The Best Art Schools in the US Ranked showcases excellence from all across the country. These schools vary in size and offer top-notch art education.
In this national list, we give special recognition to institutions like the Savannah College of Art and Design and CalArts. They have a strong commitment to online and continuing education, which has been evident for many years. We also highlight schools like Yale and Columbia, which promote interdisciplinary learning and education.
To create this national ranking, the editorial team considered several factors, including the variety of degrees and courses offered, the quality of school museums, the reputation of the schools, tuition costs for undergraduates and graduates (if applicable), employment rates, graduation rates, internship opportunities, diversity of the student body, the local art scene, cultural opportunities, and feedback from students. While we strive to make these lists as objective as possible, we understand that “best” can be subjective and depend on various factors.
Additionally, we’d like to mention some honorable mentions: Cooper Union, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and Temple University. With that, here’s our 2023 list of the top fifteen art schools in the United States.
- 15. Columbus College Of Art and Design
- 14. Minneapolis College of Art and Design
- 13. Virginia Commonwealth University
- 12. Maryland Institute College of Art
- 11. Tufts University
- 10. Ringling College of Art and Design
- 9. The University of Texas at Austin
- 8. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
- 7. University of California, Los Angeles
- 6. Yale
- 5. USC
- 4. California Institute of the Arts
- 3. Columbia University
- 2. Rhode Island School of Design
- 1. Savannah College of Art and Design
15. Columbus College Of Art and Design
Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), founded in 1879, offers a wide range of options for students. They have eighteen minors, fourteen concentrations, and thirteen undergraduate degrees, including programs in Fine Arts and Comics and Narrative Practice. CCAD is known for its excellent programs in Animation, Design, Illustration, and Fashion, which have received recognition and awards.
CCAD has a unique focus on promoting ‘Healthy Creativity’ among its students. They prioritize things like getting enough sleep and having digital detox days to encourage a balanced and creative campus culture.
The undergraduate tuition at CCAD is around $37,370, making it one of the more affordable schools on this list. While CCAD is somewhat more diverse than the average American school, it’s still less diverse in terms of both race and gender when compared to other top schools mentioned here.
Columbus, where CCAD is located, boasts the number one library system in the country, as well as an outstanding zoo and aquarium. Every year, the school hosts a juried Art Fair where students and alumni sell their artwork. In 2019-2020, they held the fair virtually, and it turned out to be a great success, reaching art lovers across the nation.
14. Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), founded in 1886, offers eighteen degree programs, including BFAs in Animation and Web and multimedia Environments, as well as a BS in Entrepreneurial Studies. MCAD alumni often gain recognition in prestigious publications and galleries worldwide.
MCAD’s tuition is approximately $41,794, and its graduation rate is about 63.5%, which is relatively low compared to other schools on this list. The student body is small and not very diverse, but the faculty-to-student ratio is 10 to 1. Notably, MCAD includes nonbinary students in its diversity reports, a progressive move likely to influence other institutions in the future.
Situated in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MCAD benefits from a vibrant arts and culture scene. This metropolitan area is known for its robust business community and is highly regarded by millennials and college grads. MCAD is surrounded by inspiring museums, including the nearby Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Mia) and the Walker Art Center.
13. Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond boasts one of the nation’s top public art programs. VCU’s School of the Arts offers eighteen undergraduate and five graduate degrees, covering various disciplines like Craft/Material Studies and Kinetic Imaging, which includes animation and sound.
What sets VCU apart is its affordable tuition, with the lowest rates for both Virginia residents ($15,028) and non-residents ($35,676). The university maintains a graduation rate of around 66.4 percent.
The art program at VCU offers access to a state-of-the-art foundry and metal fabrication shop, allowing students to work with industrial materials. Notably, MacArthur Genius Grant winners and MFA program alumni, Tara Donovan and Teresita Fernández, have used these resources for their artistic endeavors.
Being a research university, VCU encourages interdisciplinary collaboration through initiatives like the da Vinci Center for Innovation.
12. Maryland Institute College of Art
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore is the oldest continuously degree-granting art and design college in the U.S. It offers around forty degrees with an excellent 8-to-1 faculty-to-student ratio.
Undergraduates start with a core “First Year Experience” and choose a major. They can add a liberal arts minor or studio concentration. MICA also offers various graduate programs, such as a Master of Arts in Illustration or a Master of Business Administration in Design Leadership.
MICA’s tuition for undergrads is approximately $49,190, moderately expensive. It has a moderately diverse student body and a graduation rate of 69.6 percent.
The campus features ten open studios and maker spaces, including the Dolphin Shop, fostering innovation and interdisciplinary practice, exemplifying MICA’s dedication to art and design innovation.
11. Tufts University
Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) focuses on individualized education. BFA students don’t choose specific majors; instead, they work with advisors to create a personalized curriculum that supports their art practice and future lives. They can take courses and minors from the entire university and even pursue a Combined Degree with a BFA and a BA or BS from the School of Arts and Sciences, which offers over 100 different majors and minors.
Undergraduate tuition is currently the highest on this list at $63,804. However, Tufts meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need for all students, regardless of their citizenship status. The school has a moderate level of diversity, and the faculty-to-student ratio is 10 to 1.
Tufts impresses with a high graduation rate of 94% and a reported employment rate of 95% within 6 months of graduation, ranking second in this regard.
SMFA’s campus is in the heart of Boston’s Avenue of the Arts, near major art collections like the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Their online resources are also up-to-date, offering students a guide to various exhibition opportunities both on and off campus.
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10. Ringling College of Art and Design
Ringling College of Art and Design offers two BA programs (Business of Art and Design, Visual Studies) and eleven BFA programs (including Computer Animation, Game Art, Graphic Design, and more). They have a small student body of around 1,600 students.
All Ringling programs include a third of their curriculum as liberal arts courses, and storytelling is a strong focus, even in Fine Arts. Their Animation, Game Design, and Illustration programs consistently earn awards and high rankings.
Undergraduate tuition is about $49,540, moderately expensive. The graduation rate is 71.8%, and the faculty-to-student ratio is 12 to 1, despite the small size.
While Ringling ranks moderately in terms of diversity, the college actively emphasizes its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in its community.
9. The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) has three departments offering art-related programs: the Department of Art and Art History, the School of Design and Creative Technologies, and the Center for Creative Entrepreneurship.
The Department of Art and Art History also offers Art Education courses and degrees. In the Studio program, the training covers five broad areas of interest rather than specific mediums.
UT Austin is one of the larger schools on this list and is the most affordable for in-state tuition, currently at $11,448, while out-of-state tuition is just over $43,003. The faculty-to-student ratio is 18 to 1, which is relatively high, but the graduation rate is moderately high at 82.6 percent, and UT Austin is known for its diversity.
UT Austin’s UTeach Fine Arts Program offers near-100 percent job placement for students wanting to teach art in Texas public schools. The university has fifteen distinct career centers, including one dedicated to Fine Arts students.
Situated in Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, students have ample cultural opportunities. The university has two of its own museums and encourages students to explore the fine and performing arts scenes on and off campus.
8. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), founded in 1866, is one of the oldest accredited independent art and design schools in the U.S. SAIC offers about sixty degrees, including BA programs in Art History and Visual & Critical Studies, and BFA programs in Studio, Art Education, and Writing. BFA Studio students can choose from thirteen different departments, and programs like Animation, Graphic Design, and Fine Arts are highly acclaimed.
Undergraduate tuition is currently $53,160, moderately high compared to others on this list. SAIC has around 3,000 students, with a faculty-to-student ratio of 11 to 1. It’s one of the most diverse schools on our list, but its graduation rate is relatively low.
Despite this, SAIC has a stellar reputation and produces many Fulbright Scholars. Located in the heart of Chicago, its campus includes the internationally acclaimed Art Institute of Chicago, making it the largest campus in the U.S.
Notable alumni and staff include Richard Hunt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cynthia Rowley, Nick Cave, Jeff Koons, and LeRoy Neiman.
7. University of California, Los Angeles
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has the School of the Arts and Architecture, offering leading programs in four departments: Architecture and Urban Design, Art, Design/Media Arts, and World Arts and Cultures/Dance. The BA program lets students explore six media categories and specialize in their chosen field.
UCLA, a large research university, provides interdisciplinary opportunities, connecting the arts with fields like global health and climate change through eight research centers.
In-state undergraduate tuition is affordable at $13,240, but out-of-state tuition is higher at around $43,003. Over half of undergraduates receive financial assistance.
UCLA’s student body is highly diverse, and it boasts a strong graduation rate of 90.5 percent. The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) offers resources for racial trauma and EDI Toolkits.
The university offers numerous resources, including the UCLA Art & Global Health think tank, three on-campus museums, and the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, housing a 45,000-piece art collection.
The Yale School of the Fine Arts is the oldest art school linked to a U.S. university. Like many university-affiliated art schools, it encourages students to explore a wide range of subjects and expertise.
Yale’s MFA program adapts to students’ changing interests, allowing them to explore artistic practices not covered in the core curriculum. Students can pursue an MFA in Graphic Design, Painting and Printmaking, Photography, or Sculpture. While not formal areas of study, Critical Practice and All-School/Interdisciplinary are easily accessible within the program.
For undergraduates, Yale offers a single BA in Art with concentrations in Graphic Design, Painting/Printmaking, Photography, or Sculpture.
Undergraduate tuition at Yale is $57,700, making it the fourth most expensive school listed. However, the faculty-to-student ratio is excellent at 6 to 1. The school is moderately diverse but has the highest graduation rate at 96.6 percent.
The University of Southern California, Los Angeles (USC), began offering art classes in 1883 and established its art school in 1895. USC’s Gayle Garner Roski School of Art and Design is one of Southern California’s oldest art schools, offering approximately fifty degrees. The BA program and Communications Design Minor involve collaboration with other USC departments. USC Roski facilitates internships for students and, as part of a larger research university, encourages cross-disciplinary research and collaboration with eighteen professional schools.
USC is a large university with around 46,000 students, including 19,500 undergraduates. It is the third most expensive school on this list, with undergraduate tuition at $60,275. USC boasts a high graduation rate of 91.9 percent and is moderately diverse in terms of gender and race. The faculty-to-student ratio is 9 to 1, which is average.
Situated in central Los Angeles, USC’s University Park campus is part of the city’s Downtown Arts and Education Corridor and houses the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, along with many professional schools.
4. California Institute of the Arts
The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), located in Santa Clarita, offers over seventy comprehensive degree programs in performing, visual, and literary arts. CalArts aims to nurture artists who not only focus on aesthetics but also contemplate how their art engages with the world.
With a wide range of programs, students are encouraged to explore and think critically about their artistic pursuits. Both graduate and undergraduate students can delve into various media, including installation, video, film, writing, performance, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, digital imaging, and sculpture. CalArts emphasizes individualized instruction, mentoring, and the development of independent studio practices.
CalArts is a small school with around 1,500 students. Undergraduate tuition is moderately expensive at $54,440. The graduation rate is 72.4 percent, and the faculty-to-student ratio is impressive at 6.5 to 1.
CalArts is committed to promoting equity and diversity through initiatives like specialized grants, programs, and identity projects. For instance, they launched The Patty Disney Center for Life & Work’s internship grant program in 2022, supporting students pursuing unpaid internship opportunities.
3. Columbia University
Columbia University’s fine art programs, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels, prioritize students’ artistic vision over traditional specialization. MFA students, though sorted into disciplines during application, have the freedom to explore various mediums and processes once accepted.
The undergraduate Visual Arts major offers versatility with concentrations in Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Photography, Printmaking, and Video, allowing students to focus on a combination of these disciplines.
Columbia’s undergraduate tuition is approximately $61,671, making it the second most expensive school on this list. While it ranks lower in terms of diversity, it boasts the second-highest graduation rate at 95.8 percent. The faculty-to-student ratio, rivaled only by Yale, is an impressive 6 to 1.
Situated in the heart of New York City, Columbia offers abundant cultural opportunities. Their Arts Initiative provides free admission to over thirty museums through a passport program. Columbia’s LeRoy Neiman Gallery and Wallach Art Gallery offer various opportunities to students. The Wallach collaborates closely with the Department of Art History and Archaeology, the School of the Arts, and University libraries, while the Neiman hosts exhibitions featuring work from invited artists, faculty, and students.
2. Rhode Island School of Design
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is in Providence, RI, offering around fifty-degree programs, including Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Interior Architecture, and Graphic Design. All first-year students must take Experimental and Foundation Studies. RISD has a unique partnership with Brown University, where they offer a Dual Degree program known as BRDD. In BRDD, students earn a BFA from RISD and a Bachelor of Arts or Science from Brown.
Undergraduate tuition at RISD is currently $54,890, making it one of the top five most expensive schools on this list. Despite its small size, with around 1,700 students, RISD has an excellent faculty-to-student ratio of 7 to 1.
RISD’s budget is substantial, reportedly around $150 million, which is remarkable for a school of its size. This level of transparency is noteworthy.
While RISD ranks moderately in gender and racial diversity, it is committed to supporting students from various socioeconomic, educational, and neurodivergent backgrounds. In 2019, RISD became test-optional, meaning SAT and ACT results are not required for applicants, a policy adopted by many schools in recent years, especially due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The RISD Museum is a significant asset, housing around 100,000 art pieces across seven curatorial departments. It is the only comprehensive art museum in southeastern New England. Notable alumni include Kara Walker and Shepard Fairey.
1. Savannah College of Art and Design
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers the most diverse range of programs and specializations among U.S. art and design universities. They constantly update their programs to match the evolving job market. In 2022, SCAD introduced the School of Business Innovation, with fifteen graduate and undergraduate degrees.
SCAD is affordable, with undergraduate tuition at $39,105 and graduate tuition at around $40,050. It’s moderately sized, with over 14,000 students. Their approved budget for FY23 is $325.9 million, reflecting the school’s vast scope and transparency.
President Paula Wallace stated, “There are no starving artists at SCAD.” Their students aspire to work at companies like Disney, Google, and L’Oreal, and these businesses actively hire SCAD graduates.
While SCAD has a lower faculty-to-student ratio (20 to 1) and a moderate graduation rate (71 percent), it excels in employment rates. In Spring 2021, 99 percent of SCAD alumni found employment, and pursued higher education, or both within ten months of graduation, an impressive feat considering the economic fluctuations.
SCAD hosts various SCAD Signature Events, providing opportunities for students in every program, from gaming to fashion. Events like SCAD deFINE ART and SCAD AT MIAMI showcase established and emerging artists and contemporary art, while the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, the world’s largest university-run film festival, has screened over 100 Oscar-nominated films.