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How This Prestigious Design School Allows Pre-College Students to Explore Beyond their Comfort Zones and Refine their Art—On-Campus or Online

Work by Advanced Program Online student Kexin Hua

Since 1971, the Pre-College program at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has been offering high school students a creative experience like no other. It’s one of the oldest and most established summer art and design pre-college programs in the world and is on track to celebrate 50 years this summer.

Like many other institutions, RISD Pre-College is coming out of hiatus from in-person learning and is excited to have hundreds of students back on campus and immersed in this residential program. Not only that, they have also chosen to keep the online program as an option for all applicants, optimizing accessibility while preserving the RISD Pre-College rigor. Here’s everything you need to know.

Work by by Advanced Program Online student Feiye Fan

The PreCollege Program

At RISD Pre-College, rising high school juniors and seniors live like RISD college students and work alongside hundreds of other creative, highly motivated people. Living on campus, students navigate life away from home, form new relationships, and balance homework with co-curricular opportunities like visits to museums and beaches.

RISD Pre-College places a strong emphasis on learning the vital foundations of art and design while pushing boundaries: Students explore personal meaning, experiment with materials, and learn to think more critically about their work.

“Students who come to RISD Pre-College are looking to improve their skills and create work for their college applications portfolio,” Says Joy McLaughlin, Associate Director of Pre-Collegiate and Youth programs. “That’s why all students take drawing and design courses, where most of their portfolio work will be created.”

In addition to the Foundations courses, students select a major area of study, including some unique options like Textile Design, Furniture Design, and Printmaking. Majors give students the opportunity to try something new and broaden their portfolios.

“First it’s about finding out what interests a student,” McLaughlin says. RISD undergraduates don’t choose their major until the end of their first year. Artists and designers learn through making, so Pre-College is the time to find out where students’ hands and minds are directing them.

On a typical day, students will be in-studio for seven hours. In class, they participate in group and individual critiques, lectures, and demonstrations. Outside of class, students research ideas, develop concepts, and complete their artwork, which allows them to build a large body of work.

Time outside of class also comes with co-curriculars. “Of course, Pre-College is primarily about academics, but we also place high value in helping students and parents be better prepared for college life,” says Kristina Byrne, Associate Director of Student Experience. “The co-curricular activities, campus services and residential team all serve to help students develop the essential soft skills of time management, social skills and self-advocacy.”

All classes require final projects, which students present to their class for one last critique. They then participate in Final Exhibitions where they showcase their work in a gallery setting to their families, friends, peers, and the general public —a culmination and celebration of all their hard work and achievement.

“Each year, parents, guidance counselors, and teachers tell us that students return from Pre-College with more confidence, maturity, focus and better sense of direction – which may not be a path in the visual arts,” says McLaughlin. “That’s our mission, to allow students the opportunity to find enrichment in their creativity, clarity in their path, and stronger sense of self.”

Work by by Pre-College student Joseph Grajales

Advanced Program Online

For those students whose schedules or circumstances don’t allow for an in-person experience, RISD is offering the Advanced Program Online. This online intensive is designed—just like the on-campus program—for high school students interested in pursuing art and design in college.

RISD’s Advanced Program Online is a more flexible experience that allows for greater accessibility and an earlier entry opportunity for rising sophomores. Classes are offered in the fall and spring as well as summer, and students may choose to take only one class or all four to complete the Certificate Program.

“The online program is centered around the concept that artists and designers serve a vital role in the world – especially during times of uncertainty,” McLaughlin says. “Our goal is to help students understand that not only does their creative voice matter, but their role as agents of change will help address and solve complex problems.”

The RISD education works to foster students’ abilities to think more critically and understand the impact of their work. “We find that now more than ever, this generation is ready to be engaged,” McLaughlin says. “Our students come to us with big ideas and our job is to give them the skills and means to successfully express them.”

Just like Pre-College, all students start with studying the foundations that make for great art-making. Students can choose from design or drawing or take both courses.

Once a Foundations course has been completed students may choose to move on to a concentration, where they look more deeply at issues such as identity and environment and how to convey complex information and sensitive subject matter in powerful ways.

Online learning, particularly in the visual arts, has its own challenges. But, says McLaughlin, “We have been surprised by the level of work our online students produce. They have shown us that they are ready to commit to the time and engagement our instructors ask of them, and their work is the evidence of that commitment”

Work by Advanced Program Online student Nancy Dedman

Access and Outcomes

The Pre-College programs are open to all, regardless of experience, training or skill level in art. However, says Sarah Caggiano, Executive Director of Continuing and Expanded Education, it helps to be seriously interested in visual arts as a field of study: “The vast majority of students who apply to the program are highly committed to visual art and see Pre-College as an opportunity to decide whether or not they want to pursue art and design at the undergraduate level,” Caggiano says.

Whether on-campus or online, students will participate in courses led by professionally practicing instructors, learn to manage time and self-motivate, and develop a portfolio of concepts, sketches, and finished pieces that can be included in or inform their college application.

“Students are pushed in their technicality and creativity, learn how to present their work to their peers and instructors in critiques, and how to receive constructive criticism – which fosters unexpected outcomes,” McLaughlin says.

The health, safety and well-being of students, instructors and staff remains a top priority, and RISD has developed a comprehensive set of protocols and policies to protect the health and safety of Pre-College students and the broader community from the spread of COVID-19 on campus. The program runs from June 25 to Aug 6, 2022.

To apply for RISD Pre-College residential summer immersive visit precollege.risd.edu

To register for RISD’s Advanced Program Online year-round intensive, visit precollege.risd.edu/advanced-program