Today’s “art schools” look nothing like what may have existed in years past. For one, most are better described as universities, given that arts institutions like SCAD award advanced graduate degrees, prepare students for thriving professions, and prepare the next generation of credentialed college professors. Whether you’ve been dreaming of coming to an art and design university since childhood or have only recently discovered your creative side, here are some questions to consider.
1) Am I right for an art and design university?
The short answer is, Yes! Fifty years ago, most art colleges focused on what you’d expect: painting, sculpture, photography, and other classic fine arts disciplines. Today, creative universities like SCAD offer programs of study for every type of student. For example, while applicants are welcome to submit drawing portfolios as part of their applications, this is generally not required for admission or even for scholarship consideration. Places like SCAD (and employers in the creative professions) care as much about problem-solving, imagination, and resilience as we do about drawing technique—and those qualities can just as easily be demonstrated through high school transcripts, essays, interviews, and other accomplishments in high school.
2) What if I’m not creative?
You are. Students drawn to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and quantitative reasoning now have options at arts universities. Math, science, and computing knowledge are essential to many creative careers—and are taught at SCAD, in such departments as architecture (calculus, physics), social strategy and management (statistics), and visual effects (programming). Those with an interest in healthcare might consider interior design, where graduates go on to create humane hospital interiors and maternity wards, for example. Graduates of industrial design often go on to careers creating medical devices.
3) What if I’m creative but want a more stable career?
Today’s art and design students at SCAD begin preparing for careers on day one of college. Creative students who love stories and literature (but don’t have an interest in writing the Great American Novel) can study UX design, writing, or advertising and go into brand storytelling and UX design in any Fortune 500 company. UX designers help create the “story” of an app/website and help conceive of how customers will engage with a particular company online—i.e., helping the company understand its customers as “characters” and their behavior as a plot. SCAD has writing and UX alumni working at Facebook, Wells Fargo, Google, and more.
4) Do your alumni get hired?
The next time you’re visiting an arts university, find out the actual employment rate of alumni. Many universities track and publish this data now, given that parents and students are more interested than ever in launching stable careers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2018, the national average employment rate for young adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 86%. While some universities don’t report the employment rate for their graduates, many do. Ask! A 2019 study of recent SCAD graduates found that 99% of alumni were employed, pursuing further education, or both within 10 months of graduation, with 92% of those alumni employed in a creative discipline.
5) How much should size and location matter?
Location matters a great deal for creative students. You’ll want to find a university ideally with a temperate climate, located in a city that beckons you out of doors. Research has shown again and again that walking, biking, and spending time outside contributes to creativity and curiosity—two key ingredients for success as you progress through your course of study. Access to beauty, beaches, history, inspiring architecture, and a year-round climate for en plein air painting were a few of the contributing factors in choosing SCAD in Savannah as the original hometown of SCAD. As for size, students generally have more options at a larger university, including more departments and majors (increasing choice of study and cross-disciplinary collaborations), more social and networking events (festivals, sports, etc.), and a larger alumni network (to hire you when you graduate). Small class sizes ensure personal attention, even at a large university like SCAD.
6) What percentage of students graduate every year?
This question seeks to discover a university’s graduation rate, defined as the percentage of first-time undergraduate students who complete their program at the same institution within a specified period of time (usually four to six years). This information should also be viewable on a university’s website. Administrators can tell you where to find it; a quick Google search works, too. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national graduation rate is currently 60% for first-time, full-time undergraduate students. Families and students shouldn’t consider any university with a rate lower than that.
7) What is the student loan default rate for your graduates?
This data point, reported every year by the U.S. Department of Education, describes the percentage of a university’s graduates who default on their student loans within a given cohort. For fiscal year 2016 (the most recent year available), the national cohort default rate was 10.1%. Loan default rates are like golf scores: lower is better. A university with a high default rate (i.e., anything higher than the average) may not be preparing their graduates for their professions, resulting in more of their alumni being underemployed, unemployed, and/or otherwise unable to pay back student loans. A healthy, low default rate is a positive indicator that a university prepares graduates for their professions. U.S. Department of Education data shows that the most recent national cohort of student loan borrowers has a default rate of 10.1%. The default rate for SCAD graduates is 5.5% for the same cohort. For more information, go to www.scad.edu/about/institutional-effectiveness/student-achievement-data.