First-Year Experience

Get to know more about what it's like during your first year at PAFA. Beyond the classroom experience, there will be lots to become acquainted with as your journey begins. College can be intimidating at first, but it's mostly an invigorating and indulgent experience. Provided on this page is information you may want to keep in your back pocket, as you progress in your time with PAFA.

What's on this page:

  • First-Year Academics
  • City Life in Philadelphia 
  • Explore PAFA's Campus (Floor by Floor)
  • ​​​​​​​First-Year Student Perspectives

First-Year Experience Academics

Designed to help undergraduate students make the most of their education at PAFA; participating students gain the support they need to become successful in the studio, in the classroom, and in their careers as artists. 

Foundations Courses (first-year curriculum):

  • Learn the foundations of figure drawing, still-life, and observational work.
  • Build skills and learn protocols in various workshops across campus.
  • Dabble in classes across all 6 disciplines to explore your options.

Foundations Experience (first-year course):

  • Helps students connect the skills and concepts they are learning in their first-year courses with a broader context of art and ideas.
  • Work with PAFA’s faculty and career services to become comfortable with the rigorous curriculum and develop confidence in your work.
  • Get a behind-the-scenes look at PAFA’s rich museum and archives. Venture out into the world of galleries, alternative exhibition spaces, and artist studios.

First-Year Foundation Courses 

City Life in Philadelphia

History, Art, and Culture:

PAFA is located in the Center City of Philadelphia and is surrounded by a plethora of neighborhoods rich with culture, entertainment, art, and most undeniably, history. PAFA students learn about Philadelphia's historical relevance; housing most of America's first art institutions, many of which are still in operation to this day, as soon as they step foot on campus.

PAFA Historical Timeline

Beyond its historical relevance, Philly's unique culture and vibrancy come from its 100+ neighborhoods, each with its traditions, landscapes, and fervor. Students are encouraged to explore and frequent the art institutions that surround PAFA's campus and neighborhoods that inhabit the city. Indulging in the happenings creates immense opportunities for students to fine-tune their artistic capabilities and broaden their network outside of the studio, off-campus. 

  • Art Institutions
    • Philadelphia Museum of Art 
    • Barnes Foundation
    • Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens- An immersive urban mosaic of mixed-media art 
    • Mural Mile- A self-guided walking tour of the city's urban murals 
    • Rodin Museum etc.
  • Music / Entertainment 
    • Academy of Music 
    • Kimmel Center 
    • World Café Live
    • Independent/ Local venues etc.


Visit Philly Guide 

Check out the city's resources for visiting Philadelphia by jumping to with the link above.


Making your way in Philly:

For those new to city life, Philly is quite manageable. The scale and size allow city folk to navigate the neighborhoods by walking, biking, and using public transportation. Philadelphia's public transportation system is known as SEPTA, offering subway systems, regional rails, and local bus routes. SEPTA makes traveling throughout the city and to the suburbs no more than a hop skip, and jump. In comparison to others, Philly is also driver-friendly and either way, you prefer, commuting is very accessible.


Traveling with SEPTA 

Check out the city's resources for traveling with Philadelphia's public transportation system (SEPTA) by jumping to with the link above.


There are a bunch of universities and colleges housed throughout Philadelphia. Many of them share resources and overlap socially, which is one of the best parts about going to school in Philadelphia. 

Floor by Floor

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has two main buildings—The Historical Landmark Building and the Samuel MV Hamilton Building.  

The Historical Landmark Building houses the permanent museum collection, Cast Hall, and an Alumni Gallery. The Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building houses our contemporary galleries and is primarily used for the School of the Fine Arts. 

Below is an outline of the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building. We like to think of PAFA as a vertical campus; each floor has its distinct function and purpose. As you move up throughout each floor, the space becomes its world custom to each inhabitant’s art study, as students and faculty arrange them based on their needs as artists. 

Samuel M.V. Hamilton 

Table guide of PAFA Samuel Hamilton Building Floors


Perspectives from First-Year Students

Learn more about the first-year experience through the lens of PAFA students as you read our featured stories. 

Faith Castillo (Painting) shares about her adjustment to PAFA after completing her first year of classes and dorm life. - May 2022 

River Hennick (Painting) details how she is ready to start the coursework in the dual-degree PAFA/Penn program, after a year of laying the foundation of her artistry.  - September 2021

PAFA News 

Contact Us

Student Services at PAFA is fully committed to assisting students with their needs and questions.

Telephone: (215) 972-2199

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