Art College vs. Liberal Arts: The Pros and Cons

Sylvie Ramirez Career Advice, Opportunities, Student Resources

Art College vs. Liberal Arts

If you’re a serious young artist, you’re probably wondering how to take your craft to the next level: what’s the best course of action when it comes to higher ed?

Should you buckle down at a well-reputed art college? Or should you hunt for a strong arts department within a larger university?

Art College vs. Liberal Arts

Liberal arts colleges, small colleges where undergrads can pursue both humanities and sciences, are a commonly overlooked option available to young artists. As a young artist, I decided that the liberal arts scene, which would allow me to dabble in a slew of fields I had not previously explored—say, computer science, philosophy, and music—in addition to my core arts curriculum, was the best fit for me. Of course, hindsight is 20/20—I wouldn’t be where I am now had I chosen to attend an arts college. Here are 5 things any young artist should consider when deciding whether an art college or a small liberal arts college is the right fit.

Financial Aid

Affordability is a serious concern in today’s climate, where a year at the leading institutions can cost you up to $60,000. While the price tag at most art colleges won’t be quite this high, financial feasibility is definitely something to consider. The top art colleges cost about $40,000 per year and are not typically able to offer much in the way of financial assistance. That said, going the liberal arts route may be the best bet for your wallet. Top ranked liberal arts colleges, like Amherst, Williams, Barnard, Pomona, Vassar, Swarthmore, Wellesley, to name a few, offer need-based financial aid in addition to merit-based scholarships. Assuming you qualify, the average cost for a year at these colleges may come in under $20,000.

Resources

While the lack of financial assistance at an art college may be daunting, you have to consider what you’re getting for your dollar. Professors at art colleges have been in your shoes. They know the industry, and can offer valuable career advice. Arts colleges will have equipment beyond the basics, tailored to your specific arts interests—they boast studio and exhibition space aplenty, black-and-white and color photography labs, and computer labs with the most recent design software. Liberal arts colleges may have only a handful of tenured art professors and the most basic studio space, but because of their small size and plentiful resources, you’ll have opportunities for fellowships, internships, and study abroad opportunities, as well as the possibility personal funding for your arts projects.

Networking

Landing a successful career in the arts isn’t easy. Like in many other professions, getting your career started as an artist will require connections—and college is the perfect time to make your first professional connections. At an art college, you’ll meet hundreds of students going into the same industry who will become important contacts in the future. At a liberal arts college, you’ll make ties beyond the arts world. You’ll be the first person who comes to mind when your contacts in other industries need to commission an artist.

Course listing

Any college will have classes that weren’t a part of your high school curriculum, and if you’re like me, you’ll be drawn in by the diverse course listings at a liberal arts college.  In addition to your core arts requirements, you’ll have the chance to take classes in philosophy, sociology, psychology, computer science, and even neuroscience. Course listings at art colleges, on the other hand, offer depth. You can challenge yourself artistically in areas like glassblowing, digital media, and welding.

Social Life

Unless you attended an arts high school, you’ve likely felt that those around you lack a certain creative spirit. An arts college will guarantee you a place within a large community where creative energy abounds. But while a liberal arts college won’t necessarily have a large community of artists, the smaller numbers translate to a tight-knit community. Instead of being just one among hundreds of equally skilled creative people, you’ll play an active role in shaping and strengthening the arts community at your college.

Now for full disclosure: I entered Amherst College with the intention to major in studio art and somewhere along the way, found myself with a Philosophy and French double major. In the coming years, I plan to pursue a PhD in philosophy. I chose to go the liberal arts route because I wasn’t ready to give up on the dabbling of which I’d become so fond in high school. Perhaps that was a tell tale sign that arts college wasn’t right for me. But don’t let my current path dissuade you—I know plenty of artists who thrived at Amherst and benefited from the abundance of resources our tiny east coast college had to offer. If you take the time to consider what you need in terms of Financial Aid, Resources, Networking, Course Listing, and Social Life, I’m sure you’ll be able to decide the best fit for you.

By Sylvie Ramirez

Sylvie Ramirez

Sylvie Ramirez

Sylvie is a recent graduate of Amherst College with a double major in Philosophy and French. She will spend the next year teaching English in a tiny town called Montélimar in the French alps.
Sylvie Ramirez

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