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

Top 10 Midwest Illustration Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1Minneapolis College of Art & DesignMinnesota
2Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio
3College for Creative StudiesMichigan
4Kansas City Art InstituteMissouri
5Cleveland Institute of ArtOhio
6Washington University in St. Louis Missouri
7Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design Wisconsin
8Columbia College ChicagoIllinois
9Ferris State UniversityMichigan
10Indiana University-Purdue University, IndianapolisIndiana

Our 2021 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

Established in 1886, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) sits on a three-acre campus that shares a block with the Minneapolis Institute of Art—home to more than 90,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. MCADs more than 800 students have access to creative spaces/classrooms, professional facilities, galleries, student housing complexes, artist studios, and a sculpture garden.

Student also have access to 23 art and design degree programs and undergraduate minors. Degree programs lead to the BFA, BS, MA, or MFA. 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. Course highlights include Children’s Book, Digital Illustration, Editorial Illustration, Foundation 2D and 3D, and Illustration and Products.

In the junior and senior years of the program, students will gain real-world experience through a required internship. They will also have the opportunity to study abroad or elsewhere in the U.S., participate in the Emerging Talent Showcase, and share their work with potential employers. Students will “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 MCADs required internship and study abroad opportunities.

Over 93% of MCAD alumni are working and more than half (57.1%) are working in their field. Potential careers include Advertising Illustrator, Book Illustrator (one MCAD alum is an illustrator for all of the American Harry Potter books), Children’s Book Illustrator, Comic Illustrator, Concept Artist, Courtroom Illustrator, Editorial Illustrator, Fashion Illustrator, Fine Artist, Freelance Illustrator, Illustration Agent or Representative, Medical or Technical Illustrator, Surface Designer, and many others.

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

Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) was established in 1879 as Columbus Art School. Famous visitors to the campus during the school’s early years through the 1930s include American artist Georgia O’Keefe, First Lady Lucy Hayes, and Writer Oscar Wilde. One of the oldest private art and design colleges in the United States, CCAD graduated its first class in 1885 and later added programs such as Advertising, Illustration, and Industrial Design. By 1970, CCAD had produced its first class of BFA graduates.

Today, Columbus College of Art and Design serves more than 1,300 students enrolled in dozens of degree programs, concentrations, and minors. Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration and an Illustration Minor. Students can add any 15 credit Minor to the program and/or any Concentration. Just a few Minor options include Advertising & Graphic Design, Animation 2D or 3D, Comics & Narrative Practice, Copywriting, Film & Video, Photography, and Social Practice.

Concentrations include Animation/Experimental, Animation/Game, Fine Arts/Ceramics, Fine Arts/Drawing, Fine Arts/Glass, Fine Arts/Jewelry, Fine Arts/Painting, Fine Arts/Printmaking, Fine Arts/Sculpture, Illustration/Entertainment Design/Drawing, Illustration/Entertainment Design/Modeling, and Illustration/Illustrative Design.

Illustration students will “master the latest technology, study under industry leaders, and go on to create beautiful works that tell stories through printed books, motion graphics, or fabric patterns,” says the school. Students will also “grow as creatives in a school and city that embrace comics, through class projects such as Spitball, which pairs artists with professional writers, and Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, which brings together cartoon storytellers, comic makers, and animators for professional panels, lectures, and more.”

Course highlights for the 120 credit hour BFA program include Character and Environmental Design, Digital Design Lab, Digital Media Illustration, Digital Sculpting, Illustration Markets, Illustration Self Promotion, Illustrative Figure Drawing, Motion Illustration, and Traditional Media Illustration. During the final year of the program, BFA students will complete the Illustration Portfolio Project and Illustration Capstone.

CCAD BFA graduates have gone on to a variety of position and fields including Advertising Graphics Designer, Apparel Graphics Designer, Book Illustrator, Character and Asset Designer, Designer for Web and Mobile, Editorial Illustrator, Film Effects Creator, Fine Artist, Freelance Illustrator, Greeting Card Designer, Newspaper Graphic Artist, Poster Artist, Product and Toy Designer, and Video Game Designer.

Companies that have hired CCAD graduates include 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.

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

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) traces its roots back to 1906 when a group of local civic leaders formed the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. The Society members began teaching informal classes in basic design, drawing and woodcarving and in 1911, and they opened a gallery where students and prominent modern artists could display and sell their work.

In 1926, as the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, the Society became one of the first arts and crafts organizations to offer a formal, four-year program in art, with an enrollment of 280 students. Today, CCS is a private, fully accredited college that offers BFA and MFA degrees to more than 1,400 students.

Programs for aspiring illustrators are offered through the Illustration Department. Options include a BFA and a Minor in Illustration. The Minor is 15 credit hours, including nine credits of illustration electives. Students will choose credits from the BFA Program.

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,” says the school. Course highlights include 2D Design, 2D and 3D Techniques, Anatomical Figure Illustration, Beyond the Portfolio, Concepts & Methods/Visual Culture, Creative Perspective, Digital Fundamentals, Figure Illustration, Future Illustration Media, Illustration Intensive, Illustration Techniques, Junior Illustration Studio, and Visual Narration.

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.” Career options include Advertising, Illustration, Children’s Book Illustrator, Comic Book Artist, Creative Director, Digital Compositor, Editorial Illustrator, Graphic Novel Illustrator, Illustrator for Video Games/Film,  Motion Illustrator/Designer, Multimedia Designer, Storyboard Artist, Visual Artist, Visual Development Illustrator, Web Designer, and many others.

Graduates of the BFA program may also enroll in any of CCA’s MFA Programs in Color and Materials Design, Interaction Design, Systems Design Thinking (formerly Integrated Design), and Transportation Design.

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

Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) was established in 1885 as a Sketch Club. Today, the school serves nearly 700 students, enrolled in 13 BFA programs with courses taught by practicing artists, designers, and scholars. The Department of Illustration houses the school’s BFA in Illustration Program.

Program highlights include mandatory collaborative assignments, studio and classroom technology that prepares “students for diverse areas of professional practice,” says the school, and the opportunity to “work in digital and analog environments designed to facilitate creativity and interdisciplinary approaches to image making.” To enhance the degree, students may also double major in Creative Writing and Illustration. A mandatory internship is also part of the program.

KCAI Illustration students have interned at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the American Jazz Museum, The Kansas City Star, Porter Teleo design firm, Boulevard Brewing Company, and other noted businesses in the area.

Courses for the BFA in Illustration Program are taught by Department faculty members who are all “practicing professionals working in the four corners of the illustration field,” including Advertising, Editorial, Institutional and Publishing. Course highlights include Analytical Drawing Systems, Covers and Pages Graphic Form for Illustrators, Illustration Professional Practice, Mechanical Perception, Paper and Ink, Sketchbook: The Cultural Safari, and US: Collaboration, Teamwork and Flexibility.

Students will also complete a several studio courses each year during the sophomore thru senior years. Studios include Sophomore Studio: Organic Perceptions, Sophomore Studio: Image and Form, Junior Studio: Conceptual Problem Solving, Junior Studio: Exploring Narrative Image, Senior Studio: Image and Thesis, and Senior Studio: Image Thesis II.

Potential job opportunities for Graduates of the KCAI Illustration BFA Program include Advertising, Children’s Books, Comic Books, Computer Gaming, Digital Animation, Editorial Illustration, Greeting Cards, Fashion Illustration, Graphic Novels, Magazine and Book Illustration, Movie and Music Posters, Product Design/Branding, Web Design, and more.

Recent graduates can be found working at American Greetings, Hallmark, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nike, and many others. Their work has been featured in many publications such as The New York Times, Wired, and Women’s Day, and numerous children’s books. Some graduates have won awards in publications such as American Illustration, Communication Arts, Print, 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 around 600 students from across the country and around the world. The school, which has 15 majors in the Craft, Design, Digital Arts, and Fine Arts, offers BFA degrees in Illustration and Life Sciences Illustration. Students in both programs will enter their major as a sophomore and “spend three intense years building skills and mastering techniques,” says the school.

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.

Course highlights include Character Design and Development, Community Projects, Graphic Novels and Sequential Art, Illustration: Advanced Illustration Studio Projects, and Illustration for Publication. Students will also complete a BFA Preparation course, Final Project: Illustration Portfolio, and the Illustration Internship.

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 science and art to create visual solutions for the public and researchers, as they prepare students for graduate education beyond.” Students will work on topics in Biological, Botanical, Zoological, and health sciences while becoming proficient in Animation, Illustration, and Information Design. Students will learn how to blend their “artistic talent with a researcher's intellect, displaying strong visual communication skills.”

Course highlights include 3D Bioforms: Intro to Modeling, Anatomy for the Artists, Cellular + Molecular Illustration, Digital Color: Style + Representation in Science, Educational Media Installation, Life Sciences Illustration: Advanced problems, Concepts, and Media, Information Visualization, Life Sciences Illustration: Forensic Imaging/Modeling, Natural Science and Zoological Illustration, Serious Game Design: Theory + Applications Surgical Illustration, and Veterinary Illustration. Students will complete a Portfolio, BFA Thesis and Exhibition, and an Internship.

Other program highlights include CIA’s Engaged Practice, which provides opportunities to learn through experience by working on real-world projects with external partners or clients, or in the public sphere—all before graduation. CIA has professional partnerships with Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland Clinic, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

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

6. Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri
Washington University in St. Louis

Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis serves nearly 15,000 students enrolled in more than more than 90 fields of study in seven schools. The Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts consists of the College of Art, the College of Architecture, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Founded in 1879, the College of Art was the first professional, university-affiliated art school in the United States, and is the only art school to have fathered a major metropolitan art museum.

The College of Architecture was established in 1910, and has the distinction of being one of the 10 founding members of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (formerly the Washington University Gallery of Art) was founded in 1881 as the first art museum west of the Mississippi River.

The Sam Fox School, College of Art, offers a BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration, and an MFA in Illustration + Visual Culture. A Design Minor that allows students to mix and match courses in areas such as Communication, Design, and Illustration, and the Illustrated Book Studio, is also available.

The BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration is a collaborative program that 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, advertising, and creating pictures for games and motion graphics.

During their senior year, “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, fully residential 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, Illustration 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, Critical Writers on Popular Culture, Curatorial Staff in Museums, Libraries, and Auction Houses, and Professors of Illustration.  

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 is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD)—a consortium of 39 leading art schools in the United States and Canada.

MIAD serves nearly 900 degree-seeking students, 600 pre-college students, and 250 outreach/special programs students enrolled in five BFA degree programs and more than a dozen minors. Programs include Communication Design, Illustration, Interior Architecture and Design, New Studio Practice: Fine Arts, and Product Design.

Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration and a 15-credit Illustration Minor. BFA 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 also complement the degree with a Studio Minor such as Art Management, Book Arts or Digital Media Production. Popular Liberal Studies Minors include Advertising, Copywriting, and Writing.

Graduates of the MIAD BFA in Illustration Program are prepared for positions in everything from Advertising to Publishing to Web Design as in-house Illustrators, Freelancers, or Entrepreneurs.

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

Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) was founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. Serving nearly 7,000 students from all 50 states and 60 countries, Columbia offers 150 majors, minors, and graduate programs. Programs for aspiring illustrators include BA and BFA degrees in Illustration.

The BA is a flexible program that allows students to choose a minor or second major. Minor that complement the degree in Illustration 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.

Course highlights for the program include Cartooning, Children’s Book Illustration, Design Lab, Design Thinking, Digital Illustration, Drawing the Graphic Novel, Figure Drawing, Freelance Illustration, Illustration Studio I-III, Illustration: Materials & Techniques, and Survey of Typography. A Portfolio course is part of the program as well as a mandatory internship. Both BA and BFA students typically intern at an advertising agency, art gallery or design firm.

The BFA requires more advanced illustration courses than the BA program does, which leaves little time for a minor or a second major. BFA students will also take many of the same courses as BA students will, along with a Portfolio Development course and the internship. Because many illustrators work independently, both the Ba and BFA programs emphasize business skills in entrepreneurship and freelance. Students will learn how to write contracts, talk to clients, complete taxes, and self-promote through branding and identity.

The BA and BFA Illustration Programs at Columbia prepare students for positions in industries such as Advertising, Book and Magazine Publishing, Entertainment/Film, Fashion, and Product Packaging.

Program alumni are Cover Illustrators for The New Yorker, Professional Illustrators and Graphic Artists for HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Illustrators for advertising campaigns on films such as Baby Driver, and Illustrators for American Express, TimeOut Magazine, VICE Media, and many others.

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

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. KCAD offers BFAs in Illustration and Medical Illustration and a 15 credit hour Minor in Illustration.

Launched in the 1960s, the BFA in Illustration focuses on the traditions of illustration, while incorporating a wide variety of media, techniques, and processes—traditional and digital. The “focused study of illustration will be complimented by courses in drawing, digital imagery, art history, and studio electives,” says the school, helping them broaden both their “perspective” and “notions of creative possibility.”

Course highlights for the program include Advanced Inking, Digital Illustration Painting, Graphic Design for the Illustrator, Illustration Life Drawing, Illustration Professional Practices, Illustration Techniques, Narrative Perspective, Natural Science Illustration, Rendering, and Watercolor Techniques for the Illustrator. Students will also have the opportunity to build a Professional Portfolio of their best work.

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

Graduates of the BFA program are prepared to pursue careers such as Art Director, Cartoonist, Editorial Illustrator, Fashion Illustrator, Freelance Illustrator, Mural Designer, Storyboard Illustrator, and more.

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. “Through a blend of focused artistic instruction and scientific exploration, students learn to transform complex information into compelling visual communication.” Students in the program will take a combination of Art, Communication, and Science courses. Examples include Dialogue and Personality, Digital Illustration Painting, Human Gross Anatomy, Medical Illustration Animation I-II, Medical Illustration Methods I-II, Pathophysiology, Professional Practices for the Medical Illustrator, and Writing.

Medical Illustration students will also complete the Capstone course: Advanced Problems in Biomedical Art. Graduates of the BFA in Medical Illustration 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

Established in 1969, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) serves 29,390 students enrolled in 450 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in 19 distinct schools and colleges. The Herron School of Art + Design offers a BFA in Drawing + Illustration. The school also offers an MFA in Visual Arts.

The BFA is a professional degree that includes access to the latest equipment and technology in the student’s choice of studio space, 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 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.”

Coursework, which consists of extensive studio experience in both Drawing and Illustration, includes Advanced Drawing & Illustration, Building & Making, Digital Rendering, Image & 4D Studio, Intermediate Illustration, Narrative Drawing, and Studio Art & Technology.

Graduates of the BFA in Drawing + Illustration 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.

The MFA in Visual Arts is a flexible degree that highlights private studio space, exposure to artists, designers, and industry professionals through Herron's endowed lecture series, and cross-campus and city-wide collaborations and commissions with Herron's and Indianapolis' many cultural institutions, social initiatives, and corporate and government partners—all facilitated by Basile Center for Art, Design and Public Life. Study abroad trips are also part of the program.