Art School Versus University

Hey everyone! Today, we’re diving into the differences between art school and traditional four-year universities. The paths are considerably different, and we want to explain the contrasts between the two from personal experiences. Taylor attended Washington State University to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts, while Lauren attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago to earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. You can become a designer through either program, we’re just comparing the two!

Required Courses

Art School

Don’t be fooled, art schools do offer business and math classes, but they’ll be focused on your life as an artist and how to market your work. Several history, research, general art process (exploring various mediums), and liberal arts classes (such as writing, culture, and philosophy) may be required at art school. No, you won’t have to take biology, calculus, or accounting classes, but you will have to step outside of your comfort zone a bit to take art electives you may not be used to. Often times, art schools will encourage you to take classes in areas you wouldn’t normally gravitate towards like printmaking if you’re a sculptor.


In a traditional University you have two sets of required courses: those that you need in order to graduate and those needed for your major. The courses required by the university in order to graduate will change in level and hours between schools, but in general, you are required to take math, humanity, science (with a lab), English and a history course of some sort. You may be able to test out of some classes, but you’ll need to speak with your advisor for more information specific to your university. Ultimately, the required courses in traditional universities are geared towards getting a decent idea of all the different areas of study offered to help you find a major to focus. General electives help you to explore classes to count towards minors.

Class structure

Art School

Art schools generally have longer class hours and meet less frequently. You won’t always be sitting through lectures, but rather, working. Studios at SAIC alone are either 3 or 6 hours long. Art schools dedicate large blocks of time to encourage more focused work. Art school is more self-driven, so what you put in, you get! It’s best to remember you won’t have a professor by your side when you’re in the “real world.” If you have questions, take initiative and ask them without hesitation! 


In general, Universities have fairly short classes only lasting about 50min, but you meet fairly regularly. There are, of course, exceptions to this, e.g. science labs, art classes, and design classes. Many upper-level classes tend to be longer, though they still meet regularly. In University, the main focus of class is to give as much information as possible about a given subject. Rarely do you get to everything in class, therefore, you are heavily encouraged to take advantage of office hours, tutoring centers, and the library. Much of your work is done outside of the classroom through homework, self-study, and projects.

School Environment

Art School

As I’m sure you can guess, you’ll be surrounded by other artists in art school. In architecture, the building you design is more than a structure – it’s a giant interactive sculpture. Everything is art. You go to class with painters, sculptors, fashion designers, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, and videographers.

Opportunities are everywhere to collaborate on projects: have your photographer friends help you out when you need to document your project model, learn a few tips from your graphic design friend to clean up your renderings and portfolio, and maybe even have a sculpture friend critique your model structure. You have the minds of other artists around you, allowing thoughts to endlessly flow in different ways. Network with the people you know, and collaborate!


In traditional University, you interact with a wide range of people from many different backgrounds, with diverse interests. It is unlikely that as a working professional you will only work directly with people who have similar interests and backgrounds as yourself, so universities are a great way to interact with people from many walks of life.

Universities are also great simply for the sheer breadth of course choices offered. Even if your degree is design focused, you can take classes in other subject that you just find interesting. You can get a minor in something that does not have any obvious connection to your major, but that you feel passionate about. One of the most beneficial aspects of going to a traditional university is the diversity of people and subject. Take advantage of the diversity and use it to build up your skill set!

The Student Lounge Conclusion

Finding the right environment for you is your key to success. If you want to incorporate many different things into your design education, look into some of the programs offered at more traditional universities like GWU, Virginia Tech, FSU, or even WSU (Go Cougs!). If you have a more art-focused brain and wish to learn more deeply about various fine arts, find your place at Pratt, RISD, SAIC, SCAD, or Cal Arts. Your design practice is shaped by what you learn, so find a program that fits your interests!

What I Learned After a Semester of Design School

After my time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) studying architecture, I’ve come up with a few bits of advice for anyone just starting out or thinking about getting into design. Being in classes with a variety of students – from architects to interiors to product designers – I better understood each path and what I wanted MY focus to be. Whatever it is you’re concentrating on, know that we’re all in it together!

When you sign up for design school or even just one class, it is not all colors, finishes, and furniture. Sketching beautiful designs from your imagination turns into math, all-nighters, and the model you redo three times over. No, I don’t want to scare you; I want you to know that design school isn’t like what you see on HGTV.

The Structure of Class

No matter where you go, all classes are different. Even within the school you’re attending, professors each have their own style of teaching. Some like to spend time looking at notable projects, some will show videos like KOOLHAAS HOUSELIFE, and others might spend the majority of their time lecturing.

At SAIC and other art school programs, you will likely experience more studio time and less instruction. Many of the classes are self-driven, and it’s up to you as a designer to use the resources available to you, reach out to your professors & faculty members, and attend talks.

Usually, the beginning of the class is the time to update the professor and class on the status of your project BEFORE diving into your work, much like how things would run at a firm. I experienced a mix of studio time and lectures, but most of the time my classmates and I quietly researched, drafted, redrafted, learned to use AutoCAD, built models galore, and asked our professor questions. Keep in mind, professors often won’t come to you, so be sure to seek them out to ask questions on your own.

Your Reason

Why did you choose to take this class? That’s what they’ll ask you when you first introduce yourself, even before seeing the syllabus. For some, it was because they had parents in the industry, others have always been creative and want to turn their skills into a profession, and then there are those who want to see what being a designer is really like.

Consider why you’ve chosen to design and think about what you want to get out of your time in a particular class. Do you want to work at a firm? Is it your dream to open a firm on your own one day? Do you have absolutely no idea? It’s alright if you’re unsure about what you want to do, but if you have an idea, take steps towards your goal. Try to connect with the people you admire, and learn how they got there.

The Chaise Lounge Podcast is a great place to hear the success stories of designers from across the country. It focuses on the business of design, what isn’t taught in school.

They Did it Too

Who am I talking about here? The greats of course! Ludwig Mise van der Rohe and Philippe Starck didn’t wake up and decide to become designers and then design the Farnsworth House or celebrity homes in a day. No one gets to where they are without a little blood, sweat, or tears. I mean this quite literally – be careful with your X-acto knives. When you look at the clock and realize the sun is about to come up but you’re still straightening out your AutoCAD drawings, take a deep breath and remember it’ll all be worth it.

7 Steps to Conquer a Critique 

A critique, sometimes referred to as a “crit,” can be daunting in design school – especially if you aren’t prepared. During a crit, fellow students, professors, and sometimes even guest designers will observe a presentation of your latest project. Made to be constructive, they can sometimes be overwhelming, and you may lose sight of the purpose in all the nerves.

Here at The Student Lounge, we’ve come up with a list of seven steps for you to conquer what sometimes seems impossible:

  1. Pinup Correctly
    • Be sure to bring extra tacks (try to have all white, black, or clear to look uniform and professional).
    • Pin up everything level and take time to space everything out equally. Remember, you’re a design student, so you should be conscious of keeping everything tidy!
  2. Have Cohesive Presentation Boards
    • Boards are made to carry an audience through a project. The various boards focus on different aspects of the project in depth, with swatches and blown up images. The first and final boards are to give a summary of the project and to wrap up ideas.
    • Use however many boards you need to communicate your ideas well, but generally stay between 5 and 12.
    • Be conscious of the material and color of the board. Be sure the information and materials on the board are cohesive, and follow a form or method.
  3. Bring a Clean Model
    • Keep your model protected – no one wants to see a soiled or crinkled model that should be stark white!
    • Use bags, boxes, or plastic containers to keep them from getting damaged.
    • We encourage final touch-ups before class, to have the most pristine project.
  4. Protect Your Paper: Drawings, renderings, printed drafts & photos
    • Keep your flat, paper materials protected. If you don’t already have a document tube, find one! You can pick them up almost anywhere you get your supplies, but here are a few:
  1. Have a Verbal Presentation
    • Have a personal introduction including your name, inspiration for the project, and ideas you drew from. Walk your audience through your work and thank the people!
    • Don’t speak negatively about your own work and never apologize while presenting: only explain.
    • Practicing your presentation with a classmate, friend, or even in an empty classroom, alone, can ease your nerves. Drill down what points you want to touch on, and plan how you’ll talk about them.
  2. Just In Case
    • Have extra copies of renderings, printouts, or drawings, in case you forget.
    • Bring extra swatches of fabric.
    • Bring tacky glue, rubber cement (dries fast and is perfect for paper), and Velcro. You don’t want anything to fall off or apart! Even if your materials are ready, you may be a classmate’s saving grace.
  3. Breathe.

If allowed, consider recording audio of the critique. This way, you can go back and listen to what was said for better understanding. Utilize crit sheets, if you can, for others to take notes on specific things that you can later ask about. Even listening to the file months later can be constructive! Furthermore, consider revisiting and revising your projects with the critiques you received. Even if your grade doesn’t have a chance of changing, you can better your portfolio.

Critiques can be harsh, but keep in mind it is all for your benefit. Everything should be objective during a crit – that is, work should be analyzed without personal opinions coming into the conversation. There is no sense fretting about what has been said that you didn’t like hearing. Instead, take the critique and learn from it, even if you disagree. Remember, if someone gave you their opinion, you don’t have to take it 100 percent, but do consider it.

You’re one step closer to being a designer in the real world after you have your first critique under your belt. And if critiques aren’t new to you, be sure to know what to do differently the next time around. Good luck!

Dorm Room Design Hacks with Elizabeth Aaron

Dorm Room Décor

Elizabeth Aaron makes the definitive list of tricks and tools to make your dorm room a real home away from home. Elizabeth is an acclaimed interior designer, founder of Elizabeth Aaron Interior Design, and author of the Four Friends Design Blog.

Congratulations! Countless hours of studying and years of hard work have paid off – you’re college-bound! Now what? Time to get organized! You’ve come to the right place. I’ve divided the task of packing into key categories:

  • Décor
  • Furniture
  • Linens
  • Storage / Organization
  • Bath
  • Cleaning
  • Kitchen
  • Personal


It’s amazing how trendy dorm rooms have become. Students today spend a lot of time and take great pride in personalizing their home away from home. An area rug is a great way to warm up a utilitarian space. Outdoor rugs stand up to heavy traffic and are forgiving with spills. Surya offers hundreds of options at affordable prices. (You can save more buying through a trade source. Feel free to order through me at

Ikea has always been a favorite source for affordable framed art. Avoid damaging walls by picking up Command picture hanging strips from Target.Task lighting is helpful when reading “the old fashioned way” from a text book. Ikea offers lots of affordable options including this colorful USB powered LED desk lampIkea’s Rice paper lanterns are an affordable way to soften utilitarian overhead lighting.

Gotta have a full-length mirror! Ikea has everything from a simple over-the-door model to stylishly framed versions. Keep your desk clutter-free and everything in view with The Container Store’s multi-function utility board. If your school is strict about hanging art, a simple solution is wall decals. Amazon features dozens, from inspirational quotes to polka dots to life-size trees.


If you’ve got the room and the budget, you will not regret this purchase. These Modway swings cost designers half of what they sell for at retailers and are so comfy you’ll never want to get up! (I’m happy to process Modway to-the-trade orders on your behalf at

If you don’t have the room or the budget, a simple butterfly chair never fails. Students will spend countless hours at their desk. Switching between standing and sitting has become a more ergonomic way to work. Yes, students get a desk in their room but for under $200 they can have an Ameriwood lift-top desk that will make getting through college that much easier. And when it’s time to sit, why not do so in a Modway knock-off of the big name, state-of-the-art adjustable desk chair for under $100?

A headboard might seem like a luxury reserved for home but at under $100 for a Modway twin headboard, it’s a plunge some students are willing to take to make their rooms extra special. A functional nightstand is important. Bed Bath & Beyond’s adjustable storage cart is a practical solution at an affordable price.


College towels rarely get hung up properly to dry. I highly recommend oversized Command hooks from Target to make it easier. And Quick Dry hand and bath towels from Bed Bath & Beyond. While everyone loves the luxury of an oversized bath sheet, standard size bath towels just dry faster.

Bedding is very personal. I am a big fan of an all-white bed so sheets can be bleached to keep them clean. I advise against percale sheets since their trademark crispness can make them surprisingly noisy. All cotton sheets help minimize sweaty nights. I prefer the smooth feel of sateen. Be sure to buy Twin XL for all bedding unless your school indicates otherwise. Pillows should be selected based on how you sleep (side vs back). A standard size down-alternative has the most appeal. I especially like the quality and value of The Company Store. The Company Store also offers a variety of colored, quilted comforters that require no cover. As with pillows, I prefer a down-alternative comforter. You’ll want to choose the weight based on if you’re a hot or cool sleeper and where your school is located. Better to err on the side of a light or medium weight comforter and add a cozy fleece blanket in the winter if necessary.

Why do you need a waterproof mattress cover, you may ask? Have you considered how many students slept on that mattress before you? Have you ever spilled your coffee in bed? Choose wisely. The lesser quality ones have crinkly waterproof layers that are noisy. Target offers affordable laundry bags that stand on their own so, technically, double as a hamper. You’ll want two: one for lights and one for darks. It will negate the need to sort in the dungeon your college calls their laundry room. Last but certainly not least: the memory foam mattress topper. This item will make the difference between a good night sleep vs tossing and turning. Costco offers a good selection at a great price.


Bed risers. Greatest invention ever. Double your storage space by raising your bed. This model from Bed Bath & Beyond even has an outlet and USB port! Target has a big and affordable selection of underbed storage bins.

Slim flocked hangers. Another genius invention. Hang more in less space without items slipping off. If you only get one style, the suit hanger works well for both tops and pants. If you want even more room in your closet, consider The Container Store’s Lynk Double Hang Closet Rod. Why clutter the floor of your closet when you can hang your shoes? Bed Bath & Beyond’s 10-shelf  hanging shoe organizer is a great and affordable solution.

Design School: What to Know Before You Go

As a recent graduate of the interior design program at Washington State University, I’ve realized there are many things I wish I had known before starting. I wouldn’t change my choice of majors, but it would have been much less of a culture shock to have a bit of information beforehand. To help others who are starting their interior design education, I got together with some design school friends to make a list of what we wish we could have known. Read More