Academic Experience

Curriculum Description

The Breakdown

RISD Pre-College is about strengthening your ability to observe, conceptualize, analyze and create. That’s why the carefully balanced schedule and all-day studio classes offer the chance for you to experiment and creatively problem solve. Below is a typical week for a Pre-College student:

TWO FULL DAYS in foundation-level drawing & design courses
A HALF DAY in a critical examination of art, artists and their context in society
TWO FULL DAYS in your major concentration

One of the hallmarks of a RISD undergraduate education is the freshman year Experimental +Foundation Studies program, an immersion in rigorous visual and critical inquiry, designed to encourage you to experiment and challenge ideas, motivations and assumptions. At RISD, foundation work is as crucial to a student’s overall development as the major. And that’s no different for Pre-College where you’ll be introduced to the RISD curricular concept through three foundation courses: Drawing Foundations, Design Foundations, and Critical Studies in Art.

Choosing a Pre-College major will allow you to explore one particular field of design or fine art in depth. Study in a major is only one component of the comprehensive Pre-College program. Students in all majors come away with a depth of experience, advancement and artwork through their Foundations courses.

Student painting model in class

Foundation Studies

Drawing Foundations

The ability to observe and the skill of translating observations into visual expression are fundamental to an artist’s education. Students in this course first develop their power of observation and strengthen their ability to think and express themselves visually on paper. They learn techniques for working from the human figure, forms in nature, landscapes, interior spaces and still-life setups. Traditional and nontraditional materials are used throughout to investigate line, value, form and composition. Portrayal of drawing skills is often an essential requirement for college admissions portfolios. Therefore, RISD Pre-College emphasizes that Drawing Foundations studies are as important as major work.

Design Foundations

Design is critical to all visual expression. This course introduces students to the formal elements of design – line, shape, color, texture and space. Through challenging exercises, students are encouraged to explore traditional methods of visual organization and to discover new solutions on their own. Projects may include both two and three-dimensional design concepts. Development and representation of thoughtful design choices in all artwork is often an essential component for consideration in college admissions portfolios. Therefore, RISD Pre-College emphasizes that Design Foundations studies are as important as major work.

Critical Studies in Art

Critical analysis – the ability to thoroughly examine, analyze and respond to creative concepts and ideas, both verbally and in writing – is an essential tool in an art and design education. In this foundation course, historical and contemporary art (both two and three-dimensional) is presented in relationship to a specific theme. Students develop an approach to critical analysis by delving into the historical context of the artwork. Coursework is enhanced by visits to the RISD Museum of Art, where students explore the collections and examine original artwork in an intimate setting.


Choosing Majors

Applicants are asked to select a major at the time of their online application. Please make your major selection carefully, as changes cannot be accommodated once the application has been processed. Majors are assigned by the preference indicated on your application AND on a first-come, first-served basis. Because space in majors is limited, availability cannot be guaranteed. Early application increases your chance of placement in your preferred major. If your desired major is full at the time you apply, you may select an alternative major that is open AND opt to be added to the waitlist for a major that is full. If a space in the waitlisted major becomes available, you will be notified via email.

NOTE: Study in a major is only one component of the comprehensive Pre-College program. Students in all majors come away with a depth of experience, advancement and artwork through their Foundations courses.

VERY IMPORTANT: There can be no changes of major or section once the online application has been submitted.

RISD Pre-College is excited to introduce two new Majors for 2018!

Art + Activism and Art + Science

Unlike a media-centered major, these new courses give students the opportunity to explore dual interests and discover how art can inform and direct contemporary society or scientific exploration. These majors are ideal for students who have an equal passion in dual subject areas and want an opportunity to immerse in a creative exploration of humanistic and ecological systems. As with all majors, students will be challenged to produce artwork that shows mastery of materials and is rich with meaning.


Animation- the study of art in motion- is a constantly evolving art form. This major introduces students to the rich traditions of frame-by-frame nonlinear movie construction, and to recent developments in the field. Using a variety of rendering techniques, students focus on the development of unique characters and compelling narratives. In order to produce impactful visual elements, emphasis is placed on studio projects – such as flipbooks, storyboard, cutouts and stop-motion film – that develop strong perception and drawing skills. Students are introduced to basic technical skills in computer distortion, timing, exaggeration, sound and sequencing, and also view noteworthy animated films and discuss ways in which they relate to their own work. Students will present their work at the Film/Video and Animation Screenings during Finals Critique Week. NOTE: While not required, students may wish to bring a high-capacity storage device such as an external hard drive or flash memory device.

Art+Science (New)

The overlap between art and science has been present for millennia and beyond. From indigenous cave drawings to Davinci’s obsession with the human figure, visual makers have been exploring the natural world to understand its secrets and intricacies. Recently, scientists and artists have established more formal learning environments that promote joint inquiry and innovation. This course focuses on biological and ecological science, which may include the study of plants, mammals, ocean life, as well as structures and forms in nature. Through an exploration of 2D mixed media materials and design-concept building, students will create work that examines ecological systems and environments. Students will investigate how nature can inform an art and design practice and conversely how creative inquiry of nature can lead to innovation and solutions to human-centric and environmental problems. Areas such as biomimetics, biophillic design, ecology climate change, technology and medicine may be covered in the process of observation and discussion. Through research, discussion and experimentation, students will be required to develop skills in a variety of methods and materials in order to build a body of work that best reflects their vision. NOTE: A background in the study of science is not required for this course.


Clay has long been respected as the medium of choice for relief and sculptural portraiture, and has been used throughout history in many varieties of functional ware. Its plasticity and versatility are increasingly appreciated in works that transcend traditional boundaries, so that today, ceramic media are also associated with contemporary sculptural possibilities. Accordingly, students learn basic construction and finishing techniques, including hand-building, wheel-throwing, methods of surface design, glazing and kiln firing, and are also encouraged to experiment with both functional and sculptural ideas.


This major allows students who wish to immerse themselves in drawing to expand significantly upon skills and techniques introduced in Drawing Foundations. Students confront demanding technical exercises and explore imaginative, descriptive and conceptual imagery on paper. All the critical technical elements of drawing – line, tone, composition and color – are employed as tools that facilitate extensive experimentation, discipline, and an environment of intense inquiry.


Using video as a means for studying basic techniques of filmmaking, students develop universal skills of expression and storytelling, and the fundamental language and processes of motion pictures, from concept to final edit. Students learn basic digital video filming techniques and nonlinear editing with Final Cut Pro software as they shoot and edit a series of short individual and team projects. Experimental, documentary and narrative genres are all explored, and select student work is viewed and analyzed in class. Students will present their work at the Film/Video and Animation Screenings during Finals Critique Week. (Previous experience with video editing software, such as iMovie or Adobe Premiere, is helpful but not required.) NOTE: Video cameras are provided for use during class hours only. Students may bring their own video cameras, provided they have manual controls and record to a tapeless digital format, and have a USB port.

Game Design

The game designer is a jack-of-all-trades: artist, engineer, psychologist and storyteller; but most of all, a creator of fun. This course provides aspiring game makers with practical experience creating tabletop games, and also familiarizes them with the theory and vocabulary of the industry. Through play testing, group critique and prototyping, students hone projects using ideas discussed in class – including character design and game mechanics – that encompass board, social, didactic, role playing and world building games. Students explore digital tools for design purposes, and aspects of computer-based video games are covered. However, all projects are delivered as real, physical objects. Students produce a portfolio of original games that highlights critical thinking skills, setting them apart from their peers. Game industry designers and developers serve as guest critics.


This major is an ideal choice for students with a strong drawing background who desire the added discipline of working with both text and visual imagery. Indeed, the critical component of this major involves learning the best ways to combine words, images and ideas. Students explore books, magazines and short stories, seeking models for manipulating content, design elements, materials and techniques in order to express ideas effectively. These exercises allow students to explore a variety of styles and to use various techniques and materials as they develop a personal visual vocabulary.

Interior Design

Students in this major gain a strong foundation in the process of designing interior spaces. They develop a visual vocabulary in order to explore the relationships between interior components and movement within the space. Color, texture, fabric, lighting and other elements are investigated in a creative environment that encourages participants to express their own sense of design. Discussions and critiques help students understand the elements and principles of interior design as they develop project solutions.


Students are introduced to both traditional and contemporary concepts and techniques in painting. They learn to create and organize forms, colors, textures and tones while experimenting with various methods of application. Initially, students work from the figure, still-life setups and diverse landscapes. They then seek to create more personalized imagery by adapting lessons from the studio. Lectures, demonstrations and critiques reveal how others have tackled similar painting issues in the past, so that students can discover their own style.

Photography: Digital

Professional photography is fully immersed in digital workflow, and anyone using a camera these days must have an understanding of digital tools. Students in this major develop technical and aesthetic skills in photography, with an emphasis on digital imaging and its potential applications in print and electronic form. Coursework focuses on camera techniques, lighting methods, and the use of computer software (Adobe Photoshop) for enhancing and refining images, and for presentation. NOTE: Students will have access to DSLRs in and out of class, but are free to bring their own DSLR camera.


Students engage in a traditional approach to sculpture by exploring a range of three-dimensional concepts, skills and processes. Emphasis is placed on producing realistic structures based on human, animal and plant anatomy. Students select materials and methods that allow them to best address issues of form, space, expression, context and scale; in past years, projects have included constructing with wire, paper, fabric and found objects. Assignments encourage students to create well-crafted, conceptually sound and structurally durable sculptures. Information is provided and discussed regarding the expansive field of contemporary sculpture, including conceptual art, public art, installations, memorials and site-specific work.

Art+Activism (New)

Throughout history, artists and designers have served as cultural magnifiers at the forefront of bringing awareness and change to socio-economic, environmental, and political disparities. Through an exploration of 2D mixed media materials and concept building, students will create work that examines and unravels the meaning of social justice. Topics of social equity, inclusiveness, political and economic divides and environmental prejudice may be investigated. Students will be challenged to move beyond simply highlighting issues and transition into the role of cultural innovator and disruptor of long-standing narratives. Through research, discussion and experimentation, students will be required to develop skills in a variety of methods and materials in order to build a body of work that best reflects their vision. NOTE: Students should consider their enrollment in this major thoughtfully, as there will be sensitive and respectful discussions on topics that may include exploration of identity, privilege, bias, prejudice, navigating political constructs, religious ideology and government justice systems.


Students profit from the dynamic relationship between learning basic architectural concepts and physically employing them in the construction of prototypes. As an introductory architectural design studio, important architectural principles are presented through studio exercises, slide lectures and demonstrations. Students implement these principles through both drawing and model-building to develop an understanding of scale, form and spatial relationships. This intense study provides the framework for the process of analysis and synthesis that is critical to further architectural pursuits.

Comic Book Art

Comic books are pure pop-culture adrenaline – influencing novels, movies, fashion and even the Web – and have become an essential element of our popular media consciousness. This major provides students with the expertise needed to combine words and pictures into compelling visual narratives for strips, comic books or graphic novels. Students learn the creative and technical aspects of this idiosyncratic art form, including its unique characteristics and limitations. Classes include a survey of selected comics, in-class demonstrations of scriptwriting and drawing techniques, and studio assignments that encourage participants to develop original comic stories of their own. Beyond comic books themselves, the skills acquired also apply to children’s books, film and television production and video games.

Fashion Design

Students in this major examine the fashion design process from sketchbook to consumer. Initial exercises focus on developing the visual communication skills necessary to illustrate a fashion concept. Merchandising and construction methods come to the forefront as students gain an understanding of color interaction, form and proportion. In the process, students begin to appreciate how fashion tastes and styles both reflect and contribute to contemporary culture. Ultimately, students design and construct fashion pieces out of alternative materials to be shown as part of the Pre-College Exhibitions at the end of the program. NOTE: Prior sewing skills are not required.

Furniture Design

You use it every day. You live with it and you can’t get along without it. But have you ever really examined furniture? Have you ever admired the form of a table or scrutinized the function of a chair? Midway between sculpture and industrial design, the vital discipline of furniture design directly impacts human interaction and well-being. Through drawings and modeling, furniture design students explore key aspects of three-dimensional design, incorporating the aesthetics of form and function to articulate their design ideas. They learn to use traditional furniture-making skills, including joinery and the time-honored techniques of hand and power tools, ultimately building one of their own designs.

Graphic Design

Graphic Design majors explore various combinations of traditional and digital design tools through a series of intensive classroom exercises. This regimen enables them to integrate diverse techniques with the design elements of color, form, typography and composition. Projects allow students to combine these tools and techniques in such creative applications as corporate identification, publications, posters, packaging and/or signage. Students also learn to recognize the principles of good graphic design as they integrate text and imagery (drawn from various media) into seamless, finished communications.

Industrial Design

From the creation of a handheld electronic device to the configuration of a satellite, industrial design is a steadily growing field that affects every aspect of our daily lives. This major is dedicated to instilling the conviction that fine aesthetics and mechanics reinforce one another in producing exemplary products for industry. Students work on design solutions for social, physical and ecological needs, and develop a working vocabulary in the language of two- and three-dimensional design. Three-dimensional drawing and model-making skills are therefore emphasized throughout the course.


Designing and constructing jewelry is an ideal discipline for developing an understanding of the structural underpinnings of all kinds of sculpture. Many skills learned in this major, if expanded in scale, are readily transferable to other modes of metalwork because they familiarize students with the properties of various metals and related materials, as well as with commonly used methods of joining. Techniques are learned through numerous demonstrations and structured exercises in the studio, enabling students to complete jewelry objects of their own choosing by the end of the course.

Photography: Traditional

Students learn how to see and compose images through the camera’s eye, and are encouraged to develop personal concepts by solving fundamental visual problems specific to the photographic image. They explore black-and-white photographic tools and techniques, including operation of the single-lens reflex camera, how to determine proper exposures, and the chemical process for developing 35mm negatives and prints. Presentation methods and archival preservation are also demonstrated and discussed throughout the course. Both the experienced and the inexperienced photographer are welcome, but each student must have access to a 35mm camera with full manual exposure control capability.


This major is an excellent choice for students who want to expand upon previous drawing experience by exploring a tactile, process-oriented medium that offers many options for rich visual effects. Lessons in plate and paper preparation, registration and preservation enable students to explore diverse intaglio techniques such as pochoir, drypoint, and hard- and soft-ground etching in both large and small formats. Surface printing techniques are also explored, including monoprinting, chine collé and xerographic transfer. As students begin to master these techniques, they are given the opportunity to demonstrate both their facility and their developing personal imagery by producing a series of related small-format prints for final portfolio presentation.

Textile Design

Students working with textiles have the opportunity to explore how fabric and fibers can be manipulated to produce a wide variety of surface designs and expressive ideas. By mastering the basic elements of silkscreen printing and assorted dyeing methods, students learn to experiment with elements of layering, transparency and repeating patterns. Emphasis is placed on the creative use of color, and on drawing unique narratives and motifs, resulting in finished designs on fabric yardage. Discussions regarding the myriad ways contemporary textiles are created for fashion, home décor, architectural materials and original fine art augment studio work.

Classroom Experience + Critique

Classroom Experience

In a typical day at RISD Pre-College,  you will be in a studio course for six hours with a one-hour lunch break. Most of the day may be dedicated to group critique, lectures and demonstrations. You may be directed try new media, tools or concepts during a significant portion of the class or project time could be limited to start a project to make sure you understand the parameters for your homework. Most of the work you create will be done outside of class to give you dedicated time to develop concepts, research and complete artwork. Homework time is also an opportunity to step back from your work and gain feedback from your peers and resident advisors.

Seeking help is essential to the collegiate experience and students are encouraged to do so independently. All visual artists and designers, at every stage in their career, need the advice of others. It’s no different for Pre-College students, in fact it’s even more essential since you’re being introduced to new academic materials, methods, concepts and expectations.

When significant issues arise, a student might be directed to meet with a Program Administrator. This is an opportunity for the instructor and other students to stay focused on the curriculum while you can receive an assessment of how you’re adjusting to the program overall. You may discuss what challenges you’re facing in this new environment, and learn how you can best be supported in finding help, self-correcting and succeeding in the program.


RISD is a culture of critique. In fact, it lies at the heart of the RISD experience. Critiques, or “crits” as they’re more commonly known, take place throughout the course of each class and serve as important guideposts as you refine your work and prepare final projects.

Since most of class time is comprised of lectures, demonstrations, and critique, students will be creating the majority of their work during non-class hours. Homework assignments have strict deadlines so that students can come to class and present their completed projects. You’ll have the opportunity to build confidence in speaking about your concepts, process and outcome and then receive feedback from your peers and instructor. Through group, individual and peer critique, you have the opportunity to find your own voice and bring your vision into reality.

Instructor helping student in class

Finals Critique Week + Exhibitions

The summer culminates with Finals Critique week and Pre-College exhibitions.

Finals Critique Week

The last week of class consists of Final Critiques and presentations to your class and instructors. This is equivalent to the importance and intensity of final exams in other subject areas. Final projects and attendance at final classes account for a major portion of the final grade, so your participation is essential to your success in the program.

The exact format for your final critique is determined by each class instructor. It may consist of the instructor and classmates critiquing your final project, a review of all your coursework to date, mounting and/or documenting your work for your portfolio, learning a new method, or visiting a professional design studio. You will be working until the end of the program so you have the opportunity to wrap up your experience, ask questions and receive advisement on next steps as you move beyond the class and Pre-College program towards your academic goals.

Exhibitions + Shows

Beginning on the last Wednesday evening of the program, student work will be exhibited for friends, family and the general public to experience. Each of the four events are held in four separate venues on the RISD campus and give students the opportunity to experience the presentation of their work in a professional setting.

Majors Exhibition

You will exhibit one work (selected by their instructor) from your major class. You will bring your work on Monday, along with any special instructions, to Woods-Gerry Gallery where the professional staff will oversee the curation and hanging of the entire exhibition. Work from every student in the program gives students the opportunity to speak about their work to a new audience.

Foundations Exhibition

For each Foundations class, faculty will select several students and a particular work of theirs to be exhibited in the Memorial Hall galleries. On Monday, these students deliver their completed work to the professional staff who will oversee the installation of all the work. While not all students participate in this exhibition it is always a popular must-see show of a wide variety of work.

The openings for the Majors and Foundations Exhibitions is held on Wednesday evening and the exhibition continues until 5:30pm on Friday.

Fashion Show

All Fashion Majors participate the Pre-College Fashion Show held on Wednesday evening. Students in this major work throughout the course to develop meaningful concepts and learn methods of construction that allow them to develop a fully realized final apparel work. Students work on all aspect and details for this exhibition including model selection, styling, accessories and runway performance. Fashion students also exhibit their concepts in the Majors Exhibition.

Film/Video + Animation Screening

Film/Video Majors and Animation Majors work throughout their courses to learn how to develop concepts, characters and stories that result in their final film or animation. Faculty from both majors work together to sequence the work of each student for the Film/Video and Animation Screening held on Thursday evening. Here students, family and friends get to experience the work together on the big screen.