Unhappy at college - Help me figure out what my next steps should be?
December 2, 2008 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Considering transferring to a different college (possibly for art): suggestions/advice on where to go/what to do? How to build a portfolio? Transfer tips?

I'm currently a first-year at a women's liberal arts college. It's not that I don't like it... my classes are interesting and my professors are wonderful. But the selection of courses is kind of limited by the size, and despite the availability of cross-registration, it's making me wonder about my ability to really decide what I want to do when one of my main interests (Photography) isn't even offered here.

Additionally, I'm here on a GPA conditional scholarship, besides racking up considerable debt, and the financial pressure is really taking it's toll on my mental health. The general atmosphere here is very high-achieving, and that has never been my style. I will put in time and effort to things I enjoy (namely creative writing, studio art and photography) but I tend to put off my other subjects and do a half-assed job. I know this is something I could change about myself, but to be honest, I don't see why I should. I have a lot of probably silly opinions about the educational system in the U.S. and our system of values as a society, but I'll save them for another time.

My main problem is (and it's one I should have considered before choosing a liberal arts college, instead of just taking my mom's word for it that that was the only way to go) I don't see the need to excel in, say, history and a language and math and science, when I don't see a future career in any of those. I want to do what I love, especially if my future self will be paying dearly for it (and oh, she will be).

So, in considering transferring, I'm thinking of either a state school in my home state (because it would be either free or very very cheap, and I would have a greater variety of classes to choose from in my desired subject area) or an art school.

The art school concern, for me, is that I was never really encouraged by my family to pursue art as a possible career (for example, I wanted to apply to the magnet high school for the arts, but my mom absolutely refused on the grounds that it wouldn't be academically challenging enough) so I have only taken Photo 1 & 2, A.P. Art History (which I passed, but probably not by enough to impress anyone) and private watercolor classes in middle school. I paint and sketch on my own, and take pictures every chance I get (I may finally get a DSLR soon, as it is I used to use a film SLR that belonged to my mother and I use a friend's Nikon D40 on occasion). I'm also very interested in sort of illustrative lettering and collage.

I know I would need to build a portfolio - would I need a separate portfolio each for photography and paintings and drawings, or could I combine different media? I had an art teacher who said you couldn't call a painting or drawing your own if it was drawn from a picture that you didn't take yourself - many of my best sketches are. Can I include these or are they considered unprofessional? Any other advice or definite "Don'ts"?

I'm also terrified of the logistics of transferring should I actually be accepted somewhere else. I know as long as I am receiving an education somewhere I won't have to make payments on my loans, but are there other financial things to consider? I know the art college option could possibly be almost as expensive as my school now (which costs about 36K a year with tuition and fees now, with, naturally, a tuition hike next year)... are schools typically just as generous with financial aid to transfers as they are to first-years, or is it more of a "you get what's left" situation. My family does not contribute to my college, and my mom has already told me she won't cosign on any future loans because her credit is maxed.

And since I have just begun searching for schools, if anyone wants to recommend a school I may not have heard of, I'm open to suggestions! I can receive in-state tuition in Florida and maybe Colorado (my father lives there, but he's not on my birth certificate, so he would have to be added in time) and I currently live in Atlanta and really don't want to leave that sort of city environment.

Any advice is appreciated, but to clarify, I am not totally set on transferring... I just want to know what steps I need to take to have it as an option for next year and make myself an attractive candidate to an art school. I am not just giving up on this school, and I will try to make my next semester work. There are many things I love about it and I don't want to just "quit"... but at the same time, I have never felt so much pressure in my life, and it's just not working for me now.
posted by SputnikSweetheart to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was in your situation many years ago and transferred from a small private liberal arts college (co-ed) to a big state university where I went to the school of art. At the time the art school I went to was not terribly career focused for fine art majors - they didn't want to sully themselves with nasty little details like how one is going to eat after graduating. That has since changed but it leads me to this: when you look at art schools, whether they are part of a big state university or standalone schools of art you need to be looking at the programs in terms of how will they equip you to work in your field, whether that's doing commercial/free lance photography, illustration, web or graphic design etc. It's not enough to just learn good skills in the media you're interested in.

In terms of putting together a portfolio I would take what art classes are available to you where you are next semester and look at portfolio requirements for the places you are thinking about applying to - they'll give you a good sense of what you need. Make sure you have really good photos of your work since poor photos are worse than useless. If you can't yet take good photos of your work you need to come up with the money to hire someone to take them or better yet, learn how because it's an invaluable skill for any artist. Show your images to someone else and show them projected not just on a computer to get feedback on the quality of the photo (not talking about critical judgement on the pieces here - just on the representation of same). I can't speak to the issue of whether you'd need separate portfolios for the different media - that will vary from school to school.

feel free to email me - info in profile
posted by leslies at 4:38 PM on December 2, 2008

If you have a chance, check out a National Portfolio Day near you. Essentially, a bunch of admissions officers from art schools all across the country (I think they're all NASAD) gather together and you have an afternoon to meet with them and receive critiques on your portfolio. Just be prepared for very long lines for the more popular art schools.

The thing with Nat'l Portfolio Day, however, is that it is limited to private art schools, so the art departments of many state universities are not represented. It's a great way to get feedback on your portfolio, but also keep in mind that the reps will be trying to sell you their schools. I don't think going to an art school to study art is any better than studying it at a public school. It usually is a smaller school, and provides that tighter social circle for better or worse.

Oh, and STAY AWAY from any "art institutes" except for the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC) and San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI).. the other ones are degree mills.

(Disclaimer: went to art school, but left to pursue economics.. yes, I do miss the studio environment.)
posted by hobbes at 5:06 PM on December 2, 2008

There's the third path, transferring to a liberal arts school with a good art program. I went to one and couldn't imagine anything better. I found it really helped round me out as an artist and a person. If you're willing to endure the artic north, I'd be happy to go on and one about my Alma Mater.
posted by advicepig at 5:55 PM on December 2, 2008

SCAD has an Atlanta campus now. I went to the one in Savannah and it was a really good experience, their programs are really good and I think the education I got was well worth it. I went for photography and that is what I do now, and I had never taken any art/photo classes before going there.
posted by bradbane at 7:24 PM on December 2, 2008

I'll second looking at SCAD. I have a friend there and he really likes it. If you don't like the city atmosphere, I'd visit the Savannah campus -- and Savannah is a wonderful, charming little town.

Good luck!

[BTW, I have a pretty good guess at where you are currently enrolled...as a current college student who is originally from Georgia, but I won't "out" you here in case you wanted to keep that quiet. :) ]
posted by fantine at 4:02 AM on December 3, 2008

I was at an art school in the us for an exchange - i wouldnt really recommend going to risd if you dont like being around high achiever types - community college was spoken of as being much better for photography in terms of expense and less pressure - i felt sorry for the people who transferred to art school.

On another note, why not study in europe instead ? I think it would be cheaper and is much more laid back - the photo teachers here at eca are pretty nice.

there are threads here about portfolios that are very informative also - feel free to mail me and i will try to help.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:27 PM on February 7, 2009

« Older Heater core? What?   |   Trying to make unrequited love into mutual love Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.