to art school.

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

Step 1: Research

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 part of entire dedicated art 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. Research widely and don’t limit your options. Look at applying to art school in another city, province, or even country. Different schools (and often different countries) operate on different timelines: some require an application at an earlier deadline; some have test or interview dates, and others might have school-specific assignment deadlines.

NOTE: Ensure that, if you are applying abroad, you check the entry requirements for international applicants. These 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 website; they might provide online galleries of the work of their current students or alumni.

TIP: If you need help finding a school, Campus Rankings is a great starting point.

Step 2: Plan

After figuring out if an art school is right for you, start researching its entrance and portfolio requirements. Preferably, you would do all the research in the summer before Grade 12. (But if that’s already passed, don’t worry, you’ve still got some time.) 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 you 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 most authentic version of YOU.

Step 3: Do

The most important part of the entire application process is actually doing what you planned. That means you need to start working on your portfolio! 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 that will likely not come on time. 

I highly recommend that all art school hopefuls—no matter your grade—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 can provide you with helpful and insightful commentaries on your portfolio. They can tell you what they like about it and what they don’t, and what they hope to see if you continue to explore admission into their program.

All in all, if you’re serious about applying to art school, dedicate yourself fully to making art. 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!