Is Academy of Art University Legit? Why Students Say ‘Scam!’

Is Academy of Art University legit? The Academy of Art University (AAU) is legit but at the same time questionable. It is for this reason that some previous students describe AAU as a real estate holding company that masquerades as an art school. Some consider this school a scam to fleece students out of money.

Regarding legitimacy, both onsite and online degree programs at the Academy of Art University are accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Other accreditations are the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).

Now, with this review, you will be able to reflect and find your own voice about the Academy of Art. In the end, it is really up to you, but the school’s reputation also matters. No student wants to waste their money on a useless degree, and I would not be the reason you lose money. Just read this post till the end and make your decision.

Is Academy of Art University Legit?

Yes, the Academy of Art University is legit and accredited. However, digging deeper, it appears to be more of a real estate company posing as a school. Some previous students claim that the school prides itself on a high percentage of recent graduates finding employment. But often, this is because they hire their own graduates for administrative positions when they can’t find jobs elsewhere.

The school tends to shift its focus from providing quality education to making money. Some employers even claim that they have been involved in hiring designers and have not seen any impressive work from Academy of Art graduates. This school also has a bad reputation and has faced multiple lawsuits for fraud. Rather than investing your money in this institution, you might want to consider attending a school like the California College of the Arts.

Reports also have it that a significant portion of the student body comprises international students from Asian countries as well as American students who were interested in art but unsure of where else to go. Thus, there may be very few working artists among the student population.

Previous students also claim that the school is plagued with administrative issues and is designed to extend the graduation timeline to 5 years to extract more tuition from students. They do not provide financial aid, so most students may end up with a mountain of debt exceeding $100,000 and little to no job prospects.

Why People Avoid the Academy of Arts University

Not a Social University

If you are a social person, this school lacks a vibrant social environment. You may only make a couple of friends. The majority of the student population is from China, with many not speaking English, which adds to the isolation. Instead of a balanced college experience, the Academy of Arts is all work and no play.

Career Concerns

From reviews, the Academy of Arts does not offer adequate career support. While they have a job posting website, you might not hear of someone securing employment through it. The only way to get personalized help is to set up a meeting with your department director, and even then, assistance is not guaranteed.

Academy of Arts is a Private, For-profit

The school is a private for-profit institution, similar to the University of Phoenix, DeVry, and Full Sail, which are known for prioritizing profit over education. This is evident in their 100% admission rate and low graduation rate; according to the SF Chronicle, only 37% of students enrolled in 2010 had graduated by 2017. The school also owns an automobile museum, which raises questions about its financial operations.

Legal Problems

The Academy of Art has been involved in numerous lawsuits. A federal fraud case was initiated against them, accusing them of illegal incentive schemes to defraud the government of millions in loans and grants. To add insult to injury, they have not published job placement rates since 2006 and are in disagreement with the US Department of Education on the necessity of doing so. Even the president of AAU, Elisa Stephens, has been involved in controversies, including her net worth and the school’s practices.

Exorbitant Tuition vs. Quality of Education

The tuition does not justify the education provided. The quality of education is described as subpar for the most part. Out of the numerous instructors, only a handful genuinely care about student success. The midpoint class is notably ineffective. Frequent advisor changes make it difficult to maintain continuity in academic and financial planning.


  1. Experienced Instructors. Many instructors are professionals in their field, bringing real-world experience to the classroom.
  2. Diverse Courses. AAU offers a variety of courses catering to different interests in the arts.
  3. Location. Situated in San Francisco, the school is located in a city known for its vibrant art scene.

So Many Lawsuits … and More

Over the years, the Academy of Art University has been embroiled in a variety of legal disputes and accusations that cast doubt on its legitimacy. Let’s take a look at the different cases and issues that have surfaced.

Back in 2009, a whistleblower lawsuit was filed against AAU, and it is still ongoing to this day, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2017, a class-action suit was filed by teachers who claimed they were underpaid and overworked – RHD Law.

The City of San Francisco sued AAU in 2016 for violating land use laws, with City Attorney Dennis Herrera stating, “The Academy of Art University and its real estate affiliates behaved for more than a decade like they were above the law.” Despite Herrera’s claims that “those days are over,” the university’s legal troubles have persisted. You can learn more about this lawsuit here: San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

AAU has also been accused of covering up misconduct by its own teachers. One fired assistant coach even claimed that the university covered up his dismissal, according to the SFGate. In 2018, another class-action lawsuit was filed in relation to a hacking incident that resulted in the theft of teacher information. You can read more about this AAU Settlement.

The New York Times even accused AAU of being a major offender in the student loan crisis. You can find more information about this accusation in the New York Times. All of these cases and accusations paint a concerning picture of the Academy of Art University, raising serious questions about its integrity, even though the school is legit.

Academy of Art’s Online School is a Positive

The Academy of Arts University offers both online and on-campus courses, and the online classes are incredibly beneficial. The online courses are structured with brilliant video tutorials that clearly demonstrate all the necessary details. You can pause, rewind, and replay these videos as many times as you want. This is an advantage, especially when compared to traditional classroom settings. Another positive aspect is the flexibility. You can choose when to study since students typically perform differently at different times of the day.

Note that the online courses are not any easier than their on-campus counterparts. The curriculum is equally difficult, and the grading is strict. AAU does hold its students to high standards, which could explain the higher drop-out rate.

So, Which Should You Go for?

While AAU is legit, you might want to consider the California College of the Arts (CCA) if you are concerned about the school’s reputation. CCA offers many programs that may interest you. On the other hand, UCLA has an excellent undergraduate program, and the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension is highly esteemed. This program is ideal for aspiring writers because it is less demanding in terms of time and financial commitment.

You can take individual classes or enroll in a full certificate program. The curriculum includes specialized courses and workshops for TV and film writers, which is perfect for those aiming to become screenwriters.

When comparing costs, the Academy of Arts charges around 42k for an accredited program, whereas a similar program at a school like DeVry would cost approximately 35k. Given the choice, I would opt for the more reputable and accredited program, despite the higher cost. If you are an out-of-state student, you should be prepared to pay around $42,000 per year at the Academy of Arts.


Again, the Academy of Arts is 100% legit. They have just had their fair share of controversy, including issues with taxes and real estate and low graduation rates. There are also concerns about them taking advantage of international students. That being said, AAU has made some changes recently and is getting better. Reports also show that they are now more focused on trade-oriented programs. But if you prioritize reputation, the Academy of Art University may not be the school to go to. So, before you make any decisions, make sure to do your research and consider all of your options.

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