Ceramics and pottery refer to the same medium, in which artists form materials out of clay, harden them using extreme heat, and decorate them by glazing or adding other embellishments.
Examples of ceramics include earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Different materials require different temperatures and lengths in the kiln, an oven used to bake pottery works.
If someone wants to specialize in ceramics in college, they generally declare a major in studio art with a concentration in ceramics. Many BFA and BA programs take an interdisciplinary approach and emphasize studio work within their curricular sequences.
There are additional programs in the U.S. where you can obtain a master’s degree in ceramics or art education.
Graduates with a degree in ceramics or pottery can work as artists for their entire careers; alternatively, they can run art galleries, conduct art research, teach in public schools, or lead art-centric nonprofit organizations.
We have selected ten U.S. schools with nationally-ranked ceramics programs.
Encompassing all regions of the nation and offering assets like full tuition funding, cutting-edge technology, designated studio spaces, and proximity to artistic and cultural hubs, these schools are sure to attract future ceramics artists from all over the country.
University of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA)
The University of the Arts offers a craft and material studies major with a concentration in ceramics. In the first and second years of the program, undergraduates hone their skills in drawing natural forms and the human figure as well as using digital design tools.
They gain invaluable experience completing throwing exploration projects in various on-campus studios.
By the third year, ceramics majors are hard at work on their independent junior projects, which lead to a senior thesis and senior project in the fourth year.
An interdisciplinary art BFA is also available for students with interests in ceramics and other subjects like printmaking, fibers, fiction writing, and photography. This BFA is designed to prepare students to enter professions in museums, galleries, and other art-related institutions.
Speaking of which, Philadelphia and nearby NYC and Washington, D.C. are home to thriving arts communities. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Vox Populi Gallery, and Center for Emerging Visual Artists are just a few popular examples.
Internships position ceramics students in contexts where they can network with other artists, experiment with different techniques and understand the entrepreneurial considerations of running their own pottery studio.
The University of California at Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
Undergraduates and graduates alike can take exciting courses in ceramics at UCLA. The ceramics studio has state-of-the-art slab rollers, electric and gas kilns, throwing wheels, and even a walk-in spray booth.
Art 148A is an example of an undergraduate ceramics course students may not have the opportunity to take anywhere else.
Entitled “Advanced Ceramics: Topics in Anti-Racism, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” the course challenges students to explore the aforementioned themes using clay and advanced tools.
Ceramics students at UCLA have abundant opportunities to showcase their work during and after their time at UCLA.
Recent alumnus Charles Snowden’s Senescent Stone exhibit was on display at the Shulamit Nazarian contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles. The work included 18 pieces that fit together to create a mosaic garden path.
University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design (Ann Arbor, MI)
Students interested in gaining ceramics expertise at the University of Michigan can pursue a BFA in art and design with a concentration in ceramics.
Studio work is an integral component of the initial years of study, with a sophomore review at the program’s midpoint. Years three and four grant undergraduates the flexibility to enroll in advanced-level interdisciplinary courses.
Alternatively, students can pursue a BA degree, which emphasizes more focus on community engagement. This degree is more appropriate for students who plan on attending graduate school but not necessarily with the goal of specializing solely in an art medium.
Regardless of their pathway, ceramics undergraduates might take a course like “Ceramics Materials Research & Experimentation,” where they engage in activities like applying decorative patterning, painting with sculptural ceramic glazes, and installing decals using photolithography transfer.
Penn State University (State College, PA)
Penn State’s cross-disciplinary ceramics program merges practice in mold making, slip casting, and kiln firing with the critical study of contemporary artworks.
Undergraduates are highly encouraged to attend conferences and symposia that take place on campus and at nearby art institutions. Many Penn State art alumni progress to graduate school, open their own studios or teach in public or collegiate school settings.
The BFA is the go-to for aspiring ceramicists, and there is actually a suggested academic plan for enrolling in coursework. At least 24 credits must be designated in ceramics or another medium.
Students in the BFA program can anticipate regular performance and portfolio reviews, and those who do not meet the standards of the program risk not being allowed to continue within that major.
Another option for passionate ceramics artists is the BS in art education, which prepares students to become art teachers in public schools, museums, and community centers.
Undergraduates participate in fieldwork experiences at these sites within these realms, including a semester-long student-teaching experience in a local elementary, middle, or high school.
California College of the Arts (San Francisco, CA)
The BFA in ceramics program provides an interdisciplinary, project-based approach that prepares students for careers as artists, architects, designers, writers, geologists, and other exciting professions.
Undergraduates participate in fieldwork experience by installing outdoor artwork, assisting in gallery exhibitions, and designing restaurant concepts. The studio’s kiln and glaze rooms are open for 22 hours daily.
All California College of the Arts students participate in the First Year Experience, where they embark upon a two-semester exploration of diverse mediums, tools, and projects.
The discussions and critiques in which they participate are meant to prepare them to pursue independent, advanced-level projects in their remaining years of study.
Courses like “Ceramics I: Five Realms” introduce students to basic hand-building, coil structuring, and slab construction skills, while the workshop wheel-throwing courses teach students how to throw clay on a wheel, use glazes, and fire kilns in oxidation and reduction atmospheres.
Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)
Many acclaimed ceramicists and sculptors have graduated from RISD, including New York-based artist Nicole Cherubini.
Her work has been featured in iconic institutions like the Santa Monica Museum of Art in Los Angeles and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.
RISD’s four-year BFA challenges students to develop evidence-based critiques of contemporary art, attend field trips, engage in seminar-based discussions, and create independent projects.
The ceramics department is small but mighty, home to only ten undergraduates and eight graduate students. The small size means that students receive significant one-on-one feedback and attention from faculty mentors.
It is common for ceramics majors to complete interdisciplinary endeavors with architecture and interior design students. They may, for example, install site-specific works throughout campus and Providence or design tableware for a restaurant’s avant-garde concept.
Arizona State University School of Art (Tempe, AZ)
ASU’s ceramics faculty and guest artists come from Australia, Thailand, Turkey, and other locations known for their exquisite artwork.
At the ASU Herberger Institute School of Art, the ceramics department encompasses two expansive classrooms, a technology room, a glazing laboratory, and a broad patio for kiln-firing and clay-mixing. Students can also work with decal printers and other devices.
Unique to ASU is the Art Museum Ceramics Research Center, which houses over 3,000 ceramics works of art. The center connects students and community members through fundraisers, workshops, and lectures.
ASU ceramics graduate students additionally engage in the Annual Ceramics Studio Tour, where community members can view their new productions.
In addition to a BFA, Arizona State also offers a graduate program in ceramics. Students receive designated studio space at Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix.
Here, they are steps away from a darkroom, woodshop, printmaking press, and other multimedia facilities. Collaboration is a key element in the local art scene, and regional connections among graduate student artists in cities like Denver, Santa Fe, and LA are frequently forged.
Ohio University School of Art & Design (Athens, OH)
There are three program options for ceramics enthusiasts at Ohio University: a BA, BFA, or MFA. The BA and BFA degrees offer concentrations in ceramics. Undergraduates go on field trips, design on-campus exhibits, participate in collaborative projects, and engage in community service as part of either curriculum.
Students are encouraged to take advantage of study abroad opportunities, like the one-month ceramics summer program in Hungary and Romania.
Ohio University’s MFA in ceramics leaves little to be desired. Each graduate student has access to a private studio, more than $25,000 worth of raw material, 20+ pottery wheels, two slab rollers, a glaze spraying booth, and 14 indoor/outdoor kilns.
An impressive 90% of Ohio University ceramics graduates work in a ceramics-related field throughout the entire duration of their careers. It is not uncommon for them to receive Fulbright awards, university-level teaching appointments, and nonprofit leadership roles.
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Budding ceramicists might gravitate to the United States’ only school explicitly created for graduate art, architecture, and design education: the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
There are no traditional grades here, and staff can design responsive curricula based on current students’ needs and talents.
Ceramics is one of eleven departments where candidates can pursue a master’s degree.
After two years engaging in substantial dialogue and interdisciplinary projects, each student writes a master’s statement and prepares an exhibition for display at the Cranbrook Art Museum.
Studio time is the cornerstone of a Cranbrook master’s degree in ceramics. Students participate in weekly critiques, presenting their evolving artwork to the whole department (faculty and students included).
These exhibitions prompt rich discussion and propel all participants to give deep consideration to the connections between their artistic techniques and the messages they wish to convey with their art.
New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University (Alfred Station, NY)
The only school on this list dedicated exclusively to ceramics, the NY State College of Ceramics has graduated innovative ceramicists and engineers for over a century.
Its MFA in ceramic art is ranked #1 in the United States, and the campus boasts excellent resources, like the Inamori-Kyocera Fine Ceramic Museum and the Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology.
Only eight ceramics students are accepted into the competitive two-year MFA, and each student who enrolls receives full tuition funding in addition to an internship or teaching assistantship stipend.
In the ceramics BFA, senior undergraduates are paired with a faculty mentor and granted a designated studio space for the purpose of developing their own thesis exhibition.
They also have access to the brand new 3D Digital Fabrication Lab, which houses a laser cutter, 3D milling machine, kiln room with 28 kilns, and a forklift!