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The Best Option: Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts

Deciding on a post, high school, educational plan can be a challenging task. With the changing landscape of training and career options, traditional values and approaches may not be the best solution anymore. This week I will be focusing my discussion on out of the box, creative learners that are interested in careers in the arts.  What are the options?  What can students do to prepare for the application process?

Formal Training Options:
There are a number of choices for high school students that are thinking about having a career in the arts.  For formal training, one can consider a liberal arts university and major in art, enroll in a fine arts college, or attend ateliers (schools that train students in realism).  

  • 4-Year Liberal Arts College - Bachelors of Arts:
A liberal arts degree can provide you with a well-rounded education that gives you greater career options. Many students dismiss this option, because they don’t want to take the SAT or ACT college entrance tests. However, there are many colleges and universities that are now test optional. Across forums, I have noticed that many artists suggest that if you major in art in undergrad, be sure to take a lot of business classes, so that you can learn how to market your art work.

  • Fine Arts College: Bachelors of Fine Arts:
A fine arts college is a school that educates students in the visual or performing arts. This option is immersive and rigorous, and it allows you to tap into a community of like-minded and creative peers, artists and teachers that can set the stage for inspiration, collaboration and networking.  More importantly, you will be introduced to a large selection of techniques and mediums, you will learn to meet deadlines, and you will develop your own style and niche. What's more, art schools often help students apprentice with local artists and many assist with career counseling and a job search. Again, be sure to take a lot of business classes, so that you can learn how to market your talent.

  • Ateliers:
An atelier is a 3-4 year program where students are trained in skills-based drawing and painting in methods handed down from the masters of Renaissance style art. This is a growing option around the globe, and a list of these types of schools can be found here:

Summary of Formal Training Options:
Informal Training Options:
There are also a plethora of informal training options that might not get you a “degree,” but they can provide you focused instruction. This option is often very affordable, and it can allow you to focus your training one class at a time.  Just a simple online search will uncover a multitude of options.
  • Local Art Museums or Galleries: Take classes at a local museum or community college.  For example, a quick online search can uncover gems such as: The Katonah Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Trestle Art Gallery.
  • Online Lessons: There are many online lessons that one can take with prominent or seasoned artists.  Here is a blog that reviews a few.  
  • Downloadable Courses: Other sites offer downloadable courses.  Check out Art Camp!
  • Local Businesses and Community Centers:  Some local artists and community centers provide courses in an area of specialty such as pottery, blacksmithing, stained glass, or watercolors.  Two examples of this are: Sonoma Community Center and the Peekskill Clay Studio.

How can High School Students Prepare for a Career in the Arts?
  • Search for the “Right” Schools/Training: Find the best options for you and then evaluate any application requirements. Each school has their own unique process, and you want to make sure that you have all the needed prerequisites.
  • Develop Skills in Drawing or Painting from Still Life, Figure Models, or Landscapes: When applying for any fine arts school or training program, they want to see that you understand proportions and perspectives and can transform reality into a 2 dimensional space.
  • Create a Portfolio that Shows your Own Style, Experiences, and Medium Preferences: Include 10-20 digital images of your very best and most recent work. Be sure that each piece illustrates your breadth of talent.
  • If You Choose a Liberal Arts College, You May Want to Take the SATs or ACTs to Create More Options: Although many liberal arts universities require college entrance exams, the vast majority of art schools and ateliers do not require them. Additionally, there are a growing number of colleges that do not.  This site offers a list of 950+ schools that don’t require college entrance exams. Your best bet is to find your ideal programs, and then see if the SATs or ACTs are required for admissions.
  • Keep a Book of Sketches: This can document your unique style and maturation.  Some schools will want to see some of these images.
  • Take Professional Photographs and Digitize your Artwork: Most schools want you to upload your portfolio or send digital attachments of your work for admissions.
  • Practice Talking about Your Work and Influences: It is important that you are comfortable discussing your artwork and its meaning. Think about when and why it was created, the mediums used, your composition...
  • Have Professionals Review Your Work and Portfolio: Attend a National Portfolio Day event where art schools review your work and offer suggestions. For additional information, visit

The bottom line is that there are many options for budding artists. The key is looking at all the opportunities that appeal to you, evaluating the requirements, honing your skills, and creating a sensational portfolio.

Most of these options require an essay for admissions.  If you would like guidance and materials that walk you through the process, with checklists, forms, and detailed handouts consider purchasing my - Writing The College Essay Workshop.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to,, &  
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