A college list. What is it, and how do you make yours?
Creating a list of the colleges that interest you is just the beginning of your college search, and there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach: the length, format, and fancy color-coding system of your college list is totally up to you. You can gain exposure to a wide variety of schools by attending events like National Portfolio Days or college fairs, talking with your school’s guidance counselor or your art teacher, and attending programs like tours and information sessions. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions! There’s no need to rank schools or make pros & cons lists quite yet – just get started by writing down the schools that interest you and a few details about why. To help you get started on making your list, I invited current SMFA at Tufts students Pamela and Maddy to share their perspective on a few key points that you’ll want to factor in:
Location and Facilities:
Pamela: Location, location, location! Does a quiet, rural campus suit your need to connect with nature during your studies? Or does the active city life catch your eye? Maybe you’re someone like me who needs a balance and thrives in a suburban/urban setting. Summer pre-college programs, like the one I had at a college in Manhattan, confirmed that congested city life is too fast-paced for my liking. Researching the art scene in these locations is also incredibly helpful in informing your decision! SMFA at Tufts ended up being the school that granted me the most room to grow as a curious student! One school denied me a space to paint in a studio if I ever had the urge to, for example.
The location of a college campus and what facilities exist inside it will inform your college experience in major ways. Think about what studios and workshops you’ll need access to in order to follow your artistic curiosity, and consider how the local arts scene will allow for professional development. If you have specific requirements for a college’s location or facilities, like accommodation of accessibility needs or dietary restrictions, don’t be afraid to ask admissions staff. Your list will help you keep track of how different schools will meet your priorities. Campus tours, often led by current students who experience campus life every day, are helpful in getting to know the campus, facilities, and neighborhood that you’d call home as a student.
Academic and Professional Opportunities:
Pamela: While you may be someone like me who was drawn to schools to the northeast United States, narrowing that list down to schools that fit your needs is important! For a 17-year old with so many options to pursue art and academics, it gets “Troy from High School Musical” levels of confusing! Ask yourself questions like, do you want to be challenged academically in a way that informs your artistic practice?
Maddy: When I was searching for colleges, I realized that I had interests in many different fields ranging from sciences to humanities to arts. I thought I would have to pick one field and stick with it for the duration of my time at college, even though I wanted to pursue all of these fields at the same time. Then I heard about the Combined Degree program at SMFA, where I could study environmental studies, philosophy, and fine art all at the same time. I regularly use my academic interests in environmental studies and philosophy to influence my art practice!
SMFA also stood out to me because of its open curriculum and its focus on fostering a supportive community of artists. When applying to art schools, I knew that I wanted to have the opportunity to learn as many different art techniques as possible. Whereas most programs have a foundation year or a specific track that you must follow, SMFA’s open curriculum allows you to pursue the art classes you want to take starting from your very first semester. Even though my main medium in high school was photography, I took a sculpture class my first semester of college. Now I absolutely love building sculptures and working with my hands.
It’s a good starting point to make sure that a school offers courses that you’re interested in, but don’t stop there. The big-picture questions like ‘What’s the educational philosophy of the school I'm looking at?’ can be broken down: Do they require a core or foundation year? (SMFA’s answer is “No,” BTW.) Will I be required to declare a major (“No” again.), and what will that curriculum look like? Who will be teaching classes and what kind of art do they make? How do they support professional development in my area of interest? Joining an information session with friendly and knowledgeable admissions counselors is a great way to start getting answers to these important questions.
Community and Support:
Pamela: Do you prefer a small student-teacher ratio or close-knit community like SMFA, or do you prefer a larger campus? Are there opportunities to connect with other students with similar religious, ethnic, and/or racial backgrounds? Do the schools you’re looking at support first-generation or low-income students like Tufts? How do the schools support students in your major after graduation?
Maddy: I was also excited by the community of people at Tufts. During my application process, I toured over 20 schools. When I toured the Medford and SMFA campuses, I noticed how kind and collaborative students were. I witnessed people working together to hang up art and one student helping another with a project. I knew that I wanted to be in a similar community of students who actively supported their peers. The second I set foot on the SMFA campus, I felt like I was at home.
Yes, you’re at school to learn. But parts of the college experience that happen outside of the classroom can be just as important to your development as an artist and a human being. Feeling the ~vibe~ of a campus community on a tour can be a powerful experience, but keep an eye out for some specifics, too, like availability of student organizations, identity centers, sports teams, or special interest housing where you can find your people. There are tons of ways learn about a college’s sense of community, like reading student blogs and articles, following along on social media, or attending open house events in the fall. Be sure to sign up for mailing lists so you can stay up to date on the latest from the schools you’re interested in.
There are about four thousand colleges and universities in the United States, and you might find something interesting about each and every single one. But you can’t apply to all of them (please don’t take this as a challenge). Once you’ve made a list of all the colleges that pique your interest based on location, academic offerings, community, and anything else that’s important to you, the next step is to narrow it down to the schools you’ll apply to. And you already know there’s going to be a blog post dedicated to that! In the meantime, spend some time getting to know SMFA at Tufts: take a tour, join an information session, or reach out and let us know how we can help you start your college list.
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