At Large  October 20, 2023  Art & Object Staff

The 15 Best Art Schools in the U.S. 2024

Created: Fri, 10/20/2023 - 09:00
Author: chandra
Via Kemper Art Museum Website

The 2024 edition of Art & Object’s annual art school ranking features heavy institutional hitters such as Yale University and Savannah College of Art and Design but also includes some, perhaps, lesser known but still fantastic, art program gems such as the Roski School of Art and Design at the University of Southern California or the Maryland Institute College of Art. From small schools to large ones, from schools that offer ten majors to others that offer one hundred, for those that provide substantial grant and scholarship packages to those located in big city settings, we’ve explored all types of art schools and highlighted those we think are worth considering when you begin to fill out your college applications.

To determine our national list of undergraduate art programs in the United States, Art & Object gathered statistics reported to Art & Object from the school’s administration combined with the most up-to-date data (from the most recent school year available, 2022) collected from College Navigator (a website from the National Center of Education Statistics), which all schools are required to report to annually. The data we collected includes degree and curriculum variety, overall tuition cost and average grant aid offered as well as available scholarships, acceptance rate, graduation and retention rates, post-graduation employment rate, school endowment size, enrollment numbers, student body diversity, alumni, as well as location, surrounding art scene, and cultural opportunities. Some of these elements are intangibles that convey something about the quality of the experience but are more subjective or variable, such as location and cost of living.

Each factor was given a certain weight, with factors such as degrees offered and tuition given the most weight, and other factors, such as student-to-faculty ratios and school museums given lesser weight. In some cases, the judgment was nuanced: for tuition for example, we evaluated just the cost of tuition rather than considering the full cost of attendance (which would include housing costs, food, transportation, etc.). In this case, we have outlined our reasoning in our descriptions of the schools in the list. In some instances that are noted, the scores were tied. In these cases, we used the subjective factors, such as considering the cost of living, location, or school endowment size to break the tie.

While the editorial staff at Art & Object strived to create this list in the most objective manner as possible, we want to recognize that many of these measures of “best” are often subjective and could include other factors. We are open to suggestions for future lists and feel that it is important to hear what prospective students look for when considering art programs. With that said, we are pleased to present our 2024 list of the Fifteen Best Art Schools in the U.S.

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Photo: Joshua White
15. Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University

The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts provides students with educational opportunities in architecture, art, and design, while also linking their studies with professional studio programs with their university art museum, the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum.

Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) is an academically advanced institution with one of the lowest acceptance rates on our list, sitting at 12%. But students stay and graduate at a very high rate: 96% of first-year students come back and 94% of students graduate. This could be because of their amazing student-to-faculty ratio, 7:1, or it could be because of the vast program offerings, with majors in painting, photo, fashion design, and many more.

Tuition is $60,590 with 43% of students receiving an average of  $58,188 in grant aid. In terms of art scholarships available, with the Conway / Poretz Scholarships, each year up to one full-tuition scholarship and five $6,000 scholarships are awarded to first-year College of Art students who have outstanding artistic and academic potential. And students may apply for a handful of other scholarships. 

In terms of diversity, its undergraduate student body is 19% Asian, 9% Black or African American, 12% Hispanic/Latino, 44% White.

St. Louis, Missouri is a big city in the Midwest and is known for its iconic Gateway Arch, sports fans, and blues music scenes. For art majors at WUSTL, they will instead become acquainted with the two major museums in the city, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Also in town is High Low, a literary cafe that revolves around a gallery, Laumeier Sculpture Park where there are 60 outdoor sculptures, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, one of the oldest teaching museums in the country. St. Louis has a bustling up-and-coming art scene that is appealing to college students. Notable alumni include Ebony G. Patterson and Adrian Cox.

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Via MCAD Website
14. Minneapolis College of Art and Design

With small class sizes, a great amount of grant aid available, and a location in a bustling midwestern city, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) is a great place to attend art school. With 14 undergraduate degree programs ranging from traditional subjects such as drawing and painting to more eclectic options such as comic art and furniture design, MCAD has a rigorous academic program and is known for its openness to exploration and experimentation in each student’s creative practice.

Tuition is $42,560 with 100% of students receiving an average of $26,025 in grant aid. There are special competition scholarships that are matched by MCAD, the ARTS and the Scholastic Art Awards. MCAD also offers legacy scholarships, laptop scholarships, and more.

MCAD has an average acceptance rate of 57%, but a comparatively low graduation rate, with only 58% of students graduating within eight years. In terms of diversity, the student body is 7% Asian, 5% Black or African American, 11% Hispanic/Latino, 64% White.

Based in Minneapolis, students will gain access to one of the largest metropolitan cities in the northern Midwest. But be warned: Minneapolis is a driving city, so bring a car, and while you’re at it, bring a coat – it gets cold in the winter. Minneapolis has many great museums to choose from including the Walker Art Center, Weisman Art Museum, and Minneapolis Institute of Art. Notable alumni include James Rosenquist, John Bernard Flannagan, and Kinji Akagawa.

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Photo: Margaret Morrison. Via Wikimedia Commons
13. Carnegie Mellon University, School of Art

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a school known for its programs in science and technology, but its School of Art definitely puts CMU on the map as one of the top art schools in America. The School of Art offers four areas of coursework: Drawing, painting, print media, and photography; Sculpture and installation; electronic and time-based media; and social practice. There are also undergraduate schools for architecture, design, drama, and music. The BFA program is described as an integration of theory and practice, with a first-year curriculum consisting of “Foundations” which are created to give students a strong technical and conceptual foundation.

CMU has the best student-to-faculty ratio overall at an impressive 5 students to every 1 faculty member, which says a lot because they are a mid-sized school with over 7,000 undergraduates. Perhaps it has something to do with its incredible endowment size, which sits at $3 billion. CMU has high graduation and retention rates, at 92% and 97%, respectively, meaning those who get into the school (its acceptance rate is quite competitive, at a mere 11%) tend to stay there. But, surprisingly, of those who graduated, it was reported that only 67% of graduates of the art department were employed, with another 12% pursuing further education.

CMU has one of the highest tuitions, coming in at $61, 344 per year. The average grant size given is $43,966 for 47% of students with only merit scholarships available for undergrads. Its student body is 34% Asian, 4% Black or African American, 10% Hispanic/Latino, and 22% White.

In terms of its artfulness and city life, Pittsburgh has some definite street cred. It’s both the hometown of Andy Warhol, and features world-class institutions including the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art, which attracts the global art scene for its renowned biennial exhibition, the Carnegie International. Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater is also a short drive away. Notable alumni include Mel Bochner, John Currin, Joyce Kozloff, and Andy Warhol.

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Photo: © 2014 Larry D. Moore. Creative Commons.
12. University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is the largest school within the University of Texas system, with over 41,000 undergraduates spread out through its massive campus in Austin, Texas. It is a competitive school to get into for Texas residents and nationwide, with an acceptance rate of 31%.

However, by state law, 90% of first-year students at UT Austin must be in-state residents and of those, eligible Texas students in the top 6% of their high school class are admitted automatically. So, the acceptance rate for out-of-state applicants is a fraction of that overall acceptance rate.

Those who are accepted and attend UT Austin are very diverse, with its student body being 24% Asian, 5% Black or African American, 28% Hispanic/Latino, and 33% White.

UT Austin’s Studio Art program includes the usual suspects for majors: painting and drawing, photography and media, print, and sculpture, among others. The program, though housed in a mammoth institution, is self-described as “close-knit” and begins with each student completing a First-Year Core Program. Once students build core technical and conceptual proficiencies, they are able to explore advanced study in their remaining years on campus. 

Tuition is also better for in-state applicants. Texas residents pay $11,698 whereas out of state applicants pay $41,070. UT Austin does not have any art-based scholarships to apply for but automatically considers all applicants for their list of scholarships. In addition, the price tag comes with a consolation prize: most students (86% to be precise) receive an average of $8,321 in grant aid. 

While it could be a pricey option, we would be remiss not to mention that Austin is often regarded as the best place to live in Texas, and there is a large indie art scene. In addition, it has noteworthy art museums including the Blanton Museum of Art, Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, and The Contemporary Austin.

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Via Otis College of Art and Design Website
11. Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design is a small art school located in Los Angeles, California. Otis opened in 1918 and was one of the city’s first independent schools for art. Today, it has an incredible array of majors to choose from, including one of the only comprehensive 4-year degrees in Toy Design in the world. 

Otis is committed to providing scholarship and grant opportunities so students can attain a great education while not going too deep into debt. Tuition is $52,460 and 98% of students get an average of $21,017 in aid. There are an abundant amount of merit and financial scholarship opportunities, including the prestigious Charles White Scholarship, reflecting Otis’s commitment to supporting aspiring artists. Notable alumni such as David Hammons, Robert Irwin, Kim Gordon, Kerry James Marshall, and Masami Teraoka highlight Otis’s ability to cultivate artistic excellence. In fact, 90% of students in the class of 2022 were employed within one year of graduation, and of that, 84% reported they work in the field of art or design.

Otis has a strong teacher-to-student ratio at 7:1, but its 8-year graduation rate is below average compared to the other schools on our list, at 66%, which suggests that some students may face challenges in completing their degrees within the timeframe or perhaps drop out. The student body is diverse with 17% Asian, 6% Black, 20% Hispanic/Latino, and 22% White.

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Photo: Eli Pousson Via Flickr
10. Maryland Institute College of Art

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is one of the oldest art colleges in the US. It was founded in 1826 and since then, it has been refining its programs and curriculum so that its students are ready for the real world. MICA is located in Baltimore, which is frequently ranked among the top metropolitan areas to attend college. Baltimore is also one of America’s most artistic towns. In addition to having a top-rated art school, an emerging art scene, and many art events, the city has incredible museums including the encyclopedic Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, and the American Visionary Art Museums.

Though small (its total undergraduate enrollment is about 1,400), MICA is moderately diverse with a student body that is 11% Asian, 10% Black or African American, 10% Hispanic/Latino, and 34% White. MICA is quite expensive, with tuition coming in at $53,815 and the cost of living in Maryland should be considered. But 100% of students receive an average of $25,767 in grant aid. However, if that doesn’t cut it for some prospective students, MICA offers a number of need and merit-based scholarships, though these are competitive. Among its notable alumni are Jeff Koons, Shinique Smith, and Mina Cheon.

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Photo: Polka0505 Via Wikimedia Commons.
9. New York University

New York University (NYU), located steps from Washington Square Park in NYC and a subway ride to the Met, is a perfect place for an art studio major to begin their art career. NYU is a great option because of the number of programs offered: though the Tisch School within NYU is known for its amazing film and music programs, the Steinhardt School is where one should apply if they’re interested in getting a BFA in Studio Art. Or, if you’re looking for something more nuanced, try the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where you can make your own major in the visual arts. No matter the school within NYU you chose, its professors cannot be beat: take a course with Sue de Beer, Maureen Gallace, or even Lyle Ashton Harris. 

But be warned, NYU is known for its pricey tuition which is about $58,168 per year, not to mention the cost of living in NYC which can average just for housing an extra $20,272 per year in student housing. Average grant aid is moderate, with 45% of students receiving an average of $47,096 in aid. The undergraduate student body is 20% Asian, 8% Black or African American, 16% Hispanic/Latino, and 22% White. Alumni include Elaine Cameron-Weir, Katherine Behar, Ben Shahn, and Leigh Behnke.

NYU is also a major international school, with students attending from around the world. One of the school’s major bonuses is that it has campuses in major cities around the world, offering students the chance to study abroad in other art meccas including Paris, Berlin and Shanghai. While it was tied with Maryland Institute College of Art, NYU won the tie due to its proximity to some of the art world's most important institutions and the school's overall reputation for academic excellence."

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Photo: Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons
8. Pratt Institute

Located in Brooklyn’s leafy, and now very-trendy Clinton Hill neighborhood, Pratt Institute's undergraduate program for the School of Art consists of eight departments students can choose from to complete their BA or BFA. These include fine arts, film/video, digital arts and animation, and art and design education.

Pratt is a small school, with 3,934 undergraduate students enrolled. And though Pratt’s tuition is on the higher end, at roughly $57,599 per year, over three-quarters of admitted students (78% to be precise) receive about $25,278 in aid. But, one needs to consider the cost of living in New York City, which is one of the most expensive in the nation. While the absence of a school museum or gallery may limit on-campus exhibition and curatorial opportunities, New York City is replete with world-class institutions for students to explore and seek out internships and other opportunities. 

In terms of diversity, the student body is 16% Asian, 4% Black or African American, 11% Hispanic/Latino, and 33% White. Jacob Lawrence, Ellsworth Kelly, Pamela Colman Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe,  and Felix Gonzalez Torres are among the school's noteworthy alumni.

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ajay_suresh | Wikimedia Commons
7. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Nestled in downtown Chicago is the School of the Art Institute Chicago (SAIC), a private art school that works in tandem with the Art Institute of Chicago museum. At SAIC, students can choose from up to 32 art-based majors. Tuition is on the more expensive side at $54,530 but 100% of students receive grant aid up to $18,290. 

SAIC is a small school, with only 2,819 undergraduate students, but its name and close association to the Art Institute affords SAIC major perks. One is the Visiting Artist Program (VAP), which hosts presentations and lectures by major artists. Past lecturers include Catherine Opie, Marilyn Minter, and Homi K. Bhaba. In addition, the school has three major art galleries for student and faculty shows: SAIC Galleries, Sullivan Galleries, and SITE Galleries. Apart from the Art Institute, Chicago has its share of great museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Field Museum, the Chicago History Museum, and DuSable Museum of African American History.

SAIC only offers merit-based scholarships to its undergraduate students, and its graduation rate is 67%. That being said, from the class of 2022, it was reported that 83% are employed with a further 9% pursuing continuing education. Its student body is 10% Asian, 4% Black or African American, 11% Hispanic/Latino, and 35% White. SAIC has a stellar reputation, with alumni including Jeffrey Gibson, Joan Mitchell, Rashid Johnson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tania Bruguera, Jeff Koons, Sterling Ruby, and art critic Jerry Saltz.

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Via MassArt Website
6. Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Massachusetts College of Art and Design, or MassArt, is in our top ten due to its academic programs, its incredible studio and exhibition space, and its location in Boston, a city with an incredible history and rich array of museums. MassArt has 18 undergraduate majors to choose from including animation, architecture, illustration, jewelry and metalsmithing, painting, and more. 

MassArt received high marks from us for their affordable tuition, coming in at $14,570 (in-state) and $40,960 (out-of-state) and their financial aid and scholarship opportunities. 100% of the students receive around $8,494 in grant aid, and there are many scholarships available from their list of MassArt Foundation Scholarships. In addition, their endowment size, though smaller than many others on our list, at $17 million, is all going to the arts programs. In terms of diversity, the student body is 7% Asian, 3% Black or African American, 14% Hispanic/Latino, and 51% White.

With a small student body of 1,833 undergraduates, class sizes are also small with a ratio of 1 teacher for every 9 students. Incoming freshmen unsure of which major they’re interested in should not worry: MassArt requires students to participate in the Foundation Year, which consists of studio drawing, visual language courses such as digital media or photography, and a host of independent projects. Some notable professors include Fred Liang and Laura McPhee, and notable alumni include William Wegman, Kelly Wearstler, Christian Marclay, and Maya Hayuk.

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VIa RISD Website
5. Rhode Island School of Design

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is high on our list because it has a great variety of art-based majors, strong graduation and retention rates, and much more. Its school endowment size is a whopping $347.7 million, with funds used to provide grants and financial aid, and pay for the museum and administrative costs of RISD’s programs. And while students are required to take on a general liberal arts course-load given that its programs are primarily in the arts, that means the arts programs benefit most from this funding. You also get a solid liberal arts education and, as a bonus, can take classes at Brown University.

RISD offers BA’s and BFA’s in 16 majors from textiles to sculpture, glass to photography. In addition, the program offers undergraduate the option of concentrations (which is similar to the Minor, or secondary specialization, at other universities). Its tuition is $57,505, and 34% of beginning undergraduate students receive $37,480 in grant aid.

RISD is a top school and with that comes an extremely competitive admissions rate: 17% of candidates are accepted. While Providence may be a small city, it is frequently ranked among the best college towns in the country for its nightlife, music scene, and world class restaurants. Providence also has many museums and galleries such as the RISD Museum, the John Brown House Museum, the Rhode Island Jewish Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Gelman Gallery, and the Woods Gerry Gallery. Notable alumni include Jenny Holzer, Francesca Woodman, Shepard Fairey, Kara Walker, David Byrne, and Julie Mehretu.

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Nick Allen/Wikimedia Commons
4. Yale University, School of Art

Yale University is known in the art world for its Masters of Fine Arts program, which is consistently ranked among the best in the world, and is known to have trained some of the biggest names in contemporary art including John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, and Mickalene Thomas. But the Yale undergraduate program for fine arts is also a top-ranking program with some notable artists on its faculty such as the legendary photographer Gregory Crewdson, and printmaker Meleko Mokgosi. At Yale’s undergraduate School of Art, students can receive a BA or BFA in graphic design, painting, print-making, photography, and sculpture. 

Of course, as an Ivy League school, Yale’s acceptance rate is the lowest and most competitive on our list, at a super slim 5%. In addition, Yale’s tuition is among the top of our range, measuring out at $62,250 per year. That being said, Yale offers generous financial aid with 52% of students receiving up to $63,523 in aid. We also have to mention that Yale’s endowment size, which sits at $42.3 billion, is the world’s second largest. In terms of diversity, its student body is 22% Asian, 8% Black or African American, 15% Hispanic/Latino, and 35% White.

Its notable alumni include Lisa Yuskavage, John Currin, Mickalene Thomas, Eva Hesse, Martin Puryear, Keltie Ferris, Wangechi Mutu, and Jordan Casteel. It also has the top-notch art museums Yale University Art Gallery, and Yale Center for British Art.

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Via USC Website
3. University of Southern California, Roski School of Art and Design

The University of Southern California (USC) is among our highest-rated, major universities that are not primarily an art school. But, its art school, Roski, offers a BA and BFA in Art, and a BFA in Design. The program consists of student-selected studio courses, with emphases on painting and drawing, ceramics, sculpture, and photography and video. 

USC is one of the most selective schools on our list, with an acceptance rate of 12%. But of the nearly 21,000 students enrolled, the numbers tell us that they tend to stay and graduate at a high rate: the graduation rate is an impressive 92% and the first-year retention rate is 97%. 

Tuition is $64,726 with 71% of students receiving an average of $45,262 in grant aid. USC Roski offers three scholarships: the Renaissance Scholar, which recognizes a student who pursues two fields of study, the Discovery Scholar, for someone who makes meaningful contributions to their field of study through new artistic work, and the Global Scholar, for artists who study abroad.

USC is an in-demand school for artists because of its proximity to Los Angeles, a city with a booming art scene (so much so that Frieze Art Fair decided to launch an LA edition in 2019). USC has its own museums including the USC Fisher Museum of Art and the USC Pacific Asia Museum. Greater Los Angeles boasts many world-class museums and galleries, including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, the Getty and the Broad, as well as Jeffrey Deitch, Regen Projects, David Kordanksy, and The Pit, which have exciting internship opportunities for students during the school year and over the summer break. Notable alumni include Alex Israel, Corita Kent, and Paul McCarthy.

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2. Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is a top contender for those looking for an excellent art program with an astounding amount of Majors and specializations. SCAD ranked the highest for its offering of over 100 degree programs for undergraduates including animation, advertising, art history, dramatic writing, and fashion. In addition, there are over 75 Minors and certificate programs available. 

Some highlights from our findings include SCAD’s tuition, which is on the more affordable end of the spectrum. SCAD tuition begins at $39,605 but our research shows that 98% of students receive an average of $13,157 in grant aid. In addition, their endowment as of 2022 was at $220 million. As mentioned with other schools on our list, it is notable that SCAD, as an art school, will use the majority of their spending of those funds for their art programs. 

The school’s unofficial tagline is “No starving artists,” which reflects part of the school’s mission, which is to ensure that their students get guidance in professional development and find employment after graduation. Students will also have the benefit of living in the beautiful city of Savannah, known for its historic cobblestone squares, and manicured parks with trees covered in Spanish Moss. The school’s museum, SCAD Museum of Art, gives students great access to exhibitions and artists, and offers alumni the opportunity to exhibit their work. The city also boasts the Telfair Museums and the Savannah African Art Museum. Notable Alumni include M. Alice LeGrow, Claire Rosen, and Jacen Burrows.

In terms of diversity, their student body is 6% Asian, 12% Black or African American, 7% Hispanic/Latino, and 52% White. As a mid-sized school with around 13,500 undergraduates, it has a moderate-to-high student-to-faculty ratio at 20:1. In addition, their graduation and first-year retention rates are moderate (81% and 74%, respectively). But for those who stick with the program, there are benefits that follow. 99% of SCAD’s Spring 2021 alumni were employed or pursuing higher education within ten months of graduation, which leads us to believe that there's something to SCAD’s tagline. 

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Ajay Suresh | Wikimedia Commons
1. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

The Cooper Union is our pick for the best undergraduate art school in the United States for many reasons: it has great programs, affordable tuition, and notable retention and graduation rates, not to mention a stellar location.

Located in the heart of the East Village in New York City, Cooper Union offers undergraduate programs in architecture, fine art, and engineering. The BFA in Fine Arts include studies in drawing, film and video, graphic design, painting, photography, and more. Students are able to exhibit their work at the Cooper Gallery and can see excellent art exhibitions throughout the city at world class institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Brooklyn Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s hard to beat a New York school with such a great program that is also located in a city that is arguably the art capital of the world.

Not to mention, Cooper Union is among the most affordable options compared to other New York schools that we researched. While the school is on track to restore its, historically offered, full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduate students by 2029 (a plan it kicked off in 2016), it currently charges tuition. With a small student body of 899 undergraduates, and an overall price tag of $46,820, every student receives an average grant aid package of $39,305. Cooper Union offers many art-based scholarships from various organizations including the Creative Capital Foundation, Creative Time Fellowships, Ford Foundation, and Pollock-Krasner Grants. 

In terms of diversity, the undergraduate population is 31% Asian, 5% Black or African American, 12% Hispanic/Latino, and 28% White.

The school is very selective, with an acceptance rate of 22%. And those that do attend Cooper Union tend to stay there: we found that 93% of first-year students return and 83% of students graduate within eight years. Notable Alumni include Daniel Arsham, Wangechi Mutu, Elizabeth Diller, Lee Krasner, Daniel Libeskind, Shigeru Ban, Augusta Savage, and Alex Katz.

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