A career in Illustration can be rewarding and there are many different avenues you can take within the field.

If you decide you’d like to pursue an education in Illustration, choose a program that is focused both on the creative aspects, technical skills- the computer programs you’ll need to succeed as well as the business of Illustration. For the best Illustration programs you’ ll need a competitive Art Portfolio to apply. 

At Ashcan we’ve helped thousands of students enter top BFA Illustration programs and we strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation. It’s valuable for admissions counselors to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing. We also suggest including some research based and imaginative work, both 2 dimensional and sculptural that show you’re an inventive and creative problem solver. 

These are the BFA Programs that we like the best:

School of Visual Arts (SVA) , New York, New York

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) Illustration program offers for aspiring illustrators a BFA degree in Illustration or Cartooning. SVA’s Illustration students are frequent winners of the highest awards at the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration and many other industry-based student competitions & SVA has the largest Illustration faculty of anywhere in the US.


15-20 images

Your portfolio should contain samples of your strongest artwork 

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, New York

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)  BFA in Illustration offers students the option to specialize in either Fashion Illustration or General Illustration. The Illustration Department is closely affiliated with the Society of Illustrators & Illustration students have won more than 50 awards in recent years in highly competitive student art exhibitions, including the Society of Illustrators  Annual Scholarship Competition. In this program there’s an emphasis on the business of Illustration, along with the development of your creative work. 


14-20 images 

FIT asks for 7-10 of your original drawings and paintings created from direct observation – this shows them that you have significant drawing ability. The quality of your direct observation images has the greatest influence on your acceptance into the program.

Direct observation means only paintings and drawings produced directly from life such as portraits/model drawings- drawings of a life models, a study of your hand, portrait of a relative…, still life- set up of objects, and environments- at the local grocery store, watching TV with the family at home, downtown at rush hour…

Then they ask that you submit 7-10 images of your Original Artworks Created from Other Sources. This means drawings, paintings, digital and 3D imagery that you produced by working from photo reference and/or your imagination, as well as additional artwork derived from direct observation from life.

Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York

Pratt Institute (Pratt) offers a BFA in Communications Design with an Illustration Emphasis. If you select the BFA with an illustration Emphasis you’ll learn advanced storytelling, socio-political commentary and authorship and will take take courses that encourage experimentation with multiple technologies, platforms and techniques.


Your visual portfolio should consist of 12-20 (including observational drawings) & pieces of your best and most recent work. It should consist of a variety of media and approaches. It can include assignment-based projects, self-directed work and sketchbook work, which often give us information on the applicant’s creative process.   

In addition to the above, students must submit three to five drawings from observation (part of the 12-20 pieces). Examples of observational work include landscape, still-life, self-portrait, figure drawings, and interior spaces. Please do not submit drawings from imagination or copied from photographs for the observational work. This is fine, however, for pieces other than observational work.

Parsons School of Design, New York, New York

Parsons BFA in Illustration prepares students to work in a range of areas including Animation, Editorial and Advertising Illustration, Graphic Novels, Hand Lettering, Picture Books, Surface and Display Design, and Toy Designs. They work closely with organizations such as American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators, and facilitate student connections with acclaimed art directors, illustrators, and publishing professionals


8-12 images 

Portfolios can include a range of media such as drawing, painting, sculpture, fashion design, animation, performance, graphic design, or sketchbook pages. They encourage you to show experimentation and range. 

In addition to the 8-12 images for your Art Portfolio, you must also complete the Parsons Challenge, where you’ll create and submit a new visual work inspired by the theme within a piece submitted in your portfolio, as well as a  500-word essay describing how your ideas developed. You may also submit up to two additional visual pieces that document your process. All forms of media are acceptable. 

ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California

ArtCenter College of Design BFA in Illustration programs teaches you foundation skills such as figure drawing, painting and perspective, and you’ll choose from five main areas of specialization: Illustration Design, Illustration/Fine Art, Entertainment Arts, Motion Design and Surface Design. There’s an emphasis on gaining business knowledge

Portfolio Requirements 

20-25 images 

8-12 figure drawings from a live model, including gestural and more developed pieces, 8-10 imaginative pieces that demonstrate your use of color, composition, and narrative. These should be finished, fully realized pieces that tell stories and communicate effectively and 5-6 pages from your sketchbook that include observational drawings and unfinished explorations that express your point of view as an artist.

They are most interested in seeing work that is rooted in your personal curiosity and unique point of view as an artist. Through your work, they want to see who you are, what the world looks like to you, and who you aspire to be as an illustrator.

Rhode Island School of Design, (RISD), Providence, Rhode Island

Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) Illustration BFA program is the schools largest major. You’ll have the option of building on your degree program to concentrate in one of six additional areas of study beyond a studio major. 


Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. 

Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. They strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination or a photograph). The majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, but they also suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

In addition to the 12-20 pieces for your Art Portfolio you must make work for 

The Assignment” – which is RISD’s home test. 

This is this years “Assignment” (although it may change year to year) 

Below is a list of paired concepts. Choose one pair and make work where the ideas are in conversation* with each other. 

  • Ephemeral / tangible 
  • Complexity / contradiction
  • Chaos / order

Submission 1: one preparatory study

We recommend that you make a series of experiments and studies as you work towards a final piece. This could be a sketch, storyboard, 3d model study, short video or animation, exercise, etc. The study does not need to be complicated. Show the development in your thinking. 

While you may make text-based preparatory works, only include one visual study in your SlideRoom entry.  Please do not include inspiration images. 

Submission 2: one final work 

You can then choose to translate these ideas through your choice of material, concept, or process of making. 

Your work can be made out of any visual materials: two-dimensional, three-dimensional, four-dimensional.

Tips: The Assignment is an opportunity for you to show us how you think and make. Your reviewers want to see how you grapple with abstract ideas and express them in your art and design work. Have fun with this Assignment. Make work that is authentically interesting to you.

*When we say ‘in conversation,’ we are referencing the exchange of ideas that grows from the words in the pair. Like any good conversations, there is a push and pull. There are potential challenges, tension, and harmony. Consider asking yourself questions like:

  • Where do you observe these concepts in your life and in the world?
  • How are these words different? Where do they overlap? 
  • How can you express these ideas visually?

Think deeply about the words you choose. There are many directions this ‘conversation’ can go. 

Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida

Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) BFA in Illustration program you can focus on the General Illustration or the Visual Development Emphasis. The General Illustration Emphasis covers the fundamentals of digital and traditional media.The Visual Development Emphasis focuses on concept art, used by illustrators to convey ideas across the entertainment spectrum in industries. 


In your portfolio Ringling College values your individualism and creative voice. They’re looking for a portfolio that demonstrates your potential to succeed, what materials you enjoy experimenting with, what topics you like to explore, and how you like to push your work to the next level.

It’s important to include examples of drawing from life and direct observation. These can include:

  • Hands, feet, human figures and animals
  • Representational drawing
  • Interior and/or exterior environments

Your ability to think creatively is important to them, so feel free to include pages from your sketchbook.

Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York

Syracuse University (SU) BFA in Illustration program has four focus areas to help you explore specific industry specialties. They include Editorial, Product, Sequential, and Visual Development. 


The portfolio should be a collection of 12-20 images of your most recent work that represents your interests, highlights your ideas and conceptual abilities, demonstrates your technical skills, your willingness to experiment, and your commitment to visual expression and communication.

Include a variety of media and approaches. They recommend that a minimum of six drawings from observation be included if you are applying to illustration. Observational drawings can include still lifes, figure drawings, landscapes, etc.

Some other schools that offer great BFA Illustration Programs:

Savannah College of Art and Design, (SCAD) Savannah, Georgia

Maryland Institute College of Art,  (MICA) Baltimore, Maryland

California College of the Arts (CCA) San Francisco/ Oakland, CA 

Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California

Minneapolis College of Art & Design,(MCAD) Minneapolis, Minnesota

Massachusetts College of Art and Design, (MassArt) Boston, Massachusetts

Columbus College of Art and Design, (CCAD) Columbus, Ohio

Kansas City Art Institute, (KCAI) Kansas City, Missouri

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California

Washington University in St. Louis (Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts), St. Louis, Missouri


Please feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation or to ask us any questions.

You can sign up for Ashcan Art Portfolio Prep Classes!- Manhattan, Queens, Long Island or Online- ⁠
Intensive, Fine Art, Art Competition & Portfolio, Design, Digital Art & Private Lessons⁠!

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If you graduate with a BFA in Illustration there are some of your employment opportunities:

2D Cartoon Illustrator, Advertising Comp Artist, Advertising Layout Artist, Animation / Illustration Artist, Architectural Illustrator, Art Director, Art Educator, Biomedical Illustrator, Book Cover Illustrator, Botanical Illustrator, Broadcast Illustrator, Character Artist, Character Sketcher, Children’s Book Illustrator, Comic Book Illustrator, Conceptual Artist , Costume Designer, Costume Supervisor, Creative / Fashion Director, Digital Illustrator , E-Learning Designer, E-Greeting Card Illustrator, Editorial Cartoonist, Fabric Print Artist, Fashion Illustrator , Graphic Novel Artist / Writer, Greeting Card Illustrator, Home Textiles Designer, Iconographer (Symbols), Imaging Specialist, Live Caricature Artist, Logo Designer, Magazine Illustrator, Map Illustrator, Marketing Artist, Marketing Communications, Medical Illustrator, Medical Products Illustrator, Muralist, Music Video Set Painter, Packaging Illustrator, Pattern Creation Designer, Point-of-Purchase Designer, Pop-Up Card / Book Designer, Portrait Artist, Pre visualization Artist, Product Illustrator, Textbook Illustrator, Scientific Illustrator, Set Designer – Film & TV, Set Painter – Theater, Signage Developer / Designer, Surface Designer, Storyboard Sketch Artist , Tattoo Designer, Textile Painter

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