Dr. M: What was your favorite thing about being an admissions officer at a top art school?
Nicole: Working with so many talented students who are all passionate about their work, their communities, and about using art as a means of expression or vehicle for change!
One of the best parts of the job was getting to travel around the country, meeting with students from all over our respective regions, and imagining how they might fit in and thrive at art school.
Although every student is unique, there’s a certain energy and curiosity that’s the same. Through portfolio reviews, I was able to get a sense of personality and potential, and it’s easy to tell when someone is a perfect fit for that environment.
Dr. M: What did you like best about art school when you were a student?
Nicole: I was constantly in awe of my peers and their talent. That feeling of being a small fish in a big pond can sometimes be intimidating, but also inspiring! When I look back now, I think about late nights spent in the studio surrounded by dozens of other painters, going to DIY art openings in the city with friends, watching elaborate fashion shows and performances on campus, and the casual conversations that would later form lasting impressions on my work and worldview.
Dr. M: How did going to art school help your career?
Nicole: The life of an artist is so winding and non-linear. It’s unlike any other career path, and it’s hard to be fully prepared for the unique challenges of having a creative career.
While in art school, I was able to develop skills like learning to think critically, be self-reflective, push the boundaries of my own medium, be resourceful, adaptable, and work collaboratively. I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but the skills I honed inside the studio have become some of my most valued resources in my professional life.
Since graduating from art school, I’ve started a commercial mural painting business, worked with a tech startup, worked as an admissions officer and now independent counselor, worked in a modern art museum, started a podcast on the business of art, and thrived as a professional fine artist.
Art college prepared me to treat my career like I do my art practice — with creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to explore and be challenged.
Taking classes outside my major (Painting), such as Illustration and Printmaking, showed me how to apply my visual thinking to various disciplines, giving me the confidence to work in different industries and start my own business. Independent studies where I developed my own body of work encouraged me to chart my own path and think like an entrepreneur. My student job as a tour guide eventually led me to becoming an admissions counselor years later!
Being an artist is all about continually reinventing yourself, and I don’t think I would be on the same path were it not for my experience in art school.
Dr. M: Why should an art student choose an art school over a conventional four-year university. What are the advantages?
Nicole: Art schools tend to be more specialized, and more geared towards artists and their needs. Classes are taught from an artists’ perspective, professors are likely to be artists themselves, and the career development more tailored to artists. You’ll likely have access to studios, facilities, resources, and equipment that you might not get in a university setting.
Four-year universities might offer a high quality education, but may be more generalized when it comes to their art programs, as they’re just one out of many departments.
At an art college, all of your peers will be artists — and while you might end up pursuing different disciplines within the arts, you’ll all share the same level of passion and commitment to your craft.
This peer group will evolve into long-lasting connections that go far beyond your time at art school. My fellow graduates are now starting their own businesses, showing in world-class galleries and museums, and working with top companies.
While you’re in art school developing as a person and artist, you’re also building a network of personal connections that will become future partners and collaborators throughout your life.
Dr. M: What are the top 3 pieces of advice you’d give aspiring art school applicants?
1. It’s not about finding the best program, it’s about finding the best program for YOU.
College is a chance for you to learn and explore, try new things, develop new skills. Every art school has a different focus, environment, and personality. Think about your own goals, interests, and future aspirations, and then focus on finding the best fit. Which schools best match up with the kind of college experience you envision for yourself?
2. Use your art to tell your story. Your portfolio should be a reflection of you.
The portfolio is one of the most important parts of your application to art college. Think about your talents and interests outside of art. Is there a way to connect this back to your art-making? Colleges may want to see a range of work and skills, but you can still find the thread that connects it all back to you. It’s like what I said about fit. Start with the art you want to make, and then look for schools that will help you pursue that. Don’t do it the other way around, and try making a portfolio that pleases everybody.
3. Go beyond the assignments — find your WHY.
Colleges can tell when the only work in your portfolio is from in-class assignments. They’re more interested in how you push beyond this to show your original thoughts and ideas, not how well you can execute on an assignment. If you can connect your work back to something else you care deeply about, then you have a really stand-out portfolio.