When asked “Why are you going to college for Graphic Design?” most young would be designers have the same responses:
“Employers won’t even look at your resume or portfolio if you don’t have a degree today!”
“I need the formal structure and setting to learn anything.”
“I don’t know where to start or know what the industry is about but I love art and drawing and hear this was a good career for that.”
First off I’m going to dispel a myth with simple logic, and I’m not going to just base this off my experience as a Graphic Designer who has been successful despite not having a 4 year degree (though I did go to college).
I’m going to now speak as someone who is a business owner and has to consult with and contract to other Creative Professionals, and someone who has vetted designers on behalf of other companies, and someone who has sat in the hiring chair interviewing designers for an ad agency position…
How does you having a degree in Graphic Design help a potential employer make 1 Million Dollars within a year of employing you?
What Value Do You Create For an Employer?
You have to create value for an employer. An employer is going to invest $100K-$250 in you as a designer via time, training, equipment and salary over the course 3–5 years.
What are you doing to eliminate the anxiety of making that decision? What about your 4 years in College specifically can you use to demonstrate value for an employer that will make them comfortable in this investment?
The Graphic Design Industry is a Ladder of Chaos You Have to Climb!
If structure is something you crave, this is the wrong industry for you. The structure you have in college will not be something you will experience in the real world as an in-house designer, an agency designer or a freelancer.
You won’t have a week to put together a project, you will have to deliver as many as ten concepts on a logo design within 2–3 days in some cases. You may have to mock up 3 potential posters in a day for a pitch. You will be told that a banner ad campaign has to go out before end of day within 3 hours of your shift ending. That is the reality.
You will be asked to do things you don’t know how to do yet on a daily basis and will have to learn on the fly. If a structured is essential to you learning, you will find yourself struggling in this field after you graduate from college.
Designers Are Artist, But Artist are Not Necessarily Designers…
If you have a love of art and creativity you may want to become a graphic designer. However if you don’t like marketing, if you don’t like selling things, if you have no interest in technology and you lack communication skills, you probably should reconsider a career in design…
Too often fine artist view Graphic Design as “Commercial Art” and think that this is a way to get paid for being an artist and creative person.
It is not. Not even close. Sorry.
Creativity usually takes a back burner to other considerations and you have to be able to compromise. Most artist can’t do this, where as designers must do this regularly.
It’s not about what you want to create, it’s about what will produce the result a client needs.
So If Not College Then What?
I’m not dismissing the college experience or the value of it for Graphic Designers outright. I’m saying that if you made any of the above 3 assumptions about the value of college that you need to reevaluate your reasons for going to College for Graphic Design specifically.
If you still want to enter into this field there are other complimentary degrees you can pursue that have value while taking Design courses as electives and doing self study and online training to learn design skills.
Alternatively you can download the college syllabus and reading list for any design courses at a reputable college and you can use it as a structure for self learning using books, YouTube and online training resources like Lynda.com, Udemy.com or Skillshare.com
You can also find a local Graphic Designer and find out from them what it takes to be competitive in the industry today and what you should focus on. Your professors in college may have tremendous knowledge, but that is not the same as being relevant.
This industry sees massive changes in short cycles due to changes in marketing and technology as well as the economy. Someone who has been out of the game for 5–10 years is not in a position to really tell you how to get a job tomorrow in most cases.
Also their position allows them the luxury of romanticizing the industry in a way that is impractical for a working professional dealing with it every day.
Here are just a few things you don’t learn in Graphic Design School…
I hope this advice has helped you gain some perspective on why you may need to rethink your strategy and motives for going to College for a Graphic Design Degree specifically, what you want to get out of this industry and whether it is a good fit for you.
Consider rather than going to the most expensive art or design school, going to a school in the place you want to work for the next 10–20 years after graduating. Or possibly consider going to a community college first to get an Associates and see if you need to invest more into your learning formally beyond that or if you are in a position to manage your education on your own going forward.
In the end remember that what will get you a job is not your paperwork, it will be a combination of your Presentation Skills, Personality, Portfolio and Performance up until now. Someone hiring you wants to know what you’ve accomplished and what you can do for them.
They’re not interested in your GPA.