schools for illustration in the us

11 Best Schools for Illustration in the US in 2023

Do you have an interest in Illustration? Are you a writer who uses illustrations in your work and wishes to take a second degree in the program? Do you already have basic illustration knowledge and skills and wish to hone your skills more?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you’d find this list of the best schools for Illustration in the US valuable.

You’d also have a better understanding of what illustrators do and the career options available to them. There are very few art career options out there that offer you the flexibility and creative flair you’d get as an illustrator.

Let’s get to the core of the matter.

Before we get into that, you might want to read about the Top 10 Schools For HVAC In The States

What is an Illustration?

An illustration is a painting, photograph, or any form of diagram made to interpret or give a visual representation of a concept or process.

Illustrations are seen in almost everything we do. From the newspapers and magazines we read, the teaching materials we use, the story books our kids read, to the video games and films we watch. They’re there to give us deeper meanings and a clearer perspective on the things around us.

What do illustrators do?

Illustrators create artistic images, diagrams, or drawings to visually present ideas or processes to a particular audience. They are visual artists who work in commercial or advertisement agencies, schools, publishing houses, and industries where seemingly difficult concepts need to be broken down into simpler ones.

As an illustrator, your creativity would be most appreciated in creative houses. You can also make something for yourself by going into freelancing.

Related: Top 10 Affordable Graphic Design Online Courses

Is there a high demand for illustrators?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the current number of illustrators in the US to be around 28,000. And there’s a projection that the figure would grow by 6.8 percent between 2021 and 2026.

This means there’s a moderate demand for illustrators in the US, but that’s not a surprise. A craft like this isn’t for everyone. You must have a deep interest in creative arts or raw talent to excel in them.

Best Schools for Illustration in the US

Best schools for Illustration in the US

In choosing a school for an illustration degree, you’ve got to consider schools with systems in place to help you develop your creativity, techniques, and business acumen. You’d need to understand the business aspect of your skills to make a living from them.

Here are the top 11 schools to earn a degree in Illustration in the US: 

1. Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) prides itself on its graduates making their marks in the global art industry. With many students who have artistic illustrations in museums in the US and the world at large, it makes more sense why RISD ranks as one of the best schools for Illustration in the US.

RISD offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Illustration. Students graduate with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Illustration.

The school is located in Providence, the capital city of Rhode Island. You can visit the school website for more information.

2. Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) illustration discipline is vast. The school offers four different illustration degree programs. They have a Bachelor of Arts (BA), which looks at Illustration from a broader perspective, and a more specialized Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). Both programs have graduate programs where you finish with a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.

SCAD, which has two campuses (Savannah and Atlanta) in Georgia, also offers its programs through its online platform, SCADnow. The school has systems in place to prepare you to be a master illustrator and make a rewarding career from the craft.

Visit the school website to learn more.

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3. School of Visual Arts

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York is home to some of the nation’s most creative illustration students. Its students are frequent winners in many industry-based student competitions.

SVA offers a BFA in Illustration, cartooning, animation, and several other art programs. With 69 faculty members as of 2021, SVA has the largest illustration faculty in the US.

SVA deserves consideration in your search as it consistently ranks among the nation’s top schools for Illustration, fine arts, and other creative disciplines. You can take a tour of the school website here.

4. Fashion Institute of Technology

If you’re considering the schools with the most extensive Illustration programs in the US, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) should be on your checklist. FIT is part of the State University of New York’s group of schools, and it’s located in the central city.

FIT focuses much on helping you develop your creative flair in arts along with the business aspect of the profession. You can take either the associate or the BFA degree career path. In addition, the BFA illustration program at FIT allows you to specialize in either fashion or general Illustration.

You can visit the school website to understand your options at FIT.

5. ArtCenter College of Design

ArtCenter College of Design offers a multitrack illustration program to its students. The students have the option of choosing from one of the six specialization tracks in the program:

  • Illustration Design Track
  • Entertainment Arts Track
  • Entertainments Arts Consumer Products Track
  • Fine Arts Painting Track
  • Motion Track
  • Surface Design Track.

Apart from its many specializations, the school also ensures the students have the business knowledge they need to run a successful illustration career. With two campuses in Pasadena, the school exposes students to a diverse learning environment.

Learn more from ArtCenter’s official website.

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6. Syracuse University

Syracuse University is a private research university in Syracuse, New York. With the many industry-focused opportunities it presents its students, there’s no doubt why it ranks as one of the best schools for Illustration in the US.

Students at Syracuse have the opportunity to focus on one or more of the following industry specialties:

  • Visual Development Focus
  • Editorial Focus
  • Sequential Focus
  • Product Focus

Its study abroad programs allow students to take a two-week industry immersion program in animation and film at one of the SU campuses in Florence, Italy, or Los Angeles, US.

Visit the school website to get more information.

7. Pratt Institute

Pratt Institute focuses on producing top illustration graduates with a core understanding of image communication and storytelling. The school offers a BFA in Communications Design with an emphasis on Illustration.

Pratt is a private university with its main campus in Brooklyn, New York. New York, which has one of the largest concentrations of artists in the US, presents many opportunities to Pratt students.

Visit Pratt Institute to learn more.

8. Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) emphasizes producing graduates who are visual communication experts. Students get in-depth training in dimensional and digital Illustration. RIT also offers a BFA in Medical Illustration, where students are taught to translate complex medical information into clear visual images.

RIT’s extensive illustration program is the reason it ranks as one of the leading schools for Illustration in the US. Learn more about the program by taking a tour of the school’s website.

9. Maryland Institute College of Art

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is a private art and design school in Baltimore, Maryland. MICA offers one major and two minor programs in Illustration. It also offers two graduate illustration programs, where students are awarded either an MFA or an MA in Illustration.

MICA is a leading school of arts in the US, known for its industry-leading faculty and learning system.

Visit the school website to learn more.

10. Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers its illustration program as a major in Communication Arts. You’ll, however, have the option to explore your interest in other exciting areas like observational drawing, digital image making, comic and graphic novels, etc.

VCU prepares you to have a broader view of the artistic and conceptual aspects of Illustration.

You can visit the school website to get more information about VCU.

Also read: Top 14 Schools For International Relations In The US 

11. Ringling College of Art and Design

Ringling College of Art and Design has graduates working for top companies like Apple, Cartoon Network, Blue Sky Studios, Google, Marvel Comic/Lucasfilm, and many more.

The school offers two BFA career paths to an illustration degree: the general illustration program and the visual development program.

Beyond preparing you to be a master illustrator, Ringling College also guides you on how to win awards, scholarships, and grants to kick-start your career.

You can learn more about Ringling College of Art and Design here.

Do I have to earn a degree to be an illustrator?

You do not need a degree to be a professional illustrator. The essential skills you need are your creativity and drawing skills.

However, a degree in the program gives you a more professional outlook and increases your earning potential.

What jobs can I do with a degree in Illustration?

A degree in Illustration can have you taking these key roles in top US firms:

  • Illustrator
  • Multimedia programmer
  • Animator
  • Concept artist
  • Graphic designer
  • Printmaker
  • Production designer

How much can I earn as an illustrator?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of an in-house illustrator in the US is $65,020.

Those in the lowest 10% earn an average annual salary of $31,200, while those in the top 10% earn $122,900.

Read: 10 Best Schools For Early Childhood Education

How do I become an illustrator?

To become a professional illustrator in the US, you have to follow this path:

  • Acquire hands-on training or pursue a degree in Illustration or a related field.
  • Pick a specialization and hone your skills in it
  • Build a solid portfolio to showcase your skills
  • Seek opportunities to showcase your portfolio and land your dream job

Conclusion on the schools for Illustration in the US

Illustration is a skill you’d enjoy if you already have a passion or strong interest in it. While it can’t be counted as one of the most popular career paths in the US, it can make a difference in your life if you have a sound knowledge of it.

Having artistic talents, being creative, and having a strong interest in Illustration are the most important things you need. However, attending one of the best schools for Illustration in the US will set you miles ahead in your career.

I hope you’ve learned from this article the best schools with world-class learning systems that could help you advance your career as an illustrator.

Frequently Asked Questions about schools for Illustration

What school has the best illustration program in the US?

Rhode Island School of Design has the best illustration program in the US. The way the programs at RISD are structured, students receive in-depth training on skill development, personal branding, and business.

What major is suitable for Illustration?

A major in any Fine Arts degree like painting, Illustration, or graphic design can see you master your craft in Illustration.

Can I become a good illustrator even if I’m not good at arts and crafts?

While having some artistic skills will help you in your career as an illustrator, it is not an essential prerequisite. All you need is your desire and willingness to learn, and you can excel in any discipline. Moreover, there are certain specializations in Illustration that don’t require many drawings.

How long do I need to study to be an illustrator?

An associate’s degree in Illustration takes two years to complete, while a bachelor’s degree takes four to five years.

What is the difference between an illustrator and a graphic designer?

While an illustrator deals more with using paint, diagrams, or graphs to pass a message, graphic designers use images, texts, and layouts to create commercial content.


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