A Visit to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
After visiting Brown, I walked only one block and climbed a steep hill to meet with admissions officers at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I’ve gathered a few photos of this eclectic campus on Pinterest for you. This visit is partly virtual, partly on campus. RISD has 2,000 undergraduate and 400 graduate students. The school offers 16 undergraduate majors, three liberal arts concentrations and three concentrations that combine liberal arts with visual arts. Prospective students consider RISD against other private art and design schools as well as visual arts programs at colleges and universities, public and private, of all sizes.
What impressed me most about RISD?
I would say the studio and academic support facilities. If you can imagine a school with a hands-on natural history museum, RISD is it. RISD’s Nature Lab allows art students to get close to living and non-living plant and animal specimens as well as human skeletons. They can also use microscopes and advanced biological imaging tools and work in a biodesign makerspace, I don’t know if other art and design schools have a lab like this, but they should. It brings the physical details of people, plants and animals into tremendous focus to help artists make art.
The other aspect of RISD that impresses me is its proximity to Brown as well as downtown Providence. The setting offers the best combination of the benefits of a college town and access to an urban center that I have seen at any school that I have personally visited, other than Brown. Over 5,000 RISD alumni registered in LinkedIn.com remained in or around Providence for good reason. Providence has a very dynamic visual arts community. RISD also owns and operates its own beach, Tillinghast Farm, located about 10 minutes from Providence.
The educational experience for a first-year student is quite unique, even for an art and design school.
All freshmen, regardless of their intended major, must take three required classroom courses and three required full-day studios.
RISD’s three required classes are in three areas:
- History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences–with a selection of courses
- Literary Arts and Studies
- Theory and History of Art and Design
The required collaborative studio courses are known as Experimental and Foundation Studies.
Outside of the seven-hour in-person class, each studio course has an equal amount of homework . The Experimental and Foundation Studies studios cover Drawing, Design and Spatial Dynamics. According to RISD’s Web site, all first-year students are assigned into sections of approximately 20 students. They attend the three studio classes together as a section throughout the fall semester. The first-year sections are reconstituted going into spring semester so that students work with a different mix of peers. These studios include a mix of projects in flat (paintings, photos for example), three-dimensional forms and materiality (fabrics, plastics, metals, ceramics, and more).
The studios might be among the largest classes that a student takes for credit at RISD, unless she also takes some of the more popular liberal arts electives at Brown. RISD students may take courses at Brown, provided that they have the time and permission to enroll. The average undergraduate class at RISD has only 15 students. The student-faculty ratio is only 7 to 1.
But wait, there’s more, a Wintersession.
During the post-holiday break between the fall and spring semesters, all RISD students may choose a five-week, on-campus course in a subject in their intended major, a liberal arts subject or a studio.
RISD is quite selective.
- Only 27 percent of all applications for the Class of 2024 were accepted
- The acceptance rate for those who applied Early Decision was 42 percent
- Among the freshmen class of just over 400 students, just over a third were admitted through Early Decision
- RISD’s yield rate, the percentage of accepted students who deposited, was 38 percent, high for virtually any four-year college
- While RISD is test optional, over two-thirds of applicants submitted SAT scores.
- The average SAT was 1350. A score below 1250 put an applicant below the 25th percentile of the class
- RISD freshmen had an average high school GPA of 3.6
If you can get into RISD, you can likely stay there.
Freshmen retention is at 94 percent, according to the school’s most recent Fact Book. Nearly three-quarters of RISD students finish their degree within four years.
RISD also offers an ultra-selective five-year dual degree program with Brown.
This program graduated its first class in 2013. It has welcomed 13 to 16 new students each year since 2008. Prospective students apply for admission to both schools. They may apply Early Decision to one school or the other. It is possible to be admitted to either Brown or RISD, even both, but not be accepted for the dual degree.
A strong academic record clearly helps, but talent, through the required portfolio, drives the admissions process.
RISD does not require applicants to take art classes in high school. But applicants must how to work in three dimensions in order to have a successful portfolio. A portfolio that consists entirely of photography or two-dimensional paintings, graphic arts or digital design will not cut it. Neither will a portfolio that features or interprets another artist’s work. The required portfolio must include between 12 and 20 pieces as well as a response to a creative prompt that changes each year. Anyone considering RISD should attend the school’s Portfolio Tips webinars, RISD Portfolio Days and National Portfolio Days to receive free and early critiques. These will help candidates to improve their work before submitting their application for admission.
RISD also offers a summer pre-college program for high school students that give an early exposure to undergraduate Foundation Studies. However, the residential program costs over $10,000 plus supplies, health insurance and travel to campus. But there are many other summer programs that can help a prospective visual arts student to develop their talents.
This school is very expensive.
The experience, including tuition and fees,.room and board and other expenses has an estimated total cost of attendance over $77,000. On average, RISD met only 62 percent of need for the class that entered in 2020. But the school tries harder to help students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds by supplementing financial aid with grants to help cover costs for materials and global study.
It’s really silly to make a report card for RISD.
Like RISD, independent art and design schools such as Parsons, the New School for Design and Pratt Institute have a foundational year, highly respected academics and strong alumni bases in the visual arts. There might be more access to internships and summer positions as well as a larger visual arts community in a larger city such as New York. But I really like the urban/neighborhood feel of the RISD campus and the resources available to help RISD students produce their best work.
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