How To Earn an Illustrator Degree in 5 Steps (With Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 8, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Becoming an illustrator is one way to turn a passion for drawing into a career. These professional artists create visual representations of ideas to accompany text or products. If you'd like to prepare for a career as a professional illustrator, you may benefit from earning an illustrator degree. In this article, we explain why you might want to get an illustrator degree and how to do so in five steps.

Read more: How To Become an Illustrator (Plus Salary and Job Outlook)

Why get an illustrator degree?

While it's possible to become a professional illustrator through independent practice, there are a variety of benefits to completing a degree program. Here are a few reasons why you might pursue an illustrator degree:

Improve artistic skill

One of the primary benefits of an illustrator degree program is that it can provide the guidance and structure to help you improve your artistic skill. You may learn new artistic techniques and develop your existing skill set by attending lectures and practical courses. These new techniques might involve using different styles or materials. For example, you might explore illustrating with pencil, charcoal, watercolor, ink or digital software. You can also improve your artistic skill through hours of practice and helpful feedback from mentors.

Build a professional portfolio

Participating in an illustrator degree program can be an excellent way to develop a professional portfolio. You can use the illustrations you create for your classes or extracurricular projects to demonstrate your skill to future potential employers. It may also be useful to ask professors or peers which pieces they think best represent your style and value as an artist. You can then emphasize those pieces in your portfolio.

Develop a specialization

Completing a degree program can be a helpful way to develop a specialization. This might help you find a job or connect with clients quickly after graduating. You may also use your degree experience to explore new types of illustration and discover new interests. If you already know the type of illustration you'd like to specialize in, you might use that information to help you pick the best degree program to help you develop it into a marketable skill.

Here are a few types of illustration specializations to consider:

  • Technical illustration

  • Medical illustration

  • Editorial illustration

  • Fashion illustration

  • Architectural illustration

  • Product illustration

  • Children's book illustration

  • Storyboard illustration

  • Comic book illustration

  • Courtroom illustration

Read more: How To Become a Technical Illustrator (With Skills and Tips)

Build a professional network

The opportunity to build a professional network is another benefit of participating in an illustrator degree program. You may make useful connections with professors, administrators, mentors and peers in the fields of illustration and publication. These connections may help you find professional work after graduating. You can also take advantage of the professional preparation support that your institution may offer. This can include career counseling, alumni networking and assistance with application materials like resumes, cover letters and portfolios.

How to get an illustrator degree

If you'd like to get an illustrator degree, here are some steps you can follow:

1. Reflect on your goals

The first step in getting an illustrator's degree is to reflect on your goals. You might consider your artistic goals, including the styles you'd like to develop or the mediums you'd like to explore. You can also reflect on your professional goals. These might include your eventual field of work, how much money you'd like to make and your preferred work environment. If you're not sure how to start, consider journaling or discussing your goals with a friend or mentor. You can then use those goals as a set of criteria when evaluating degree program options.

Related: 7 Careers You Can Pursue With an Illustration Degree

2. Research programs

Once you've created a list of goals, you can use them to help decide which type program to pursue. Here are a few program options to consider:

  • Associate's degree: An associate's degree in illustration may take two-years to complete. This might be a good option for individuals hoping to gain the benefits of an illustrator degree program quickly. Specific courses might include introduction to illustration, digital manipulation, figure drawing, perspective and color fundamentals.

  • Fine arts degree: A fine arts degree, also known as a bachelor of fine arts or a BFA, is a four-year program that may help artists develop their illustration, painting and graphic design skills. Specific courses might include art history, color theory, anatomy in drawing, fine arts studio, painting, illustrative imaging, illustration for film and games and contemporary art.

  • Master of fine arts degree: If you're interested in working in a highly specialized area of illustration, like medical or engineering illustration, you might benefit from completing a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree after your undergraduate education. Specific courses might include editorial illustration, vector illustration, surface design, medical illustration, technical illustration and a thesis project.

  • Master's degree: If you're interested in developing your academic prowess and scholarly ability in addition to your illustration skill, you might consider pursing a Master of Arts (MA) degree. This degree program might include courses like licensing, illustration history, figure rendering, perspective, advertising and institutional art.

After you select the type of degree you'd like to pursue, you can research specific program options and create a list of your favorites. In addition to degree type, you can consider location, cost and whether the program is online or in-person. Visiting the school website can be a useful way to learn more about the initiation's mission, values and educational philosophy. You can also research the type of coursework to expect, notable faculty and alumni success rates.

3. Assemble your application materials

Next, you can assemble your application materials. Degree programs often require application materials like an academic transcript, a personal statement, letters of support, standardized test scores and supplemental essay questions.

Some illustration degree programs might require a portfolio. Others might accept a portfolio as an optional addition to the application. To assemble an illustrator portfolio, you can collect your favorite illustrations from classes, extracurricular activities or personal practice. If you've submitted illustrations to contests or festivals, consider including those works. It may also be helpful to include a selection that shows the range of your abilities and your personal illustration style.

Related: Graphic Designer vs. Illustrator: Everything You Need To Know

4. Apply

After assembling your application materials, you can submit them to each degree program on your list. Different degree programs may have different application requirements, so it can be helpful to read each set of instructions carefully. You can also create a spreadsheet or calendar to help you keep track of various requirements and deadlines. After submitting your application, you can continue to learn about and show interest in the institutions by attending events or scheduling alumni interviews.

5. Complete the program

Once you receive and accept an offer of admission at your degree program of choice, you can begin the program. You may attend lectures, participate in studio coursework, complete assignments and take tests. Some degree programs culminate in a senior project like a personal art exhibition. When you graduate, you receive your illustrator degree.

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