The creative media arts professional has exploded in the last two decades. The result is a proliferation of colleges, universities, and specialty schools devoted to higher education in creative media. These schools have developed programs which run the gamut from traditional media curricula in photography, art and music to cutting edge CGI and videography.

Creative students should always research for themselves. That being said, here’s ten great schools to keep on the short list, and five to definitely avoid.

Best of the Best

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Stanford University:  Frisco and NYC have always been nip-tuck in terms of who has the best schools for creative. Stanford, however, has been at the top of the heap in so many ratings, it’s not even close.  A gorgeous campus, cutting edge tech, and a California-sized endowment makes Stanford a winner in every category.  Whether it’s Best Value Schools or US News and World Report, Stanford consistentyl ranks in the top ten.  Toss in the Mission District’s vibrant arts scene, and only one other school comes close…

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New York University:  Just like sports teams have the east-west rivalry, so too do colleges, especially private ones.  NYU has been Stanford’s recruiting nemesis when it comes to creative for years.  Seriously, what creative doesn’t want to live the life in New York?  Add to the fact its proximity to the finest arts schools in the Big Apple, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more sought-after admissions letter. As the saying goes, if you can make it there, you can make anywhere! 

Best of the Rest

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Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island

When Owen Wilson mentioned “Rizdee” in The Wedding Crashers, artists across America likely cheered. Everyone else, of course, probably scratched their heads.  Nonetheless, this powerhouse is one of New England’s best Fine Arts schools. It consistently ranks on several “best value” lists, including the #1 spot on BestValueSchools for Fine Arts programs.

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University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico

When you think of Columbia, you think of Journalists, right?  Well, New York’s Ivy League entry has one of America’s most competitive creative arts programs. As for admission, getting in there is no easy feat.  Still, being one of America’s longtime elite universities carries with it significant influence. For this reason, Columbia has the ability to win some of America’s brightest creative minds.

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Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida 

This little school along Florida’s Gulf Coast has been a standard bearer for artists for decades.  According to GameDesigning.org, Ringling has not only developed into one of the Southeast’s pre-eminent art schools, but its BFA in Graphic Design coordinates with local businesses for students get real-world experience. This is a huge advantage in developing job contacts in the highly-competitive Tampa Bay market.

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University of California – Los Angeles 

When people think LA, they think glitz, glamour, and the Bruins.  But don’t think for a moment that the same school which gave us Troy Aikman doesn’t have one of the nation’s top-tier creative programs.  Film, art, writing programs are top notch, and there are connections to spare in tinseltown. This makes UCLA a school most creatives would do anything to be accepted into.  CollegeFactual’s ranks UCLA as #3 for its 2020 Best Film, Video & Photographic Arts Colleges in the U.S.

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Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah & Atlanta, Georgia 

Most folks would not associate Georgia with a vibrant, powerful, cutting edge arts scene. However, consider this – of their former students was...India Arie!  How’s that for cred?  Both the Atlanta satellite and Savannah mothership are top flight schools for budding arts professionals.  In fact, SCAD is ranked #19 on BestValueSchool’s list of best schools for Art and Design

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University of New Mexico 

Located in the state nicknamed the “Land of Enchantment,” students who go to UNM enjoy a photography and Fine Arts program which is among the top ten in the nation.  One of its primary assets is the self-study curriculum, which emphasizes discipline and devotion to their chosen field of study.  It doesn’t hurt that Albuquerque has one of the nation’s most vibrant college arts scene this side of California.

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University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

“Gator Nation” is known worldwide for many academic areas, but most people would not put Studio Arts in that category.  Guess what?  UF is not only considered among the best universities in the nation for Graphic Design and Studio Arts, it also has alumni working for such companies as Disney and Microsoft.  Pretty good company to keep for a school which counts Steve Spurrier and Tim Tebow as graduates.

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Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, Georgia 

Okay, it’s time some gratuitous homerism (Full Disclosure: this writer is an alum.)  GSW, as it’s known to students, locals and alumni, is the smallest public university in the Peach State.  What it lacks in ratings (#543 on the 2020 College Factual list) it makes up for in quality (earning the rank of “HIGHEST” by the same list) and its eclectic variety of concentrations in its Fine Arts Department, including one of only two university-based glassblowing labs in Georgia.

Of course, for all the great, there are the not-so-great. 

The 5 schools to definitely avoid

Columbia College Hollywood:  when you make it to the list of several website’s Worst Colleges, that’s not a good thing.  When MoneyInc.com describes your school as “a film school and the high default rates indicate that students who graduate are not able to secure stable and gainful employment,” this screams “run far, run fast!”

Full Sail University:  This school is a mixed bag as far as quality and degrees are concerned.  It is well known in the creative arts industry and has pioneered many firsts, such as the nation’s first-ever gaming arena on a college campus.  What puts this university on the “avoid” list are actually two intangibles:  the awful traffic near its Winter Park, Florida campus, and the fact that they consistent get under 2 star ratings from current and former students on many ratings sites.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh:  Arts Enthusiasts and alums many argue that this school is well worth attending and offers an excellent education, but numbers don’t lie.  According to Forbes.com, it’s $155,000+ total tuition yield a return-on-educational investment of -$228,000.  Yes, that’s a negative number!

Art Institute (multicity):  This multi-city for profit school is on this list for one reason:  they advertise relentlessly, and their credits are generally not transferable.  They operate much like the “career colleges” advertised on TV stations during daytime talk shows; very little is required for admission, and many students report minimal return on investment.

American Academy of Art:  This Chicago school is on the list not for what is known, but for what is generally unknown, and that’s everything.  There’s little rating information beyond their own website, and that’s worrisome.  When a school isn’t even rated by reputable publications, that’s an area for concern.

Information from College Factual, MoneyInc, Forbes, and GamingDesign was used in this post.