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Fine Arts School Tips for Success

Master the admissions process and find the best fine arts school for you.

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Considering a graduate school for the arts? Use these pointers and suggestions to help you decide if a fine arts degree is right for you.

Smart Choices

Don't just consider how you'll make your art—consider how you'll make a living. Some schools promote their career resources to students when they're considering admission. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for instance, packages its multiple professional practices courses in an easy-to-peruse brochure. And don't forget to make a school's career center a part of your considerations.

[Explore the Best Fine Arts Schools rankings.]

Insider Tip

Personal finance expertise might be the most important information a student can glean from a professional practices course, but some schools go even further, offering courses in entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurial spirit is especially important through a recession, when jobs for artists tend to be scarce.

In fact, artists are three times as likely as the rest of the U.S. workforce to be self-employed, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, which specifies that fine artists, art directors, and animators are the most entrepreneurial. Fifty-five percent of artists in those fields are self employed, compared to 10 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Opening up your own gallery or art nonprofit can help to pad your wallet, and networking with fellow students can lead to opportunities to showcase your art. (When a student opens up a new or alternative arts space, they often look to peers for work to show.)

[Find out how to pay for grad school.]

Getting In

M.F.A. programs were highly competitive through the recession as more artists considered going back to school. Many professors recommend that artists not go directly from undergraduate to graduate programs, but to first establish themselves as working artists.

When you are ready to apply for an M.F.A. program, keep in mind that the process is highly selective and based on a student's portfolio, so you likely will not be required to take the GRE. Instead, focus on putting your portfolio together in a way that presents you as a mature artist with a cohesive vision.

Reality Check

An M.F.A. degree is a requirement for college faculty, so earning the degree can increase your chances of getting a job. Still, a graduate fine arts degree doesn't mean you'll be a shoo-in for positions. Keep the following statistics in mind when you are considering going to school for an M.F.A.:

• In the 2008-2018 decade, job growth for artists is expected to grow about 10 percent, which is on par with the expected growth of all job industries, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

• Museum technician and conservator occupations are expected to increase by 26 percent between 2008 and 2018; curator positions, by 23 percent; and landscape architects, by 20 percent.

• The median salary for artists is $58,840, according to a different Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, published in May 2011.

• Washington, D.C., has the highest level of employment for artists, followed by California, and then New York, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Searching for a grad school? Get our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.