Why Art School Can Be A Smart Career Move

September 28, 2015


This story appears in the September 7, 2015 issue of Forbes.

Enrolling in art school can be a pretty good career move. Art school grads aren’t the highest earners overall, but neither are they doomed to become starving artists.

“There’s a ton of evidence that prospects for graduates from art schools today are better than they’ve ever been before in terms of income, their ability to survive economic turbulence and their preparedness for the job market of the 2020s,” says Columbia University professor Jennifer Lena, who is senior research scholar for the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project.

Visual and performing art students who graduated in 2014 had an average starting salary of $36,222, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That’s higher than majors in biology
and education.

By midcareer, industrial design, fashion design and architecture majors earn a median salary above $77,000–more than those who studied accounting, human resources or business administration–according to PayScale, which aggregates self-reported salary data from millions of workers. Creative directors, user-experience designers and design managers fetch a median salary of more than $90,000. These days those jobs require a lot of technical know-how. “Technology has had a very positive effect on the earnings of people in art fields,” says professor Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

There are plenty of jobs out there. Jobs for curators, architects, interior designers and multimedia artists are projected to grow at a rate faster than the overall labor force through 2018, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. But prospective students need to do their research and focus on the best schools for their field of interest. The Rhode Island School of Design boasts a job-placement rate of 98%, with many working in user-experience design and interactive graphics. Brigham Young University’s  small animation program has strong ties to Hollywood and videogame firms, with 85% of recent grads landing jobs at top animation studios and game companies.