Many artists who are serious about making their living through their work pursue a master of fine arts degree, which enables them to learn more about their specialty. To determine which school to attend, it helps to know how schools rank in relation to others. Before making a final decision, be sure to visit individual schools to establish a good fit.

Top Ranked Schools

Yale University and the Rhode Island School of Design consistently rank as the top two schools for earning a master of fine arts degree. Depending upon the study and the year, they alternately place first and second. The School at the Art Institute of Chicago, UCLA, Virginia Commonwealth University, California Institute of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Maryland Institute of Art and Columbia University round out the top 10. The scores are very close on all of these rankings, and some schools had tie scores, according to "U.S. News and World Report's" survey of top ranking graduate schools.

Methods for Ranking

"U.S. News and World Report," which ranks the nation's colleges and universities annually in a number of fields, surveyed art school deans of 230 master of fine arts programs and two professors at each school. Each expert rated the schools for academic quality on a scale of one to five, with five being outstanding. The scores were totaled for each school and divided by the number of people who rated that school.

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Best Value Schools

"The Princeton Review" ranks colleges and universities on a number of factors, including schools that they determine to be the best value for money spent. They consider over 30 points for their rankings, including cost to attend, academic quality and available financial aid. That's important because many private schools charge steep tuition but also offer students large aid packages to offset the cost of attendance. Schools that are ranked in the top 20 in the "U.S. News and World Report" survey, and also made Princeton's top value list, include UCLA, Yale, the University of Georgia, the University of California San Diego, the University of California Davis and Washington University at St. Louis.

Getting In

Not surprisingly, top ranked schools have low acceptance rates. These schools are looking for students who are passionate about their art, motivated to learn all they can and committed to their careers. Grades, essays and letters of recommendation are all important, but portfolios are most important by far. A portfolio should include about 20 pieces that show the artist's technical ability, samples of drawing from observation and work in a variety of media. Work should be creative and go beyond classroom assignments. Some schools are very specific about what they want in portfolios, so ask each school if their preferences aren't clear.

About the Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.