Colleen Kilbreath draws up 6 things to consider when applying to art school


Applying to college isn’t science. It’s an art.

If you’re choosing an art program, this is especially true. Literally. Although there are similarities when applying to any college, art institutions present some unique challenges. Colleen Kilbreath knows this more than most.

She will graduate this fall from Colby-Sawyer College, with majors in self-design and studio art. Before this, the Vermont resident also previously obtained both undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Having recently gone back to school, Colleen Kilbreath uses this experience to sketch down six tips for applying to art school.

Research options

Don’t pick up a pen (or brush) before you’ve conducted some research. Deciding on a school is a big decision. Fortunately, most of what you need is available online. Learn about programs, curriculum, and course offerings at each prospective school. Find out which ones are the right fit and use this information to narrow down your list.

Perfect your portfolio

A portfolio is the single most important part of the application process. A strong entry can overcome inadequate grades, while a weaker portfolio will be difficult to overcome even with outstanding scores and extracurriculars. Despite every school having different requirements, a portfolio typically includes 10-20 pieces. Choose materials that display technical mastery and variety. As Colleen Kilbreath points out, pick pieces that exhibit your uniqueness and personality. Use this to set yourself apart from other applicants.

Maintain strong academics

After all, art school is still school. As simple as it sounds, these institutions want students with solid educational backgrounds. Not only does a good GPA and test scores demonstrate basic skills, it also displays a strong work ethic. While art programs may not weigh these as heavily as other majors, don’t neglect them altogether.

Add some extracurriculars

Learning doesn’t just happen inside the classroom. Seek activities that supplement your learning. As a general rule, try to include a majority of art-specific extracurriculars, like competitions, clubs, and camps. Volunteering is also encouraged. However, avoid anything that is just a resume “filler.” Devote your time only to activities that you enjoy and advance your art.

Prepare for interviews

Not all colleges request interviews during the admissions process. But, if they do, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready. As stressful as this may seem, be honest and open about your goals and accomplishments. Use the research you’ve accumulated to ask your own questions. This shows you are thoughtful and engaged in the process.

Consider off-campus opportunities

The path to becoming a great artist is rarely a straight line. Seize each moment as an opportunity to learn and gain life experience. By going back to art school later in life, Colleen Kilbreath values this time and its influence on her art. Whether it’s enrolling in a summer program or even taking a gap year, blaze your own trail.

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