Road Trip: Florida's Ringling College of Art and Design

We toured four Florida schools and found out what it's like to attend them.

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Students at Ringling College of Art and Design take classes in painting studios, not lecture halls. They spend a year creating computer-animated films instead of writing research papers. And you're more likely to see them drawing in sketchbooks with pencils than poring over textbooks with highlighters. Ringling isn't a traditional liberal arts college, but most of its students, from illustrators to graphic designers, thrive on its quirkiness.

Ringling's campus, a few miles north of downtown Sarasota, houses about 70 percent of the small school's undergraduates. The area's white-sand beaches are a big draw for students, but so are the many local art galleries and theaters as well as the symphony, opera, and ballet.

Can you get a job after art school? Ringling says yes. More than 1.25 million Americans work in the visual arts today, and Ringling President Larry Thompson—a man on a mission to dispel the idea of the starving artist—expects more than 10 percent growth in the industry in the next five years. Ringling's Center for Career Services invites an impressive list of recruiters to campus each year, including Hallmark, Pixar, and Reebok.

Pixar and DreamWorks have hired about 40 Ringling graduates since the early '90s, and the walls of the computer animation department are lined with posters for movies such as Toy Story, Shrek, and The Incredibles, films on which Ringling alumni have worked. Many students say the industry connections are why they chose the school in the first place, and they, too, are bullish about their job prospects.

"Everything has the touch of an artist on it, and people don't even realize," says third-year illustration major Reed Bond. "Art school graduates are not just up in their parents' attics eating paint. They're going to work, too."

More About Ringling College

Plus factor: It's a digital world, so every student gets a free MacBook upon enrollment.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '08: 1,229
Est. annual cost, 2008-09: $44,280 

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