Top education options for a career in the Arts.
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Last Updated: January 31, 2023, by TACP Staff
Attending an art school online allows you to pursue a career in art without attending a brick-and-mortar physical building – an ideal opportunity for many potential students. Whether you’re brand new to art or you have extensive experience and want to learn something new, an online art school could be exactly what you need. Numerous online art schools are available, all of which offer a high-quality college education in multiple arts disciplines. Graphic design, animation, interior design, fashion, art history, printmaking – the list goes on. If you dream of getting a formal education and a degree in the arts, you can find an online program to meet your needs. Of course, to move forward with your plans in confidence, you’ll need to do some research. We are here to help with that process.
We’ll try to help you learn everything you need to know about online art schools. We’ll look at the different kinds of degree programs available, the advantages and disadvantages of each type of program, and more. For your consideration, we’ve even provided a summary of some of the best online art schools at a variety of colleges and universities.
Several different degree options are available in fine arts, including an associate of fine arts degree, a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree, and a master of fine arts (MFA) degree. The type of degree you choose to pursue depends on your career goals, schedule, and budget.
The two main types of online fine arts degree programs are the hybrid program and the online-only program. In a hybrid program, you complete some of your coursework online and take other courses in a studio setting, such as a pottery-making class for a degree in ceramics. The second type is a fully online program, in which you complete all of your coursework online from your laptop or home computer. The completely online programs take advantage of modern technology, so you can upload your work for your instructors to examine. Your professors demonstrate art techniques in a virtual format. Both types of programs serve the needs of the students, but some students prefer one or the other. Some find they need in-person time with their classmates and instructors, while others prefer the flexibility of a fully online program.
For any career you’re considering in the fine arts, you can begin with an associate of fine arts degree at the college of your choice. An associate’s degree requires a shorter time commitment, which helps make earning a degree more manageable and affordable. You can get a degree – and acquire the foundational art skills that you need – in just two years. And because you’ll only be in school for a short while, the tuition is less than that required for a more advanced degree as well.
An associate’s degree program combines art classes with general education courses to provide a firm foundation in your chosen discipline. You can expect to learn about art history and other general education fundamentals. Any hours remaining in your course program allow time for you to build your skills in the fine arts and in the specific area of the arts that you have chosen as your major discipline.
An associate’s degree allows you to get your proverbial foot in the door of higher education. Finding the right associate’s degree program allows you to transfer your credit hours to a bachelor’s program to complete your studies. During the associate’s program, you can fulfill many of your core requirements for a bachelor’s degree to enable you to move confidently into your next two years of school to complete a four-year degree.
If you want a combination of a four-year degree in fine arts along with all the benefits of a four-year liberal arts degree, acquiring a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from an accredited college is ideal. A bachelor of fine arts (BFA) takes you even further into the world of fine arts, both in terms of helping you improve your skills in your particular area of focus and by improving your eligibility for various career opportunities. If you already have your associate’s degree from another college, you should be able to transfer many or all of your credits to your bachelor’s program.
A bachelor’s of fine arts degree at a standard college of art or university typically takes approximately four years to complete. The curriculum provides the same foundation in art history and art theory that you receive in an associate’s degree program. However, as expected, the additional two years of education take you further along your path toward becoming a professional artist. You will have the opportunity to hone your skills in art techniques, such as drawing, painting, and 3D design, as well as to refine the techniques necessary for success in the discipline of your choice. You’ll have experienced instructors to provide direction. The critiques you receive from your professors and your peers will help you grow as an artist and improve your abilities and get you closer to the professional level.
Many of the jobs available in today’s marketplace require a bachelor’s degree, and an arts degree is no exception. For example, to enter the field of graphic design, you will be better served with a BFA than with an associate’s degree. Many design firms, for instance, require a BFA simply to apply. It’s not that you can’t get a job in graphic design with an associate’s degree, but you will be eligible for more positions with a BFA than without. The same is true in art history, art design, or any area of the arts. There is no substitute for a world-class education at a college or university – especially in a competitive job market.
Students who want to achieve the highest levels of a college of art and design degree should consider a master’s in fine arts program. A master’s program allows you to immerse yourself completely in your chosen field, so you not only learn as much as possible about your craft but also techniques and methodologies that refine your skills and increase your knowledge base. Master’s programs require a bachelor’s degree prior to application. At a standard college, a master’s program typically takes two years to complete.
Not every fine art student is prepared to pay the fees associated with earning a master’s degree at a college or university. Many students are satisfied with an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. So, why pursue an online MFA program? You may want to receive as much professional instruction in your chosen discipline as possible from qualified instructors who can help you reach your fullest potential. Perhaps your goal is to open an art gallery or work in a museum; if so, you’ll need an in-depth understanding of art history and have the appropriate professional credentials, such as an MFA. Or, you may be interested in teaching art at a college or university. An MFA is typically necessary to qualify for teaching positions at the college or university level.
Not every fine art student wants to pursue an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree. Some students only want to improve their techniques and enhance their natural talents in their chosen discipline. Fine arts certificate programs are designed for these students. Certificate programs are offered at colleges, technical schools, and specialty art schools that focus on certificates, not degrees. When you want to improve your art and don’t need or want to complete the general education requirements of a liberal arts degree – such as core classes in English and math – a certificate program might be appealing. You can choose an art certificate program in many different areas that will help you learn artistic techniques and theories. Some programs take less than a year to complete, while others may take two or even four years. Online classes offer students an opportunity to train in drawing, painting, mixed media, 3D design, graphic arts, and other art-related courses.
Certificate programs are useful for jump-starting your career in the fine arts. If you’re seeking employment in an industry that requires established skills, such as graphic design or photography, you can complete a certificate program to learn the basics that allow you to get started. These kinds of programs offer a practical way to learn and/or improve your fine arts skills and build your expertise.
A surprising variety of art degrees are offered by colleges and universities. From music to interior design, architecture to industrial design, degrees are offered to meet the needs of every potential art student. If you’re like many art students, you’re passionate about a certain element of art or design. Perhaps you’ve been drawing and designing fashions all your life, and you want to make fashion design a career. But if you’re not yet sure which degree path you want to take, you’re not alone. We’ll discuss some of the most popular career options here for you to consider. These degrees focus on different areas of the arts and help prepare you for a career in their respective fields. Whether you earn an associate’s degree, BFA or MFA, your arts degree will give you more confidence and improve your skills. In addition, the degree will open opportunities for employment in a job that allows you to follow your passions as well as to earn a living.
The visual and performing arts discipline covers a variety of art genres under one umbrella, including graphic design, dance, drawing, sculpting, painting, acting, photography, and many others. If you like to create art that connects with an audience by using movement, images, voice, or design, earning a visual and performing arts degree allows you to obtain both artistic and professional satisfaction. The coursework will vary depending on the program and your preferred area of focus, but generally, the curriculum allows you to express yourself through imagery or performance.
Additionally, as a graduate of a visual arts program, your career opportunities vary significantly depending on the area of focus. For example, if you focus on acting, you probably should expect a gradual increase in work opportunities as you get parts, gain experience, and make more connections. Most acting professionals begin by working another job in addition to acting until they have the opportunity to join an acting company or build a significant reputation. In contrast, graphic designers often can find a job as soon as they graduate. Some of the most in-demand careers for visual and performing arts majors are open to graduates with degrees in graphic design, art instruction, photography, and multimedia art and animation.
Fine and studio arts degrees are other types of arts degrees that vary in scope from quite broad to more specific. Both fine art and studio art have multiple areas of focus, including sculpting, photography, illustration, digital media, painting, graphic design, illustration, and more, with instruction in a range of techniques. If you’re not especially passionate about one area at the beginning of your degree, taking a wide variety of art classes can help you discover the artistic genre or medium that interests you most. You may want to specialize in one of the areas that fall under this particular degree, such as weaving, art history, printmaking, ceramics, art design, metalworking, jewelry, and so on.
The most popular jobs for fine and studio art majors vary depending on the degree holder’s area of focus. Some of the most sought-after jobs by hiring managers include positions in teaching, design, art direction, photography, and multimedia arts and animation.
A music degree program can help transform you from a performing musician or songwriter into a professional musician. Like other degree programs, you can choose an area of focus in music, such as music education, music history, or performance. In the program, you can expect your coursework to include a focus on music, along with the standard core classes for an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. However, a certificate program in music means you’ll likely concentrate most, if not all of your coursework, on music-related classes.
With a degree in music, you can work in a variety of music-related jobs, the most obvious is a professional musician. The competition is significant for these jobs, however, which is why many music majors work in other fields as well as performing on the side. You may work as a music director, composer, sound technician, or music teacher. A music degree is not a guaranteed ticket to employment in the music industry, but if you’re passionate and driven, it can serve as an important foundation for a career. You may find more employment opportunities in the cities with a busy performing music scene and a recording industry, such as Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville.
A culinary arts degree is designed to help you become a professional in the food industry. While studying for your degree, you’ll learn the elements of a successful career, including food safety, restaurant service, beverages, baking, hospitality, nutrition, world cuisine, and more. Your degree program will begin with basic food topics like food safety, but eventually, you’ll be able to concentrate your coursework on the areas that interest you most. For example, if you love baking, you can specialize in pastries, bread, and other related areas of food preparation. If you want to get into the industry as soon as possible, a certificate program or an associate’s degree may equip you with the basic skills to obtain an entry-level job in a restaurant or other foodservice business. If you aspire to become an executive chef or manage corporate restaurants, a bachelor’s degree might be more appropriate. The job market may be more expansive in cities with a lively restaurant scene.
Culinary arts majors can pursue a wide variety of options. You might begin as a line cook, “graduate” to a saucier position, and eventually, work up to a chef or pastry chef position. Alternatively, you may find work as a food service manager or a nutrition specialist in a medical care setting. Many different jobs are available in the foodservice industry, each offering different opportunities and challenges for graduates of culinary arts programs.
In a graphic design degree program, you’ll learn how to combine color, photography, print, illustration, typography, design, and other visual elements to communicate ideas and concepts. In graphic design degree programs, you will create designs both by hand and using a computer. Your coursework may include classes in 2D design, 3D design, digital imaging, life drawing, typography, package design, digital prepress, and more. A graphic design position allows you to use your natural creative abilities in a commercial context, which means you can qualify for jobs with relatively high wages immediately upon graduation.
Once you have your degree, you’ll find a variety of available career options. You may begin your career as an entry-level designer or graphic artist at a marketing or advertising agency or with a printing company. After you gain experience, you will qualify for a position such as designer, head designer, art director, and, ultimately, creative director. Alternatively, you can use your graphics arts skills in other areas to become a multimedia artist, animator, illustrator, drafter, digital media/web specialist, industrial designer, product designer, social content designer, and more.
Architecture is both an art and a science. In this career, you will engage your creative side while utilizing engineering and physics to ensure your designs can be built in the real world. An architecture degree program teaches you the history of architecture, architectural theory, materials, sustainable technologies, and other coursework related to architecture. Depending on the program, you may have to take foundational, core coursework before you dive into learning the actual practice of architecture. However, by committing to a program, you will earn your degree and acquire a working knowledge of architecture that prepares you for a job in the field.
The careers available to you as an architecture major are more diverse than you might assume. While becoming an architect is the most obvious, other positions available include architectural technologist, building surveyor, production designer, interior and spatial designer, town planner, and structural engineer. Some of these careers may require real-world job experience and expertise, but your architecture degree will provide the strong foundation you need to begin.
Interior design majors learn how to create safe, healthy, comfortable, and sustainable environments. While you’ll learn basic artistic elements like mood and aesthetics, you will also study research-based practices, such as how to create a safe, functional space. Your coursework may include classes in graphic communication, color theory, computer-aided drafting (CAD), history of interior design, business practices for interior design, and similar classes. Much like architecture, your degree teaches you how to combine your artistic abilities with science to produce interiors that achieve multiple objectives. Once you obtain your degree, you will need to get certified, registered, and/or licensed in your state to practice your craft.
With an interior design degree, you can pursue several different careers. You may work in commercial interior design for retailers, at architecture firms that focus on interior design, residential building construction, and so on. Your area of focus depends on your interests and the opportunities available to you upon graduation. With degree in-hand, you may want to concentrate your job search in cities with rapidly growing economies and multiple construction opportunities.
An animation degree program helps you learn how to tell digital stories using a variety of animation techniques, such as 3D animation, editing, figure drawing, 3D design and modeling, digital cinema production, and animation. While you’ll probably begin your education by taking more basic, general courses, as you progress, you can expect to focus on areas that interest you most.
Animators find work in numerous industries, which means you should enjoy multiple career options. You can become a website developer, graphic designer, video game illustrator, business marketer, producer, art director, director, or multimedia artist. While the most obvious animation jobs are in big-budget film productions and television shows, plenty of other entities hire skilled animators. From instructional and safety films to broadcast commercials, you can find a place for your skills and your passion.
If you love movies and want to work in film, a film and cinema degree is an excellent choice. Every traditional degree program begins with courses that cover broad subjects, such as the history of film, art history, and other standard core classes, but once you are more involved in the program, you can choose the areas to focus on. Your degree program might include classes in visual storytelling, scriptwriting, cinematography, sound, animation, directing, business of film, and similar courses. Your program may concentrate more on the academic side of film and cinema, or its emphasis might be on film production. Be sure to choose a program that suits your education objectives, passion, and career goals.
After you earn your degree, look for a job in any of the areas related to film and cinema. The most obvious positions to pursue are directing, screenwriting, producing, editing, and camera operation. To be clear, the degree will serve only to start your career. You most likely will need to begin in an entry-level position, such as working as a production assistant, before you’re entrusted with the full responsibility of the position. Other graduates of film and cinema degree programs take a different career path less focused on film production. You might go into academics and teaching, film studies and research, and so on.
A fashion and apparel design degree program prepares you to use your artistic sensibilities to design and produce fashions, apparel, and related accessories. During your coursework, you will take classes in apparel design, accessory design, computer-assisted design, concept planning, specific fashions for groups (men’s, women’s, and children’s), history of fashion, and fashion management. Most students who want a career in fashion gravitate toward institutes that focus primarily on fashion or the arts, although degree programs are available in schools that offer more general education-type degrees.
After you graduate, you can begin your career in the fashion industry. As with so many arts-related industries, you likely will begin your career in an assistant-type position as you enter the industry to help get established. Possible career paths for fashion and apparel design majors include fashion design, teaching, fashion journalism, fashion merchandising, fashion product management, fashion buyer, textile designer, marketing, and retail manager. You may want to begin your career working in some of the fashion capitals of the United States, such as New York or Los Angeles, or open your own boutique industry.
Since you’re researching online art schools, you’re probably already aware of some of the advantages of online art schools. Getting your degree online provides flexibility, variety, and cost savings. In addition, it allows the option to continue working while you go to school. You’ll receive these benefits whether you’re learning graphic design, culinary arts, art history, or any other art genre. Let’s look a little closer at some of the benefits of an online art degree.
Online courses often offer flexible classes, which is important when you have other obligations besides school. You can pace your education according to your personal needs. If you have family obligations or job responsibilities to maintain while attending classes, online learning can be ideal for your needs. You can correlate your studies with your schedule and study from home – or a coffee shop.
The colleges and universities in your immediate surroundings may offer only a few types of arts degrees. But when you obtain your education online, you can choose from a large variety of programs. You can probably find a degree program in any art genre or field you can imagine.
Many students don’t have the luxury of going to school full-time. If you must work while studying for your degree, an online degree curriculum is perfect. You can control when and where you take your classes, study, and submit your work. You can pay your bills as you invest in your future career. Depending on your goals, you can work part-time jobs or full-time jobs while participating in an online degree program.
Online classes often are less expensive than in-person classes at a brick-and-mortar institution. In addition, you won’t have to pay the extra expenses associated with real-life classes, such as parking and commuting. Another possible cost savings is the possibility to avoid paying out-of-state tuition. If you’re trying to spend less money on your education, online degrees are worth consideration because online tuition is almost always more affordable than the tuition at a college or university that requires in-person courses.
If you’re not tech-oriented, that’s OK. Many online degree students begin their education with minimal technical knowledge. As you pursue your degree curriculum, you’ll gain the technical skills you need to do your schoolwork, attend classes, and maintain communications with your teachers and peers. By the end of your degree program, you will be much more tech-savvy.
An online art degree can help you achieve your career goals and increase your artistic skills at the same time. So, how do you choose the right online art school? There are numerous online art schools that offer a high-quality education and a path to earning an artist’s income. The key is to find the one that fits your unique needs.
Prospective students seeking an online art degree may evaluate dozens of schools to find the best program to suit their needs. This is especially true for aspiring artists who intend to pursue a degree via distance learning. Art is a unique career that requires a robust education with a dynamic curriculum that is tailored to the needs of an artist. Most art disciplines require a strong foundation in formal art concepts and techniques, which means that the best online art programs often provide advanced learning software and technology to support close interaction with instructors, collaboration with other students, and support structures.
Listed below are some of the nation’s top online art colleges and universities selected for their combination of academic excellence, innovative technology, and rich online curriculum.
The best indication that an online degree is valuable to you, the student, is that the school or the program itself has received at least one outside accreditation. This means that a third-party educational organization has reviewed the college or program and decided it meets rigorous requirement standards for accreditation. A college may receive an official nod from one of six regional accrediting bodies across the United States. These agencies have all received approval from the Department of Education.
Agencies that provide accreditation for specific programs look at the courses offered in each program to determine how well they prepare students to use the skills in a career after graduation. Accrediting bodies also consider how a specific program fits into the college’s overall offerings. A major accrediting agency in the art discipline is the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Listed below are several of the most common criteria reviewed by accrediting agencies before confirming a school’s accreditation status.
Student support and resources is important for all students, but it is especially so for online students who don’t have the benefit of face-to-face communication with professors, staff, and other students. Students who complete their degree requirements online should feel like they have the same access to support and resources as everyone else. At a minimum, the online college should offer:
Completing an online degree takes a major commitment of time and financial resources. It is, therefore, essential that the curriculum challenges students personally and professionally. It also needs to be relevant to their eventual career goals. Teaching an online class requires creativity on the part of instructors who must ensure that students are fully engaged and have a variety of formats in which to learn.
The school itself and the professors who teach there should have an outstanding reputation for excellence. For teachers, this goes well beyond mastery of subject material. They should take a passionate interest in the success of each student and make themselves available for those who require additional help. This is true for coursework on-campus as well as online. The administration should also have a strong record of sound fiscal management and decisions that improve the experience of staff and students alike.
Some career fields, more than others, lend themselves to online or distance learning. Until recently, students, people in higher education, and many in the artistic community couldn’t envision mastering different drawing techniques or learning how to properly spin a potter’s wheel, online. Today, however, many schools are moving in that direction by offering students a respected alternative to on-campus programs. In the most recent 2018 report from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, it was estimated that approximately one of every six students, or a third of all students, are currently enrolled in at least one distance education course at a degree-granting postsecondary institution.
Art is a broad field that allows for numerous areas of specialization for those completing a bachelor degree or higher. The information below highlights several possibilities for specialization along with possible careers within each:
The fine arts and design specialty involves the creation, production, and sale of works of art, in addition to the design of graphics, clothing, animation, and more. Some of the specific career fields that a person with a degree in fine arts and design might enter include:
People in the field of visual communications send a message through a variety of mediums, including photography, animation, illustration, and graphic design. Some online schools require students majoring in visual communications to choose a specialty while others only encourage students to choose a concentration. Graphic designers typically learn how to manipluate a large number of computer programs in order to create graphics for websites, digital ads, and print media. Examples of jobs within this category include:
People in this job meet with clients to gain an in-depth understanding of the brand and message the client’s company wants to convey. They select colors, images, determine layout, and text style for corporate logos, business websites, product illustrations, and more.
This role requires a vast, but detailed skill set. Someone with a specialized degree in interactive media may create animation and graphics for electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets or develop various types of educational and industry-specific software.
A student whose degree is more on the art theory and history side of things may enjoy a career that allows him or her to research, find, and then select historical documents, artifacts, and works of art for museum displays.
A media arts and animation specialty prepare students to produce 2D and 3D computer-generated art that helps objects and characters come to life for the viewer. Strong skills in drawing, illustration, and design are required for success in this field. Specific career possibilities include:
Animation is the process of using drawings and computer programs to create graphics for video games, movies, or visual effects on a website or other form of multimedia. Along with many other skills, this involves developing storyboards in sequential order that eventually become an animated graphic.
A digital media producer is responsible for the creation and management of digital content, including DVDs, streaming files, and downloadable movies and music. Someone in this role is involved with a project from its initial concept until delivery to the client. They often supervise the work of a creative team as well.
A web developer with an undergraduate or graduate degree in art helps to design and create websites. He or she integrates audio, video, and graphics into the site and then tests it to make sure that it’s fully functional.
The Art Career Project is a trusted resource for emerging and professional artists.