The Best Art Schools in San Francisco

Many regard the art industry as one that is quite difficult to break into, regardless of how talented the aspiring artist may be. 

Although there may be some truth to this sentiment, plenty of careers out there fall under the broad umbrella of the art industry, so it is certainly possible to make it work as a professional artist.

One of the best ways to increase your odds of securing an amazing job in the field of art is to earn a degree from a well-respected art school. 

Consider, for example, the fact that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average usual weekly income for those who hold a bachelor’s degree is $1,334, compared to only $809 a week for people whose highest level of educational attainment is a high school diploma. 

Looking at people who hold master’s degrees, average weekly earnings increase an additional $200+ to $1,574.

Attending art school has many benefits beyond the increased earning potential that getting a degree entails. 

Getting the chance to use expensive, school-owned art equipment, receiving mentorship from experienced faculty members, and forming valuable professional network connections are just a few examples of the many reasons to go to art school.

If you are in search of the perfect place to earn an art degree, one place you may want to consider is San Francisco. 

On top of the fact that the city has one of the most active, vibrant arts scenes in the country, San Francisco is also home to numerous major employers. 

Here, we have compiled a list of four of the best art schools in San Francisco. 

Read on to learn more about what makes each of these schools so great, what they have to offer, and more.

California College of the Arts

California College of the Arts
Sanfranman59, Treadwell Mansion Carriage House (Oakland, CA), CC BY-SA 3.0

Founded in 1907, the California College of the Arts is a private art school offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs in not just art, but also architecture, writing, and design. 

When the school was first established, it was initially located in Berkeley, CA, moving to its current San Francisco location in 1922. 

In many respects, California College of the Arts is one of the best arts schools in the state of California, if not in the entire world. 

CCA is ranked #1 among all art schools in the country in terms of sustainability, the overall best value, and the greatest salary potential of graduates.

According to US News and World Report, CCA’s graduate fine arts program is the tenth best of its kind in the country. 

The school has also been ranked fourth in the nation in terms of best graphic design program offerings and sixth for ceramics programs.

CCA’s undergraduate degree offerings include 13 different BFA programs. 

One of these is the individualized studies degree, a highly flexible plan of study that allows students to carry out work at the intersection of multiple academic fields.

Regardless of which of these BFA options students ultimately choose to pursue, all of the California College of the Arts’ art program curricula require that students consider the arts from a critical, interdisciplinary perspective. 

Through this approach, the school ensures that students graduate with a degree representing a deep, holistic understanding of not just the fine arts but also the liberal arts.

The CCA Alumni Association comprises a network of more than 23,000 art school graduates across the globe, many of whom offer valuable mentorship and employment opportunities to current students. 

Each year, the Association hosts career development workshops, lectures, and many other events to benefit students.

Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Academy of Art University is one of the largest private, accredited schools for studying art and design in the United States. 

Established in 1929, the school has a nearly 100-year-long history of providing excellent quality art degree programs, focusing primarily on ensuring that students are well-prepared for careers in the field of art upon graduating.

In addition to career preparation, Academy of Art University is also known for being one of the first art schools to offer innovative virtual programs, with their first online degree program starting in 2002. 

In 2021, the Academy was ranked the #1 university in the country regarding online art and art history degrees, proving that its early leadership in this area has not wavered over time.

Over the course of its history, the university has claimed several significant achievements. For example, it was the first art school to be invited to showcase its students’ work at New York Fashion Week on a regular, twice-a-year basis. 

One exciting aspect of the Academy of Art that makes it unique is that its achievements are not limited to the field of art. 

In fact, the Academy’s women’s track and field team became the first university athletic program to win a National Championship in its first year of eligibility in the entire history of the NCAA.

Academy of Art University has an alumni network of over 50,000 graduates, many of whom are among the most highly in-demand, skilled professional artists in the world. 

Among the Academy’s many notable alumni is Jan Phillip Cramer, a legendary animator who has significantly contributed to some of the biggest movies of all time. 

Since completing his BFA in animation and visual effects, Cramer has worked on Deadpool, Avatar, multiple Avengers movies, and numerous other major projects. 

University of San Francisco

University of San Francisco
Jallen8307, January Sunset 4, CC BY-SA 4.0

The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of San Francisco has an incredibly vast array of program offerings for art students. 

In addition to several professional certificate programs, the school also offers many graduate and undergraduate programs. 

Undergraduate students interested in studying art at the University of San Francisco can choose from more than 100 majors and minors in the field of art or to be combined with art studies as a dual degree program.

Some of the school’s BA degree program offerings in the field of art include art history and museum studies, design, performing arts and social justice, and fine arts

Students at the school can also choose to pursue an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree program that incorporates the study of art but falls under the category of a BS.

Through their unique, mix-and-match programs, USF enables art students to pursue multiple passions, crafting a course of study that is perfectly suited to their individual interests and professional aspirations. 

As of September 2022, the total enrollment at the University of San Francisco is 9,688 students. 

Of these students, 6,018 are enrolled in undergraduate programs, with another 3,670 being graduate students. 

The College of Arts and Sciences has a total undergraduate enrollment of 3,901 students, meaning that they make up more than half of the university’s undergraduate enrollment. 

Looking at graduate students, 944 — or about a quarter of students — are enrolled in programs at the College of Arts and Sciences.

The University of San Francisco boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1, so art students at this school receive ample one-on-one attention from course instructors in an intimate classroom environment. 

Additionally, the College offers students the opportunity to do graduate-level research with their professors from the very beginning of their undergraduate experience.

San Francisco State University School of Art

Founded in 1899, San Francisco State University is a public research university that is home to an excellent art school. 

In fact, the School of Art and San Francisco State is one of the top art schools in the country, offering an astonishing 500 undergraduate majors and 100 minors — not to mention graduate degree programs in the fine arts. 

The school also offers a nationally-acclaimed master of arts in museum studies program. Each year, the School of Art takes on only about 18 to 24 graduate students, making these programs among the most selective out there. 

Being the excellent art school that it is, it is no surprise that the School of Art at SFSU has state-of-the-art facilities

Housed primarily on the first and second floors of the university’s Fine Arts building, these include numerous computer laboratories, fully-equipped art studios, lecture halls, and study spaces. 

There is also the Martin Wong Undergraduate Gallery, a space for students to gain experience curating shows, displaying their work, and installing exhibitions in a semi-professional setting. 

In addition to the student gallery, the School of Art maintains a large professional art gallery on campus, with more than 3,000 square feet of display space. 

Also located in SFSU’s Fine Arts building is the Global Museum, a gallery that features a rotating selection of yearly exhibitions curated and put on by faculty and students in the museum studies program. 

Beyond being a galley, the Global Museum also serves as the heart of the museum studies program and a place for the Bay Area community, in general, to appreciate art from around the world. 

Beyond their world-class academics and outstanding facilities, SFSU School of Art also boasts robust and long-standing working relationships with many of the most prominent arts and cultural institutions in San Francisco, such as the Bay Area Video Coalition and the San Francisco Film Society.

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