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4 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Applied to Art School

It's portfolio season again, and every year at this time I see you prepare your best work. There's nothing like the motivation of a deadline to get you drawing! Finding an artist mentor to help you make informed choices about art school and guide you to prepare a winning portfolio is key to saving time and stress. I always notice that you enter this process without knowing some important things that could change your entire art school experience.

But before you rush into the portfolio craze for art school, I want to share 4 things I wish I knew before I applied.

1 - Find out what a typical day is like in your future career.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to illustrate children's books. But it wasn't until my 3rd year of illustration school that I realized that the publishing industry was not what I expected, nor did I enjoy the solitary work of illustration as much as I would enjoy creating content as part of a team.

Finding out what the work is like before you commit to four years of art school is a smart move. You might even find that there are a ton of creative jobs that you didn’t know existed! So do some digging and learn the reality of your dream art jobs before you go to school for it.

2 - Avoid applying to too many art schools, and make your portfolio specific.

Preparing a single portfolio is stressful enough, but applying to too many schools can be overwhelming. Every school has different requirements, and you must cater your portfolio to each school to show that you genuinely want to go there.

Even though it seems like more acceptances would mean more choices, it's actually more stressful and having too many choices can be confusing. Determine your choices before you apply, and focus on creating artwork tailored for your top school first. Then add pieces to fit the requirements of the others if you have time.

3 - Your final grades won’t follow you.

I worked my butt off and graduated valedictorian of Art Center College of Design, class of 2005. I was also the youngest in my graduating class because I rushed into art school right out of high school. They gave me a fancy piece of paper and I did a speech and everything. But in the end, no employer has ever cared about my grades.

Employers really just care about your ideas, your artwork and your work ethic. No one even cared to see that very expensive piece of paper that I stressed so much about. Post-secondary is hard, and as much as you want to do good, art is subjective and a lot of times, so are the final grades. Don’t overstress about it!

4 - Don't rush the process.

I eagerly rushed into university at age 17 because I thought I'd get a headstart. I decided to major in fine art because I just wanted to make paintings and artwork for children’s books. After my first week, I quickly transferred to illustration because it turns out I really didn't know what fine art was, or if I wanted to do that in the first place. Illustration was a much better fit for me because I enjoyed making images to tell stories. Looking back, I really wish I just took my time to discover what I really wanted.

Everyone learns at a different pace, and it’s okay if you’re unsure of what you want to do right away. Take this time to find yourself and discover what your passion is. There are many mini classes and micro credentials you could pursue to help you find your calling.

Final Thoughts

To all you stressed portfolio students out there — take a deep breath and relax. The exercise of preparing a portfolio prepares you for life as an artist. Even if you don't get into your dream school, you would have created a bunch of artwork, and already improved by leaps and bounds!

The next step is to keep making new art and practice every day. Find an art mentor who has been in your shoes before, and pick their brain so you can make more informed choices about art school. With some coaching, you will prepare a winning portfolio for your best future career in the arts.

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