How to Get into the Royal College of Art
London. Arguably the most exciting city in the world. Although I am Scottish I have never actually lived in London or even spent that much time in England, but in 2021 London came calling. After having lived outside of the UK for 6 years working independently as an artist abroad, I finally felt an unexpected urge to return to the cloudy little continent that is my mother land.
I decided to make an application to the Royal College of Art. With these kind of prestigious schools, you've got to do these things with a pinch of salt. There are so many incredible artists all over the world that dream of attending these places. The Royal College of Art or course being no exception. I believe they have up to 10,000 applications every year! However, don't hold yourself back...if you feel like you probably won't get in but are excited about the prospect - give it a try and give it your all! You just may get that place after all!
The Application Process
The application itself is quite straight forward. Minor issues I had were with the login portal. They have two accounts you need to register (one on the Royal College of Art website where you fill in your basic info) and a second on a software called Pebble Pad. This is where you make your formal application.
Each course is different so will ask for different items inside your portfolio/application. In my case I applied for two courses; an MA in Painting (2 years) and the MRes (Master in Research - 1 year). I was declined an offer for the MA in Painting but received an offer for the MRes. I will never know entirely for sure why I was rejected for the painting course but applying in the third round may have had something to do with it. There are three rounds of applications and naturally you want to apply in the first round to give yourself the best of chances! Once the courses fill up, that's that!
The Interview Itself
Usually you will be called for an interview - and I was pleasantly surprised by mine. When you are invited to interview you will be asked to prepare an 8 minute presentation. Cramming an entire years plan into 8 minutes and showcasing your portfolio and explaining why you want to study, including your future plans is not easy...I must have practiced for three hours the night before the interview just to make sure I had no brain freeze during the interview itself - I was super nervous!
My interview was for a master in Research Course so this will be especially applicable if you are applying for the same. The thing about this course is that it is a Pathway to PhD. So this may be applicable for you too if you are heading down a practice-based PhD route, because you will need to prepare a short Power Point presentation to present during your interview. (Tips on how to do that are below).
I was interviewed by Gemma Blackshaw - Senior Research Tutor for Art and Humanities at the College. The first thing I loved about Gemma, was that she was so warm and friendly. She immediately made me feel human and that I was not on a panel (so important and I think often not the case in these seemingly fancy elite kind of institutions). I was stressed about going over my time but she told me that I didn't need to worry and just to talk through it at my own pace because she wouldn't be timing me (huge plus!!) So I probably presented for ten minutes instead of eight...which enabled me to actually breathe through the sentences!
10 Tips to Deliver a Fantastic Presentation
(Note: this is how I structured my own presentation that landed me an offer - but it is by no means the only or best way to structure it. It's just a few tips to help you on your way to designing your own as it worked for me!)
1. Use Power Point or Canva to set out your presentation (I prefer Canva because you can be a bit more creative and its easier to shuffle things around) - but no need to be technical! Clarity of your project is key.
2. Create a cover page stating your name, course you are applying for, the year of the course and the project title.
3. Include a brief contents of the things you will cover (DO NOT) bother reading this to them - it will eat up your time! But simply allow them a few seconds to digest your content.
4. Introduce your project in a few bullet points. In eight minutes you don't have enough time to re-read large sections of your proposal (and remember they've already read it) so you want to offer them bitesize key pointers to refresh their memory. Just the highlights that set your idea on fire and excite them to know more.
5. On the next page you may write two lists of bullet points outlining the key issues (what is your project solving or dealing with) and the key questions (what are you trying to find out through doing this). This is applicable particularly for a research proposal/research or PhD course because you are trying to uncover something new and contribute to your field as opposed to purely taught degrees where they will not as for such information.
6. Introduce your background, journey to arriving at this point of inspiration or reasoning behind your project. This may include images, bullet points of experiences or works you have done in the past that have fuelled you to grow further.
7. Introduce your art practice. This is your chance to elaborate on from what you submitted in your visual portfolio. You can talk through the materials or subjects you use in more detail and explain how they specifically relate to the project you are doing. Show them how you form ideas and how you are hoping to grow or experiment further with that on the course. This can also include developmental imagery to show how works begin and develop. Make sure to use excellent images of your work and present them neatly with labels (titles, mediums, year etc).
6. Outline your objectives. Remind the interviewer why this project is important and what you are ultimately trying to achieve by doing it.
7. Preparedness. Let them know how you are prepared for this level of study. Have you done any extra curricular activities or summer courses or additional work experience that have intentionally contributed to your development in this area? Let them know how serious and committed you are!
8. Research methods - not necessary but I also mentioned what kind of research methods I would like to use. For example stating that this project will be use two-pronged research methods. Making artwork and collecting data through interviews and surveys to inform artwork creation. It looks good that you have thought about this in detail!
9. Finally, tell them why you believe this is the right course and school for you and your project. What will you gain from it? Why is it better than anywhere else? You may even remind them why you thing YOU are equally a great fit for the course because of your dedication and aspiration to pursue this work.
10. Final thoughts of this - use clear, easy to read fonts (1-3 max). Keep the layout simple and clean. your ideas, words and images should speak volumes - not distracting fonts, colours or sound effects (unless they are highly specific to your project!) Be prepared, this will obviously help you stay calm and make the whole experience for both of you run smoothly. Be polite honest and humble. The interviewer is very busy and has a heavy work load - being respectful of their time and consideration will go a long way! Be confident - not cocky! Its important to remember that the interviewer speaks to many students that are just as good as you are and you're not there yet so don;t get ahead of yourself...but overall the interviewer absolutely wants you to do your best and is generally super interested in what you have to say so you can be confident in yourself to have gotten this far! Enjoy the opportunity to share your brilliance with them! ;P
Proposal Failure Led to Success
Before applying to this course at the Royal College of Art, I had been preparing my proposal for a PhD in Scotland, but had actually been refused funding for two years straight running! This is what brought me to the college in the first place. I was looking for new options and ways to start my project. While the RCA had always been a dream in the back of my mind years earlier, I had all but forgotten about it, having already completed a masters degree in Dundee 6 years prior and now living in Portugal. It would seem that fate led me here...the failure of two years before had actually given me the time to really hone the proposal. While not selected for PhD funding in Scotland - it did land me this wonderful opportunity to grow it further on a One year Research Degree.
While the prior work inevitably helped me gain an interview because I had already worked on it for an unexpected amount of time - I don't believe it actually had to be that polished. The purpose of this course is to help students grow their initial idea! It is not a PhD level yet - its simply a pathway to get you there! If in doubt run your proposal past a previous supervisor for help! I know the back an fourth with mine really helped me clarify my ideas. Having a loose idea at first also leaves you open to a lot of experimentation and learning throughout the course.
Guaranteed PhD Interview
The best thing about this as well is that the MRes program guarantees students an interview for PhD the following year (if they want them!) This is big news for anyone who wants to do a PhD at the Royal College of Art because Professor Blackshaw informed me how difficult it was to actually get an interview directly.
The MA Painting and MRes portfolios were quite different - so it depends again on the course you are applying. The different in these two was that the Painting course asked for 10-15 images, whilst the Mres asked for only 4! Plus the written proposal. The guidelines are very clear on the website of what you need to follow them to the letter and you're good!
One example of a portfolio guideline for the Contemporary Art course at the college can be seen here;
Aside from the proposal, this was the hardest part of the application for me.
The good thing is the quality of your video has nothing to do with how you are graded so don't worry if you are not a technology buff! I am definitely not. It has more to do with what you say and how clear you manage to communicate your vision/ideas/motivations etc. It was challenging because it was only 4 minutes long - so you've got to really sell your project clearly.
About 30 tries later I had it down (including using Imovie to cut out some 'ums' and pauses to get my timing down!) Yes you can do that! You'd be surprised at how much time you will knock off your video just by doing that.
5 Tips to Deliver a Fantastic Application Video
- 1. Each course will have slightly different questions that they want you to address in your video, so check the application guidelines for your specific course thoroughly and note these down first.
- 2. Write down your answers to the questions and read through them repeatedly until you can talk through each point fluidly like a story until they feel natural for you to convey them to someone else clearly.
- 3. Once you've started to remember it all, get in front of the camera or your phone propped up at eye/shoulder level or on a tripod and practice and REPEAT.
- 4. Remember it doesn't have to be perfect - just honest. Be yourself, get excited about what it is you're telling them and stay to point.
- 5. You can use Imovie (or something much more technical if you're not like me) to brush up any technical abnormalities. You can even cut out some pauses or unnecessary 'ums', sighs etc if necessary to help you hit the perfect 4 minute mark!
Accepting Your Offer
When you receive your offer letter (it may take at least 10 days) after the decision is made - possibly longer. I was luck to be offered a place inside my interview and I believe i waited about 12 days. If they haven't decided in the interview they will probably tell you how long to expect to wait.
It will come by email along with your student ID number and all the necessary information on what to do next. You have three weeks to decide whether to accept or decline and pay a deposit of £500 (home students) or £2000 (overseas students) that will be offset against your tuition fee for your first year of study.
I hope some of this is helpful and inspires you to make that application to your dream school (even if it is not the Royal College of Art). You never know! They may just LOVE what you've got to say! Go for it!