What are the top illustration schools in the southwest for 2021?

Top 10 Illustration Schools in the Southwest - 2021 College Rankings
1Brigham Young UniversityUtah
2Rocky Mountain College of Art and DesignColorado
3Texas State University, San MarcosTexas
4University of Colorado, DenverColorado
5University of ArizonaArizona
6Utah Valley UniversityUtah
7Southern Utah UniversityUtah
8University of Central OklahomaOklahoma
9Oklahoma Christian UniversityOklahoma
10Oklahoma Baptist UniversityOklahoma

Our 2021 rankings of the top illustration programs in the Southwest US. 

We define the Southwest as Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Brigham Young University

Founded in 1875 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Brigham Young University (BYU) serves more than 33,000 undergraduate students—the largest undergraduate enrollment of any private university in the U.S. The school also serves close to 3,000 graduate students enrolled in 64 master's degree programs, and 26 doctorate programs. Around 186 undergraduate majors and 110 undergraduate minors are also offered in dozens of colleges and departments.

The College of Fine Arts and Communications serves nearly 5,700 students enrolled in programs in the Department of Art, the School of Communications, the Department of Dance, the Department of Design, the School of Music, and the Department of Theater and Media Arts. All College of Fine Arts and Communications students “undertake research projects, pursue internships, and participate in study abroad programs across the globe,” says the school.

The Illustration BFA in the Department of Design is a limited enrollment program of 40 students. Students in the program “will learn skills that prepare them to excel in the competitive and evolving illustration market. Courses prepare students in how to manage personal business and marketing work as an illustrator.” Course highlights include Advanced Storyboarding, Bookbinding, Character Design for Illustration, Environment Design, Gesture Drawing for Animation, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Introduction to Photography and Digital Workflow, Marketing Management, Narrative Illustration, Painting-Mixed Media, Professional Practices for Illustrators, Sketchbook, and Typography.

Students will complete several Senior Illustration Studios, the BFA Capstone Project, and an internship. Study abroad experiences are also part of the program as well as job placement services. Nationally and internationally acclaimed artists are also invited to campus each month to present to students.

Graduates of the program “work in diverse genres and publishing markets,” including Advertising Design, Books, Corporate and Institutional Publications, Editorial, Genre Fiction, Graphic Novels, and Young Adult Fiction. Graduates work as Concept Designers creating characters, environments, vehicles, and other digital artwork for entertainment productions.

Other opportunities involve licensed products, toys and collectibles, online exhibitions, and private commissions. Positions may be in-house with production companies, in design studios, or on a freelance or project basis.

2. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver, Colorado
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) was founded in 1963 by educator and illustrator Philip J. Steele founded Rocky Mountain School of Art. Steele’s mission for this proprietary institution in the foothills of Colorado was to build a “community of creatives” that that would instill in all students a passion for creativity, innovation, and a desire for lifelong learning in the fine and applied arts.

Today, better known as Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD), the school is considered one of the nation’s premier art and design institutions. Serving more than 1,000 students, RMCAD offers 16 degree and certificate programs available in campus/hybrid and online formats.

The school’s offers two programs for aspiring illustrators: the BFA in Illustration and the BFA in Illustrative Design. The BFA in Illustration has three Concentrations including Children’s Book, Concept Art, and Sequential Art. The program covers Composition Theory, Drawing Mastery, Innovative Storytelling, Portfolio Development, Self-Promotion, and Traditional + New Media. Students in the program also benefit from RMCAD’s collaborative environment, flexibility, knowledgeable professors, and small class sizes. The BFA Program may be completed on campus or online.

Graduates of the RMCAD Illustration Program are prepared to seek positions in Children’s Book Illustration, Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Concept Art for Games & Animations, Editorial Illustration, Product Design & Licensing, and Technical & Medical Illustration.

The BFA in Illustrative Design is a 123 credit hour program that “provides students with a hybrid degree” combining the skills learned in Illustration “with the approach to design thinking” learned in Graphic Design, says the school. The goal of the program is to provide students with “the technical, aesthetic, critical and practical skills necessary for career success.”

Areas covered include Innovative Storytelling, Media and Digital Skills Development, Sustainable Practice, and Typography. Students will also learn to solve communication and design problems. The program also emphasizes Portfolio Development.

Graduates of RMCAD’s BFA in Illustrative Design Program are prepared to pursue careers in a variety of design fields. Potential job titles include Art Director, Creative Director, Graphic Designer, Illustrator, Motion Designer, Package Designer, and Typographer, to name a few.

3. Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Texas State University

Authorized by the Texas legislature in 1899, Southwest Texas State Normal School opened its doors in 1903. After four name changes, the school became Texas State University-San Marcos, and finally, Texas State University.

Serving nearly 38,000 students, Texas State University offers more than 200 undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in nine academic colleges. The College of Fine Arts & Communication houses the School of Art and Design, which offers a BFA in Studio with a Specialization in Drawing. This 120 credit hour program offers heavy illustration coursework and emphasizes interdisciplinary experimentation and new media integration.

Course highlights include Character Development for Illustration, Color Theory, Digital Illustration, Digitally Handmade for Artists and Designers, Drawing I-II, Editorial Illustration, Expanded Media, Graphic Novels and Zines, Illustration Techniques and Materials, and Studio Art Foundations I-II.

Studio Art students have access to the University Galleries, which are home to yearly program of exhibitions featuring international artists as well as faculty and student work. “Every Summer, two faculty members, one studio and one art history, lead a study-abroad trip to Florence, Italy.”

Every area of specialization culminates in two semesters of Thesis work, a final Thesis Portfolio, and a BFA Thesis Exhibition. The Studio Art Program “serves a wide range of student interests and pursuits, and prepares students for professional careers as artists and arts professionals.”

4. University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Colorado Denver

The University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) began as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1912. The school became an independent campus in 1973 and one of the four campuses of the University of Colorado System. What began in one building in downtown Denver has grown to more than 125 acres and more than 15,000 students enrolled each year.

More than 100 degree and 76 certificate programs are offered in 13 colleges and schools. The College of Arts & Media houses the Illustration Program, which consists of a Fine Arts BFA with an Illustration Emphasis and a Minor Illustration.

BFA students “receive instruction in conceptual illustration, digital illustration, rendering, perspective, painting, exhibition preparation, professional practices, and the use of various artistic and illustration techniques,” says the school. Course highlights include Anatomy for the Artist, Digital painting, Graphic Novel Workshop, Painting, Drawing & the Printed Image, The Business of Art, and Typography Studio. 

Students will also take Illustration I: Image Making, Illustration II: Digital Media, Illustration III: Investigative Methods, Illustration IV: Thesis Development, and Illustration BFA Thesis. An internship is also part of the program.

Other program highlights include access to state-of-the art digital labs, sculpture studios, industrial equipment and darkrooms and opportunities at the Denver Art Museum, in galleries across the Front Range, and at digital studios like Pixar.

Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue positions in a “multitude” of fields including Advertising, Animation and Games, Graphic Design, Engineering, Entertainment/Film/Television, Healthcare, Illustration/Medical/Scientific, Marketing, Publishing, and more.

5. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
University of Arizona

Established in 1885, University of Arizona was the state’s first university. The school serves nearly 47,000 students enrolled in hundreds of bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree, first professional and specialist programs in dozens of colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts houses the School of Art, which offers BFA and MFA degrees in Studio Art with an Illustration and Design (I+D) Emphasis. Separate Tracks in Illustration and Design are offered to undergraduates.

The I+D program “encompasses a diverse faculty with expertise in graphic design, illustration, letterpress, book arts, visual narratives, animation, motion graphics, information design, and interdisciplinary collaborations with the environmental sciences,” says the school. “These specializations are reflected in a broad array of curricular offerings including: field trips, team projects with community clients, internships, and study abroad programs.”

The Illustration Track provides “rigorous education in constructive anatomy,” says the school. Students will “learn to describe the human form realistically and expressively and find personal methodologies in traditional and digital media.” Graduates will leave the program with a high quality portfolio and a web presence.”

The Design Track “provides a foundation in design principles and methodologies, creative problem solving and digital processes.” As students advance in the program, they will gain “knowledge and skills in professional practice including identity systems, web design, typography, motion graphics, history, contemporary criticism, and theory.” Graduates will leave the program with a professional portfolio and “a broad understanding of the business of design as well as its potential as a medium of critical inquiry and community involvement.”

The MFA is a 60 unit terminal degree comprised of interdisciplinary, graphic design and illustration courses as well as seminars, and independent studies “developing a body of self-authored work that contributes to the broad and expanding field of illustration, design and art.”

“Focused studio and course structures explore the theory, philosophy, and making of contemporary illustration, design and art. The program provides a range of opportunities for focus in visual narratives, community engagement, social practice, environmental projects, and technology, with a firm grounding in contemporary and historical contexts.”

Students in all programs have access to studio spaces, computer labs with Wacom Cintiq Touch screens and animation stations, a digital imaging lab with large format printing, mounting and other services, letterpress equipment, photopolymer platemaking equipment, metal and wood type collections, binding equipment, darkrooms, wood and metal shops, sculpture foundry, and ceramics labs.

Students also benefit from external resources such as a library that houses an extensive book art collection, the Center for Creative Photography, the Poetry Center, and the University Museum of Art.

6. Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah
Utah Valley University

Utah Valley University (UVU) was established in 1941 as Central Utah Vocational School (CUVS) with the primary function of providing war production training. Today, the school serves nearly 41,000 students, making it the largest public university in the state. More than 200 degree and certificate programs are offered in eight colleges and schools. The School of the Arts houses the Department of Art and Design, which offers an AAS in Art and Design with a Design/Illustration Emphasis, and a BFA with an Emphasis in Illustration.

The AAS is a “two-year work-ready degree,” says the school, “that helps prepare students for entry level jobs within the Illustration industry.” Course highlights for the program include 2D and 3D Design, 3D Computer Modeling, Digital Painting for Illustration, Gestural Drawing, Graphic Computer Applications, Illustrative Media Techniques, Imagination and Visual Literacy, and Spatial Drawing.

The program is 63 credits (minimum) and students can use credits earned to further their studies in a BFA or other program. Graduates are prepared to compete for positions in Advertising, Design Studios, In-house Design Departments, Publishing and Printing Firms, and for Freelance Consulting.

The BFA in Illustration is designed for students wanting to pursue careers in animation, digital illustration or traditional illustration. Courses for this 120 credit hour program are taught by professionals in the field who will guide students through coursework and projects using the latest industry software. Course highlights include 3D Design, 3D Computer Rendering, Advanced Illustration, Anatomy and Figure Structure Children's Book Illustration, Environmental Design and Painting, Figure Drawing, Flash Animation, Narrative Illustration, and Sequential Illustration.

Of the projects students will complete, two include the BFA Project and Senior Studio. The BFA Project will be completed over the course of two consecutive semesters, and focuses on the development and execution of a gallery exhibition or professional portfolio and includes collaborative work with a gallery/museum professional in preparation of the exhibition's public viewing.

The Senior Studio “combines and integrates concepts, methodologies and skills developed in previous Art and Design course work, through the completion of a comprehensive project,” says the school. The Studio “requires students to develop their own project/portfolio in consultation with a faculty advisor. Finished projects will demonstrate individual student skills and interests.”

Graduates go on to intermediate to upper level positions at Advertising Agencies, Film and Animation Studios, Game Design Companies, Graphic Design Studios, In-house Design Departments, Magazines, Publishing Firms, Printing Companies, and more. Some graduates are self-employed (freelance) or have started their own companies.

7. Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah
Southern Utah University

Founded in 1897, Southern Utah University (SUU) serves 12,582 students (Fall 2020), the largest number in the university’s history. The school offers more than 160 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in six colleges. The College of Performing and Digital Arts houses the Department of Art and Design, which offers a BFA in Studio Arts with an Illustration Emphasis.

Course highlights for the program include 3D Design, 3D Digital Illustration, Art Insights, Conceptual Illustration, Digital Tools, Illustration, Intro to Photography, Life Drawing and Anatomy, Narrative Illustration, Painting, Portrait and Figure Painting, and Visual Development Studio.

The Illustration student’s degree “will culminate in preparation of a body of work that will enable them to promote a career and/or apply for further graduate studies,” says the school. “This body of work will be exhibited to the public and featured in a personal, online portfolio website.

Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue positions in a variety of industries. This includes Advertising (printed or online ads and ad campaigns), Editorial (printed or online magazines and newspapers), Entertainment Art (concept art for movies, feature film, cartoons, video games, etc.), Licensing (art for consumer merchandise and products), Publishing (book covers, children’s books, graphic novels, comics, etc.), Self-Publishing (self-initiated illustration projects produced for a body of fans or followers), and more.

8. University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma
University of Central Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) serves nearly 15,000 students enrolled in nearly 200 programs at the schools main campus in Edmond and facilities throughout the metro area. Programs are offered in seven colleges. The College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD) at UCO houses the Department of Design (est. 2001). UCO is the first university in the region to house its design programs, Graphic Design and Interior Design, in their own School of Design. Program offerings include an MFA in Illustration (also with the Jackson College of Graduate Studies) and Minor in Design – Illustration.

The Minor requires 24 credit hours of study. Courses include Design Foundations I-IV, Illustration I-III, and Character Design or Sequential Illustration.

The MFA is a terminal degree program “created specifically for students interested in developing a body of illustrated work dedicated to image and serial image making for commercial application that will make them competitive locally, regionally and nationally,” says the school. The program also addresses “essential educational needs including: personal stylistic development; advanced concepts in marketing, branding and practical business applications; storytelling; historical and theoretical frameworks; as well as teaching illustration.”

Required courses (36 hours) and Guided Electives (24 hours) include Business of Illustration, Clocktower, Design Theory, Contemporary Illustration Practice, Creative Writing, Criticism Seminar, Graduate Illustration I-IV, History of Design OR Illustration, Studio, and Teaching Practicum Design. Students will also complete Portfolio Development, Thesis Development, and Thesis Exhibition.

Career opportunities for graduates of the Illustration MFA Program include Advertising Designer, Art Director, Creative Director, Package Designer, Print Designer, Web Designer, and many others.

9. Oklahoma Christian University, Edmond, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University (OC) was founded in 1950 as Central Christian College. When it opened, the school had just 97 students. Today, OC serves more than 2,200 students enrolled in more than 100 programs, including BFA degrees in Art and Digital Art, and a BA in Visual Art – Art Concentration. All programs offer Illustration coursework through requirements and electives.

Course highlights for the programs include 3D Modeling, Digital Design for Print, Digital Painting, Elements of Visual Thinking, Figure Drawing, Gaming and Animation Studio, Graphic Design, Illustration I-II, Painting I-II, Interactive Media Design, Open Studio, Technology for Graphics, The Business of Branding Yourself, and Type as Visual Language. Depending on the program, students will also complete an Art Internship, Gaming + Animation Capstone, and/or the Senior Exhibit.

Other program highlights include courses taught by industry professionals, access to four art studios for mixed media and drawing/painting, and a 1,200 square foot art gallery exhibiting student and professional works.

The Art Programs at OC also have an exceptional employment rate. Around 94% of graduates are employed full-time.

Students interested in majoring in Graphic Design + Fine Arts + Illustration might consider the BFA in Graphic Design with a Specialization in Illustration and Fine Arts. A BS in Graphic Design is also available that requires students to complete a Minor. A popular choice for aspiring Illustrators is the Minor in Conceptual Illustration. Highlights for both the BFA and BS programs include Capstone courses, guest speakers, field trips, and internship opportunities.

Graduates will leave the OC Art, Digital Art, Visual Art, and Graphic Design/Illustration Programs with a professional portfolio of their best work. Career opportunities include Advertising, Animation, Art Direction, Graphic Design, Illustration, Motion Graphics, Publishing Web Design, and more.

10. Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Baptist University

Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) was founded in 1910 by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The school serves close to 1,800 students enrolled in 10 bachelor's degrees in more than 80 areas of study and five master’s degrees.

The Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts houses the Division of Art and Design, which offers a BA and a Minor in Art and a BFA in Studio Art. The Minor is 18 credit hours, including 15 hours in Color, Design, Drawing, and Studio Art.

Thanks to a small student body, the degree programs can be tailored to each individual’s interests. Students in all programs will take art courses as part of the freshman year curriculum. BFA students may specialize in a particular area such as Applied Design, Illustration, or Painting and through more than 60 hours of electives and the student’s customized concentration, BA students may focus in Illustration. 

Course highlights for the programs include Advanced Drawing, Color Theory, Design Basics, Figure Drawing, Illustration I-II, Painting I-II, and Three-Dimensional Design. Students will also complete the Senior Exhibition Capstone.

Other program highlights include an active Student Art Club, trips every other year to New York City, where students meet professional artists and designers, and internship opportunities that provide hands-on experience and learning in a studio or other environment.