SPOTLIGHT: Mary Beth Shares Her Daughter’s Journey Applying to Art School
By Kendell Shaffer
Mary Beth’s daughter Edie is a neighbor and classmate of my daughter. I’ve watched Edie win countless awards and show her talents on stage as a performer, costumer, graphic designer and visual artist.
Hi Marybeth, wondering at what point did Edie decide to apply to art school?
In tenth grade Edie was exposed to a lot of arts education outside of school and had access to admissions officers from various art schools. From there she kind of fell into the art school decision.
How many art schools did she apply to and how many of those did she tour? Did she consider being an art major at a liberal arts college or university?
She applied to four art schools and toured five. She had already done summer classes at CalArts and Otis College of Design. She applied to about a third art schools, a third universities and a third liberal arts colleges.
What’s the portfolio process like for art school?
In freshman year the art teacher at her high school told parents to hold on to all of our student’s art to start building the portfolio. Though colleges want to see recent work (second semester Junior year and more recent) it is informative to have past work to see progress as well as draw on past concepts, techniques and interests.
Were the portfolio requirements the same for each school or did they vary?
Each college does have different portfolio requirements and seem to be indicative of the type of school they are. We attended a College Day offered through Ryman Arts when she was a sophomore. College reps held sessions about their schools. This program was very informative and helped us start to plan what schools would be a good fit for Edie and where we might want to visit. National Portfolio Day is an essential event to attend in junior year if you are considering art school. It is a big event where many art colleges send representatives to look at student portfolios. It isn’t really possible to see to more than a few school reps so going sophomore and junior year helps to get an understanding and make a plan for Spring of junior year or senior year. Some reps at the event may even be able to offer admission based on the quality of the portfolio. Others will critique the work and offer insights to strengthen work and presentation. For example one school was very structured and wanted more technical work – figure drawings and still lives, another school was less structured and was more interested in self guided projects and personal artistic endeavors.
How involved were you and your husband involved in the portfolio process?
My husband and I have art, photography and design backgrounds so we were able to support Edie. We gave her a little feedback on the work she included in her portfolio but she mostly did what she wanted according the advice that admissions officers gave her. We were able to help her with the photography of the work and creating the digital portfolio.
Did you consult an art school advisor? Or did you wish you had?
We did not consult an advisor, we talked directly with the schools at portfolio days, and shared the portfolio with school art teachers and friends who attended the schools she applied to. She had some friends using art school consultants and absorbed a lot of tips they received. Some of the college reps she met at National Portfolio Day stayed in touch and also offered feedback about her work. One college placed a lot of emphasis on presentation and flow of the portfolio. Her high school art teachers were very helpful in making the final choices for that portfolio.
If a student doesn’t have a lot of exposure to art or have opportunity to practice speaking about their art an advisor would be a good route. Also, portfolios are more than just the work! Students have to write about the work-describe their motivations, inspirations, techniques and more.
How early did Edie start putting together a portfolio?
Most of the work she did for her final portfolio was done independently in late junior and early senior year. A lot of colleges she talked to wanted to see her most recent work and they asked that she didn’t include anything made before junior year. One college even remarked that they could tell class assignments from independent work and stressed how important work outside of class was for a student to show their thinking and individual style.
Has Edie made her final decision yet?
She ended up committing to a university with an film and arts program because she has so many interests in addition to art.
So it sounds like she didn’t want to be limited to art school in the end. Can you take other classes when at art school?
A lot of the art schools that she applied to had cross enrollment programs, for example students at the Maryland Institute College of Art have the option to take courses at Johns Hopkins, and Rhode Island School of a Design students could take classes at Brown but it can be a challenge to go to two different schools. Art schools have very distinct schedules that make it hard for students to cross enroll; RISD classes are six hours long and once a week whereas Brown classes are two hours long and three times a week. It’s difficult to make it all work so Edie decided that it would be better to go to one school with a good art program and similar course schedule than juggling two school’s schedules.
Any parting words?
Edie submitted work to competitions and art programs beginning freshman year. Attending the weekend classes at Ryman Arts and the summer program at CA State Summer School for the Arts gave her much more uninterrupted time to develop her skills. A few hours a week in the high school art class really aren’t enough time to explore media and develop the skills needed to produce a thoughtful body of work. Through these programs she also met a wide variety of professional artists and took trips to studios, museums and offices. All of this helps to develop the eye and builds an understanding for career options.
Competitions such as Scholastic Arts and Writing and YoungArts were good ways to see what work had traction. She didn’t win YoungArts the first year she applied but she gained a lot of skills and knowledge the next year and applied again and won. Awards from these organizations can provide opportunities for financial support and a future network of support.
I’d encourage people to pay attention to the curriculum and personality of each art school. There is a wide variety of approaches and emphases.
Thanks so much this was very helpful! And good luck to Edie!