The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) offers a First-Year Scholars Program with a global, intercultural focus that further immerses students in the academic community at SAIC. Students invited to participate in this program take a set of specially designed courses during their first year at SAIC. Throughout this year-long experience, students engage in specialized discourse and activities, develop mentor relationships with their instructors, and become part of an active and collaborative community.

Admitted students are selected for this program based on a holistic review of their admission applications. They must show:

Program Highlights

First-Year Scholars Program Coursework


As a cohort, students take a first-year seminar course, Introduction to Renaissance History, specifically designed to provide a basis for the research components of the Siena study trip. This course gives students an understanding of the historical context where Siena became a powerful city-state and developed many of the cultural characteristics and traditions that still animate contemporary life there.

This writing-intensive course fulfills students' first-year Liberal Arts requirement. 


Students complete their Research Studio II requirement via a study trip to Siena, Italy, titled Living the Past in the Present: the Art of Archive led by Brian Sikes, Director of SAIC’s Contemporary Practices department. Through a partnership with the Siena Art Institute (SART), students will experience the history, tradition, and culture of Siena, Italy’s loveliest medieval city and home to numerous Renaissance works of art and architecture and a wide array of archives, collections, and study centers. Students will develop insight into how historical study may spark their growth as contemporary artists, designers, and visual scholars. Study in Siena will be augmented by excursions to Florence to learn about seminal achievements in Renaissance art and architecture, and to San Gimignano to visit its Medieval towers and Galleria Continua, a well-known contemporary art space.

First-Year Scholars students will be granted $2,500 toward the cost of their study trip, and SAIC’s 6-credit off-campus study requirement will be partially fulfilled. This course fulfills the first-year Research Studio II course requirement as well, opening a space in the spring semester for an additional course elective.


Having fulfilled the Research II course typically taken this semester, students will be able to add an additional elective course of their choice to their schedule.

First-Year Scholars Program Q&A

How many students will be participating in the First-Year Scholars Program?

Approximately 20–25 freshmen students.

Will I be taking more credit hours than my peers during fall and spring semesters of my first year?

No. First-Year Scholars students take 15 credits in their fall semester and 15 in the spring semester. They will, however, participate in a 3-credit hour winter interim study trip for studio credit during the winter session. In total, they will take 33 credits during the academic year.

What is the studio/making component of the Winter Study Trip?

Students will have a common workspace (mostly for digital and drawing work) at SART, but they will spend much of their time exploring Siena. Studio work will take place subsequent to the study trip and involve two class meetings in Chicago (a working and a final critique) during the spring semester.

Does the study trip fulfill any of my degree requirements?

Yes. The study trip fulfills the Research Studio II component of a student’s first-year schedule. Additionally, all SAIC students are required to take 6 credits of off-campus study. This trip fulfills half of that requirement.

How do I ensure my place in the First-Year Scholars Program?

Places are filled on a first come, first served basis. If you have been selected, please indicate your commitment to be a part of the program by May 1.