First Year Scholars

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:

  • A compelling portfolio of work that demonstrates both conceptual and technical proficiency
  • Academic excellence as exhibited through strong high school records and standardized test scores
  • A well-organized, thoughtful, and clearly-articulated statement of purpose

Program Highlights

  • Students are exclusive participants in a winter term study trip: Living the Past in the Present: the Art of Archive in Siena, Italy, led by SAIC faculty with research interests, knowledge, and experience in the destination and SAIC. Students are awarded a $2,500 grant to defray affiliated costs.
  • Students will have the opportunity to take two studio electives during their second semester rather than the one elective typically allotted to them.
  • First-Year Scholar students take a specialized English and Art History Seminar in their first semester with their program peers.

SAIC First-Year Scholars Program

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 study trip. 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.

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.

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.


Students have the opportunity to register for a suite of other elective Scholars course offerings. Having fulfilled the Research Studio II course typically taken this semester, students will be able to add an additional elective course of their choice to their schedule.

Graduate with Distinction

Each semester, SAIC offers a number of classes open to Scholars students only. These Scholars-designated courses come from the departments of Liberal Arts, Art History, and Visual and Critical Studies, as well as interdisciplinary studio offerings that fulfill Academic Spine requirements. Course and topics vary from semester to semester and year to year.

Scholars who successfully complete six (6) Scholars-designated courses during their undergraduate career will earn a Bachelor’s degree “with Distinction” upon graduation, and their transcripts and diploma will reflect this achievement.

First-Year Scholars Program Q&A

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. 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 the study trip budget and itinerary after May 1.