Montserrat’s Summer Pre-College Program for Teens

How Did You Spend Your Summer Vacation?
By Jill Waterman,

Montserrat College of ArtMontserrat College of Art, Beverly, Massachusetts
Foundations in Art Making and Digital Photography Experience

Montserrat College of Art

SHOW AND TELL: On the last day of Montserrat’s Pre-College program, students get to display their works for friends and familyin a group exhibit in the school’s gallery space.

For three weeks during the month of July, the suburban New England campus at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, comes alive with high school juniors and seniors from around New England and as far away as Florida and the West Coast. In just over ten years, Montserrat’s Pre-College program has become an important element in the school’s outreach, encouraging the foundations of artistic talent while also attracting prospective students to consider Montserrat as their future alma mater.

“We use this as an opportunity to test the waters and to let students see if this is a school they want to attend,” explains Kathleen Burke, Montserrat’s director of continuing education. “But it’s also a place for kids seriously thinking about art school to come in and be with other students just like them. And the parents like it because it can save them money,” she adds. “It helps to avoid a kid enrolling in art school and saying ‘That’s not what I want’ after that first semester. So it really is a good investment.”

According to the chair of Montserrat’s photography department, Ron DiRito, in addition to offering the foundations of art making, another important goal of the Pre-College program is to introduce students to the concept of being away from home. About 90 percent of Montserrat’s Pre-College students spend the three weeks living on campus, although the program is also open to commuters.

“The other goal is to help students create a portfolio so that when they do apply to college, their portfolio is ready with the strongest work,” DiRito adds.

Students take a basic foundation drawing class from 9 am to noon Mondays through Fridays, then choose two electives—digital photography, computer art and design, painting, printmaking, illustration or three-dimensional design—to study in the afternoons, one on Mondays/Wednesdays and the other on Tuesdays/Thursdays, with alternating subjects on Fridays.

“Classroom size is kept to around a dozen students, so the classes are small,” says Burke. “We really try to place kids in what they’re focused on. Digital photography is a popular offering, 21 of the 60 students enrolled this summer chose photography as an elective, so I’ve got two classes running,” she adds.

While the school does maintain a wet darkroom for college students, Montserrat concentrates their Pre-College offerings on digital imaging, with a main focus on learning how to see.

During the three-week session, students get 24 hours of instruction per elective plus open studios and homework assignments. Then, on the last day of the program, students hang their work in a gallery exhibition.

“The parents come, and we have a little celebration, so they get the full effect. It’s a really good taste of college life,” says Burke. “Most of these kids maybe do an hour of art in high school, and here they’re getting six hours of teaching time a day, plus open studios, so it’s a big change for them,” she notes. “Getting used to criticizing or talking about their work is something else they don’t get in high school.”

Burke explains that the Pre-College program is most popular for high school juniors, who are getting ready to apply to college, while seniors tend to sign up if they need to augment their portfolio. In all cases, students earn three college credits for completing the program, which adds to the economic advantage.

Montserrat also offers limited merit- and need-based scholarships for the Pre-College program. Applicants have to submit a letter of intent, five portfolio pieces and the parents’ tax returns. “I think we gave out 19 scholarships this year, with varying dollar amounts based on need,” says Burke, “so anyone interested in that applied early.”

Vital Statistics:

Web site:
Credits/Degrees: Pre-College program offers three college credits to high school students. Undergraduate program offers a bachelor of fine arts within nine major concentrations.

Details of Pre-college Program: Three-week residential (or commuting) program for high school juniors and seniors during the month of July, offering intensive foundation in drawing plus two electives (including digital photography and five other subjects).