What are the Top Art Schools in the US?

The United States has a rich history of artistic expression, and its art schools have been instrumental in shaping the nation’s creative landscape. Whether you’re an aspiring artist seeking a comprehensive education or a seasoned professional looking to refine your skills, the top art schools in the US offer unparalleled opportunities for growth and development. From world-renowned institutions in major cities to small, specialized programs in rural areas, there are countless options to choose from.

This article will highlight some of the best art schools in the US, based on factors such as academic reputation, faculty expertise, facilities, student success rates, and industry connections.

art student in painting class

1. School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Chicago, IL

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is widely regarded as one of the top art schools in the United States. With a history dating back to 1866, it has established itself as a leader in the field of arts education. The school offers a diverse range of programs and disciplines, including fine arts, design, and art history. Its faculty includes renowned artists, designers, and scholars who bring their expertise and experience to the classroom.

SAIC boasts a state-of-the-art facility called the Computer Resources and Information Technologies Center, which is designed to provide students with access to the latest digital equipment and training. With unique program offerings like art therapy and visual communication, SAIC is dedicated to providing a comprehensive education that prepares students for success in a rapidly evolving industry. The school has produced many celebrated alumni, including Walt Disney, who exemplify the exceptional caliber of talent that is fostered at SAIC.

2. Rhode Island School of Design: Providence, RI

Established in 1877, RISD offers a rigorous curriculum in fine arts, design, architecture, and other related fields. The institution is renowned for its innovative approach to education, which encourages students to experiment with various mediums and techniques. RISD’s faculty comprises renowned artists and designers who provide students with individualized attention and guidance.

RISD prides itself on its top-ranked master’s program in fine arts, which boasts a wide range of specializations, including photography, sculpture, metals/jewelry, graphic design, glassware, and many more. RISD’s curriculum is designed to provide students with a comprehensive and immersive education, combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience.

3. California Institute of the Arts: Valencia, CA

CalArts is a prestigious private art college located in Valencia, California, which was founded in 1961 by Walt Disney. The institution was created by merging the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. It is the first higher education institution that brought together visual and performing arts under the same learning environment.

Admission to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is highly competitive and primarily based on demonstrated artistic merit. The faculty of the individual programs assess each applicant’s portfolio, audition, or other relevant materials to determine their level of artistic ability and potential for success in their chosen field. In addition to artistic merit, the admissions committee also considers an applicant’s academic background, personal qualities, and potential for contributing to the CalArts community.

students in photography class

4. Maryland Institute College of Art: Baltimore, MD

The Maryland Institute College of Art, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is a prestigious private art and design college with a rich history dating back to 1826. Originally founded as the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, the institution has since evolved to become one of the oldest and most respected art colleges in the United States. Renowned for its commitment to fostering creativity and artistic expression, the Maryland Institute College of Art offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, and graphic design.

MICA is committed to providing its students with a comprehensive education that prepares them for careers in the arts. To achieve this goal, the institute incorporates internships and other professional development activities into its curriculum. These opportunities allow students to gain practical experience in their chosen field and build a strong foundation for their future careers. It also hosts over 150 exhibitions each year, showcasing the work of its students, faculty, and visitors. 

To ensure that students receive the support they need to succeed, MICA has established a robust advising system that guides them through all four years of their education.

5. Yale University School of Art

The School of Art at Yale University, established in the 1860s, holds a prestigious position in the history of art education in the United States. It was the first art school in the country to be associated with a higher learning institution. The school has a long-standing reputation of nurturing creative and artistic talents, and has produced some of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.

As of 2022, the Yale School of Art has been ranked as the second equal in fine arts by U.S. News & World Report [1]. It also landed first in painting/drawing and photography, and second for sculpture and design.

6. Pratt Institute

The Pratt Institute, a private art and design college, has been providing students with excellent education since its establishment in 1887. Located in New York, one of the world’s most vibrant and culturally rich cities, the institution offers students a truly unique experience.

With a focus on the arts, design, and architecture, Pratt Institute provides a diverse and dynamic environment that encourages students to explore their passions and refine their skills. The faculty is composed of renowned experts in their fields, providing students with unparalleled mentorship and guidance. Pratt Institute also offers state-of-the-art facilities, including studios, galleries, and workshops, that enable students to bring their visions to life.

students in art room

7. Columbia University School of the Arts

Columbia University School of the Arts is a world-renowned institution that offers a wide range of graduate programs in film, theatre, visual arts, writing, and film and media studies. The Master of Fine Arts degree program is highly competitive and is designed to provide students with an intense, professional-level training in their chosen discipline. 

The School is known for its innovative approach to education, which encourages risk-taking and creativity in all forms of artistic expression. Located in the heart of New York City, the School benefits from its proximity to some of the world’s leading cultural institutions, providing students with unparalleled access to the arts and a vibrant creative community.

8. Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

The Savannah College of Art and Design is a prestigious private university dedicated to providing an exceptional education in the arts. As a non-profit institution, SCAD prioritizes the development of their students’ creative talents and career goals. 

With over 40 programs of study across 11 schools, SCAD offers an impressive range of options for students to pursue their passions. It is recognized as the “University for Creative Careers” due to its commitment to preparing students for success in their chosen fields. SCAD’s extensive program offerings and specializations make it the top art and design university in the United States, attracting talented students from all over the world.

9. Parsons School of Design (The New School)

Parsons School of Design is an esteemed institution with a prime location in the heart of Greenwich Village. The school offers a range of Bachelor of Fine Arts programs, including fashion design, illustration, photography, interior design, design and technology, and integrated design. With a focus on innovation and creativity, Parsons is an ideal destination for students seeking to develop their artistic skills and pursue a career in the design industry. 

Prospective applicants seeking admission to the prestigious Parsons School of Design must complete the “Parsons Challenge,” which is an artistic project that requires them to explore something that is typically overlooked in their environment. This unique requirement seeks to gauge applicants’ creativity and ability to think outside the box. In addition, applicants must submit a well-curated portfolio of 8-12 recent pieces of artwork and an artist’s statement that highlights their artistic vision and perspective.

10. Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD)

Ringling College of Art and Design is widely regarded as one of the premier art schools in the United States. With a history stretching back over 85 years, the college has consistently produced graduates with exceptional artistic talent. 

As the only institution in Florida dedicated solely to teaching art and design, Ringling College has established a reputation for excellence in the field. With several of their programs ranked among the best in the nation, including study areas under the digital arts such as Motion Design, Game Art, and Computer Animation.

Ringling College offers undergraduate degrees in 13 different programs, providing students with a diverse range of options to pursue their passions and develop their skills.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yale_School_of_Art