At Large  August 5, 2020  Anna Claire Mauney

The 10 Best Art Schools in the Midwest

Created: Wed, 08/05/2020 - 09:25
Author: chandra

In today's world, professionals versed in art and design are in high demand, particularly those who can use their skills in both the fine arts and commercial worlds. Those looking to embark on a career in the arts have a huge range of options for their training and education. In a new series, Art & Object delves into the top art schools and programs in the U.S. From public universities with state-of-the-art studios to solely arts-focused colleges with flourishing overseas programs, this list runs the gamut. With this list, we are looking at the Midwest.

The top tier art programs of the Midwest tend to be relatively small, private art and design schools. The average student body size for this top ten is 7,978 and the median is 1,923. 

Many of these institutions feature programs in which students can get incredibly specific with their studies. Alumni networks seem tightly-knit and, in many instances, woven into the communities surrounding these schools.

Individuals looking to choose from a variety of arts-focused schools would do well to look to this region. And there are many other perks. From campuses that take a multifaceted approach to prioritizing wellness and sleep to schools with as many as thirteen distinct studio art departments, the top Midwest art schools offer students a wide range of educational environments and experiences.

While one doesn’t traditionally associate bustling urban hubs of arts and culture with the midwest, the area is home to Chicago, Detroit, the Twin Cities, and St. Louis, just to name a few. 

In terms of overall gender and racial diversity, these Midwest schools hit an average 33.81 percent male and 59.84 percent white, similar to the other regions we've covered. 

To determine its final rankings, Art & Object's editorial staff weighed the following factors: school reputation, tuition, cost of living, scholarship opportunities, fields of study, degrees offered, course diversity, faculty expertise, alumni reputation, student body diversity, student life in general, surrounding art scene, cultural opportunities, and post-graduation career help. While Art & Object ;has strived to craft a list in the most objective manner possible, we recognize that measures of "best" could include many other factors. With that said, here are the Art & Object selections of the best art schools in the Midwest. You can find our rankings for the Southeast, Northeast, West, Southwest, and our overall Top Ten here.

*Note: LGBTQ+ individuals may not always be accurately represented in gender data reported by institutions and organizations.

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Steinberg Hall at WashU, a squat modern building
10. Washington University in St. Louis

With a 16 percent acceptance rate, WashU is the second most exclusive school listed. It is also the second most expensive, with a tuition of about $53,399. That being said, it is the second most affordable school for students from the lowest income houses, who pay about $5,716 for tuition, room and board. 

WashU offers BFAs in Art, Communication Design, and Fashion Design. BAs, Second Majors, and Minors are also available in Art or Design. On the school’s website, a list of “Career Outcomes,” details companies—including Tommy Hilfiger, New York Magazine, and the MOMA— where current students and recent grads have found internships and jobs. Additionally, 96 percent of alumni are employed in creative fields or enrolled in grad programs within just three months of graduation.

St. Louis boasts that it is home to the nation’s most free, world-class attractions outside of Washington, D.C. This is in part due to the remnants of the 1904 World’s Fair. 

WashU has the lowest gender diversity and ranks slightly below average in terms of race, with 21.1 percent men and 63.2 percent white students enrolled in the Visual and Performing arts program.

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9. College for Creative Studies, Detroit

The College for Creative Studies (CCS), of Detroit, Michigan, is just shy of the three most expensive schools listed when compared to in-state fees. Tuition is, on average, $44,110. For students from the lowest-income houses, CCS is one of the least affordable schools, charging approximately $32,619 for tuition, room, and board. 

Of the schools that listed graduate salary, CCS comes in just below average at $38,000. This is still well above the national average. 

CCS offers BFAs in eleven different art or design areas of interest. Students who enter the school undecided are funneled into a special course designed to help them find their passion. This is in addition to the foundations program that all students participate in. The school also has a large range of minors, some are specifically designed to accompany certain majors, others are open to anyone. 

CCS has the highest gender diversity and moderate racial diversity. The student body is approximately 54.6 percent male and 59.2 percent white.

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MIAD logo on a former warehouse building
8. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is the smallest school listed, with just 649 students in 2018. Tuition ranks moderately compared to the other schools, at $37,360. For students from the lowest-income bracket, the school is more affordable, at $21,159, but the fee still compares moderately to other institutions listed. MIAD also has an abundance of web resources for financial aid with sections on ‘Myth Busting’ and profiles on the financial aid staff. 

Degree Programs are offered in Communication Design, Illustration, Interior Architecture and Design, New Studio Practice, and Product Design. A clear and immediate emphasis is placed on career-readiness in each of these programs. For example, the illustration program features a lecture series given by working alumni. Students are also required to complete a range of liberal studies courses, from writing to natural sciences.

While MIAD has the lowest racial diversity, with 68.8 percent white students, the school stands out in that the second-largest racial group, at 11.8 percent, is composed of Latinx students. MIAD has moderate gender diversity, with 33.3 percent male students.

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Angell Hall at the University of Michigan, a white neoclassical building with many columns
7. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan is one of two public schools listed in this top ten and, as such, is one of the largest and most affordable for in-state students with an approximate tuition of  $15,262. For out-of-state students, tuition is actually in the top three most expensive at $49,350. For students from the lowest income families, this tends to be the most affordable school, at $3,249. 

Michigan offers four fine arts programs. They are a BFA or a BA in Arts and Design, a BFA in Interarts Performance, or a Dual Degree between the fine arts school and one of eight other departments. 

As one of the leading university-run art museums in the country, the U-M Museum of Art, which you can now visit virtually, houses more than 21,000 works.

Of the schools that listed average graduate salaries, Michigan has the highest, at $44,000. This may be due in part to their renowned theater program, though, as mentioned, there is crossover between the programs. 

Michigan ranks below average on racial diversity, with 65.4 percent white students and above average in gender, with 35 percent male students enrolled in the performing arts program.

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Bascom Hall at UW-Madison
6. University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has the most affordable standard in-state tuition, $10,555, and the second most affordable out-of-state tuition, $36,805.

For students from the lowest-income households, tuition, room, and board is just shy of the three most affordable schools at $7,225. Of the schools that list average graduate salaries, UW-Madison students fall in the bottom three, making about $36,000.

UW’s Arts Program is unique and offers training across 18 different disciplines, from Glass and Neon to Performance, Video and Social Practice. Students may choose from one of five majors—a standard BS-Art or BFA, either one of those majors with a Graphic Design emphasis, or a BS in Art Education. Three certificates are also available in Art Studio, Game Design, or Graphic Design. 
The Graphic Design programs are new as of Fall 2020.  According to the U.S. News and World Report, UW-Madison is number one in the country for Printmaking. 

UW is the largest school listed, with 28,977 students. The Visual and Performing Arts students rank below average in terms of racial diversity and moderately in terms of gender. The student body is 65.4 percent white and 33.3 percent male.

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the word "design" in large red letters runs up the corner of a building toward the bright blue sky
5. Columbus College of Art and Design

Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) has the highest acceptance rate at 70 percent. Compared to out-of-state prices, it is the most affordable school, with a tuition of $35,420. Students from the lowest-income families pay slightly above average, $22,715. Of the schools that list average graduate salary, CCAD alumni have the lowest income at $34,000, which is still well above the national average. 

CCAD offers 18 minors, 14 concentrations, and 12 undergraduate degrees ranging from Fine Arts to Comics and Narrative Practice. Each year the school hosts a juried Art Fair where student and alumni work is sold. This year, the fair was virtual out of necessity but to great success—with sales reaching consumers across the nation. 

CCAD and its faculty are dedicated to fostering a campus culture of ‘Healthy Creativity.’ This is achieved by placing a unique emphasis on the importance of sleep, holding digital detox days, and so on. 

Columbus is home to the country’s number one library system, zoo, and aquarium as well as many other cultural opportunities. It is the second least racially diverse school with 67.2 percent white students and it’s gender diversity comes in just below average with 32 percent male students.

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Kansas City Art Institute lawn with a large bronze organic sculpture and brick building
4. Kansas City Art Institute, MO

The Kansas City Art Institute (KCIA) is the second smallest school listed, with approximately 656 students. Tuition for the Missouri school is approximately $38,400. Compared to other schools listed, this is above average for in-state and below average for out-of-state. KCIA is the third most expensive school for students from the lowest-income families with an average net price of $26,537. 

KCIA offers thirteen studio BFAs as well as creative writing and art history programs. In addition to a required course dedicated to preparing for life after graduation, career services hosts departmental and campus-wide programming on topics from Taxes and the Arts to Proposal Writing. 

Prestigious Alumni include Paul Briggs, who turned a senior internship at Disney into a full-time gig and has since acted as the story supervisor for Frozen.

KCIA falls in the bottom three rankings for gender and the top two for racial diversity. Its student body is about 54.8 percent white and 27.9 percent male

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Northwestern campus, large buildings on a body of water with a fountain
3. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 

Northwestern University has the lowest acceptance rate, at 9 percent, and the highest tuition of all the schools listed, at $54,568. For students from the lowest income houses, however, Northwestern is the third most affordable school. These students pay approximately $6,416 for tuition, room and board. Of the schools that listed average graduate salaries, Northwestern has the second-highest, $41,000. 

Northwestern offers one visual art major or minor titled Art, Theory, and Practice (ATP). While five traditional mediums form the core of instruction, some emphasis is placed on newer, technology-based approaches. 

Currently, the University's campus life and arts events section of the site is exclusively dedicated to virtual performances and exhibitions. This shows adaptability and a dedication to staying active amid change. 

The Visual and Performing Arts program is moderately diverse in terms of race, with 61.4 percent white students, and has the second-highest gender diversity, with 44.1 percent male students.

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a white building in the snow with a black geometric sculpture in front of it
2. Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Tuition at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) is approximately $39,120. This comes in just above average compared to in-state rates and below average compared to out-of-state. The net price for students from the lowest-income families is just above average as well, at $22,941. 
MCAD offers thirteen BFA programs ranging from Animation to Web and Multimedia Environments and a BS in Entrepreneurial Studies. 

Located in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St.Paul, MCAD is surrounded by arts and culture opportunities. This metro area is home to one of the nation’s largest business communities and has been praised by a myriad of publications for being uniquely suited to millennials and college grads. 

Alumni news is regularly reported on, detailing former student appearances in big-name publications and galleries around the country and world. 

MCAD is in the top three schools listed for racial diversity and just shy of the bottom three for gender. Its student body is 57.1 percent white and 31 percent male.

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facade of the art institute of chicago
1. School of the Arts Institute of Chicago

Tuition for the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is $49,310. It is the third most expensive school listed when compared to in-state fees and the fourth compared to out-of-state. For students from the lowest-income families, SAIC tends to be the most expensive school with students paying approximately $37,000 for tuition, room, and board. 

Of the schools that list average graduate salary, SAIC falls in the bottom three, with grads making approximately $36,000, though this is still well above the national average. 

SAIC offers BAs in art history and visual & critical studies as well as BFAs in studio, art education, and writing. While all majors have interdisciplinary aspects and opportunities for cross over, students who pursue a BFA in studio have thirteen different departments to choose from and dabble in. 

This year, four SAIC alumni were named Guggenheim fellows. SAIC has the second-lowest gender diversity and the highest racial diversity of all schools listed. The student body is approximately 35.9 percent white and 26.1 percent male.