This final installment of the Art & Object series on top art schools and programs of the U.S. is a true roundup of the nation’s very best. Spanning coast to coast, featuring everything from private art schools to public research universities, and covering the gamut of artistic mediums—this list encompasses an incredible range.
As was pointed out in our previous lists, the current pandemic has illuminated the value of flexibility and internet savvy. These are major keys to success in the classroom and the workforce. While many argue this has been the trend for some time, current events have certainly pushed things along.
Artists who sell work online, who have graphic design skills, who know how to integrate important messages into their art—these individuals have been able to work through shutdowns and some have been busier than ever.
As such, this national listing gives prominent place to institutions like the Savannah College of Art and Design and CalArts, who have shown dedication to online and continuing education for many years. Schools that encourage interdisciplinary practice and education have also been highlighted.
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 West. You can find our rankings for the Southeast, Northeast, Southwest, Midwest, and West here.
*Note: LGBTQ+ individuals may not always be accurately represented in gender data reported by institutions and organizations.
Arizona State University (ASU) is the overall most affordable school of this national top ten list. In terms of tuition, in-state students tend to pay around $10,822, out-of-state students pay closer to $28,336, and students from the lowest-income families will pay around $6,732 for tuition, room, and board. Visual Arts graduates of ASU tend to make about $37,000, which ranks just below average for this list but well above average nationally.
ASU has the largest student body with about 38,814 students. While a few arts-focused institutions produce more art graduates per year, ASU has one of the largest yields of a non-arts school at around 661.
ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts offers 56 degrees, approximately 32 of these are visual-arts specific. From a BFA in Sculpture to a BA in Digital Culture, ASU offers a wide range of modern and traditional training and specialization in the arts. This division of the university also has its own career services.
ASU ranks slightly below average in terms of racial diversity but has the second-highest gender diversity of this national top ten. Students enrolled in the visual and performing arts program are 52 percent white and 42.2 percent male.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is the second-largest school listed and by far the most expensive. In-state tuition is $76,020 and out-of-state is $88,210. For students from the lowest-income families, however, UT Austin is the fourth most affordable institution. For this demographic, tuition, room, and board comes in around $11,333. Visual and performing arts graduates make the second-highest salary of this list, approximately $39,000.
UT Austin offers programs in Art History, Art Education, and Studio Art. Within the Studio Art program, training is offered across five broad areas of interest rather than specific, singular mediums. For example, students who wish to study photography will follow the Photography and Media track which, while instructing students in technical skills, places a great deal of focus on the interaction of photography and traditional art.
Notable UT Austin alumni include sculptor Constance Cortez and studio major turned CEO of the largest female-owned advertising agency, Gay Gaddis.
UT Austin’s visual and performing arts student body falls just below average in terms of both racial and gender diversity. This segment of the student body is 52.9 percent white, 26.1 percent Latinx, and 33.3 percent male.
Ringling College of Art and Design is relatively small, with 1,300 students, and has the second-highest acceptance rate, at 77 percent. Tuition is approximately $44,560. This falls just above the final top ten’s average in-state fee and just below the average for out-of-state. Financial aid is not as easy to come by here as it is at most other schools. Students from the lowest-income households still end up paying an average of $43,592 for tuition, room, and board. On average, Ringling graduates have the lowest salary, around $33,200.
The school offers eleven BFA and two BA programs, all of which dedicate a third of their curriculum requirements to liberal arts courses. Ringling places a strong emphasis on story-telling, even in its Fine Arts BFA program. Located in beachy Sarasota, Florida, the surrounding town offers a wide selection of performance venues and a village of historic theaters in addition to many other attractions.
Alumni and student interns populate big companies like EA and Disney. One of Ringling’s most noteworthy graduates is Brandon Oldenburg, an Oscar and Emmy winner. Various other alumni are currently employed as top creatives for companies including Google and MTV.
Ringling is only just above this list’s average in terms of racial and gender diversity with a student body that is 46.3 percent white, 16 percent Latinx, and 34.9 percent male.
The University of Southern California (USC) is moderately sized with about 18,632 students and falls within the top three most exclusive schools of this national list with an acceptance rate of 16 percent. With a tuition of $58,195, it is the third most expensive school compared to in-state and out-of-state listings. For students from the lowest-income households, USC is moderately priced. These students pay just around $14,777 for tuition, room, and board.
USC’s Roski School of Art and Design graduates make about $42,000. This is the second-highest average salary of the list. While a few arts-focused institutions produce more art graduates per year, USC has one of the largest yields of a non-arts school at around 660.
At USC, students may pursue a BA in Art, a BFA Art or Design, and may supplement with nine studio art or design minors. The BA program and the Communications Design Minor both require crossover between Roski and other university departments. The school directly connects students with internships.
USC’s visual and performing arts program ranks moderately in terms of racial diversity but it has the highest gender diversity of any school listed. Students here are about 52.8 percent white and 43 percent male.
The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), located in Santa Clarita, is the second smallest and the third most exclusive of this national top ten with around 959 students and a 24 percent acceptance rate. With an approximate tuition of $51,466, CalArts comes in as the third most expensive school compared to in and out-of-state prices. For students from the lowest-income households, it is the second most expensive. These students pay around $37,612 for tuition, room, and board.
CalArts graduates tend to make around $37,900, just below this list’s average. Notable alumni include many legendary animators such as Brad Bird and John Lassatar.
CalArts offers eight distinct visual arts BFA programs. All students are required to complete general education requirements and there are many interdisciplinary opportunities. Any third or fourth-year students may choose to pursue an Interschool Degree and more traditional Art BFA students can earn a Digital Art Minor.
CalArts has recently opened online access to any of its 2017 non-credit courses and Specializations via Coursera. These courses are free for any CalArts students, alumni, and employees.
It is the most diverse school overall, coming in first for racial diversity and second for gender, with a 36 percent white, 17 percent Latinx, and 41 percent male student body.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is one of the smaller schools, with a student body of 1,976. The acceptance rate is slightly below average, at 32 percent. Tuition at RISD $48,210, falls just below the out-of-state average for this national top ten.
Financial aid is not as available as it could be for students from the lowest-income households. This demographic will pay an average of $37,147 for tuition, room, and board. RISD graduates make approximately $39,000, the second-highest average salary of this list. Notable RISD Alumni include Kara Walker and Shepard Fairey.
All first-years are required to take Experimental and Foundation Studies. After that, they can choose from seventeen different BFA programs that span a range of mediums like painting and metalsmithing. Students may build on their studio degree with one of six additional concentration programs on topics from drawing to sustainability studies. RISD also offers a dual degree program with Brown that gives art students access to rigorous, academically-focused courses.
RISD has the lowest racial diversity of this national top ten list but comes in third for gender diversity. Its student body is approximately 64.4 percent white and 39 percent male.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has an average undergraduate tuition of $37,575. Compared to in-state prices, it is the third most affordable school, compared to out-of-state prices, it is the second. Students from the lowest-income households pay about $36,292 for tuition, room, and board, the fourth most expensive rate of this final top ten.
Visual and Performing Arts graduates make approximately $36,400, which is below average compared to others on this list but still well above the national average. Since 2010, SCAD’s career services and alumni network have operated as one unit entitled the Career and Alumni Success department (CAS).
SCAD offers 77 minors, 40 undergraduate, and 60 graduate degree programs. Prior to Covid-19, twenty-seven of these degrees could be earned fully online. Though overall much more commercially minded than many arts schools, SCAD has fine arts programs and focuses. Students can earn BFAs in anything from textiles to sequential art to sculpture.
The school has two locations outside of Savannah—Atlanta and Lacoste, France. Every year SCAD hosts the deFINE Art Festival in its Savannah and Atlanta locations, which brings lecturers and artists to town and in contact with students.
SCAD comes in fourth for racial diversity and ranks below average in terms of gender diversity with a student body that is 48 percent white and 32 percent male.
Columbia University is the second most expensive school listed in terms of standard tuition, which is about $59,430. That being said, financial aid is relatively abundant here. Students from the lowest-income families will pay the third most affordable rate of this national top ten list—approximately $10,917 for tuition, room, and board. Columbia yields the highest-earning art majors of this list, with an average salary of $43,000.
Columbia takes an interdisciplinary approach to the visual arts undergraduate major, encouraging students to see as much as they can and find a personal voice. Eventually, students can choose to concentrate in one of six mediums or in any combination of those six that feels right.
Located in the heart of New York City, cultural opportunities are abundant and the school’s Arts Initiative makes them accessible with a passport program that offers free admission to more than thirty museums.
Alumni and faculty regularly make the news. Professor Sarah Sze has just been commissioned by the Public Art Fund to create permanent installations at LaGuardia Airport and Alumna Vesna Pavlovic has been featured in an online exhibition, Viral Self-Portraits.
Columbia University’s Visual and Performing Arts Department comes in third for both racial and gender diversity. In 2018, this department was 40.2 percent white and 39 percent male.
Tuition for the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is about $49,310. This is just above the average out-of-state amount for this national top ten list. For students from the lowest-income families, SAIC is the third most expensive institution. This demographic will pay approximately $37,000 for tuition, room, and board.
SAIC falls below average in terms of salary with graduates making approximately $36,000, which is still well above the national average. SAIC’s Career and Professional Experience services (CAPX) are available to students and alumni for life. This year, four SAIC alumni were named Guggenheim Fellows.
SAIC offers BAs in art history and visual and 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. The heading of their undergraduate degree webpage is, “Pick a Discipline. And Cross Many.”
Interestingly, SAIC has the highest racial and lowest gender diversity of this national top ten. The student body is approximately 35.9 percent white and 26.1 percent male.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is one of the largest schools in this top ten with just over 30,000 undergraduate students and it is the second most exclusive with a 16 percent acceptance rate.
UCLA falls within the top three most affordable schools of this national top ten with an in-state tuition of around $13,240, out-of-state tuition of about $42,994, and an approximate $8,233 rate for students from the lowest-income households.
UCLA offers a BA in art where students take foundational courses in six different media categories and then advance in whichever of these media they are most drawn to. Alumni, including rising stars like Amir Fallah, are regularly featured in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally.
The University is home to a wide range of top-notch resources including the UCLA Art & Global Health think tank and the collection of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, which features 45,000 art pieces dating from the Renaissance to present.
UCLA’s visual and performing arts program comes in third for both racial and gender diversity. These students are 41.7 percent white and 34.1 percent male.