How to Choose the Perfect College Major for a Career in the Arts

So you’re in college and have decided you want to embark on a career in the arts. What now? Selecting a path of study can be difficult for anyone, and requires careful consideration as you look toward your future career path. Luckily, there are a wide variety of art majors that cover almost any type of career you'd like to consider in the arts.

Whether you are already enrolled in art school or wish to focus your studies at a liberal arts college toward the creative world, there are different factors to consider when deciding what art major is right for you. And while it can sometimes seem less clear than the path to becoming a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, much of the thinking is the same when making your choice.

Selecting a college major is a highly personal choice that relies on many different factors—and it isn’t always about money. Understanding that no major is a surefire path to employment or success is the first way to take stress off the situation. Careers ebb and flow over time, and you may find yourself in a job position that seems far removed from your initial studies. And you may also see that employers in fields you hadn’t even thought of value your background in the arts for the creative thinking that it brings to the table.

So as you can see, there is no straightforward answer as to what is right and what is wrong when it comes to selecting a major. There is only what is right for you. But, to help you make this important decision, we’ve laid out some different factors to consider before settling in on your course of study.

How can you select the best art major to set you up for success in the career of your choice?

How to Choose the Right Art Major in College

Photo: Tim Gouw

Consider earning potential

This factor is one that unfortunately often overshadows the rest. You’ll find tons of articles talking about the majors that earn the most money, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t see your chosen art major at the top of the list. While business and STEM majors top the list, this doesn’t mean you won’t have earning potential if you choose a creative career path, and as we’ll see below, enjoying what you do for a living needs to be an equal consideration.

But, if we’re sticking to creative majors, there are a few that will give you the edge when it comes to high earning potential. According to Payscale, people majoring in graphic design and interior design dominate the list when it comes to high paying positions earning six-figures. Of the top 10 job titles, which range from creative director to visual designers, 7 have graphic design as the most common field of study. But interestingly, only 28% of the people in those positions actually hold that major, proving that getting the job isn’t always based on what you study.

This differs slightly, however, when talking about more specialized positions. Interior design, fashion design, and industrial design also sneak into the top of the list. Here, more than half of the people working in the industry hold a specialized major. So, if you are interested in industrial design, interior design, or fashion, studying the right field is a huge plus.

What about fine artists? They land 38th on Payscale's earnings list, with just 18% having a major in studio art, proving that you don’t necessarily need to have gone to art school to make your way as a career artist.

art major jobs

Photo: Bru-nO

Follow your passion

This second consideration deserves as much weight, if not more than the what art job will pay the most. So many college students select a major based on earning potential, only to graduate and find themselves switching career paths when they realize they’re unhappy with the work they are doing. It’s essential that you ask yourself not only what you are passionate about, but what you have an aptitude for. There are so many jobs that a creative major can prepare you for depending on what you are interested in that you don’t need to feel limited to traditional positions. In fact, there are many artists who forgo the traditional studio art world for alternate careers that allow them to harness their creativity in unique ways.

Here are some creative art majors that you may want to consider based on your interests.

What gets you excited…

  • Nature and environment? Landscape architecture
  • Working with kids? Art education
  • Technology and gadgets? Game and interactive media design
  • Working with your hands? Industrial design
  • Media and entertainment? Motion graphics, Animation
  • Design and style? Textile design, Fashion design, Interior design
  • Social issues? Photojournalism, Art therapy
  • Business and organization? Arts administration, Commercial art

And if you aren’t sure that you'll enjoy the career you are thinking of, take advantage of your college’s internship opportunities to what a day in the life of your potential career looks like. There is no better way to see what works for you than to dip your toes in the water and gain firsthand experience.

Still aren’t sure what to do with a major in the arts? This infographic will help you understand different career opportunities for artistic people.

Related Articles:

Design Professor Shares Witty Wisdom in Honest Charts About Creative Life

The 16 Different Types of (Art School) Students

Four Years’ Worth of Eye-Opening Data Reveals Top 25 Icebreaker Questions

6 Questions to Help You Discover Your Creative Niche as an Artist

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content