RAW Tuesdays: Do you really need design school?

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One of the most common questions people ask me is "Was design school worth it?" It's always kinda difficult to tackle this question because "worth" is something that is difficult for me to define with school. What most people do know is that a specialty school, like a trade school or design school, is quite expensive. Tuition is much higher than it would be at a local college or university. So with that said, I will say that there are definitely PROS and CONS to going to a design school. 

First off, it really depends on what kind of  'designer' you want to be. If you want to be a fashion designer, a game artist, or an industrial designer let's say, then a specialized design school may be your only route. But if you want to be a graphic designer (like moi) or even an illustrator, then you have more options. Most universities have graphic design as a major and even some community colleges have the program. Because graphic design has such a broad focus, it can merge with 'business' or marketing and essentially is a much more 'in-demand' field among design fields. 

The annual tuition at a design school in California ranges anywhere from $38,000 - $60,000+ whereas at a university in California is about $28,000 - $35,000. And at a community college, the cost is even significantly less! So why would any graphic designers choose to go to a design school over the other two options? Because design school is specialized. You are essentially paying for an 'experience'. 

I went to community college for a year before I transferred to a design school. I was only doing my GED's at community college but I did take a couple of graphic design classes. At first, I had the full intention of going into graphic design at a community college and completing it there, but after a few months, I started dropping out of my classes, not because of anything in particular but because I was just not motivated. 

I repeat. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit and I can say that with full confidence. I know way too many successful, intelligent, and diligent people to believe that college is simply something everyone 'should' go through. Yes, there's the experience of college. Yes, you learn lots of stuff. Yes, you get a "degree", but those things are really all trivial in retrospect. The bottom line is, not everyone is cut out for college. That doesn't mean you're allowed to be a high school delinquent and do nothing for the rest of your life either. It all depends on what you decide to do with or without a higher education. 

I considered myself one of those people for a while then quickly realized in actually, I am one of those people who actually DO need college. I have no motivation to learn things on my own. I need the extra push. But I knew I wasn't meant for a traditional college either. I knew that I was too damn lazy, too damn uninspired, and too damn hopeless to ever make something of my life on my own. But I also knew that community college or a traditional university wasn't the experience I'd need. I needed a full on CREATIVE experience. So this is why I chose an art school. 

The biggest PRO of going to a design school is that you are constantly surrounded by CREATIVES. You are constantly in an environment where everyone you run into is a creative person (or at least trying to be...) and in turn, that motivates you. That makes you want to be a more creative person. That makes you want to scope out your competition. That makes you want to do better and be a better designer. So being in a design school will push you to BE a designer. It's as simple as that. So yeah, you might be forking over extra debt for that 'so called' experience, but you know what, it CAN be worth it. 

Honestly, I can't tell you guys how much I absolutely freaking REGRET not taking advantage of so many things when I was in design school. And I don't know what other way I could convince someone else who might be entering a design school, but believe me 1000% when I say this: GET A DAMN INTERNSHIP BEFORE YOU GRADUATE. 

Get like 2 or 3 even. DO INTERNSHIPS. I regret to my dying day not doing internships while I was still in school. I worked while I was in school too, so during that time I would make the excuse that I simply had no time. But boy, if I could turn back time that is the one thing I would have changed. And utilize your advisers! They have that job for a reason. I was surprised when my graduating adviser was telling me that only a few people actually follow up with her about job leads and all that jazz. She said barely any of the students ever asked her for anything or utilized her services. She was the one who got me a job, literally the day after I graduated! I was shocked that people weren't utilizing the advisers there, but it makes sense. If it weren't for my sense of utter desperation at the time, I probably wouldn't have utilized her either. But INTERNSHIPS and talking to your advisers I'd say, are two of the most important things during my time in design school. 

You WILL regret half assing your work. I know I joked about this many times during my time at school, and probably a handful of times I was actually boasting about it, but DON'T HALF ASS YOUR WORK. You're going to look back at your portfolio when you graduate and wonder why you didn't spend more time and effort honing your design skills. You have the perfect opportunity to unleash your full potential while you're at an art school. Build your portfolio and make sure it's solid. Seriously, I had so much half assed works that when I graduated, I was struggling to find 10 solid pieces over the course of five confusing years!

To answer the question at topic here, "Was design school worth it?" My answer is "YES" AND "NO". 

I learned most of my design knowledge outside of school. I also learned to do a lot more in terms of the technical aspects of design, outside of school. But I also think it was worth it just for the connections I made. It would've been a lonely life if I just tried to learn graphic design on my own, without school. I don't know what it would've been like at a university, but I think if I could go back I would probably try that just because tuition is so much cheaper and I probably would've gotten a free ride. 

But despite the debt that comes with going to a design school, it can always be worth it depending on what you make of it. And although it's only been five months since I graduated, I've already grown as a designer ten fold. I've learned more about designing in five months than I have in two years worth of design school. I mean seriously. So it really depends on how you learn and how you choose to utilize your time. 

You don't really need a design education to be a great designer. Graphic design is still a creative field and it takes some personal 'skills' to really flourish in this field. At the same time, many people teach themselves everything they ever need to know about being a graphic designer and are relatively successful. If you're a self motivated individual that can think intuitively and jump on a project from start to finish, you'll probably be just fine learning graphic design on your own honestly. But if you're like me, and you need that extra push because you're too damn lazy and all you want to do is eat and play video games all day, then you might need school to push you. And if you have trouble finding motivation in a 'traditional' school, then design school may be what you need (or it might be your only hope...). 

Take all that with a grain of salt. 

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