College guidance

Applying to art school: Choosing the right program

Advice from Sam Byron, Assistant Director of Admissions, The College of Performing Arts at The New School

Cialfo Community
June 1, 2021
6 min read
Applying to art school: Choosing the right program
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Applying to art school: Choosing the right program

Just as there isn’t a field more varied, exciting and subjective than the arts, there is also no singular path towards artistic fulfilment or professional success. 

Deciding on the program that’s right for you and getting to grips with the whole application process can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be!

Choosing the program that's right for you

There are so many options when it comes to pursuing the arts. A good place to start is by figuring out who you are and what you want from your university experience — understanding this will help you immensely when it comes to choosing the program best suited for you. Not every student thrives in the same environment, so it’s important to consider what you personally enjoy, what your goals are, and how you work best.

Two key questions to ask yourself are:

What kind of artist am I?

While you may be well-versed in many forms of art, this is the time to decide what area(s) you want to focus on. Knowing how you see yourself artistically can go a long way in finding a creative incubator that’s exactly right for you.

What kind of student am I?

Consider whether you are better suited to learn in a classroom environment or if you prefer being guided one-on-one, and whether you learn better hands-on or with theory-based materials. Do you like following a prescribed syllabus, or do you want to have more control over curating your interests?

Other key factors to consider include:

  • Career goals
  • Location
  • Focus vs. flexibility of program
  • Flexibility and resources available

What’s the difference between a BA and BFA?

Another thing to consider is the type of undergraduate degree you want to undertake. Degrees typically consist of 120 credits, which are distributed differently depending on whether the institute is offering a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, or if it is a conservatory. 

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

  • Consists of 60 credits of degree requirements, 60 credits of general education/electives 
  • There is more of an academic focus with some practical and studio-based opportunities
  • There is more flexibility to take a minor/double majors

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

  • Consists of 90 credits of degree requirements, 30 credits of general education/electives
  • There is more focus on practical skills, with some practice based coursework
  • There are fewer opportunities to take a minor/double major


  • These are non-accredited (certificate)
  • Limited to theatre/ acting courses only (no liberal arts/ general education)
  • Typically two years-long

A big thank you to Sam Byron, Assistant Director of Admissions, The College of Performing Arts at The New School for his invaluable insights and expert advice that made this webinar and article possible.

Image credits: Jeffrey F Lin and Logan Weaver

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