Applying to Art School: How to Do It

Applying to Art School: How to Do It

I just recently applied for a graduate degree and believe me, the struggle is real. When I decided a graduate degree was something I wanted to pursue, I felt super empowered and ready to take on the world and all that. Then I started going through the list of requirements for applicants and holy cow I felt just as overwhelmed and confused as I did back when I was applying to college the first time around for an undergraduate degree. It felt like so much needed to be done and I didn't even know where to start. I just knew I wanted to go to school, please. 

If this is how you're feeling, know that it's normal and you're okay and everything will be okay. I got through it when I applied for a bachelors and I got through it this time too. The trick is to take it one step at a time. So here is what you need to know about applying to art school as an undergrad:

The Application Process

Once you know what schools you want to apply to, make sure you read their list of requirements carefully. Every school is different, but generally you'll be required to provide:

  • high school transcripts
  • letter(s) of recommendation
  • a personal statement
  • (in some cases) a portfolio

For the graduate program I applied to I was required to provide a personal statement, resume, college transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a portfolio.


You should be able to request that your school send your official transcripts (your grades) to the art school of your choice. Just provide them the address they need to mail them to.


Letter(s) of Recommendation 

Generally these are letters your teachers will write and they should already know what to do. Some schools also allow employers, clergy or basically someone with academic or professional credibility that is not your friend or family to write these letters. The reason for this is the school wants to get a sense of who you are, your strengths and the impact you have on the people around you from someone who can be objective and has credibility (as opposed to a list of subjective reasons why you're awesome that your mom or your best friend would totally write for you).

Your recommender's job is to explain to the school what makes you a valuable student and answer the question "Why should we accept _______ into our school?" So choose teachers or employers that know you well and have a positive opinion of you!


Personal Statement

Some art schools will ask you to answer specific questions like "Why do you want to attend______ University?" or "Why do you want to pursue art as a career?" Others will simply want you to talk about yourself, which can be very nerve-wracking. Like, just tell me what you want!

Anyway, if your school is vague about what they want you to write about, don't stress. I suggest you focus on being very honest and talk about yourself in relation to art, how you got into art, what you love about creating, what you see yourself doing in college and how you see yourself adding value to the school's community.

That last one is important. Schools want to know that you care about your education and that you'll be dedicated academically but they also want to know that you're ready to become a part of their community. The enthusiasm and participation of all students makes for a great learning environment and allows for serendipitous experiences to happen. Let them know you're not just thinking about yourself and what the school has to offer you; you're also thinking of what you can offer the school. You might want to give them some examples where you've influenced others in a positive way, showing that you care about having a positive impact on your environment. If you can show them that you don't just plan to be another face in the crowd you'll be on the right track. 

Don't put yourself down thinking you have nothing special to offer. We all have something we can bring to the table. Really think about yourself, your experiences, and what makes you love creating art and find the thing that drives you. Show them that part of you! That's what you're offering them. If you don't think you're valuable, neither will they. So let them know you are valuable and that they would be lucky to have you!



This one is perhaps the most nerve-wracking of them all. Some schools will be specific about what they're looking for in a portfolio and others won't. Either way, in general, schools want to know that you are interested in learning. They want to see that you are curious and that you're not afraid to experiment. They don't want to see you drawing the same thing over and over. And they don't expect you to be a great artist, either. They just want to see you putting effort into what you do.

You go to school to learn, so stop thinking you should be an amazing artist before you go to art school. They just want to see that you want to learn. Also, don't be afraid to straight up ask them what they like to see in a portfolio. A good art school would never refuse to answer a question like that. They want students to apply so there's no reason why they would want to make the process harder for you. 

The majority of schools DO NOT want to see anime or manga in your portfolio. Some schools might be okay with it, but your portfolio shouldn't be completely made up of it either way. Don't be closed-minded. Realize that you WILL have to draw other things when you go to art school, so it's smart to start doing it before you go. 

Here are some suggestions of what to include in your portfolio:

  • figure drawings/gestures
  • still life studies
  • works made with various media (watercolors, pastels, acrylic paint, etc)
  • landscapes
  • original characters/ illustrations
  • sketches
  • anything you’re really proud of

Note: only send in your best work. If you know you can do better, DO better and send that. 

If you don’t have many or any works to add to your portfolio look at it as an opportunity to experiment with new things. Don’t be afraid to try new media. Show them you’re willing to experiment in order to learn. Show that you can draw from your imagination but also from life.

Just grab a brush and go at it. You’re bound to come up with something cool if you keep trying.


Some resources you might find useful:

SAT #16: Draw What You See

SAT #13: Be Ambitious

SAT #11: Work With Confidence

SAT #9: Create Your Own References

Tutorial #5: Setting Up A Still Life

SAT #8: Draw From Life

SAT #7: Draw/Paint Self-Portraits 

Tutorial #6: Drawing A Self Portrait (from life)

Figure Drawing:

New Masters Academy: Figure Drawing References (nudity)

New Masters Academy: Figure Drawing References (non-nudity)

Croquis Cafe: Figure Drawing References (nudity)


Remember To Be Patient

Applying to art school (or any kind of school) isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time and effort, so be patient with yourself and others through the application process. Treat the application requirements as a checklist and work on each of them one at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself telling yourself you should have everything ready in two days. It can take weeks to get everything together.

Don’t be afraid to ask a teacher, friend or family member to help you, even if it just means talking about it. Hearing other people’s perspectives can help calm some of your fears and insecurities or answer questions you might have. 

Certain elements of the application process will depend on other people, like your letters of recommendation and transcripts. Remind them that the sooner they get it done the better but also remember that these are people with lives and things to do, just like you. And remember to thank those who help you along the way. They’re taking time out of their day to help you, so be nice. 

Consider the application priority deadline (which you should be able to find on the school's website) but remember that if you rush to meet the deadline your work might suffer from it. They'll get your application early but it might not have as strong of an effect as you want it to. Quality is very important. Try not to miss the priority deadline, but if you do, remember it's not the end of the world. 



Once you’ve gotten everything together and sent in your application the waiting game begins. That’s where I am right now and it’s not fun. Honestly, I check my email every ten minutes to see if I’ve gotten an acceptance/rejection email. It’s pretty bad. But I try to stay calm and remind myself that I did my best and that’s all anyone can ever do. 

You can always call the school to check on the status of your application, but, as one of my teachers said, “the wheels of academia churn slowly”, so don’t freak out if you don’t get a prompt response. 


I hope this post was helpful to you. Let me know if you have any questions or if I missed anything. Thanks for reading!

Give It Volume With Value

Give It Volume With Value

Creating a Character Turnaround Sheet

Creating a Character Turnaround Sheet