Frequently Asked Questions
The following page contains a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) often posed by students, parents, and the general public regarding NASAD’s work with art and design in higher education.
1. What role does NASAD play in education?
The major responsibility of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design is the accreditation of education programs in art and design, including the establishment of curricular standards and guidelines for specific degrees and credentials.
The Association also provides counsel and assistance to established and developing institutions and programs. NASAD is recognized by the United States Department of Education as the agency responsible for the accreditation of all art and design curricula.
In addition to the accreditation and consultation functions of the Association, NASAD publishes books and reports, holds an annual meeting and other forums, and provides information to the general public about educational programs in art and design.
NASAD works with other peer associations such as the AIGA, the professional association for design, the American Craft Council (ACC), the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD), the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), and the National Art Education Association (NAEA).
NASAD participates in the national conversation about educational issues with special emphases on art and design, the arts, and higher education.
2. Does NASAD rank schools?
NASAD accredits institutions located throughout the United States. To be an accredited member of NASAD, an institution must demonstrate to peer reviewers that it meets and maintains basic threshold standards outlined in the NASAD Handbook. Thus, NASAD institutional Membership provides an assurance that each accredited institution has implemented all standards of the Association applicable to the art and design programs it offers.
Although the Association provides a list of accredited institutional members that have met its published standards, it, like all other accrediting bodies, does not rank institutions or programs.
Rankings can be useful in a variety of contexts. However, it should be understood that rankings usually represent a compilation of subjective opinions about an institution’s past achievements rather than an in-depth review of its total capacity for quality work. When considering the results of any ranking, it is important to know who was asked what, by whom, and for what purpose. Further, institutions vary widely in their purposes and priorities. Rankings that attempt to cover a broad range of institutions or programs may be comparing apples and oranges. The best schools appearing on any particular list thus may or may not be the best schools for the development of a particular individual.
3. What does accreditation mean?
Accreditation is a non-governmental system of academic review. It is a process which periodically evaluates and produces an independent judgment by peers about the extent to which an institution or program achieves its own educational objectives and meets the standards established by an Association. Standards address operational and curricular issues fundamental to educational quality.
The granting of accredited Membership by the Commission on Accreditation signifies that an institution has successfully demonstrated compliance with the procedures, standards, and guidelines of the Association. Integral to this voluntary process is ongoing, regularized self-evaluation and peer review.
Accreditation, in practical terms, is a stamp of approval, a sign that an institution ascribes to, believes in, and has met an external set of basic criteria for the programs it offers. In some cases, accreditation assists in the transfer of credits from one institution to another. In all cases, it indicates that threshold standards are adhered to in a fashion that provides a base of academic strength and operational integrity.
4. What standards are used for accreditation?
The standards are developed and approved by the accredited institutional members of NASAD in consultation with other art and design professionals and organizations. As published in the Handbook of the Association, they provide a basic framework for the accreditation process, thus allowing objective analysis of an art and/or design unit including all curricular offerings in art and design. They serve as the basis for dialogue (a) within an institution as it prepares a self-study in preparation for an NASAD review, (b) between an institution and the Association (the visiting evaluators and the Commission), and (c) between the Association and the public as a whole.
The Association does not attempt to develop detailed formulas, plans of course work, or other inflexible specifications which might impinge on the freedom of an institution to develop individual programs. Instead, NASAD has developed standards and associated guidelines which are specific enough to ensure a certain level of educational quality, but are not so restrictive as to stifle experimentation, innovation, and individuality of program content.
The NASAD Handbook contains standards and guidelines for degree-granting programs in art and design in the following areas:
- Basic Criteria for Membership
- Purposes and Operations
- Art and Design Program Components
- Undergraduate Programs in the Visual Arts and Design
- Admission to Undergraduate Study
- Two-Year Degree-Granting Programs
- The Liberal Arts Degree with a Major in Art/Design
- All Professional Baccalaureate Degrees in Art/Design
- Specific Professional Baccalaureate Degrees in Art/Design
- Professional Combination Degrees in Studio and Art History
- Baccalaureate Degrees in Art Education
- Baccalaureate Degrees in Preparation for Advanced Professional Study
- Graduate Programs in the Visual Arts and Design
- Admission to Graduate Study
- Specific Initial Graduate Degree Programs
- Specific Terminal Degree Programs
NASAD has also developed standards and guidelines for two-year degree-granting colleges, non-degree-granting institutions, and community education art and design programs.
5. Must all schools be accredited?
No. Accreditation in the United States is voluntary. It is the prerogative of an institution to seek accreditation from NASAD. However, the United States Secretary of Education requires that institutions as a whole maintain accreditation from a recognized institutional agency in order to be eligible to participate in Title IV funding programs. This connection, in some cases, makes NASAD accreditation a necessity for an independent school of art/design.
Beyond these issues, holding accredited status indicates that an institution or program takes a particular approach to academic citizenship. It signifies:
- that objective, external peer review is accepted and welcomed.
- that standards, procedures, and guidelines agreed to by peer institutions representing the field as a whole are in place and serving the students enrolled.
- that published threshold standards are adhered to in a fashion that provides a continuous base of academic strength and operational integrity.
- that there is a long-term commitment to participate with and support other institutions in maintaining and developing the quality of art/design instruction throughout the nation.
For these and other reasons, large numbers of institutions and programs seek, acquire, and maintain NASAD accreditation.
6. Is institution XYZ accredited by NASAD?
A searchable listing of accredited institutional members may be found under Directory Lists: Accredited Institutions.
7. Can I get a list of institutional accredited members of NASAD?
NASAD maintains an online Directory of accredited institutional members.
8. Which schools offer a specific type of degree or program?
It is an institution’s prerogative to decide which curricular offerings it will make available to students. In many cases, institutions work with state boards of higher education to ensure that sufficient offerings are available.
NASAD does not recommend or favor the offering of one curricular program over another. It does, however, review all programmatic offerings in art and design to ascertain if each one and all constituent parts meets the standards and guidelines of the Association.
There are at least two ways to find out what curricular programs are being offered by accredited institutional members: first, the institution’s own catalog, and second, the NASAD Directory.
Copies of an institution’s catalog should be requested directly from the institution.
9. How do I discover which schools are best for me?
The easiest way to discover which school is best for you is to have a general idea of what characteristics you are looking for in an institution and what you are interested in studying. Once these issues have been decided, the remainder of the task should be focused on research, study, and the process of elimination.
Each institution of higher education typically publishes catalogs and other documents of valuable and informative material ranging from campus size to student life, from curricular offerings to course descriptions. Usually, these publications are readily available from an institution’s admissions office.
For the reasons noted under FAQ #2 (Does NASAD rank schools?), it is important to develop an in-depth knowledge of ranking systems, the parameters used by those ranking, and the reasons for the actual ranking. Make sure those areas ranked are those that are important and apply to you. A school at the top of a particular chart may not, by this indicator alone, be a perfect match for you. Learn about an institution. Study what it has to offer and how effectively it delivers education in your particular area of interest. Talk with art and design professionals you know and respect, with recent graduates, with those who work professionally in your area of career interest. Look for matches between (a) your personality and goals, and (b) the institution’s environment, approaches to learning, artistic agenda, and corporate culture.
Try to visit campuses. Typically, institutions will provide informative tours for prospective students and their parents. These tours should provide a flavor of the institution as well as an opportunity to pose questions and have them answered face-to-face by administrators, faculty, and/or students.
Approached without a plan, college hunting can be daunting. Approached with a plan, it should be an intellectual fact-finding mission that leaves the potential student with several positive choices and potential matches.
10. How do I apply for admission to an art and design school?
Applications for admission to art and design schools can only be made directly with the institution. Typically, a potential student will need to fill out an application form providing information such as high school course work taken, grades achieved, extracurricular activity involvement, etc. In addition, art and design institutions normally wish to see a prospective student’s portfolio.
Students are encouraged to speak directly with admission counselors and art and design unit representatives in order to ascertain all information needed to complete an institution’s application process.
For a list of accredited institutional members, see Directory Lists: Accredited Institutions.
11. How do I get a loan, grant, and/or scholarship to a school?
Loans, grants, and scholarships may be available from a variety of sources. NASAD does not offer students any type of financial assistance. Contact should be made directly with the source of assistance.
Typically, institutions and the federal government offer different types of loans, grants, and/or scholarships. Questions regarding institutional financial aid should be directed to an institution’s financial aid office. Questions regarding federal student aid may also be posed to the institution’s financial aid office as well as to the student financial aid office of the federal government.
Banks typically are a good source of financial aid assistance in the form of low interest loans. Some investigation and comparative shopping of interest rates in this area may provide useful information.
In addition, private scholarship money is made available annually for reasons such as need, area of study, place of residence, etc. The local library may be able to assist with publications listing possible sources of aid.
12. Will my prospective school accept transfer credits from my previous school?
Although one of the main reasons the accreditation system was formed almost 100 years ago was to establish more uniform methods of granting credit, accreditation alone does not ensure that an institution will accept transfer credits.
It is each institution’s prerogative to accept the disposition and number of academic credits earned at other institutions. Usually, the transfer of credits is agreed to on a case-by-case basis depending upon the institution attended, the courses taken, and the course content. In some cases, a satisfactory examination score or portfolio review is necessary before credit will be transferred. Students wishing to transfer credits from one institution to another should pose inquiries regarding acceptable practice to the transferring institution, ideally before the transfer process commences.
Normally, admissions officers are authorized to clarify the policies and procedures of the institution. Keep in mind that all institutions do not handle the transfer of credit in the same fashion. Specific information should be requested from each institution to which you may transfer.
Students at community/junior colleges intending to transfer to four year institutions should get a list of articulation (transfer) agreements the community/junior colleges maintain with other institutions, or inquire at the beginning of the freshman year regarding the transfer requirements and policies of institutions to which the student may transfer.
13. In NASAD’s experience, what are the most important things to do in making applications to art and design schools?
- Sharpen your focus: decide what you would like to study. List specifics regarding conditions and environments you seek; prioritize your requirements.
- Start your inquiry process in enough time to collect the information you will need to make informed choices based on your decisions and priorities.
- Design questions that will help you to find out if an institution offers what you seek.
- Acquire and study the printed information available from institutions that interest you.
- Ask questions of people at institutions and in your community.
- Prepare to meet portfolio and entrance requirements.
- Visit institutions. Meet potential major teachers. Consider all factors.
- Include your possibilities for artistic and intellectual growth.
- Understand your commitments and responsibilities if you enroll.
- Enjoy the process. Consider it a voyage of discovery.
14. What is the relationship among giftedness, arts study, and work?
Most students considering an arts major in college are considered gifted by parents, friends, and teachers. What does giftedness mean, and how does it relate to the future? This short text explores relationships among giftedness, studies in higher education, and eventual work in art and design, dance, music, theatre, or some other field.
A longer, more in-depth version of this text is available (see bottom of the page for more information).
What is giftedness in general?
The field of human action is vast, interconnected, and continuously expanding. This field contains many areas: the arts, business, science, the humanities, sports, and politics, to name a few. While most people have the capacity to gain basic access to all areas of human action, almost everyone is more gifted in one or more areas and less so in others. In general, giftedness is a recognized talent, propensity, or ability that is higher than average in a particular area of human action.
What is giftedness in the arts?
Individuals with natural abilities in one or more of the art forms are said to be gifted in dance, music, theatre, or the visual arts. Such giftedness is not easily hidden. It seeks to reveal itself through some form of expression. As interest inspires study and work, individual results continuously demonstrate the depth of giftedness.
What does being gifted mean for life and work?
As already suggested, work is carried on across the whole field of human creativity and action. Each area uses particular habits of mind, subject matter, and processes to make its particular contribution.
Since the field of human action is so vast, each component area so complex, and connections among areas next to infinite, it is important to focus on what is unique about individual people before focusing on learning, learning before focusing on the arts, the arts before focusing on careers, and careers before focusing on jobs.
It is essential to remember that the particular order and priority of things that individuals love to do and have talent for is a direct reflection of who each person is as a unique human being. This is a starting point for connecting giftedness to life and work.
What changes giftedness into professional ability?
Inborn talent or giftedness is not enough. Education and learning enable each person’s gifts and affinities to be developed to the fullest extent in as many areas as possible. Giftedness must be nurtured by study, practice, and personal development if it is to function professionally in any area of human action. In all disciplines, including the arts, this means significant effort to build knowledge and skills.
It also means sharpening the intelligences associated with that area. In the arts, this involves developing abilities to work fluently and creatively in the special logic and expression of particular art forms: competence in speech and mathematical logics must be joined by those enabling communication through movement and gesture, music, or the visual arts.
Does giftedness mean automatic success and greatness?
Not necessarily. Not even with work. Giftedness should not be confused with greatness and success. Few individuals can truly be called “great.” Greatness is not the only, or even the most important, criterion for success. Just as for every J.P. Morgan there are thousands of successful bankers, financiers, and brokers; for every Beethoven, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, or Graham, there are thousands of successful and effective arts professionals. This point is important because greatness and success are regularly confused when assessing careers and jobs in the arts.
Just as there is a range of giftedness across the many areas on the field of human action, there is also a range of giftedness within areas such as the arts. Giftedness is extremely complex; thus, to be gifted, even supremely gifted, in an art form may not be enough for success, much less greatness, unless it is carried along by personal attributes that shape and guide it in productive ways. We have already mentioned willingness to work as one of these attributes; however, there are many others and it is all but impossible to plan their presence and use in advance. As is true in all professions, giftedness, capability, and personal attributes play against changing contexts of values, culture, and other conditions in the environments of specific individuals. For this reason alone, learning and skills development are lifetime tasks.
How do the arts work as professions?
The arts occupy significant territory on the field of human action. They are multi-billion dollar enterprises. They require vast numbers of talented, creative, and hard-working people. Individuals educated and trained as artists work in both commercial and not-for-profit settings. Some have executive and corporate responsibilities, some function in ensembles or on teams, others work alone. The basic components are creation and performance, education, and various support enterprises such as management, public relations, and fundraising. It is not unusual for an individual to cross these boundaries regularly.
Most of the time, work is obtained and sustained through demonstration of capability. While this is true in all professions, the arts rely more on auditions, portfolio reviews, articles, and management track records than certificates, licenses, degrees, or other indicators. The arts require professional specialists in other fields such as law, accounting, politics, and marketing. Indeed, basic conditions and services associated with any enterprise are also associated with the arts. At the same time, different arts professions exhibit different patterns of action and development. It is important to understand those patterns for the particular branch of the arts an individual wishes to pursue.
How do I know if I am gifted enough to work in an arts field? Will my educational experiences help me decide?
Remember that there is more to the arts than the “big time,” that there is a need for personal integrity, artistic goodness, and success in a broad range of professions as well as for greatness. Remember that giftedness indicates something higher than average, and that the level of engagement reveals the extent of giftedness. Institutions of higher learning that care deeply about quality and comprehensiveness, and are dedicated to the present and future well-being of each student have developed standards and expectations whereby students will come to understand relationships between the extent of their giftedness and the demands of work that draws on that giftedness.
What are my chances for the “big time”?
Small. As is true in all fields, “big time” is less important than “all the time.” The most critical thing is a steady flow of work and service in a good workplace. The “big time” comes–sometimes at once, more often gradually–to that very small percentage of people who benefit from a combination of remarkable proficiencies, good fortune, connections, and fortuitous timing. As is true with other fields, the arts world–the greater percentage of it–is filled with highly gifted, imaginative, productive people who have come to learn that fame, as desirable as it might be, has little to do with the nature of art, and that artistic goodness, creative integrity, service to others, and fulfillment can take place anywhere and at any level of recognition.
What is education supposed to do for me?
Education in any field is focused on developing the knowledge and skills requisite for work in that field. It also involves gaining the ability to make connections among a vast array of learnable things and to combine knowledge and skills in a variety of areas into useful tools for life and career. A good education is one that assumes the ultimate precedence of wisdom over knowledge, and knowledge over information. While encouraging steady inquiry and skill development in a specific disciplinary area of study, a good education further assumes the importance of synthesis over separation and career preparation over job training. Engagement with an education that inquires into how things are made, how they work, how they can be taken apart and reconstructed, how they can be intelligently explained, and how they interact provides access to means of creative thought, clear expression, further inquiry, and capacity to use giftedness, capabilities, and aspirations effectively. Most successful arts professionals are educated in this way. They have broad interests and multiple capacities that go beyond the particular nature of their work. Thus, they are able to balance the highest levels of professional competence with general understanding.
I am not sure which college major to pursue because I feel I have multiple talents or gifts. How can I decide what to do?
It is only natural that individuals should choose that which attracts them; that which seems to command their interest and time; in short, that which they love the most. What each of us loves is usually an indicator of the unique way in which we are “put together,” of what our mission or sense of direction is. When considering vocations and a future life of work, it is important to avoid the trap of selecting and isolating those studies which may apply only to a specific vocational future, especially if that future is not clearly and deeply understood. It is far more prudent to be widely prepared than to be limited to a skill marketable only at graduation. There is a strategic difference between being vocationally trained and comprehensively educated.
Students who have studied in-depth what they love, and mastered it along with its connections to other areas of study and work are ready for far more futures and career venues than the name of their disciplinary major or any of its related subparts suggest.
What more can be said about majors and preparation for work?
It is by no means uncommon for a student educated and trained in dance, music, theatre, or the visual arts to seek and find multiple career paths outside of the arts. This is not because arts-related jobs are necessarily scarce (some are, some aren’t), but because arts graduates of the kind described above are diversely capable people. What’s more, the desire to make things artistically, or to bring that combination of creativity and intellect we call artistry to whatever is undertaken vocationally, never really goes away because artistic giftedness always insists on revealing itself, whatever the nature of the work at hand.
If I major in the arts, am I prepared to do anything else?
Yes. Serious study of any arts discipline develops creativity, increases intellectual skill, and provides specific insights and perspectives. Studies continue to show that individuals gifted in the arts also show higher levels of ability in other areas. Arts study is not just about art, it is about thinking, analyzing, and creating unique solutions for unique situations. These abilities can be applied across the spectrum of human action, including both work and play.
It is not unusual for individuals taking undergraduate majors in the arts to pursue other professional paths in graduate school or in the workplace. Some institutions create undergraduate programs in the arts that facilitate preparation for entering graduate programs in other disciplines. On the other hand, an undergraduate degree in one of the art forms will not prepare an individual for entry into a vocation that requires another kind of degree or preparation for entry, certification, or licensure. For example, while an undergraduate degree in dance could be preparatory to law school, the same degree would not prepare an individual to become a registered nurse upon graduation. In this case, additional studies beyond the dance degree would be required.
What if I don’t want to major in the arts, but wish to continue my studies at the college level?
Most institutions offering arts majors welcome the participation of non-majors in various arts courses, performing groups, and activities. Many institutions offer minors in the arts, others offer opportunities for double majors in the context of liberal arts programs. There is no reason to give up serious study in an art form you love because you have decided to concentrate more in another area. Often, it is possible to continue private study in the art forms, work in support roles for performing groups and exhibition spaces, and otherwise contribute to the artistic and cultural life of the campus community.
Where can I get more information?
Talk with arts professionals in your local community. Ask them to discuss with you the relationships among your abilities, your aspirations for education, and the kind of work that is done by people in the field. Seek professionals who have a broad view of the arts and their particular arts discipline.
Get information from institutions and their arts programs. Talk with alumni, particularly recent graduates. Many institutional catalogs list faculty with the colleges and universities they attended. Ask local arts professionals about colleagues who went to schools that interest you. They are usually well-informed.
When you visit campuses, plan questions carefully. How do your goals for arts study match the approach of the institution? Use your perspective on issues raised in this paper as a starting point. For example, how do their programs bring specifics and generals together in the art form, or between the art form and other areas, or across all areas of study?
Through contacts with local professionals, institutions, and national organizations, get a sense of what attributes and preparations are required to enter other fields of interest.
15. How should I best prepare to enter an art/design school, college, or university as an art/design major?
Acceptance to an undergraduate program in art or design is based on many considerations. These vary widely among institutions. For example, some have stringent requirements prior to admission, while others have open admission policies followed by thorough examinations at some point in the program to determine whether the student may continue as an art/design major. For specific application requirements, contact NASAD accredited institutions directly. The suggestions below indicate how you can best prepare during the high school years, not what you must achieve to apply or be accepted. The advice provided describes two things: first, an ideal set of knowledge and skills goals for college-level applicants; second, competencies needed by artists, designers, scholars, and teachers as they practice the various aspects of the profession in college and beyond. In brief, you should learn as much as you can as early as you can.
Take responsibility for your own development.
Each art/design student has a unique set of talents, aspirations, and abilities. Although you are in school and probably studying in your community or with a private teacher, it is important to take increasing responsibility for developing your particular abilities toward your specific goals. Begin by obtaining the admission requirements of schools you may wish to attend-the earlier, the better. Ultimately, you are responsible for choices about how you use your time to prepare for your future. For most art/design professionals, that future involves art/design at the center supported by many other capabilities.
Draw ’til you drop.
Take every opportunity to train your eye by taking courses or studies in drawing. Developing the eye is a lifetime job. The earlier work is started, the better.
Practice, practice, practice.
Whatever you do or intend to do in art/design, try to practice it as much as possible. This applies not only to your studio area, but also to other types of work. For example, prospective teachers should try to observe and gain teaching experiences under appropriate supervision, those interested in art/design scholarship or criticism should practice writing and speaking on art/design topics. No level of knowledge or skill that you can attain will be too high.
See as much art and design as you can.
Try to see as much art/design from as many historical periods and cultural sources as possible. Ask your teachers or local art/design professionals for recommendations. Try to make sure that you have seen the major works of all types in the particular area of art/design that interests you. Seek more to learn the breadth and depth of the visual world than to enjoy what is already familiar. Whenever possible, see original works. Observe the visual design of the world around you-architecture, product design, fashion design, for example-and spend lots of time with visual media such as books, magazines, films, videos, the Internet, etc.
Get a sense of art/design history.
Take opportunities to learn the basics of art/design history. Work with your art teachers, enroll in an AP art history course if it is available in your high school, take classes at your community museum or art school, and otherwise explore opportunities to gain initial acquaintance with this material.
Become a fluent, effective English speaker and writer.
As an artist/designer, you will communicate in art/design, but you will also rely heavily on your ability to communicate in words. Everything from teaching, to writing grant proposals, to negotiating, to promoting your interests, to working on teams relies on fluent English skills. Focus attention on learning to speak and write effectively.
Get a comprehensive high school education.
Art and design both influence and are influenced by other fields of study: the humanities, mathematics, the sciences, the social sciences, and the other arts–architecture, dance, film, literature, music, and theatre. For entrance into college-level study, you are encouraged to gain a basic overview of ancient and modern history, the basic thought processes and procedures of math and science, and familiarity with works in as many of the other arts disciplines as possible. Many professionals who work with art comprehensively develop a particular sensibility about connections with history and the other arts. Understanding the basics of math and the sciences supports future work in many design areas. Social studies are related to understanding the context for various art and design endeavors.
Think of everything you study as helping you become a better art/design student.
As we have said, the best art/design professionals continue to learn throughout their lives. They are always studying and thinking, always connecting what they know about art/design with their knowledge of other fields. Since you never know the direction your career will take, it is wise to spend your high school years gaining the basic ability to understand and work in a variety of fields. Keep art/design at the center of your efforts, but accept and enjoy the challenge of gaining the kind of knowledge and skills in other areas that will support both formal studies at the college level and your art/design career beyond.
16. What choices do I have if I want to study Graphic Design or Communications Design?
Making Choices About the Study of Graphic Design is a briefing paper produced by the AIGA, the professional association for design, and NASAD. This text is intended to help students consider the extent to which specific graphic design programs can accomplish their published goals and the clarity and accuracy of claims about career preparation.
17. What do NASAD standards for institutions say about requirements for admission to undergraduate programs in art/design?
The NASAD standards statement provides a national framework. Using this framework, each institution creates its own admission standards and procedures. It is critically important to understand the admission requirements of specific institutions to which you are applying.
For further information, see the NASAD Handbook, Standards for Accreditation, “Admission to Undergraduate Study.”
18. What learning and competency development is required to obtain an undergraduate degree in art or design?
19. How do art/design and the other arts fields evaluate achievement and quality?
A website devoted to Achievement and Quality: Higher Education in the Arts has been developed by NASAD and the other arts accrediting associations to assist individuals and institutions. This website is rich with information and resources that reflect a basic consensus by the representatives of over 1,200 accredited institutions and programs across the disciplines of art and design, dance, music, and theatre who seek broader public understanding of the nature of what they do and how they evaluate it as experienced professionals. Further information regarding achievement and quality may be found under Publications.
Click here to be redirected to Achievement and Quality on the Council of Arts Accrediting Associations website.