What are the top illustration schools in Illinois for 2021?

Top Illinois Illustration Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1Columbia College ChicagoChicago
2University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago
3Northern Illinois UniversityDeKalb
4American Academy of Art CollegeChicago

Our 2021 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) 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.

2. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
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.

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

Chartered in 1895, Northern Illinois University (NIU) serves around 16,800 students enrolled in nearly 400 programs and specializations in seven degree-granting colleges. The College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) houses three schools—the School of Art and Design, the School of Music, and the School of Theater and Dance.

The School of Art and Design houses the College of Visual and Performing Arts, which offers a BFA in Art Studio & Design with a Specialization in Illustration. The program provides students with a “broad background in a variety of fine arts and design techniques encompassing artistic study in both traditional and digital media,” says the school. The students “journey into the expansive world of illustration starts with black and white media with emphasis on original concept development, translations from verbal to visual, composition, lighting, and perspective.”

After Foundation courses are complete, the program moves into the exploration of 2D and 3D Animation, 3D Printing and Digital 3D Model Making; Color Materials and Techniques; Development of Visual Communication Skills; Digital Rendering with Raster and Vector Programs (i.e. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator), and the Fundamentals of Graphic Design. Students will also complete at least seven Studio courses.

Graduates of the Illustration Program at NIU are prepared to seek positions in Electronic Media, Multimedia Environments, and Print in areas such as Advertising, Concept Art for Games and Films, Editorial or Book Illustration, Graphic Novels, Illustrations for Comics, Scientific Illustration, and more.

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

The American Academy of Art College (Academy of Art) was founded in 1923 as a school for professional artists seeking careers in the commercial and fine arts fields. Today, this small, private institution serves more than 200 students enrolled in six programs leading to a BFA degree. Programs include 3D Modeling and Animation, Art Direction, Graphic Design, Illustration, Oil Painting or Watercolor Painting, and, Photography. All programs require 122 semester credit hours over the course of eight full-time semesters.

The Illustration Department at Academy of Art offers a BFA in Illustration Program designed for students who want to pursue a career in professional illustration. Projects assigned for the program are “based on realistic job situations,” says the school, and students “will learn to work both independently and as a team to conceptualize and complete the projects.”

Courses for the program emphasize “flexibility, follow-through, and a high level of professionalism.” Highlights include College Success Seminar, Introduction to Psychology, Oral Communication, Quantitative Literacy, Art Direction, Advertising Art, Digital Illustration, Editorial and Publishing Art, Film and Society, Illustration, Storytelling, Storyboarding, Survey of American Illustration, Typography, and Web Design. Students will also complete a Professional Portfolio of their best work.

Graduates of the Academy of Art BFA in Illustration Program are prepared to pursue positions such as Art Director, Art Instructor, Caricature Artist, Comic Book Artist, Concept Artist, Editorial Illustrator Freelance Illustrator, Interactive Design, Muralist, News & Courtroom Illustrator, Presentation Designer, Production Artist, Storyboard Artist, Tattoo Artist, Technical Illustrator, and many others.