A teenage boy and girl working with a video camera.


One of the hallmarks of a RISD undergraduate education is first-year Experimental and Foundation Studies. Courses are designed to encourage you to take risks, test theories, challenge ideas and go beyond your initial ideas. In a typical week, you’ll balance two seven-hour days of Foundation Studies with two full days of Major work and a half-day of Critical Studies in Art. An hour each day is reserved for lunch.

Evenings and weekends are reserved for homework, trips and activities. Here’s a look at what a typical week might look like:


  1. 9 am–4 pm

    Major course

  2. 4 pm–on

    Homework and activities


  1. 9 am–4 pm

    Drawing Foundations

  2. 4 pm–on

    Homework and activities


  1. 9 am–4 pm

    Major course

  2. 4 pm–on

    Homework and activities


  1. 9 am–4 pm

    Design Foundations

  2. 4 pm–on

    Homework and activities


  1. 9 am–11 am

    Critical Studies in Art

  2. 11 am–on

    Homework, activities and rest

Saturday & Sunday

  1. Homework, activities and rest

Foundation courses

Your foundation work is a crucial part of your development as an art student. These three required courses ask you to move beyond the expected, and help you to develop a new visual vocabulary that will allow you to confidently speak about art and design.

Drawing Foundations

Drawing skills are an essential component of a college admissions portfolio. Develop your attention to detail and strengthen your ability to think and express yourself visually on paper. Sharpen your observational skills by drawing from the figure, landscapes, interiors and still life setups. Use traditional and nontraditional materials to develop key drawing competencies (line, value and form) that allow you to investigate expressive and conceptual possibilities in your work.

Design Foundations

Another essential component of a portfolio is thoughtful design choices. Design is the ability to organize and map out visual elements into dynamic expression. This course will introduce you to the formal elements and principles of design such as balance, shape, color, pattern and space. Projects may include both two- and three-dimensional design concepts.

Critical Studies in Art

The ability to analyze and respond to creative ideas verbally and in writing is a crucial part of a RISD education. Learn how to apply critical analysis to study artwork in relation to its historical and contemporary context. In turn you will discover connections between your work and the broader world of art. Coursework includes a written paper, a group presentation and a visit to the RISD Museum. There you will tour the collections and examine original artwork up close.


You’ll build on your foundation work by choosing a major, which will allow you to focus on a particular field of design or art. With 12 class hours per week, you will quickly make significant gains in your new medium. None of the majors require previous experience.


Students will bring inanimate objects to life using a mix of hand-crafted and computer-aided techniques. Create unique characters and experiment with using motion, exaggeration and sound to tell compelling stories. Study noteworthy animated films and discuss how they relate to your own work. You’ll define your own original characters and scenes as you begin to build your own animated universe. This course emphasizes hand-made techniques such as hand-drawn, cutout, and stop-motion animation; it does not cover 3D digital animation software.


In this introductory course you will learn to think and make like an architect. Begin by learning about different philosophies that inform how spaces are designed. Gain technical skills to diagram, map and draft your designs. Play with scale, proportion, form and spatial relationships to create different impacts. As the final project you will synthesize everything you learn into a physical prototype of your own design.

Art and Activism

Throughout history, artists and designers have served as cultural magnifiers. They use creative methods and tactics to bring awareness and change to socioeconomic disparities. Discuss topics such as identity, resistance, and environmental justice. Then create your own mixed media or performance-based artworks that examine and respond to themes of social justice.

Art and Activism will provide a space for experimentation rather than a focus on one particular medium. As with all majors, you’ll be challenged to produce artwork that shows a command of materials and a depth of meaning.

Art and Science

In this class the creative process meets the scientific method. Investigate how nature can inform art and design and conversely, how art and design can solve environmental and other problems. Follow your curiosity as you examine and find inspiration from natural specimens in RISD’s famous Nature Lab. Use 2D and 3D construction skills to build prototypes of your designs in this inquiry-focused class. Art and Science will provide a space for experimentation rather than a focus on one particular medium.


Clay is a medium beloved for its plasticity and versatility. It is a time-tested material for vessels and it transcends function in contemporary sculpture. Gain an understanding of the science behind the medium while pushing your work conceptually. Construct with hand-building and wheel techniques and finish your pieces with surface treatments. Experiment with functional and sculptural ideas while you learn hand-building and wheel techniques.


The drawing major allows you to expand upon the skills and techniques you’ll learn in Drawing Foundations. Further develop your observational skills as you describe form using gesture and proportion. Use a mix of additive and subtractive processes to build up an image using shadow and light. Leverage the design elements and principles to create a composition that responds to your subject. Drawing majors will enjoy the challenge of technical exercises as well as imaginative prompts.

Fashion Design

Discover the apparel process from design to market. Gain an understanding of how color, form and proportion relate to the body. Learn how fashion reflects and influences contemporary culture as well as technical skills. Exercises begin with concept development and fashion illustration before moving on to construction. Fashion majors will spend the program developing a garment for the closing exhibitions.


Learn the fundamental language of motion pictures from concept to final edit. Practice basic digital filming techniques and nonlinear editing software as you create a series of short films. Experimental, documentary and narrative genres will all be explored. Video cameras are provided for use during class hours. You may bring your own camera provided it shoots manually, records digitally and has a USB port.

Furniture Design

Furniture lies at the heart of human-centric design. Use drawing and modeling to develop your own piece of functional furniture. You will begin with a starter project that will introduce you to the tools and materials. Then, bring your own full scale design into reality using skills such as milling, shaping and joinery. Get inspired by the overlap of aesthetics and utility through investigations of material and surface finishes.

Game Design

The game designer is a jack-of-all-trades: artist, engineer, psychologist, storyteller, and a creator of fun. This course provides aspiring game makers with practical experience creating tabletop games. Learn about the inner workings of historical and contemporary games. Then, design your own games and refine your characters and game mechanics with testing and critique. All projects are created with a combination of illustration and modeling materials.


Glass is an exhilarating medium that offers a variety of possibilities. This introductory course offers both traditional and non-traditional glass blowing techniques. Work directly with hot glass and probe its potential as a conceptual material. Learn the tools and techniques of hot and cold glass process as well as safe working practices. Methods covered include cold working, sand casting, and mold making. For health and safety purposes this course meets 7:30 am-2:30 pm. Students who are not early risers should consider this carefully before requesting this major.

Graphic Design

Graphic design is everywhere, from corporate identities to posters and packaging. Integrate your knowledge from Design Foundations as you combine text and imagery. Explore hand-made methods as well as digital design tools in a series of design challenges that will help you think outside the box. Leverage type, color, abstraction and composition to communicate messages and ideas visually.

Graphic Novel

From superheroes and memoirs to historic events and political satire, graphic novels are powerful devices that are used to convey messages and tell impactful stories. Read selected publications, learn the basics of scriptwriting and dive into illustration techniques. Then combine your original characters with text and sequencing to make your own comic. Implement what you are learning in Design Foundations to create emphasis and hierarchy. This course focuses on hand drawing; digital illustration is not covered.


Illustration is an ideal major for those with a strong interest in drawing and visual communication. It is a field in which drawing and design combine to express an idea. Learn how to create effective compositions to build compelling narratives. Give stories life with original characters and convincing scenes. Use what you learn about color theory to create palettes to invoke specific moods. Experiment with painting and drawing combinations to develop your own language of visual storytelling.

Industrial Design

Industrial design influences every aspect of our daily lives, from electronics to satellites. It is a human-centered field that always begins with a problem to be solved. Practice creative problem solving through the design process. Begin with a social, physical or ecological need. Brainstorm solutions, build prototypes and test your ideas. Then continue to iterate your designs based on user insights. This course provides a foundation in three-dimensional drawing and model-making using inexpensive materials.

Interior Design

How do the elements and principles of design apply to immersive environments such as interior design? Discover how these apply at the human scale. Use color, texture and scale to develop solutions for your clients. You will consider movement within interiors as well as spatial relationships. Begin with concept development exercises before mapping out your plan. Then learn the basics of preparing interior designs in two dimensions and three dimensions, just as professionals do.


Bend metal to your will using hot and cold metalworking techniques. Begin by getting acquainted with the jeweler’s toolbox. Discover how to saw out shapes, file them to perfection and finish them with surface treatments. Then move on to cold connections and eventually, working in 3D and making hot connections. You will leave this class with a small collection of both wearable and sculptural small metal works.


Create impactful paintings using the building blocks of design. Sharpen your observational skills by painting from still lifes, models and landscapes. Learn how proportion is essential to each of those, and how it works together with color, form and value. Along the way you will get familiarized with painting movements throughout history and how your work relates to them. You will complete most of your work in oil paint and learn about its unique properties.

Photography: Digital

Develop technical and aesthetic skills in digital imaging with a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. Learn how to control your camera using its manual controls, and how to light your subject to capture your intended mood. Edit your images using Adobe Photoshop and get hands-on experience with printing photographs. You will be provided a camera to use in and out of class, but you are welcome to bring your own DSLR camera with manual controls.


Screenprinting is a fun and practical medium that allows artists to create several copies of a single image by hand. Beginning with a drawing, you will learn how to transfer and replicate an image. You will start in single color prints and work your way up to multi-color prints. In addition to learning processes such as registering an image and preparing a stencil, you will continue to refine your designs. This major is an excellent choice if you enjoy drawing, illustration or graphic design. You will leave with a portfolio of prints that demonstrate a variety of approaches.


Get inspired by contemporary and historical sculpture from clay building to site-specific art. Analyze how the design elements and principles apply in three dimensions and use a selection of materials to describe a form. Gain experience with a variety of construction methods as you work from small scale to large. Projects may include a mix of representational, abstract and conceptual approaches.

Textile Design

Color and texture combine into luxurious results in this tactile medium. Manipulate fabric and fiber to produce unique and expressive tapestries. Master the basic elements of textiles such as layering, pattern and dyeing. The RISD Museum’s Costume and Textile Collection will provide inspiration that you can bring back to the studio. There you will express your personal vision through meaningful patterns and motifs.

Classroom experience

On a typical day, you’ll be in-studio for seven hours with a one-hour lunch break. In class you’ll participate in group and individual critiques, lectures and demonstrations. Most of your work will be done outside of the classroom to give you enough time to research ideas, develop concepts and complete artwork.

Your education will extend outside of the classroom and across campus, with open access to nearly 100,000 objects housed at the RISD Museum, the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab collection of natural history specimens, microscope lab and living plants and animals, and the RISD Library, which houses an extensive art and design book collection and Visual and Material Resource Center.


An essential element of the RISD undergraduate curriculum is the studio critique (or, affectionately, “crit”). That’s because all visual artists and designers, at every stage in their career, need the advice and perspective of others. At Pre-College, you’ll learn to present your work to your peers and instructors, receive constructive criticism and analyze your classmates’ work.

The human figure

Pre-College courses use images of clothed and unclothed human figures and in certain studio courses, live nude models. Models typically pose for a few minutes per pose to potentially a few hours. Working from a nude model builds awareness of the kinesthetics of the human form, human anatomy and a connection to the living energy of the subject. Photography of models is not permitted. You’ll be expected to be respectful and attentive to your work during the model sessions.


Homework for all courses is substantial. You’ll need to balance homework assignments with time for program events and activities. Pre-College is your dedicated time to develop your skills and college application portfolio. So you should consider the workload and avoid scheduling activities such as competitive sports training, AP coursework and SAT prep during the program.

Final critiques

The last week of class consists of final critiques and presentations to your class and instructors. Final crits are equal in importance and intensity to final exams in other subject areas. Attendance at final classes and participation for final projects account for a major portion of your final grade.

Final exhibitions

At the end of the program your work will be exhibited for friends, family and the general public to experience.

Foundations Exhibition

For each foundations class, instructors will select exemplary work by a few students to be shown in the final Foundations Exhibition. Professional staff will oversee the installation of all work. Participation is limited.

Majors Exhibition

One piece of your work from your major class will be shown in the final Majors Exhibition. Professional staff will oversee the installation of the work. This experience will give you the opportunity to share your work with a new audience and to see what your peers spent their summers making.

Fashion Show

All fashion majors participate in the Pre-College fashion show. You’ll work throughout the program to develop meaningful concepts and learn methods of construction that help you develop a fully realized final garment. You and your classmates will be involved in all aspects of the show including model selection, styling, accessories and runway performance. Fashion students may model their own work or invite another student to model the piece for you.

Film/Video and Animation Screening

Film/Video and Animation majors learn how to develop concepts, characters and stories that result in your final project. Instructors will work together to sequence your work so that students, family and friends will get to experience the work on the big screen.

Academic calendar

Saturday, June 29

  1. 8:30 am–2:30 pm

    Check-In Day

  2. 3–5 pm

    Student Orientation (mandatory, students only)

  3. 3–4:15 pm

    Parent and Family Meet & Mingle (optional)

  4. 6:30–7:30 pm

    Commuter Student Social

  5. 7–8:30 pm

    Resident Advisor meetings (mandatory)

Sunday, June 30

  1. 2:30–4:30 pm

    Student Orientation (mandatory)

Monday, July 1

  1. Classes begin

Thursday, July 4

  1. Independence Day (observed)
    Offices closed/no classes

Thursday, July 11

  1. 5–7 pm

    RISD Summer Instructor Exhibition reception

Monday–Friday, July 29–August 2

  1. Final Critiques Week

Thursday, August 1

  1. Exhibition Opening Receptions

  2. 5–8 pm

    Majors Exhibition Opening Reception

  3. 5–8 pm

    Foundations Exhibition Opening Reception

  4. 5:30 pm

    Film/Video and Animation Screening (limited seating)

  5. 6 pm

    Fashion Majors Show

Friday, August 2

  1. Final day of classes (attendance mandatory)

  2. 9 am–2:30 pm

    Exhibition hours

  3. 10 am–2:30 pm

    Film/Video and Animation screening (open seating)

  4. 2:30–5:30 pm

    Exhibition artwork pickup

Saturday, August 3

  1. 12 noon

    Residence Hall and Program Checkout Deadline

Arrival and Departure

You’re required to arrive on Saturday, June 29 between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm to attend check-in and orientation. You will be contacted by Residence Life regarding your scheduled check-in appointment time. If you’re traveling internationally or a long distance, you can request permission to arrive early on June 28. An additional fee will apply and must be paid in full by June 1. After acceptance to the program, additional arrival information will be shared along with instructions on how to complete your housing application.

Due to the intensive nature of the program it is very difficult to start the program late. If you have a scheduling conflict with school, we strongly suggest you ask if your school can make arrangements for you to complete the requirements early. If you need a letter documenting your attendance for school officials, simply email us for assistance.

To complete the program, you must attend each class through the end of the final day on Friday, August 2. Participation in the exhibitions is also required. Students must officially check out by 12 noon on Saturday, August 3. For travel purposes, if students who would like to check out after class on Friday, August 2, they must notify Residence Life.


Students will receive their final grades via the Student Portal at (not Canvas) approximately four weeks after the end of the semester. You can view your grades and/or print an unofficial transcript by navigating to “My Enrollment History + Transcript.” Grades cannot be sent by email or provided over the phone.

After grades become available students are welcome to request a transcript for your own use or to share with an institution by visiting our Transcript Request page. There is a fee to process each request.

Alumni who are requesting a transcript from August 2018 or prior will need to create a login for our new platform.

Portfolio Review

As a participant in the Pre-College program, you’re invited to have your portfolio reviewed virtually by a RISD representative. Coordinated through the RISD Admissions office, this event is a great opportunity to receive direct feedback on what’s successful in your work, and what to think about developing further or improving upon in preparation for your college applications.

These live, online portfolio reviews are 15 minutes long. Enrolled students will receive an invitation to register for a session, as well as information on how the session will work and how to prepare for it.

Hear from instructors

Find out more about RISD’s Pre-College academic experience.


Christina Schaller

Pre-College instructor Christina Schaller shares what sets RISD’s summer program apart from others and takes us through the day-to-day lives of the students.


John Gonzales

Pre-College instructor John Gonzalez discusses the nature of the program and expresses his appreciation and gratitude for art and design.