What are the top private illustration schools for 2021?

Top 20 Private Illustration Schools - 2021 Rankings
1School of Visual ArtsNew York
2ArtCenter College of DesignCalifornia
3Rhode Island School of DesignRhode Island
4Ringling College of Art and DesignFlorida
5Savannah College of Art and DesignGeorgia
6Pratt InstituteNew York
7Maryland Institute College of ArtMaryland
8California College of the ArtsCalifornia
9The New School’s Parsons School of DesignNew York
10Otis College of Art and DesignCalifornia
11Minneapolis College of Art & DesignMinnesota
12Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio
13College for Creative StudiesMichigan
14Kansas City Art InstituteMissouri
15Syracuse UniversityNew York
16Cleveland Institute of ArtOhio
17Laguna College of Art and DesignCalifornia
18Washington University in St. Louis Missouri
19Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia
20Brigham Young UniversityUtah

Our 2021 list of the Top 20 Private Illustration Schools in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York
School of Visual Arts

Founded in 1947, the School of Visual Arts (SVA) began as the Cartoonists and Illustrators school with just three teachers and 35 students—most of whom were World War II Veterans. Today, SVA serves 7,000 students enrolled in 31 programs. Offerings for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration and an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay. A BFA in Cartooning is also available.

SVA has the largest illustration faculty of any school in America. In addition to employing 69 faculty members, the SVA Illustration Department serves 473 students enrolled in more than 75 courses.

The BFA curriculum consists of 120 credit hours of study) 72 in studio, 30 in humanities and sciences, 15 in art history, and three in elective courses. Course highlights for the program include Bookmaking and Linocut Inventions, Digital Coloring for Cartoonists, Digital Workshop: Music to Your Eyes, Experimental Animation, Fur, Feathers and Scales: Animal Anatomy, Introduction to Puppetry, Photocopy Zines, Pictorial Problems, Realistic and Fantastical Digital Painting, Storyboarding for Animation, and The Gouache Experience.

Students will also complete a number of seminars and workshops, Professional Practice: Illustration, and several Illustration Portfolio courses.

SVA students have landed assignments for The New Yorker, The New York Press, Mad Magazine, and The Village Voice—all before graduating from the program. Students are also frequent winners of the highest awards at the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, and many other industry-based student competitions.

Established in 1984, the MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay is a competitive program that accepts just 20 students per year. Students in the program can expect to complete requirements in Computer Illustration, Creative Writing, Drawing, Painting, Storytelling, and Visual Essay. Students will also complete a number of workshops, an Illustration Business Book Camp, and the course Thesis Project: Visual Essay.

Other highlights for the two-year program include close interaction with faculty, a personal workspace with 24/7 access, and the opportunity to audit classes in animation, film, fine arts and humanities. The program also hosts regularly scheduled guest speakers from the New York professional arts community. Access to working artists, gallery shows, museum exhibitions, and internships are also available.

Graduates of SVA’s Illustration Department have gone on to work on films such as Sleepy Hollow and for designers such as Prada and Van’s.

2. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
ArtCenter College of Design

Founded in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design sits on a hillside campus that consists of 165 wooded acres and a sprawling modernist steel-and-glass structure. The school also has campuses in downtown Pasadena and Los Angeles, and satellite studios in Petersen Automotive Museum (Miracle Mile, Los Angeles) and Berlin, Germany.

Serving approximately 2,335 students, ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs in a variety of Applied Arts, Industrial Design, and Visual disciplines. The Industrial Design Program offers a joint MS/MBA in partnership with the Drucker School of Management. Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration and an Interdisciplinary MFA.

The BFA curriculum “encompasses a wide range of core studies and collaborations with other disciplines that equips students with strong practical skills, as well as substantial business knowledge,” says the school. “After mastering foundations skills such as figure drawing, painting and perspective, students choose from five main areas of specialization: Illustration Design, Illustration/Fine Art, Entertainment Arts, Motion Design and Surface Design.”

Course highlights include Children’s Book Illustration, Composition and Drawing, Digital Illustration, Drawing Projects, Head and Hands Materials of Art and Design, Illustration Design Lab, Illustration Storytelling, and Sketching for Illustration. Students will also take Business and Professional Practices, Notorious or Application Studio, and several Portfolio Design Lab courses.

Graduates of the program have been hired by ArtCenter industry partners such as Apple, Blizzard, DreamWorks, Google, Mattel, Walt Disney, and more.

Notable Illustration alumni include Drew Struzan, Movie Poster Illustrator for Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, the Muppets, Star Wars and others; Mark “Crash” McCreery Creature Designer/Concept Designer for Batman Returns, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Phil Hettema, Experiential Designer for The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man, Jurassic Park: The Ride, and Hello Kitty Park; and Rockstar Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.

3. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island School of Design

Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is one of the first art and design schools in the U.S. Serving approximately 2,500 students from across the U.S. and 57 other countries, the school has 19 studio majors and leading to bachelor’s or master’s degrees in the Fine Arts, Architecture, Design or Art Education. The school’s most popular programs are Illustration, Film/Animation/Video (FAV), Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and Painting.  

Offered through the Illustration Department, the BFA in Illustration is RISD’s largest major. Like all RISD students, Illustration students will take first-year studios in Experimental and Foundation Studies, followed by a major course of study in a specific Fine Arts or Design discipline beginning sophomore year. “Rigorous courses in Liberal Arts enrich studio learning,” says the school. “Undergraduate students have the option of building on their degree programs to concentrate in one of six additional areas of study beyond a studio major. Concentrations at RISD are similar to “minors” at other colleges and universities. Totally optional, they offer important context and perspective while enriching the overall educational experience both in and beyond the studio.”

Other program highlights include access to computer resources, printmaking studios, software such as AfterEffects, InDesign and Maya, a full roster of visiting artists and art directors, access to ISB Gallery, which hosts a mix of student or curriculum related exhibitions throughout the academic year, and professionals from across the country who offer feedback through annual portfolio reviews.

Course highlights for the program include Advanced Painting, Animalia, Cinematic Storytelling, Digital 3D for Illustrators, Dragon Concept & Character Development, In 3-d Mixed Media, Fantasy Painting: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, Style & Substance, Merging Worlds, The Magic of Books, Virtual Reality for Palliative Care, Visible Cities, and Word, Images and Ideas. Students will take workshops such as Maya Basics, Pigments & Emulsions, and Zbrush Sculpting and Illustration as well.

Graduates of the art and design programs at RISD work as entrepreneurs or creative professionals at studios such as DreamWorks, Harmonix, and Pixar, and for networks like Fox, HBO, and PBS. Notable RISD graduates include Daniel Sousa, Animator and Director of the Oscar-nominated film Feral, Lance Wilder, Animator for The Simpsons, and Seth Macfarlane, Creator of Family Guy.

4. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida
Ringling College of Art and Design

Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) was founded in 1931 by Dr. Ludd M. Spivey, president of Southern College (now Florida Southern College) and circus baron, John Ringling. When it opened, the school had just 75 students and 111 course offerings. Today, RCAD serves more than 1,600 students from 45 states, 60 countries, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

This private, not-for-profit college offers BFA degrees in eleven disciplines and BA degrees in two. Students in all programs benefit from RCAD’s “rigorous curriculum” that the school says “employs the studio model of teaching and immediately engages students through a comprehensive program that is both specific to the major of study and focused on the liberal arts.” Students also benefit from visiting artists from major studios such as DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios, focused internship opportunities, and the chance to work with local businesses on real-world projects.

Program options for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration with a General Illustration or Visual Development Emphasis. The General Illustration Emphasis covers the fundamentals of color theory, composition, anatomy, and digital and traditional media. Offered in the Illustration Department, the program introduces and familiarizes students with professional industry techniques through exercises, demonstrations, guest speakers, critiques, collaborative projects, internships, recruiter workshops, and interactions with real clients in the area.

The Visual Development Emphasis “focuses on concept art, used by illustrators to convey ideas across the entertainment spectrum in industries including gaming, comics, and graphic novels, film, television (live-action and animated), video, toy design, themed entertainment, publishing, and advertising,” says the school. “Students will learn to visualize and create the art for characters and environments that is later used by modelers, animators, designers, visual effects artists, and other creatives to bring the ideas to life through production.”

Course highlights for the General Illustration Emphasis include 3D Design for IL, Advanced Illustration, Design & Typography, Digital Illustration, Figure Anatomy, Illustration Media, Professional Practices, and Visual Development I-IV. Course highlights for the Visual Development Emphasis include 2D Design, Development of Art and Ideas, Film & Narrative, Professional Practices, Visual Development I-IV, and Writing Studio.

Other highlights for the programs include the opportunity to enter a semester-long exchange program or a four-five week summer program at Studio Arts Center International (SACI), located in Florence, Italy, internship opportunities at major companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Blue Sky Studios, Disney, Hasbro, and Pixar, and participation in The Annual Illustration show, Illest of the Ill—a department juried exhibition curated and coordinated entirely by students.

Students in the programs also have access to two Cintiq labs solely for Illustration, access to three 24-hour Cintiq labs, painting and drawing studios, and a laptop for every student, fully equipped with the latest Adobe Creative Suite software.

Ringling College students have won more wards in the 40-year history of the Society of Illustrators than any other college, and comprise the highest number of accepted entries into the Society’s annual Student Scholarship Competition. Graduates leave the programs with a “comprehensive, cohesive portfolio” that showcases their work.  

Employment opportunities include Advertising Illustration, Animation, Children’s Books, Editorial (book cover art, magazine, and newspaper), Interactive Web Illustration, Medical Manuals, Surface Design for Fashion, Medical Manuals, Technical Art, and Visual Effects.

Graduates of the programs have been hired by American Greetings, Apple, Blue Sky Studios, Cartoon Network, Disney, EA Games, GM, Google, Hallmark, Marvel Comics/Lucasfilm, Riot Games, United Airlines, Walt Disney, Zynga, and many others.

5. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978. In addition to the main campus in Savannah, SCAD has locations in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France. Serving more than 14,000 students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries, the school offers more degree programs and specializations than any other art and design university. SCAD also offers plenty of opportunities to study art and design at domestic and international locations.

Offered through the School of Communication Arts SCAD offers a BA in Visual Communication with a Concentration in Illustration (Atlanta, Savannah), a BFA in Illustration (Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah), an MA in Illustration (Atlanta, Savannah, eLearning), and an MFA in Illustration (Atlanta, Savannah, eLearning). Minors include Animated illustration and Publication Design, Scientific Illustration, Illustration for Entertainment, and Illustration for Surface Design. Related degrees include a BFA in Sequential Art (Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah).

The Animated Illustration and Publication Design Minor is offered at the Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Savannah campuses. All other Minors are offered at the Savannah campus only. Minor programs are 25 hours and include courses such as Digital Illustration, Illustrative Anatomy and Perspective, Imaginative Illustration: Character Refinement, and Type and Image for Illustrators.

Students in SCAD’s Illustration degree programs will learn to create “fine-art drawings, bringing ideas, characters and personalities to life using both traditional and digital techniques,” says the school. Students will work in a “professional environment through a program structured like a working studio,” and they will “develop a personal style and technique, learning to express their own unique vision while forming a well-rounded perspective on design.”

Students in all programs have the opportunity to study outside of their main discipline by taking courses in Advertising, Graphic Design, Motion Media, Printmaking, and Sequential Art. Course highlights include Contextual Character Design, Directed Projects in Illustration, lllustrating Beyond the Page: The Narrative Experience, Illustration Business Strategies and Entrepreneurship, Illustration Markets, Illustration for Publications, and Materials and Techniques.

The BFA in Illustration has four Concentration options including Animated Illustration and Publication Design, Concept Design for Animation and Games, Illustration for Games, and Illustration for Surface Design. Each Concentration requires four courses, and students have the opportunity to choose from 10 elective hours to enhance their focus.

Graduates of the Illustration Programs at SCAD are prepared to take on careers such as Advertising Illustrator, Animation Character Designer, Art Director, Book Illustrator, Editorial Illustrator, Illustrator for Entertainment Design, Illustrator for Game Design, Storyboard Artist, and Surface Design Illustrator. Graduates have been recruited by A&E, Bento Box Entertainment, Comedy Central, Converse, Game Informer, ImagineFX, Revolver Studios, The New York Times, and Walt Disney Imagineering.

6. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
Pratt Institute

Pratt Institute (Pratt) prepares its nearly 5,000 students for careers in Architecture, Art, Design, Information Science and Liberal Arts, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1887 and situated in the historic Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, New York, the school, which offers more than 25 undergraduate degree programs and concentrations along with more than 26 graduate degree programs, has additional campuses in Manhattan and Utica, New York. At the main campus in Brooklyn, students are enrolled in programs in the schools of Architecture, Art, Design, and Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 2014, the School of Design offers “up to four of Pratt’s oldest and most esteemed disciplines,” says the school. This includes Communications Design, Fashion Design, Industrial Design, and Interior Design. Options for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Communications Design with an Illustration Emphasis and AOS and AAS degrees in Illustration, and an AAS in Graphic/Illustration offered in the School of Art.

The school says students who select the BFA with an illustration Emphasis “take a series of upper-level studio courses that explore topics particularly relevant to image-based communication such as advanced storytelling, socio-political commentary and authorship. Courses throughout the major encourage experimentation with multiple technologies, platforms and techniques.”

A variety of unique electives “provide opportunities to explore a wide spectrum of contemporary illustration practice including graphic novels, animation and 3D modeling, independent publishing, editorial illustration, children’s books, concept art and illustrated typography.”

The AOS in Illustration is a career-oriented track, which prepares students for careers in the Art and Design professions. The AAS in Illustration is transfer-oriented track, which positions graduates to transfer directly into the junior year of the Pratt BFA Programs in Fine Arts or Communication Design. The AAS in Graphic Design/Illustration follows an art and design curriculum that includes a liberal arts component that prepares students to transfer to Pratt’s BFA in Communications Design or the Fine Arts Department.

Upon completion of the program, BFA graduates are prepared to seek positions in a variety of industries or they may enroll in Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Arts, which offers an MFA.

Pratt Institute alumni have landed positions at major studios such as Blue Sky, Cartoon Network Studios, Curious Pictures, Digital Domain, DreamWorks Studios, Gameloft, Industrial Light & Magic, Rhythm and Hues, Sony Imageworks, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and more.

7. Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Maryland Institute College of Art

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the nation’s oldest independent, continuously degree-granting college of art and design. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 students from just about every state 50+ countries and it attracts more than 175 visiting art historians, critics, designers, poets, and writers from around the world each year.

MICA offers around 80 programs leading to the BFA, MA, MFA, or MPS degree. Study areas include art education, design, electronic media, fine arts, liberal arts, and professional studies. A number of post-baccalaureate certificate programs are also offered.

Undergraduate programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration with Concentrations in Book Arts, Illustration + Humanistic Studies, Sequential Art, and Studio. Interdisciplinary options for Specialized Study include Studio Concentrations in Animation, Book Arts, Graphic Design, and Printmaking. In addition to first-year and liberal arts requirements, undergraduates will complete 54 credit hours in illustration. Course highlights include Illustration I & II, Life Drawing, Studio Drawing, and Professional Development. 

“Seniors are mentored in two semesters of portfolio building work in Senior Illustration I and II to prepare a solid body of work in order to become professional illustrators,” says the School. “Professional Development for Illustrators includes portfolio preparation, business practice, intellectual property, and copyright issues.”

Graduate programs include an MA in Illustration and an MFA in Illustration Practice. The MA is a one-year program for students interested in a career in illustration or in refining their existing illustration practice. The degree culminates in independent work in the form of a capstone portfolio project, exhibition, and review panel. The MFA is a two-year program that attracts “experienced illustrators, advanced students from related disciplines, including writing, design, animation, film, digital media, etc., and students with a cultivated passion for illustration in all its forms.”

Students in the program will develop an independent, second-year thesis project using a medium appropriate to their personal direction and emerging illustration markets, including an exhibition and accompanying case study book.

Graduates of MICA illustration programs have gone on to land positions as Author and Illustrator of "Nimona," Book Illustrator, Brand Illustrator for Uber, Illustrator and Comic Artist for Random House, and many others. MICA alumni have also continued their education in graduate programs or have successful careers as Freelance Illustrators or with their own studios.

8. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California
California College of the Arts

California College of the Arts (CCA) is a private nonprofit institution founded in 1907 by German-born cabinetmaker and art teacher Frederick Heinrich Wilhelm Meyer. The school opened as the California Guild of Arts and Crafts with just three teachers and 43 students. Today, some 100 full-time and 400 part-time faculty members serve 1,850 students from more than 40 states and nearly 50 countries.

Degree options at CCA include 22 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs. This includes a BFA in Illustration and MFA programs in Comics, Fine Arts, and more. A BFA in an Individualized Major is also available.

The BFA in Illustration is taught by “Award-Winning Illustrators” and “digital innovators using the latest technology,” says the school. The curriculum is interdisciplinary, which allows students to explore courses outside the program such as Animation, Creative Writing, Fine-Art Painting, Graphic Design, and Printmaking. The program also provides the opportunity for students to develop as entrepreneurs through courses such as Portfolio, Professional Practice, and Thesis.

Other course highlights include 2D, 3D & 4D, Illustration Studios 1-3, Illustration Tools: Digital Illustration, Illustration Tools: Painting for Illustrators, Literary & Performing Arts Studies, Media History: History of Illustration, and Visual Studies. 

Thanks to the Illustration Program’s “position within a top art and design college” students have “access to cutting-edge software and digital tools, print and painting studios, shops, labs, and a community of thinkers and makers eager to collaborate.”

Graduates of the CCA’s Illustration Program are prepared to pursue positions at magazines, for the entertainment industry, and for books, comics, packaging, posters, products, websites, and more.

9. The New School’s Parsons School of Design, New York, New York
The New School’s Parsons School of Design

The New School was founded in 1896 by American Impressionist William Merritt Chase. Back then, the school was known as The Chase School. In 1904, Arts Educator Frank Alvah Parsons joined the school, later becoming its sole director. Between 1904 and 1910, parsons launched Advertising, Costume Design Interior Decorating Programs.

Today, known as The New School/Parsons (or just Parsons), this art and design college serves 5,100 students enrolled in 130 degree and diploma programs across five schools including the Schools of Art and Design History and Theory (ADHT); Art, Media, and Technology (AMT); Constructed Environments; Design Strategies; and the School of Fashion.

The School of AMT offers a BFA in Illustration that prepares students to work in a range of areas including Animation, Editorial and Advertising Illustration, Graphic Novels, Hand Lettering, Picture Books, Surface and Display Design, and Toy Designs. Course highlights include Drawing/Imaging (Studio), Space/Materiality (Studio), and Time (Studio), and others such as Intro to Visual Culture: Recitation, Language and Letterform, and Objects as History.

Program highlights include the opportunity to work with peers in Collaboration Studio courses and other projects, internships with Parson partners such as AIGA, Apple, Eyebeam, and Red Cross, access to events such as Comic Arts Brooklyn, MoCCA Fest, and more, and the opportunity to connect with New York–based professional organizations such as American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators.

10. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by General Harrison Gray Otis—founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. The school, which serves approximately 1,100 full-time students, is a private nonprofit institution and national leader in art and design education. “Alumni and faculty are Fulbright, MacArthur, and Guggenheim grant recipients, Oscar awardees, legendary costume designers, leaders of contemporary art movements, entrepreneurs, and design stars at Apple, Abercrombie & Fitch, Pixar, DreamWorks, Mattel, Nike, and Disney,” says the school.

OTIS offers 11 BFA degree programs including Architecture/Landscape/Interiors, Digital Media (Animation, Game and Entertainment Design, and Motion Design), Fashion Design, Communication Arts (Graphic Design, and Illustration), Fine Arts (Painting, Photography, and Sculpture/New Genres), Product Design, and Toy Design. The school also awards an MFA degree in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing, and a variety of Minors and Certificate Programs are available.

Specific programs for aspiring illustrators are offered through the Communication Arts Department. Options include a BFA and a Minor in Illustration. Program highlights include conventions, field trips, student exhibitions, and visiting artists. Students can expect to take foundation courses such as Connections Through Color and Design, Drawing Studio, Form and Space, Introduction to Visual Culture, and Writing in the Digital Age.

Illustration course highlights include Advanced Illustrative Applications, Alternative Materials and Procedures for Illustrators, Entrepreneur 101, Illustration Communication Studio I-IV, and Typography for Illustrators. Students will also take Entrepreneur 101, Practicum I-III, Senior Project/Seminar, and Senior Thesis/Research Paper. A Capstone course is the signature course and culminating expression of the Liberal Arts Program.

Graduates of the Illustration Program at OTIS have been hired at Conde Nast Publications, Disney Consumer Products, Hallmark, Interscope Records, Los Angeles Magazine, Mattel, Ogilvy Worldwide, Sony Music, Twentieth Century Fox, WB Network, Young & Rubicam, and more.  

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
Syracuse University

Syracuse University (SU) established some of the nation’s earliest architecture and fine arts programs. Founded in 1870, the school serves approximately 22,322 students enrolled in more than 200 majors and minors, and 200 advanced degree programs across 13 academic units. Programs are offered at SU’s main campus in Syracuse and at locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

SU houses the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ (VPA) School of Art, which offers BFA and MFA degrees in Illustration. Students in the 126 credit hour BFA in Illustration will take classes in “traditional, digital, and alternative media to develop competency and techniques,” says the school. Students will study “conceptual thinking, research methods, and how to communicate narrative while developing familiarity with illustration history and the contemporary field.”

Four focus areas help students explore specific industry specialties. They include Editorial, Product, Sequential, and Visual Development. The Editorial Focus covers magazines, newspapers, book jackets, and online publishing. The Product Focus includes patterning, packaging, and products, while the Sequential Focus covers comics, graphic novels, and children’s books. The Visual Development Focus includes visual and character development for animation and gaming. 

Other program highlights include engagement with nationally and internationally known visiting artists each year, courses taught by practicing illustrators and artists whose work is published and exhibited nationally and internationally, global study opportunities at the SU campus in Florence, Italy or other countries, workshops and lectures, and visits to New York and Los Angeles.

All BFA students will have the opportunity to develop a portfolio that will be shown to Art Directors and Illustrators for feedback.

Alumni from the SU VPA Illustration Program have gone on to work in Illustration for the Advertising industry, Book and Online Publishing, Children's Books, Comics, Gaming, Graphic Novels, Greeting Cards, Licensing, Newspapers, Television, and Visual Development in Animated Films.

The MFA in Illustration requires a three-year residency and 60 credit hours of study. Classes for the program “encourage experimentation, stimulate growth, and ultimately, lead to a focused body of work.” Course highlights for the program include Drawing on Location, Illustration Graduate Studio I-II, Illustration Grad Workshop, Illustration Practice, Licensing from Studio to Market, and Printmaking for Illustration I-II.

Students may also take advantage of special elective travel courses during the Maymester and summer program to gain credits. Courses include Illustration Graduate Summer Intensive (NYC), and LA Illustration Studio. Two Thesis Courses, MFA Thesis I-II, are required as well. The program ends with an MFA Exhibition.

16. 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.

17. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design

Established in 1961, Laguna Beach College of Art and Design (LCAD) began as Laguna Beach School of Art (LBSA). Inspired by “pioneering cultural ventures” of the early 1900s such as the Laguna Playhouse and the Laguna Beach Art Association, this not-for-profit institution serves more than 700 full-time students today, and it is considered one of the leading colleges of art and design in the U.S.

LCAD offers around 30 degree programs, minors, and specialized minors in areas such as Animation, Experimental Animation, Game Design, Illustration, and Painting. Options for aspiring illustrators include BFAs in Drawing + Painting with an Illustration Emphasis, Graphic Design + Digital Media with an Illustration Emphasis, and Illustration in Entertainment Design. An Illustration Minor is also available.

The Minor consists of 15 credit hours and includes courses such as Computer Imaging, Graphic Illustration, and Illustrative Painting. The Drawing + Painting BFA helps students develop branding, exhibition, and entrepreneurial skills. Students will also “develop as mural artists and learn how to present their work and contributions to city planners, urban developers, and private owners who bring artistic works to large, public audiences on shared visual spaces.”

Course highlights include Applied Art Reproduction, Artistic Anatomy, Digital Photography for Fine Artists, Experimental Drawing, Figure in Environments, Illustration, Illustrative Painting, Mural Painting, Pictorial Design for Illustration, and Rendering.

The Drawing + Painting BFA Program prepares students to work in traditional and mixed-media art, “while honing imaginative, narrative, and design-based aesthetics for commercial and non-commercial pursuits,” says the school.

Classes for the BFA in Graphic Design + Digital Media with an Illustration Emphasis (GD+DM) are project-based and include titles such as Communication Design, Design Drawing, Digital Videography, Fundamentals of Illustration, Rendering, and User Interface Design. Students in the program will have the opportunity to complete a professional portfolio and complete real-world projects with industry partners such as Obsidian Entertainment, OC Art Studios, and Xist Publishing.

Graduates are prepared for careers in 3D, Advertising, Illustration, Motion Graphics, Package Design, Photography and Video, Social Media, User Experience and Interfaces, and Virtual Reality.

Students in the Illustration in Entertainment Design BFA program will learn how to combine art and technology to create live shows, museum exhibitions, themed events, themed restaurants and parks, TV and film productions, and more. The curriculum provides “real-life, hands-on instruction with concept design, model and prop-making, and 3-D digital tools,” says the school. Course highlights include Artistic Environment Design for Entertainment, Art of Costume, Fundamentals of Maya, Pictorial Design for Illustration, and Visual Storytelling for Entertainment.

Graduates of the Illustration programs at LCAS work at a variety of major companies and studios including Blizzard Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation, Fox Television, Google, Marvel Entertainment, Microsoft Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, Warner Bros., and many others.

18. 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 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.  

19. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University

Established in 1929, Academy of Art University is a family-owned institution that serves more than 7,200 students from 112 countries, making it one of the largest private, accredited art and design schools in the nation. Program offerings range from acting, animation and architecture to visual development, web design, and writing for film and television. Degrees are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and many programs are available entirely online.

The School of Illustration offers five programs for aspiring illustrators. Options include a Certificate and AA, BFA, MA and MFA degrees in Illustration. The degree programs are available entirely online, and some courses for the Certificate in Illustration are offered online.

The AA in Illustration focuses developing skills in the areas of anatomy, figure drawing, rendering, and traditional media including charcoal and paint. The Digital Media component for the program focuses on imagery using both vector and bitmap tools. The BFA program consists of eight semesters of coursework covering the areas such as drawing, composition and color, presentation skills, professional development, tools and techniques, and visual problem solving.

Course highlights include Advanced Perspective for Illustration, Analysis of Form, Blogging: Content Creation & Promotion, Editorial Illustration for Apps and Publication, Film & Games, Digital Media 2: Illustrative Imaging, Elements of Digital Painting, Illustration for Consumer Products & Licensing, Interactive and Vector Art, Interactive Illustration, Portfolio Preparation and Self Promotion, Social Media Strategies, and Web Design. Students in the program will also complete a number of collaborative projects, an internship, and a study abroad experience.

The MA and MFA programs prepare students for intermediate to advanced positions in a range of industries. They are also prepared for success as entrepreneurs or freelancers. Sample courses include Head Drawing for Illustrators, Perspective for Characters & Environment, Professional Practices for Illustrators, Skill Enhancement: Advanced Digital Painting, Skill Enhancement: Interactive & Vector Art, and The Rendered Figure. Graduate students will attend a Graduate Seminar in Europe, complete a thesis, and participate in a study abroad experience.

Students in all programs benefit from guest speakers, workshops, and events that the school says help students “create an insider network” that connects them with industry professionals. They have the opportunity to work with WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS, which has been a partner to Academy of Art University for more than half a decade, and to collaborate with “artists, designers, and innovators outside of the classroom.” Internship opportunities are also available.

Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue a career as a Children’s Book Illustrator, Comic Book Artist, Concept Artist, Advertising or Editorial Illustrator, Graphic Novelist, Interactive Illustrator, Storyboard Artist, and many others. Graduates have been hired by Chronicle Books, Marvel, Random House, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Wired, and more.

20. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Brigham Young University

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

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

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

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

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

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