By BVS Staff
Fine and studio arts graduates can pursue many careers, including museum curator, character designer, and commercial artist. You may believe that the beginnings of a prosperous art career lie behind the walls of an expensive university, but a quality art program doesn’t have to come with a hefty price-tag. Many small colleges offer art degrees that focus towards hands-on instruction and application of theory.
In the following list, we’re going to introduce you to the 20 best small colleges for art majors on a budget. Every program mentioned throughout this list has an estimated annual cost (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $31,000 a year. Interested in learning which one is the most affordable? Take a look through our list of small colleges to figure out which one is right for you.
Each of these top schools has a minimum of four relevant programs for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in fine/studio arts or a related area (including but not limited to graphic design, studio art management, art history, and commercial/advertising art). Of course, to be a “best value,” these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education – which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $31,000 a year. But which of these is the most affordable small college for an art degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!
For more information on the methodology, click here.
20. Kansas City Art Institute
Kansas City, MO
Many people assume that all the best colleges for art and design are in New York and California. But in fact, one of the nation’s premier schools for budding artists is located thousands of miles from either coast. At the Kansas City Art Institute, students can choose from an enormous list of art programs in every medium imaginable, including ceramics, illustration, photography, print making, and sculpture. But these aren’t subjects you will simply read about in books. Through the “Freshman Foundations,” KCAI promotes a hands-on pedagogy that will give you the chance to start creating original works in your very first semester.
Net Price: $30,929/yr
19. Arcadia University
With more than 2500 enrolled undergraduates, Arcadia University is one of the largest schools on this art colleges ranking. But step into its art and design program, and you’ll feel like you’re in a world all its own – an intimate oasis for the university’s most creative thinkers. The university’s Bachelor of Fine Arts alone offers more than half a dozen areas of study – graphic design, metals and jewelry, and painting among them. Beyond that, the department supports several “non-studio” majors, including a BA in Scientific Illustration, a BA in Art with an Art Therapy Concentration, and a minor in Arts Entrepreneurship. This combination makes Arcadia one of the best options for art lovers (who aren’t necessarily artists themselves).
Net Price: $26,632/yr
18. Lawrence Technological University
You may be wondering what a tech school is doing on an affordable art colleges ranking. To be sure, it would be easy to overlook Lawrence Technological University in your search for top art programs. And while you won’t find any ceramics or painting studios on campus, you will find the College of Architecture and Design. Inside, a bustling community of artists – including students majoring in Game Art, Environmental Graphic Design, Interior Architecture, and Interaction Design – is hard at work. LTU’s contemporary programs blend traditional art with modern technology, aesthetic with utility, giving undergrads that unique opportunity to create beautiful pieces that also solve problems.
Net Price: $26,248/yr
17. Augsburg College
In many ways, Augburg is the quintessential small college. Academic departments focus primarily on undergraduate education, and the cozy campus – not to mention the 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio – foster a supportive learning environment. As an art student at Augsburg, you can make the most of the friendly atmosphere in a department that graduates just 25-30 undergrads each year. Not only will you know all your professors and classmates by name, but you can feel comfortable challenging yourself creatively in a space where people know you – and your art – personally. All you have to do is choose a concentration; studio-based options at this small college for art majors include Ceramics, Sculpture, Papermaking and Book Art, and many others.
Net Price: $25,760/yr
16. Florida Southern College
At this top small college for art majors, one of the biggest challenge that art students are likely to face is actually settling on a major! The indecisive have been warned: in addition to Studio Art and Art History, FSC offers full bachelor’s programs in Graphic Design and Art Education (not to mention nine separate disciplines within the Studio Art degree). On the off chance that none of those options tickle your fancy, you might be happy to hear that the department also houses a minor in Advertising Design. Coupled with a major in Advertising and Public Relations, you could be well on your way to a lucrative career in marketing within a few short years.
Net Price: $24,589/yr
15. Walla Walla University
College Place, WA
Some people might try to convince you that art is an impractical major. After all, how much money can you expect to earn as a painter? But students don’t share that same concern at Walla Walla University, where art majors learn how their “artistic talents will compliment careers such as communications, advertising, and business.” The top small art college even offers a program in Commercial Art, which provides instruction in “visual communication” and other marketing tools. The Department of Technology is another hot-spot for creative thinkers, with programs in both graphic and industrial design. Members of the design program even work at Pictor Graphics, the student-run print shop, or join the Visual Communications Club (a group “for anyone that has a penchant for creativity”).
Net Price: $24,104/yr
14. Elmhurst College
As one of the largest colleges on this list (with nearly 3000 undergrads in attendance), Elmhurst may not seem like one of the best small colleges for art majors at first. But students who seek big opportunities may find that Elmhurst strikes the perfect balance between large and small. For one thing, the course offerings in the art department are about as robust as they come. Bachelor’s degrees are available in Graphic Design, Art Business, and Studio Art, and several complementary minors are available as well. Studio Art majors in particular will enjoy the college’s on-campus facilities, which include a refurbished physics lab turned gallery (complete with vintage particle accelerator) and semi-private workspaces for all seniors.
Net Price: $23,688/yr
13. Andrews University
Berrien Springs, MI
Andrews University takes its name from John Nevins Andrews, a central figure in the history of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. And while the university may indeed be “the best-known Adventist educational institution in the world,” it’s also not your average Christian college. Indeed, Andrews’ emphasis on “serious scholarship” attracts the brightest students from all walks of faith. The art department in particular espouses a belief that creative talents are God-given and should provide genuine fulfillment to those who possess them. As an art student at Andrews, this means you’ll be able to depend on sincere support from faculty as you pursue a major in art, design, photography, or even documentary film at one of the best small art colleges for spiritual and secular thinkers alike.
Net Price: $23,491/yr
12. Birmingham Southern College
Appreciating artwork may be a largely visual process, but creating it is an entirely different affair. So don’t expect to waste away in a lecture hall if you’re an art major at Birmingham Southern College. Even members of the school’s art history program spend a significant amount of time in the studio to “better understand the artistic process.” This small art college’s curriculum is even more immersive for Bachelor of Arts/Fine Arts majors, who participate in a “Junior Studio” in which they work to develop their artistic identities more fully. This process prepares art undergrads for a busy senior year of developing a professional portfolio and preparing for a final showcase in the department’s Durbin Gallery.
Net Price: $23,036/yr
11. Wesleyan University
With approximately 2900 enrolled undergraduates, Wesleyan University takes first prize as the largest institution on this art colleges ranking. And yet, the university maintains an academic environment reflective of a school half its size; the student/instructor ratio is just 9:1, and most classes have fewer than 20 students. In fact, the Art and Art History Department (which is by no means Wesleyan’s largest academic unit) boasts more than two-dozen faculty members, including studio techs, visiting scholars, and an artist-in-residence. Many of the professors are also artists themselves and offer a treasure trove of experience in a diverse range of media, from typography and printmaking to ceramics and sculpture.
Net Price: $22,257/yr
10. Art Academy of Cincinnati
The Art Academy of Cincinnati is undoubtedly one of the best small colleges for art and design – maybe one of the best art schools, period. And with an undergraduate enrollment of merely 200, it’s also the smallest on our list. But its tiny stature enables AAC to provide aspiring artists with a superior academic experience – without sending tuition costs through the roof. Officially, students at the academy have just six majors and three minors from which to choose. But perhaps more important are the unique opportunities that AAC offers outside the classroom. The New York Studio Residency, for example, gives two students the chance to spend a semester “immers[ing] themselves in one of the world’s largest and most vibrant art communities.”
Net Price: $21,635/yr
9. Chatham University
As a small liberal arts college, Chatham University is committed to cultivating a curriculum that is socially conscious and globally aware – and which will prepare its students to be thoughtful citizens. While this might sound more like the description of a top college for environmental studies or international relations, it applies just as well to Chatham’s art and design department. In fact, it’s no accident that this same department also houses a communications degree, as well as an interdisciplinary program in media arts. The latter option is especially suitable for artists with a dual interest in activism; coursework emphasizes “the creative tension between individual expression and the social and political forces that shape global, mediated networks within culture.”
Net Price: $21,066/yr
8. Morningside College
Sioux City, IA
Morningside College is one of the few schools on this top art colleges ranking to offer a B.A. in Arts Administration. This interdisciplinary program combines the most essential aspects of a business degree with an artistic emphasis in a particular field. In addition to tracks in studio art and photography, arts administration majors can also choose from concentrations in dance, theatre, and musical performance. Another non-studio degree at Morningside is the B.A. in Art Education, which provides certification in grades K-12. But if none of these options pique your interest, you can still turn to one of the department’s traditional studio arts programs, which include illustration, ceramics, sculpture, and printmaking, among others.
Net Price: $21,008/yr
7. Culver-Stockton College
Unlike many of the programs on this affordable art colleges ranking, Culver-Stockton doesn’t have a particularly expansive studio art program. Yes, it does offer such a concentration within the BFA degree, which comes with all the standard options: drawing, photography, painting, and a few others. But CSC is more easily distinguished by its career-focused art degrees, including Art Education (with K-12 certification) and Art Management. Even within the BFA, many students gravitate toward the graphic design option, which imparts valuable skills that are sure to catch the eye of top employers in technology and marketing.
Net Price: $19,188/yr
6. Mount Saint Joseph University
Mount Saint Joseph University’s Art and Design Department is looking for creative, “one-of-a-kind individuals with their own unique vision and style.” In other words, if you march to the beat of your own drummer and need an outlet for all your original ideas, you’ll be fitting company for the other art majors at MSJU. Here, students will find a design program that deftly blends traditional studies with a practical skill development – a feature that has become more and more common at the nation’s top contemporary small art colleges. For instance, the B.A. in Graphic Design prepares students for a 21st century career by exposing undergrads to a bevy of industry-standard software programs, from Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to InDesign.
Net Price: $18,140/yr
5. Converse College
Whether you’re looking for a clear career path in the arts or you’d prefer to paint in the details as you go, Converse College has an art degree for you. The breadth of creative programs available at this affordable small college for art and design is expansive, to say the least. But Converse may be more notable for the uniqueness of its offerings, which include hard-to-find bachelor’s degrees like interior design and art therapy. Of course, studio art majors still enjoy their fair share of unique opportunities. You can even sign up for a travel program and spend a semester “traveling to major art and design centers” around New York, New Mexico, or Europe.
Net Price: $17,322/yr
4. Coker College
It goes without saying that art is not a subject you can study passively; it requires hours and hours of hands-on training to really master your craft. This may be common knowledge in theory, but Coker College puts this principle into practice. Art majors at Coker enjoy one-on-one time with professors and 24-access to workspaces – privileges which are particularly helpful for upperclassmen, who face the task of developing a professional portfolio and preparing a cumulative senior showcase. While the work may be challenging, there is no shortage of alumni who will attest to its value; just ask the ones attending graduate school at such prestigious institutions as the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Net Price: $16,805/yr
3. Madonna University
At this point in our affordable art colleges ranking, the programs listed boast some of the lowest net prices of any school in the country. Madonna University, with an annual net cost below $15,000, is no exception. But that doesn’t mean this cheap college is in the business of offering cheap degrees. On the contrary, Madonna hosts a wealth of art programs for creative thinkers, and it maintains an academic environment that is rich in opportunities both in and out of the classroom. The variety of workshops available at the university is particularly impressive; from “American and Detroit Architecture” to “Chinese and Japanese Art and Gardens,” Madonna University has a little something for everyone.
Net Price: $13,710/yr
2. College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, MO
Situated in the southwest corner of rural Missouri (and at least a one-hour drive from a metropolitan area), College of the Ozarks doesn’t exactly claim the trendiest or most cultural location. And yet, Ozark art majors don’t have to worry about missing out on real-world artistic experiences. That’s because the college has thoughtfully designed a network of creative spaces to satisfy even the most energetic of undergrads. On-campus studios at this small art college include the Graphic Design LAB, the Clay Studio, and the Boger Gallery, all of which hire student assistants who want to develop their creative abilities (not to mention their work ethic).
Net Price: $13,567/yr
1. Brigham Young University – Hawaii
What’s not to love about a school like Brigham Young University? A net price that just tips past the $10,000, a scenic location on Hawaii’s Island of Oahu – this BYU campus puts together a pretty enticing package for students of all majors. Admittedly, you won’t find the longest or most impressive list of art programs here. But you will find one of the country’s most affordable colleges for art and design, complete with a solid selection of degrees across graphic design and studio art (painting and sculpture). BYU undergrads also enjoy substantial flexibility in the way they pursue their projects. Just take a look at the online student gallery, which showcases from mobile apps and monogram designs to still-life paintings and black-and-white photographs.
Net Price: $10,695/yr
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable small art colleges? Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.
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