College Cousins: the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the Carnegie Mellon University College of Fine Arts

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Selecting a college is challenging for almost everyone, but what is it like for students who have a special, creative talent that they want to pursue in college? Does that agenda make pursuit of a college choice more focused and simpler or more complex and thus harder? For students interested in the visual and performing arts, finding strong arts programs is a priority. Two of the best can be found at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Fine Arts in Pittsburgh.


Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

RISD’s core educational mission goes back a long way. Since 1877, the art school has maintained an unwavering commitment to developing its students’ creative artistry. RISD offers degree programs in apparel design, architecture, ceramics, film/animation/video, furniture design, glass, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, interior architecture, jewelry and metalsmithing, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and textiles. Art is clearly the focus at RISD, but the school’s students do receive a well-rounded college education. To graduate with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree, students must also successfully complete coursework in the social sciences and liberal arts.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University is a private university, and its name pays homage both to its original benefactor, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and to a subsequent merger with the Mellon Institute. Though perhaps known best for its strength in STEM fields, CMU has offered programs in the arts from the outset, and its College of Fine Arts is recognized today as one of the best of its kind. The College of Fine Arts encompasses the Architecture, Art, Design, Drama, and Music Schools.CFA’s degree programsare designed to be somewhat broader than those at RISD, although its students select concentrations in their specific area(s) of interest. In addition, CMU’s Schools of Drama and Music add performing arts to their offerings. Here too, the degree programs require students to study both the liberal and creative arts to ensure they receive a comprehensive education.

Joint Programs

CMU also offers its students three “BXA” degree programs: interdisciplinary courses of study that combine the strengths of multiple CMU colleges. These programs include the BHA (Bachelor of Humanities and Arts), the BSA (Bachelor of Science and Arts), and the BCSA (Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts). RISD doesn’t have identical in-house programs, but it has teamed up with nearby Brown University to offer students cross-registration opportunities. An additional option for Brown and RISD students is the BRDD (Brown-RISD Dual Degree)program, which enables students to graduate with two degrees: an AB from Brown and a BFA from RISD.


These are both marvelous programs – for the marvelously talented. In addition to meeting academic requirements for admission, students must submit portfolios (or auditions, in the case of performing arts at CMU). For students who want programs that will encourage exploration, creativity, and artistry, these two can’t be beat.