Art School vs. “Traditional” College—The Pros and Cons

Posted by IPFW Admissions Team on 12/10/15 8:00 AM

IPFW art student with sculpture projectA lot of students who want to study art in college don’t know where to begin.

If you find yourself among them, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether you’re looking for an “art school” experience, or something a little more “traditional.”

What’s the difference?

Art schools are specifically dedicated to the scholarship of fine arts, and all of their programs, classes, and learning environments reflect this focus. Students wont be expected to take nearly as many “gen ed” classes as in a traditional university.

On the other hand, a traditional university likely offers art curriculum as just one of many program options. Some may have a single fine arts major, while larger universities may have an entire school dedicated to the arts with majors and concentrations in specific areas, such as ceramics, painting, theatre, animation, and more.

As with most things in life, there are pro’s and con’s to either option.

Art School


  • Your fellow classmates know they want to be around art all the time—they signed up for the experience, and are likely to share your passion for creativity and expression
  • Many standalone art schools are some of the highest ranked, and hold some serious industry credibility
  • Art schools often have more opportunities to focus on your work, as the majority of your coursework will be in the studio


  • Financial aid is likely to be lower than at traditional universities due to smaller endowments, so you may have a harder time financing your degree
  • The required liberal arts/general education courses may be “watered down” compared to what you’d experience at a more traditional university—that is to say, you may not get the same comprehensive education you would elsewhere
  • If you’re looking for the “traditional” college experience (big school pride, athletics, Greek life, student clubs), you’re unlikely to find it at an art school

The Bottom Line

It you eat, sleep, and breathe art then art school may be a good fit….if you can afford it.

Traditional University


  • Expect lots of opportunities for interdisciplinary work—design students can work on augmented reality or modeling for anthropology or neuroscience, for example
  • Universities tend to have larger endowments than small art schools, and therefore you’ll have better access to funding and financial assistance while working on your degree
  • Students have more diverse tastes, personalities, backgrounds, and goals—you won’t just be in classes with other artists, which can lead to inspiration in some surprising places
  • If you’re not 100% certain about “art as a career,” you’ll be exposed to many more disciplines and potential career interests—plus, you’ll have the option to double major


  • You will be expected to complete coursework in fields outside the arts, such as math, English, and science—not necessarily a con, but it does mean less time spent on your art

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a wider range of experiences (and possibly more practical career prospects), choosing a traditional university with a dedicated arts department is the safer option.

No answer is set in stone. The best way for you to get a feel for both environments is to visit the schools for yourself, talk to faculty and students, and really think about what you want to do with your art after you graduate.

A good place to start is IPFW’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. The faculty can talk about your work, your goals, and your interests, and help you decide which decision makes the most sense for you. You can schedule a campus visit at IPFW online.

Download our eBook, Majors and Careers 101: A Guide for Undecided Students Applying to Colleges by clicking the button below:

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Topics: Choosing a College, Choosing a Major, Majoring In: Art





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