Interested in studying arts in the US? Check out the complete guide

How to Prepare Yourself to Apply


Getting in: The Art School Application Process

From presenting carefully crafted portfolios to preparing for rigorous in-person auditions, the application process for a degree in the arts is a demanding one. From architecture to fashion design, talented students from around the world present their best work to compete for a coveted spot in these selective programs.

Applications in the US are generally due four to 10 months before the start date of the program, and international students should plan for visa applications and international travel for auditions and interviews. Students may be required to submit proof of English proficiency such as TOEFL scores.

The application process for arts programs typically involves standard items such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, entrance exam scores (such as the SAT or GRE), a personal essay, and an application fee. In addition, here are some things prospective applicants should keep in mind when applying for programs in the following fields:


Applications generally require a paper or digital portfolio and may require a research proposal—an important requirement for graduate architecture programs at Yale, for example.

Portfolios should feature technical and artistic examples of 2- and 3-dimensional work. North Carolina State University outlines detailed recommended portfolio specifications for students interested in the Master of Architecture.

Design and Visual Arts

Whether interested in industrial design, photography, or painting, a portfolio of your best work is key to the application process. At Parsons School of Design, 40% of the student body is international and undergraduate applications can be completed online with no interview required. Portfolios can often be submitted digitally—at Columbia University, prospective Visual Arts MFA students are requested to upload exactly 20 digital images of their best work: 15 images for Painting, and otherwise as many as 20 images and/or videos, depending on the genre.

Media Arts

A portfolio for a media arts program should show off both technical and creative skills. Presenting a diversity of strengths in this broad field may mean submitting both videos (time limits are generally specified) and still images as examples of work.

Performing Arts

Programs in music, theatre and dance usually require in-person auditions. At Towson University, for example, prospective dance students take part in an all-day group audition and are notified of an admissions decision within one week of the audition.


Programs have varied requirements. At Columbia University, for example, students may submit up to 30 minutes of film work (strongly suggested for applicants to the Directing concentration) and write an original scene based on given prompts—in addition to providing an autobiographical essay, a dramatic writing sample, and a feature film treatment.


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