Best art and design schools: 2019 ranking

The best art and design schools and colleges

Throughout history, we have been driven to create, understand, and appreciate art. While there is value in engaging in art casually or as a hobby, taking a more immersive approach and studying art and design at the collegiate level at one of the top universities for art & design can be incredibly rewarding and transformative. A degree from any of the best fine arts schools and colleges can allow you to improve the means by which you express yourself and communicate with the world, deepen your knowledge and appreciation of artistic and cultural history, and prepare you for an exciting variety of careers by expanding your artistic and professional skills. In addition to careers in the fine arts, academics, or fashion, studying art and design can even open unexpected career paths for you in the fields of business and technology, with many great innovations in those fields coming from people who studied graphic design or product development at one of the best design schools and colleges in the world. If you are interested in pursuing a degree in the fine arts or design, you will have a wide range of excellent schools to choose from around the world, and we have developed this helpful guide in order to help you understand exactly what you will need to keep in mind when making this important decision.


While everyone looking to attend a top university for art & design will have their own set of unique professional and personal goals in mind, strong academics play a large part in almost everyone's pursuit of higher education. Everything from the number and makeup of the student body and faculty, to the amount, range, and types of academic programs and degrees offered by prospective schools will make an impact on the value and types of opportunities each university offers to students such as yourself. It is important to gain an understanding of the various components affecting a school’s overall academic standards, so that you may then see which school will provide you with the tools to achieve your own personal and artistic goals.

University Establishment

The date of a university’s establishment can be an important indicator of its overall academic quality. Older, more established schools often have applied their experience to develop practices, courses, and programs that serve students very well and contribute to long traditions of excellence. A school with a lengthy history will also be more likely to have attracted the most skilled and practiced faculty, allowing you to benefit from instructors whose knowledge of academics and craftsmanship will be of superior quality. Well established schools also often have impressive lists of influential and renowned alumni, who can potentially serve as useful connections for you as you begin building your career. The relevance of a university’s history is reflected by the fact that many of the best fine arts schools and colleges have been around for over a century, with many, such as the Royal College of Art and ESMOD dating back almost two hundred years.

Enrolled Students

The number of students enrolled in both the graduate and undergraduate programs will make a huge difference in campus life and your overall college experience. While most design schools and colleges are relatively small, and have around 1000-2000 full-time students, some, such as the London College of Fashion are home to over 4000 undergraduates and about 500 additional graduate students.

Number of programs

The number of study programs and major and minor degree options offered by a school is one of the biggest determining factors in many people’s school choice. If you have already decided for certain which degree program you would like to pursue, it might not be as important for you for a prospective college to have a multitude of additional study programs, as long as the program you would like to apply for has a distinguished track record. However, as a variety of programs will naturally mean a larger variety of course offerings as well, even if you have already decided your major or concentration, having some additional options to explore or expand your horizons can further enrich and add depth to your educational experience. Ultimately, the importance of the number and type of programs offered will vary given your individual academic and post-academic goals, and while many of the best fine arts schools and colleges offer extensive and diverse catalogs, others, such as Parsons School for Design, specialize in a few available programs and provide a catalog which is relatively limited but focuses on those programs to maintain an extremely illustrious standard.

Entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary degree programs

While most applicants to the top universities for art & design naturally prioritize schools with acclaimed fine arts and design programs, taking stock of available opportunities to expand your skill set in other fields can also pay great dividends for you in the future. A school that offers strong opportunities for cross-discipline study and entrepreneurial growth can give you a leg up over your peers by arming you with a more well-rounded set of skills. Having additional training in business fields such as management, marketing, and entrepreneurship can help you broaden your range of career choices, while also helping you gain skills necessary to succeed in the commercial side of the art world. Schools such as the London College of Fashion offer programs such as Fashion PR & Communication or Design & Development that integrate fashion and design with business or technical training, allowing you to gain a solid foundation regarding developing your brand and managing your career or company alongside your artistic training and creative development. A school with strong entrepreneurship and cross-disciplinary programs can provide a great boost in getting your future career in the fine arts or design off of the ground.

Foreign Double Degree Programs

Double degree programs are another academic feature that can add new and extremely rewarding dimensions to your university experience. Almost all of the top universities for art & design provide you with a variety of study abroad and foreign exchange options, wherein you will complete part of your coursework while living in and gaining exposure to another country’s culture and artistic history. Some schools, such as Italy’s Istituto Marangoni, even have campuses in some of the worlds other fashion capitals, allowing you to neatly and conveniently fit foreign study programs into your existing degree programs.

Academic staff & student to staff ratio

The makeup of a prospective school’s faculty can be extremely telling concerning its overall quality as an academic institution. You should look for schools with not only a higher percentage of faculty being comprised of professors and other academic staff, but those whose academic staff is both academically and professionally accomplished in the field you wish to pursue. A well-experienced staff is invaluable, especially in creative fine arts fields, as they will be able to give you first-hand insight and practical guidance that cannot be found from other sources. You should also look for colleges with lower student to staff ratios, as this indicates an increased amount of personal attention and focused instruction on the part of your teachers. Most of the best art and design schools and colleges will have academic student to staff ratios below 20:1, such as the 17:1 ratio at the Royal College of Art. However, there are are excellent schools that happen to have higher ratios, such as ESMOD with a student to staff ratio of 29:1.

Tuition and finances

The tuition and broader financial costs of attending an art and design school will be a key practical part of your decision set. Costs vary from school to school. While higher costs can indicate prestige and academic quality, some schools are run by state funds and have lower costs while maintaining a good educational standard. You will have to look at tuition rates and fees, cost of living in the area, potential additional tuition for international students, as well as available financial aid when you are analyzing the financial components of your decision.

Ranking and prestige

The prestige a school enjoys in the world at large can make a big difference both while you are attending and once you graduate. A well-known institution with a strong reputation can open doors for you and help you make connections that can greatly aid both your creative and professional success. Here are some key properties that reflect the reputability of a given school:

  • Number of applicants & admission rate. A school with a large amount of aspiring applicants but a relatively low admission rate can mean that entrance into its programs is extremely desirable and competitive, and their selective acceptance means that the students that they do accept will seem more accomplished and have access to a rare opportunity. Most of the top universities for art & design have acceptance rates below 35% and some accept even less than half a quarter of applicants, like the Royal College of Art.
  • Forbes US colleges ranking. Forbes annually publishes a list of America’s 650 Top Colleges, focusing mainly on a school’s academic offering and educational experience. While this list is not specifically focused on fashion schools, ranking on it indicates a well-maintained and high-quality educational experience that stands alongside the best institutions in the nation regardless of field.
  • Fashionista ranking. Ranking among Fashionista’s Top 50 Fashion Schools is an industry specific distinction that reflects a high level of respect and acclaim for a college's academic staff, degree programs, and past graduates among employers and professionals working in the fashion and design industries. New York City’s Parsons School for Design is perennially the highest ranked institution in the USA, and London College of Fashion, Istituto Marangoni, the Royal College of Art, and ESMOD are annually among the top five or ten schools in the global rankings.
  • NASAD accredited. All of the best design schools and colleges in the USA are accredited members of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and this certification is a mark that a university passed peer review and meets, if not surpasses, the standards for undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the fields of fine arts and design.
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