Rhode Island School of Design
Rhode Island School of Design (visited 3/21/14)
Providence is a beautiful, hilly, historic city with unique events with plenty of options for recreation; there are lots of street performers, vendors, Gallery Nights, and more including Waterfire (started by a RISD alum), an annual event on the river running near campus. With five colleges, Providence is a college town (and has been named as the #3 Best City for Foodies).
RISD is a highly residential campus. Freshmen and sophomores must live on campus, and 70% of all students live in university housing. Freshmen are housed in a centrally located quad: the four buildings are completely connected, including underground passageways. Most rooms are doubles with occasional triples in the mix. 15 West are the student apartments located above the library and a café. The university also owns Hill Houses, old houses with loft ceilings and great views that have been renovated into dorm rooms and shared spaces. Met is the main dining hall (located in the Freshman Quad) where the Admissions Rep, a RISD alum, said that “they actually use spices. I pay money to eat there.” However, if they get tired of the campus food, there are plenty of other places in Providence to eat.
The education prepares students for the professional side of being an artist – not just through career services, but through how they teach them to think and create. The academics here require a lot of problem solving and trans-disciplinary approaches. They’ve actually changed the STEM acronym to STEAM by adding “Art and Design” with the idea that ideas are useless unless they can be communicated. A lot of alums are working in STEM disciplines, collaborating with MIT students, etc. They run a full Nature lab of natural-history collections allowing students a hands-on opportunity for a variety of projects. Risk taking and creative thinking are encouraged here. Students create board games, create a solution to real world problems, etc. In Spatial Dynamics last year, students had to create “3D but functional headwear” as part of a competition, and the creations were displayed in a fashion show.
Brown and RISD offer a Dual Degree; students must be admitted to both schools separately and must write an essay explaining why this program is good for them. This is a 5-year program; the first year, they live at one school and take some classes at the other; the 2nd year live at the other school at take classes at the first. After that, they alternate semesters. Right now, they have a student who is Furniture Design major at RISD and studying Music at Brown. She wants to make her own instruments.
Students must declare a major by March of freshman year. The Foundation classes average 20 students; other classes average 17 students. Ceramics and Glass classes are the smallest, reflecting the size of the majors. The school offers BFA in any of the 4 year programs (apparel, ceramics, film/animation/video, furniture design, glass, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, interior architecture). The BArch degree takes 5 years. Students need to complete 42 credits in the Liberal Arts including History of Art and Visual Culture, Literary Arts and Studies, History, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences. If they want, the students can complete a concentration in Liberal Arts. Many take advantage of the cross registration option with Brown. After freshmen year, students can take whatever they want there. Languages and Environmental Sciences (especially among illustration majors) are popular options. Many students also take advantage of the Wintersession to take non-major electives, liberal arts travel courses, and internships. 72% of students do an internship; 54% did 2 or more.
Facilities are top-notch. The Museum has many more things in storage than are on display, but the curator will pull anything from storage for students to work with. The library was an old bank and redone by faculty and students and is now named as one of the “50 most amazing libraries”. Campus is compact and walkable. Although the furthest building (architecture) is only a 10 minute walk, there are shuttles around campus (nice when they don’t feel like hiking up the hill!)
Although students will be spending a lot of time on work (“You’ll spend at least as much on homework as on studio work – at least 8 hours a week,” said the tour guide), there’s active campus life beyond academics. The 70 clubs/organizations keep kids busy. They even wrote and produced “RISD The Musical” (you can check it out on YouTube). “We have sports teams, too. They’re not very good . . . except for cycling. We have a lot of hills! But we have a lot of fans. We get a little rowdy!” said the tour guide.
RISD is Common App exclusive. Applicants must upload 12-20 images of best and most recent work (done within last couple years). They also ask for 3 images from a sketchbook/journal. Separate from this are two 16×20 hard-copy Required Drawings which should be completed in 1 day, and done on paper to fold up, put in an envelope, and mailed. Drawing 1 is a Bicycle (graphic only); Drawing 2 can be 11 related images (still on 1 page), a 2-sided drawing, or a Drawing instrument. Students can also attend a National Portfolio Day; they recommend bringing a friend or family member to help stand in line since it often takes a while to get seen.
Clearly, RISD is doing something right with their education. Ninety-five percent of freshmen persist to sophomore year, and 87% graduate within 6 years. Students and alum have won 9 MacArthur Awards (kind of the Nobel Prize for artists that comes with a $500,000 award) and 50 Fulbright awards in the past 15 years.