I am facing, at the moment, what seems to be the hardest decision I've ever made in life (though that's probably slightly overblown). It is a decision that will, to a great degree, determine the course of my life over the next several years, and perhaps influence my opportunities for years after that as well as helping to shape me into the person I will become.
I have to decide where to go for college.
If you will bear with me, allow me to explain my situation. I have been attending a local community college in lou of high school (being home schooled allowed this course), and have amassed a fair number of credits. As such, I am going to be transferring to whichever school I go to. Although, since the classes I took were not always related to my now intended major, it looks like I'll only be transferring in as a first semester Second year (aka sophomore). My intended major right now is Illustration.
My choices, as I'm sure you know, include the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). As to the former: VCU is a local school, only a couple hours from my (and my parent's) residence. Since I've never lived away from home, having parents nearby may make for a more comfortable first step into the big, bad world. VCU is, admittedly, not the prettiest school, set in downtown Richmond, but has adequte facilities in the arts. VCU is a very good art school, ranked, I believe, as the #1 public art school in the nation. Furthermore, it is within my price range, at about $15k a year. My dad's willing to chip in a small bit, but I would have a manageable load of debt when I graduate. One negative to consider is that the first year, I will not be in the major I wanted to be in. For whatever reason, there are two studio classes in their "Art Foundation" program that I do not have, and thus cannot get into Communication Arts (VCU's version of illustration) until a full year since they only accept applicants in the Fall. The Art Foundation classes look, to be perfectly frank, terrible. I recently toured VCU and was witness to the "art" produced in the Art Foundation program. It was all atrocious, hideous, and hardly the caliber of art that I'm interested in creating. Communication Arts, on the other hand, looks like a rather nice department.
And then, there was RISD. I was wait-listed several weeks ago and had pretty much given up hope on getting in... until yesterday. I got a call offering me a spot in. On one hand, I was thrilled to get in, but on the other, I was put into a place to make a hard decision. RISD looks amazing; everything I've seen of Providence, RI looks beautiful, the classes are exceptional, the facilities and opportunities I would have are unmatched, and the general quality of art from both students and faculty is amazing. A slight, though somewhat easily overlooked issue is distance -- living 8~ hours away from home at the somewhat meek age of 18 does seem daunting. But the major issue comes in the form of money, or the lack thereof. RISD is insanely expensive. At around $45k per year, plus a required $9k~ summer session, I would graduate with a gargantuan amount of debt. Over $100k in debt in my early 20's may just be enough to hinder me, but there could be -- I don't know this with certainty -- an increased income from going to RISD that would help offset that debt.
And lastly, there was the thoughts... of grad school. I am interested in getting a masters, and would love to do that at RISD (or perhaps Yale). Now, if I went to RISD for my undergrad, I would, after grad school, have about $200k in debt. Dang. I could buy a house for that much. Alternatively, if I went to VCU for my undergrad, and then RISD (which would be considerably harder to get in to) I would end up with a little less than $100k in debt, which would at least seem more manageable. VCU was rather scummy with their information and, as it turns out, I wasn't eligible for scholarships that would've been a cakewalk for me to get (grr). RISD has some financial aid, but that is mostly need based, and though my family is not rich (especially now), it probably won't show on my FAFSA form that I'm a needy person. Oh, and because I didn't expect to get into RISD, I only just started to fill out a FAFSA, which cannot be processed till after I have to make my decision.
I need to make a decision by Tuesday.
If any of you have personal experience with either of these schools, or have heard anything, or just want to give me some advice, I'm all ears. For a decision like this, I'd like to have as much advice as I can get, especially from great artists like yourselves.
Well... I really wouldn't recommend getting into that kind of debt, ESPECIALLY if you're interested in grad school. RISD is an amazing school, but there are probably other ways that you can supplement yourself. There are a number of reputable art schools that offer courses in the summer time.
Also, is it completely impossible to take a year off and a.) work b.) bulk up your art skills for possible scholarships and c.) possibly find other good schools besides RISD? If you could do that, that's what I would reccommend. Even though VCU is cheaper than RISD, there's no point in spending your money there either if you won't be happy.
But if I'm going to take a year off to work, wouldn't I theoretically make better pay after I have my degree?
Speaking of pay, is there any way for me to get an idea of the entrance salary for an illustrator? I know there's no industry standard because of the fluctuation in skill-level, but I'd love some examples or personal experience.
So I do not post much here on CA.org but I always feel the need to step up and put a good word in for VCU. I hail from New Jersey and choose VCU as my university and went through AFO and the Communication Arts program (I just graduated a week ago), so I'm in just as much debt as you would be if you choose to go to RISD, and I went to VCU. It was worth the money. I love Richmond, and I love VCU, and I loved the CA department. You can, as an AFO student, take classes within the CA department I believe, as I had a few AFO students in the lower level elective classes.
I can also attest that the department is really focused on providing a degree that will get you jobs and hone your skills so that you'd be much more than an 'illustrator', they teach design as well as some amount of basic animation and modeling. They've changed the curriculum around so much the past 3 years from when I went into it that at some times I wished I had come in just a year or two later in order to have room in my schedule to take some of the newer classes they offer
Do you know what you want to do for a living? Does concept art interest you or are you looking for a career as an illustrator for print ?
You don't like the foundation courses but you only need two of them, is that right? Does that mean you'll be part time for year one?
I don't think you can count on earning a large salary, certainly not at first.
Your career, by the way, will have to do with your portfolio, your skills and your professionalism. It will have very little to do with degrees or pedigrees (unless you plan to teach).
The only things to take into account are the quality of instruction, class size, depth of the curriculum.
I can't believe the numbers you've quoted.You don't have to stay at the same school for four years. Perhaps you should apply to RISD later on, as a transfer student, and try for a scholarship.
Also, if you work next year and try for '08 perhaps you could take the two courses you're missing and go straight into year 2 at your local school! You could also apply for those scholarships you didn't know about. If you are working for $ and also taking a couple of courses and improving your portfolio, you'll be very busy. It will also give you time to get used to " the big bad world." I direct Max the Mutt Animation School in Toronto, and we often find that a year or two in the real world gives entering students an edge. They are motivated, they know what it means to work for a living, and they usually are better at organizing their time.
Good luck to you, and let us know what you decide to do.
Last edited by Maxine Schacker; May 27th, 2007 at 09:45 PM.
I have very little to offer in the way of advice, however the notion of taking a year to get out on your own and work some, although the pay won't be great as a high school graduate (or home schooled equivalent) the experience will be worth it.
At 18 I joined the Army and before I knew it I was stationed in South Korea. By my 20th birthday I had almost finished a year long combat tour in Iraq, had been to at least 10 different countries and had only been at home for maybe a month since my graduation from high school. Your experiences in the big bad world probably won't be nearly as intense as that, so if I can do it, I'm sure you can too.
In the end, you have to decide what you really want and go for it. I know there are many possible paths, just try and choose one that you won't regret taking later on.
Well, I decided that I don't want to go to VCU, and I reeeeally want to go to RISD, but I couldn't make it work this year. So I'm taking the next year to work, save up some money, put some serious effort into improving my art skills (meaning I'll probably be back to posting here more often), find some scholarships and other financial help, and also take some figure drawing classes, with the plan of going to RISD next Fall. I'm pretty happy with the decision.
Maxine: I'm hoping to be an illustrator when I get out. My dream is to someday write and illustrate children's books.
There is no way in hell you are going to recoup that kind of money as an illustrator. Print media is dead, dead, dead, dead. Book illustration pays poorly unless you are a rare lucky star. Read my comments in this thread. http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=53778
I taught at RISD and there is one graduate of that program still selling art supplies, 10 years after graduation. He wanted to be a book illustrator too.
Get the stars out of your eyes and get practical. If you are talented and your local school has what you need, you will do well with or without a RISD degree.
You are going to have so much debt, how in God's name are you going to pay it off?