What are the top illustration schools in the Midwest for 2022?

Top 10 Illustration Schools in the Midwest - 2022 College Rankings
1Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio
2Minneapolis College of Art & DesignMinnesota
3College for Creative StudiesMichigan
4Cleveland Institute of ArtOhio
5Kansas City Art InstituteMissouri
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 2022 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. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio
Columbus College of Art and Design

Columbus College of Art and Design has an Illustration Program with BFA and Minor options. Students in the BFA Program have the opportunity to specialize in an area of illustration or other creative area through a Concentration or Minor. Minors consists of 15 credit hours and concentrations are nine credit hours. Minor examples include Business, Comics & Narrative Practice, Animation 2D or 3D, Film & Video, Advertising & Graphic Design, Copywriting, Design Research, Photography, Narrative Practice, and Industrial Design.

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

Students in both the BFA and Illustration Minor have access to state-of-the-art labs and equipment such as 2D and 3D illustration labs, a computer lab with Cintiq monitors, ZBrush, and Adobe software, a printmaking lab, and the CCA FabLab, which includes 3D printers and laser cutters, spray booths, and CNC machines. Other program features include visiting artists and scholars, courses taught by industry professionals, projects such as Spitball, which allows students to collaborate with professional writers, and participation in Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, which hosts professional panels and lectures led by animators, cartoon storytellers, and comic artists.

The CCAD Illustration BFA Program culminates with an Illustration Portfolio Project and Illustration Capstone.

Graduates of the Columbis College of Art and Design Illustration BFA Program have been hired for a wide variety of roles at major advertising agencies, companies, and studios such as Hasbro, Cartoon Network, DC Comics, Ogilvy & Mather, Hallmark, Marvel Comics, Disney Consumer Products (DCP), Sony Pictures, Boeing, Pixar, American Greetings, Wall Street Journal, DreamWorks Animation, Williams Sonoma, CBS News, Bath & Body Works, and Forever 21.

Columbus College of Art & Design is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). CCAD is also affiliated with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). Established in 1879, Columbus College of Art & Design was is one of the nation’s oldest private, nonprofit art and design schools. Serving more than 1,000 students, CCAD offers 11 BFA programs, one MFA degree, and one MPS.

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

The Illustration Program at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) takes place in a collaborative environment where students work with peers from all majors. Leading to a BFA, the Illustration Program consists of core required courses, foundation studies, studio electives, and humanities and sciences electives. Studio electives provide hands-on time as well as the opportunity to focus in an area of interest within illustration.

Course examples include Tools of the trade, Concepts and Metaphors, Digital Illustration, Illustration and Products, Illustrated Notebook, Editorial Illustration, Professional Practice, Children’s Book, Illustration Topics, and Advanced Illustration Seminar. In the Professional Practice course, students will have opportunities to work on projects such as promotional materials and art for an advertising campaign, illustrations for a textbook, or a poster for a nonprofit client.

Minor options provide additional opportunities to specialize in an area of interest. Minor options include Advertising, Print Paper Book, Animation, Creative writing, Graphic Design, and Entrepreneurship, among others. Students may also complete the Illustration Foundations Certificate before applying to any BFA or Minor program. 

All MCAD Illustration students may complete an internship, which provides an opportunity for students to gain valuable on-the-job skills and practical experience in a particular career area. The MCAD Study Abroad Program provides additional opportunities fort experiential learning. In partnership with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) Exchange Program, the MCAD Study Abroad Program provides experiences at AICAD schools in the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, China, and Singapore.

The culminating experience for the Illustration BFA Program is the Senior Project course (Capstone). Worth six credit hours, the project allows students to complete a series of illustrations for their portfolio, or undertake a research project, or address an in-depth illustration problem. Capstone Projects may also focus on the advancement of a particular strength or style.

Graduates of the Art and Design Programs at Minneapolis College of Art and Design enjoy a 93% employment rate. Nearly 60% of all graduates find positions in their respective fields. MCAD alumni are Illustrators for the American Harry Potter Books and others, for Advertising Agencies, Comic Books, the Court System, Newspapers and Magazines, Fashion Designers, and in the Medical and Technical fields.

Minneapolis College of Art and Design is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). MCAD is also affiliated with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). Established in 1886, Minneapolis College of Art and Design serves more than 800 students enrolled in 14 undergraduate majors leading to a BFA or BS, three programs leading to an MA, including the new MA in Creative Leadership, one MFA program, and five professional development certificate programs.

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

The Illustration Department at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) has an Illustration Program with BFA and Minor options. The 15 credit hour Minor requires includes nine credits of illustration electives. All courses will be selected from the Illustration BFA Program.

The College for Creative Studies Illustration BFA requires completion of 126-127 credit hours including 78 in studio areas, 42-43 in general studies courses, and six in general elective courses. BFA students may add the Art Education Certification curriculum, which requires an additional 27 credit hours. In addition to major coursework, BFA students will take courses in the Foundation Department in the first year of the program where they will study 2D and 3D design, digital tools, and drawing. Students in all CCS majors must also take courses in the Liberal Arts Department. Full-time students can expect to complete six academic hours and 24 studio hours each week.

One of two major components of the Illustration BFA Program is the opportunity to select a Pathway. Each Pathway allows students to create a focused portfolio for studio-based or freelance careers in Illustration. With the Entrepreneurial Studies Concentration, students who choose a pathway will also be prepared to launch their own studios. Pathway options include Comics and Sequential, Gallery Artist, Fashion, Lifestyle, and Licensing, Publishing, and Visual Development.

The second major component of the Illustration BFA Program is the Internship Experience. Upper division students have the opportunity to work some of the top local and global brands, corporations, studios, and museums. Examples include Cartoon Network, Converse, Disney Consumer Products, Hasbro, HoMedics, Insomniac Games, Anthropologie, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Diane von Furstenberg, Fisher Price, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Moosejaw, Reader’s Digest, Museum of Fine Art, Grand Rapids Symphony, WJBK Fox 2 News, the Museum of American Illustration, and Spark Communications.

Graduates of the CCS Illustration BFA Program go on to establish successful careers with industry leaders such as Disney, Nike, The Washington Post, Cartoon Network, Ford, Adidas, ESPN, Blizzard Entertainment, Converse, and The New York Times.

The College for Creative Studies is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Founded in 1906 as the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, CCS serves more than 1,400 students enrolled in more than 20 art and design programs leading to a BFA, MA, or MFA.

4. Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland Institute of Art

Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) has an Illustration BFA Program that is one of only a few BFA degrees of its kind in the United States. Designed for artists who have an interest in art and science, the CIA BFA in Life Sciences Illustration explores topics such as botanical, biological, and zoological sciences, and animation, illustration, and information design. The program also covers areas such as research methods, serious game design, animation, sound design, interactive design, and professional development.

Course examples for the program include Cellular + Molecular Illustration, Life Sciences Illustration: Advanced Problems, Concepts, + Media, Serious Game Design: Theory + Applications, Educational Media Installation, Veterinary Illustration, 3D Animation, Digital Color: Style + Representation in Science, Line: Information Visualization, Surgical Illustration & Media, Gross Anatomy, Principles of Biology I-II, Digital Biomedical Illustration (EP), Life Sciences Illustration: Forensic Imaging/Modeling, Anatomy for the Artist, Applied Portfolio and Professional Strategies, Sound Design Fundamentals, and Natural Science + Zoological Illustration (EP). An internship is also part of the program.

In the Applied Portfolio and Professional Strategies course, students will gain insight into art practice and leadership in the business environment. They will develop applied portfolios in online and offline media, demo reels, and print-related materials relating to professional packages (business cards, resumes, cover letters, etc.). Life Sciences Illustration students will also learn about copyrights, budgeting, contracts, marketing, and presentations as they relate to commercial-based work and freelance careers.

The Life Sciences Illustration BFA Program at Cleveland Institute of Art culminates with the BFA Thesis and Exhibition. Graduates have been hired for positions such as Biomedical Illustrator, 3D Animation Artist/Designer, Illustrator, Forensics Illustrator, and Art Director, among others.

For students interested in a traditional illustration program, CIA has an Illustration BFA Program that focuses on learning by doing. Students will work on a variety of real-world projects with CIA partners and clients—all before graduation. Students in the CIA Illustration BFA will learn how to work with traditional materials and techniques, such as acrylics, oils, and inks, collage, and pencils as well as industry software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. The skills learned in the program will prepare student for positions in advertising, animation, publishing, entertainment, gaming, and comics, among others.

Course examples for the program include Picture Book Illustration, Layout Rendering Techniques, Illustration for Publication, Character Design + Development, Professional Standards in Illustration, Graphic Novels + Sequential Art, Illustration: Advanced Illustration Studio Projects, Illustration I-II, Community Projects, and Visual Concepts in Illustration. Students will also complete an internship.

The Illustration BFA Program at Cleveland Institute of Art culminates with the BFA Thesis and Exhibition.

Students in all CIA Illustration Programs will have their own studio space, along with access to Integrated Media Environment Facilities, lighting and shooting spaces, a sound recording studio, and the fabrication studios. Other program benefits include visiting artists, networking opportunities with employers, illustrators, and designers who are invited to CIA each year, small-group seminars, professional writing courses, and travel to professional art studios, advertising agencies, and others.

Cleveland Institute of Art is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Chartered in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women, this independent, not-for-profit college serves around 600 students enrolled in 13 majors in  entertainment arts, design, fine arts, and crafts.

5. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri

Programs at Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) take place in a professional studio environment where students learn by doing. All programs begin with the KCAI Foundation Program. This immersive experience lasts a full year and includes dedicated industrial studios, collaborative programs, 16 contact hours of studio per week, workshops, collaborative projects and problem-solving, independent work and storage spaces, faculty mentors, and training in the Print Center (digital design and output), Beals Studios (digital fabrication), and Central Shop (woodworking).

During this first-year program, students will also participate in the Foundation Seminar, which provides the opportunity to interact with artists, activists, and alumni.

The Illustration BFA Program at Kansas City Art Institute is housed in the Department of Illustration. Students in the program will complete a mandatory internship and a number of collaborative assignments. KCAI Illustration BFA students have interned at The Kansas City Star, Boulevard Brewing Company, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the American Jazz Museum, and Porter Teleo Design Firm, among others. In addition to an internship, BFA students will have the opportunity to double major in Creative Writing and Illustration.

Graduates of the Illustration BFA Program at Kansas City Art Institute have won awards presented by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Print, and Communication Arts. They have been recruited by Nike, Nickelodeon, American Greetings, MTV and Hallmark, and their work has been featured in numerous children’s books and in publications such as Wired, The New York Times, and Women’s Day.

Kansas City Art Institute is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Established in 1885 as a Sketch Club, serves more than 700 students enrolled in 13 studio majors in 15 program areas. In addition to Illustration, examples include Animation, Creative Writing, Filmmaking, Graphic Design, Product Design, Photography, and Sculpture. 

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

Washington University in St. Louis houses the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. Within the Sam Fox School (est. 2006) are the Colleges of Art and Architecture, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. The Sam Fox College of Art has two pathways for Illustrators: a BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration, and an MFA in Illustration + Visual Culture (MFA-IVC). A Design Minor is also available and allows students to mix and match courses in areas such as Illustration, the Illustrated Book Studio, Communication, and Design.

The Communication Design BFA with an Emphasis in Illustration is a collaborative program that explores Illustration, Interaction Design, and Graphic Design. Students in the program can focus on illustrating stories, the history of printed images, creating comics, illustrating for advertising, creating pictures for games and motion graphics, or designing printed posters and books.

The Sam Fox Communication Design BFA culminates with a Capstone Project. For this final project, students have created zines, comics, illustrated books, graphic novels, screen-based art, and digital experiences. Capstone Projects are displayed in a public exhibition and reviewed by design professionals.

The Illustration + Visual Culture MFA is a two-year, fully residential program that consists of 50% illustration studio work, 20% visual culture, history and theory, 15-20% hands-on archive work, and 10-15% electives. Electives allow students to focus in specific areas of art, design and entertainment. Elective examples include Branding and Identity, Game Design, Image & Story, Typography, Printmaking, Book Arts, Illustration Concepts and Media, Narrative Comics, Animated Worlds, Type and Image: Experiments on Press, Visual Culture, The Illustrator’s Sketchbook, Applied Illustration, Art History, and Painting.

Consisting of 60 credit hours, the MFA-IVC requires courses such as The Illustrated Periodical, Comics & Cartooning: A Critical Survey, Readings in Visual & Material Culture, Special Collections: Exhibitions & Engagement, Graduate Drawing Studio, and Special Collections: Research Methods. The MFA-IVC Program at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts requires an internship and two final Thesis courses including Thesis Studio 1: Drawing & Voice, and Thesis Studio 2 for a total of 18 credit hours.

Graduates of the Sam Fox MFA-IVC Program are prepared for positions such as Curatorial Staff in Museums, Libraries, and Auction Houses, Critical Writers on Popular Culture, Professors of Illustration, and Author-Artists of Graphic Novels and Picture Books, among others.  

Washington University in St. Louis has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) since 1913. Founded in 1853, the school serves nearly 16,250 students enrolled in more than 300 academic programs in seven schools. The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts was founded in 2006 after the merging of the academic units of Architecture and Art, and the Washington University in St. Louis Museum.  

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

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) has an Illustration Program that leads to a BFA. A major component of the program is MIAD’s Illustration Seminar where students can network through workshops led by industry professionals and alumni. Internships, semester-long study abroad opportunities, and portfolio development courses are part of the program as well as access to MIAD’s new Illustration studios and classrooms and the Emerging Technology Center.

The Illustration BFA Program explores traditional and digital illustration, visual communication, design, and art direction. Course examples Illustration I-IV, Research, Process and Connection, Fabrication, Illustration Seminar I-II, Visual Language, Critical and Creative Forms, Illustration Media, Digital 4D, Computer Studio, Typography, Patterns in Nature, Senior Writing Seminar, and Professional Practice for Illustrators. Students may add a Minor to enhance the degree. Popular Minor options include Book Arts, Advertising, Digital Media Production, Copywriting, Arts Management, Business, and Writing.

The Illustration Program at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design culminates with the Illustration Thesis Project, Portfolio, and MIAD Exhibition. Students are required to be actively involved in the overall preparation of the general MIAD Thesis Exhibition including signage, gallery monitoring, lighting crew, painting crew, etc.

Graduates of the MIAD Illustration BFA Program are prepared to launch their own studios and freelance businesses, or pursue positions in advertising, publishing, animation, fashion, editorial, exhibit design, graphic design, game design, new media, comics, architecture, storyboard art, medical illustration, forensic illustration, children’s book illustration, textile design, and technical illustration.

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD)—a consortium of 42 top non-profit, independent colleges of art and design in the United States and Canada. Founded in 1974, MIAD is Wisconsin’s only four-year, private college of visual art and design. The school serves 900 degree-seeking students, 600 pre-college students, and 250 outreach/special programs students. MIAD offers seven majors and tracks leading to BFA and 13 programs leading to a Minor.

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

The Illustration Program at Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) has BA and BFA pathways that explore both traditional and digital illustration, visual storytelling, and business (freelance, salaried, and contract). Students in both programs will develop skills through hands-on client-focused projects. Courses will expose students to cartooning, digital illustration, drawing, typography, figure drawing, and painting. And the mandatory internship offers the chance to obtain real work experience at an advertising agency, design studio or art gallery.

The BFA Program is a professionally focused degree that requires advanced coursework, with few elective options. The BA allows students to add a Minor or Double Major. Minor examples include Animation, Motion Graphics, Game Art, Journalism, Creative Writing, and Graphic Design. Second major examples include Graphic Design, Computer Animation, and Game Art.

Course examples across programs include Illustration Studio I-III, Illustration: Materials & Techniques, Survey of Typography, Cartooning, Figure Drawing, Drawing the Graphic Novel, Digital Illustration, Freelance Illustration, Special issues in Illustration, Visual Culture, Children’s Book Illustration, Design Lab, Concept Art, and Design Thinking. All Illustration students will develop a professional portfolio to graduate as the culminating experience for the programs.

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.

Examples of career paths for graduates of the Illustration Programs at Columbia College Chicago include animation, film and television, advertising, corporate literature (brochures, magazines, flyers, letterhead, ad artwork), game art, book and magazine publishing, and branding and packaging, among others.

Columbia College Visual Arts alumni have worked with and for Walt Disney Animation Studios, The New Yorker, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, WBEZ Chicago, American Express, VICE Media, House of Vans, Chronicle Books, HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Goose Island Beer Co., TimeOut Magazine, and Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine, among others.

Columbia College Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory, Columbia serves 7,000 students enrolled in more than 150 majors, minors, and graduate programs. Study areas include Communication and Writing, Media and Digital, Music and Sound, and Business Management.

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

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) has a BFA Program with Illustration and Life Sciences and Pre-Medical Illustration options. A 15 credit-hour Illustration Minor is also available and consists of three Illustration electives, Introduction to Illustration, and Illustration Techniques. Across degree programs, Illustration students benefit from participation in the KCAD Illustration Society, summer travel/study experiences, and internships during the academic year and summer months. All students have access to KCAD galleries, labs, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA).

The KCAD Illustration BFA was established in the early 1960s. The program explores both traditional and emerging media, with 27 required semester hours of supportive studio courses and 39 credit hours of major studio courses. Course examples include Narrative Perspective, Design: Image, Rendering, Digital Illustration Painting, Illustration I-III, Advanced Inking, Natural Science Illustration, Graphic Design/Illustration, and Illustration Professional Practice. The KCAD Illustration BFA culminates with the completion of a portfolio of the student’s best work.

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

The Life Science & Pre-Medical Illustration (Life Sci & Pre-Med Illustration) Program at KCAD combines general education courses with courses that explore medical illustration methods, computer-aided 3D design, medical terminology, drawing, computer animation, traditional media illustration and rendering. Courses for the professional, three-year BFA Program are delivered through KCAD, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and Michigan State University. Course examples include Medical Illustration Methods I-III, Medical Illustration Animation, Making: Product, Illustration Digital Methods, Illustration Techniques, Dialogue & Personality, Graphic Design for Illustrators, and Medical Animation. The Life Sci & Pre-Med Illustration BFA Program culminates with Advanced Problems in Biomedical Art, the Capstone course.

Graduates of the KCAD Life Sci & Pre-Med Illustration BFA Program are prepared for advanced positions in the fields of Medical and Scientific Illustration. Some graduates go on to establish successful freelance careers, others go on to graduate study.

Ferris State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Established in 1884 and  located in Big Rapids, Michigan, the school serves 11,165 students enrolled in more than 190 programs across seven degree-granting colleges. Kendall College of Art and Design is one of the seven colleges within Ferris State University. Founded in 1928, and located in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, KCAD serves more than 1,000 students enrolled in dozens of specialized undergraduate degree programs and several graduate and certificate programs.

As part of Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art and Design is accredited by the HLC. KCAD of Ferris State University is also an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

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

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) houses Herron School of Art and Design (Herron), which has been educating art and design students for 120 years. Serving more than 650 students today, Herron School of Art and Design provides 21 majors, minors, and certificate programs across dozens of classrooms and 70+ studio spaces. Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), Herron also provides access to 10,000+ square feet of exhibition space and numerous labs, critique spaces, and fabrication spaces.

For students seeking a career in Illustration, Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University-Purdue University has a Drawing + Illustration BFA Program with the option to add a Book Arts or Production Minor. The curriculum, which consists of extensive studio experience in both Illustration and Drawing and Illustration, includes courses such as Building & Making, Image & 4D Studio, Drawing I-IV, Intermediate Illustration I-II, Digital Rendering, Advanced Drawing & Illustration I and II (Capstone), Narrative Drawing, and Professional Practice in Visual Arts I-II. A Senior Thesis is required to graduate.

Graduates of the IUPUI Herron Drawing + Illustration BFA Program are prepared to launch their own studios or freelance businesses or pursue salaried positions such Editorial Illustrator, Toy or Product Designer, Comic Artist, Animator, Scientific or Technical Illustrator, Children's Book Illustrator, Storyboard or Concept Artist, Graphic Novelist, Packaging Designer, or Set or Exhibition Designer, among others.

Indiana University (est. 1820) and Purdue University (est. 1869) merged in 1969 to create what is known today as Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), IUPUI serves 27,690 students enrolled in more than 550 degrees and majors across 17 degree-granting schools.