Interview with Ms. Katharine E. Willman, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid/Registrar

Posted in: Admissions

Cranbrook Academy of Art

When selecting prospective students, what factors are considered by your admissions staff? (e.g. grades, portfolio, class rank, etc.)

At the Academy of Art, selections are not made by the staff. Admission for each of our ten disciplines is made by one person, the Artist-in-Residence in each area. Admission is competitive based upon the portfolio (perhaps 85% or so,) and where there is a difficult decision the Artist-in-Residence will consider academics, life experiences and work philosophy as described in the Personal Statement and the Plan of Study, etc. As Cranbrook offers the Master of Architecture and Fine Arts degrees, admission decisions for such programs are necessarily more subjective than in more academic fields.

What do you look for in a prospective student’s portfolio?

Work should be: mature and well-conceived; well-crafted; demonstrating a firm understanding of materials; concepts may show approaches to work outside the “mainstream” of thinking; use of materials in new ways; understanding of traditional techniques in relationship to new media. Actually, I believe the Artist-in-Residence is looking for an intangible quality in the work, a different way of thinking. Some students have a long way to go in their development, but their potential is revealed in the way they work.

What kinds of things are you looking for in an interview with a prospective student?

The student should demonstrate: powerful commitment to development as an artist; openness to new ideas and the intense critique environment of the Cranbrook program; maturity and ability to be strongly self-directed; ability to articulate concepts clearly; strong work ethic.

What three things can most likely DECREASE their chances of getting accepted?

Apparent lack of commitment to the demands of graduate work; underdeveloped ideas in the work; difficulty expressing or sharing ideas, which may weaken critique participation; need for structure and supervision.

In your opinion, what are the overall top five art schools in the United States? How about the top five in the World?

I need more than five choices. Yale University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rhode Island School of Design, California Institute of the Arts, Maryland Institute, College of Art, Kansas City Art Institute. I would recommend accredited art schools, not necessarily universities. I would stress institutions where there is very great individual support.

No opinion on international schools.

How selective are art schools in general?

Difficult question! All reputable schools wish to be highly selective in order to have the very best students enroll. The reality, however, lies in the applicant pool in relation to the possible openings, and enrollment/recruitment policy of an institution. Where there is great administrative pressure for full enrollment, the “selectivity” criteria can become soft. In my opinion, art schools are indeed fairly selective, and most wish they could be more so.

What advice can you provide to students who are trying to get accepted into art schools?

Be prepared to demonstrate why your work drives you, excites you, leads you. Show development in your work – even for those just beginning their education, there should be a direction of investigation. Show maturity and ability to persevere. Make work, make work, make work.

What percentage of applicants to you accept?

At Cranbrook that statistic varies by discipline. The percentage ranges from about 65% to only 12%. The average is 40%.

What are the 5 hottest are specialties now?

At Cranbrook, that would be: graphic design and printmaking, as sound, web design, and the “new media” investigations find a natural home there; painting; sculpture; ceramics.

Do you have ANY other helpful comments, advice and/or statistics that prospective art students can use?

At least half of the students in our MFA program aspire to teach at the college level. This is a highly competitive field, and your diversity will become important. Look ahead to various directions your art career may take. If you think you may be teaching, be sure to have a solid background in art history, color theory, and humanities. Keep aware of the explosion in technical media and be open to using such tools if they interest you. If it is possible to extend your practice to gallery or museum environments, or in industry, take classes that will help you be more marketable there. For example, curatorial studies, marketing, art criticism, critical writing, and education courses may be helpful. Be sure you can handle public speaking. Make time to make work – be prolific. Always remember the old adage that the well-formed question is more important than the well-formed answer.