“Creativity” isn’t what it used to be.  Graphic designers employ 3-D modeling to imagine new products, engineers look to philosophy to understand artificial intelligence, and actors make great doctors, lawyers and business people.  As art, science and business become more symbiotic, it’s essential to encourage students’ creative spirit and guide them towards an interdisciplinary learning approach. To learn how, we talked to Florence Lehr, founder of ARTrtriculate, a college counselling service that helps students discover the surprising array of college options that nurture creativity and future career options.  

How do you think our understanding of creativity has changed in recent years?  

It used to be that the creative student was directed towards art school or a performing arts program.  In the 1970s or 1980s, the assumption was that if you didn’t make it as an artist, working at an ad agency was considered the only real “fallback.”  Today, young adults have amazing opportunities to blend the visual arts, performing arts, technology and even an interest in business. I had one student with a great aesthetic sensibility who was outstanding in math and chemistry.  He really wanted to design the cars of the future, so he also learned how to use computer-aided design software to actually model the cars he dreamed of, and we found him programs that merge his creative and engineering interests.  

But how do artistic skills translate to the job market? 

Today’s competitive job market requires people who can switch between left and right brain.  Companies understand that to be a great engineer, you need to be creative and have a vision. One example I love is medical illustration – it’s a lucrative and growing field that helps medical researchers envision or explain a new process.  To excel, you need to understand biology, graphic design and stay at the forefront of medical technology. What a wonderful way to marry really diverse interests and position yourself to be on the forefront of knowledge for a lifetime!  

For students who want a traditional four-year college, what kind of options are there to encourage their creativity?  

A lot of great universities now provide students with the college experience they want and an interdisciplinary degree that marries creative interests with marketable skills.  For example, Connecticut College offers a degree in music and technology, while the Cleveland Institute of Art offers a degree in life sciences illustration. For creatives interested in the humanities and storytelling, playwriting, scriptwriting, game design and filmmaking are majors offered at many traditional colleges and universities. The key is to find these hidden majors that you may not know about unless you do your research.  

How can parents nurture their students’ creative spirits and still help them prepare to be a competitive college applicant?  

In part, it depends on the character of your student’s school.  Some schools with more experiential learning do a better job of encouraging students to travel a creative path.  A large public high school might emphasize a traditional AP curriculum. That’s great, but it does mean you may need to find extracurricular activities or summer programs outside of school.  

Parents should value and nurture their kids’ interests.  A student soccer player team member may commit 10-20 hours per week to practice.  The visual artist, filmmaker, performing artist, graphic designer or robotics enthusiast needs just as much space to pursue their passions.  The DC area has a wealth of performing arts opportunities, student-run film groups and visual art classes. Maybe the student helps a non-profit build their website.  There are a lot of meaningful community service opportunities out there that help students cultivate their creative interests.  

Do creative kids still need to focus on academics, or can they commit themselves fully to their creative endeavors?  

I always tell students by all means pursue your passions.  But the reality is you have to keep your grades up. SAT or ACT scores are still very important.  We could discuss at length whether that’s fair or not, but competitive schools such as the Rhode Island School of DesignUniversity of Michigan STAMPSNorthwestern Department of Theatre, and the like still want to see strong grades and solid test scores.  Traditional academics are still a measure of your study habits and perseverance and schools taket hat that seriously. Just as important, all schools, including many art schools, look to grades and scores when awarding merit scholarships.