Big names, big costs, specific advantages
Some of the best art schools in the country come with an enormous price tag. According to the US News Ranking of Best Graduate Schools, the top three art schools are University of California Los Angeles (ranked number 1). School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Yale are tied for the number 2 slot in the 2020 ranking. UCLA costs over $35,000 for non-residents (over $25,000 for residents). Yale costs over $42,000 and SAIC is close to $54,000. Then there’s Columbia. Coming in at number 10, Columbia costs a whopping $73,000 per year.
With the price so high, you have to weigh what your goals are and what you’ll get from a program. Do you see yourself teaching at a prestigious university? In this case, attending a prestigious university will help you towards that goal. Does your art rely on intense collaboration in a diverse urban environment? If so, you may want to shell out for a program in New York, LA, or Chicago. Are you really after the two years of time to dedicate to your craft? If this is the case, a cheaper and/or more rural option may suffice.
Financial aid packages and teaching assistantships
Depending on your skill, your school, and your need, you may be awarded a financial aid package. In an ideal world, that package would include tuition and a stipend as well as a small materials grants. However, this luxury is usually reserved for a select few with exceptional portfolios.
In exchange for full or partial tuition, you may be offered a teaching assistantship (TA). Teaching assistantships require a lot your time and energy, but they can be particularly helpful for those wanting to stay in academia—after all, you gain 2-3 years of teaching experience. However, if you are not interested in an academic post, this option may not be in your best interest as TA responsibilities will take time away from developing your craft.
Another way around the costs is to consider an alternative study structure. For example, SAIC has a low-residency program that only requires 20 hours a week of studio and class work during the semester. This gives students time to work and teach, thereby relieving some of the financial burden. This is complemented by an all-consuming six-week summer intensive, where students are asked to dedicate all their attention to their craft.
Prizes, awards, grants, and fellowships
A simple google search will show the many prizes, awards, grants, and fellowships available to those in the arts. The school you attend will likely make these opportunities known to you. While it’s Herculean to stitch together full financial coverage using prizes and awards alone, they do help fill the gaps. Even if you can get by money-wise with what you have, it is always a good idea to apply for these. Any accolades you earn will look great on your resume and prove that your skill is recognized by others.
International Art Schools:
You can get a valuable education outside of the US and often at a fraction of the cost. I’ve provided a selection of highly regarded art schools that offer MFAs and conduct their teaching in English. Please note that this is by no means a definitive list! Instead, this is a jumping off point to help you see what else is out there.
RMIT School of Art
- Where? Melbourne, Australia
- Cost: $23,000 per year
University of the Arts London
- Where? London, United Kingdom
- Cost: $20,000 per year
- Where? Auckland, New Zealand
- Cost: $19,000 per year
Michaelis School of Fine Art
- Where? Cape Town, South Africa
- Cost: $7,000 per year (I’m not joking)
A graduate education is increasingly necessary to advance careers, increase income and enjoy employer-sponsored health coverage and retirement plans, and applying successfully for a graduate or professional degree requires careful planning. Elizabeth LaScala PhD, Founder of Doing College and Beyond provides personalized guidance throughout the graduate and professional degree admissions process, whether you are currently studying at the undergraduate level or are already working in your career. Call (925) 385-0562 or visit Elizabeth at her website to learn more.