Art & Object's 2023 ranking of America's top art schools showcases the best of the best. Spanning coast to coast, featuring institutions of all sizes—this list encompasses an incredible range of schools that offer the finest in art education.
This national listing gives prominent placement 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—such as Yale and Columbia—have also been highlighted.
To determine this national list, Art & Object's editorial staff weighed the following factors: degree and curriculum variety, quality of school museums, school renown, tuition cost (undergraduate, graduate, etc. if applicable), employment rate, graduation rate, internship opportunities, student body diversity*, surrounding art scene, cultural opportunities, and student statements. While Art & Object strives to craft these lists in the most objective manner possible, we recognize that measures of "best" could include many other factors. We would also like to include the following honorable mentions: Cooper Union, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and Temple University. With that said, here is our 2023 list of the fifteen best art schools in the U.S.
*Editor’s Note: LGBTQ+ individuals may not always be accurately represented in gender data reported by institutions and organizations.
Founded in 1879, the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) offers eighteen minors, fourteen concentrations, and thirteen undergraduate degrees ranging from Fine Arts to Comics and Narrative Practice. The school’s programs in Animation, Design, Illustration, and Fashion are all either highly recognized or award-winning.
CCAD and its faculty are uniquely 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.
According to the latest reports, undergraduate tuition at CCAD is approximately $37,370. This makes it the second most affordable school of this list. Although CCAD is perhaps more diverse than the nation’s average school, it comes in as one of the least diverse in terms of both race and gender when compared to other top schools featured here.
The city of Columbus is home to the country’s number one library system as well as to a standout zoo and aquarium. Each year the school hosts a juried Art Fair where student and alumni work is sold. At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the fair was held virtually. Though this was done out of necessity, it led to great success—with sales reaching consumers across the nation.
Founded in 1886, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) offers eighteen degree programs ranging from BFAs in Animation and Web & Multimedia Environments to a BS in Entrepreneurial Studies. Alumni news is regularly reported on, detailing former student appearances in big-name publications and galleries around the country and world.
According to the latest data, MCAD’s tuition is around $41,794 and at its graduation rate falls around 63.5 percent—both numbers are relatively low for this list.
The student body is small and not very diverse but the faculty-to-student ratio is 10 to 1. Additionally, MCAD is one of the only schools featured in this entire series to include nonbinary students in its reports of student body racial and gender diversity percentages. This pragmatic step to include a sect of genderqueer students is important and will likely be followed and expanded upon by other institutions in the coming years.
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. The school is located near many inspiring museums, including the neighboring Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Mia) and the Walker Art Center.
Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is home to one of the top public art programs in the nation. VCU’s School of the Arts offers eighteen undergraduate and five graduate degrees. The school's programs span a wide range of disciplines and features departments including but not limited to Craft/Material Studies—which boasts majors from glassmaking to furniture design—and Kinetic Imaging—which covers mediums like animation and sound.
VCU boasts the lowest undergraduate tuition for both Virginia residents and non-residents, coming in at $15,028 and $35,676 respectively. According to reports on the University at large, its graduation rate is about 66.4 percent.
The arts program boasts a state-of-the-art foundry and metal fabrication shop. Genius Grant winners and Alumni of the school’s MFA program Tara Donovan and Teresita Fernández both work with the kind of heavy-duty industrial materials that this shop makes accessible to students.
As a research University, interdisciplinary opportunities abound on VCU's campus. The da Vinci Center for Innovation was established to make a space for and encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration via a unique collegiate model. The University has also established many institutional programs designed to promote diversity such as Special Interest Institutes and Centers (SIICs) which specifically do so via research, education, advocacy, and community partnerships.
Baltimore's own Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting art and design college in the United States. Currently, MICA offers around forty degrees overall. It also boasts one of the best faculty-to-student ratios, coming in at 8 to 1.
Undergraduate students are required to take a core "First Year Experience" and then choose a major. They may also add a liberal arts minor—art history or humanistic studies—or a studio concentration to the mix. A range of graduate programs, that span an array of categories, are also offered by the school. Students may pursue anything from a Master of Arts in Illustration to a Master of Business Administration in Design Leadership.
Tuition at MICA, according to the most recent data available, is about $49,190 for undergrads, making it a moderately expensive school within this list. The school’s student body ranks moderately high in terms of diversity. Its graduation rate compares similarly with other schools listed, coming in at 69.6 percent.
MICA’s campus also hosts at least ten studios and maker spaces that are open to different sects of the student population. This includes the so-called Dolphin Shop, a space created to facilitate forward-thinking design and interdisciplinary practice. Located within the Dolphin Design Center—home of the established Architectural Design program in addition to the school’s new BFA programs in Game Design and Product Design—this particular shop and associated degrees are emblematic of the school’s broad dedication to innovation and multidisciplinarity within the art and design worlds.
Ringling College of Art and Design offers two BA programs—in Business of Art and Design, Visual Studies—and eleven BFA programs—in Computer Animation, Creative Writing, Entertainment Design, Film, Fine Arts, Game Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Motion Design, Photography and Imaging, and Virtual Reality Development. That last program is the world's first of its kind. With a student body of around 1,600 individuals, Ringling is one of the smallest schools here.
All Ringling programs dedicate a third of their curriculum requirements to liberal arts courses and the school places a strong emphasis on story-telling, even in its Fine Arts program. Its Animation, Game Design, and Illustration programs are consistently awarded and highly ranked by various outlets.
Undergraduate tuition at Ringling is approximately $49,540, making it moderately expensive for this list. Currently, their graduation rate stacks up similarly at 71.8 percent. Despite its small student population, Ringling’s faculty-to-student ratio is 12 to 1.
While Ringling also ranks moderately here in terms of diversity, the college is vocal about its commitment to fostering diversity and places an emphasis on community and comfort, saying—“Every member of our community adds to who we are: a dedicated, curious, quirky, and talented blend of creatives. We are relentless in our pursuit of brilliance and uncompromising in our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) emphasizes the individual and provides abundant opportunities to customize one’s education. BFA students at SMFA do not declare focused majors. Rather, they work directly with advisors and staff to tailor their own personalized curriculum, designed to support students—both in terms of their art practice and in preparation for life beyond school. Students also have access to courses and minors across the university and may even choose to pursue a Combined Degree, earning a BFA in Fine Arts and a BA or BS from the University’s School of Arts and Sciences. Across the University, more than 100 different majors and minors are offered.
Undergraduate tuition is currently $63,804, making Tufts the most expensive school featured. That said, Tufts meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, regardless of citizenship status. The school is moderately diverse and its faculty-to-student ratio of 10 to 1 measures up moderately as well.
In terms of graduation and employment rates, Tufts measures up impressively. It boasts the third highest graduation rate of this list at 94 percent and the second highest reported employment rate with a resounding 95 percent of students either finding employment, enrolling in grad school, or participating in service or a fellowship within 6 months of graduation.
SMFA’s campus is centrally located on Boston’s Huntington Avenue—or the Avenue of the Arts—alongside major collections at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner. The art school’s online presence and resources are also incredibly up-to-date. The website features a resource guide to exhibition opportunities available to students on campus, off-campus, and online.
Founded in 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the oldest accredited and independent schools of art and design in the country. SAIC offers around sixty degrees including BA programs in Art History and Visual & Critical Studies as well as BFA programs 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. Additionally, the schools’ Animation, Graphic Design, and Fine Arts programs are all highly lauded and award-winning.
Undergraduate tuition is currently $53,160, which is moderately high compared to others on this list. SAIC is on the small side, with around 3,000 students, though its faculty-to-student ratio is moderate, at 11 to 1.
SAIC is one of the most diverse schools featured in our listing but the graduation rate is the third lowest of this final top fifteen. Even so, SAIC has an incredible reputation and remains a top producer of Fulbright Scholars among all art and design schools. Located in the heart of Chicago, the school’s educational buildings and its internationally award-winning art museum—The Art Institute of Chicago—make up the largest campus in the U.S.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is home to three departments that offer 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 courses on and degrees in Art Education. Within the Studio program, training is offered across five broad areas of interest rather than specific, singular mediums.
UT Austin is one of the larger schools of this list and, based on in-state tuition, it is the most affordable. Currently, in-state tuition is $11,448 and out-of-state tuition is just over $43,003. Its faculty-to-student ratio of 18 to 1 is relatively poor, but its graduation rate of 82.6 percent is moderately high and, UT Austin is one of the most diverse schools listed.
According to the University, students engaged in the UTeach Fine Arts Program who wish to teach art in public, Texas schools, “have virtually 100 percent job placement.” UT Austin has fifteen distinct career centers including one that is entirely dedicated to Fine Arts students.
Located in Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, students at this school are surrounded by cultural opportunities. The school boasts two museums of its in own and encourages students across the board to take an interest in the fine and performing arts scenes on and off campus.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the School of the Arts and Architecture where students have access to leading programs in four degree-granting departments: Architecture and Urban Design, Art, Design/ Media Arts, and World Arts and Cultures/Dance. The BA program allows students to take foundational courses in six different media categories and then advance in whichever of these media they are most drawn to.
Students here have access to interdisciplinary opportunities inherent to a research university and, according to UCLA, “our eight research centers foster groundbreaking connections between the arts and other disciplines, bringing together creativity and research to address issues such as global health, climate change, urbanism and other critical challenges of the twenty-first century.”
UCLA is another large school and it is also the second most affordable for in-state students. Currently, in-state undergraduate tuition is $13,24. For out-of-state undergrads, however, this is not the case. These students will pay around $43,003. Even so, the university reports that more than half of its undergraduates receive financial assistance.
UCLA’s student body is incredibly diverse and, at 90.5 percent, it has the fifth highest graduation rate of this list. The University’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) offers, among other things, resources for racial trauma as well as EDI Toolkits.
The University is home to a wide range of top-notch resources. From the UCLA Art & Global Health think tank to its three on-campus museums and the 45,000 piece art collection at the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts.
The Yale School of the Fine Arts is the oldest art school connected to a higher learning institution within the U.S. As is typically the case for art schools that reside under the umbrella of such universities, students are encouraged to branch out and take advantage of the broad range of subjects and expertise surrounding them.
Yale’s MFA program is designed to change as the interests and needs of its students change so that it can, for example, help students explore and establish artistic practices that may not be offered within the program’s core curriculum. Students may pursue an MFA in Graphic Design, Painting and Printmaking, Photography, or Sculpture. Although Critical Practice and All-School/Interdisciplinary are not formal areas of study, both—according to Yale—are easy to seek out within the program and act as an idealistic framework of the school itself. For undergraduates, Yale offers a single BA in Art with the requirement that majors choose a concentration in either Graphic Design, Painting/Printmaking, Photography, or Sculpture.
Currently, undergraduate tuition at Yale is $57,700, making it the fourth most expensive school listed. Its faculty-to-student ratio, at 6 to 1, is one of the best of this list. The school is just moderately diverse but it boasts the highest graduation rate at 96.6 percent.
The campus features several prestigious galleries and libraries including the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The school also boasts a natural history museum. The Yale School of Art has produced many successful and even famous Alumni including Kehinde Wiley and Chuck Close.
The University of Southern California, Los Angeles (USC) began offering art classes in 1883 and later founded its art school in 1895. The USC Gayle Garner Roski School of Art and Design is one of the oldest art schools in Southern California. The school offers around fifty degrees. The BA program and the Communications Design Minor both require crossover between Roski and other USC departments. USC Roski directly connects students with internships, and as part of a larger research university, provides opportunities for cross-discipline research and collaboration with eighteen professional schools.
As a whole, USC is a very big school with around 46,000 enrolled students, 19,500 of whom are undergraduates. It is also the third most expensive school featured, with undergraduate tuition currently at $60,275.
USC has the fourth highest graduation rate at 91.9 percent and it ranks moderately high in terms of gender and racial diversity. The University’s faculty-to-student ratio, 9 to 1, is comparatively average.
The school is centrally located within Los Angeles and, in the University's own words, “USC’s University Park campus is part of the city’s Downtown Arts and Education Corridor and is home to the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and many professional schools.”
The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), located in Santa Clarita, offers over seventy comprehensive degree programs across the performing, visual, and literary arts. The school states these programs are “optimized for a new kind of artist: One who goes beyond mere aesthetics and expertise and one who thinks about the way their practice engages with the world at large.”
With so many programs to choose from, students are encouraged to explore and think critically about the art they wish to make. Both graduate and undergraduate students may receive instruction across a wide range of media including installation, video, film, writing, performance, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, digital imaging, and sculpture. A special emphasis is placed on individualized instruction and mentoring as students learn how to articulate ideas, develop personal methodologies, and establish an independent studio practice.
CalArts is very small with around 1,500 enrolled students. Undergraduate tuition, at $54,440, is moderately expensive compared to other schools listed. Its graduation rate, currently at 72.4 percent, is also comparatively moderate but it boasts one of the best faculty-to-student ratios at 6.5 to 1.
CalArts shows its commitment to fostering an environment of equity and diversity through a variety of initiatives including specialized grants, programs, and identity projects. For example, 2022 saw the launch of The Patty Disney Center for Life & Work’s first internship grant program, which will award grants to around ten students each year. The program is designed to “offset expenses incurred” by students in pursuit of in-person, unpaid internship opportunities. The school also keeps up an extensive and interactive factbook that holds data points on the current academic year as well as the last five years.
Columbia University’s fine art graduate and undergraduate programs are structured to prioritize the development of a student’s vision over their development as, for example, a traditional painter. Although prospective MFA students are sorted into disciplines during the application process, they may work however they wish—free to explore new mediums and blend processes—once accepted.
The undergraduate Visual Arts major is similarly versatile. Concentrations are offered in Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Photography, Printmaking, and Video but students may choose to focus on any combination of these disciplines.
The University’s undergraduate tuition is around $61,671, making it the second most expensive school in this list. In terms of diversity, the school ranks quite low here but it does boast the second highest graduation rate at 95.8 percent. The University’s faculty to students ratio is rivaled only by Yale, with both schools reporting an average ratio of 6 to 1.
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. Additionally, Columbia’s own LeRoy Neiman Gallery and Wallach Art Gallery offer a wide array of opportunities to students. The Wallach is a premier visual arts space and works closely with the Department of Art History and Archaeology, School of the Arts, and the University libraries. The Neiman hosts exhibitions that showcase work from invited artists, faculty, and students.
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is located in Providence, RI. The school offers around fifty degree programs including Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Interior Architecture, and Graphic Design. All first-years are required to take Experimental and Foundation Studies. In partnership with Brown University—the school offers a Dual Degree program referred to as BRDD. Students in the BRDD program pursue a BFA with RISD and a Bachelor of Arts or Science with Brown.
Undergraduate tuition at RISD is currently $54,890, placing it in the top five moest expensive schools of this list. With around 1,700 students, RISD is one of the smallest schools in this list and it boasts one of the best faculty-to-student ratios at 7 to 1.
The school’s current budget is reportedly around $150 million—a remarkable amount for such a small school. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that any amount of transparency when it comes to such things shows a unique degree of openness on behalf of the school.
Although RISD ranks moderately in terms of gender and racial diversity, the school has demonstrated a unique dedication to and belief in students from a range of socioeconomic, educational, and neurodivergent backgrounds. In 2019, RISD made the decision to be and remain test-optional (i.e. SAT and ACT results are not required) for any applicants. Many schools have since adopted this policy over the last several years to accommodate for COVID restrictions.
The RISD Museum—which houses around 100,000 works of art and boasts seven curatorial departments—is the only comprehensive art museum in southeastern New England. Notable alumni include Kara Walker and Shepard Fairey.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers more programs and specializations than any other art and design university in the U.S. Programs offered by the school are constantly evolving to keep up with the natural progression that occurs in the working world. In 2022, SCAD launched the School of Business Innovation, offering fifteen graduate and undergraduate degrees.
With undergraduate tuition at $39,105 and graduate tuition around $40,050, SCAD is one of the five most affordable schools listed. SCAD is also comparatively moderately sized—and large compared to other art schools—with a student body of more than 14,000 individuals.
SCAD has shared that its approved budget for FY23 includes $325.9 million in operating expenses. The scope of the budget is just as remarkable as the range of courses offered by the school. And, of course, SCAD’s candor on the matter shows a unique degree of openness.
“[There are] no starving artists at SCAD,” President Paula Wallace told CBS Evening News in June 2022. “Our students want to work at Disney, Google, L'Oreal, and those businesses want to hire and they do hire from SCAD.”
Though the school’s faculty-to-students ratio, at 20 to 1, is on the low end of this list and its graduation rate, at 71 percent, is moderately low, SCAD boasts the highest employment rate by far. As was the case in 2020, 99 percent of SCAD’s Spring 2021 alumni were employed, pursuing higher education, or both within ten months of graduation. This statistic is remarkably high, consistent, and particularly impressive given the last several years of fluctuation in the economy and job market.
Every year the school hosts a wide range of SCAD Signature Events that offer opportunities for students in every program, from gaming to fashion and beyond. The art-fair style events SCAD deFINE ART and SCAD AT MIAMI spotlight established and emerging artists while showcasing contemporary art, design innovation, and performance. And the SCAD Savannah Film Festival—the largest university-run film festival in the world—has screened over 100 Oscar-nominated films.