Last minute grad school decisions! MID program analyses


I am in the (fortunate, I think) position of having to pick between several ID programs for graduate school. I have done a lot of reading through this and other forums about the respective programs I am considering, and have been lucky enough to visit them all and even take a class at a couple of schools. There are things that do and don’t appeal to me about each program/situation, and I have a very short amount of time to make a final decision, so I am eager for any feedback from graduate of these schools, employers of graduates from these schools, or anyone willing to volunteer their two cents!

A little more about me and my selection criteria for graduate schools: I have a background in fine arts (BFA Studio Art & Metalsmithing) and have worked professionally for the past 4 years since completing undergraduate studies as an art fabricator for 2 contemporary sculptors in NYC, while doing freelance commissions, production work, and softgood prototypes. With a very broad exposure to materials and processes and some graphic and digital understanding, I sought programs that would accept applicants without a strict ID background and foster my interest in design research, technical proficiency, etc. Essentially, I don’t want to go to art school again, and I’d like to graduate with a portfolio with which I can find work in the field.

Here are my assessments of the schools to which I was accepted. Any criticism of these analyses is welcomed! Obviously, my primary interest is to find out what other people think.

ART CENTER - A very recognizable name that turns out immaculate portfolios. I have been living in Los Angeles for the past 8 months, and was able to take an extension course here and have visited several times. I feel like there is a huge emphasis on producing portfolio-ready work, and Art Center has longstanding industry ties, which makes it feel like a little bit of a trade school, though not entirely in a bad way. There are multiple opportunities to collaborate on sponsored projects, and I watched a great thesis presentation that final-year graduates presented in cooperation with Drucker MBA grads from Claremont College. The bottom line is that Art Center is still an art & design school, which limits the extent of your range of study (for example, you could not take engineering or management courses here), and it is outrageously expensive. I think they do a good job preparing students for industry; there is a real entrepreneurial atmosphere and, again, excellent portfolios, but I was disappointed at the quality of research and written work I saw while I was there (possibly because there is a VERY large percentage of international students, not all of whom speak English as a first language) and I feel this is an important component of a quality education. Bonus points for being in LA, as I live here currently and would not have to move to attend.

PRATT - Another household name, but on the opposite end of the spectrum from Art Center. Prior to moving to LA, I lived in NY for several years and took a summer course at Pratt that I though was great. The school and facilities are much older than Art Center’s, and their curriculum has been criticized for being “antiquated.” While I can’t say whether or not that is true, there is certainly a much greater emphasis on design aesthetics, formal awareness, and less on the cutting edge technology and business end. I did find that there was a greater sense of community amongst the faculty and students here than in other places, and the location inevitably provides good work and internship opportunities, but I attended a graduate thesis exhibition recently and was not as blown away as I had hoped to be. I found the thesis topics a little unfocused and the digital slideshows a bit lackluster, and the craftsmanship of products and final models underwhelming. That said, there was a lot of variation in the quality of one presentation to the next, so perhaps the program is what you make of it. I found NYC in general to be a bit that way, and am on the fence about moving back to the snow, subway, and rats, so any Pratt feedback in particular would be appreciated, since I originally felt pretty confident that it would be the place for me. How does it maintain such a great reputation?

On another note, since Steve Diskin (formerly the chair at Art Center) took over a couple years ago, people have been crediting him with many positive changes and there is rumored to be Global Innovation Design Program beginning next year in which Pratt will be partnering with the Royal College of Art in London and Keio University in Tokyo.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE - This was the wildcard amongst my school choices. I did some research after seeing NCSU listed by Businessweek as a top program worldwide. It doesn’t have anything near the name-recognition that programs like Art Center and Pratt do, and is located in Raleigh, which I had never been to until last week. Surprisingly, it exceeded my expectations on many counts; the facilities were vast and well-equipped, the graduate and undergraduate work on display was thoughtful, innovative, and well-executed and presented, and the fact that the program is housed in a large state university opens up a lot of potential for cross-disciplinary study. The ID program itself is integrally linked with the Schools of Management, Engineering, and Textiles (NCSU is historically a major engineering and textile design/engineering/manufacturing hub), there are a good many corporate ties and sponsored projects, amazing research and study-abroad opportunities, fellowships, teaching, and the list goes on. Oh, and it’s afforable! I don’t understand why this school doesn’t receive better recognition. Because it’s a state school in a moderately remote location? My primary hesitations in jumping on board with NC State are just in its reputation and how it will be perceived after graduating (my bachelors degree is from a pretty well-known state school), and the general lack of stimulation/internships/other opportunities in a smaller community like Raleigh. North Carolina is beautiful, the weather is nice, and the cost of living is low, but it is a big move and feels a little uncertain.

CCA (California College of Art) - I’ll keep this one short and sweet since I’ve already effectively crossed it off the list. I visited CCA (the graduate campus in SF, not the larger undergraduate campus in Oakland) and thought it felt like too much of a traditional art school. Especially for the cost, I don’t want another art degree, and feel that Art Center is the better option if I am going to stay in California. Theirs is also an “interdisciplinary” rather than a strictly ID program. Anyone feel differently about CCA?

I (very sadly) received notice this week that I was not accepted off the waitlist for my “holy grail” of schools (Stanford), so another option I’ve been running around in my head is entering one of these grad programs and applying again for next year.

So, in conclusion, is name recognition worth the cost? How important is location? Social atmosphere?

I realize everyone has their own criteria, but a degree from a school is something that can and does effect a person’s potential for future success and well-being. What are your thoughts?


Art Center.

Also, Stanford doesn’t really graduate designers per se, so don’t worry about not getting in.

I’d have to agree with YO
If the bottom line for you is getting a job, this is effectivly a (first) proffesional degree, and two years is barely enough time to create a portfolio for this economy. So you wont have time to dabble in engineering or business or research beyond basics.

BTW, NC State is a very well regarded University program with a long track record.

Thanks, guys. I appreciate your opinions. For what it’s worth, all of these programs are 3-year degrees, which allows slightly more opportunity for electives, internships, etc.

So, Pratt is a definitive “NO”?