What to do if Your School Doesn’t have a Design Major

A design major can encompass a number of different areas of study, including fine arts, graphic design, architecture and fashion design. Other fields of study related to design can include interior design and landscape design. Each is related to developing aesthetics that are designed to visually communicate an idea, regardless of whether the design is pleasing to the eye or a shock to the senses.

However, many colleges, especially those that offer online education opportunities, don’t feature any sort of design major, or they may limit their design majors to fine arts, architecture or graphic design. For students at these schools who aspire to careers in design, it is essential to proactively build a course of study that encompasses their career goals.

Class Selection

Even a college that does not offer a major in the design area in which you are interested will more than likely offer courses that will help you pursue your career goals. Just as students interested in international relations might supplement a business degree with a minor in political science, so too is it possible for those interested in design.

First, you should check to see if your school offers a minor in a program related to your field of interest. While a degree in fashion design might be impossible at your college, it’s possible you could minor in fine arts with an emphasis on textile design, fashion or even sculpture, which could be used to build skills in accessory design.

Secondly, skim the catalog for classes that catch your eye. You might be surprised by some of the courses offered in other degree programs. For instance, many interior designers majored in architecture. This additional educational background not only teaches them how to construct spaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional, but also allows them to work side-by-side with engineers and construction crews to remodel clients’ homes. While it might not offer quite the creative freedom you were seeking in college, you’ll find that it offers a great deal of creative freedom professionally.

Finally, talk with your advisor about how to best craft your college educational experience to maximize your post-college success. He or she may be able to guide you in the right direction regarding classes to take that you didn’t suspect, botany classes for the aspiring landscape designer, and even point out programs your college offers that allow you to build your own major or minor. As CollegeBoard.com explains, building your academic year and your academic career takes careful planning. Utilizing every resource available to you will help to ensure that you are able to plan your education to fit your career goals.


Just as the classes you take are important, so are the internships you seek out. Aspiring graphic designers without a graphic design class to their name can go far if they find internships in an advertising firm’s art department. The same is true for fine arts students who intern with a small clothing manufacturer to further their understanding of fashion design or architectural students who intern with an interior designer. As CollegeBoard.com discusses, the internship is essential to bolstering your career goals.

Not only will an internship provide you with the chance to work in the field that most interests you, but it will also provide you with valuable real-world experience. If you are interested in graphic design but unable to take graphic design courses, finding an internship in the graphic design department of a firm would be a chance for you to learn if this career truly is the right fit for you. Just be prepared to show how your coursework relates to the internship’s responsibilities when you apply.

You’ll be surprised at the companies that hire interns, and it pays to proactively seek out companies that are not yet seeking interns on your college’s campus. There’ll be less competition for that coveted spot. Just don’t be disappointed if your internship is unpaid. Many are, but the experience you’ll gain will pay for itself in the future.

Clubs on Campus & Those that Aren’t

Most colleges have a wide variety of clubs and online classes for college available to students. Look for clubs emphasizing the arts, interior design, fashion, graphic design or design in general. Not only will you meet like-minded people and learn valuable information about what classes to take to help you along, but you’ll also participate in projects that can help you to build your resume and gain networking experience. At WhatINeedForCollege.com you’ll find insightful advice for how to find a club that fits your needs.

Exchange Programs

Sometimes, to really study your interest, you’ll need to venture beyond your college. In these cases, an exchange program could be beneficial to you. The Tuition Exchange offers students the chance to spend a semester or a year at a different school while still paying their current school’s tuition rates. Other programs offer students the chance to travel abroad. What’s important to take away from this is that, by attending another school for a semester or year, you’ll have the chance to attend classes that school offers. These can include a wide range of design classes that are not generally offered at your school. For instance, students interested in industrial design would find courses to suit their interest at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Likewise, those interested in graphic design would find excellent coursework related to this field at Boston University.

Regardless of the limitations of your college’s course offerings, it is possible to tailor a program to suit your needs. It only takes some flexibility, ingenuity and a willingness to keep an open mind. Just because your school does not offer a design major does not mean that you cannot effectively major in design.

You can. It will just take a willingness to experiment and occasionally taking a class that you’re not interested in to get to the one that you are. Can we say calculus, aspiring interior designers?

  • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

    Or be an advertising major!!

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to have write an article over weekend detailing my comment lol…so bare with me. With the economy the way it is, most would be designers would be better served by foregoing college for the time being. I’ve worked the past year at an agency in Manhattan, I’ve watched my Creative Director interview graduates from Parsons, Pratt, and School of Visual Arts.

    Your college Design Portfolio is not going to impress someone looking to put your work in Time Square. There are things you need to know that Frankly professor’s who haven’t done this in 5 to 10 years probably won’t be able to tell you. There are things you need to know right now like CS5 and how it’s improved Digital Print Production. These are things you can only learn by doing or talking to someone who works in the industry for a living now.

    I’m not saying don’t get a Design Education, I’m saying that going to college is not necessarily the same thing. For what you pay for a year of Design School where you will learn nothing more than the basics of design, and the basics of your key applications, things just about any non college freelancer know’s from having to produce paying work….

    You could buy all the same books you would by the course, download the syllabus from google, buy a subscription to several photoshop magazines, and buy the complete CS5 design premium creative suite as well as an amazing computer with money to spare for additional books and a subscription to Kelby Training where you can learn from Masters who work for a living.

  • Anonymous

    I would have to lean towards agreeing with you on this position roberto, it almost feels like nothing I can show people coming out of university is going to impress them. I’m three steps behind other candiates right off the bat in any interview I’m lucky enough to get.

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  • Anonymous

    My suggestion to you and to anyone else reading this is to really go after as much Freelance work as you can, and try to work with non-profits even if you have to do it for free. Client work is always the better sell and you learn the realities of the job rather than the theory of it.

  • Anonymous

    I would totally agree for graphic designers and the like this is the way to go, industrial/product design for me is such a different beast.

  • Anonymous

    Being an advertising major is certainly an option! Its actually a really good idea to be an advertising or marketing major but have Design skills. You’d be surprised how much easier it makes it to get a job when you have Sales/Marketing background, skills, or experience, combined with technical and or creative ability.

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  • Anonymous

    “There are things you need to know right now like CS5 and how it’s
    improved Digital Print Production. These are things you can only learn
    by doing or talking to someone who works in the industry for a living

    This is the dilemma of the fast changing industry. Is your formal education actually more profitable than your work experience?

  • Anonymous

    I should just right this blog post already…

    I would have to say formal education is not more profitable than work experience, and here is why. Formal education is theoretical, and it is what someone else thinks or assumes you need to know based on “their own past experience”. 
    Additionally and this is the big on, you are paying for it. Yes you want to learn the fundamentals, but their other ways, less expensive ways to address that. Think of it from a business perspective. You’ve invested 30-60k in your education. 

    You are not likely to get a 40-60K position right away for one thing. Nor are you likely to achieve that within your first 2-4 years in your career assuming of course you can even get hired immediately. 

    Additionally the equipment and software you need in your career was not part of that initial expense. This will cost you another 5-10K.

    You (business wise) would have been better served, buying the course books and forgoing the lectures, you can get direct one on one help and info more easily through several means other than college, since you rarely get this from professors anyway. Buy the software and hardware and learn to use it while taking local work, online freelance work, and spec and volunteer work to build a portfolio and a name. 

    If you still want a piece of paper, don’t get a degree in design, take design classes to get used to fundamentals if you MUST, and can’t teach yourself yet, while majoring in something that is universally beneficial to any career such as Psychology, or take a degree in something you enjoy that has useful skills like Fine Arts or Computer Science. 

    Many designers are already making money without degrees, they are ahead from a business point of view because they directly invested in the tools to make immediate profit continuously, instead of in the abstract of an opportunity. Their operating knowledge is also that which it needs to be to accomplish an actual job for an actual client. They do in hours what a professor gives a student weeks to do. To an employer that makes a difference. 

    If you do go formal, freelance and build clients all 4 years you are in school so you don’t have to get shot down (which you likely will) for not having any REAL work in your portfolio and a REAL client list as  references.

    Look at it like this today you could pay 50K to get a degree over 4 years and not walk out with a copy of CS5 and a nice portfolio of student work. Or you could pay 10K have a library of books, stock photos, your own copy of CS5 Master Collection, a decent computer and the possibility to make your money back this year, while building your portfolio.

  • Anonymous

     Thank you! Still there are jobs where you need the fornal education. It’s mandatory.

  • Anonymous

     For exapmle – if you are a lawyer you need specific education.

  • Anonymous

    For doctors and lawyers and the lot, a degree/formal education is mandatory and they can’t operate in their arena without one. There is no degree that is going to truly qualify a skill set like our, or requires “formal training” you can either do it or you can’t. Other professions are almost “ritualized” our’s is not, never was, and could never afford to be.

    The industry by nature won’t allow it. People come to designers because they saw their work somewhere or they found them in Google, if you don’t list your education in your online resume or website, most of the people who call or email don’t ask for it. They ask for more samples or copies of things they can run by their bosses, or a more up to date portfolio, or how fast you can get this thing off their desk. Frankly our business doesn’t have the luxury of rituals, and I feel more and more it offers less value in traditional education.

    You can’t get a real degree in social media marketing, or seo right now. You have instructors teaching web design without covering it, or twitter or facebook development. You can’t get a degree in mobile app development right now. What is the point of formal education in the creative/design/development field (aside from basics) if they can’t even teach you how to compete today let alone tomorrow. It just doesn’t make sense to pay for that assurance.

    That’s why I suggest if you feel you need a degree, don’t waste the money to get it for this profession, focus on acquiring the skills of this profession and a get an impressive though (utilitarian wise) useless piece of paper that qualifies you to do something else. They only care that you have the paper not what it was for. Your skills should speak for yourself, and the truth is with some exceptions the level of work that graduates in our industry are capable of are not competitive enough for people who need work done today, and don’t have the time to groom or train you to do it better faster, and to their standards.

    Jared you can vouch for this. How much has the barrier been about your lack of “non student” work, and how much did you schooling really weigh into the conversation with people you interviewed with?

  • Anonymous

    Where I gained my education and what degree/grade I have, is always a question that people ask in the majority of interviews I would say. Although I would say skills and experience in said field are often the areas they employers look towards the most.