How to Create an Art Theme for Your College Application

Art Theme 1st Post
Having a theme can give you a strong foundation on when working on your college applications. When the admissions committee sees that you have activities that are unified and well supported, they will know that they are dealing with a serious student and your application will be a lot more appealing.

How do you build a theme? Over the next couple months I will be addressing exactly this, for a variety of themes. This week, let’s talk about building an Art Theme.

When constructing an application theme, there are 4 areas you need to cover:

1. Academics
2. Extracurriculars – Clubs/Leadership
3. Extracurriculars – Academic/Scholarship
4. Competitions/Achievements

1. Academics
In order to create a strong Art Theme, be sure to first show your interest in art by taking the most challenging art classes your high school has to offer. Art is a large field, which brings together many different disciplines. For most of you, by the time you reach high school, you will have a decent idea of what kind of art best suits you. For those of you who either haven’t decided or intend to pursue more than one discipline in college, your high school transcripts may combine disciplines or they may include more general courses.

Here are some sample ideas for putting together a strong high school curriculum:
• Freshman Year: Studio Art 1 & Photography 1
• Sophomore Year: Visual Communication 1 & Photography 2
• Junior Year: Visual Communication 2 & Photography 3
• Senior Year: AP Art History & Photography 4/Portfolio Preparation


• Freshman Year: Studio Art 1
• Sophomore Year: Studio Art and Design 2
• Junior Year: AP Art History & Studio Art and Design 3
• Senior Year: AP Studio Art Drawing & Studio Art and Design 4

Depending on what your high school offers, there are many options for combining courses and making sure you get some advanced courses under your belt. Aim to take at least one course per year, and try to reach the highest level in at least one discipline. If your school offers it, you should definitely work AP Art History into your schedule during your sophomore, junior, or senior year. You may not want to do anything with art history in your career, but it will give you good foundational knowledge, and colleges will look favorably upon you for having taken it.

Your high school may even offer more specialized courses such as Computer Graphics, 3-D Design, and Animation. If any of those disciplines interest you, try and fit them into your curriculum. The more committed you are to your Art Theme, the stronger the theme will be and the more it will stand out to college admissions committees.

As with most subjects, many colleges open some courses to high school students. If your high school does not offer a course in something that you are really interested in (sculpting, for example), then you should definitely do some research to see if you can take a college class. This will show colleges that you are able to take initiative and choose your own educational path, while also creating the opportunity to submit a recommendation from a college-level instructor. You might learn some really great skills, too!

Summer Programs:

There are many summer art programs all over the country. One of the most famous and well-respected ones is the program offered by the School of Visual Arts in New York City. They offer classes in everything from printmaking to cartooning to filmmaking to illustration to sculpting, and more. If you happen to live in New York City or in the surrounding area, they also offer a pre-college program during the fall season where high school seniors can attend a class every Saturday from September to December.

The Art Institute of Chicago also offers a top-notch summer program to high school students. Like the program in New York, it is a residential program where students can take courses in a variety of disciplines, or they can choose to focus on one. It is offered to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors, so students can attend the program more than once.

The University of Pennsylvania offers a four-week summer program to high schoolers where students choose one major course and two minor courses (2 weeks per minor) to focus on. They will also gain experience in portfolio preparation and presentation.

2. Extracurriculars – Clubs/Leadership

Art is a subject in which schools differ widely on club offerings. Some simply have an Art Club, while others have an Art Honor Society, an Animation Club, a Fashion Design Club, or a Filmmaking Club. Much will depend on the size of your school and the strength of the Art department. It’s safe to say that you should join the Art Club and/or Honor Society if there is one. Working your way up to holding an office in one of those organizations will give you valuable leadership experience, and it will strengthen the overall Art Theme of your application.

If your school does not have any kind of club for art, or if you think your school would benefit from a more specialized club (like an Animation Club), then start one! It shows initiative and it shows that you are dedicated to your passion for art. Starting your own club also will give you leadership and organization experience that not only will look good on your application, but it will help you a lot in college and afterwards.

Community Service:

Another option for getting involved with art after school is to participate in community service. Many art museums teach art classes to the public, and sometimes, preschools or elementary schools are looking for assistants to run after-school programs or camps. It’s not technically a “club,” but seeking out service opportunities and ways to bring a love of art to your community shows dedication and leadership. This is a great thing to put on your application.

3. Extracurriculars – Academic/Scholarship

In the world of art, there are so many topics that can be researched in-depth, written about, studied further, and presented to fellow students/colleagues. Talk to your art teachers and the advisers of any clubs you may belong to. See if any of them would be interested in mentoring you while you complete an extra credit project–either researching a particular artistic technique or perhaps some important event in art history. Gaining the experience of writing an academic research paper will be very useful to you, as you will have to write more than one of those in college! As a bonus, colleges love it when applicants have research experience. It’s not something everyone will have, so it will help you stand out in the selection process.

Usually during your senior year, you will learn how to put together a portfolio and present it. Talk to your teachers and see if you can present your work as an exhibition either for other students in the school or for the public. Some students have been able to organize art shows/exhibitions at their schools where several artists present their work during the day or even in the evening, after school. This is a great way to get presentation experience and to learn how to show and explain your art to people who may not already understand different techniques.

Always be sure to include some of your best work in your application. Almost all colleges give you the option of submitting through a program called SlideRoom on the Common Application, so pick a few pieces that you think are exceptional, and let the application committees see them. It is not necessary to submit your entire portfolio–just the pieces you think are the best representation of you as an artist.

Finally, apply for scholarships. Lots of scholarships are available to students who intend to study art in college. Search your preferred colleges to see if the schools have specific art scholarships, and don’t be afraid to apply for some national ones as well:

• CBC Spouses Visual Art Scholarship
• Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation
• Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
• ESA Foundation Computer & Video Game Design Scholarship

Do a search and see what you can find!

4. Competitions/Achievements

Here are some national art contests for high school students:

• Congressional Art Competition
• National YoungArts Foundation
• The Artist’s Magazine Annual Competition
• Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
• American Art Awards
• A’Design Award (must have parental representation if under 18)
• ArtPrize (international competition, must be over 18)

There are also competitions across the country that are held at the regional and state levels–be sure to check with your school to see what kinds of local competitions are available.

Never be afraid to enter a contest. Even if you do not win, you will gain valuable experience as you perfect your work for submission, and you will learn important skills for putting together a portfolio presentation. The work you submit to contests may be suitable to submit with your college application as well, even if you do not win the contest.

In addition to contests, there are lots of art publications that will give you the opportunity to publish your work. Start with your school’s literary magazine. Often times, these magazines publish original works of art in addition to writing submissions. You can also check with your city/county. Some cities and counties publish art submissions from students in local magazines and/or newspapers. Some local art galleries may also run exhibits where they feature local artists, and it is a great idea to submit your work to these kinds of exhibits if they are available to you.

The more experience you can get with preparing, showing, and presenting your work, the better. Colleges love to see applicants who are able to gain this kind of professional experience in high school. It shows dedication, and it shows that students are determined to follow their passion and put time in to improve their work.

Next week, I will talk how to create a History theme.