What are the top illustration schools in the southwest for 2023?

Top 10 Illustration Schools in the Southwest - 2023 College Rankings
1Brigham Young UniversityUtah
2Rocky Mountain College of Art and DesignColorado
3University of Colorado, DenverColorado
4University of ArizonaArizona
5Southern Utah UniversityUtah
6University of UtahUtah
7Utah Valley UniversityUtah
8Oklahoma Baptist UniversityOklahoma
9University of Central OklahomaOklahoma
10Oklahoma Christian UniversityOklahoma

Our 2023 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

The College of Fine Arts and Communications (CFAC) at Brigham Young University (BYU) provides a number of opportunities and experiences for all CFAC majors. Serving nearly 5,700 students, the CFAC hosts hundreds of student presentations, performances, and faculty presentations each year. CFAC students also have opportunities to pursue internships; exhibit at or access collections in the Brigham Young University Museum of Art (MOA); engage in research projects; and participate in experiential learning activities in the U.S. and abroad.

BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications houses the Department of Design. Within the Department is an Illustration BFA Program that requires 120 credit hours, with 72 credits in the Major. A Limited Enrollment Program (LEP) that accepts just 40 students per academic year, the Illustration BFA at BYU features courses led by industry professionals with years of experience in their respective areas of specialization. 

Course examples for the Program include Narrative Illustration, Environment Design, Painting the Human Head, Sketchbook, Three-Dimensional Illustration, Character Design for Illustrators, Design Theory and Visual Culture, Advanced Life Drawing, Interdisciplinary Motion, Printmaking Fundamentals, and Design Lecture Series.

In the final year of the BYU Illustration BFA Program, students will complete Senior Illustration Studio 1 and 2, Professional Practices for Illustrators, BFA Illustration Capstone Project: Research, and BFA Illustration Capstone Project: Implementation.

Graduates of the Illustration BFA Program at Brigham Young University work in a wide range of fields such as Advertising, Medical and Scientific Illustration, Mural Production, Architecture, Exhibition Design, Book, Magazine, and News Publishing, Entertainment, and Fashion Design. Some Program alumni go on to launch their own studios and freelance businesses.

Brigham Young University was founded as Brigham Young Academy (BYA) in 1875 by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Brigham Young. With 34,390 students enrolled in more than 435 programs, BYU is the one of the largest private universities in the U.S. Brigham Young University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

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) houses an Illustration Program with two Bachelor’s degree options—the Illustration BFA and the Illustrative Design BFA. The Illustration BFA Program has Concentrations in Children’s Books and Sequential Art. An Emphasis in Concept Art is also available. BFA Program features include small class sizes; access to state-of-the-art facilities and software; self-promotion coursework; collaboration with professional Illustrators; focused one-on-one instruction; and portfolio development.

Course examples for the program include History of American Illustration, 2D Design: Elements + Principles, Illustration I-III, Typography for Illustration, Children’s Book Illustration, Character Design, Digital Landscape Painting, 3D Design: Space + Materiality, Illustration Media, Observational Drawing, Digital Illustration I-II, and Illustration Marketing. In the Junior or Senior year, students may complete an internship, and the final year of the program students will complete Illustration Graduation Portfolio I-II.

Graduates of the Illustration BFA Program at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design are prepared for careers in Children’s Book Illustration, Editorial Illustration, Comic Books, Technical Illustration, Concept Art for Games and Animations, Product Design, Graphic Novels, Licensing, and Medical Illustration.

The Illustrative Design BFA is a hybrid degree that combines Graphic Design and Illustration. The program explores storytelling, communication design problems, sustainable practice, design, typography, digital media, and portfolio development. Other program features include year-round classes, hands-on training, a combination of both online and on-campus coursework, personalized instruction, small class sizes, and portfolio development. Classroom tools include Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and After Effects.

Graduates of the Illustrative Design BFA Program at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design are prepared to pursue positions such as Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Motion Designer, Typographer, Package Designer, and Creative Director.

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design began in 1963 as Rocky Mountain School of Art. Serving more than 1,000 students, RMCAD offers 16 degree and certificate programs offered in campus/hybrid and online formats. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and it is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

3. University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Colorado Denver

The College of Arts & Media at University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) has a BFA Program with an Illustration Emphasis that prepares students for freelance careers or full-time positions within a wide variety of creative fields. An Illustration Minor is available for students in other creative Majors. Consisting of 18 credit hours, the Minor includes course options such as Digital Painting, The Graphic Novel Workshop, and Painting, Drawing and the Printed Image. Illustration I: Image Making and Two Dimensional Design are just a few required courses.

The Illustration BFA at CU Denver is a 120 credit hour program that provides access to state-of-the art digital labs, industrial equipment, and sculpture studios. Students also have opportunities to work on projects for places such as Pixar and the Denver Art Museum, as well as local art galleries and studios. Course examples for the Program include Illustration I: Image Making, Illustration II: Digital Media, Illustration III: Investigative Methods, Illustration IV: Thesis Development, 3D Design, The Graphic Novel Workshop, Typography, Painting, and The Business of Art.

The Illustration BFA Program at CU Denver culminates with the Illustration BFA Thesis course worth three credits. Graduates work in areas such as Advertising, Product Illustration, Editorial, Marketing, Children’s Book Publishing, Medical Illustration, Games, Interactive Illustration, Animation, Scientific Illustration, Comics, Magazine Illustration, and Graphic Novels.

University of Colorado Denver began in 1912 as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder. The school became CU Denver in 1973 making it an independent campus. Organized into eight colleges and schools, CU Denver serves 15,000 students enrolled in more than 110 academic degrees. University of Colorado Denver is accredited by Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
University of Arizona

The College of Fine Arts at University of Arizona (UArizona or UA) is home to the School of Art, which houses the multidisciplinary Studio Art BFA and Art MFA. The BFA has an Emphasis in Illustration, Design, and Animation (IDA) and the MFA has an Emphasis in Illustration + Design (ID).

All School of Art programs have access to a studio spaces and number of labs, museums, equipment, and facilities. Examples include computer labs with Wacom Cintiq Touch screens and animation stations; a digital imaging lab with large format printing; letterpress, binding, and photopolymer platemaking equipment; the University of Arizona Museum of Art; University Libraries extensive book art collection; and the Center for Creative Photography.

Other School of Art features include team projects with local clients; field trips; the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Student Chapter; and internship opportunities and study abroad experiences.

The Studio Art BFA with an IDA Emphasis requires 125 units, including 42 in upper division coursework and 24 units of upper division coursework in the IDA Emphasis. All Studio Art Majors will complete the First Year Experience, which consists of 8-week, workshop-based Art courses. Workshops include Drawing from Observation, Mixed Media, Painting and Color Theory, Figure Drawing, Digital Photography, and Design, among others.

Students will graduate from the University of Arizona IDA BFA Program with a professional portfolio of their best work.

The UArizona Studio Art MFA is a 60 credit hour program that requires 33 units in ID Studio Art courses. Students in this Program will participate in interdisciplinary Design and Illustration courses and seminars; independent studies and workshops; and studio critiques with alumni and visiting artists.

The Studio At MFA Program at UArizona culminates with the MFA Thesis and Project.

Graduates of the Art and Studio Art Programs at University of Arizona are prepared for careers in Book Publishing, Children’s Books, Magazine Publishing, Advertising, Editorial, Graphic Novels, Comic Books, Television and Film, Game Art and Design, and Animation.

Established in 1885, University of Arizona opened in 1891 with 32 students and six faculty members. Today, UA serves approximately 51,135 students, making it one of top five largest post-secondary institutions in Arizona. Students at UA have access to more than 300 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in more than 150 areas of study. Programs are offered across 20 colleges and nearly two dozen specialized schools. University of Arizona is accredited by the by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

5. Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah
Southern Utah University

Southern Utah University (SUU) is home to the College of Performing and Visual Arts (CVPA), which houses the Department of Art & Design. Within the Department is a Studio Art BFA Program with an Illustration Emphasis and an Illustration Minor. The Studio Arts BFA requires 120 credit hours, including 51 credits in Illustration and Illustration electives.

The Illustration Minor consists of 19.5 credit hours and explores Art History, Narrative and Conceptual Illustration, 2D Design, Color Theory and Applications, and Drawing. Course examples include Life Drawing and Anatomy, Introduction to Illustration, Drawing I-II, Visual Development, and Nineteenth-Century Art. Upon completion of the Illustration Minor, students are prepared for entry-level positions in the field or to enroll in a BFA program, such as the SUU Studio Art BFA.

Across programs, students benefit from participation in critiques and discussions, and the opportunity to exhibit student work. Studio Arts BFA students will also participate in workshops and seminars, and they have the option to complete an internship and/or study abroad experience.

SUU Studio Arts BFA students may focus in an area within Illustration or other creative area through required free electives. Students may choose up to 14 credit hours of free electives to include upper level courses numbered 3000-4999. Course examples for the Program include Art Insights, Narrative Illustration, Painting I-III, Visual Development Studio, 3D Digital Illustration, Motion Graphics, Conceptual Illustration, and Aqueous Media.

In the final year of the Studio Arts BFA Program at Southern Utah University, students will complete Senior BFA Studio I: Professional Practices and Portfolio Systems, and Senior BFA Studio II: BFA Exhibition and Portfolio Completion. This is the culminating experience for the program.

Graduates of the Studio Arts/Illustration BFA Program at Southern Utah University are prepared for careers in areas such as Publishing, Editorial, Advertising, Entertainment Art, and Licensing. Some Studio Arts alumni go on to launch their own studios or freelance careers. Program alumni have also gone on to graduate study at Southern Utah University and other top universities across the U.S.

Founded in 1897, Southern Utah University serves approximately 14,330 students enrolled in than 150 undergraduate programs, 32 graduate and certificate programs, and a professional doctorate degree. Programs at SUU are housed across seven academic colleges and dozens of departments. Southern Utah University has been continually accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) since 1933.

6. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
University of Utah

The College of Fine Arts at University of Utah (The U) houses the Department of Art & Art History, home to the Art BFA Program with six Major/Emphasis options. Students in all Majors are required to complete the First Year Studio Foundations Program, which includes courses such as Introduction to Visual Language and Introduction to Art History. Upon completion of Foundations, students have the opportunity to customize their own path in their chosen emphasis and select projects that will help them reach their academic and career goals.

In the Illustration Emphasis, students will explore narrative techniques, concept development strategies, and Illustration industry practices. Course examples include Illustration 1: Process Art, Digital Drawing,  Communication Design, Illustration 2: Narrative Approaches, Typography, Digital Imaging for Visual Artists, Illustration 3: World & Voice, New Media Painting, Book Arts: Letterpress Printing, Urban Art, Language of Color: Beauty, Power, Meaning, Drawing Installation, and Special Topics.

The Art BFA (Illustration) culminates with  Illustration 4: Capstone. In this course, students will explore topics such as creating a portfolio website, finances, self-promotion, and ethics. At the end of the course, students will have a website or online portfolio of their best work, as well as marketing materials including business cards, postcards, and related promotional materials.

Graduates of the Art BFA (Illustration) Program at University of Utah are prepared for careers such as Children’s Book Illustration, Fine Art, Advertising Illustration, Gallery and Exhibition Design, Editorial Illustration, Comics & Storyboard Art, Book Illustration, Surface and Textile Design, Fashion Illustration, Character Development, Scientific illustration, and Concept Art.

Founded in 1850, University of Utah is the state’s public flagship institution. A top-tier research university, The U serves more than 34,900 students enrolled in over 200 programs across 17 colleges and schools. University of Utah is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

7. Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah
Utah Valley University

The School of the Arts (SOA) at Utah Valley University (UVU) provides more than 20 programs to over 1,800 students, making it one of the largest art schools in the state. Programs are housed across four departments including Theatrical Arts for the Stage and Screen, Music, Art and Design, and Dance. Students in all departments have opportunities to intern with places such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), Paramount Pictures Studios, and Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (Utah MOCA). Students also have opportunities to complete in international internship in places such as Italy, Germany, the UK, and South Korea.

The SOA Department of Art and Design at Utah Valley University has two paths to study Illustration including the Art and Design AAS and the Art and Design BFA. The Art and Design AAS has a Design/Illustration Emphasis that requires 63 credit hours to graduate. Students in this program will take courses such as Illustrative Media and Techniques (I-II), Gestural Drawing, 3D Computer Modeling, 2D and 3D Design, Spatial Drawing, Digital Painting for Illustration, and Graphic Computer Applications.

This two-year degree program prepares students for entry-level jobs in Advertising Illustration, Illustration for Design Studios, Publishing and Printing Firms, In-House Design Departments, and Freelance Consulting.

Consisting of 120 credit hours, the Art and Design BFA Program at UVU has an Illustration Emphasis that explores Traditional Illustration, Animation, and Digital Illustration, and Animation. Electives options allow students to focus in an area of interest within Illustration. Course examples include Conceptual Illustration, Figure Drawing I-III, Sequential Illustration, Environment Design, Children’s Book Illustration, 3D Texturing and Rendering, 2D Animation for Illustration, Graphic Computer Applications, Advanced Illustration, Narrative Illustration, and Graphic Design.

The Art and Design BFA includes a variety of projects. Among them are 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. This includes collaborative work with a gallery/museum professional in preparation of the exhibition's public viewing.

Graduates of Art and Design BFA Program at Utah Valley University are prepared for mid- to upper-level positions at Advertising Agencies, Magazines, Publishing Firms, Printing Companies, Graphic Design Studios, Film and Animation Studios, Game Design Companies, and in Design Departments. Some UVU Art and Design alumni go on to launch their own studios or freelance careers, while others continue on to graduate school.

Utah Valley University (UVU) was established in 1941 as Central Utah Vocational School (CUVS).The school’s primary function was to provide war production training. Today, the UVU serves approximately 43,100 students from all backgrounds, making it the largest public university in the state. UVU students have access to more than 200 degree and certificate programs housed across eight colleges and schools. Utah Valley University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

8. Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Baptist University

Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) is home to the Warren M. Angell School of Visual and Performing Arts, which houses the Art and Design Department. Within the Department is a Studio Art Program that requires 128-129 credit hours to graduate. Leading to a BFA, the Program allows students to focus in a particular area such as Illustration, Painting or Applied Design. The OBU Warren Studio Art BA also provides opportunities to study Illustration through required courses and electives.

Across programs, features include field trips every other year to New York City to meet with professional artists and designers; participation in the Student Art Club beginning in the first semester; and art scholarships for qualifying students.

Course examples for the Studio Art BFA include Illustration I-II, Figure Drawing, Printmaking, 3D Design, Color Theory, Design Basics, Advanced Drawing, and Painting I-II. Students may also take up to 21 elective credits, which provides additional opportunities to study Illustration and other creative areas. In the Illustration II course, students will begin to build a portfolio based on their media of choice with a variety of professional style assignments in various fields of Publication.

The Studio Art BFA Program at Oklahoma Baptist University culminates with the Senior Project and Exhibition. Program alumni go on to establish careers Advertising Designers, Graphic Designers, Art Educators, and Illustrators in a wide variety of industries and fields. Examples include Publishing, Film and Animation, Television, Game Design, News Media, Graphic Design, Architecture, Web Design, Science and Medicine, and Museums.

Founded in 1910, Oklahoma Baptist University serves approximately 1,400 students from 29 states and 12 countries. Programs include nine bachelor's degrees in 80 areas of study, and four master’s degree programs in Business Administration, Marriage and Family Therapy, Christian Studies, and Intercultural Studies. Oklahoma Baptist University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

9. University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma
University of Central Oklahoma

University of Central Oklahoma has two paths to study Illustration. At the graduate level, students with a degree in a creative field can enroll in the Illustration MFA Program. Housed in Jackson College of Graduate Studies and the NASAD-accredited School of Design, this competitive 60 credit-hour program is designed for students interested in Commercial Illustration or Teaching. Students will explore Storytelling, Design History, Illustration, Teaching Methods, Illustration History, Branding, and Marketing.

Course examples include Graduate Illustration I-IV, History of Illustration, Business of Illustration, Design Theory, ClockTower Studio, Contemporary Illustration Practice, Criticism Seminar, and Teaching Practicum Design. In the final year of the program, students will complete the Portfolio Development, Thesis Development, and Thesis Exhibition courses.

Graduates of the UCO Illustration MFA Program are prepared for leadership positions such as Creative Director, Advertising Manager, Senior Illustrator, Lead Exhibition Designer, Creative Consultant, Production Manager, and Art Educator. Some program alumni go on to launch their own studios or freelance businesses.

At the undergraduate level, University of Central Oklahoma has a Design BFA that allows students to develop solid skills in Illustration through Design electives and the required 18 credit hours of Professional Preparation coursework. Cures examples include Illustration I-III, Illustration for Children’s Books, History of Illustration, Bookmaking & Prototyping, Character Design, Advertising Design, and Advanced Bookmaking. Other opportunities include the Advanced Portfolio Development course, the Study Tour in Design, and a Design Internship.

Graduates of the Design BFA Program at University of Central Oklahoma are prepared to pursue careers in areas such as Advertising, Magazine Illustration, Book Cover Art, Graphic Novels, Book and Magazine Publishing, Illustration for Animation and Games, Brand Management, Comics, Graphic Design, Storyboard Art, Scientific and Medical Illustration, and Poster Art.

Founded in 1890 as the Territorial Normal School, University of Central Oklahoma serves nearly 14,000 students enrolled in 100+ undergraduate areas of study and more than 70 graduate areas of study. Programs are housed across six colleges and the W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute. The school also houses UCO Connected Campus, which provides a variety of online degree programs; the Academy of Contemporary Music in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and downtown campuses at Carnegie Center and Santa Fe Plaza. University of Central Oklahoma is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

10. Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University (OC) houses the College of Humanities and Bible, home to the Division of Fine and Performing Arts and the Graphic Design BFA Program. While most of the Art and Design Programs at Oklahoma Christian University provide opportunities to study Illustration, Graphic Design is the only program at OC that allows students to Specialize in Illustration and Fine Arts. Including courses such as Conceptual illustration, Figure Drawing, and Visual Storytelling, the Division’s 126 credit-hour Graphic Design BS is the next best option.

Across programs, features include 25 different field trip options; guest speakers; 14 internship opportunities (students can complete multiple internships throughout the program); study abroad programs in places such as Austria, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan; and access to a state-of-the-art computer labs equipped with industry-standard programs such as InDesign, Photoshop, After effects, and Illustrator.

Consisting of 126 credit hours, the Graphic Design BFA consists of courses and elective options such as Illustration I-II, Visual Storytelling, Conceptual Illustration, Figure Drawing, Digital Imaging I-II, Print + Social Media Design, Typography Visual Language, Interactive Media Design I-II, and Elements of Visual Thinking. Students may choose an additional 15 credit hours of electives from any Art and Design courses.

Upon completion of the Graphic Design BFA and BS Programs at Oklahoma Christian University, students will have a professional portfolio consisting of their best Illustration, Graphic Design, Advertising, Web Design, and Motion Graphics projects. The final portfolio will also include the students various internships.   

Graduate of the Graphic Design BFA (Illustration/Fine Arts) and Graphic Design BS Programs are  prepared for careers in areas such as Children’s Book Illustration, Fine Art, Comics, Storyboard Art, Book Illustration, Advertising Illustration, Gallery and Exhibition Design, Editorial Illustration, Graphic Design, Magazine Illustration, Surface and Textile Design, Motion Design, Fashion Illustration, Interactive Media Design, Game Art, Concept Art, Character Development, and Scientific illustration.

Established in 1950 as Central Christian College, Oklahoma Christian University opened as a Junior college in Bartlesville with just 97 students. Today, OC is a four-year university that serves 2,200 students enrolled in nearly 100 programs and areas of study across 10 colleges and divisions. Oklahoma Christian University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).