Smart College Majors for Artists in 2016

Art degrees can pay off. Learn about college majors for artists that help the money flow.

Starving Artist? That’s So 1880s

In the world painted by stereotypes, artists are financial flops: The art major can fill a canvas but has an empty belly. In the winter, he or she burns furniture for warmth…

But statistics tell another story. About two million Americans work in arts careers. They haven’t had to burn their desks. In fact, many artists earn more than the average American. These creative people work in architecture, interior design and other career fields that have great outlooks.

Here we explore five of the best college majors for artists in 2016. Each major is associated with above-average income according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. For most, the number of associated job opportunities should also be above average at graduation time.

1. Architecture Major

The job title “architect” tends to impress. In singles surveys, for example, women tend to rate architects as very dateable. What’s the attraction? Architects seem to be good at everything. They are Renaissance men and women, masters of many arts and sciences. We trust architects to make our world beautiful, functional and safe.

Their pay is appealing too: The median annual pay for architects in 2012 was $73,090. That was about double the typical worker’s wages.

What Architecture Majors Study

These artists generally earn a four-year degree called the Bachelor of Architecture. They train to design buildings that look good, fit people’s needs and remain structurally sound for generations. This involves taking a diverse range of courses. Most exciting for many is Studio Design, which is generally taken every semester. Architecture students also study art history, aesthetics, engineering, physics, marketing and other subjects.

Where to Study Architecture

In the United States, genuine degree programs in architecture are accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Only graduates of accredited programs can take state tests to earn architecture licenses.

Ten top-ranked architecture schools in our database are:

  • Cincinnati School of Architecture and Design
  • Cornell University
  • Iowa State College of Design
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • Virginia Tech
  • Washington University (St. Louis)

Job Outlook for Architecture Majors

Demand for architects is growing. The projected growth rate is about 17% between now and 2022, which is higher than the economy’s projected growth overall. This is primarily because populations are growing especially among young people and older adults. More schools are needed, retirees want new homes in sunbelt states, and more nursing home space is in demand.

2. Graphic Design Major

Graphic-design-majorGraphic design is among the most popular arts majors. It can snag you a lucrative career, especially when applied in computer technology. At PayScale.com, artists with four-year degrees in graphic design report average salaries of $90,000 and up. They have job titles such as “User Experience Designer” and “Design Director, Advertising.” More typically though, a graphic designer earns a comfortable salary of about $45,000/year.

What Graphic Design Majors Study

Graphic designers usually have four-year degrees in graphic design. While in college, these artists create portfolios to show prospective employers or clients. They become experts at creating logos and choosing colors, fonts and layouts for marketing. They learn to help shape a company’s identity through advertising and other publications.

Most training courses include studio art, principles of design, graphics production, printing techniques, computerized design and website design. Ideally a graphic design program helps a student get an internship. For just about any college major, having an internship increases the likelihood of getting a job soon after graduation.

Where to Study Graphic Design

A wide range of schools with graphic design programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Community college can be a smart place to knock out entry-level credits; courses are cheap. Many courses can be completed online to save money too. One online program we recommend is at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Many undergraduate graphic design students aim for the east coast. The Pratt Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University and Yale University are some top choices. The west coast and midwest get represented with the California College of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and other leading institutions. A southern gem is the Savannah School of College and Design, which offers online training for master’s students too.

Search our database to find more schools with graphic design degree programs.

Job Outlook for Graphic Designers

A graphic design education can be especially valuable if you plan to do online work. Competition is expected to be very high for traditional graphic design jobs, such as those at publishing houses — but for web work there should be many more opportunities; job growth is projected at 35% through 2022.

3. Interior Design Major

Interior-design-majorInterior design involves more than choosing fabrics and the perfect rug. Interior designers know when it’s safe to knock out a beam, when to add support and how to keep work up to code. Their responsibilities are to make interior spaces attractive, functional and safe.

In some states only licensed designers may call themselves “interior designers” and do interior design work. Professional interior decorators train for at least two years. Some have four-year degrees or master’s degrees in interior design.

Interior designers work on spaces varied as homes, cafes and airports. They had median annual wages of $47,600 in 2012. Pay was lowest for those working in furniture stores, but many interior planners for top retail spaces earned $60,000 or more. Interior designers working with architectural firms earned more than $80,000 on average.

What Interior Designers Study

Degree programs specifically for interior design are available. General art majors and other college graduates can get interior design jobs too. What matters most is that a job candidate 1) has a college degree and 2) has studied interior design, drawing and computer aided design.

Students working toward interior design careers practice applying their creative skills to meet different styles. The best training programs help a student develop a grand vision, present that vision accurately on paper and with a computer, and work effectively with clients and contractors to make the vision a reality. Project management is just as important as artistic talent.

Where to Study Interior Design

Five top-rated programs in interior design are at:

  • California College of the Arts
  • New York School of Art and Design
  • Ohio State University
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Savannah College of Art and Design

Many other universities and community colleges can provide valuable training too. Programs are accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation and the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Search our database to get information about accredited training in interior design.

4. Multimedia Artist & Animator

Animation-majorMultimedia animation is a dream career for many video game players and movie fans. Over the next five years, job opportunities look excellent for animators in software. Options are expected to be weaker in Hollywood though; the motion picture industry is trending toward overseas outsourcing. In 2012 the median income for animators in the US was $61,370. This reflects a healthy jump of about $5000 from 2010.

What Animators Study

Students can take many paths to animation careers. Some earn general four-year degrees in fine art or more specifically in computer animation or computer graphics. Some earn degrees in very specialized topics such as interactive media and game design.

Training may include courses in computer programming, computer graphics, painting, drawing, sculpture, animation and film.

Where Animators Study

Some of America’s most respected animation schools on the west coast are the California Institute of the Arts and the University of Southern California.

On the east coast the Pratt Institute stands out. Other top picks are the Rhode Island School of Design, which is known for its impressive stop-action studio, and the Rochester Institute of Design, which helps students get great internships.

For online study in animation, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh is a top choice at the associate degree level. Search our database for more college programs in animation, fine art and related fields.

5. Fashion Design Major

Fashion-design-majorWhen kids play with Barbie dolls, some are preparing for fantastic fashion careers. The fashion design industry isn’t projected to grow quickly over the next five years, but this field is worth mentioning because fashion designers are some of the best-paid artists.

Chief fashion designers are earning an impressive $120,000 a year; senior fashion designers average nearly $100,000; and patternmakers average a satisfying $68,000/year. As with any industry though, in fashion design you start with lower pay. The median annual income is about $62,000.

What Fashion Designers Study

Employers prefer job applicants who not only show creativity but also understand the production processes for clothing, footwear and accessories. To prepare for their careers, most fashion designers earn college degrees in fashion design or fashion merchandising. In school they learn about fashion history and textiles, fashion marketing and computer-aided design. A lot of time is spent developing their design portfolios.

Where to Study Fashion Design

In the US, top schools for fashion are concentrated on the east coast. The list of big names includes the New School for Design, the Pratt Institute, the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design. In California a top choice is the Academy of Art University.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits many additional degree programs. You can find schools in our database and sort the options by state, school size and other factors.