Keep an Eye on Visual Arts Scholarships

Consider some of these college scholarships if you're looking to major in artistic fields.

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If you plan to go to art school or major in a visual art-related field, you're aware that it's a college path with both intriguing possibilities and unique risks.

As an artist, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to devote serious time and effort to refining and improving your work—but, as a student, it also means you'll be graduating with an expensive degree and entering a job market where engineers and nurses are in higher demand than graphic designers and illustrators.

[Get college admissions tips for artistic students.]

However, if you've weighed the costs and benefits carefully, and you know you're committed to a course of study that's heavy on painting, illustration, photography, animation or sculpture, there are plenty of scholarship opportunities out there to help keep the cost of your education down. One great place to start is a program we've mentioned here before: the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards given out by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Their scholarships range from the $10,000 Portfolio Gold Medal on down (and their partner colleges often offer separate awards) in a variety of media, so check for your specialty.

Visual artists (and those in many other disciplines) should also consider applying to the YoungArts program. A part of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, YoungArts selects 150 high school artists in nine disciplines each year, brings them together for a YoungArts Week celebration, and provides some pretty significant monetary awards as well. (In addition, 20 finalists are selected to participate in the U.S. Presidential Scholars program; as an alumnus of that program myself, I can attest that it's a life-changing opportunity.)

[Learn more about how to pay for college.]

If you're a freshman, sophomore, or junior pursuing a studio art major, check out the NAMTA Foundation Visual Arts Major Scholarship. This program, sponsored by the charitable arm of the International Art Materials Association, judges current collegiate studio art majors on their talent, potential, and enthusiasm for fine arts. Two scholarships were awarded in 2011, but the annual totals are determined on a year-to-year basis. The application for 2012 is due in March, so why not take a few minutes to fill it out while you're home for the holidays?

The Naomi Winston Scholarship in Art, given out by the National Society of Arts and Letters, is another great opportunity for visual artists. If you're between 16 and 22 years old, you're eligible to apply, but take note: This scholarship is not meant to be used for college tuition. The funds—up to $5,000—are earmarked for private study, workshops, advanced training, or personal advancement in your chosen medium. (Kate Holoka, winner in 2005 and 2006, used her award to study traditional printmaking in Italy, for example.) Art is a "thinking outside the box" major, and this unique program is an equally outside-the-box scholarship opportunity.

[See U.S. News's rankings of top graduate schools for fine arts.]

Finally, if sculpture's your medium, don't miss the National Sculpture Society's Scholarship Program. The society awards annual $2,000 scholarships to students of figurative or representational sculpture. Sculptors and painters who work in a realist style may also want to check out the Art Renewal Center scholarship competition. (Caution: link contains images that may not be work/school appropriate). The center gave out $30,000 in scholarship funds last year, but there are significant restrictions on both style and school you can attend, so read carefully.

Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.