Marie Bashkirtseff, "In the Studio" (1881) (Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)

Marie Bashkirtseff, “In the Studio” (1881) (Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the market for a fine art degree but unsure how to pick schools? Well, as with most things, there are plenty of online lists to help you choose. The real question is: which list of the top art schools is right for you?

It’s certainly not the newest, by QS World University Rankings, which lists Parsons the New School for Design as the top art school in the US and Milan’s Politecnico di Milano as the top non-English language art school in the world. Its impressive international makeup is praiseworthy, but its understanding of the hierarchy of US art schools is grade-F material. For instance Yale University’s School of Art, which ranks in the top three on most such lists, is the world’s 15th best art school according to QS, right beneath Finland’s Aalto University. Clearly, it’s time for a list ranking the best lists ranking fine art institutions.

Best List Based on Peer Respect

The Sculpture Building at Yale University (photo by Enzo Figueres via Wikimedia Commons)

US News and World Report compile their college lists based on the recommendations of educators and administrators at other schools, so you know that if you heed their advice and go to one of their top three schools — Yale, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), or the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), respectively — people will be suitably impressed by the degree you earn.

Oddest inclusion: The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, tied with the California College of the Arts for number 11.

Best List for Specific Media

The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (photo by UpstateNYer, via Wikimedia Commons)

CollegeAtlas seems to be the only college list-maker who understands that even though a university’s overall art school is strong, its printmaking, industrial design, or photography programs can still be mediocre. Helpfully, the site provides specialized lists for nine specific disciplines, from sculpture to metalsmith and jewelry.

Oddest inclusion: The sixth-best school for visual communication, ranking higher than the School of Visual Arts (SVA) and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Best List for Making Money After Graduating

The exterior of Williams College Museum of Art, with works by Louise Bourgeois (via Wikimedia Commons)

College Factual, whose methodology is heavily weighted toward post-graduation results, takes into account the starting and mid-career salaries of students, but not tuition rates. So Princeton grads fare best right after graduating, and later in their careers, but they also pay over $40,000 tuition.

Oddest inclusion: Graduates of Williams College, number nine on the list, will only see their annual salary go up by $10,000 (from $42,000 to $52,000) between their first post-college years and the middle of their career.

Best List for Aspiring Commercial Designers

Rhode Island School of Design’s Memorial Hall (photo by DanielPenfield, via Wikimedia Commons)

Business Insider‘s ranking of the world’s best design schools is dominated by US institutions — they account for the top six universities — and, predictably, skews in favor of financial value. Of the top school on its list, Business Insider writes: “RISD is famous for having two out of three Airbnb cofounders as graduates.” Is that really what RISD is famous for?

Oddest inclusion: Cooper Union (CU), at number 15, not because it’s not a great school, but because it underlines the conspicuous absence of the embattled university from every other list of top art and design schools.

Best List for Travelers

Monash University’s Caulfield Campus (photo by Jarle Andersen via Wikimedia Commons)

QS World University Rankings, though it misses the ball on US schools, does provide a refreshingly comprehensive assortment of fine art programs in other countries for those who want to see more of the world and not end up over $100,000 in debt. From the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Universidade de São Paulo to Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, there’s something on nearly every continent — with the notable exception of Africa.

Oddest inclusion: The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, landing at number 22 right behind Columbia University and New York University, well ahead of US powerhouses like SVA, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Cranbrook Academy of Art.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

7 replies on “The Best Lists of the Best Art Schools on the Internet”

  1. The building on the right is the Aronoff Center, designed by Peter Eisenman, which houses DAAP. The nasty Brutalist building next to it is the Crosley Center, a former chemistry building. They’d love to get rid of it, but they haven’t figured out how to demolish it without making a huge mess. Also – it’s spelled CinciNNATI. Fail.

  2. And not a mention of the Pratt Institute? For real? Also ignores that newish Florida southwest coast one that got buzz while back (self-promo only?).

  3. Lovely picture of RISD Memorial Hall. I still have strange dreams of going to check my mailbox. I think the place is famous for its mysterious grooming of talent.

    1. I love the picture too…one of few that I’ve seen of RISD, recently, that I recognize (from the late ’60s).

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