What are the top illustration schools in Illinois for 2023?

Top Illinois Illustration Schools - 2023 College Rankings
1Columbia College ChicagoChicago
2American Academy of Art CollegeChicago
3Northern Illinois UniversityDeKalb
4University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago

Our 2023 ranking of the top illustration schools in Illinois. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

1. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) has two paths to study Illustration—the BA or BFA in Illustration. Both pathways explore traditional and digital illustration, visual storytelling, and the illustration business as it relates to freelance, contract, and salaried careers. Across programs, students will develop skills through hands-on client-focused projects. Courses expose students to Figure Drawing, Cartooning, Typography, Digital Illustration, and Painting.

The program has a mandatory internship component that provides the opportunity to obtain real work experience at a local advertising agency, design studio or art gallery.

The Illustration BFA Program at Columbia College Chicago is a professionally focused degree that requires advanced coursework and electives. The BA allows students to take a Double Major or add a Minor in an area such as Motion Graphics, Creative Writing, Game Art, Journalism, Animation, or Graphic Design. Second Major examples include Game Art, Graphic Design, and Computer Animation.

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

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

Columbia College alumni have worked full-time, freelance, or on contract for HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The New Yorker, Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, American Express, House of Vans, Walt Disney Animation Studios, TimeOut Magazine, WBEZ Chicago, Goose Island Beer Co., VICE Media, Chronicle Books, and Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine.

Columbia College Chicago was established in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. The school serves nearly 6,700 students enrolled in more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In addition to programs in creative areas such as communication and writing, media and digital, and music and sound, Columbia offers business management programs. Columbia College Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

2. American Academy of Art College, Chicago, Illinois
American Academy of Art College

American Academy of Art College (Academy of Art) houses the Illustration Department, home to the Illustration BFA Program. Consisting of 122 credit hours, the Program features immersive projects based on realistic job situations; courses led by professionals in the Illustration industry; independent and team-based projects; workshops and portfolio development courses; and opportunities to compete an internship and study abroad.

Courses examples for the Illustration BFA Program at Academy of Art Fundamentals of Art I-II, Drawing for Illustrators, Editorial and Publishing Art, Visual Storytelling, Design for Illustrators, Storyboarding, Illustration: Advertising Art, Survey of American Illustration, Typography, Advanced Anatomy, Concept Art, and Photographic Imaging. Studio electives allow students to develop additional skills in other creative disciplines.

The Illustration BFA Program at American Academy of Art College culminates with the development of a professional portfolio of the student’s best work. Graduates are prepared for graduate study or to pursue positions such as Comic Book Artist, Muralist, Children’s Book Illustrator, Editorial Illustrator, Storyboard Artist, Technical Illustrator, Production Artist, News & Courtroom Illustrator, Art Director, Interactive Designer, Art Educator, Caricature Artist, Concept Artist, Exhibition Designer, and Freelance Illustrator.

Founded in 1923 as a school for aspiring fine and commercial artists, American Academy of Art College is a private Art and Design School that serves approximately 170 students enrolled in Graphic Design, Illustration, 3D Modeling and Animation, Oil Painting, Art Direction, and Photography BFA Programs. American Academy of Art College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

3. Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois
Northern Illinois University

The College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at Northern Illinois University (NIU) houses three schools including Art and Design, Music, and Theater and Dance. The CVPA School of Art and Design has been an institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) since 1969. Students in the School can earn an Art Studio and Design BFA, a BA or BS in Art, an Art History BA, or a BS.Ed. in Art and Design Education. The CVPA School of Art and Design also has an Accelerated BA/JD Program that leads to both the Art History BA and JD degrees.

Within the Art Studio and Design Program BFA Program is an Illustration Specialization led by professional artists who are active in the Illustration and Scientific/Medical Illustration fields. Students will begin the BFA Program with courses such as Drawing Foundation I, 2-D Foundation, and 3-D Foundation. Upon completion of Foundation coursework, students will move on to courses such as Beginning Illustration and Intro to Visual Communication.

In the Junior and Senior years of the Program, students will take upper division courses such as Computer Vector Applications for Illustration, 2D Animation, Computer Raster, and Visual Communication.

The Art Studio and Design BFA at Northern Illinois University culminates with the Senior Project in Illustration. Graduates are prepared for graduate study or careers in areas such as Children’s Book Illustration, Graphic Novels, Illustrations for Comics, Scientific Illustration, Concept Art for Games and Films, Illustration for Advertising, Product Design and Illustration, and Editorial Illustration.

Chartered in 1895, Northern Illinois University opened in 1899 as a teachers’ school called the Northern Illinois State Normal School. Today, NIU provides more than 100 undergraduate programs and over 80 graduate programs to approximately 14,365 students. Programs at NIU are housed across 42 schools and departments within seven colleges. Northern Illinois University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Illinois at Chicago

The Biomedical Visualization MS Program (MS BVIS) at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is one of just four accredited programs for Medical Illustration in North America. It is also the largest and second oldest of the programs. Housed in the College of Applied Health Sciences, the MS BVIS Program is interdisciplinary, allowing students to study Traditional Illustration, Graphic Design, Art, Interactive Media, Graphic Design, Serious Games, and Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR).

Course examples include Advanced Illustration Techniques, Visual Learning & Visual Thinking I-II, Serious Game Development, Immersive Interactive Visualization, Modeling I-III, 3D Space II: Animation Maya, Advanced Graphic Design, Animation I-IV, Surgical Illustration, 3D Printing with Data Segmentation, Visual Storytelling in Biomedical Visualization, and Independent Study.

Also housed in UIC’s College of Applied Health Sciences is the Life Science Visualization Minor. Like the MS Program, the Minor is interdisciplinary, allowing students to study everything from Traditional Illustration to VR/AR. Consisting of 16 credit ours, the Life Science Visualization Minor can be added to any Major. Popular options include New Media Arts, Moving Image, and Studio Arts. Course examples for the Program include Anatomical Figure Drawing, Life Science Animation, Storytelling and Storyboarding, Biological Illustration Techniques, Digital Sculpting for Life Science Illustration, Serious Games for Life Science Education, and Life Science Visualization Techniques.

Graduates of the MS BVIS Program at University of Illinois at Chicago enjoy a 97% employment rate within 12 months of graduation. Many program alumni become Certified Medical Illustrators through the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI). Across programs, graduates also go on to become Traditional 2D Illustrators, Scientific Illustrators, Animators, Digital Illustrators, Game Artists, Graphic Designers, Interactive Media Designers, and VR/AR Designers. 

University of Illinois at Chicago formed in 1982 when two University of Illinois campuses—the Medical Center campus and the Chicago Circle campus—consolidated. Today, with close to 34,000 students enrolled, UIC is the largest university in the Chicago area. The school provides 260 degree programs and more than 60 certificate programs across 14 colleges and the School of Law. University of Illinois at Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).