Making an Artful Transition from High School to College

Drawing from Sophomore Year in College

A detail of the famous sculpture The Rape of Polyxena that I did while studying in Florence, Italy, sophomore year of college.

Arcadia University is well known for its biology program, but for an art history major whose scientific knowledge is pretty limited, this doesn’t mean much. So why did I decide to enroll at a university that specializes in an area so vastly different from my own interests? The fact is: Arcadia isn’t just for science majors.

Walking into Spruance Fine Arts Center for the first time, portfolio clutched between my shaking hands, I was convinced I wouldn’t be accepted into the art program. Thanks to an array of paintings and drawings, ranging from traditional to experimental, I left the building a full-fledged art major after the portfolio review.

While my drawings and paintings may not be at a professional yet, my skill has developed vastly since I started college. In my experience, high school art classes are much more informal than university courses. At my high school, critiques were always positive, projects remained in the classroom, and teachers focused less on individual development and more on the amount of effort exerted. Of course, there are some benefits to this approach; I was able to experiment freely and cultivate a love of art.

Not surprisingly, college is different. Now I spend countless hours working on projects outside of the studio, which impedes on my social life some but has increased my artistic enjoyment exponentially. Critiques are harsher, sometimes brutal, but always constructive. In addition to quickly becoming comfortable with a variety of materials, from India ink to charcoal powder, I’ve experimented with a number of art forms I never would have attempted in high school, including sculpture and metal work.

Drawing from high school.

My skill has developed vastly over the course of my college career. As an example, here’s a drawing from high school.

Another drawing from high school.

Another drawing from high school.

Most importantly, my professors focus on each student individually. My Metals and Jewelry I professor, Catherine, was just as excited about my ideas as I was during class. She guided me through unfamiliar processes, such as soldering, without taking over any of the projects. During my final critique, she encouraged me to keep experimenting and even asked me to keep her updated on my artwork once I completed her course. Before Arcadia, I never had professors who truly cared about my improvement as an artist.

And then there’s study abroad. You’ve probably seen the banners, webpages, and emails advertising Arcadia’s extensive study abroad programs. It’s one of the main reasons I decided to attend the University, and I wasn’t disappointed. I caught the travel bug after completing the Preview in Paris freshman year. After that my impulse to see the world was temporarily satiated when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I set up easels in alleyways, painting a city that thousands of artists have flocked to for inspiration. I was able to sketch statues and marvel at Michelangelo’s David. I spent endless hours at the Uffizi, a museum only a few feet from my apartment. At nineteen years old, I’d seen more of the world than most Americans do in their lifetime.

During my semester in Florence, I grew as an artist and as a person. I’m more confident, independent, and curious (both in and out of my studies), and I cultivated a deeper appreciation for art. My experiences there made me re-evaluate my career goals, which eventually led to my change in major, from art education to art history.

High school can never fully prepare you for college—I mean that in a good way. There are so many avenues I’ve yet to explore here, and my ambition is tenfold what it was then. I look forward to my art courses every day, and I continue to practice outside of the classroom. In a few years I’ll be studying for my doctorate (a sentence I never imagined I’d say) and hopefully working in a museum. Maybe even the Uffizi.