25 Best Art Schools 2020

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Featured below are the top 25 colleges that offer a bachelor's degree in fine arts based on the median salary of fine arts graduates one year after college. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo tops the list with a starting salary of $41,000. Students at second-ranked Cornell University had a median starting salary of $38,000 and a median debt of $13,681, the lowest median student debt of all 25 schools ranked on the list. The range of median salaries for the top 25 schools is $30,300-$41,000.

Tuition, median salaries, and median debt were reported by the U.S. Department of Education. View our methodology for more details about these rankings or read more about the top-ranked schools.

Salary and debt data reported by the U.S. Department of Education
Salary and debt data reported by the U.S. Department of Education
Rank School Annual Tuition Median Debt Median Salary
#1 #1 California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo $21,696 $15,000 $41,000
#2 #2 Cornell University $55,188 $13,681 $38,000
#3 #3 University of Maryland - College Park $35,216 $21,000 $35,100
#4 #4 University of Virginia $49,032 $18,029 $35,000
#5 #5 Marist College $39,600 $25,000 $34,700
#6 #6 $54,492 $25,000 $34,200
#7 #7 $15,646 $27,000 $34,000
#8 #8 $23,464 $26,000 $33,600
#9 #9 $21,273 $23,125 $33,500
#10 #10 $59,430 $23,500 $33,100
#11 #11 $13,742 $21,250 $32,900
#12 #12 $28,266 $23,000 $32,800
#13 #13 $56,225 $19,500 $32,700
#14 #14 $16,265 $27,000 $31,800
#15 #15 $55,466 Not Reported $31,800
#16 #16 $19,954 $20,000 $31,600
#17 #17 $32,827 $27,000 $30,900
#19 #19 $32,052 $27,000 $30,600
#20 #20 $16,499 $28,000 $30,600
#21 #21 $49,350 $17,269 $30,500
#22 #22 $17,276 $18,750 $30,500
#23 #23 $22,236 $22,750 $30,500
#24 #24 $28,416 $19,976 $30,300
#25 #25 $31,233 $25,251 $30,300

2020 Best Colleges Highlights

Learn more about the top five colleges for a Bachelor's in Fine Arts degree. You can also read student reviews of each school by clicking on the stars. Although student reviews were not used as a ranking factor in this list, we provide ratings and reviews so students can consider the experience of alumni in their decision-making process.

Median Debt
$15,000
Median Salary
$41,000

The Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in Art and Design at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo is a vibrant program dedicated to multiculturalism and diversity. There are three tracks students can choose from Graphic Design, Photography and Video, and Studio Art. Each of these tracks requires students to complete a final portfolio before graduating, which gives students an opportunity to showcase their best work. 

The B.F.A. in Art and Design takes 184 credits to complete. Those credits are broken up into general education courses, major courses, and courses specific to the selected concentration. Cal Poly is committed to learning by doing, and so students studying art and design will be given opportunities to learn theory and history as well as practice with modern technology, studio space, and instructors dedicated to drawing out students’ unique styles. The Art and Design Department has more than 17,000 square feet of studio space, including 2D labs, 3D design space, and individual studio space for design seniors. 

Visit California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo’s website.

Median Debt
$13,681
Median Salary
$38,000

The Bachelor of Fine Arts at Cornell University is designed for students who desire to study the academics and practice of arts. There is a 120-unit requirement, 64 of which will come from art-specific courses and 56 of which can come from different areas of the university. Because of how much student choice is involved, the B.F.A. at Cornell produces artists with unique combinations of knowledge paired with artistry.

There are six introductory courses students are to complete by the end of their third semester. Then students choose four studio courses, one class of shop instruction, three theory and criticism classes, three art history classes, two writing classes, many electives, an advanced practice course, and two courses dedicated to a thesis. Students take Thesis I to read, research, prepare, evaluate, and tailor their work and ideas with help from the Core Thesis Faculty. Thesis II then moves the preparation into its final stages, where the student develops an independent body of work, often culminating in an exhibition.  

Visit Cornell University’s website.

Median Debt
$21,000
Median Salary
$35,100

The College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland - College Park offers a Bachelor of Art in Studio Art degree. Students all begin on Track 1, where they complete six core courses (18 units), and then can choose to continue on this general studio art track, or to apply for Track 2 or 3. Track 2 is a B.A. in studio art with advanced specialization (the specializations being digital media, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and intermedia), and Track 3 is a B.A. in studio art with a concentration in graphic design. 

The general track for studio art has 48 required units to complete in the major, and all students must satisfy the 120 semester hour requirement for graduating. Students in Tracks 2 and 3 must also complete the 48 units of the general track and then add 12 units of coursework specific to their specialization. Admission to Track 2 or 3 requires a portfolio review. 

The foundational courses for studio art majors include two-dimensional design fundamentals, elements of drawing (parts one and two), introduction to art theory, three-dimensional design fundamentals, and introduction to digital art and design processes. 

Visit University of Maryland - College Park’s website.

Median Debt
$18,029
Median Salary
$35,000

The University of Virginia offers an undergraduate degree in studio art. In this major, students will study theory, history, and practice and will also be given hands-on assignments. There are several concentrations studio arts majors choose from Cinematography, New Media, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, or Sculpture. During their final year of studies, studio arts majors prepare and show an exhibition of their work, for which they will have the mentorship of a studio art faculty member.

This major requires students to complete a minimum of 30 semester hours. Students desiring to achieve a minor in studio art must complete at least 18 credits in studio arts minor courses. There are internship and study abroad opportunities available for students who wish to adventure away from campus for part of their studies. For example, a summer abroad program to Italy includes two courses taught by Art History and Studio Art faculty, making sure studio art majors can have a culturally and academically enriching experience.

Visit University of Virginia’s website

Median Debt
$25,000
Median Salary
$34,700

Marist College offers a Bachelor of Art in Fine Arts through its Art and Digital Media Department. This major has two tracks to choose from: studio art and art history. For students who choose art history, there is a requirement to also pursue another discipline, such as a foreign language.

Students who choose the studio art track can pick a specialization in drawing, graphic design, painting, photography, or digital media. There are 21 credits for the core piece of studio art, then 9 credits in the chosen specialization, and 12 additional elective studio art courses. The art history track has 18 credits in core requirements, 15 in specifically art history courses, and 9 in an alternate discipline (the college prefers this be in a foreign language, but students may also choose literature, history, or studio art).

Additionally, students getting their bachelor’s in fine arts must complete Marist College’s liberal studies requirements. 

Visit Marist College’s website.