There's been a lot of mixed messages regarding art schools. On one extreme, you have the art school elitists who insist that unless you've paid an arm and a leg, you haven't truly been educated. On the other, you have the die hard self-taught who declare that if you're destined to be famous, you don't NEED art school at all. In between, on this broad spectrum of art education, fall the rest of us.
I personally see nothing wrong with art school. I attend one, I pay a lot of money for it, but I'm not going into debt over my art education. My under graduate degree came from a liberal arts college which I attended with full scholarship. I was largely self taught until I enrolled in SCAD, and even while at SCAD, I've pursued scholarship outside of the classroom.
There aren't many art schools that can claim that they've taught you everything, and that nothing you've learned during your time there has been acquired without their intervention. Conversely, unless you exist in a vacuum, you aren't purely self-taught either. Any of us with access to the Internet have the opportunity for a free art education, it just may require more motivation and dedication than an education pursued at an accredited art school.
I chose to apply to SCAD because my BA from the University of New Orleans wasn't going to get me anywhere. I'd stagnated as a self-taught artist, the job opportunities were slim, and I knew there was a lot left to learn. During my time at SCAD, I've benefited a lot. My artistic ability has greatly improved thanks to guided instruction, in class critique, and the educational environment. Before SCAD, I drew and made comics on a regular basis, so motivation has never been an issue for me, but I felt like a big fish in a small pond. I needed a bigger bowl, a larger group of artists to draw inspiration from. While living in Savannah, I've attended various conventions as an artist, volunteered at several schools, and made a lot of friends. I've developed networks for critique and feedback, learned how to steal like an artist, and how to talk to editors. I've gained a lot of confidence. SCAD is also the only school in the country which offers a recognized Masters degree in Sequential Art, which figured highly in my decision making.
Art school can't force you to learn these things, or to do these things. It just makes these opportunities easier to come by. Had I lived in a city with a vibrant comic social scene, had I been a more skilled artist, I may have forgone getting my Masters in Sequential Art. But then again, I genuinely love school and have wanted to pursue a Masters degree since high school, so there's a good chance I would have gone back.
What has my Masters Degree in Sequential Art given me? Nothing I haven't pursued for myself. What has it made possible? A Masters in Sequential Art is a terminal degree, meaning I am qualified to teach art at any level, including graduate. While at SCAD, I've worked on several comics under the direction of my professors, so I have a portfolio to show to editors. I've been taught how to refine my ideas, how to apply critique, how to take corrections, and how to develop stories, so I'm leaving SCAD with a story to tell. I've had an opportunity to meet professional artists and editors, so I know how to carry myself, how to organize a portfolio, and how to take professional critique.
There is no guarantee that I will publish a comic, no promise that I'll publish children's books, no character design waiting for me. Like anything of value in life, if I want these things, I'm going to have to pursue them on my own. I knew this going in to SCAD, I know this every time I write a check for tuition. I never expected SCAD to push me through doors, only to open them for me.
If you are debating whether art school is right for you, or even an option, there are several things to consider. Art school is expensive, out of school art school even more so, and there are many hidden costs. There's no promise of future jobs based upon your attendance, and sequential art generally doesn't bring in enough money to pay off student loans. You might gain a little respect and recognition for your choice to attend a well-known school, but that's nothing several well written mini comics couldn't attain for you. I wouldn't recommend attending if these alone are your reasons.
However, if you do well in a competitive, driven environment, if you've stagnated with your self-education, if you feel like you've hit a wall professionally, art school might be a good option. If you're interested in teaching, if you're looking for a degree to certify you, if you'd like to meet other artists on a level playing field, art school might be a good choice.
I highly recommend touring any art school you plan on attend, reading reviews online, and possibly following the blogs of students who attend the school. If you have the opportunity, I would talk to staff and students candidly. Check out the sort of work the school produces, but don't rely on school provided examples, as they tend to cherry pick the best. Check out the professors on Rate My Professor, and listen for buzz regarding the department you're interested in.