Do You Need A Graphic Design Degree

At some point once one has chosen to become a Graphic Designer the inevitable question arises: “Should I Obtain A Degree In Graphic Design”? Some would have you think that this is a simple yes or no question, but its far more complicated than that. In general education has risen in cost, while the overall value of it in the job market has depreciated considerably. On the other hand, there are many opportunities denied to people simply because they don’t have a degree or a degree in the field they have chosen. It’s not surprising that some people don’t know where to begin in answering this question.

Ultimately it has been my experience in the industry that your portfolio of work, counts for more than anything else, with your personality coming in second and your education/degree coming in a distant third. If people are impressed enough by the first two, the third is rarely even questioned. The problem is this presumes you get far enough to present your portfolio and convey your personality, and if you are denied that chance simply because you don’t have the degree, your talent and charms won’t help you.

It Can Depend On The Industry You Work In
As a graphic designer you may decide to work in any number of industries, and some are more “organic” than others, meaning that they deal more in abstracts such as “style” and “the right fit” when making hiring decisions, and pay more attention to portfolio and personality than credentials. Fashion tends to be one of these industries. The opposite is also true, there are industries that are more interested in your having credentials, such as a degree, references and recommendations or even belonging to the right associations. Editorial Design for example can be like this. Finally that brings us to Advertising and Entertainment, most designers dream when they start out. My experience is primarily in this industry, and while I will say most people (myself included) value portfolio and personality over education, we prefer the full package, but we value actual experience even more.

Roberto Blake discusses the pros and cons of Graphic Design School

Some Advantages of Graphic Design School

  • Access to professional hardware and software
  • Training from experienced professionals
  • Intern and apprenticeship opportunities
  • Ability to build a professional network
  • Opportunity to join professional and academic associations
  • Alumni job opportunities

Some Disadvantages of Graphic Design School

  • Large investment and commitment in terms of time and cost
  • No real guarantee or assurance of employment or return on investment
  • Hidden cost and interest overtime on repaying student loans
  • Not accessible to everyone
  • Professors may have outdated experience

Understand Your Reasons For Wanting A Degree
If your reason for wanting a degree is that you don’t want to be excluded from job opportunities, that is perfectly reasonable and may be a good strategy, however if you also feel that there will not be much that you couldn’t learn on your own, or you find that be the case within your first semester, Graphic Design may not be the degree you need, even if you plan to become a designer. You would benefit more from taking graphic design based electives while taking your overall degree/major in a relevant or related subject like marketing, business, or fine arts. This will leverage you more opportunities, give you knowledge you don’t already have while still giving you access to design resources to improve your skills in that area.

If your reason is that you don’t have graphic design experience and want to learn about the graphic design industry, I would suggest the lower risk of attending a community college, while pursuing self education through books and the internet. In this case if you find that you don’t truly want to pursue this career, you’re not overly invested and you haven’t wasted considerable time or money.

Pursuing hire education is a  noble ideal, however if it does not ultimately help you to achieve your goals then you’ve potentially wasted time and money that you could have invested in yourself and produced an actual result. Consider your motives and the endgame before making a large commitment that will impact you personally and financially for the rest of your life. Talk to other people who are accomplished in your perspective field and ask them for their advice as well and what their experiences were. It will give you some perspective.