Succeeding in the creative arts is a challenge. However, two things can give your creative career a boost: being in the right environment and knowing a good network. In that case, you need to study in a college that not only has a good creative degree but which also has an amazing alumni community, strong ties to the local scene and the ability to get you integrated into the creative world with ease. The key to achieving this, in many cases, is location.
You may want to be an artist, a filmmaker, a designer, a writer or anything that involves the creative arts. Many people are put off by the sometimes difficult nature of the industry. If this is you, then you need to consider several things. Firstly, the creative industry is huge. In 2013, there were over 14 million creative jobs in the USA. That figure has only increased with the strengthening economy. However, the spread of the creative economy in America is unequal. In some cities, creative jobs are booming, but in others, they’re shrinking.
Secondly, there are many networks that can help you with job placement. People say, again and again, it’s not what you know but who you know. But what if you don’t currently know anyone in the creative world? Then it’s a case of making sure you know where to go. Once you attend a college in a place with a thriving creative community, getting integrated is that much easier!
Lastly, as the creative industry is so competitive, you need to be at the top of your game. You need to not just be any designer, writer or filmmaker. You need to form a unique and high-quality specialization. The key to achieving this is through undertaking a top-notch creative education.
And the first step in finding out the best creative community for you starts here. There are literally thousands of options worldwide. This list collects the best 30. But even then, these 30 won’t be right for everyone. However, if you’re considering another college, you can still learn a lot from this article. You’ll find out where the most creative jobs are and learn what the top colleges are doing to ensure its students get those jobs. If your college options are doing what these colleges are doing, then you’re on the right track!
This list comprises of top colleges that multiple sources agree are placed in the most creative places on the globe. It’s a very complex process to select the most creative cities and compare them with one another and then analyze the best colleges in that area. Therefore, our sources are thorough. Some have collated data on the creative economies of particular cities. Others have listed the best creative degrees available. Some lists have done both. Each source is generated from a respectable publication that follows high-quality journalistic practices. After consulting our source articles, we’ve then cross-referenced the claims with a college’s own statements. Additionally, we’ve researched the bridges that are being built between the college and its local creative community.
These are the publications we’ve used:
Inc (The 2017 Creative City Index): https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/the-25-most-creative-cities-in-america.html
The way we’ve ranked our list is as follows: We’ve calculated which cities the articles have deemed the most creative. Then we’ve looked for rankings of the best creative colleges in those areas (either geographically within its metropolitan area or with strong links to an easily commutable city from its largest campus.) After that, we’ve assessed the colleges’ engagements with the creative industry and other evidence that suggests strong creative networks. Essentially, it’s a list of both what cities are best for creatives and which colleges in those cities are doing the best for aspiring creatives.
1. Stanford University, San Francisco, CA
Image source: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/how-design-thinking-improves-creative-process
San Francisco ranked second on the 2017 Creative City Index, just behind New York. It was also joint fifth on Forbes list of the world’s most creative cities. Citylab placed it at fourth in terms of global talent. USA Today placed it second for top cities for young artists. Lastly, Fast Company placed it as the fourth highest city for creative job growth, with a 14% increase from 2003 to 2013. While no one list placed it at the very top, all the lists agreed that San Francisco has an incredibly creative community. And Stanford, located just south of San Francisco, is the highest rated arts and humanities college in the world, according to the Times Higher Education list. It’s world-leading in just about every area. From a faculty that currently includes 19 Nobel laureates to alumni who have conquered all areas of the arts, the college allows students to enter into a creative career focused on any business sector.
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA
Image source: https://betterworld.mit.edu/creative-learning-media-lab/
As its name suggests, MIT is one of the world’s best technical colleges. However, it’s also got some of the leading creative courses. And the college’s nearby city, Boston, is a mecca of creativity. USA Today ranked Boston the most inspiring city for young artists. It was ranked the 9th most creative city on the 2017 Creative City Index. And studying at MIT is almost guaranteed to get you into a creative career. Staff and alumni of MIT’s School of Humanities, Art and Social Sciences have won 7 Nobel Prizes, 7 MacArthur Prizes, 5 Pulitzer Prizes and a whole host of other prizes. Additionally, it has a range of innovative programs that are furthering the creative arts. One example is the Open Doc Lab, which brings storytellers, technologists, and scholars together to further documentary production.
3. Harvard University, Boston, MA
Image source: https://english.fas.harvard.edu/undergraduate/creative-writing/
A titan among colleges, Harvard is also located right next to Boston, one of the world’s creative hubs. And its School of Arts and Sciences is its biggest school, offering the most gifted students the opportunities to climb to the top of the local creative environs. The staff and alumni networks are also incredible, with dozens of Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners amongst its ranks. And its three art museums, the Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum and Arthur M. Sackler museum are all incredible cultural centers.
4. University College London, London, UK
Image source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0518/240518-economics-research-institute
London is the fourth most creative city in the world according to Forbes. Citylabs also reported London to have the second highest level of talent in the world, just below New York. Whether or not this will fall after Brexit comes into force is yet to be seen. But for now, at least, London is still Europe’s creative crown. And University College London is the best London based UK college for the arts. According to Times Higher Education, its arts and humanities courses are world leading. Even better, its alumni networks are incredible, which secures its place near the top of this list.
5. Columbia University, New York, NY
Image source: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/columbia-university-campus-manhattan-99233408?src=lVMTBZOVJbuNbUmuKfxCbg-1-28
New York predictably tops most lists of the top creative cities, US and worldwide. And Columbia University is the NYC city college with the degrees with the most artistic potential. Its ties to New York City are strong. Columbia runs an arts initiative, which builds citywide cross-disciplinary opportunities for students. This includes getting students free access to museums, providing arts grants for student projects and running world-class events. What further cements Columbia’s position as the top New York creative college is its amazing local alumni network, which gets its graduates into incredible creative jobs fast.
6.University of California, Berkeley, San Francisco
Image source: http://news.berkeley.edu/story_jump/new-bampfa-drawing-the-crowds/
Berkeley is another college claiming to be a leader in creativity with a close proximity to San Francisco. And Berkeley really backs this ranking up with facts. Its alumni members (not alumni and staff, just alumni) have won 30 Nobel prizes, and its faculty members have consisted of 239 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berkeley has a strong reputation for being open-minded and all-encompassing, and you can see this in the way they’re getting all students into creative endeavors. For example, they hold job fairs for disabled people, instrument making workshops, film screenings and more. Literally, all their students are thought of and given the opportunity to find their creative selves!
7. University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Image source: http://spme1.chaptersync.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2015/04/UCLA.-Photo-from-Wikipedia.jpg
Los Angeles is tied with San Francisco and Berlin as the world’s fifth most creative city according to Forbes. The 2017 Creative City Index named LA the fourth most creative City in the USA. Similarly, USA Today listed Los Angeles as the fifth best city for young artists. And the top creative college based in the home of Hollywood is UCLA. But it’s recognized as the best LA creative institution not just for its world-leading courses. UCLA has forged strong links with the LA community and brings its creativity out in force. The college’s Arts in the Community program fights AIDS, teaches under-resourced schools and more. And this work has an impact. As well as helping all people in LA succeed, it positively reinforces the students and alumni of UCLA. This means that their students are fast-tracked into LA-based creative careers!
8. New York University, New York, NY
Image source: http://cas.nyu.edu/about-cas/the-college-and-the-city.html
NYU is the second best college for setting up in what many lists consider to be the most creative city in the world. Fast Company even worked out that New York is the city with categorically the most creative jobs, with 216,110 in 2013. And its creative economy grew 15% the decade before that, despite the recession. Students at NYU are in the perfect place to take advantage of New York’s booming creativity. From the start, students can take part in a wide range of extracurricular activities that will power them into the creative industry, such as NYU-TV, the college run TV network, which has two channels exclusively for the NYU community. And NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute is second to none, running start-up incubators and innovation hubs. One example is 370 Jay Street, its new Brooklyn based innovation hub, which received a $500 million renovation. NYU’s president said, “It is our vision that 370 Jay Street will house engineers, research scientists, game designers, media artists, and musicians – all interacting and collaborating under one roof.”
9. King’s College, London, UK
Image source: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/cmci/index.aspx
King’s College is the second London based entry on the list. From looking at King’s College’s extensive web portal dedicated to London, you can clearly see that the college is putting its all into building strong ties with its home city. And this connection is only set to improve. Part of King’s College’s strategic vision for 2029 is to strengthen its connections to, “London’s businesses, policymakers, agencies, and institutions.” Additionally, it will develop its relationships with other creative colleges in the city, making it an amazing choice for creative students looking to thrive in London.
10. Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin< Germany
Image source: https://www.hu-berlin.de/de/pr/medien/multimedia/bilderservice/gebaeude/campus-mitte/hauptgebaeude/hauptgebaeude_0010_zappe.jpg/image_preview
The capital of Germany, Berlin has long been a cultural center that rivals even that of its European counterpart, London. Forbes stated that Berlin is just as full of creative opportunities as Los Angeles or San Francisco. Similarly, Creative Boom stated that Berlin was the second most creative city in the world, just below New York. And the top creative college in the city that David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Nick Cave once called home is Humboldt University. Part of the college’s mission statement is to strive for excellence, have a cultural presence and be innovative in its teaching methods. It’s certainly achieving these goals, and its business division is ensuring that its students can get creative jobs within the city soon after graduation.
11. Free University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Image source: https://www.fu-berlin.de/en/presse/service/bildarchiv/index.html
The Free University of Berlin is almost as acclaimed as its local rival, Humboldt. However, for some students, the Free University’s more original approach to education and career building is more appealing. The Free University takes its students to heart in all aspects of its organization, even letting them run the company’s Instagram account. What creative student wouldn’t benefit from stating that they managed a social media account with 10K followers and gained hundreds of post likes? But where the Free University of Berlin has really cornered the market in making employers notice their alumni’s creative potential is through putting research into practice. It has extensively networked with Berlin-based businesses to provide leading insights from its research.
12. Paris Sciences & Lettres – PSL University, Paris, France
Image source: https://www.psl.eu/en/actualites/are-you-smart-2017-psl-webdothon-winners-share-their-experiences
Forbes ranked Paris as the third most creative city in the world. Citylab also placed it third for global talent. And Times Higher Education ranked PSL University as the best creative college in this city. Parisian creativity is now basically a cliche, and PSL University has played a large part in creating this cliche. The college’s alumni include Nobel Prize-winning author and philosopher Jean-Paul Satre, poet Aime Cesaire, artist Louise Bourgeois, writer Assia Djebar, painter Claude Monet and many more leading French creatives. It’s also a center for generating creative jobs; the college produces on average 40 startups every year.
13. The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
Image source: https://tgu.mext.go.jp/en/universities/u-tokyo/index.html
Forbes ranked Tokyo as the world’s most creative city in the world in 2016, just above New York. While other studies don’t place Tokyo quite so highly, it always fares well. For example, Citylab ranked Tokyo as 9th for global talent. And creative individuals are sure to find lots of opportunities from studying in Asia’s top creative college and city. The University of Tokyo just established the Future Society Initiative, which will promote effective collaboration and contribute to the future of humanity and the planet. Another initiative is Vision 2020, which is looking to create new value in the arts and sciences.
14. École Normale Supérieure. Paris, France
Image source: https://www.lemonde.fr/campus/article/2018/05/23/ces-atouts-maitres-qui-seduisent-les-etudiants-etrangers-en-france_5303450_4401467.html
The second Paris based entry is technically a constituent of PSL University. However, it functions somewhat separately, is counted as a separate institution on the Times Higher Education Rankings and has its own unique advantages. Its work on building partnerships with companies is impressive, giving its graduates many opportunities when it comes to creative employment. This college is also based in Paris’s Latin Quarter, one of the most creative and beautiful places in the world. Every creative student can benefit from being in an environment like this!
15. Sorbonne University, Paris, France
Image source: http://sorbonne-universite.fr/en/newsroom/evenements/multidisciplinary-courses-sorbonne
The third Paris based college on the list makes the grade due to its creative courses outperforming its scientific ones. Times Higher Education places this college 54th in terms of arts and humanities, but only 196th overall. This is in large part because of its changing function and status. Prior to 1970, it was part of the University of Paris, and it then became Paris-Sorbonne University. However, in 2018 it joined with Pierre and Marie Curie University to become Sorbonne University. This new life may put off some students, but if you are willing to take the chance, studying here could really pay off. It has inherited a leading faculty and funding from the French government to promote initiatives of excellence.
16. Panthéon-Sorbonne University – Paris 1, Paris, France
Image source: https://www.pantheonsorbonne.fr/diplomes/psme/double-degree-master-in-globalization-and-world-economics/english-presentation-of-the-program-335212599129256/
No, this is a different college to the one listed just above. It is an incredibly similar institution, however. Like its local neighbor, this college used to be part of the University of Paris. And like Sorbonne University, Panthéon-Sorbonne University – Paris 1 has an arts and humanities program that significantly outperforms its general rankings. The Times Higher Education rankings put this college at 39th for arts and humanities but under 500th in the world’s top colleges. This is a huge disparity!
17. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Image source: https://www.utexas.edu/academics/school-of-architecture
Austin’s creative credentials are growing rapidly. The 2017 Creative Cities Index ranked Austin at 8th place. USA Today listed Austin as the 13th best city for young artists. And Fast Company noted that from 2003 to 2013, Austin had the largest percentage of creative job growth in the country. This was a 40% increase, far outpacing New York City’s own growth, which stood at 15%. While it is true that the creative economy of Austin is still tiny compared to New York’s, at 11,547 to 216,110 in 2013, its rapid increase can be appealing for creatives looking to start somewhere fresh and less competitive. And the University of Texas at Austin is the best place for a young creative looking to crack this burgeoning economy. It’s diverse, gender inclusive and offers incredible, profitable education. In 2012 to 2013, $8.8 billion could be attributed to the University of Texas at Austin’s business activities.
18. University of Southern California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Image source: https://dramaticarts.usc.edu/2017-18-season-highlights/
The second LA-based college on the list, University of Southern California is a great choice for students looking to propel into the creative west coast world. And it’s proven that USC gets people into this local creative industry. Of over 375,000 living alumni, over half of them currently reside in California. Part of this integration into the local creative community comes from its large roster of currently serving distinguished professors. For example, professors of English Aimee Bender and Percival Everett have both published numerous books and won multiple awards for their work. Similarly, the head of Advanced Documentary Production, Mark Jonathan Harris, has won multiple Oscars for his films.
19. University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Image source: https://english.washington.edu/study-abroad/2017/summer-2017-creative-writing-rome
Seattle is a west coast hub of creativity, although it remains to be seen if it will increase, decrease or stay the same. The 2017 Creative City Index named it the third most creative city in the USA, while USA Today named it the 8th best city for young artists. But between 2003 to 2013, its creative economy shrank very slightly. It went from having 22,306 creative jobs to 20,794, a 7% decrease. Its higher ranking on the 2017 index suggests that the trend is changing. This means that creative people can tap into a seemingly reliable creative job market and assure their entry by studying at University of Washington. UW’s alumni and community networks are diverse and impactful, with divisions that connect companies operated by minorities with the college’s services and students and a division that helps Native Americans thrive.
20. Georgetown University, Washington DC
Image source: https://careers.georgetown.edu/
Washington DC isn’t just for politicians. It’s also home to a fun creative scene. USA Today ranked it the 4th best city for young artists, and the 2017 Creative City Index placed it at number 11. However, Washington DC’s creative economy did suffer during the recession, seeing a 9% decrease in creative jobs from 2003 to 2013, according to Fast Company. Georgetown University is the top educational institution for those looking to integrate with Washington DC’s creative economy. It has a whole house dedicated to its alumni, which regularly has reunions, lectures and networking opportunities for creative professionals who studied at GU.
21. Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Image source: http://www.uab.cat/web/newsroom/news-detail/comediants-to-offer-theatre-and-urban-art-classes-at-the-uab-barcelona-summer-school-1345668003610.html?noticiaid=1345763195321
According to Creative Boom, Barcelona is the fourth most creative city in the world. Citylab also places it 10th for global talent. And if you want to become a thriving member of this Spanish city, then Autonomous University of Barcelona is the place to go. It’s a key resource for the Barcelona business community, creative or otherwise. The college provides knowledge transfer to many businesses, leading to strong rates of creative employment for graduates. The key to this success in boosting Barcelona’s creative economy is an approach called open innovation, which leads to the sharing of resources and IP rights between the college and businesses on projects.
22. SOAS University of London, London, UK
Image source: https://www.soas.ac.uk/soas-life/
The SOAS University of London caters to a very niche area of the creative arts. Its degrees focus on the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. This means that it offers education mixing the arts with cultures in these continents; degrees are titled English and Arabic, History of Art and African Studies and Music and Vietnamese. This focus on a niche area has led to a skewing of its ranking on the Times Higher Education list, where it is ranked 77th for arts and humanities, but over 400th in general. For creative professionals looking to gain a career in London, SOAS University of London could be an incredibly smart move, as it’s likely that the UK will form much stronger ties with Asia, Africa and the Middle East after Brexit.
23. Boston University, Boston, MA
Image source: http://www.bu.edu/creativewriting/
Boston University’s arts and humanities courses are ranked between 101st and 125th on the Times Higher Education rankings. However, this is slightly lower than its world ranking, which stands at 70th. That means that while Boston University is only the third best creative college to attend in Boston, its reputation will definitely count for graduates looking to enter the creative workforce. And there are some incredible staff at the institution. The Dean of the College of Communication has two Pulitzer Prizes to his name, for example
24. University of California Irvine, Los Angeles, CA
Image source: http://www.humanities.uci.edu/english/
Located just outside the city of Los Angeles, University of California, Irvine is a great choice for people who want to get into LA’s creative community. The reason why is because it does things differently, and doing things differently is key to succeeding in the creative world! It has been named a top 10 “Cool School” for sustainability eight years in a row and is, according to The New York Times, the college that does the most for the American dream.
25. Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK
Birkbeck, University of London is a unique resource for professionals looking to transition from non-creative careers and into creative ones. Why? Because its degrees are taught as evening classes, between the hours of 6 pm and 9 pm. And this approach can be key for allowing creative students to succeed. As you may imagine, more mature students are enrolled at this college than many others. Two-thirds of students are aged over 21. For certain creatives, the opportunity to pursue other endeavors in the daytime is a crucial way of entering the industry. This means people studying at this college are amongst the like-minded work-wise, which leads to the formation of strong networks.
26. Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK
Goldsmiths is one of the UK’s leading creative colleges. And it has a long list of achievements, which continue right up until the present day. For example, its university-based research group, Forensic Architecture, has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize, the UK’s most publicized art award. And another recent win went to a journalism student, who was given an award by the Guardian newspaper for her opinion writing. These impressive awards are reinforced with incredible alumni communities, allowing those who studied at Goldsmiths to forge strong ties after finishing their degrees.
27. Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
London is perhaps the most competitive city in the world for colleges. London colleges make up the highest proportion of creative city-based colleges on this list, after all. And while the Queen Mary University of London is near the bottom of this list, it still boasts a range of amazing creative credentials. For instance, its English, history and drama degrees are ranked within the global top 50 on QS’ subject rankings. It’s also in the Russell Group, the UK equivalent of the Ivy League.
28. University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Image source: https://www.ub.edu/portal/web/finearts/university-master-s-degrees/-/ensenyament/detallEnsenyament/1055487
The second Barcelona-based entry on this list should be on any Spanish speaking creative’s list of college options. While it may not be as proactive in building business ties as the Autonomous University of Barcelona, University of Barcelona more than makes up for this with its research and innovation output. And its alumni go right to the top of their careers. From film directors to writers to actresses, University of Barcelona has produced them all. This is also a great place for creative international students to attend. One student in six is international, and the college has agreements with over 3000 international colleges.
29. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
Image source: https://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/vanderbiltmedicine/the-science-of-our-senses/
Nashville is home to an incredible music scene. Anyone who wants a creative job involving music would do well to study here! According to Fast Company, Nashville’s creative job market increased 9% from 2003 to 2013, and it has undoubtedly increased since the recession ended. If you’re looking to set up permanently in one of the most musical cities in the world, then Vanderbilt University will provide. On top of music degrees, it has over 500 clubs and organizations, many of which will help with integrating into the community. In fact, of the 139,000 living Vanderbilt alumni, 22,000 of them reside in Nashville today.
30. Royal Holloway, University of London, London, UK
Image source: https://www.findamasters.com/masters-degrees/browsebydept.aspx?IID=207
The last of many London based entries on the list, Royal Holloway, University of London has a lot to celebrate. It’s particularly proud of the high number of successful women among its alumni, including the writer George Eliot (real name Mary Anne Evans,) suffragette Emily Davison, musician KT Tunstall and Harvard professor Helen Cam. However, that isn’t to say the college hasn’t produced some incredible male talent, which includes comedian Sir Lenny Henry and actor Mark Strong. The college also has a world class collection of paintings and other artwork on display in its gallery, which is sure to inspire anyone creative!