How to Get into Art/Design School


Let me start by saying this isn’t for the lazy, the unmotivated, those who do not have some type of vision. This isn’t for those who aren’t willing to work hard starting today (even if you have obligations and cannot physically do work, you can start mentally getting in gear).

Hi, my name is Dave and I recently started working full-time as an in-house graphic designer for a medical company and do freelance work for Pivot Brands and other side clients. A year ago I was starting design school undergoing an accelerated two year program condensed in one year. It was an extremely rewarding experience and certainly helped catapult me to where I am today. SHOULD you go to art/design school? Perhaps I will write another article or make a video answering that question.

With that said, you are here because you are thinking about or actively attempting to get into design school. First, do you know what you want to do? Graphic design? Fashion design? 3-D design? Web Design? It’s okay if you don’t know. I am 27 and this path I took is completely different from the one I was on just a few years ago. A few years ago I was wearing a tie and shirt as a salesman and that’s what I wanted to do. Things can change in the early years of career development and that’s okay, but even if you aren’t sure about your path give it ONE HUNDRED percent. If I didn’t give it 100% when I was in sales and recruiting and experience all there was to offer then I would never have been satisfied with switching careers. I would have always in the back of my mind wondered “what if?” Yet, because of the fact I give it my all I can proudly say I use the skills I learned every day and in every conversation. When you apply yourself you will grow as a person and that is never something to be worried about or be ashamed about.

Around the time I decided to apply to design school I managed to integrate some of what I could do in Photoshop in one of my recruiting jobs. I made simple but effective banners that I used in social media and while recruiting. Eventually as I began to focus on it, like anytime you focus on something, I improved at it and started getting more relevant tasks. I decided it was time to go full in and apply to design school. I looked at the portfolio requirements and — I had barely anything what they were looking for. I had to essentially start my portfolio from scratch and learn the fundamentals of design quick.

And this is why this it doesn’t matter where you right now, what matters is where are you going to be by the time you submit your portfolio? No matter what the deadline is, time is of the essence. Do not get comfortable, do not wait, now is the time to act. The first step is to aim to be diverse. Look to see what the portfolio requirements are. Some schools simply want your 12 best work. Others have general guidelines which you want to make sure you do not want to stray from. There are those school however, like the one I applied to, that has some explicit instructions with also some best work that I could choose from. Regardless of what the requirements are, you want to start learning and working quickly.


Don’t try and be the best, be YOUR best. If you are constantly measuring yourself and your work by how it was yesterday then you will be surprised how much progress you will make.

Find the leaders of the industry you want to be in and flood yourself in their work. Literally make a folder on your desktop titled “Portfolio inspiration” and put everything you like or makes you think in there. The type of work you surround yourself with will have a direct impact on the work you produce. Now remember, often times the people producing the work you’re inspired by are people who have been immersed in the field for years and years and years. Do not be discouraged if your work isn’t at the same caliber, THIS IS WHY YOU ARE GOING TO SCHOOL! Schools are looking for those who develop themselves, who can show they tried new things, who show potential.

If you want to show potential and show diversity then put yourself in uncomfortable shoes. Often times the brain storming process can be painful, THAT IS FINE. Actually, some designers will argue the best ideas come from intense moments of discomfort. Find tutorials and make cool stuff. This is the type of initiative schools want to see! Even if you don’t have the latest programs in your field, you would be amazed at what you can accomplish with these utilities. Even if you stick with the more traditional approaches, follow tutorials! If you illustrate, look at some of the cool effects people figured out to replicate with just a pencil and paper. If you paint, look at some of the innovative ways painters learned how to paint.

Make it rain design and art. The more drafts you do, the more work you create, the better ideas will come. You will have A LOT of awful ideas, THAT IS FINE. Some of my best ideas have sprouted from the worst ones. Literally take out a paper and pencil and start sketching. If you haven’t done this before it’s going to feel awkward, THAT IS GOOD. You want to be in a different state of mind and uncomfortable spots is great for sprouting creativity. Make it rain and it will flood.

THERE IS A REASON why when the most famous, most legendary people speak about their accomplishments they often times marginalize what they have done and give credit elsewhere, because many of these people would not have been able to do if it wasn’t for the people before them.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” is obviously the quote in the banner and was said by one of the most capable people in known history, Isaac Newton. Even a man of his incredible intellect (seriously, google the history of calculus and you will be shocked) and talent is responsible for a quote like that. We don’t have the burden of figuring every little thing out, people have already done so in the past and have recorded it. Learn from the people of the past, learn from the people now, it is the only way.

Art and design can sometimes feel overwhelming. Do not let yourself get trapped in your own head, I have seen some of the most creative talented people get stuck because they are a prisoner of their own mind. Are there successful people and people who have been doing this forever? Yes. But there are many more who are lazy, not motivated, perform tasks half-assed and many of them are in the pool that you’re competing with. If you are reading this blog you are past several groups of people because you took the initiative to see what people have done to accomplish what you are trying to do.

Put this into context but do not underestimate the situation either. You are auditioning to give an institution money. That’s not to say many in the institution don’t want to help their students, of course they do, but at the end of the day that is the foundation of what a school like that is. Look at things through their perspective, if you wanted to fill your classrooms what kind of students would you want? You have been in class before, which kind of students do teachers like better? They like the ones that actually progress right? They want the ones who work hard and can show their work. Of course everyone likes the Michael Jordans, the super stars, but no one everyone is delusional. Most people know those people are rare and often times they fizzle out anyway. Schools are looking for those people to take advantage of what they have and to use what they learned after they graduate.

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