Words by Russ Thorne

Here at The Student Room we're as fond of those fancy grown-up colouring books as the next person. But if you arrive on day one of an art degree to be given a half-used one as your only textbook, you might not be on the road to total creative fulfilment. Instead, your degree should aim to do some of these things...

1 - Let you explore your discipline

Look for a broad curriculum that won't try to ram you into a pigeonhole immediately. For example, will the programme give you a range of different assignments using different kinds of art media, so that you can find out the areas that interest you?

Students on Coventry University's Fine Art and Illustration degree, for example, explore paint, sculpture, drawing, new media and industry standard software among other things, to get a feel for various mediums. It's always worth rummaging through the syllabus of any course you're interested in (and asking about it on open days) to find out exactly what's going to be involved.

2 - Bring you into contact with inspiration

Although you'd probably still create intriguing (albeit mildly claustrophobic and weird) work if your uni kept you isolated from all external artistic influences, it wouldn't be the most enjoyable student experience. The best unis and courses will have lots of contacts with various people and institutions out in the art world, as well as incorporating gallery and museum visits into their curriculum.

Inspiration can also be found closer to campus in the form of great tutors. Unis like Coventry have renowned practising artists on the teaching staff (whose enthusiasm was rated at 100% in the 2014 National Student Survey), which gives you an opportunity to learn about how they make their work, but also about how to operate in the industry.

3 - Offer a supportive, well-equipped learning environment

Once you're an undergrad you'll be expected to become a more independent learner and gradually strike out on your own. Fine Art courses encourage students to develop their own practice – but no-one expects you to arrive with your brilliant, mad creative identity fully formed. That's what you're at uni for, after all.

The right university won't tell you what you should do. Instead, they'll guide you and provide the tools and the atmosphere to help you find your own path. Coventry students have dedicated studio space throughout their course and access to well-equipped workshops, for example. If you're planning an open day visit to the unis you like the look of, make sure you tour the facilities – that way you'll know it's not going be you and a forlorn blunt pencil in a leaky shed behind the union. Art loves adversity, but there are limits.

4 - Improve your career prospects

A good programme will prepare you for life after graduation in a number of ways. If you want to make your artistic practice your career, you'll develop the skills and techniques you'll need to to do it. You'll also build a network of useful contacts and get experience through exhibitions, project work and placements – at unis like Coventry, students work on industry-inspired briefs or spend time gaining working in schools, galleries and museums to get a feel for life in the art world.

Unis can also help you with everything from preparing applications to getting your CV in good shape, which is handy whatever industry you're planning to go into.

5 - Enable you to think differently

The final point is also linked to making you more employable, but perhaps even more importantly it's linked to making you the best artist and practitioner you can be. A combination of inspiring teaching, good facilities, a supportive environment and exposure to all kinds of ideas, techniques and philosophies will make you an open-minded, critical thinker. Employers will like that, but so will each blank canvas (real or metaphorical) you approach.

Keep all of these in mind when you're searching for your artistic match and you'll be on the way to a masterpiece of a student experience. Don't forget to engage with current students and recent graduates through our forums or by checking uni websites and social media, to see what life as a student is like in the places that interest you. And if it all gets stressful, those colouring books are actually pretty soothing.