College Prep: Obtaining an art degree is the ultimate masterpiece

College and career planning is an art. And sometimes art is the basis of college and career planning.I learned a long time ago that there are lots of ways up the mountain of determining where a student may be called for life after high school. In the course of these discussions, it is important to recognize that everyone has unique gifts and talents that need to be considered in the context of post-secondary school planning.In a previous column I outlined a trail up the mountain involving athletics for those interested in pursuing sports as an avenue to earning a degree. Another pathway worth noting is the one for aspiring visual and performing artists who wish to draw, sing, perform, play or produce their way to college.It should be understood that the basic tenets of identifying the right fit and feel are as appropriate for the student with unique paths to an admissions office as for those who apply for general admission. These precepts include copious research to establish fit, and visiting schools to establish feel.For those interested in pursuing the arts in college, it is worth reiterating that they must follow the same basic application processes that apply to the general population. However, for the individual holding a specific passion in the arts, there are additional layers to the process as well as advanced planning to consider.An initial question for aspiring artists is to consider whether or not they are interested in a conservatory experience or an arts school or arts major within a college or university. The two experiences can often be separated by one’s desire to be immersed in a particular art form, or to have it be part of an overall college experience. “The intensity of an arts-based curriculum encourages community, as artists look to learn from each other as much as they do from their faculty and from the professional art world,” says Carmina Cianciulli, assistant dean for admissions at Temple University’s Tyler School of the Arts. “An art school or art department within a university will generally offer a more diverse academic complement to the art curriculum….Students who attend an art department or art school within a liberal arts college or university will also have access to a more traditional college experience if they want it.”Depending upon one’s medium of choice, the prospective art student will also need to be cognizant of the potential need to adhere to additional requirements required of all students for admission consideration at a liberal arts school or university. It is critical to note that every school has its own procedures for evaluating artists, which makes it critical for students to perform good research to understand the individual requirements for the schools being considered.Disciplines connected to the visual arts, digital arts and film may ask students to display their talent by submitting supplementary materials through some sort of portfolio. Depending upon the area of concentration, applicants may be required to share everything from a comprehensive portfolio revealing the student’s body of work, to a PowerPoint slide, to a DVD, to a CD.For students who have a passion for the performing arts, such as dance, drama, instrumental music, or vocal music, it is not uncommon for the student to be prepared for an audition. If an audition is relevant to a student’s acceptance, the institution should disclose the repertoire requirements and when auditions occur.Meeting deadlines is one of the most critical steps in applying to college. Understanding deadlines and meeting them is particularly important for those pursuing an arts degree, as very often schools will request portfolios or schedule auditions in the junior year. This college planning nuance can sneak up on unsuspecting applicants after it is too late. Therefore, it’s vital that aspiring artists become intimately aware of the specific requirements of the institutions they are considering, including the deadlines for supplementary requirements.The need to perform copious research is necessary for all college applicants, and the Internet is a wonderful place to start. For those interested in the arts, I would also encourage the opportunity to attend a performing and visual arts fair. Each year the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) hosts a fair in San Francisco each year, so I encourage interested artisans to find out when the next fair will be. More information can be found in the NACAC website, Visual artists have an additional opportunity to connect with representatives from art schools, and have their work reviewed, at the upcoming National Portfolio Day being held in San Francisco on Saturday, January 19, from noon to 4 p.m. at the San Francisco Art Institute. With or without a portfolio in hand, this day represents a golden opportunity for artists to learn more about some of the better art schools in the country. For more information on National Portfolio day visit, then click on 2012-13 schedule.If, as the saying goes, art imitates life, then it’s important for budding artists, and their parents, to realize how to conduct an effective college search with art as a potential centerpiece. The process is an art form, in and of itself. • Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at


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