What are the top illustration schools in the Midwest for 2020?

Top 10 Illustration Schools in the Midwest - 2020 College Rankings
1Minneapolis College of Art & DesignMinnesota
2Washington University in St. Louis Missouri
3Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio
4Kansas City Art InstituteMissouri
5Cleveland Institute of ArtOhio
6College for Creative StudiesMichigan
7Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design Wisconsin
8Columbia College ChicagoIllinois
9Ferris State UniversityMichigan
10Indiana University-Purdue University, IndianapolisIndiana

Our 2020 rankings of the Top 10 illustration schools in the Midwest.

We define the Midwest as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota. 

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Minneapolis College of Art & Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis College of Art & Design

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) was established in 1886. The school, which shares a block with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, serves more than 800 students from 45 states and 15 countries. Of these, 50% are enrolled in Design, 38% in Media Arts, 10% in Fine Arts, and the remaining 2% in MCAD's new Arts Entrepreneurship Department. More than 20 programs are available across several departments. Program options for aspiring illustrators include BFAs in Illustration or Comic Art.

The BFA in Illustration begins with foundation classes to help develop technical skills and work ethic and progresses to courses that build both conceptual and technical illustration skills. Sample courses for the program include Children’s Book, Digital Illustration, Editorial Illustration, Foundation 2D and 3D, and Illustration and Products.

In years three and four of the program, students will gain real-world experience through a required internship and they will have the opportunity to study abroad or elsewhere in the U.S., and participate in the Emerging Talent Showcase and share their work with potential employers. Students will also “develop and complete a semester-long project to culminate in the Commencement Exhibition,” says the school. The exhibition showcases the work of MCAD graduates.

Comic Art students will experiment with conventional and experimental aspects of comic storytelling, gain foundational skills in a variety of creative media, explore traditional and digital comic formats, and acquire the skills and knowledge for a professional career in comics. Students in this program will also benefit from internship and study abroad opportunities.

2. Washington University in St. Louis (Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts), St. Louis, Missouri
Washington University in St. Louis

Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis serves more than 14,500 students enrolled in more than 300 academic programs in a number of colleges and schools. The College of Art houses the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, which offers a BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration, and an MFA in Illustration + Visual Culture. A Minor in Design is also available.

The minor “allows students to mix and match courses in areas such as illustration, communication design, and the illustrated book studio to suit interests and schedules, says the school.” The collaborative BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration combines graphic design, illustration, and interaction design. This means, students in the program can choose to focus on illustrating stories, creating comics, and designing printed posters and books, as well as study the history of printed images, comics, and advertising, make pictures for games and motion graphics, and more.

During the last year of the program, “students will pursue a capstone project that culminates in an illustrated book, zine, screen-based presentation, graphic novel/mini-comic, or digital experience,” says the school. The final project is displayed in a public exhibition and reviewed by external design professionals.

The MFA in Illustration + Visual Culture (MFA-IVC) is a two-year program that combines studio practice in illustration with curatorial training in visual and material culture. The two-year program consists of courses such as Comics and Cartooning: A Survey, lllustration Studio: Artist, Author, Audience, Illustration Studio: Drawing & Voice, Literatures of Drawing, Readings in Visual and Material Culture, and The Illustrated Periodical. Students in the program will also complete an internship.

Graduates of the MFA program are prepared to work as author-artists of graphic novels and picture books, professors of illustration, critical writers on popular culture, and curatorial staff in museums, libraries, and auction houses. This program launches in Fall 2019.

3. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio
Columbus College of Art and Design

Established in 1879, Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) is one of the oldest private art and design colleges in the United States. The school is home to more than 1,300 students enrolled in 12 bachelor’s degree and two master’s degree programs covering a broad range of subjects. Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration with Concentrations in Illustration/Entertainment Design/Drawing; Illustration/Entertainment Design/Modeling; and Illustration/Illustrative Design.

An Illustration Minor is available as well as an MFA program. Project proposals for the MFA can be based in Illustration, Painting, Drawing, Animation, Interactive Design and many other areas. Columbus College of Art and Design has also launched a BFA in Comics and Narrative Practice. The curriculum for this program includes nearly a dozen illustration courses.

All students may participate in CCAD’s International Exchange Program, which highlights study at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China; Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile; Xi’an Fine Arts Academy, Xi’an, China, and Northumbria, Newcastle, England. Students may also study at CCAD-approved programs at Studio Art Centers, Florence, Italy, and University of Arts London, London.

CCAD BFA graduates have landed positions at American Greetings, Cartoon Network, CBS News, DC Comics, Disney Consumer Products, DreamWorks, Hallmark, Hasbro, Marvel Comics, Ogilvy & Mather, Pixar, Sony Pictures, The Wall Street Journal, and many others.

4. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City Art Institute

Established in 1885, Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) has a 130+ year history that includes notable name such as Walt Disney, who took classes there as a child, multimedia artist Robert Rauschenberg, who studied fashion design, writer Robert Morris, and performance artist and fabric sculptor Nick Cave, to name a few. Besides a long list of notable alumni and students, KCAI offers 13 studio majors in Art, Design, and Media to a population of nearly 700 students.

The Department of Illustration houses the school’s BFA in Illustration program. Students in the program “work with traditional and digital media to develop the conceptual, technical and aesthetic skills necessary for success in the diverse range of practices in this evolving field,” says the school. “Courses such as Drawing and Design Systems, Exploring the Narrative and Visual/Sequential Storytelling are geared toward enabling students to simultaneously express themselves as artists while learning how to communicate substantive visual messages.” Courses are taught by department faculty who are practicing professionals in the areas of publishing, editorial, advertising and institutional.

Other program highlights include collaborative assignments, a required internship in a professional work setting, access to studio and classroom technology that prepares students for diverse areas of professional practice, and the opportunity to work in digital and analog environments “designed to facilitate creativity and interdisciplinary approaches to image making.”

Recent graduates are employed at MTV, Nickelodeon, Hallmark, American Greetings, Nike and many others. Their work has been featured in many publications such as The New York Times, Women’s Day, Wired, and numerous children’s books. Some have won awards in publications such as Print, Communication Arts, American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators.

5. Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland Institute of Art

Founded in 1882, Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) serves 645 students from 32 states and nine countries around the world. The school, which offers 15 majors in the fine arts, design, craft, and interactive media, offers BFA degrees in Illustration and Life Sciences Illustration.

The BFA in Illustration provides the opportunity to experiment with a variety of traditional materials and techniques, including acrylics, collage, inks, pencils, and oils, "while mastering contemporary digital processes using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator," says the school. Students in the program will learn to create polished illustrations for all current and emerging markets including advertising, entertainment, gaming, licensing, publishing, and social expression.

Other program highlights include interaction with visiting artists, the opportunity to share the final portfolio with employers, illustrators, and designers who are invited each year to CIA, and a rigorous mandatory Business + Professional Practices curriculum that all CIA students complete. This means, in addition to core courses and small-group seminars, students take a professional writing course and travel out into the field to see artists and designers at work in art studios, advertising agencies, and more.

Graduates of the program “will be prepared to enter the industry as a staff artists, freelance illustrators or creative entrepreneurs.”

The Life Sciences Illustration program is one of only a few BFA degrees of its kind in the United States. The program “combines applied art, science, and technology to create visual education materials on scientific and medical topics.” The curriculum “incorporates leading-edge digital media techniques, interactivity, and animation.” Students in the program learn how to “blend artistic talent with knowledge of natural science, a biomedical intellect, and strong visual communication skills.”

Course highlights include Computer Imaging and Animation, Editorial Illustration and Instructional Design and Multimedia.

Students and graduates of the program benefit from CIA’s professional partnerships with Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Students have opportunities to learn through experience by working on real-world projects with these partners—all before graduation.

Graduates have gone on to land positions such as Art Director, Biomedical Illustrator, Illustrator, 3D Animation Artist/Designer, and many others.

6. College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan
College for Creative Studies

Founded in 1906 as the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) serves nearly 1,500 students enrolled in more than a dozen degree programs in 14 academic departments. Programs for aspiring illustrators are offered through the Illustration Department and include a BFA and a Minor in Illustration. Graduates of the BFA program may enroll in the school’s MFA programs in Color and Materials Design, Interaction Design, Integrated Design or Transportation Design.

The school says the BFA curriculum “emphasizes the fundamentals of image making, visual language and visual storytelling and teaches how to translate various traditional media into digital illustration.” Course highlights include Anatomical Figure Illustration, Digital Fundamentals, Figure Illustration, Illustration Techniques, 3D Techniques, 2D techniques, and Visual Narration. Students in the minor will choose five courses (15 credits) from the BFA curriculum.

Other BFA program highlights include access to a large network of key industry players via alumni, sponsored projects and a faculty of freelance illustrators, creative directors, art directors and concept and storyboard artists. Students also have the opportunity to complete an internship. Previous internships include Anthropologie, Cartoon Network, Diane von Furstenberg, Disney Consumer, Fisher Price, Insomniac Games, Mattel, Spark, WJBK Fox 2 News, and others.

Students will graduate from the BFA program with experience in traditional methods of illustration, newer digital trends, and with “the understanding of how traditional media translates into the digital illustration workflow process” known as “tradigital.”

7. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Founded in 1974, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is Wisconsin’s only four-year, private college of visual art and design. The school, which serves close to 900 students, offers five degree programs and nearly 20 minors. Among the degree programs is a BFA In Illustration that prepares students to work in areas from publishing to web design and as freelancers or entrepreneurs. A 15-credit Illustration Minor is also available.

Program highlights include internship and semester-long study abroad opportunities, the opportunity to build a professional portfolio, and networking opportunities through MIAD’s Illustration Seminar, “where a series of workshops are presented by practicing professionals, including MIAD Illustration alumni, representing a cross-section of the field,” says the school.

Course highlights for the program include Computer Studio, Digital 2D, Figure Drawing for Illustration, Illustration Media, Professional Practice for Illustrators, Systems of Drawing, Typography, and Visual Language.

Students in the BFA in Illustration program may complement the degree with studio minor such as Art Management, Book Arts or Digital Media Production. Popular liberal studies minors include Advertising, Copywriting, and Writing.

8. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

Established in 1890, Columbia College serves more than 7,300 students from nearly every state and more than 60 countries. The school has over 100 academic majors or programs across several schools and more than 20 departments. Schools include the School of Media Arts, the School of Fine and Performing Arts, and the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The School of Fine and Performing Arts is home to the Illustration Program, which offers BA and BFA options.

The BA is a flexible program allows students to choose a minor or second major. Minor options include Animation, Creative Writing, Game Art, Journalism, Graphic Design, and Motion Graphics. Second major options that complement the degree include Computer Animation, Game Art, Graphic Design, and Traditional Animation.

The BFA is requires more advanced courses in illustration than the BFA program, which leaves little time for a minor or a second major. Sample courses for the BA program include Design Lab, Digital Illustration, Figure Drawing, Illustration Studio I, II & III, Illustration: Materials & Techniques, and Survey of Typography. The program also consists of a required internship.

Major courses for the BFA include Cartooning, Children's Book Illustration, Commercial Illustration, Drawing the Graphic Novel, History of Political and Social Illustration, Special Issues in Illustration, and Survey of Typography. An internship is part of the program as well as a Portfolio Development course. Because many illustrators work independently, both the BFA and BA programs also emphasize work emphasizes business skills in entrepreneurship and freelance.

BA and BFA students typically intern at a design firm, advertising agency, or art gallery and both programs also prepare students for positions in industries such as advertising, book and magazine publishing, entertainment/film, fashion, and product packaging.

9. Ferris State University, Grand Rapids, Big Rapids, Michigan

Founded in 1928, Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) is a college within Ferris State University. The school serves more than 1,000 students enrolled in around 24 BFA, BS, MA, MFA, and Certificate programs. Among these programs are two options for aspiring illustrators—a BFA in Illustration and a BFA in Medical Illustration.

Launched in the 1960s, the BFA in Illustration teaches students to master multiple illustration techniques in both traditional and emerging media. Sample courses for the program include Digital Illustration Painting, Illustration Life Drawing, Illustration Professional Practices, Illustration Techniques, Rendering, and Watercolor Techniques for the Illustrator.

Program highlights include focused study of illustration, participation in the KCAD Illustration Society, and access to KCAD galleries, labs, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). Students also have opportunities to participate in summer travel/study experiences as well as internships during the academic year and summer.

Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue careers as a freelance illustrator, as well as art director, cartoonist, editorial illustrator, fashion illustrator, mural designer, storyboard illustrator, and many others.

The BFA in Medical Illustration is a three-year program that consists of classes from KCAD, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and Michigan State University. Students in the program will take a combination of Art, Communication, and Science coursework. Students will study Anatomy, Biology, and Medical Terminology, illustration techniques such as include All-Digital Illustrations, 2D Animations, Traditional/Digital Hybrids, Traditional Drawing Methods, and 3D (Digital) Modeling, and Visual Communications.

Graduates of the program are prepared to seek intermediate to advanced positions in the field or for further graduate or professional level study.

10. Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana
Indiana University-Purdue University

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) can trace its roots back to 1891, when Indiana University offered classes in Indianapolis for the very first time. In 1969, Indiana University and Purdue University merged to create IUPUI, becoming Indiana’s premier urban research university. Today, the school serves more than 29,530 students enrolled in more than 450 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in 17 schools.

The Herron School of Art + Design offers a BFA Drawing + Illustration. The school also offers MFA programs. BFA program highlights include access to the latest equipment and technology in students’ choice of studio spaces, the opportunity to enhance the degree with a Minor in Book Arts or Design Production, and classes taught by faculty who are working professionals in the field.

The program, which consists of extensive studio experience in both drawing and illustration, requires completion of courses such as Advanced Drawing & Illustration, Building & Making, Digital Rendering, Image & 4D Studio, Narrative Drawing, and Studio Art & Technology. The curriculum “provides broad exposure to both traditional and contemporary techniques in all media including digital technology,” says the school. “Students develop skills from both fine and applied arts perspectives.”

Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue positions such as Animator, Children's book illustrator, Comic Artist or Graphic Novelist, Editorial Illustrator, Packaging Designer, Scientific or Technical Illustrator, Set or Exhibition Designer, Storyboard or Concept Artist, or Toy or Product Designer. Some graduates go on to work as freelance artists or designers, while others start their own businesses.