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    Should I Go To Art School, Traditional College or a Conservatory?

    Should I Go To Art School, Traditional College or a Conservatory?

    Posted September 22, 2021, 12:22 pm by TeenLife
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    S​​tudents interested in pursuing degrees in the arts – visual or performing – typically have three options to consider: stand-alone conservatories, conservatories that are housed within, or in partnership with, a university, and universities with dedicated arts departments. 

    Before coming up with your game plan for campus visits and application submissions, you will want to have a good understanding of the differences between the three to help you figure out which is the best fit for you and your academic and personal goals. 


    Conservatories offer a laser-focused, regimented curriculum in a considerably smaller environment than that of a traditional university. Doing so provides students the opportunity to develop close-knit friendships with peers, and in-depth, individualized learning experiences with expert faculty through studio-based instruction. For the conservatory student, the disciplined nature of the curriculum means limited flexibility for academic or extracurricular pursuits outside of the arts, especially those typically associated with traditional universities – think athletics and sororities/fraternities. 

    Bottom line: conservatories are a great option for students ready to fully dedicate their studies to the visual or performing arts in a fully immersive environment. 

    Stand-Alone Art School Within A University

    Performing arts colleges housed within large universities, as well as partnerships between external conservatories and universities, mean students now have the option to complete conservatory-level training in traditional university settings. Doing so provides students with a broader range  of academic offerings, most always underpinned by a robust general education foundation in the humanities and social sciences. 

    Robert Hoyt, Director of Admissions & Recruitment, Department of Drama, at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts suggests that the combination of a general liberal arts education with visual or performing arts specializations ensures that students are set up not only “for a successful and sustained career” in the arts but also in “related fields'' if necessary. For students who have a passion for the field but worry about restrictions and limitations a degree in the arts may mean for career prospects, attending a performing arts college within a university provides a real benefit – “[students] not only receive rigorous studio training similar to that of a strictly-conservatory program, but will also work towards a degree that can lay the foundation for any number of pursuits–not just performing–within a liberal arts setting,” he says. 

    When deciding where to apply, students should consider that the inclusion of liberal arts elements into the curricular design of their degree may drive a totally different learning experience altogether. In some instances, stand-alone arts colleges within universities will allow student[s] to chart their own course of study, as well as double-major or minor in other areas of interest,” says Hoyt. The open-nature of these degrees lend themselves to a more holistic approach of learning, one which for Mei Rui, who was accepted to both Juilliard and Yale Music, meant ultimately attending Yale because of the “nurturing and wholesome dynamic that felt much less cut-throat than that of a typical conservatory.” 

    The focus on a liberal arts education in combination with a mastery in the visual or performing arts in many instances opens the door for students to com-plete dual undergraduate degrees simultaneously or to enter a 5-year dual undergraduate-graduate program during their studies. For Rui, graduate of the Yale College-Yale Music School BA/MM program, the option to earn a master’s in just 5 years was a “determining factor”, as was their world-class faculty.

    “I got to study with the legendary Claude Frank,” she says. Also free tuition is not uncommon for the conservatory portion of the studies in such dual degree programs. Rui says that despite also receiving admissions offers from John Hopkins-Peabody and Columbia-Juilliard, she “would choose Yale all over again.”

    Bottom line: if you’re steadfast in your interest of pursuing an in-depth mastery of one of the arts but want access to the benefits of a larger university environment, a stand-alone arts school at a university might provide the best of both worlds.

    Art Degrees in Universities

    While both traditional conservatories and stand-alone arts colleges provide focused intensity in the study of the performing or visual arts, students’ interest entering their college education may be more diffuse. Unlike conservatories, enrolling in a university that offers a strong arts department provides students with the flexibility to explore additional topics of inquiry or to change their minds along the way if necessary.

    For Luis Otero, who was interested in both performing arts and athletics and who is a graduate of Adelphi University’s theater program in New York, that was an important distinction. “I didn’t want to do a conservatory because I wanted to leave open the possibility of what if I like something in addition to acting”. According to Otero, having the space to take courses outside of theater studies and to engage in extracurricular activities allowed for a more holistic academic and personal experience, one that ensured that he “learned so much” about [himself] as a person and as an actor.

    Bottom line: if you’re interested in studying performing or visual arts, but also have other interests that you may wish to combine in a second major, or in a multitude of extracurricular activities that do not conventionally “fit” within the arts, finding a well-established arts department in a broad university is a good idea.

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