Navigating the Art School Admissions Process

by Ed Schoenberg, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles
Navigating the Art School Admissions Process

Getting into any college is challenging. Applying to most professional schools of art and design is even more challenging because it requires something most other colleges do not, a portfolio. At Otis College of Art and Design we look at the four P's; Passion, Preparation, Portfolio, and Potential before making an admissions decision.


Are you passionate about making art? Do you have the dedication necessary to spend long hours in the studio creating your art work? Are you passionate enough about art to be willing to challenge yourself everyday?

If you answered yes to these questions then you probably have enough passion to enter art school.

How do we determine your passion?

We determine it by reading your personal statement (essay) about why you want to study art and design. We look to see what kinds of steps you have taken to make art while in high school or community college. That is, if your school didn't offer any art courses or very few did you take private instruction, sign up for summer programs or make work on your own?

We also look at what your teachers say about you and your passion to be an artist or designer.

Finally your portfolio (discussed below) is also a window through which we can look at your desire to make art. Passion can also be determined in part by a personal interview. Most colleges of art and design encourage campus visits as a way for you to learn more about the college and for the college to learn more about you.


To determine your preparation we look at your grades not only in art courses but also in your other college preparatory curriculum.

Surprised? You should know that by attending and graduating from a school of art you will earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree. The courses that put the "B" in BFA are English, math, science, social studies and humanities.

Art school students take as many liberal arts courses as most other college students. That is why we need to determine not only your level of preparation as an artist, we must also determine your preparation in academic subjects.

How do we determine preparation? We look at your transcripts. What kind of courses did you take and what kind of grades did you earn? What did you score on the SAT or ACT (yes most art and design schools require at least one of these tests), what kind of art courses did you take? Again we will also get some idea of your preparation through your portfolio, which brings us to the next "P".


Each college of art and design's admission staff have their own ideas of what they want to see in a portfolio. However, most are trying to determine each student's strengths, individual growth and interests. The portfolio you submit should reflect your best examples in observational drawing, color composition and concept. At Otis we want a minimum of twelve(12) and a maximum of twenty (20) pieces.

At least half your pieces should be drawn from observation.Observational drawing is any type of work drawn from looking at a three-dimensional object or reference (i.e. still life, human figure,landscape). If for example you were drawing a self portrait you would need to draw yourself using a mirror. All work must be original, not from photos, other drawings or solely from your imagination.

The other half of the portfolio should demonstrate your particular strengths and interests. This portion of the portfolio is not limited to drawing or observational work. In fact, risk taking, concept and experimentation are highly encouraged. You should submit your best work regardless of your intended major area of interest. These may include works in a variety of media, including but not limited to: photography, video,painting, sculpture, ceramics, digital and traditional animation,illustration and graphic design.

The best way to submit your portfolio is by sending slides of your artwork in an 8 ½" x 11" transparent sheet. The slides should be accompanied by an inventory list giving the size, medium and date of completion of each piece. At Otis and other colleges of art and design you may submit original art (not framed or matted) only if you do so in person.

The Admissions Committee made up of faculty and admissions counselors,carefully reviews your work. Generally the Committee is not as interested about how polished your work appears as much as they are interested in the final "P", potential.


Do all students who are admitted to art and design schools have all the skills they need to succeed? No, that's why they are going to a professional school of art so that they can build the skills they already possess and learn the new skills that are necessary to be a successful artist or designer in the 21st century. That is why we look for potential.

All the other "P's", passion, preparation and portfolio help art school admissions committees determine who should be admitted.

If for some reason you are not admitted the first time you apply, most colleges will make suggestions on how you can improve your application for consideration for the following year. Also, most art colleges will review a portfolio before a student submits it for admission and make suggestions as to how you might strengthen your portfolio. Many successful art school alums did not have particularly strong portfolios. They were admitted based upon their passion, preparation and potential.

The futurists tell us that the communicators of the next century will be visual artists and designers. Time magazine recently suggested that we had entered into a design economy.

With the prominence of the web and with businesses and industries such as music, cinema, television, advertising, marketing, toys, print media, computer software all using more artists and designers this is a great time to go to a professional school of art and design.

If you have the passion for art, if you have prepared well by taking college prep courses, if you have developed your portfolio and if you feel you have the potential to be successful, you should apply to a college of art and design now!

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