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How to pick the right art school for Honours

Brooke Boland

Here are four questions you need to ask when deciding what VA Honours program is right for you.
How to pick the right art school for Honours

2016 BVA Hons student Grace Marlow installing her work. Photo by James Field.

Students love Adelaide Central School of Art. Results from the 2016 national QILT Student Experience Survey identify the School the best art school in South Australia when it comes to the student experience. At a national level, the School came second to the National Art School in Sydney by less than one per cent. 

The survey also recorded the School as having the highest results for Creative Arts courses in SA in the areas of student support, teaching quality, skills development, and learner engagement.


The Honours program at Adelaide Central School of Art is also one of the best of its kind in Australia. Maxwell Callaghan and Christopher Houghton, current and former BVA Honours students respectively, have had their works selected for this year’s PICA Hatched National Graduate Exhibition. 2015 Honours graduate, Jane Skeer, is the current Adelaide Festival Centre/SALA Artist in Residence for the DreamBIG Children’s Festival. Many Honours graduates have gone on to postgraduate study.

What makes an Honours program one of the best in Australia? And what should students consider when selecting an Honours program in the visual arts? 

ArtsHub spoke to current Honours student, Alycia Bennett who is studying at Adelaide Central School of Art, and Honours Program Coordinator Sasha Grbich, to find out.

Will there be enough individual support?

A visual arts Honours program is designed to develop the promising research and analytical skills of students. Typically, it is a pathway to entry into higher degree programs such as a Masters or PhD. Under the close guidance of a supervisor, students get to focus on their own practice-led research to produce an original body of work and exegesis. But to achieve these results, there are key structures in place. For Adelaide Central School of Art, it is the scale of classes that remains important and allows individual attention for students.

‘It is a small program. Small and flexible is a theme of the School across all of the courses. Our Honours program is full this year and that’s with eleven students. So as you can imagine it is very competitive. Our students get a lot of individual support because of that scale,’ said Grbich.

Is it studio-led?

Another important factor is that the course is studio-led, explained Grbich. ‘Our Honours is a very special year. It is an intensive course and is very much led by our students’ own interests and their own research questions. They work one-on-one with a supervisor, and they meet with that person each week. They also work with our history and theory department who support them through weekly meetings to develop their own written research around and led by the artistic work they do in the studio.’

Bennett agreed, adding that a student’s Honours year is almost like attending finishing school. ‘You get that fourth year to delve and answer some of the questions that come out of third year. It has been really helpful for me.’

At the moment, Bennett and the other Honours students are creating propositional works that will form part of their proposal for second semester, when they will each develop these proposals into a significant body of work.

‘It is different in the respect that you don’t have regular classes like you do at the beginning of third year, and during first and second year. It is all focused on studio-based research which is really important,’ she said. 

Is financial support available?

Another factor to consider is the kind of financial support available to students. At Adelaide Central School of Art there are two scholarships available: a merit-based Honours scholarship worth $7,500 as well as the new Interstate Relocation Grant to offset the costs of relocating for students from outside SA.

‘[The relocation grant] is a fairly new scholarship so I would say it will become increasingly competitive as it becomes better known,’ said Grbich.

‘We also have a merit-based scholarship as well for those going into the Honours year. For students who have achieved a strong result in their studies, we highly encourage them to apply and have a shot at that scholarship. It can be really useful and we have seen students really benefiting from that in being able to invest it back into their practice and materials.’

Who is the right supervisor?

But money isn’t everything. Most importantly, prospective Honours students need to find the right supervisor who will work closely with them throughout the year. This means finding someone with the right experience who also has time to meet with you regularly.

‘We have one-on-one sessions with our supervisors each week who critique our work,’ said Bennett.

Gribch also said one of the reasons the program is strong is the pool of teaching staff supervisors are selected from. ‘All of our teaching staff are practising artists. That’s a real strength of the School.’ 

To find out more about completing Honours at the Adelaide Central School of Art visit

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. She recently completed her PhD on gender, translation and women's writing and has tutored undergraduates at Victoria University and the University of NSW.