What are the top illustration schools for 2021?

Top 50 Illustration Schools in the U.S. - 2021 College Rankings
RankingSchoolState% of Schools Considered
1School of Visual ArtsNew York1%
2ArtCenter College of DesignCalifornia 2%
3Rhode Island School of DesignRhode Island 3%
4Ringling College of Art and DesignFlorida 3%
5Savannah College of Art and DesignGeorgia 4%
6Pratt InstituteNew York 5%
7Maryland Institute College of ArtMaryland 5%
8California College of the ArtsCalifornia 6%
9The New School’s Parsons School of DesignNew York 7%
10Otis College of Art and DesignCalifornia 8%
11Fashion Institute of Technology New York 8%
12Minneapolis College of Art & DesignMinnesota 9%
13Massachusetts College of Art and DesignMassachusetts 10%
14Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio 10%
15College for Creative StudiesMichigan 15%
16Kansas City Art InstituteMissouri 15%
17Virginia Commonwealth UniversityVirginia 15%
18Syracuse UniversityNew York 15%
19San Jose State UniversityCalifornia 15%
20Cleveland Institute of ArtOhio 15%
21Laguna College of Art and DesignCalifornia 15%
22California State University, FullertonCalifornia 20%
23Washington University in St. Louis Missouri 20%
24Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia 20%
25Brigham Young UniversityUtah 20%
26California State University, Long BeachCalifornia 20%
27Pacific Northwest College of ArtOregon 20%
28Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design Wisconsin 20%
29University of Central FloridaFlorida 25%
30California State University, NorthridgeCalifornia 25%
31Rocky Mountain College of Art and DesignColorado 25%
32The University of the ArtsPennsylvania 25%
33Columbia College ChicagoIllinois 25%
34Ferris State UniversityMichigan25%
35Rochester Institute of TechnologyNew York 25%
36Indiana University-Purdue University, IndianapolisIndiana 30%
37University of GeorgiaGeorgia 30%
38Texas State University, San MarcosTexas 30%
39University of Colorado, DenverColorado 30%
40University of North Carolina, CharlotteNorth Carolina 30%
41University of ConnecticutConnecticut 30%
42University of ArizonaArizona 30%
43East Carolina UniversityNorth Carolina 35%
44Watkins College of Art at Belmont UniversityTennessee 35%
45University of Illinois at ChicagoIllinois 35%
46Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts + University of PennsylvaniaPennsylvania 35%
47University of MiamiFlorida 35%
48Maine College of ArtMaine 35%
49Art Academy of CincinnatiOhio 35%
50University of HartfordConnecticut 35%

Our 2021 rankings of the top 50 illustration schools in the U.S. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

1. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York (Top 1% of schools considered)
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 (Top 2% of schools considered)
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 (Top 3% of schools considered)
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 (Top 3% of schools considered)
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 (Top 4% of schools considered)
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 (Top 5% of schools considered)
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 (Top 5% of schools considered)
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 the Illustration Programs at MICA 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 (Top 6% of schools considered)
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 (Top 7% of schools considered)
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 (Top 8% of schools considered)
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. Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, New York (Top 8% of schools considered)
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.

12. Minneapolis College of Art & Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 9% of schools considered)
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.

13. Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts (Top 10% of schools considered)
Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) began as Massachusetts Normal School in 1873. Today, the college is known as “the Commonwealth’s Art and Design School.”

MassArt serves 2,000 undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education students enrolled in dozens of programs in areas such as Animation, Film and Video, Glass, Illustration, Industrial Design, Painting, Printmaking, and Sculpture. Programs lead to the BFA, MFA, MDES, MAT, or MArch.

The Illustration Department at MassArt offers a BFA in Illustration that “emphasizes the understanding of character development and narrative techniques,” says the school. Students in the program take a variety of Illustration and Liberal Arts courses taught by instructors who are freelance illustrators or illustrators who have their own businesses.

Liberal Arts course highlights include Introduction to Western Art, Literature/Writing/Film, and Thinking, Making, Writing: Using Words with Clarity and Flair. Major course highlights include Advanced Drawing Projects for Illustrators, Black and White Illustration, Book Arts, Color for Illustrators, Digital Illustration, Digital Painting and Techniques, Experimental Illustration Techniques, Human Figure Illustration, Media Techniques, Narrative Illustration, Painting for Illustrators, Professional Illustration, Studio for Drawing, Technical Illustration, Virtual 3D Illustration, and Word and Image.

A Course Assistantship, Independent Study, Professional Freelance Studio, and an Internship are also part of the program.

During the final year of the program, students will complete Illustration Portfolio, Senior Illustration, Studio Electives, and the Thesis Project. Students will present their Portfolio to invited professionals from advertising, corporate, editorial, institutional, and publishing markets.

14. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio (Top 10% of schools considered)
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.

15. College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (Top 15% of colleges considered)
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.

16. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri (Top 15% of schools considered)
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.

17. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia (Top 15% of schools considered)
Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) was established in 1838 as the medical department of Hampden-Sydney College. This public research university serves around 31,100 students enrolled in more than 200 programs in 13 schools and one college.

The School of Arts (VCUarts) serves more than 3,000 students and it houses 16 departments and programs offering 18 bachelor’s and five master’s degrees. The VCUarts Department of Communication Arts houses the VCUarts Illustration Program. Several options are available: a BFA in Communication Arts OR Communication Arts with a Concentration in Scientific Illustration, and a Minor in Scientific Illustration.

The Minor is 21 credit hours and acceptance to this unique program is based on a portfolio and application review. The BFA in Communication Arts prepares students for careers in illustration for print or digital publishing, comic book art, or a scientific illustration. The program consists of many new and elective courses “designed to reinforce and expand the drawing, design, and illustration components of the curriculum,” says the school. Students will have the opportunity to develop a variety of projects in illustration and complete an internship and/or study abroad experience.

Course highlights for the program include 3D Modeling for Concept Design, Color Theory, Game Design, Theory and Practice, Imagery for Children, Imagery for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and The Figure in Illustration. Program alumni are 3D Modelers and Animators, Editorial Illustrators, Fine Artists, Game Designers, and Interactive Media Designers. 

The BFA in Communication Arts with a Concentration in Scientific Illustration requires 32 credits in the biological sciences and chemistry, in addition to communication major and illustration courses. Students in the program will also have the opportunity to complete an internship and/or study abroad experience. Course highlights include 3D Modeling, Basic Human Anatomy, Digital Drawing, Drawing Studies: The Figure Observed, Environmental Science, General Chemistry, Mixed-Media Illustration, and Scientific Illustration. Program alumni are 3D Modelers and Animators, Concept Artists, Scientific Illustrators, and more.

18. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (Top 15% of schools considered)
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.

19. San Jose State University, San Jose, California (Top 15% of schools considered)
San Jose State University

Established in 1857, San Jose State University (SJSU) is known as “Silicon Valley’s Public University.” The school employs nearly 3,600 employees, making it “an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and California,” says the school.

More than 250 areas of study at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels are offered in eight colleges. Programs for aspiring illustrators are offered in the College of Humanities and the Arts, Department of Design. Options include a BA in Design Studies Specializing in Animation/Illustration, a BFA in Animation/Illustration (Professional Degree), and an MFA in Digital Media Art.

The BA in Design is a Liberal Arts degree that provides “basic preparation for entry-level jobs in the entertainment industry.” Optionally, students “can later apply to a graduate program in Animation/Illustration or similar fields of study.”

The curriculum for the BFA in Animation/Illustration combines traditional and innovative educational strategies, including color design, conventional and digital painting, theory, and perspective. Students will also study the principles of traditional and 3D animation, character design, modeling, physics of motion, storyboarding, and visual development. Upper-division classes offer the opportunity for students to specialize in an area of their choice. Students also have additional learning and networking opportunities through the Department’s speaker engagements.

The BFA program has developed tight bonds with industry partners over the last 25 years, giving students the chance to hear from speakers from big name corporations like Bento Box, Blizzard, Blue Sky Studios, Cartoon Network, Disney, DreamWorks, Hallmark, Industrial Light & Magic, Nickelodeon, Pixar, SONY Pictures Animation, Warner Bros., and many others.

The MFA in Digital Media Art is offered in collaboration with the CADRE Institute which “reflects the innovative atmosphere in Silicon Valley,” says the school. Academic programs here emphasize artistic experimentation within a context of historical, cultural, and theoretical study. The program is intended for students with interest in contemporary research. CADRE's diverse community of faculty and graduate students produce artworks involving visualization, simulation, hypertextuality, information, mapping, telepresence, networks, and interactive systems.

Technical facilities include a wide range of computing resources. Students work across the boundaries of computer visualization, animation, digital video, multimedia, electronic sculpture, sound and virtual reality. CADRE supports its own networking environment and offers excellent opportunities to produce internet-based artworks.

Graduates of the Illustration Programs at SJSU have worked on films such as A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo Monsters, Inc. and Shrek. Graduates have also been hired at more than 135 animation studios, game design companies, film studios, and academic institutions. Just a few include 20th Century Fox, Animation Mentor, Blue Sky Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Cogswell Institute, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Lucasfilm Animation, NBCUniversal Studios, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Sony/Columbia, The Art Institute of Las Vegas, Disney Animation, and Zynga.

20. Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio (Top 15% of schools considered)
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.

21. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California (Top 15% of schools considered)
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.

22. California State University Fullerton, Fullerton, California (Top 20% of schools considered)
California State University Fullerton

In 1957, California State University Fullerton (Cal State Fullerton or CSU Fullerton) became the 12th state college in California to be authorized by the Legislature. The school serves nearly 41,500 students enrolled in 110 undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs. Programs are offered in eight colleges, including the College of the Arts, which houses the Visual Arts Department—home of the Illustration Program. Program options include BFA, MA, and MFA Degrees in Art with a Concentration in Illustration.

The BFA program is designed for students interested in developing skills in a focused area or to prepare them for graduate study. Course highlights for the Illustration Concentration include 3D Computer Animation, Cartooning and Caricature, Digital Narrative Illustration, Elements of Sequential Art, Lettering and Typography, Life Drawing, Special Studies in Illustration, and Visual Development and Background Painting. All students will have the opportunity to complete an internship.

The focus of the MA program “is to deepen the students understanding of craft and visual problem solving skills demonstrated in a portfolio that prepares graduate students to reenter the workforce,” says the school. Students will study “contemporary and historic issues in illustration with an emphasis on story concepts, design, color theory, perspective, theatrical composition and lighting, stylization, further development of the drawing and painting process, visual problem solving, and portfolio presentation.”

The program consists of nine units of required studio courses and at least 12 units in Illustration. Students may also take an additional three to six units in Illustration or other electives. All students will complete a project to exhibit in one of the Department of Arts graduate galleries. Graduates will have the skills needed to reenter the workforce, or enter a program leading to the terminal degree.

The MFA is a “rigorous” studio program that requires 60 units to graduate. Students in the program must take 24 units in the Studio Area of the Illustration Concentration, at least 12 units of electives, and independent study. Students must pass the semiannual comprehensive portfolio review and a studio project is part of the program. The project “constitutes a professional one-person art exhibit. It is installed in one of the department’s graduate galleries and announced for public view by the student as the final phase of the MFA program requirements.”

Graduates of the Illustration programs at CSUF have found employment at major entertainment and publishing companies, such as the Cartoon Network, DreamWorks SKG, Lucas Films Ltd. and Walt Disney Company.

23. Washington University in St. Louis (Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts), St. Louis, Missouri (Top 20% of schools considered)
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.  

24. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (Top 20% of colleges considered)
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 areas such as composition and color, drawing, 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.

25. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (Top 20% of colleges considered)
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.

26. California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, California (Top 20% of colleges considered)
California State University Long Beach

California State University-Long Beach (CSULB) opened on September 28, 1949 in a small converted apartment building under the name Los Angeles-Orange Country State College. The school had 160 students and 13 full-time faculty. Today CSULB employs more than 4,000 professionals serving over 38,000 students.

One of the 23 campuses of the California State University System, CSULB offers more than 300 programs in eight colleges. One of the school’s most popular colleges is the College of the Arts. Made up of six separate academic units, the College houses the School of Art (SoA), which offers a BFA in Art with an Illustration/Animation Option and an MFA in Studio with an Animation/Illustration Track. Certificate in Biomedical Illustration is also available.  

Students in the BFA program may choose the Animation or Illustration Track, but they may take courses in both tracks and work with students in both tracks in the digital lab. Course highlights for the program include Advanced Illustration, Advanced Life Painting, Costumed Figure Drawing, Experimental Animation, Special Studies in Illustration, Storyboarding for Film and Television, and Visual Development.

Workshops presented by faculty and visiting artists are part of the program as well as courses taught by resident illustration faculty comprised of experienced professional artists currently working in the fields of illustration and animation. Internship and study abroad opportunities are also highlighted.

MFA Program “is designed to foster both interdisciplinary and discipline-specific dialogue by engaging students in a set of core department-wide requirements, interdisciplinary opportunities, and discipline- specific courses and curricular “tracks,”” says the school. “Within the MFA degree in Studio Art students develop a personalized program of study within established curricular parameters, and with the consultation and approval of the student’s faculty committee.”

“Students develop a more personalized program of study within curricular tracks reflecting the School of Art’s varied programs in Ceramics, Drawing and Painting, Fiber, Illustration/Animation, Metal, Photography, Printmaking, Sculpture/4D, Graphic Design, and Wood.” All students will participate in the final MFA Exhibition.

The Certificate in Biomedical Illustration is sponsored by the Art and Biological Sciences Departments. The program is available to students who are presently enrolled in a degree program in the Biological Sciences or in Art at CSULB. Students in the program will take courses such as Anatomy for Artists, Biomedical Illustration, Biomedical Rendering, Computer Animation, Foundation Computer Art, Illustration 2, and Special Studies Illustration. The Certificate Program requires 30 units of study.

Graduates of the Illustration Programs at CSULB are prepared for professional positions as an artist or designer, and for teaching studio art within a selected specialization. Alumni “work in a variety of fields such as film and entertainment (gaming, animation and live action film), advertising, textiles, biomedical illustration, the gift market, educational illustration, architectural illustration, print publications (newspapers, magazines, graphic novels and books) and more.”

Many alumni have also “distinguished themselves in visual journalism, in storyboarding for film and television, and in all aspects of editorial art as well as gallery exhibition.”

27. Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, Oregon (Top 20% of schools considered)
Pacific Northwest College of Art

Founded in 1909, Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is a Fine Arts and Design college that offers 12 undergraduate majors in art and design, eight graduate degrees, one Post-Baccalaureate program, and eight minors. Serving 650 students, the school has “Four Core Themes” including Critical Inquiry, Professional Practice, Studio Practice, and World View. Program areas covered include Animated Arts, Graphic Design, Intermedia, and Illustration, to name a few.

The Illustration Program is one of the top undergraduate options at PNCA. A BFA is available as well as a Community Education Certificate. PNCA also offers an MFA program. The BFA in Illustration “combines development of technical skill in traditional studio media and new and emerging technologies,” says the school, along with “conceptual inquiry to empower {students} to create visual messages capable of engaging clients and changing culture.”

Course highlights include 3D Design, Advanced Illustration Studio, Cultural Marketplace, Design & Image, Drawing for Illustration, Exploring Visual Culture, Painting for Illustration, Time Arts, Visual Elements 2-D, Visual Elements: Digital Tools, Visual Elements: Digital Tools, Word & Image, Visual Technique, and Writing in Context. A Thesis is also required.

Other program highlights include mentorship programs, professional practices instruction, portfolio preparation, and internship opportunities. Internships for seniors and recent graduates have taken place at companies such as Dark Horse Comics, Microsoft, Nike, Nintendo, and Wieden+Kennedy.

PNCA students also have the opportunity to show their work at the school’s annual end-of-year showcase hosted by the Illustration Department at a downtown Portland gallery.

28. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Top 20% of colleges considered)
Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Founded in 1974, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is Wisconsin’s only four-year, private college of visual art and design. The school is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD)—a consortium of 39 leading art schools in the United States and Canada.

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

Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration and a 15-credit Illustration Minor. BFA Program highlights include internship and semester-long study abroad opportunities, the opportunity to build a professional portfolio, and networking opportunities through MIAD’s Illustration Seminar, “where a series of workshops are presented by practicing professionals, including MIAD Illustration alumni, representing a cross-section of the field,” says the school.

Course highlights for the program include Computer Studio, Digital 2D, Figure Drawing for Illustration, Illustration Media, Professional Practice for Illustrators, Systems of Drawing, Typography, and Visual Language. Students in the BFA in Illustration program may also complement the degree with a Studio Minor such as Art Management, Book Arts or Digital Media Production. Popular Liberal Studies Minors include Advertising, Copywriting, and Writing.

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

29. University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida (Top 25% of schools considered)
University of Central Florida

In 1968, University of Central Florida (UCF) opened in as Florida Technological University with less than 2,000 students. The first graduating class consisted of 423 students, and the school granted its first doctoral degree in 1977. Today, UCF leads all universities in Florida in conferring more than 17,000 degrees a year. Serving nearly 72,000 students, the school is also the largest university by enrollment in Florida and one of the largest universities in the nation.

UCF offers 103 bachelors and 91 master’s degrees, 31 research doctorates, three professional doctorates, and three specialist degree programs in 13 colleges. The College of Arts and Humanities at UCF houses the School of Visual Arts & Design (SVAD), which offers a BA with a Studio Track, a Studio Art BFA, and an MFA Program in Studio Art. UCF also offers a 24 credit hour Minor in Studio Art.

Specializations for the BA and BFA degree programs include Book Arts, Ceramics, Drawing and Illustration, Drawing and Printmaking, Painting, Photography, Sculpture, and Type and Design. The Studio Art BFA with a Specialization in Drawing and Illustration requires more credit hours than the BA with a Studio Track. The BFA is recommended for aspiring illustrators seeking immediate employment in the field or for students who plan to attend graduate school.

“The degree provides a solid foundation in techniques and theory in focused areas of competence,” says the school. BFA students must complete the Portfolio and Exhibit/Seminar courses and BA students must pass the Studio Art Portfolio Review.

Course highlights for the Illustration Programs include Advanced Drawing, Advanced Illustration, Art as Interface, Design Fundamentals-Three Dimensional, Intermediate Illustration, and Screenprinting. Students in all programs have the opportunity to complete an internship and participate in both local and international study experiences.

The MFA program requires 60 credit hours and students will have the opportunity to experiment with Traditional and New Media. Graduates are prepared for leadership positions in Art and Design, Education, Media, Publishing, and more.

30. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California (Top 25% of colleges considered)
California State University-Northridge

Founded in 1958, California State University-Northridge (CSUN) is one of the 23 campuses of the California State University System. Situated on a 356-acre campus in the heart of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, CSUN is a community of 38,310 students and more than 4,000 faculty and staff. Nine colleges provide bachelor's degree programs in 133 disciplines, 84 master's degree options, and doctorates in educational leadership and physical therapy.

The Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication houses the Department of Art, which offers BA, MA, and MFA degrees in Visual Arts with a Concentration Illustration.

Illustration students will “study illustration as both an art form and as a profession,” says the school. “Topics cover historical and contemporary illustration and its evolving styles and technologies.” Professional preparation topics include business and trade practices, goal setting, portfolio and website development, researching employment opportunities, and self-promotion. Students “learn methods for creating new ideas and for the effective visual communication of those ideas. Projects emphasize a wide range of technical skills in fine art and digital media, conceptual problem-solving abilities, composition and design, self-expression and the development of a personal artistic vision.”

Other program highlights include interaction with visiting artists, study abroad experiences, and the opportunity to exhibit illustrations at various showcases. In addition, all Curb College Department of Art students have the opportunity to participate in industry and studio events, organized studio tours, and ongoing collaborative educational partnering with DreamWorks studios and Seoul Institute of the Arts.

Students also participate in industry events and internships with Disney, Film Roman, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros., and many other studios.

31. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver, Colorado (Top 25% of colleges considered)
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) was founded in 1963 by educator and illustrator Philip J. Steele founded Rocky Mountain School of Art. Steele’s mission for this proprietary institution in the foothills of Colorado was to build a “community of creatives” that that would instill in all students a passion for creativity, innovation, and a desire for lifelong learning in the fine and applied arts.

Today, better known as Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD), the school is considered one of the nation’s premier art and design institutions. Serving more than 1,000 students, RMCAD offers 16 degree and certificate programs available in campus/hybrid and online formats.

The school’s offers two programs for aspiring illustrators: the BFA in Illustration and the BFA in Illustrative Design. The BFA in Illustration has three Concentrations including Children’s Book, Concept Art, and Sequential Art. The program covers Composition Theory, Drawing Mastery, Innovative Storytelling, Portfolio Development, Self-Promotion, and Traditional + New Media. Students in the program also benefit from RMCAD’s collaborative environment, flexibility, knowledgeable professors, and small class sizes. The BFA Program may be completed on campus or online.

Graduates of the RMCAD Illustration Program are prepared to seek positions in Children’s Book Illustration, Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Concept Art for Games & Animations, Editorial Illustration, Product Design & Licensing, and Technical & Medical Illustration.

The BFA in Illustrative Design is a 123 credit hour program that “provides students with a hybrid degree” combining the skills learned in Illustration “with the approach to design thinking” learned in Graphic Design, says the school. The goal of the program is to provide students with “the technical, aesthetic, critical and practical skills necessary for career success.”

Areas covered include Innovative Storytelling, Media and Digital Skills Development, Sustainable Practice, and Typography. Students will also learn to solve communication and design problems. The program also emphasizes Portfolio Development.

Graduates of RMCAD’s BFA in Illustrative Design Program are prepared to pursue careers in a variety of design fields. Potential job titles include Art Director, Creative Director, Graphic Designer, Illustrator, Motion Designer, Package Designer, and Typographer, to name a few.

32. The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Top 25% of schools considered)
The University of the Arts

The University of the Arts (UArts) was formed in 1876 by the merging of two century-old institutions: Philadelphia College of Art and Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts. In 1987, the school was granted university status, making it the largest institution of its kind in the nation. Today, the university says UArts “is the only school in America that makes it possible to work and collaborate across traditional boundaries.”

UArts serves approximately 1,800 students enrolled in more than 40 programs at the University's Avenue of the Arts campus. Twenty-three minors are also available and open to all students. This means, aspiring illustrators can take sculpting classes, creative writers can take classes in illustration, dancers can minor in ceramics, and industrial designers can study guitar. 

Programs are offered through the Schools of Art, Dance, Design, Film, Music, and Theater. The School of Art offers a BFA in Illustration and a Minor in Figurative Illustration. An MFA in Studio Art is also available. The BFA in Illustration blends creative visual problem solving, digital experiences, drawing, figure modeling, illustration, painting, picture making, digital experiences, and graphic design, as well as self-discovery through mentor-student relationships, and history of pictorial image making.

Course highlights include Business and Preparation for Design Practice, Children’s Book Illustration, Comic Creation, Design Studio, Drawing as Thinking, Figurative Interpretation & Personal Voice, Illustration Markets and Promotion, Illustration with Digital Media, Motion-Based Illustration, New Media Illustration, Object & World Building, and Printmaking. Students will also complete Thesis Studio I-II.

Students may also select one option from the following: School of Design Workshop, Illustration Workshop: Personal Viewpoint or the Design Internship. Interns have the opportunity to work at professional venues ranging from individual artist studios to large branding firms such as Anthropologie (Urban Outfitters), Cartoon Network, and Sterling Publishing (Barnes & Noble).

Other program highlights include shared studio spaces, small class sizes, and training in industry-standard digital software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and After Effects. Students also receive training in anatomy, integrating typography, experimenting with traditional painting methods, and developing narratives for a well-rounded experience across media.

The focus of the Minor in Figurative Illustration “is on enhancing skills and knowledge related to figurative drawing, painting and general image-making. This is accomplished by working with the figure and the figure in space, and through introduction to various media and picture-making issues.” The program requires 15 credit hours if study including Figure Anatomy, Figure Communication or Figure Painting, Illustration I: Pictorial Foundation, Illustration II: Illustration Methods, and Responsive Drawing.

The MFA in Studio Art is a low-residency, year-round program that consists of an immersive eight-week on-campus summer semester, independent study (fall and spring), and mentoring. This 60 credit hour program “allows candidates to explore in a multitude of artistic disciplines.” Course highlights include Contemporary Topics in Art and Design, Culture Study, Graduate Drawing, Graduate Seminar, Independent Studio, Major Studio, Professional Practices, Studio Topics, Thesis Preparation, and Thesis Writing Project. An MFA Thesis Exhibition is also part of the program.

Graduates of the Illustration Programs at UArts have gone on to create illustrations for ESPN, Fortune, Ralph Lauren, Random House, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and many others.

33. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 25% of colleges considered)
Columbia College Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

34. Ferris State University, Grand Rapids, Big Rapids, Michigan (Top 25% of colleges considered)
Ferris State University

Founded in 1928, Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) is a college within Ferris State University. The school serves more than 1,000 students enrolled in around 24 BFA, BS, MA, MFA, and Certificate programs. KCAD offers BFAs in Illustration and Medical Illustration and a 15 credit hour Minor in Illustration.

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

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

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

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

The BFA in Medical Illustration is a three-year program that consists of classes from KCAD, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and Michigan State University. “Through a blend of focused artistic instruction and scientific exploration, students learn to transform complex information into compelling visual communication.” Students in the program will take a combination of Art, Communication, and Science courses. Examples include Dialogue and Personality, Digital Illustration Painting, Human Gross Anatomy, Medical Illustration Animation I-II, Medical Illustration Methods I-II, Pathophysiology, Professional Practices for the Medical Illustrator, and Writing.

Medical Illustration students will also complete the Capstone course: Advanced Problems in Biomedical Art. Graduates of the BFA in Medical Illustration Program are prepared to seek intermediate to advanced positions in the field or for further graduate or professional level study.

35. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester New York (Top 25% of colleges considered)
Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) began with the merging of prominent cultural association, the Rochester Athenaeum (est. 1829), and a technical training school known as Mechanics Institute, (est. 1885). The Institute adopted the name Rochester Institute of Technology in 1944 and awarded its first Bachelor of Science degree in 1955. Today, RIT has campuses in Rochester, New York, Dubai, Croatia, Kosovo, and China and it serves nearly 19,000 students majoring in everything from Art and Design to Robotics and Science Exploration.

The College of Art and Design at RIT houses the School of Art, which offers a BFA in Illustration and BFA and MFA degrees in Medical Illustration. Program highlights for all pathways include small class sizes (maximum 16), more than 15 visiting artists each year for in-person or virtual demos and lectures, and the opportunity for students to exhibit their work at least once in one of RIT's gallery spaces.

The Illustration BFA “mixes traditional drawing skills, the latest digital imaging technologies, and sculpted dimensional methods for effective visual communication,” says the school. Course highlights include 3D Applications: The Figure, 3D Design, Anatomical Illustration, Dimensional Illustration, Dimensional Illustration, Drawing II Workshop: Topics, and Illustration I-III.

Students will also complete an Illustration Portfolio and the course—RIT 365: RIT Connections. This course allows students to “participate in experiential learning opportunities designed to launch them into their career at RIT.” With an 81% employment rate, graduates of the program also work for Advertising Firms, Corporate Art Departments, and Publishing Companies, as well as create and design concepts for Animation, Cinema, and Games.

“The highly sought-after Medical Illustration BFA is one of only a few offered in the country.” Students in the program will “take complex scientific and medical information and distill it into stunning visual images.” Course highlights include 2D Composition and Color, 3D Animation of Organic Forms, 3D Modeling of Organic Forms, 4D Design, Anatomical Illustration, Computer Applications in Medical Illustration, Contemporary Media I-II, Illustrating Human Anatomy, Scientific Visualization, and Surgical Illustration.

With an 86% employment rate, graduates of the BFA in Medical Illustration Program are prepared to seek positions such as 2D Medical Animator, Exhibitor, Forensics Illustrator, Information Graphics Illustrator, Medical Book/Texts Illustrator, Medical Editorial Illustrator, Medical Interactive/Interface Designer, Medical Legal Illustrator/Litigation Support Specialist, Medical Web Designer, Ophthalmologic Illustrator, Prosthesis Designer/Anaplastologist, and many others.

The MFA in Medical Illustration is one of only five such programs in North America and the only program in the northeast. The program “combines training in human anatomy (with illustration students observing complete cadaver dissection in RIT’s Cadaver Lab), immunology, histology (the cellular structure of organs), and pathophysiology (the study of disease) with extensive training in 2D and 3D digital graphics, interactive media, and animation.”

 Students in the program will learn to “transform complex medical information into visual images that are used in education, research, patient care, public relations, legal cases, and health care marketing.” The MFA in Medical Illustration has a 100% employment rate.  Graduates are ready for a range of leadership positions in Medical and Legal Illustration, Animation, Computer Modeling, Information Graphics, and more.

36. Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana (Top 30% of colleges considered)
Indiana University-Purdue University

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

The BFA is a professional degree that includes access to the latest equipment and technology in the student’s choice of studio space, the opportunity to enhance the degree with a Minor in Book Arts or Design Production, and classes taught by faculty who are working professionals in the field. The curriculum “provides broad exposure to both traditional and contemporary techniques in all media including digital technology,” says the school. “Students develop skills from both fine and applied arts perspectives.”

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

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

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

37. University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia (Top 30% of colleges considered)
University of Georgia

Established in 1785, University of Georgia (UGA) is the state’s flagship institution. The university’s 17 colleges and schools enroll more than 38,000 students and offer 370 fields and areas leading to the bachelor’s, master’s, specialist education, professional, or PhD degree.

The Franklin College of Arts and Sciences houses the Lamar Dodd School of Art, which offers a BFA in Art with a Concentration in Scientific Illustration. “Students pursuing the BFA degree enter the School of Art as Intended Art majors,” says the school “and will apply to an area of concentration via the School's area portfolio review in the second year of study.”

Course highlights for the program include Advanced Drawing, Advanced Scientific Illustration, Anatomy of the Figure, Digital Narrative Systems, Graphic Systems, Illustration, Intermediate Scientific Illustration, and Special Problems in Graphic Design. The BFA also requires ARGD 3340 Senior Exit, which consists of the Senior Exhibition, Critique, Portfolio, and Evaluation.

Other program highlights include the opportunity to work and learn in dedicated classroom space, facilities and studio and hands-on experience through internships and study abroad experiences. UGA has more than 100 study abroad and exchange programs in 75 countries.

Graduates of the Scientific Illustration Program at UGA work at/for Academic Medical Centers, Advertising Agencies, Associations (trade or society), Federal Government (military), Hospital, Clinics, or Medical Practices, Medical Education Companies, Medical Legal or Law Firm, Pharmaceutical (device or biotech companies), Publishers (books or journals), Research Institutions, Science Communication or Animation Studios, Software/App Companies, Veterinary Schools, and more.

38. Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas (Top 30% of colleges considered)
Texas State University

Authorized by the Texas legislature in 1899, Southwest Texas State Normal School opened its doors in 1903. After four name changes, the school became Texas State University-San Marcos, and finally, Texas State University.

Serving nearly 38,000 students, Texas State University offers more than 200 undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in nine academic colleges. The College of Fine Arts & Communication houses the School of Art and Design, which offers a BFA in Studio with a Specialization in Drawing. This 120 credit hour program offers heavy illustration coursework and emphasizes interdisciplinary experimentation and new media integration.

Course highlights include Character Development for Illustration, Color Theory, Digital Illustration, Digitally Handmade for Artists and Designers, Drawing I-II, Editorial Illustration, Expanded Media, Graphic Novels and Zines, Illustration Techniques and Materials, and Studio Art Foundations I-II.

Studio Art students have access to the University Galleries, which are home to yearly program of exhibitions featuring international artists as well as faculty and student work. “Every Summer, two faculty members, one studio and one art history, lead a study-abroad trip to Florence, Italy.”

Every area of specialization culminates in two semesters of Thesis work, a final Thesis Portfolio, and a BFA Thesis Exhibition. The Studio Art Program “serves a wide range of student interests and pursuits, and prepares students for professional careers as artists and arts professionals.”

39. University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado (Top 30% of colleges considered)
University of Colorado Denver

The University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) began as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1912. The school became an independent campus in 1973 and one of the four campuses of the University of Colorado System. What began in one building in downtown Denver has grown to more than 125 acres and more than 15,000 students enrolled each year.

More than 100 degree and 76 certificate programs are offered in 13 colleges and schools. The College of Arts & Media houses the Illustration Program, which consists of a Fine Arts BFA with an Illustration Emphasis and a Minor Illustration.

BFA students “receive instruction in conceptual illustration, digital illustration, rendering, perspective, painting, exhibition preparation, professional practices, and the use of various artistic and illustration techniques,” says the school. Course highlights include Anatomy for the Artist, Digital painting, Graphic Novel Workshop, Painting, Drawing & the Printed Image, The Business of Art, and Typography Studio.  Students will also take Illustration I: Image Making, Illustration II: Digital Media, Illustration III: Investigative Methods, Illustration IV: Thesis Development, and Illustration BFA Thesis. An internship is also part of the program.

Other program highlights include access to state-of-the art digital labs, sculpture studios, industrial equipment and darkrooms and opportunities at the Denver Art Museum, in galleries across the Front Range, and at digital studios like Pixar.

Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue positions in a “multitude” of fields including Advertising, Animation and Games, Graphic Design, Engineering, Entertainment/Film/Television, Healthcare, Illustration/Medical/Scientific, Marketing, Publishing, and more.

40. University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina (Top 30% of colleges considered)
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Founded in 1946, University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) serves more than 30,000 students enrolled in over 200 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in nine colleges. The College of Arts + Architecture (COA+A) serves 1,000 student enrolled in 33 degrees and concentrations. The Department of Art and Art History here offers Art Education, Art History, Design and Studio Art programs.

The Department also offers a BFA in Art, Studio Art, with a Concentration in Illustration. Course highlights for the program include Children's Book Illustration, Illustration: Media/Method, Illustration Projects, Illustration Sequence/Story, Interactive Art and Design, Mixed Media Painting, The Figure in Illustration, Topics in Illustration, and Video Art. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in the BFA Illustration Exhibition, and complete a paid internship.

The COA+A has relationships with institutions such as the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte Ballet, Charlotte Symphony, Theatre Charlotte, the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, and The Mint Museum. Students may also participate in the UNC Charlotte Study Abroad Program, which houses the recurring Summer Program in Rome, Italy.

41. University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut (Top 30% of colleges considered)
University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut (UConn) was established in 1881 as Storrs Agricultural School, opening with just three faculty members and 13 male students. Today, the school employs more than 18,000 faculty and staff members serving a coed population of more than 33,600 students (Fall 2020).

Consisting of one main and four regional campuses, UConn offers eight undergraduate degrees in 119 majors, 17 graduate degrees in 88 research and professional practice fields of study, and six professional degree programs (JD, LLM, MD, DMD, PharmD, SJD) in 14 schools and colleges. The School of Fine Arts houses the Department of Art and Art History, which offers a BFA in Art with an Illustration/Animation Concentration.

Students in the program will gain working knowledge of both traditional approaches and new technologies. Illustration courses “stress the creation of images that expand a text,” says the school. “Text is broadly defined and may include manuscripts, posters, websites, or self-authored works by the illustrator.” Course highlights include Going Pro, Illustration, and Topics in Illustration.

Students will have the opportunity to pursue a wide variety of projects “in both analog and digital environments,” including 2D and Stop Motion Animation, Book, Cartoons, Character and Environment Design, Children’s Illustration, Comics, Design for Products, Editorial, Graphic Novels, Institutional, Self-Promotion, and more. Other program highlights include visiting artists, internship opportunities, and study abroad experiences.

42. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (Top 30% of colleges considered)
University of Arizona

Established in 1885, University of Arizona was the state’s first university. The school serves nearly 47,000 students enrolled in hundreds of bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree, first professional and specialist programs in dozens of colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts houses the School of Art, which offers BFA and MFA degrees in Studio Art with an Illustration and Design (I+D) Emphasis. Separate Tracks in Illustration and Design are offered to undergraduates.

The I+D program “encompasses a diverse faculty with expertise in graphic design, illustration, letterpress, book arts, visual narratives, animation, motion graphics, information design, and interdisciplinary collaborations with the environmental sciences,” says the school. “These specializations are reflected in a broad array of curricular offerings including: field trips, team projects with community clients, internships, and study abroad programs.”

The Illustration Track provides “rigorous education in constructive anatomy,” says the school. Students will “learn to describe the human form realistically and expressively and find personal methodologies in traditional and digital media.” Graduates will leave the program with a high quality portfolio and a web presence.”

The Design Track “provides a foundation in design principles and methodologies, creative problem solving and digital processes.” As students advance in the program, they will gain “knowledge and skills in professional practice including identity systems, web design, typography, motion graphics, history, contemporary criticism, and theory.” Graduates will leave the program with a professional portfolio and “a broad understanding of the business of design as well as its potential as a medium of critical inquiry and community involvement.”

The MFA is a 60 unit terminal degree comprised of interdisciplinary, graphic design and illustration courses as well as seminars, and independent studies “developing a body of self-authored work that contributes to the broad and expanding field of illustration, design and art.”

“Focused studio and course structures explore the theory, philosophy, and making of contemporary illustration, design and art. The program provides a range of opportunities for focus in visual narratives, community engagement, social practice, environmental projects, and technology, with a firm grounding in contemporary and historical contexts.”

Students in all programs have access to studio spaces, computer labs with Wacom Cintiq Touch screens and animation stations, a digital imaging lab with large format printing, mounting and other services, letterpress equipment, photopolymer platemaking equipment, metal and wood type collections, binding equipment, darkrooms, wood and metal shops, sculpture foundry, and ceramics labs.

Students also benefit from external resources such as a library that houses an extensive book art collection, the Center for Creative Photography, the Poetry Center, and the University Museum of Art.

43. East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina (Top 35% of colleges considered)
East Carolina University

Founded in 1907 as a teacher training school, East Carolina University (ECU) serves around 28,800 students, making it the third largest university in North Carolina. The school, which offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and minor programs, consists of 12 colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts & Communication houses the School of Art and Design (SoAD), which offers an “umbrella degree” that allows students “to explore the School’s broad variety of disciplines,” says the school.

The BFA in Art offers 11 concentrations from Animation/Interactive Design and Illustration to Sculpture and Textile Design. The BFA is a professional art degree that prepares students for entry-level work in their chosen field. While a portfolio is not required for admission to the program, after two years of study, students are required to apply to their chosen area of concentration.

During the first year of in the SoAD, students will “build a foundation of critical thinking, making, and problem-solving skills. Utilizing the lenses of twelve disciplines, animation/interactive design, ceramics, drawing, film and video production, graphic design, illustration, metal design, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, textile design,” students will “build the art essential competencies and design thinking skills that will propel” them “to the next level of study.”

This innovative approach allows students to interact with faculty from across the skill, learn more about the unique disciplinary perspectives in the SoAD, and try new ways of thinking and making.

Students will complete an internship that will help them gain hands-on experience, and at the end of the program, students will complete a Film, Portfolio, Reel, or Senior Exhibition, depending on the Concentration. “This culminating experience is an important capstone experience that prepares” students to “pursue their professional goals beyond ECU.”

Other program highlights include access to mentors and professional advisors, extensive facilities in Jenkins Fine Arts Center, and the opportunity to apply to the SoAD Living Learning Community (A + D LLC). This residential campus community of undergraduate students focuses on learning more about art and design through exhibitions, field trips, and workshops created specifically for the LLC. Study abroad experiences are also available in locations such as the Krosno, Poland, Tuscany, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

44. Watkins College of Art at Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee (Top 35% of colleges considered)
Watkins College of Art

Watkins College of Art at Belmont University (formerly Watkins College of Art, est. 1885) merged with Belmont University’s existing art and design programs in Fall 2020. Providing hands-on instruction in a studio setting, Watkins offers BFA degrees in Art Education, Design Communications (Graphic Design), Experiential Design and Studio Art, and BA degrees in Art and Art History. Minors are available in Design Communications, History, Painting, Photography, and Studio Art. Graduate programs include a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Art Education and an MFA in Studio Art.

The Design Communications BFA offers a Studio Track that includes Illustration. During the first year of the program, all BFA students will take the same Core Foundation Studio courses. The sophomore year covers basic design principles, with classes gaining in complexity through the senior year.

Course highlights for the program include 2D: Principles of Color, 3D Design, Advanced Studies in Drawing, Advanced Studies in Figure Drawing, Advanced Studies in Painting, Art History I-II, Creative Visualization, Drawing I-II, Figure Drawing I-II, Figure Drawing: Identity and Branding, Illustration I-II, Interactive DesignNarrative and Advocacy Design, Painting I-II, and Printmaking I-II.

Other program highlights include mandatory attendance at a minimum of five student, faculty and guest exhibits, artist workshops, assemblies and master classes for each semester students are enrolled as a declared major (and two semesters total for all Art Minors), and participation in the Senior Exhibition. Throughout the program, students will work on a Professional Portfolio and upper-division students will have the opportunity to study in a foreign country. Internship opportunities (up to two) are also part of the program.

Students will intern in art related areas such as Advertising or Publishing, or at galleries. In recent years, Watkins students have gained experience at Advent, Anderson Design Group, Prosper Press (San Francisco), The Buntin Group, Vanderbilt University Creative Services, Warner Brothers Nashville, and many others.

45. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 35% of colleges considered)
University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was formed in 1982 by two U. of I. campuses—the Medical Center campus, which dates back to the 19th century, and the comprehensive Chicago Circle campus which, in 1965, replaced the two-year undergraduate Navy Pier campus that opened in 1946 to educate returning veterans. Today, with more than 33,500 students enrolled, UIC is the largest university in the Chicago area. 

UIC offers 260 degree programs and 66 certificate programs in 15 colleges. The College of Applied Health Sciences houses the MS in Biomedical Visualization (MS BVIS) Program, which is the largest and second oldest of four accredited programs of its kind in North America. A Minor in Life Science Visualization is also available.

The Minor requires 16-17 semester hours of study and includes courses such as Anatomical Figure Drawing, Biological Illustration Techniques, Digital Sculpting for Life Sciences Illustration, and Life Science Animation, Storytelling, and Storyboarding. This program is open to students from any college or major with a sophomore standing.

The MS BVIS Program “integrates medicine, life science, communication technology, visual learning, education science, research and artistic training,” says the school. MS BVIS students will collaborate with Bioengineering, Medicine, and other departments at UIC and gain real world, hands-on experience through UIC’s “close relationships” with other Chicago medical universities, medical advertising agencies, museums, pharmaceutical companies, professional medical societies, animation studios, and software companies.

Course highlights for the program include Advanced Craniofacial Anatomy, Anatomical Visualization, Animation, Biomedical Visualization Techniques, Business Practices, Graphic Design, Human Neuroanatomy, Illustration Techniques, Interactive 3D, Ion Channels Structure, Function Pharmacology and Pathology, Medical Legal Visualization, Modeling, Surgical Illustration, 3D Space, Video Game Design and Development, Virtual Reality and Stereography in BVIS, Visual Learning & Visual Thinking, and Web Development.

Graduates of the program go on to become “highly-skilled science visualization specialists” in Medical Illustration, Animation, Gaming, Haptics, Interactive Media, and Virtual and Augmented Reality.

46. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts + University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Top 35% of colleges considered)
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) serves 26,552 students enrolled in more than 400 programs in four undergraduate and 12 graduate schools. Since 1929, the school has partnered with Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), established in 1805 and the first museum and school of fine arts in the U.S. The partnership “provides students with an unparalleled opportunity to pursue their artistic passions and intellectual pursuits in the Ivy League,” says the school.

PAFA BFA students have access to more than 800 courses in 50+ areas of study. Programs for aspiring illustrators include the PAFA/Penn BFA in Illustration and a Certificate Illustration (PAFA). An MFA program is also available. The PAFA/Penn BFA in Illustration combines studio training with a fine arts focused liberal arts education. The program helps students develop skills in storytelling, visual communication, and entrepreneurship.

Course highlights for the program include Business Practices of Art, Digital Drawing and Painting, Digital Print and Web Design, Graphic Narrative, Illustration I-II, Illustration Projects, Letterpress and Book Arts, Narrative and Sequential Drawing, Narrative Projects, Professional Practices, and Visual Narration. Students will also take courses with Master Illustrators such as David Wiesner and E.B. Lewis, and complete the Illustration Portfolio course and Thesis Seminar I-II courses.

Students in both the BFA and Certificate program have 24-hour access to digital facilities and workspaces including two sky-lit painting studios, a number of large painting classrooms, illustration/drawing studios and painting studios, and a rooftop terrace, often used for cityscapes.

Graduates of the PAFA/Penn Illustration Programs are prepared to pursue positions in Advertising and Marketing, Animation, Book and Magazine Illustration, Film and Television, Graphic Design, Graphic Novels, Medical Illustration, Poster and Storyboard Art, and more.

47. University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida (Top 35% of colleges considered)
University of Miami

Founded in 1925, University of Miami is a private research university that serves more than 17,000 students from around the world. More than 100 majors and programs are offered in 11 colleges and schools. Founded in 1926, the College of Arts and Sciences is the largest academic unit within the University of Miami, home to over 4,200 undergraduate students, 640 graduate students, and 450 full-time faculty. The College houses the Department of Art and Art History, which offers an MFA in Studio Art.

The MFA degree in the professional practice of studio art is a three-year program that offers the opportunity to Specialize in one of five Concentrations including Ceramics, Digital Imaging-Illustration/Photography, Painting, Printmaking, and Sculpture.

Students will take 24 credits in the Concentration, 12 elective credits, and nine in Art History. Several seminars are part of the program as well as an Exhibition Preparation course and the Master’s Thesis. “Each student's MFA thesis exhibition will be a solo show at the off-campus departmental gallery in Wynwood,” says the school, or at an alternative location, such as an art space or “commercial gallery that has been arranged by the student and approved by the Thesis Committee.”

Graduates will leave the MFA program with a polished portfolio of their work, which will allow them to seek positions in the professional, studio art world or teach in academic and other environments.

48. Maine College of Art, Portland, Maine (Top 35% of colleges considered)
Maine College of Art

Maine College of Art (MECA) was established in 1882 as part of the Portland Society of Art. The school awarded its first BFA degrees in 1975, following accreditation in 1973 by the National Association of Colleges of Art and Design (NASAD) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Today, as one of just 42 private, nonprofit, degree-granting professional art colleges in the country, MECA awards the BFA in eleven studio majors (including Illustration), the MAT, and an MFA. Launched in 1998, the MFA was the first program of its kind in the country.

MECA serves just over 450 students and more than 1,200 adults and youths annually, in the region, through more than 200 credit and non-credit public courses in its year-round Continuing Studies program.

The school’s BFA in Illustration highlights small class sizes, internship opportunities with Illustration/Animation studios in Portland, and classes taught by “distinguished professional illustrators and artists.” Course highlights include Advanced Techniques Masterclass, Editorial Illustration, Illustration in Context, Illustration Majors Studio, Intro to Ink for Illustrators, Methods and Media in Illustration, Motion Graphics and Animation, Narrative/Sequential Illustration, and Portrait Drawing in Illustration: People and Animals.

During the final years of the program, students will complete 3YR Seminar: Motive, Method, Making (GD & IL), Professional Studio, and Senior Synthesis. Around 63% of program graduates work as professional artists, 23% are employed as Art Directors, Graphic Designers, and Illustrators, and 47% are self-employed, independent contractors, or freelance workers. Nearly 100% of graduates create art in their spare time.

49. Art Academy of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 35% of colleges considered)
Art Academy of Cincinnati

Founded in 1869, Art Academy of Cincinnati serves around 200 undergraduates and 10 graduate students, making it one of the smallest four-year art colleges in the country. The school says the small student body allows for “individualized attention from faculty,” and the freedom for students to “develop their personal vision,” and “carve out their identity.” Degrees granted include the AS, BFA, and MAT.

Art Academy of Cincinnati offers a BFA in Illustration that consists of a trans-disciplinary curriculum that provides the opportunity for students to “learn the language of visual communication,” while experimenting in areas that “integrate animation, drawing, new media, printmaking, photography, painting, design, sound art, motion graphics, digital sculpture, and installation.”

Course highlights include Academy Design Service, Animation 2D and 3D, Artist as Writer, Artist Books, Comic Book Art, Film, Video, and Audio: Motion Graphics, Going Big: Professionalism Workshop, Illustration: Communication, Composition, Narrative, Process and Media, and Special Topics, Social Practice in the Arts, Storyboarding and Compositing, and Storytelling Art for Motion Graphics.

The BFA in Illustration also requires a “rigorous studio thesis and professional practice experience both inside and outside the classroom.”

Around 75% of Illustration graduates are still employed in fields related to their major, compared to the national average of 27%. Today’s graduates are prepared to compete for work in a variety of industries including Advertising, Book and Magazine Publishing, Corporate Branding, Entertainment (Film/Video/TV), Motion Graphics, Packaging, Retail Merchandising, Social Advocacy, Video Games and more.

Notable illustrators who have graduated from Art Academy of Cincinnati include Charley Harper, Chris Sickels, Fahrudin Omerovic, Jahaziel Minor, Julio Labra, and Will Hillenbrand, among others.

50. University of Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut (Top 35% of colleges considered)
University of Hartford

Chartered in 1957, University of Hartford (UHart) is a four-year private university that serves 6,600 students from 49 states and 47 countries. Spread across seven schools and colleges, the university offers around 200 programs spanning the Arts, Business, Education, Engineering and Technology, Health Professions, and Humanities.

Serving 310 students, Hartford Art School (HAS) at UHart offers eight studio majors leading to the BFA, a BA in Art History, and three MFA programs. BFA majors include Ceramics, Illustration, Integrated Media Arts, Painting/Drawing, Photography, Printmaking, Sculpture, and Visual Communication Design. MFA programs include Illustration, Interdisciplinary Art, and Photography.

The 120 credit hour BFA curriculum is designed to introduce students to the processes and techniques used by illustrators. After the foundation year, the program guides students through a series of independent studios and illustration intensives focused on Advertising, Bookwork, and Editorial using both digital and traditional methods.

The program covers the three primary markets for illustrators: Advertising Illustration, Book Illustration, and Editorial Illustration. Course highlights include Advertising, Book, Digital Illustration, Drawing for Illustration, Editorial, and Illustration I-III (Oil, Acrylic, and Watercolor).

Sophomore and Junior Reviews are part of the program and students will complete Portfolio Prep and the Senior Project course. In the Portfolio course, students learn to prepare their work for professional presentation. “Considerable emphasis is placed on the development of personal style and direction throughout the program,” says the school.

The MFA in Illustration is a low-residency program designed for working adults. The program highlights “intensive, on-campus sessions” in the summer with travel during spring and fall. Fall and spring semesters take place off-campus in places such as Dallas, New York City, Pasadena, San Francisco, and other destinations.

Other program highlights include guest speakers, museum visits, and studio visits to places such as Communication Arts Magazine, Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation Studios, Electronic Arts Entertainment, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon Studios, the Society of Illustrators, and many others.