What are the top illustration schools in New York for 2021?

Top 5 New York Illustration Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1School of Visual ArtsNew York
2Pratt InstituteBrooklyn
3The New School’s Parsons School of DesignNew York
4Fashion Institute of Technology New York
5Syracuse UniversitySyracuse

Our 2021 ranking of the top illustration schools in New York. For an explanation of the 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. 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.

3. 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.

4. Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, New York
Fashion Institute of Technology

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) opened in 1944 with just 100 students on the top two floors of the High School of Needles Trades. Today, as part of the State University of New York (SUNY) System, FIT spans an entire city block and serves more than 10,000 students enrolled in a variety of programs. Just a few include Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing, and Menswear, which are unique to the college, and Fashion Business Management, Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design, and Toy Design, the first of their kind in the country.

Programs are offered in five academic divisions including the Schools of Art and Design, Liberal Arts, and Graduate Studies, Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology, and the Center for Continuing and Professional Studies.

The School of Art and Design offers 17 programs that provide “a practical, hands-on, real world based education,” says the school. Serving approximately 3,322 students, the School of Art and Design houses the Illustration Department, which offers AAS, BFA, and MFA Illustration programs.

Department highlights include a close affiliation with the Society of Illustrators—the industry's top professional organization, 50 award wins by students in highly competitive student art exhibitions, including the prestigious Society of Illustrators Annual Scholarship Competition, and the mentoring by art directors or illustrators who analyze students’ work and offer professional advice and support.

Students will learn the business of illustration and they are required to take a nine-course selection of computer classes (unique to FIT) that will keep them up-to-date in the skills many employers require. Students will also have the option to specialize in either Fashion or General Illustration. An optional Study Abroad course in Italy is also available.

Other course highlights include 2D Computer Animation, Advanced Visual Story Studio, Applying Color to Illustrate the Written Word, Book Illustration, Comic Book Illustration, Digital Illustration Techniques, Illustration Rendering Techniques, Illustrating the Written Word, Mentor/Specialization Projects, Stylistic Illustration, The Business of Illustration, The Illustrator’s Heritage, and Visual Storytelling for Evolving Media I-II.

The Illustration Portfolio Thesis is a final preparation for students entering the illustration business. This three-credit, six lab hours course highlights guest speakers from industry that provide students with insight into business practices, entrepreneurial strategies, and freelance and staff employment. Students present and defend their visual thesis before faculty and peers.

FIT Illustration graduates have gone on to build successful careers at Advertising Agencies such as BBDO, DDB, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, and Young & Rubicam, and at corporations such as American Greetings and Hallmark, Magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and entertainment companies such as DreamWorks SKG, LucasArts Entertainment, Walt Disney, and Warner Brothers.

5. 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.