At Large  August 31, 2021  Art & Object Staff

The 5 Best Art Schools in the Midwest

Created: Tue, 08/31/2021 - 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. Once again, 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 five is 2,810.2 and the median is 1,093. 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.

To determine its final rankings, 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 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, Southwest, and West here.

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


Founded in 1879, the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) offers eighteen minors, fourteen concentrations, and twelve undergraduate degrees ranging from Fine Arts to Comics and Narrative Practice. The school’s programs in Animation, Design, Illustration, and Fashion are all 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.

Tuition at CCAD is approximately $36,500 for both undergraduate and graduate students, making it the most affordable school of this list. According to data from 2016—the most recent data available—CCAD’s student body is 64 percent white, 68 percent female, and 7 percent international, making it one of the least diverse schools on this particular list.

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.

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


Founded in 1851, Northwestern University offers one visual art major entitled Art, Theory, and Practice (ATP). While five traditional mediums form the core of instruction, some emphasis is placed on newer, technology-based approaches.

Northwestern has the highest tuition of all the schools listed, resting at $56,286 according to most recent numbers. Of the schools that do openly report employment numbers, the employment percentage of Northwestern ATP majors is rather low—only 50 percent. Interestingly, this is simply because an impressive 43 percent choose to pursue higher education.

As a full-fledged university, Northwestern unsurprisingly has the largest student body of this list, with around 8,327 enrolled undergraduates. Additionally, art students here have ample opportunities to study other subjects and collaborate with fellow students in other disciplines.

Last year the University's campus life and arts events section of their website, while only able to feature virtual exhibitions and performances, stayed up to date and full of opportunities, something many schools were not able to achieve. This shows adaptability and a dedication to staying active amid change.

The school’s diversity numbers are incredibly up to date. Northwestern’s class of 2024 is 53.2 percent white and 10 percent international. While far less diverse than many schools from other regions in the U.S., this shows moderate to high diversity within this list of Midwestern schools.

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


The Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) offers BFAs across thirteen disciplines and an option to double major or minor in Art History or Creative Writing. As of this Fall, the school has three minor programs that now include Entrepreneurial Studies as well as Sound and Social Practice.

With a student body of about 699 individuals, KCAI is the smallest school on this list. Tuition for the school is approximately $39,000, making it the second most affordable school of this top five. Additionally, about 45.5 percent of students are Pell Grant recipients. Although KCAI does not report employment percentages, it does boast a robust career center with, according to a representative from the school, “a focus on the value of creativity, critical thinking, critique skills and problem-solving as transferable skills helps imbue our graduates with an understanding of their value within an evolving economy.” 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.

As of Fall 2020, the KCAI student body is 65.04 percent white which, compared to other schools listed, makes the school low to moderately diverse. The school has shared that its current budget is about $20.6 million. This budget is impressive considering KCAI’s small student body and, of course, the school’s candor on the matter shows a unique degree of openness.

The cost of living in Kansas City is lower than the national average and especially suited to young artists. Local artists are also supported through a number of non-profit organizations such as the Charlotte Street Foundation, Arts KC, and Studio Inc who provide artist funding, opportunities, and studio space. 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.

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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


Founded in 1886, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) offers thirteen BFA programs ranging from Animation to Web and Multimedia Environments and 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 $41,344 and the student body is composed of just over 800 individuals. This makes MCAD the second most expensive and second smallest school of this Midwestern list. The art school’s graduation rate as of the 2018-19 school year compares moderately at 66.1 percent.

MCAD is one of the only schools featured in this entire series of top schools to include nonbinary students in its reports of student body racial and gender diversity percentages. Currently, its student body is 4 percent international, 62 percent white, 64 percent female, and 6 percent nonbinary. 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.

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


Founded in 1866, the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the oldest accredited and independent schools of art and design in the country. 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. Additionally, the schools’ Animation, Graphic Design, and Fine Arts programs are all highly lauded and award-winning.

Undergraduate tuition during the 2019-2020 school year was $50,920. This makes it the most expensive school of this Midwestern top five. It is the second-largest school featured with a student body that consists of about 3,132 students total, 645 of whom are graduate students.

SAIC’s graduation rate ranks moderately, at 65.5 percent, but the employment rate of students is impressively high—the highest of this list—with 94.5 percent of undergraduate students employed or enrolled in a higher education program within six months of graduation from SAIC.

SAIC is one of the most diverse schools featured in all of our listings, particularly in terms of racial diversity. According to most recent data, its student body is 25.8 percent male, 36.5 percent white, and 31 percent international.

Located in the heart of Chicago, SAIC’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 school is also the top producer of Fulbright Scholars among all art and design schools. Notable alumni and staff include Richard Hunt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cynthia Rowley, Nick Cave, Jeff Koons, and LeRoy Neiman.

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