Online Education in the Visual Arts

by Jennifer Croley,
Online Education in the Visual Arts

Want to earn an art degree or enhance your skills, but a traditional classroom isn't for you? Distance education may be your answer.

Online education is the most popular form of distance education and offers the most opportunities for students interested in pursuing an art education via correspondence.

According to Sharon McGuire, Program Director for The Art Institute Online, pursuing an art education online offers many advantages, with flexibility topping the list. "The primary advantage is working on your own schedule. Online you can post work or participate in assignments at two in the morning, if that is when you have the time," notes McGuire.

How Online Visual Art Programs Work

Online art students will face deadlines, but unlike traditional programs, online art programs do not revolve around set class times. Although some programs do require limited on-campus time, the primary components of most programs are asynchronous, or "not live."

Students in most online art programs will access course information, submit work, and get feedback through an online discussion area similar to a message board. Most programs also utilize e-mail for direct communication needs.

Equipment requirements vary, but a reliable computer and Internet connection are a must. Some programs will also require additional software or equipment.

Programs Offered

Students interested in art can earn a degree or certificate online or just complete a class in their field of interest. From film to fashion to photography, courses in almost every field are available.

Some schools focus on conventional programs such as painting, graphic design, and interior design while others specialize in cutting-edge programs such as game design, interactive media, and web design.

Below is a partial listing of schools offering online art programs:

  • The Art Institute Online
  • Academy of Art University
  • International Academy of Design and Technology Online
  • Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
  • Westwood College

Paying for an Online Art Education

Financial aid is available for online students. Most schools offering online degrees meet federal requirements for grants and loans, (though some may not meet state requirements). School financial aid offices are usually the best place to start your aid search. These offices can direct students to available government aid and provide information on school and private scholarship and loan opportunities.

Scholarships are also key to art students. Although many online schools don't have as much scholarship funding as traditional universities, you should look for private scholarships from sites like, and grants from a variety of outside organizations.

Employed students may also be able to get their tuition costs paid for by their employers. Not all businesses offer tuition assistance, so you should check with your employer.

Translating an Online Education into Employment

A burning question for online students is whether they will be able to compete for jobs. "Yes, definitely," says McGuire of The Art Institute Online. "Online degrees are rapidly gaining acceptance. People don't look down on them as they once did."

A recent survey conducted by Vault, Inc., a career information site, supports McGuire's claim. Eighty-six percent of employers surveyed said they would be open to hiring someone with an online degree.

Although an online student may still face some degree validity questions, McGuire points out that a student's portfolio can help address employer concerns. "In the arts, a student's portfolio is usually more important than where and how that student earned his or her degree."

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