Arrival in Utrecht Glass house, Siena Brainstorming Utrecht river

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 specifically designed to provide a basis for the research components of the Siena and Utrecht study trips. This writing-intensive course fulfills a student’s 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 faculty Brian Sikes, or to Utrecht, Netherlands, titled Imagining Tomorrow, led by faculty Kirsten Leenaars.

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.

Siena: 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.

Utrecht: This seminar will be hosted by Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU University of the Arts Utrecht) located in Utrecht, the Netherlands. This is an international seminar in which students from the Netherlands, Germany and the USA will collaborate to address questions about future design thinking and work with clients from international public and private organizations to propose interdisciplinary solutions.

With a population of more than 334,000, Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. Utrecht is located in the very heart of the Netherlands. The canals, historical buildings, old churches, monumental skyscrapers and the Dom Tower set the mood for the city.



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. 

Study Trip Overview

First-Year Scholars Program Q&A

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

Approximately 35–40 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?

Siena: 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.

Utrecht: In two weeks, a total of 12 teams will research and visualize the future dream of their client. The teams will work 3 to 4 days within the organization of the client in order to facilitate co-creation and collaboration.

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. Invited students will receive communication with instructions on how to confirm their attendance. Please indicate your commitment to be a part of the program by May 1. Admitted students who have accepted their spot in their program will receive follow up communication regarding study trip budgets and itineraries after May 1st.